No, the U.S. govt. shouldn’t help keep IT jobs

U.S. tech workers are clearly being affected by the use of offshore resources to do jobs previously done in the U.S. This trend started in earnest during the Y2K remediation era, and now some companies are sending complex programming projects and call center operations offshore, in hopes of realizing the same cost reductions they found during Y2K.

This move to employ cheaper offshore resources is simply the latest incarnation of a time-honored historical trend. Code production is rapidly becoming a commodity in our industry. Historically, when any item – cars, toys, household goods – reaches the point where its creation can be distilled down to a science, the production of that commodity has moved from the U.S. to offshore locations with cheaper labor rates. Yes, there are still some consumer goods made in the U.S., but the majority are produced elsewhere and imported. Code, assuming it can be created “there” with the same quality as “here,” is even easier to import – you don’t even have to load it into a crate. This market shift is as inevitable and inexorable for commoditized technology services as it was for garments and televisions, and any attempts by the U.S. government to control it will fail, in the long run, as such attempts always do.

There are two pieces of good news, however. The first is that many technology jobs do not involve commoditized services, but instead involve unstructured, iterative interaction with users and customers. If your employer is a small-to-midsize business (where the majority of jobs are), chances are your company’s development projects are not large enough to benefit from the economies-of-scale introduced with offshore development. Your organization needs somebody on site that is the business analyst, application architect, developer, and maybe even tester, installer and trainer, all rolled into one (or two). And all companies still need data-center staff and desk-side support personnel.

The second piece of good news is that you, as a technology worker, have a great deal of control over your fate. But this control requires that you work relentlessly to keep your skills fresh, and to keep your value to your employer clear by applying these skills directly to the bottom line. This might mean taking on additional responsibilities, abandoning what you already know (and are comfortable with) and learning new things on your own, without expecting your employer to pay for your schooling or tell you what you need to learn.

The changes we are seeing in the tech sector are part of the normal and expected evolution of any industry. And just as we all accepted the bounty during the boom years, we must now also accept the pain of market corrections. We also have to understand, and accept, that the “Technological Revolution of the 1990s” was a rare and wonderful one-time occurrence that we were lucky to have experienced, but it is not the job of the U.S. government to artificially and indefinitely extend that boom.