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Are we ignoring what?s been happening to our profession?

By bospgmr ·

With all due respect, this is going to sound like an addiction admission at an AA meeting. My story, and I?ll try to make it brief, is very typical of millions of second-generation computer programmers in my age group in America.

I?m Bill from Boston, I?m 48 years old with 26 years of IT experience. It use to be called EDP Electronic Data Processing then MIS, IS and now IT. Anyway, I started my career at the ripe young age of 22 after completing a six month computer programming training course at CPI (Computer Processing Institute) in East Harford CT. These schools were common then because most large companies were automating, mostly on IBM 360/370 mainframes, at a furious pace and most colleges did not yet have computer curriculums or programming courses. Hartford CT?s claim to business fame was/is insurance, it was once known as the ?insurance capital? of America. American business desperately needed programmers and mostly COBOL.

So there I was, like most of us I had a job offer from a large company even before graduating from the program. $11, 000 per year, wow, I thought it was a fortune, and it nearly was for a bright eye 22 year old from CT moving to the big city of Boston. Larry Bird and I were born in the same year, 1956, and we each moved to Bean Town the same year, 1979. IT/programming shot off like a rocket in the 80?s and 90?s in Boston and around the US, similar to the Celtics. It certainly was a ?heyday?, and 90% of the work was development, all new, all creative all large and expensive projects and systems.

Again my career progressed similarly to most. In the 80?s as a computer programmer you were constantly learning. Yes, companies would constantly TRAIN you either in-house or they would send you away, it was vital for them to have skilled computer professionals. At most companies the computer geeks and EDP were like the unwanted stepchild. We were resented by those who normally ran the show prior to us and ?the? computer arriving on the scene. The computer was a ?culture shock? to most companies. These people were mostly finance workers, accountants the A/P & A/R departments etc. Companies then would actually post computer related job opening and allow employees from other departments to get trained and switch careers, as opposed to the current trends. Have a skilled need? Hire somebody in India.

Along with the company training many programmers would take evening course at local colleges to stay current and get ahead. I hung in for 5 tough years of night school obtaining a BS in Computer Science from Boston University in 1985. Mine was the first graduating class from BU to include Computer Science as a degree major, prior to that they were Math degrees with a concentration in computers. I made it, I was ?all set?. The federal bureau of labor statistics annually stated the need for computer professionals would far outweigh the supply past the year 2020, we were sitting pretty.

Again the 80?s were hot for computer programmers and for the Celtics. If you became disappointed with your employer or job you could quit and quickly be hired somewhere else with a sizeable increase in pay. Most programmers would job-hop, 2 to 3 years was a normal length of stay. Recruiters would call you, at home or at work, constantly telling you of new and better opportunities for even more money. Again, in 1979 I started at an $11k salary by 1985 I was making $48k plus bonus.

Another trend for computer programmers in the 80s & 90s was to obtain several years of experience and some expertise and become a contractor. You would find a client by marketing yourself and your skills either directly or via an agency, a headhunter or ?pimp? as we affectionately called them. They are the scourge of the earth. I took the leap in 1988, $40 per hour. I gave up the security of a full time job and salary for a temporary assignment. The hiring manager cautioned me that it would only last 3 months, it turned out to be a 2+ year gig. And that?s how it normally went on average for me for the next 14 years with my net billing rate continually increasing from $40 per hour in 1988 to $62 in 2001. The year 1999 (what a surprise) was my best to date, $129,000 gross. A good thing about being a contractor is there is NO overhead. Compared to a doctor or some other profession, they may gross more but they have overhead; expenses, offices, supplies, employees etc.

Then came 2001;

I have a few key words that I attribute the dismantling of this profession and even worse the US economy, as we KNEW it;

Head Hunters
Illegal Immigration
H1B?s (NAFTS, Free Trade)
World Economy
Out-sourcing/Off Shoring

As most of us know 2001 brought everything to a screeching halt, especially high-tech and IT. The anticipated long-term assignment I was working on was cancelled along with my contract. I was out of work for several weeks before I found another assignment, this time only netting me $50 per hour. That lasted for about 10 weeks, into September 2001, when as we all know, stuff really hit the fan. A declining economy went into a tail spin and again even more so for High-tech/IT. By that time many IT professionals had already been out of work for long periods of time. I sought another contract position but quickly realized that the trough was near empty. I changed my strategy to seek safe harbor from the storm and found a full-time job. I luckily found a job at a VERY large national bank, in Mass., within their Treasury Services department. For the next 2.5 years I was the last IT (legacy, mainframe, development programmer) hired. I found the job to be extremely boring but I was glad to be working even at $75k, $54k less than what I made in 2000, $129k.

My strong opinion as to why SO many IT workers were (and still are) out of work for so long is a direct result of 1) HB1?s & NAFTA etc. visa statues, foreign workers with temporary visa?s taking American ?citizen? labor from them and 2) IT work being sent (off-shored) to foreign countries.

Out-Sourcing is nothing new. What?s different about it now is the ?off shore? element of it. In 70s, 80s and early 90s out-sourcing meant a company was contracting a portion of their business to a service bureau or software vendor. This meant that lost jobs in company ?A? would end up in company ?B?, maybe within the same state or possibly another but most likely remain within the US and its economy.

Anyone who tries to sell and defend Off-Shoring and the ?open? and ?world? economies is talking techno-babble and MBA-speak. The ONLY person who benefit from Off-Shoring are the corporate Sr. executives and financers who get huge bonuses for improving their bottom lines. This improvement of the bottom line comes at the price of a job for their neighbors, brothers, cousins and fellow American?s. In my opinion it is treasoness and unethical.

The reality of what ?world economy? means; USA has long enjoyed being the richest nation in the world which included the highest per-capata income the least percentage of poverty etc. A world economy, to America, simply means that the US is going to voluntarily allow our standards of living, income and the power that goes along with wealth to be diminished, homogenized and sacrificed so that other countries can approach or attain our watered-down wealth.

Do I sound ?selfish?? This is simply another step towards socialism being pushed by the extreme liberal left. First the US belongs to its citizens to have and protect. In the US it has always been O.K. to make a buck, compete, win and be on-top etc. Now we are being conditioned to believe that ?purposely being less competitive to allow the rest of the world to catch up to us economically? is a good thing. All it means it that their economies will improve and ours will decline along with our lifestyles.

IT is going the way of many other lost (given away) American professions and industries (steel, tires, leather, garment, automobile, ship building, manufacturing in general, electronics, farming, etc. etc. ..) Soon it will be more of the financial sector up to and including the MBA?s themselves. Maybe it?ll reach the executive level, it already has for those foreign companies that have replaced ours.

Off Shoring, Out-Sourcing, NAFTA, H-1B?s etc are all bad for the US its people and its economy.

Now I?m back to contracting, at $40 per hour, what I first made as a contractor in 1988. It?s a 3 month gig and it probably won?t ge extended and I?ll be out for another 6 months. Best of luck to the millions of you who have not been so lucky. Yes, it is supply & demand. The supply has been unfairly (unnaturally) deflated by sending millions of US JOBs Off-Shore. Believe me, these countries taking our jobs will not in return spend or trade in anywhere near equal amounts from what they are taking. They love our money they hate us.


Software firms eager to cash in on H1Bs
Nov. 24, 2004
For the Indian software industry, the law passed by the US Congress last week to issue 20,000 more H1B visas for foreign students pursuing higher studies in that country seems a sign of "more to come". This has also set the tenor for them to recruit more post-graduates from US Universities. "This is a positive signal from the US government and is expected to pave way for more relaxations", said Deepak Khosla, general manager, marketing, of Patni Computer Systems. The company sees this as access to a larger talent pool. It has over 2,000 software professionals working in the US, a large number of whom have studied there. "Already, around 3-4% of our 4,000-odd employees have American degrees. We see that number doubling in the next year," said Deepak Ghaisas, CEO of iFlex. However, while this law enables mobilisation of more people for onsite work, it restricts the choice of employees, he said.

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Absolutely NOT...

by mrafrohead In reply to Are we ignoring what?s be ...

Just remember this much.

Those assholes may be sending out jobs out of this country and screwing us, but WE ALL have the power to return the favor.

We know who does it.

DO NOT - I repeat - DO NOT spend your money with those companies.

They bit the hand that feeds them, so stop feeding them.

There are millions of places to shop, most of them support America and Americans, as well as the American Dollar. Stick with them.

Remember, convenience is a great thing, but it isn't necessary. There's nothing wrong waiting an extra day to get what you want, or driving another block to pick something up.

It's all very simple.

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Not so fast squeaky...

by robdew In reply to Absolutely NOT...

Most of the "PEOPLE" that buy their software are NOT IT workers and have no idea nor do they care anything about the plight of the IT worker.

Wake up fruity ***...

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Sorry, no sale

by amcol In reply to Are we ignoring what?s be ...

Wow. Feel better now?

For someone who started out saying he'd be brief I can't imagine what details you left out. I know more about you now than I do about myself.

Your entire tirade (and let's face it, all due respect but that's what it is) is an example of not facing reality. Here's why:

1. The idea that IT is a dead profession for Americans due to outsourcing is, quite simply, preposterous. However you want to measure it, and by whatever figures you care to quote, the IT unemployment rate is no better or worse than that of the general population. Moreover, focusing on one causative factor to the exclusion of all else is a gross denial of fact.

2. You've been in IT for 26 years. Have you had 26 years of experience, or one year of experience 26 times? Why are you still doing development work? Don't tell me it's all you can get...if that's true, it's because you didn't take the time and trouble to develop new skills. I'm not talking about a former Cobol programmer learning C++, that's just more of the same. Don't blame India, or China, or all those evil employers who outsource "your" job. Look inward.

3. In 1985 you were looking at statistics about what your job security would be like in 2020, 35 years later. Got stuck in quite a comfort zone, didn't you? Did you plan your career, or did your career just happen to you? What makes you think any of those evil outsourcing employers owes you, or me, or any of us a job? I'm quite certain you always did great work, gave value for the money you were paid. It's too bad none of those evil employers recognized your talent and rewarded you with a lifetime contract. That's what you wanted, isn't it?

4. Open and world economies is techno-babble and MBA-speak? Here you're not only demonstrating denial of reality, you're displaying your lack of knowledge. Read anything by Adam Smith or John Maynard Keynes, or listen to most of what Alan Greenspan talks about. You want America to return to isolationism? This country was a much better place back then, wasn't it. Right before the Great Depression hit, I mean.

5. Do you sound selfish? Yeah, you do. And peevish, whiny, and worst of all self-pitying. Get hold of what you need to do to survive, and thrive. No one owes you or anyone else anything.

Not my place to psychoanalyze, but I don't think you wrote this to express an opinion or solicit the feedback of an informed, intelligent community. You just wanted to sound off, and while you're certainly entitled to disagree with that idea I'd tell you it's just another example of how you're denying reality.

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No taker here either

by dafe2 In reply to Sorry, no sale

I'm able to offer some cheese for that whine, but the offer wouldn't be heard over the violin.

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Not in my opinion

by Tony Hopkinson In reply to Are we ignoring what?s be ...

All the problems you quote are symptoms !
2001 was simply the end of the boom. It was a failure of business. Essentially the boom time was 'everyone' getting a pc, network connection and a mobile phone. Business geared up to take that market, get that business. They were maximizing profit by increasing sales. Strangely enough from later howls of dismay, they didn't forecast market satuaration and massive over capacity. Those that did either underestimated it, or saw it too late, or put their faith in something new (next generation) to take up the shortfall. Surprise they got it wrong, still making a profit however, now they're doing it by reducing costs.

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Not much pity, although...

by house In reply to Are we ignoring what?s be ...

I'm more of a network admin type guy, so programming is a touchy subject. I've seen it first hand in web-dev, where freelancers who are willing to work for peanuts at home, are pushing out salary positions. I'm assuming that the same goes for application development.

As far as web development goes, in my town, those who are successful are their own good businessmam/woman. Those who are not successful, lack the ability to sell themselves in this ever changing environment.

Expand your knowledge and don't remain complacent. That is the only advice that I can give you. We are years past hiding our IT folks in a room next to the furnace.

In all fields... there are no more "jobs for life", so to speak.

Perhaps, you should write articles for IT mags. :)

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Learn to Compete in your new Environment

by ericw In reply to Are we ignoring what?s be ...

As is often the case in business, things tend to cycle. There was a massive "buzz" period for off-shore work that is now beginning to settle down into reality.

I worked as a manager of consultants for a large IT Consulting firm from 1998-2004 and observed the flow from H1Bs to off-shore. Over that time I worked with many large companies in many different industries.

Don't forget that in the late 90's the usage of H1Bs increased because there were simply not enough good developers in-country. I could hire front-end web developers right out of school (and had to deal with their sloppy work), but if I wanted a solid J2EE person, I either had to badly overpay, or get an H1.

Some wise people in India, and to a lesser degree some other countries, observed this trend and established infrastructure, training, and development programs in order to meet that demand.

When IT Off-Shore Outsourcing began to "buzz" as a means of saving money, everyone wanted to jump onto that bandwagon. Because my firm had an off-shore capability, nearly every company we worked with forcefully demanded we do their work off-shore, no matter what kind of work it was. As a result, I managed a number of off-shore efforts of all different types.

The reality of off-shore IT, is that, like anything else, it is good for some things and not good for other things. It is great for application maintenance and minor enhancements on a large scale, especially for legacy systems. Smaller scale operations are not cost effective because of the cost of management and infrastucture overhead (which most neglected during the "buzz" period).

Off-shore work is also good for medium-sized new-development projects as long as there is an on-site PM with off-shore experience and solid on-site BA capability.

Large new development and system integration work is NOT well suited to be done off-shore, especially under a tight timeline. The larger the project, the more depth and complexity to the business rules. Good off-shore managers will have a process for defining and clarifying business rules and tasks, and maintaining those communications with the off-shore team. However, no matter how good that process is, it will always fall short of sitting shoulder to shoulder and pointing to the screen. For this reason, off-shore projects lose huge amounts of time and are slow to recover from change.

Companies are now beginning to figure this out. Offshore is just another resource that IT Departments can use to get things done.

Now, back to this thread. You need to stop blaming, and start thinking about what you have to do to compete in this new environment.

The key to all of this is communication. You have an advantage over your counterparts in India because you have an inherent understanding of American business and how to communicate it. That advantage is even bigger when you look at other countries like China. Not only is English not their first language, but American business processes are also new to them (although India, in particular, is learning fast).

Look at offshore and in many cases H1Bs as code production machines, not unlike a robot on a production line in a factory. They are only as good as what is put into them. You need to position yourself as the innovator, architect, designer, and task manager that makes the production line work. With all those years behind you, you have the experience to do it.

If you continue to be just a code writer, then you will end up just like the welder that lost his job to that robot in the factory.

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Excellent post

by amcol In reply to Learn to Compete in your ...

I had the same experience, starting in the mid-1990's, except from the other side of the table...I was the guy at the Fortune 500 company to whom you were selling services.

The only observation I'd add to yours is with reference to the type of work to ship offshore. I found that India-based developers did best with well-defined projects (of any size) in which the objectives and specs were completely and clearly documented. These would typically be projects building or enhancing financial systems. Where they didn't do so well was with projects that were less clearly defined. Examples would be data warehouses, business analytics, sales force automation, and consumer or marketing based applications.

Several Asian Indian friends of mine explained to me that it's an issue of upbringing and training. They're culturally predisposed to take orders from the boss, to not question those orders or show initiative. If you ask them to extend the functionality of a system, for example, and in the course of opening the code to add the requested feature they find something in the existing code that's wrong, they won't fix it...that wasn't part of their commission, and therefore not explicitly what "the boss" wants.

Other than that, I was always more than satisfied with the work product. Most of what I contracted for during that period was delivered within reasonable shouting distance of budget, spec, and scope.

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Your right

by dafe2 In reply to Learn to Compete in your ...

This statement says so:

"Companies are now beginning to figure this out. Offshore is just another resource that IT Departments can use to get things done."

In Canada that's exactly what's happened. In most cases no jobs are lost - The current employess just take on a new new role. That is, they MANAGE & give DIRECTION to the Outsourcing entity. Also, they (The employees) found they could focus all their energies on higher impact projects.

The employees that realized that the focus of their job would be changing, looked to either (learn) project management skills or enhanced existing ones.

Your last line is the result of not changing your focus and/or enhancing skill sets:

"If you continue to be just a code writer, then you will end up just like the welder that lost his job to that robot in the factory"

And to answer the original question:

"Are we ignoring what?s been happening to our profession"

I hope not.

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