I want my job to go to India

I want my job to go to India

Summary: Offshoring can be controversial, if not scary, but how can we make it work for us?


With high speed internet connections, a developer working in Raleigh, North Carolina and one working in Pune, India are virtually indistinguishable. Do you know where all the people you exchange email with actually live? Probably not. It's even hard to tell if they're working in the office or at home any more. Yet the developer in the US (or France or Japan or ...) may enjoy 4 times the salary of the one in India (or Russia, or China or ...) because our cost of living is so much higher. Unless we justify that salary, it's not sustainable. So how do we do that?

A colleague told me today that 70% of her time is spent maintaining the old version of the software as opposed to working on the next version. By maintainence I mean duplicating customer reported problems, fixing bugs, creating hot fixes and service packs,  tweaking performance to address complaints, and so forth. No matter how much time you spend testing, often these late problems involve load that was heavier, or data that was bigger, or operations that were more complex than you could come up with in house. Multi-threaded applications are especially problematic as often you'll have an intermittent timing-sensitive problem that won't show up at all until certain conditions are met.

Does this sound familiar? You have a long list of innovative ideas and features that you'd love to put in the next version, but you're unable to find the time. Management promises that you'll be given time as soon as these maintenance things let up. But they never let up. Management promises to clear your schedule, to restrict maintenance to part of the team and let you have some breathing space. But then the next day a high priority gotta-have-it-now defect comes in. Experienced, highly qualified and highly paid developers become firefighters, running from one emergency to another. Meanwhile the remote teams, with no such baggage, get the new projects and growth opportunities, and produce quicker results because they can do it full time.

This is incredibly frustrating, and I think it's exactly backwards. I want to switch roles.

We propose what we call "sustainability teams". As soon as a product version gets to a certain stage, whether it's beta or release candidate or early release or first ship, responsibility for that version is transfered completely from the local development team to the remote sustainability team. The sustainability team learns the code and handles all bug fixing and tweaking duties for the rest of that version's lifecycle. It's hard but well defined work, a good way to build up experience. And, importantly, they get to send feedback on anti-patterns and problem areas they discover to the designers of the next version.

Time zone differences actually work in your favor here. Communication is limited by physical and temporal separation, forcing the sustainability team to dig in and learn how everything works themselves rather than going down the hall and interrupting the development team. One team can come up with a list of questions at the end of their work day which will be waiting when the next team reports for work the next day Then the second team could take all the time the need to have the answers ready for the first team when they come back to work.

Meanwhile those frustrated but talented developers and architects who are just chomping at the bit to work on the cool new stuff are set free to deliver innovation and customer value nearly 100% of the time.

So what do you think? If you're doing this already, how is it working out?

Topic: CXO

Ed Burnette

About Ed Burnette

Ed Burnette is a software industry veteran with more than 25 years of experience as a programmer, author, and speaker. He has written numerous technical articles and books, most recently "Hello, Android: Introducing Google's Mobile Development Platform" from the Pragmatic Programmers.

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  • re: I want my job to go to India

    I've been there. We actually did this with a contract I was on where we brought in a team from Noida, India for three months and trained them on our product. They then went back to India and tried to support it. It worked better than I thought it would. But it was still a major PITA. We were able to focus on the new version but support on the old version took a major hit. But you are right. There isn't anything we can do about globalization. I guess the best thing to do is to move to a country that has social programs that protect their people from economic shifts like this. I feel sorry for my kids. It's going to be a rough road ahead.
    • Been there done that

      We tried that internally. Annointed ones were to constantly forge a new path, blazing new frontiers while the less able were to fix/maintain/upgrade code gratefully received from the the olympian heights.

      I found another team in house that had less grandiose (pathological?) goals. Shortly after it was realized that the idea sucked. The gods had feet of clay, and turned over worse code than before - ship dates, you know? Worse than that, supposed training for the 'dummies' in maintenence never happened - who had time to learn anything will all the work that was needed to do? End result - unhappy users, uhappy workders, unhappy managers - and the golden ones had an ivorytowerectomy from their posteriors, and went back to maintaining what they wrote.
      • Olympian heights? No

        If they had that kind of attitude I'm not suprised they failed. It's not a matter of superiority, it's a matter of smart resource allocation.

        Also there's the feeling I have that, in general, the people who have worked on a project the longest know where the bigger redesign/refactorings need to be done in a new version (and they're dying to do it if they could get the time). But the sustainability team can share good ideas on that too.
        Ed Burnette
      • Annointed ones without accountability?

        Did the annointed ones have any accountability? If there is a minimum standard for the code BEFORE it is released, or transferred, that could resolve the issue. Any time you have a group without accountability for their action or work, then that action or work will be substandard.
      • Don't be bitter

        The main idea I get from this post is that the author was one of the unannointed ones :(
    • There is no such country...

      "I guess the best thing to do is to move to a country that has social programs that protect their people from economic shifts like this."

      Socialization only adds to the costs because of needed administration of the program. Taxes skyrocket to pay for the programs. Not workable, as we're finding out with the impending doom of "Social Security". Thought you were all up to speed on that by now.
      • Re: There is no such country...

        Yeah I was wondering about that too. Maybe he was thinking of N. Korea or something. :)
        Ed Burnette
        • Or maybe....

          he was thinking of countries like Denmark, Sweden, Norway and
          Finland, which for the last quarter century have had low
          unemployment, fast-growing economies, government budget
          surpluses, low personal indebtedness, high wages ... AND
          comprehensive health, eldercare and education services.

          It can be done - hell, it is being done. The US social security
          system was a good idea, badly managed. It just takes a certain
          level of discipline in government - and that means among the
          voters too. Now both the US and German governments have
          teams here attempting to work out how they can duplicate
          elements of the same program.

          Having said that, globalization is still touching these countries.
          Companies which can outsource jobs do so. With the expansion
          of the EC, competition is coming more from the former soviet
          bloc countries than India and China, but the pressures are the

          The answer is the same too. Make useful contacts in developing
          countries. Partner when you can. See developing countries as
          markets as well as competitors. Make education to a high
          technical standard a national priority to climb higher up the
          value tree (and DO it, don't just talk about it). Kill off industries
          that can't compete and retrain their workers for other jobs -
          even if it's something different. Keep the minimum wage high to
          prevent the development of an underclass. Provide a
          comprehensive and solid social safety net, but insist that those
          who can work, do.

          Hey, it works well enough that I gave up my job in Washington
          to come to Copenhagen and have never regretted it.

          cheers, Mark
          • Denmark, Sweden etc.

            >The answer is the same too. Make useful contacts in
            >developing countries. Partner when you can. See
            >developing countries as markets as well as
            >competitors. Make education to a high ...

            yeah ... and you forgot: make promise to naive neighbours (Poland, for example) that, soon, very soon, you are going to give them a chance to compete with you on a level ground if they are going you free access to their markets *NOW* ... and then make "soon, very soon" mean "later, maybe never", but don't cue them on this ...
          • ...bingo

            >or maybe he was thinking of countries like >Denmark, Sweden, Norway ...

            Well, exactly. I spent several months working over in Denmark. And a musician friend of mine lives over in Sweden. We talk a lot about all of this, and I'm coming around to his point of view on things. I don't know if I'd ever take it as far as Denmark. But there is certainly a social cost to living in a world where there are virtually no safety nets and corporations run everything. When those corporations are only accountable to share holders, people suffer. That's all I'm saying. If you're happy with it, great. But be sure and ask yourself why. I'll bet it's because you have wonderful dreams at night of your bank account filling up. And you've forgotten about the people who have lost their jobs, or are losing their jobs. And finally, you've also stuck your head in the sand and forgotten our history in this country. You have the foresight to see that another economic shift is coming. Globalization makes that certain. And yet, your greed prevents you from recoginizing what this means to American families. Typical. Find someone who was alive during the Great Depression and talk to them about it. And for God's sake, look inside your heart and find some compassion for your fellow man. That goes for all of you.
      • Guess you've been drinking the kool-aid too.

        What's the deal with people attacking Social Security? This program has been successful for over 70 years and would last forever if the Repubs weren't trying to sabotage it, and if the money didn't get spent on every thing except what it was meant for, like oh...stupid wars in the middle east, for example. Even under the gloomiest forcast, Social Security has enough funding to pay all benefits till about 2038, and even if NOTHING is done, it can still pay about 75% of benefits after that. Administration costs? A couple percent, maybe. How much is the administration cost of a typical investment portfolio? How about commissions on a stock portfolio? The fact is, this program is the only thing alot of people are going to have, so unless you want millions of starving people breaking down the doors of your gated communities, you "conservatives" better wake up and smell the coffee. I'm surprised some arrogant ass hasn't suggested letting India administer it. I'm sure they could do it MUCH more cheaply...
    • Jobs for Kids

      "I feel sorry for my kids. It's going to be a rough road ahead."

      It certainly will be very rough. I am hoping that my kids learn to be lawyers or politicians. Politicians always seem to make more and more money -- they don't even have to vote for a raise for themselves, they already gave theirselves and automatic rais and have to vote to NOT get it.

      The rest of the people in this country are just going to be screwed.
      Silent Observer
  • I hope so too.

    Well, I must say that I hope you get your wish. I hope that your job does move to India.

    It would be the best way for you to learn first hand what so many of our co-workers have endured : the sting of unemployment and financial ruin.

    Maybe when *your* car is repossessed, *your* home foreclosed, and *your* children hungry you will develop a twinge of empathy for your fellow citizens' suffering.

    ... but then again, maybe not.

    • Empathy

      After the tech bubble burst a lot of my friends found themselves unemployed. Things are bouncing back though and there are opportunities for people all over the world. I don't think it's a zero-sum game.
      Ed Burnette
      • Bouncing back?

        Not. I'm sorry, Ed, but that is not the case. It's quite simple - the more jobs we send overseas the less opportunity our workers have, and the lower our salaries drop.

        I too hope that YOUR job is sent overseas. That may be the only way for you to see the damage that outsourcing is doing to this country.
        • Interesting times

          Why are you guys so anxious to see me out of a job? :)

          Outsourcing worries me too, otherwise I wouldn't be trying so hard to stay current and on top of my game.
          Ed Burnette
          • Yes they are...

            I really don't want to see you out of a job.

            Keeping your skills current, and not becoming complacent is definitely key in keeping a job these days.

            I think what everyone is trying to tell you is that outsourcing at any level is a bad idea when we have qualified IT people in America who are losing their jobs, houses, and lives to outsourcing. This is an undeniable truth that I have witnessed first hand. I however have managed to keep myself employed for the most part by learning new technologies and taking much much lower paying jobs. It's easier for us younger people to do this. The really sad cases are the people who lose their jobs, benefits, and pensions at near retirement age when it is tough to jump back into the learning game.

            I just the American policy should be like most other countries. No outsourcing as long as there is a qualified American citizen to fill the position. Lack of qualified people is not driving a lot of the outsourcing. Corporate profits (greed) are.

            Thanks :)
  • Interesting approach

    I liked your article. It actually contained some fresh ideas about outsourcing (unlike most I read on ZDNet from the likes of Marc Carrol). Yes, preventing globalization probably will not work since those with the money call the shots and cheap labor is always good in their eyes. So managing it is probably best for todays IT shops and could be beneficial in the end. I personally would rather work with customers on the next version of software rather than dwelling in the problems of the current one.
  • I think that's the natural progression

    Maintenance tasks make more outsourcing sense than new development, as new development requires close interaction with customers and cultural skills that far-removed outsourcing organizations will have a hard time matching, as I discussed in [url=http://news.zdnet.com/2100-9595_22-5143385.html]this article[/url]. The net result can be MORE software development across the board, as corporations can have more time to do the new software development once their in-house (or just local contract) developers are set free to work on it. There's TONS of stuff that doesn't get done for lack of time and resources.
    John Carroll
    • Why not move everything to India?

      What's to keep the decision makers from moving both new development and maintenance overseas? Nothing. They are starting to do just that. The huge microprocessor company I work for has a massive R&D campus in India and it's getting bigger. Even project management is starting to be done over in India. Where will it stop? Why isn't the US government worried about all of the lost payroll taxes? Why are the American people not concerned? It just baffles me to no end that the American population seems to be so complacent about the high tech industry being moved offshore. You can see the effects in the American economy and the stock market. The huge microprocessor company's stock is going down, not up. Ever wonder why? Let's just say, I would buy myself a new computer and car right now but I'm saving my money in preparation for being out of work or transitioning to one of those new jobs that Bush hoots and hollers about. The new jobs at Walmart that pay barely above minimum wage. It's a sad time for Americans.

      Jake Danger