“[The programming language] C++ is now an international language. If that’s all you know, then you’re competing with people in India or China who will do the work for less.”

Catherine L. Mann, Brandeis University economist, in this NYT story about slow hiring in the tech sector

11 Responses to “Quote of the day: Have your skills become commodities?”

  1. In the words of you Daniel, if it can be outsourced overseas for pennies on the dollar…it probably is.

  2. The key is to “self-commoditize”, i.e. to control the commoditization of your skillset. The one weakness of outsourcing is that it weakens creativity. You outsource tasks that don’t require it. Tasks that do – stay at home.

  3. Chip Patton says:

    Yes, yes, the economics are compelling, but the presentation here is overly simplistic. C++ is a tool. It can be a tool for a programmer or for a systems developer. Just as a hammer can be a tool for a “nailer” or a carpenter. It’s easy to outsource someone who drives nails all day — it’s much harder to outsource someone who turns a pile of boards into a freestanding wardrobe closet. But there’s more: the carpenter needs an understanding of the environment that the wardrobe will be used in — what style and features are expected? Drawers inside? Does it have to stand flush with furniture beside it? What colors are pleasing in the target culture? Similarly software has as many of these “soft” requirements as wood working does, and these have been a big contributor in those cases where outsourced programming has been unsuccessful.
    On the other hand, with the economic growth in Brazil, Russia, India, China, etc., building software in the US for these markets has the same cultural and environmental issues, only in reverse, plus the economic issues, so serving those markets from local development becomes a winner.

  4. Amber Shah says:

    That is like saying Dan Pink should be afraid that English-speaking Indians are willing to write books for cheaper. It’s not the ability to type C++ in valid forms that’s valuable, it’s the content.

  5. Chip says:

    Anyone who would lose their job to outsourcing is simply not a very good programmer. I empathize with people losing their jobs, but there is no substitute for talent — no matter the market size.

  6. Alan says:

    Companies that turn jobs into robotic procedures and then outsource them based upon cost are totally losing the creativity of their employees and then their loyalty, commitment, desire to think creatively.

  7. Ivan says:

    Hey Dan,

    I work in Beijing and the change he, among others, is the number of grads coming here to learn Chinese. That’s the future. The wave is coming. Thinking you can be a smarter C++ programmer than some Asian kids… you’re dreaming.

    They work incredibly long hours here compared to the US – and I used to live in SFO so I know! – and never complain about the conditions.

    US workers need an attitude adjustment. They don’t know how hard these guys/girls work.

    Instead of fighting the wave, use it.

    My 2c.

  8. Chip says:

    Ivan: I’m living that dream.

  9. Amber Shah says:

    Programming is not just about being smart, it requires intelligence and creativity and innovation and CONTEXT.

    Yes, they work hard and are smart, but if that’s all there was, then every major US corp would outsource EVERYTHING (not just programming) and they aren’t. After all, Indian and Chinese schools have been teaching English for a long time now – so why not outsource the entire business operations?

    By the way, the irony of her claiming that C++ is going over and you backing it up just demonstrates both of your naivety. C++ is so outdated. People aren’t using it to write new software, we’re onto the next thing. If you can’t keep up then you get left behind.

  10. Kathleen says:

    I can’t imagine a programmer knowing one language and being successful for any significant length of time. That’s laughable, and I’m not even a programmer. I don’t think Ms. Mann intimidated American programmers with this statement, instead, it was a gaffe that showed she hasn’t looked at job listings for American programmers anytime recently, or maybe at all.

    Here’s a wiki timeline of programming languages: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Programming_language_timeline

    Not every one of those listed languages becomes well-known and widely used, mind you, but all the information in that table is evidence that new “tools” (to use Chip’s word) enter the programming universe every year. It would be really naive for a candidate to expect a lifelong career in the field because they know one programming language dated 1983, as if that was all they needed to know to succeed for the rest of their life.

  11. There will always be “best in class” in almost any industry. Copywriting is increasingly viewed as a commodity – by businesses that don’t know better.

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