7.11.05

The bet...

My first trip to India, to visit my then fledgling software quality assurance team, was a life changing experience. I did not find enlightenment, but I learned, without a doubt, several important lessons:

1) There is nothing jingoistic about C++ or Java. Smart, enterprising young engineers can buy the entire O'Reilly catalog online, and get it shipped to them anywhere on the planet, in a matter of days.

2) There are a lot of smart, enterprising young engineers in India. And I imagined at the time, in lots of other places all over the planet.

3) They all seem to have ordered the entire O'Reilly catalog on line, gotten it shipped to them, and they've made some serious progress working through it.

So I decided this outsourcing thing was:

a) here to stay.

b) something I needed to get on top of if I wanted to be here to stay.

So I got on top of it.

When I came home to the States, I got a lot of comments about how I'd gone over to the dark side. As an aside, I do acknowledge that I have gone through a certain evolution in my professional career.

  • When I was a young man, idealistic to the extreme, I sought with every shred of my being to Stick it to The Man.
  • When I was a young research assistant, designing campus wide information systems in the dark days before HTML 1.0, I was, much to my chagrin, a Tool of The Man.
  • After moving into the private sector, as I had my soul sucked out and served back to me in a gilded parfait dish, I became, yeah verily, a Spanner Wrench in the Pocket of The Man.
  • And at a certain point, I think it was the first time I uttered the phrase "I need you to work through the weekend...", I became The Man.
So, I have a rich inner context for any comments about how I've gone over to the dark side.

But this time, it wasn't true. So I argued with my friends and cow-orkers. And the argument went like this:

They: You are outsourcing American jobs. You are evil.

Me: The disparity in cost of intellectual capital between the US market and certain other emerging markets is a competitive advantage that US corporations can not afford to ignore. A well reasoned global staffing strategy will actually be additive to the American work force, keeping high-value jobs here, and retaining our dominance over the global economy.

Me: (thinks to myself, hey, wait a second -- when did I become a Republican?)

They: You are outsourcing American jobs. You are evil. And hey, wait a second -- when did you become a Republican?

Me: This is not a question of good and evil. This is all a byproduct of an amoral free-market system. Intellectual capital is freeflowing. There is nothing nationalistic or jingoistic about C++. Anyone with a big logical co-processor can learn to write code, and can do it reasonably well.

They: You are outsourcing American jobs. You are an evil Republican outsourcer, eroding the very fabric of the American flag.

Me: Okay. Let's look at this clinically. The computer software industry is just one in a long line of innovations over the last hundred years, most of which have been driven by the US Economy. Do you concur?

They: Yes Socrates. It is incontrovertible that, like the Cotton Gin, standardized components, and the assembly line itself, software is just the latest innovation driving growth into the global economy.

Me: Okay. So as with textiles, heavy manufacturing, light manufacturing, and electronic component assembly, once the innovation occurs, the magic is easily comported to areas with cheap resources, natural or human.

They: Yeah, verily Socrates, we have enjoyed the fruits of this economic vector, and we do certainly love our reliable Honda automobiles.

Me: You're stealing my thunder, but thank you. Now, if you accept that the natural course of action in a global economy is to innovate, level, and then move the repetitive parts of the industry to markets favorable for production, you will have a hard time justifying that software jobs must, for some moral imperative, stay in-country. And, if you accept that global sourcing is okay, nay, even inevitable for manufacturing, you're on shaky ground trying to tell me that I'm evil for sending some testing and feature development to India.

They: But, never the less, you are outsourcing American jobs, and you are evil.

Me: Very well. To end this dialog, I will make you a bet. If I lose, I am evil, and I will buy you a beer. If I win, you are involving yourself in a logical inconsistency, you must shut up, buy me a beer, and read The World is Flat, by Thomas Friedman.

They: Surely, we will take this bet, for we perceive that you are outsourcing American jobs, and that you are evil.

Me: You are already involved, as a direct beneficiary, in global sourcing. And all your buying decisions, whether you know it or not, support global sourcing. Given this, it is untenable to protect a single industry, or to advocate an asymmetric flow of knowledge and capital. Here is the bet: I bet you that you are not wearing one single article of clothing that was made in the United States of America.

They: I will take this bet. (they then wiggle, pull tags from their collars, excuse themselves to the privacy of the nearest restroom...)

I don't know that I've changed anyone's mind with this argument, but I do know that I have not lost this bet.

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