How Valuable Are Your Skills?
For those developers who are not contractor workers but highly skilled programmers who are full-time employees, their skills alone may not be enough to assure them job security. "I might be the world's best Java programmer. Someone gives me specs of what they want and I build it," explained Hayes. "In that situation, whether it's somebody here in the U.S. or elsewhere, a Java programmer is a Java programmer. It's a commodity skill [that companies will acquire] wherever the lowest cost is."
While no company can dispute the value of developers (regardless of geographic location) to a wired business world that depends on computers for nearly everything, offshore outsourcing allows U.S. companies to quantify developer value on a global scale in terms of dollars and cents. Morello said, "For 10-15 years, IT professionals thought that if they assembled enough skills, they would be intrinsically of a certain value. Any one of them might be, but these skills are becoming more and more transferable."
Mike Blain, a Web developer who serves as editor for the IT worker advocacy site TechsUnite.org, simply stated: "It's not about skills. It's about cost." Offshore outsourcing is "far and away" the number one issue that members, subscribers, and interested visitors are contacting TechsUnite about, according to Blain. He has seen how little value the people who contact his site believe they have to their companies and the IT industry as a whole.
"Clearly, the trend is towards more offshoring, more layoffs, [and] fewer career prospects for people in the industry or anyone who's looking to enter the industry," said Blain. The writing on the wall for a U.S. developer, according to the feedback Blain has received, is "there's a good chance [his or her job] is not going to be in this country in 2 to 5 years. These are some of the highest paying, best skilled white collar jobs that you can get in the country."
Increase Your Value, or at Least Prove It
Management consultant Ian Hayes believes developers must move up the value chain.
Hayes' vision of the future is not as grim, but it probably isn't what developers want to hear either. With India able to offer U.S. companies a 20-30 percent cost benefit, he believes two classes of programmers will emerge:
- Programmers who manage to move up their particular company's value chain will continue to get paid as much or more than they are now. However, they will be a smaller group.
- The remaining programmers will be more commodity-skilled. Their salaries will reduce significantly (20-30 percent), because they'll need to be somewhat competitive with offshore worker rates.
Therefore, developers must find ways to move themselves up the value chain in their companies, Hayes says. For example, a programmer at a bank, rather than being concerned only with meeting the requirements of a given project, should try to become an expert on some of the processes at the bank and bring his or her technical experience to the particular business problems that the bank faces.
While Hayes acknowledges that developers tend not to be interested in the business strategies of their employers, he believes this type of involvement can elevate a programmer's skills from commodity to "value-adding."
Morello put it this way: "The more disconnected [developers] are from the top initiatives within the businessdriving new revenue, for example, or new products and new services" the easier it is to move their work to remote locations.