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Outsourcing Viewpoint: The Future of Our Profession

"In the spirit of Grove's Law, I would hereby like to propose 'Ferguson's Postulates'... "

I am new to consulting. For the past eight years, I have worked as a full-time software developer with a couple of startups here in Chicago. Joining Magenic Technologies - a Microsoft-platform consulting company - has been a change of pace for me, both in terms of no longer working for a startup (we're currently celebrating our 10th year in business) and in that I now move from client to client on a much more regular basis.

In the context of my new career as a high-end consultant, I have had an epiphany about global outsourcing and its impact on the profession of software development here in the West. In the spirit of Grove's Law, I would hereby like to propose Ferguson's Postulates...

Postulate One: The degree to which an organization can outsource its software development is directly proportionate to that organization's ability to create accurate software specifications.

Postulate Two: The vast majority of American businesses are not likely to be capable of creating accurate software specifications for solving the larger part of their business problems at any point in the foreseeable future.

Postulate Three: The level of accuracy required for software specifications is directly proportionate to the distance at which development is to be performed.

Postulate Four: Western software developers decrease the distance - both cultural and geographical - at which software development is performed, thereby decreasing the level of accuracy required in specifications.

Postulate Five: Advanced, on-site software developers decrease the required accuracy level for specifications by working interactively and iteratively with their clients in a way that is impractical at distances.

Feel free to share any-and-all of the above postulates with whomever you like. I don't know whether or not it is obvious from these statements, but I feel quite confident after my first couple of projects with Magenic that, although the role of the American software developer is changing dramatically, there's no danger of it going away any time soon.

I don't think the changes are going to be completely to everyone's liking, however. Personally, I like to work at home, listening to my music and writing code. I suspect that all of the jobs where this is possible are headed overseas. Forget all of the predictions about the boom in telecommuting that you've heard. If a job can be performed 6 miles away from the office, it can unfortunately also be performed 6,000 miles away, for half the cost!

The shift seems to me to be very comparable to what happened in the nursing field in the early '90s. Hospitals decided that nurses were too expensive, so many of the simpler jobs that nurses used to do are now done by lower-level folks that the nurses manage. Unfortunately, this means that a lot of folks are now leaving nursing because the jobs that are left for them are significantly nastier and more unpleasant than they were a decade ago.

Similarly, there may come a day when many of us will be managing teams of developers in India and working exclusively on the really, really unpleasant, complex, and messy problems that are left. We will spend the majority of our days talking about what needs to be built and checking code shipped to us from afar, to verify that it meets the requirements we hashed out with the business folks.

Well, it's a living, I suppose!

More Stories By Derek Ferguson

Derek Ferguson, founding editor and editor-in-chief of .Net Developer's Journal, is a noted technology expert and former Microsoft MVP.

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Most Recent Comments
Rama Eleswarapu 02/15/05 01:17:56 PM EST

1. Accurate specifications never hurt whether the development is on-site or offsite. Sloppiness in thinking and documenting requirements comes into acute focus when there is physical separation of functions through outsourcing. Outsourcing is a jolt to the organization making it shape up.

2. A contractor seeking clear specs and deadlines is actually doing the customer a favor and saving him a lot of hubris that we receive from in-house "development" teams that cannot be fired and made to penalties for their full or partial failures.

3. The use of contract labor also shifts the focus to evaluating every part and its cost rationally. Ends "Daydreaming" and limits efforts to what is achievable within budgets and timelines.

4. Cultural differences- these matter only in the way they affect project execution not so much in specification. In my long career in the US I have encountered too many Indians saying "yes" when the customer would have accepted an honest "no" for an answer.

5. On the subject of Native Languages.......Ajay Desai has found a problem but his "root cause analysis" is wrong.

Is world's diversity of languages shrinking. Yes, as borne out UN reports. Is outsourcing, a very recent economic force, the cause? No!

The reasons are increasing globalization, exposure to media with world-wide reach(TV/movies/music CDs), loss of pride in one's own cultural heritage because of economic and social crises in their homeland, uneconomical marketsize for publishing and distributing works of literary value in the native tongues.

In fact the spread of the internet has had a salutary effect. More people are now able to read newspapers in many of world's languages and have their literary work published.

Even in the absence of outsourcing, languages are likely to die if there are no economic incentives for their use. It is upto the societies to protect their heritage and unique culture through transmission to their young. Unfortunately in the last 50 years, broad linguistic identity of a society is increasing being displaced by religious, sectarian, and more narrowly defined political identities. This is happening in the prosperous countries in Western Europe as also poor African countries.

5. I did not begin learning English till I was ten and continued learning my native tongue and Hindi till I was sixteen. I have worked in senior management positions for 25 years in the US and never felt I was at a disadvantage because I learnt languages other than English as a child. Quite frequently I am complimented for being more precise at meeting than my colleagues who were native-born English speakers who know only English. I remember a gentleman asking me "if I do my thinking in English or my native toungue and then translate into English". I would like to hear from others on this forum what constitutes a "well-thought out (in English)" answer for this question. That probably holds the clue as whether cultural differences matter!

Joseph B Cohen 01/15/05 03:37:04 PM EST

Folks - Let's get the head out of the sand.Over the past 5 years the NY Times Sunday Employment Computer section has gone from 2 pages (8-10 columns/page = 16-20 cols) to 2-3 columns. The enrollment - computer science - at the major universities is down over the same period by about 75%. The danger guys is not your job ! it's the future of technology in the whole d.....d country !

Read the following and worry about you, your kids, your spouse, your house and this country !!!

Click the following to access the sent link:

Report: U.S. lost 1.5M jobs to China from 1989-2003 - Jan. 11, 2005*

*This article can also be accessed if you copy and paste the entire address below into your web browser.
http://money.cnn.com/2005/01/11/news/economy/jobs_us_china.reut/index.htm

Jonathan Pierce 01/15/05 12:39:07 PM EST

On more than one occasion, I've been asked as a high-end consultant by clients to rewrite outsourced solutions that were improperly architected and poorly implemented and have been able to do so at a fraction of the original time and cost with suceess that far exceeded the clients expectations.
Since I'm also an outsourced resource, it follows that the quality of the solution has more to do with the quality of the team members at all levels of the project including not only the architects, but also the developers writing the implementation utilizing proper design patterns, interfaces, strong typing, etc. Most of the successful codebases out there including the .NET Framework had a very large percentage of their code written by a very small number of extremely talented developers.
My experience throughout my career has been that smaller teams of experts produce much more complete, well designed, and more maintainable solutions at significantly lower costs that far exceed customer expectations than larger teams of less expensive and less experienced developers.
It's more difficult to identify expertise without hand-picking individuals or companies based on the quality and success of their past delivered solutions. I don't agree that only complex tasks will require local resources, since all projects benefit from expert developers local or not and it is more difficult to identify that expertise remotely.
You should ask yourself if you suffer a heart-attack while reading this post, whether you would prefer a team of medical students or one experience cardiologist surgeon to operate on you to save your life. You should probably think about your project in the same way when deciding on how to staff it in order to maximize it's success at minimal cost.

Charles Lau 01/13/05 08:48:34 PM EST

The company I work for does not oursource the software development, they moved! That solves the problem anticipated in postulate 3,4,5.

whocares 01/13/05 01:11:23 PM EST

Ajay Desai learnt English. So he/she is able to read an article in .NET Journal and post a feedback. If he/she learnt just Gujarati, .NET would not have made any sense for Ajay. It is funny that Ajay invites us to learn Gujarati (which is one of the hundreds of languages in India). I'm being very kind here, since it is a public forum, otherwise Ajay eat this *?!@#$%^&*(

Outsourcing Enigma 01/13/05 01:04:56 PM EST

Very well expressed. This will fuel a long-running debate, for sure.

Jeffrey Lapchinsky 01/13/05 11:44:49 AM EST

The most important thing mentioned is postulates 1-3 which I think is really only one. Once these off-shore projects are done and put into production there will always be the need for a local serviceperson type of trade. The analogy here is when someone buys a washing machine from some large company but when it breaks you call in the same local repairperson that fixes your other appliances. While Im not a high end-consultant I would fit the bill of a repairperson and feel that there is still a lot of coding to be done although not so much with those cool bleeding edge ones I used to work on. Since I would rather get my hands dirty coding than managing projects being done off-shore (which Im presently doing) I find this new way of life of fighting fires more exciting and palatable than managing fires being fought by others.

Large companies will be able to afford design teams and long design times where small companies will not. When it comes to adding features not included in an original spec or the fixing of problems a percentage of these mini-projects will go to a local repairperson. While the percentage of these min-projects and problem fixing being done locally would take a sharp increase for smaller companies.

Government projects that involve any type of security or involve US citizen data, etc. should only be done in the US. Even though this is a very large subject of what should and should not be out-sourced I think the initial decision should be to leave it local and then decide on a project by project basis of what can and cannot go overseas. My company out-sourced all IT (12,000 servers and development) first and then only kept small projects here when they didnt want to spend the time needed in design. The level and quality of security (quality of life in general) in other countries is not on par with our standards here in the US and is one of the reasons why things cost less in other parts of the world where our development is going to.

So it is good that design is not a perfect process. This way there should be enough projects laying around for us people types who just want to code the solutions we build.

Joseph Thomas 01/13/05 08:11:05 AM EST

I do not like outsourcing because it puts pressure on the jobs of regular developers as well as undermines the opportunity for increasing the software talents out here. Moreover the benefits accrued from outsourcing in terms of figures is outstanding in terms of savings and quite often business have also seen benefits in terms of outsourcing because quite often the response is much quicker than regular IS departments. This could be attributed to several reasons first they have more developers and secondly in number of cases the regular IS departments are left with the messy and complex tasks of integrating and making the product useful and force confirm it to the internal standards whereas this responsibility does not exists with the external organization.
But I do not believe it matters how clear the requirements are since some outsourcing tasks are not done properly wither its sent 10000 miles or 10 miles. I have seen results either way.
I am little surprised at one of the comments on learning their mother tongue instead of English. This only shows the writers parochialism. To put the records straight English is still the unifying language in India. In Indian parliament a good percentage of debates are still in English.
In fact studies have indicated that its good to know more than one language and the right time to learn is at childhood. Moreover most Indian languages do not have good translation of scientific terms from other languages hence research still has to be in English. Therefore English is predominantly used in India and the quality of language varies from region to region.

Ajay D. Desai 01/13/05 06:00:37 AM EST

I have very clear ideas about out-sourcing of services from countries which have different language(s) than the country where the service is destined.

About a year back, US president / senate / congress had banned government contracts to companies using outsourcing of services. I had welcomed that decision.

Outsourcing of services increases the influence of foreign language in countries like India where English is not the mother tongue for almost all of the population. In temptation of income from outsourcing, parents have started educating their children using English as a medium of instruction. Which could be the bigger violence on kids than to educating in foreign language as medium of Instruction. It is really a violence on a 2-3 year old kid who is putting his/her first foot steps into (nursery/kindergarten) school and faced with a language which is not spoken in surroundings. And in the aftermath, original languages of the land (mother tounges) starts getting forgotten. This harms the cultural diversity of this planet too.

Education in mother tongue eases the process of learning. Persons should be allowed to study in mother tongue right from beginning to the top most levels of education. Atleast children who are not adult (below 18 years of age) must be protected from violence mentioned above by law. I propose to add in Human rights charter of U.N. that every child under age of 18 years has right of education in mother tongue. How nice it is to imagine that a person studies in mother tongue at all levels of education and does work/research for and in own mother land!

Governments all over the world should realize the adverse impact of outsourcing of services on the cultural diversity of this planet. Outsourcing of services from other language communities should be carried out with utmost care: Care should be taken that the persons providing the service have studied in their mother tongue and not in other language.

In the end, I would like to say that how beautiful is my mother tongue, the Gujarati language(principal language of Gujarat state of Western India). I invite the people of world to study my mother tonuge, the Gujarati language. Large amounts of written and spoken works of Mahatma Gandhi are available in that language.

Thanks for providing me the platform for expressing my views on outsourcing of services.

Ajay D. Desai 01/13/05 05:58:16 AM EST

I have very clear ideas about out-sourcing of services from countries which have different language(s) than the country where the service is destined.

About a year back, US president / senate / congress had banned government contracts to companies using outsourcing of services. I had welcomed that decision.

Outsourcing of services increases the influence of foreign language in countries like India where English is not the mother tongue for almost all of the population. In temptation of income from outsourcing, parents have started educating their children using English as a medium of instruction. Which could be the bigger violence on kids than to educating in foreign language as medium of Instruction. It is really a violence on a 2-3 year old kid who is putting his/her first foot steps into (nursery/kindergarten) school and faced with a language which is not spoken in surroundings. Kids' brains get crushed with the burden of English language and probably result in permanent damage.

In today's local language daily ('Gujarat Samachar' daily dtd. 13-Jan-2005, Ahmedabad,INDIA edition), some person (probably an American or British Doctor) is quoted as saying 'Nursing should be taught in English'. The reason given was that this will enable students to keep abreast with the latest research and inventions. I want to contest this. Research and inventions should not necessarily be published in only one - English - language. These activities - research and inventions - should be carried out everywhere and published in local language first. Persons interested in research and inventions in other parts of world will learn the language of that part of the world, but still continue to perform studies in mother tongue! Other languge(s) should be taught on voluntary basis. So nursing should be continued to be taught in local language but students should be provided with facilities to learn other language(s) too.

Education in mother tongue eases the process of learning. Persons should be allowed to study in mother tongue right from beginning to the top most levels of education. Atleast children who are not adult (below 18 years of age) must be protected from violence mentioned above by law. I propose to add in Human rights charter of U.N. that every child has right of education in mother tongue.

Governments all over the world should realize the adverse impact of outsourcing of services on the cultural diversity of this planet. Outsourcing of services from other language communities should be carried out with utmost care. Care should be taken that the persons providing the service have studied in their mother tongue and not in other language.

Thanks for providing me the platform for expressing my views on outsourcing of services.

Dan Clamage 01/12/05 07:15:42 PM EST

#3 is way off the mark. There are a lot more factors than just geographical distance. Like political distance, language, law, etc.
If an organization can clearly and accurately develop requirements, and pay close attention to the developers, it doesn't need to go halfway around the world and pay developers in emerging economies $30/day. But at best, only 80% of the requirements can be specified before any development begins. That's just how it is.

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