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MIT uses offshore programmers for OCW

Philip Greenspun strikes again. He’s got another post on some of the workings behind MIT’s Open Courseware Initiative. Here’s
an excerpt:

Students began to wake up.

A PowerPoint slide contained the magic word “Delhi”.� It turns out that most of the content editing and all of the programming work for OpenCourseWare was done in India, either by Sapient, MIT’s main contractor for the project, or by a handful of Microsoft India employees who helped set up the Content Management Server.

I find this amusing that one of the top rated technical schools can’t somehow find a way to funnel their student body to be active contributers for this ‘open effort’

The ensuing comments following are the typical charged debate about offshoring. What I find interesting and rather consistent is many analysts and many folks that tend to benefit from this offshoring (aka NON-US Citizens) tend to say this (and rather consistently):

“The top IT (and related project management) work will remain in the US because it requires detailed knowledge and quick analysis of subtleties that are cultural, company-specific, industry-specific, etc… What will happen is that the lower-value jobs (coding, detailed design, etc.) will go offshore. The jobs that remain will be more valuable, challenging, and interesting.”

The general gist is that the process of offshoring IS INEVITABLE. That’s wonderful… nothing you can do about it can you? Well here’s a post by George McBay that I’ve included that really expresses my worries completely:

The thing the economists (and you) are missing is that if all of the low-level “grunt work” jobs get shipped off to India, how do our high-level designers of TOMORROW get groomed? A new CS graduate, no matter how good his or her school, is fairly useless to real world high level architecture and design until they’ve spent years in the field learning their craft.. that means doing the low level “uninteresting” things like coding and detailed design.

If these “learning” jobs are all off-shore, how do you suppose they’ll ever mature to be world-class architects of the future? They won’t; so within a generation we’ll lose not only the low level jobs, but all of the high level ones because only the ‘low level’ developers in India (and other places we have massively offshored jobs to) will be qualified to do these tasks since they now have all the real-world experience.

Try to think beyond the next fiscal year, people.

His thoughts echo to me very well. When I was in Boston I spent a bit of time job searching and I got knocked off many times due to ‘experience’. I even had a few jobs that fit me perfectly get ‘offshored’ before I even got to interview for them. I was very disappointed about being told off about experience. I tended to be honest as possible in my evaluation of myself. And I really think given a chance I could learn almost anything. I mean why bother going back to school and learning how to program when all the programmer jobs require more years of experience than I’ve been in school? And reading people post on the forum ‘oh well, you just chose the wrong field duuuh!’ doesn’t exactly make on feel great. I’ve spent a bit of time trying to learn the ins and outs of software AND hardware and really want to apply the skills I’ve learned to the real world however being told it’s useless sounds like a cop-out explanation.

Perhaps they’re right. Maybe I should just go be a lawyer and hope they don’t write some AI software that’s so good att dealing with that it puts EVERYONE across the planet out of the business. But that’s okay because that was a dumb decision to jump into law as well, right?

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{ 1 } Comments

  1. Mohan B | October 13, 2005 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    Interesting viewpoint dating back to ’03… have things changed since?
    – Mohan