Will You Be Commoditized Or Offshored?

June 19, 2009

As I was writing my two posts: Is Commoditized White-Collar Work on the Horizon? and How Commoditized White-Collar Work Will Change the Work Dynamic last month, I was also reading a book by Micheal Lopp titled Managing Humans. (No, not at exactly the same time, I'm not that good!) Towards the end of this book, Micheal addressed the issue of offshoring, providing a process to determine if you are at risk for being offshored.

One observation Micheal offered is obvious, but worth noting. As he puts it, “Outsourcing exists because of the Internet and its ability to shrink the planet.” Technology is a double-edged sword, and it is enabling global competition for almost every job out there.

To determine if you are facing immediate risk for being offshored (and I'll add commoditized, as there is equal potential), Micheal had a “process,” which is really nothing more than a series of questions, a few of which I’ve noted here:
  • How much process is in your job?
  • Can you see a flowchart from where you are sitting right now?
  • Are there big black binders that describe what you do?
  • Are you handed specifications from nameless, faceless designers?
Answering yes to any of these (there are more in the book) means that you could be at risk.

And as I thought about these questions, it occurred to me that Micheal is right. The first question might be troubling to some people. It seems that we’re always looking for the one, complete, efficient software process that solves all of our headaches. And as soon as this occurs, wham! Across the ocean it goes.

What can be done about this? If your work can be well-defined and captured in some way that can be moved, the likelihood of it moving is high. Don’t fight it, recognize it and do one of two things:
  • Compete head-to-head on the open market.
  • Change your game and do things that will increase your personal value proposition and make it more difficult for your job to be offshored.
What direction should you go in to avoid having your job offshored? Micheal has an answer for this as well. I’ll provide one quote: “Interfacing with Humans Pays Big Bucks.” I couldn’t agree more! In fact, a number of posts in this blog are not about process, they are about how to approach the people side of software development, what makes individuals truly successful, teams more efficient, and how to align people and teams with the organization to maximize value.

One final observation from Micheal’s book: We need less people to create widgets and more people who know how to creatively assemble widgets to create viable products. Think about that for a moment. Software as a Service, cloud computing, virtualization, all of these technologies are about managing technology more effectively while making it very available to the masses. Once again, he is 100% correct, in my humble opinion.

I'll take this one step further. Technology is creating another interesting situation. The workforce will spend increasingly more time collaborating, but doing so through technology. This will erode a valuable skill, the art of managing and dealing with people.

Some of us “seasoned” employees have had the opportunity to interact with people directly all day, every day through many years. The next generation is not as accustomed to this, nor do they want to work this way. It will take the next generation longer to learn and understand the intricacies of managing and motivating people. This skill will be important and in short supply.

To close, I found Micheal Lopp’s book Managing Humans to be an entertaining, insightful read. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and as a result I’ve added Micheal’s blog to my blogroll. He writes under the nom de plume “Rands.” I encourage anyone interested in the human side of software management to read this book and check out his blog.