tenpastmidnight blog

Making hay while the sun shines

IT people, redundancies and outsourcing

It was the first Farm meeting of the new year yesterday, and many of us turned out to meet up in Lewes, at a pub just down the road from Crosbie's house. It seems only fair that it was so close to him, considering he's been known to walk from Lewes to Brighton for our normal meetings at the Lord Nelson pub.

Two new people turned up, who had recently been made redundant from the local branch of an international testing company when their department was outsourced to India. In a way it was just a change of outsourcing, because the company is American, so in a way they were just shifting from one outsourced place to another.

There is a lot of muttering and moaning going on in the posts on Slashdot about IT jobs being shifted to India and other countries. There doesn't seem to be quite as much about it in the UK, but that might just be because effectively my age group is 'Thatcher's Children' and we expect to be put out of work for 'economic' reasons.

The problem of IT work going abroad has come up many times in the Farm over the last year, it's a general worry to everyone in IT, but perhaps especially to freelancers, who can be in a much more precarious position in that there's no real warning before work dries up. You can see on websites like Freelancers.net that the piece-work on offer is now dominated by labour in places where the cost of living is extremely low compared to Europe or the States. Posters expect to get three days work for £20-50. For that kind of money I'd be better off going back to working in a shop.

From the various people I've talked to about it, there seems to be a feeling that software design and planning will still be required in this country, and client-facing tasks like investigating and writing specifications. Generally there is a feel that most of the 'grunt work' tasks have either gone abroad all ready or will do soon. There is some disagreement over the quality of the work that might be done in some of the places used for doing the work cheaply, but there are good and bad departments in large companies, and I think there are bound to be a lot of good programmers in India. It's not like the West has a monopoly on bright people.

So... where does that leave us programmers who have large rents to pay in expensive areas of our country? Well, there's a chance to increase your skills and move up to the more 'management' levels of coding - the design and upper-level project management jobs. Or there's the very low-end stuff, putting together very small amounts of coding, which the client wants quickly and don't understand how to describe it. This is the sort of programming where you have to see the client and what they do to really understand what they're on about, which takes us back to software design. Then there's becoming the middle-man, being the interface between the Western clients and the outsourced programming company. Or there's always... doing something else.

It's generally difficult to give up what you've been doing for several or many years, but you can always do something else. After all, that's what we expected the miners to do when the pits were closed down because it was cheaper to buy the coal elsewhere. It's what happened to a lot of jewellers, including my dad, when the public decided they'd rather buy cheap crap from Ratners than decent jewellery. It happened to the car factories, although some of them have now survived, owned by non-UK companies.

I might potentially be a little more ready to be flexible about what I do. I saw my father have to do several jobs after the bottom fell out of the jewellery trade, and eventually re-train to work on cars, which had always been his great love as a hobby. I did a degree in Psychology, I now work programming, which are closer than you might think, but I've also done fund raising, tech support, and plenty of low-level jobs working in shops, typing for people and building PCs. Doing something different isn't so bad, as long as you can take something from what you've done before and try and ensure you're not starting completely from scratch. Everyone has lots of experience they don't realise they have, and that doesn't go away even if what you do as a job changes.

I'd imagine it's a surprise to people in whatever group when their jobs start disappearing, but at least in IT we can see it happening - there's plenty of news about it on this here interweb thingy. Personally, I don't think there's a way of stopping the outsourcing, although I'm sure there will be many mistakes and failed projects along the way. That has more to do with management than exactly who is typing odd commands in to a keyboard. I think to be successful in the programming end of IT in the future of Europe and the States, now is the time to increase your skills and make sure you stand out from everyone else. Even if your current job gets outsourced, you'll have a better chance of getting another, potentially better job when it comes to the recruitment merry-go-round.
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