Insufficent US Education Resources & The Link To Outsourcing


WARNING- Rant Ahead.  Proceed with caution. :->

 

It takes a village to raise a child, but what does that mean?  To me, it’s about providing the opportunities and support for them to reach their potential.  Take a child’s future career.  A college degree was once a luxury that indicated some elite level of education.  Now, given the complexity of the jobs out there, a degree is an imperative and village of the United States needs to do what it can to make that happen.  Yet we tolerate public-funded school systems that don’t give every student a chance to even get to this level.  Inadequate public resources shut students out before they even have a chance to succeed. As a result, class mobility in America is a myth.  It's the exception rather than the rule.  If you grow up in a lower-class family, you have to overcome parents that are working multiple jobs and rarely have enough time for you, a lack of a pre-school headstart that kids need to building fundamental learning skills, and poor resources & crowded classrooms during grade school.  If you somehow make it that far and still have designs on college, don’t get too comfortable with the idea of community college.  They’re all strapped for cash.  And if you do manage to get into a community college, don’t expect to transfer to your state school.  Schools like the University of Washington are cutting off transfers.  So, let’s see:  start behind before you get to kindergarten, get stuck in a dilapidated classroom with 35 other students, find your own motivation because overworked teachers are spreading themselves too thin, and then unearth a scholarship for college.  Oh, that’s OK.  This country was built on bootstrappers, right?  Y’know bootstrappers, those amazing people that beat all the odds and achieve greatness.  I just wish the need to be a bootstrapper didn’t depend on what your father or mother does for a living.  I’m not saying that Bill Gates’ kids shouldn’t have some advantages if Bill chooses to provide them.  I just wish Joe Six-Pack’s kids didn’t need a miracle to work their way out of the bottom… 

 

So how does all that relate to software?  Well, I think there’s a connection to the whole outsourcing debate.  A software developer in India can cost an American company ~$70,000 a year ($35/hour * 200 hrs/yr) and yet the American companies see it as a bargain.  Why?  Because there aren't enough qualified technical professionals here and those that are here have driven the salaries up based on supply and demand.  Contracting a US developer to do the same job would cost three times as much.  Of course, with the shift of work moving to India (and now Russia, China, South America, etc.), the number of US contract coders is rapidly going down.  It’s the Adam Smith “Wealth of Nations” idea and we are not the nation that can do cost-effective contracted software development.  The people who are qualified to do it are in no position to compete with overseas resources and they are better off expending energy elsewhere.  If you want to make buck in this biz in the US, stay away from the commoditized businesses. Be a solutions architect.  Train others.  Do something else, but don’t write code and expect to pull in big money! 

 

But hold on here.  Let’s think about this for a second.  Let’s assume that a $70,000 full-time employee cost translates into a $50,000 salary with $20,000 in benefits/overhead for someone in the US.  Sure, the current tech professionals don’t want that stuff.  But how many Americans out-of-work or working minimum-wage jobs wouldn't mind that sort of compensation? I think it’s fair to say most of them.  How many of those people could have been a solid technical professional if only given the chance?  More than most people think.  I think we assume that the out-of-work or people working minimum-wage jobs are simply incapable of getting a better job.  But going back to the public education system, the truth of the matter is that many of them went through a school system where success stories are the exception rather than the rule.  The obstacles to success were too great.  Given the extensive rhetoric around anti-protectionist policies, it amazes me that America doesn't seize the opportunity to invest more in education and seed the future.  We know this boom for technical professionals was coming many years ago, but we never built the pipeline.  Demand is exceeding supply for educated workers and rather than cultivating our own resources to satisfy this demand, we are required to look elsewhere.  In sports terms, rather than build a solid farm system of good minor league talent, we are running out and finding free agents to fill the holes.  That's OK in the short-term, but unless you have endless $$ like the New York Yankees, that's not sustainable and it could be almost dangerous in the long-term.  Just ask the Seattle Mariners—the vets got old and the pipeline was thin, making them go from the most successful team of all-time (116 wins in 2001) to a team that nearly lost 100 games, even with a fairly sizeable payroll.  We need to be like the Oakland A’s (recent collapse notwithstanding), who invest heavily in a pipeline and confound experts who can’t understand how this underfunded team makes the playoffs every single year.  The pipeline approach is cheaper, more reliable, and keeps things “in-house”.  For the US, building from within and that means investing in our "minor-leaguers": our nation's youth. 

 

Of course, this riles me up because I do get exposed to it on a daily basis.  My wife has been involved in a Washington state initiative to fund pre-school, K-12, and higher education to do bigger and better things.  To pull this off, the initiative calls to increase the state sales tax by 1%.  It’s amazing how many people run kicking and screaming.  Yes, you will have to pay an extra fifty cents for that bottle of wine and yes, you will have to pay an extra $400 to buy your Lexus—deal with it.  Growing up in an Indian household, there was a clear ethic that existed—education trumps all and no expense would be spared.  My parents weren’t rich, but my dad would’ve sold a kidney if it meant I could get a better education.  For me to succeed, my education was expensive and my parents sacraficed a lot of make it happen because, contrary to what we are taught, opportunity is not necessarily a birthright in this country.  My dad drove the same Plymouth for 11 years, never went on a real vacation, never made any outrageous purchases, rarely ate out, didn’t visit India, etc.—all to afford a private high school, top universities, and graduate/medical school for my brother and me.   My parents attitude is common in India.  Now there's an entire nation that buys into the notion that knowledge is power.  They’ve invested heavily in the IITs and IIMs and look at what it has done for them.  This is a country that has shaken the economic shackles of being a third-world country to being the nation that a lot of Americans are being taught to fear. As an Indian, that makes me damn proud.  As an American, that makes me sad.  While we can talk about short-term needs and ridiculous tariffs that are supposed to protect American jobs, I think we need to be clear about a long-term plan and that means more qualified technologists that negates the need for offshoring and that means investing whatever it takes to build this in-house.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love what is going on in India and I am rooting for continued success.  But my message to America: if you feel like a victim, do something—and I don’t mean change the rules of the game.  Compete!  Let’s build skills in the unskilled and stronger skills in the skilled.  This doesn’t happen with a 24-year old that goes to a technical “institute” to change his career (his skills will never match the overseas coder anyway, so why bother?).  It’s more like a 4-year old that builds fundamental learning skills to realize his or her potential to be a code guru twenty years later.  Or a doctor. Or the scientist that finds the cure for cancer.  My message to politicians: instead of drilling for oil in Alaska, how about drilling for geniuses that will come up with the alternative energy source?  A bunch of them are sitting in an inner-city classroom right now, bored stiff and looking to join gangs because they’ve got nothing better to do.  And for you Washingtonians:  Increased social mobility, lower long-term unemployment figures, a more productive and self-sustaining society, and discovering resources we didn’t even know we had--I think that’s worth a 1% gamble.  And if you can’t handle the extra fifty cents, don’t order the wine...

 

{Bad Religion – Stranger Than Fiction}


Comments (16)
  1. Amit Joshi says:

    "start behind before you get to kindergarten, get stuck in a dilapidated classroom with 35 other students, find your own motivation because overworked teachers are spreading themselves too thin, and then unearth a scholarship for college"

    Well, this is a usual story in india. In fact given the number of students in a classroon (60-70 is very common), individual attention is out of question. Still as you point out, the focus on education in the family and tremendous peer pressure to succeed is a major factor.

    When I came here, I was shocked to learn that studious kids are termed as geeks and are looked down upon! I think if knowledge is valued and respected by the society, success will come automatically.

  2. AT says:

    Actualy education problems are not USA-only. Education sucked in the same way all over World.

    Currently then amount of human knowleadge increased – there is no no way to give it to person.

    Take a look how long it takes for education – over 15 years ! Plus add 6-8 years while person do nothing.

    This is totaly wrong. At age 24 person abilitities start to fade, take a look on Olympics for example, no way for old person to perform well (there are some exceptions – but they prove the rule).

    The same is with thinking abilities. After such a long education process – person can start to believe that everything told to him i true – and this stop innovations !

    People stop to think and start to simply use others knowleadge – even in case if it was flawed.

    I was realy lucky person. My teachers provided me basic skills on how to find reasoning in any move/assumption you do.

    For example instead of proving lame answer that always (a+b)^2 = a^2 + 2*a*b + b^2 – provide limitations on "+" and "*" operations for this.

    I believe that education period must be reduced to 6-8 years and basic skills must be trained early. After this period – people must start to work on something real and produce – not consume.

    Yep. I started to code in GW-BASIC then I was 8 tears old.

    I still have "Microsoft GW-BASIC Interpreter" and "Microsot MS-DOS Operating System Version 3.3" and "10Mhz Zero-Wait Mini286 Mainboard" users manuals!

  3. kenoyer says:

    Wow I couldn’t agree more. We wouldn’t be in such fear of outsourcing in the United States if we as a society actually valued the intellect. Here is an excellent essay on the subject if you haven’t read it before – http://www.paulgraham.com/nerds.html

  4. Adwait Ullal says:

    Sandy:

    The other side of the coin is get the parents interested in child’s education too … you make a fleeting reference to it when you mention:

    "My parents weren’t rich, but my dad would’ve sold a kidney if it meant I could get a better education"

    which I find lacking … if parents are so interested in their child’s education, they will drive for better schools, etc rather than depend on the politicos for it.

  5. Jay Skelly says:

    Well thought out post Sandy, especially for a titans fan.

    Did you watch the VP debate last night? The Dark Lord, Cheney had an similar solution to lagging economic performance in Cleveland. One of his solutions was improvement in education. This was taken out of context by Mr. Edwards. Regardless, I thought your post was timely.

    given the horrendous problems with funding for education, I’d like to see vouchers given a chance. check out milton friedman’s site:

    http://www.friedmanfoundation.org/index.html

  6. Alien says:

    Well the classic solution is to invest into education = more money. Before doing that, look at the existing educational resources in US. Compared to most of the world they are fantastic! You’ve got plenty of smart people coming out of poorer places like India, Asia, East Europe and they have a fraction of resources that US has.

    The root of the problem is the North American society which sells stuff to people at a furios pace thus pushing aside books and other "boring stuff" (knowledge) which makes little to no money. Thus kids are playing with PS2, Xbox, fast cars, copying music, watching movies,…. there is an infinite amount of stuff with are distractions from learning. There is simply very little motivation and incentive from family, community and other levels for kids to learn. Instead, teelvision and media keep pushing them to other activities that involve consumption of stuff.

    Moreover, faced with a choice of professions, it is far easier for N.Am. kids to make a lot of money from professions that require less learning effort, hence everyone is in business. Even a simple carpenter, electrician, etc. can make at least as much money as programmers. So why bother with tehnological professions? Why go through 4-8 years of higher schooling when you can become a plumber in 2 in a cheap community college?

    So when you step back and look at the full picture, you will realize that educational system is only one piece. It may not be perfect but it alone cannot fix the problem. You will not get much more effect for more money.

    BTW, consider how much money N.Am. families have and what they spend it on. Where are the priorities? They will buy cars and other junk before spending it on university education for their kids. So if parents themsleves don’t want to spend money for their children’s education, then why should city/state/feds spend more????

  7. TryAgain says:

    Well the classic solution is to invest into education = more money. Before doing that, look at the existing educational resources in US. Compared to most of the world they are fantastic! You’ve got plenty of smart people coming out of poorer places like India, Asia, East Europe and they have a fraction of resources that US has.

    The root of the problem is the North American society which sells stuff to people at a furios pace thus pushing aside books and other "boring stuff" (knowledge) which makes little to no money. Thus kids are playing with PS2, Xbox, fast cars, copying music, watching movies,…. there is an infinite amount of stuff with are distractions from learning. There is simply very little motivation and incentive from family, community and other levels for kids to learn. Instead, teelvision and media keep pushing them to other activities that involve consumption of stuff.

    Moreover, faced with a choice of professions, it is far easier for N.Am. kids to make a lot of money from professions that require less learning effort, hence everyone is in business. Even a simple carpenter, electrician, etc. can make at least as much money as programmers. So why bother with tehnological professions? Why go through 4-8 years of higher schooling when you can become a plumber in 2 in a cheap community college?

    So when you step back and look at the full picture, you will realize that educational system is only one piece. It may not be perfect but it alone cannot fix the problem. You will not get much more effect for more money.

    BTW, consider how much money N.Am. families have and what they spend it on. Where are the priorities? They will buy cars and other junk before spending it on university education for their kids. So if parents themsleves don’t want to spend money for their children’s education, then why should city/state/feds spend more????

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