Outsourcing of programming work to countries with lowercost-of-living expenses

Alex Tweedly alex at tweedly.net
Thu Jan 27 12:38:26 CST 2005


Lynch, Jonathan wrote:

>I just read a few articles on this...
>
>How do you guys who make your living as freelance programmers deal with
>this problem? If a company in a third world country can charge a sixth
>of the price that a company in a developed country can charge - then how
>do you guys ever manage to find clients?
>
>I can see how it would work if the required programming also requires
>on-site work - but I cannot see how it would work outside of that.
>  
>
Short answer - by being 6 times as productive as them.  Note this is not 
at all "being smarter than them" - cause that isn't going to be true.

But given benefits such as

 - no time zone difference (or smaller difference)
 - shared cultural background (so fewer misunderstandings)
 - contributions beyond "mere" programming (e.g. 'users won't like ...')
 - shared cultural background with end-users (to allow previous example)
 - better tools (for various historical reasons, 3rd world is mostly 3rd 
Gen tools, relatively little Rev or Python Director or Perl or ...)

it's quite possible (I'd say easy, but that may be controversial and 
hard to prove) for good local developers to be more productive than 
their (equally good but distant and foreign) counterparts.

Much outsourced work consists of constrained projects (either 
maintenance or well-defined development), and few independent software 
developers make their living doing those. Vertical markets generally 
don't have the knowledge to define their needs tightly in advance, and 
any slackness in definition of needs will cause problems to magnify when 
timezones and cultural misunderstandings get in the way.

I've been on the "wrong" side of this situation, running a European 
based software development team reporting in to, and doing work for, a 
US company. We had many advantages compared to the typical 3rd world 
outsourcing (I moved within the company from the US to set up this 
European organization so had good contacts, 10% of the developers in my 
team were American, only 5-8 hours time difference, etc.) and we still 
struggled with cultural expectations and some misunderstandings. It 
worked OK (European team is now around 70 people and growing, though I 
no longer run it), but there are significant hurdles to overcome. Those 
hurdles would have been immeasurably bigger between US and 3rd world 
countries.

I've been on the "right" side of this too (working in US, dealing with 
outsourced and subsidiary organizations in India and Europe). It's no 
easier from that side :-) 

-- Alex.


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