[FoRK] [IP] more on Tech: A 'hostile environment' for US natives???? (fwd from dave@farber.net)

Owen Byrne owen at permafrost.net
Sun May 8 12:09:42 PDT 2005

That one is funny. Programming has always been a low-paying job except 
for the abberation of the last ten years or so in the US, except
for "boutique" programming. I know someone - a good C programmer, 
working for a software development house, in a first world country, that 
has never made more than 20 k (Canadian). The only way to actually make 
a decent living in software has (again except for recent aberrations) 
been to move into management, systems analysis, etc.
Think clerical workers, factory labor, construction workers - i.e. 
labor. Don't even bother with using the word "professional" - because 
"professionals" do one big thing that programmers don't - they have 
unions (AMA, State Bar Associations, Accounting Societies) and difficult 
accreditation procedures to control the supply and ensure that wages 
stay high.

>----- Forwarded message from David Farber <dave at farber.net> -----
>From: David Farber <dave at farber.net>
>Date: Sun, 8 May 2005 10:42:21 -0400
>To: ip <ip at v2.listbox.com>
>Subject: [IP] more on Tech: A 'hostile environment' for US natives????
>X-Mailer: Apple Mail (2.728)
>Reply-To: dave at farber.net
>Begin forwarded message:
>From: "Jonathan S. Shapiro" <shap at eros-os.org>
>Date: May 8, 2005 9:18:10 AM EDT
>To: dave at farber.net
>Cc: Ip ip <ip at v2.listbox.com>
>Subject: Re: [IP] more on Tech: A 'hostile environment' for US  
>[For IP]
>Gordon poses the question:
>>...just how I can seriously compete with someone in another
>>country who's delighted to do essentially equivalent work for
>>(what to him is a princely salary) $450 a month?
>Nobody else seems willing to come out and actually say it, so perhaps I
>will to do so: he can't.
>Here is the point that everyone seems to agree on. Most of us don't like
>it, but we all seem to agree that in an international marketplace it is
>a fact:
>  Setting aside certain "boutique" markets, the price of programming
>  is set by an international market. It follows directly that US
>  programmers will either lower their prices to  or they will,
>  professionally speaking, cease to exist.
>But nobody wants to be the "sounder of doom" for the US programming
>market, so none of us want to state the consequence:
>  US programmers *cannot* lower their prices to that point.
>  Therefore, absent a fundamental change in the economics of
>  software, it's time for US programmers to (a) move to places
>  where what they can earn is a living wage, or (b) find a new
>  job.
>It's not that the US has a "tech hostile" environment. It's that the
>laws of global economics are hostile to expensive providers.
>The right question isn't "How do we keep programmers employed?" The
>right question is: "How do we change the economics of software?"
>Here are some options (good and bad, none realistic):
>1. Tariffs. We could impose protective tariffs on software written
>outside the US, just as we do for many other goods. The bottom line is
>that this isn't a long-haul solution, and we need a long-haul solution.
>Tariffs just won't work.
>2. Eliminate software patents. It is now widely agreed that the main
>effect of software patent has been to stifle innovation and change in
>the software industry. Innovation is one of the places where the US
>still holds a fundamental advantage vs. the rest of the world. Get rid
>of the impediments to innovation. Use our international political
>leverage to tear them down elsewhere.
>3. Remove liability protection for software vendors. In my opinion this
>is long overdue, and it would benefit the users. No better way to employ
>programmers than to finally force us to rebuild everything correctly --
>and for that matter, to discover *how* to rebuild things correctly.
>4. Invest in raising the standards of living in India and China. This is
>a long term strategy, and a good one. We've been doing it for a long
>time. It doesn't solve anything in the short term.
>5. Re-think the way we train programmers. We still view Computer Science
>as a science discipline rather than an engineering discipline. Making US
>programmers 10 times as effective would go a long way toward offsetting
>their higher salary. The problem with this approach is that
>international students can go to school too.
>6. Recognize that in the commodity software market the cost of software
>construction basically doesn't matter, because the profit margin is so
>high. The place where the cost of programming really matters is in
>contract effort and/or efforts where there are only a small pool of
>potential customers. In one sense, the free software people are right:
>customers do not, and never have, paid for software.
>7. Invest in the free software process, since that price cannot be
>undercut. Shift our business attention to other parts of the value
>Some of these thoughts just won't work. Others are politically
>unacceptable, but I do think that I'm asking the right question: How do
>we change the nature of software economics?
>The one thing I'll add to the mix, which may prove thought-provoking to
>programmers: the answer isn't going to be initiated by software
>companies. It is in your employer's interest to hire at the lowest
>price. If you want to see change happen, you are going to have to
>organize a grass roots lobbying effort. This probably means creating a
>serious programmer's union to protect your jobs as you lobby against the
>entrenched practices of your employers. It's a long, rough haul.
>Personally, I'ld prefer to see a more productive solution. I just don't
>see one within the current political and economic climate.
>Jonathan Shapiro
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