.

 

Outsourcing, Etc.

Considering the source of outsourcing.

Thinking about outsourcing, mostly I'm struck by the irony that the tools, networks, and protocols built over the last 40 years by programmers are the exact mechanism that allows these jobs to move overseas. It's fast Internet connections and carefully designed software that makes it possible for a programmer in Bangalore to work for a company in Palo Alto. The programmers are being eaten by the creature they made themselves.

For programmers, the debate has always been whether coding is a science or an art, or some combination of the two. The seminal work of Donald Knuth, considered by many to be the programmer's programmer, is called The Art of Computer Programming. And a well-known computer scientist named Richard P. Gabriel is developing an MFA program, a master of fine arts in software, as a protest against the engineering focus of most computing classes. And traditionally, people who write code are supposed to love what they do and be paid very well. So I think it's going to be particularly hard for them to realize that they're neither scientists nor artists. They're labor.

Some coders are realizing this, and working to form labor unions. On the surface, it's laughable. A picket line of programmers would be painfully easy to cross, and they're already sitting down, so how can they have a sit-down strike? And who would strike with them? The people who make Jolt cola? The guys who deliver Chinese food late at night? Renaissance faire employees?

But these are stereotypes. And once you get past them, you'll find that Web sites and email lists are appearing for frustrated programmers looking to organize, and a noisy minority of coders are staking their claims. Even at IBM, where not that long ago company loyalty went unquestioned-the web site AllianceIBM.org details attempts to unionize Big Blue, describing the fight against layoffs and offshoring. Which when you think about it brings things full circle. The technology developed at companies like IBM was used to send jobs overseas, but the same technology can be used to rally the programmers, to keep them in touch and push them to be activists, to keep their jobs at home.


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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

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