Over There

Why would anyone think being a "code monkey" has a future?

Joe Celko, Contributor

March 23, 2004

3 Min Read

A Yahoo News article (which was taken from the Wall Street Journal — although I don't want to admit that I might read hardcopy news) reported that IBM was moving as many as 4,730 programmers and other "highly paid software jobs" to India, China, and unnamed other countries (Dec. 15, 2003). I'm a big fan of Despair Inc. and keep one of its pessimist mugs on my desk. IBM employees might want to look at www.despair.com/discovery.html for some cubicle flair.

The same article states: "Some workers are scheduled to be informed of the plan for their jobs by the end of January. After that they will be expected to train an overseas replacement worker in the U.S. for several weeks. IBM workers marked for replacement have 60 days to find another job inside the company, likely to be a difficult task at a time when IBM is holding down hiring."

From the French Word, Sabot

People train their replacement if they expect to get a promotion. Having a replacement is how you beat the "Paul Principle." The "Peter Principle" states that people tend to rise to their level of incompetence in an organization; the "Paul Principle" states that someone can be so valuable and irreplaceable where they are that they never get promoted to their level of incompetence.

However, without that expectation, people either don't train a replacement by quitting or malingering, or they sabotage their replacement. I had a Christmas card drawn for me by Jerry Collins, based on a Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest (www.bulwer-lytton.com) winner. The caption is: "Wouldn't let me join in any reindeer games, eh?" A bitter Rudolph, his red nose glowing angrily in the dense fog, slips from his bell-studded harness and watches eight of his tormentors, a sleigh full of toys, and Saint Nicholas, too, smash into a mountain slope.

In the long run, however, I have to wonder why people think that when they can't manage local personnel within easy strangling and shooting distance, then they can manage personnel thousands of miles away that have different languages, cultures, and business rules.

The Big Picture

On the other hand, you have to wonder why anyone whose product can be replaced by a cheaper one deserves to be subsidized at the expense of everyone else — the French Farmer mentality. It isn't good or even possible in the long run.

At the beginning of the 19th century, 80 to 90 percent of the population in Western countries was employed in agriculture; today, it's about 2 percent to 3 percent. Ask yourself, do people in the West worry about famine or obesity in the 21st century? We use machinery and technology, not animal and human labor.

The same pattern holds for the 20th century — we have fewer people in the manufacturing industries and a higher output than ever before. We do the design work in America and ship the fabrication overseas.

Why would anyone think that being a "code monkey" has a future? Right now, the educational system is putting out two extremes. There are the academic computer scientists on one end. They're all theory and no practice or experience in a commercial environment.

The other extreme are the kids with a certification. They can answer "Trivial Pursuit" questions about their programming language, but they can't analyze, document, perform quality assurance, or understand a business problem. The estimate is that it takes two years for new developers just to be worth their salary to a company. And most of them leave between the first and second year.

The future for IT is the same as it was for agriculture and manufacturing. For us, the particulars are new technologies and model-driven architecture. Any detail work can go to the developing nations.

Joe Celko [[email protected]] is vice president of RDBMS at North Face Learning in Salt Lake City and author of five books on SQL.

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