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.

If you have any questions for me, I am very accessible by email. You can email me at ford@ftrain.com and ask me things and I will try to answer. Especially if you want to clarify something or write something critical. I am glad to clarify things so that you can disagree more effectively.


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© 1974-2011 Paul Ford


@20, by Paul Ford. Not any kind of eulogy, thanks. And no header image, either. (October 15)

Recent Offsite Work: Code and Prose. As a hobby I write. (January 14)

Rotary Dial. (August 21)

10 Timeframes. (June 20)

Facebook and Instagram: When Your Favorite App Sells Out. (April 10)

Why I Am Leaving the People of the Red Valley. (April 7)

Welcome to the Company. (September 21)

“Facebook and the Epiphanator: An End to Endings?”. Forgot to tell you about this. (July 20)

“The Age of Mechanical Reproduction”. An essay for TheMorningNews.org. (July 11)

Woods+. People call me a lot and say: What is this new thing? You're a nerd. Explain it immediately. (July 10)

Reading Tonight. Reading! (May 25)

Recorded Entertainment #2, by Paul Ford. (May 18)

Recorded Entertainment #1, by Paul Ford. (May 17)

Nanolaw with Daughter. Why privacy mattered. (May 16)

0h30m w/Photoshop, by Paul Ford. It's immediately clear to me now that I'm writing again that I need to come up with some new forms in order to have fun here—so that I can get a rhythm and know what I'm doing. One thing that works for me are time limits; pencils up, pencils down. So: Fridays, write for 30 minutes; edit for 20 minutes max; and go whip up some images if necessary, like the big crappy hand below that's all meaningful and evocative because it's retro and zoomed-in. Post it, and leave it alone. Can I do that every Friday? Yes! Will I? Maybe! But I crave that simple continuity. For today, for absolutely no reason other than that it came unbidden into my brain, the subject will be Photoshop. (Do we have a process? We have a process. It is 11:39 and...) (May 13)

That Shaggy Feeling. Soon, orphans. (May 12)

Antilunchism, by Paul Ford. Snack trams. (May 11)

Tickler File Forever, by Paul Ford. I'll have no one to blame but future me. (May 10)

Time's Inverted Index, by Paul Ford. (1) When robots write history we can get in trouble with our past selves. (2) Search-generated, "false" chrestomathies and the historical fallacy. (May 9)

Bantha Tracks. (May 5)

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