General Question

avalmez's avatar

What do you guys think is the future of IT in the US and perhaps Europe?

Asked by avalmez (1611points) April 22nd, 2009

Outsourcing. Those of us in the IT industry hear about outsourcing quite a bit, and IT managers think about it a lot more these days than even a year ago. What are your thoughts about the future of IT in the US in particular development? Is the US IT worker an endangered species? Is your company seriously thinking about outsourcing or perhaps experimenting with it now? What are the major challenges you see with outsourcing? Are the challenges outweighed by the benefits?

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6 Answers

cwilbur's avatar

People with good people skills, good programming skills, and good domain knowledge are in demand now and will continue to be in demand. People who do work that cannot be easily outsourced—network wiring, for instance—are in demand and will continue to be in demand.

Even outsourcing isn’t the cost-saving panacea it looks like on paper. The costs of communication and remote management, and the cultural and language differences, which don’t show up in estimates, are much higher than they appear to be. The only kind of outsourcing that really works well is when all the company needs is a bunch of low-skill code grinders, and generally when that’s the problem, it’s usually an even bigger savings to change the implementation so that the number of people typing code is not a limiting factor.

My company has experimented with outsourcing, but mainly because it wanted to experiment with certain technologies and it was deemed lower-risk to hire a consulting company for one project than to staff up in-house for technologies we weren’t sure we wanted to commit to. It wound up probably costing more than it would have cost for us to staff up in-house.

avalmez's avatar

A few months ago I would agree that outsourcing has limited applicability and that the problems associated with it (IP rights, e.g.) were to some extent difficult to put a dollar value to that enables you to weigh the risk versus benefits. however, outsourcers are changing their models including bringing foreign workers onshore. and in fact, i do believe a paradigm shift may occur that favors outsourcing to in-house permanent staff. think of why many companies have contractors rather than in-house staff – a new paradigm is just a step away or two from that imho.

cwilbur's avatar

One major problem is that quality suffers markedly with contractors. People simply do better work when they’re invested in the project, and when they know they’ll be responsible for supporting the work they do.

Even in the case where you have contractors actually on-site, from the same culture, and speaking the same language, the difference between contractors and employees can be considerable. Add to that the difficulty of remote management, and a lot of the benefits of outsourcing turn out to be illusory.

And this isn’t even bringing up risk and legal issues—this is just the friction involved in everyone trying to get the job done. If you have actively malevolent or careless people involved, all bets are off.

avalmez's avatar

do you think the problem with contractors is one of process? i mean, if contractors (or any developer) knows they are not going to be responsible for testing, don’t they try harder to get it right? and if they can expect code reviews by peers, doesn’t that put pressure on them to not just get it right, but follow standards or (when standards dont exist) write code their peers won’t rip apart in a review?

from my own experience, i know whatever the situation third party testing by professional testers is a must for development of any significant effort. and reviews help enforce standards and practices even where in-house resources are involved.

so when i write a paradigm shift may occur that enables outsourcing to be more efficient, increase quality and reduce costs, i’m really hinting at process as being the catalyst.

cwilbur's avatar

No, I think the problem with contractors is one of ownership. It’s the difference between a developer saying, “Hey, if we do it this way, it will cause us problems if we go in this direction later, but if we do it that way, we’ll be covered either way,” and a developer saying, “This is what the spec requires, and this is what the QA department will test for. Good enough!”

I’ve also noticed that developers who feel a sense of ownership in the project are likely to push back against stupid things in the spec. Contractors who are being paid to implement the spec, no matter how stupid, don’t push back—if the spec is stupid, and they implement it, then it means more work later when the change order comes in.

Your process improvements are a way of making sure that code is of acceptable quality and that it does what it says in the spec. The benefits of hiring employees rather than contractors happen at a higher level than that.

avalmez's avatar

ok thanks for your perspective. i still think whatever model you implement, in-house or outsource can lead to the same problems without appropriate process. i’ve been on both sides of the fence and i’ve always regarded solving whatever problem in the best possible way as my primary responsibility and i know many like minded persons as well. but, your point is well taken that there are too many “non committed’s” in this world.

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