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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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