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10/17/2003
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Defying conventional wisdom that isolationist sentiment would be irrelevant among information workers, recent posters feel their problems are caused by some ''other.''

Unemployment Remedies
Tremendous strains are building in the IT workforce and in the world of people who used to work in IT. Thoroughly civil discourse on employment and outsourcing that crackled on InformationWeek's Listening Post discussion site three months ago has devolved into anguish, anger, and xenophobia. Some of it's understandable and even inevitable. As we prepare to close the third year of the industry's most dramatic downturn, the question is, will the strain let up before there's some sort of quake?

Take a look at three recent postings that span the spectrum of Listening Post opinion on employment. One, by "Cubegeek Dotcom," is dour and analytical; "Alfred Brock" is reacting emotionally and xenophobically; and "J2EE Architect" says the answer will come only from our own hands.

IT innovation and risk-taking have all but stopped, Cubegeek says. "There traditionally have been young software companies that learn from development lessons and build better tools. These companies kept larger, slower companies on their toes, and could be counted on to push the market forward even if their cumulative share was only 20%." So, the number of externally created innovations has flattened. And IT departments don't want to take risks on technology. They've been burned by their cool-for-the-sake-of-cool budgets, and execs now only buy safe, Cubegeek says. "We seem to forget that we are here to serve the business, not to satisfy our own curiosity. All those new tools and languages meant nothing to businesspeople. All they care about are results or the lack of them." Fewer innovations mean fewer new skills needed to make products out of the innovations. Instead of struggling to keep up with the demand for new skills created in the United States, IT workers the world over need be only as proficient as their domestic counterparts. In essence, "all of us are jogging in place with the same tech, and younger, less experienced programmers have as much experience with old technology as anyone else."

Brock is less interested in trying to figure out the problem as in eliminating it--in so far as he sees nonnative U.S. workers as the problem. "The movement of IT work offshore should cease immediately. The party is over. The border is closed. The United States is open for business and closed to immigration of any kind for the next 20 years. If you are employing aliens to cut your lawn, you are a traitor." Brock goes on to propose anyone who's settled here in the last decade be deported.

J2EE Architect sees blame and salvation in domestic IT workers. "It's called the revenge of the businesspeople. We in IT have no credibility. We overpromised and underdelivered or didn't deliver at all during the dot-com bubble, and execs watched all that investment go down the drain. Too bad too many people in IT still don't realize that technology means nothing. What matters is our knowledge about how to apply appropriate technologies, be it new or old, to solve business problems. That is exactly where offshore outsourcers are succeeding and where we are failing!"

Following the dot-bomb, says J2EE Architect, "when we can't deliver on our promise or get hung up on our obsession with the coolest toys, businesspeople start to look elsewhere for perceived better values and lower costs. In this case, to offshore outsourcers."

I confess that there's a certain fascination for me in reading some of this debate. It's like looking at an auto wreck. There's a base gallows interest, but there's also a need in me to figure out how it all happened, reaching back to the real nitty-gritty: How would I fare if I hit the same curb that that driver hit?

Don't be shy, but do be civil in the Listening Post.

Jim Nash,
managing editor, news and interactive products
jnash@cmp.com


To discuss this column with other readers, please visit the Talk Shop.

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