Govt Has Role to Play in Outsourcing Issue

Opinion: Targeted federal expenditures still mean something, most notably in funding the NSF projects.

There never seems to be the last word on offshoring. Reacting to my latest column in this space, several readers took me to task for suggesting federally subsidized community college tuition for out-of-work IT people. When youve got an advanced degree or two, spending a few months at the local CC just doesnt cut it, they said.

But the question of what, if anything, the government should do in terms of industrial policy in the face of a massive shift in global employment is worth asking.

Those purists who say government should not try to improve things because it will only make matters worse should look at the history of computing, U.S. dominance of which is traceable directly to government policies, including, especially, the waging of war. During World War II, the ENIAC was created to calculate shell trajectories for artillery gunners. Later, its principles were used in the UNIVAC, the first general-purpose commercial computer.

One purpose of the ARPAnet, the Internets ancestor, was to create for the Department of Defense a network that could survive the failure, (from a nuclear attack, for example), of any given node. Our immigration policies welcomed into the country scientists such as Intels Andy Grove, who, after all, may have "taken" the job of some native-born American.

India has become the technology tiger it is today due to Indian government policies, beginning with a big state-funded push, more than a generation ago, to educate engineers. When India decided to abandon socialism for a market economy and the Indian telecommunications providers made sure high-bandwidth Internet access was available, the rest was history.

But hold on a minute. Even in Indias case, there could be a cloud to the silver lining. Given the reported astronomical numbers of Indian applicants for job openings, it would appear that India is educating far more engineers than it needs. This is wasteful of state resources and creates an oversupply of skilled people, which drives down their wages. It may be good for customers in the rest of the world, but its not so good for the Indians themselves. India may have simply traded one social problem—a huge population and not enough jobs—for another one—a huge population of computer science engineers and not enough jobs.

/zimages/3/28571.gifSimilarities, Differences Mark French Outsourcing Market Click here to read more.

Having experienced a dot-com bubble only a few years ago, its worth asking before we launch a massive push to train more engineers: Are we experiencing the "Indian bubble" right now?

A recurring theme in reader mail is that there is no point to studying computer science since youll merely prepare yourself for a profession with no remaining jobs in the United States. That supposes a computer science degree is merely job training. My advice: If you like computer science, study it. And study it to go above and beyond, to the most advanced level possible, not merely to the point of acquiring a marketable skill.

I would also suggest that targeted federal expenditures still mean something, most notable in funding for National Science Foundation projects. Scrimping on the NSF budget is one funding priority that the Bush administration may very well live to regret.

Out and about

When John Joyce resigned from the helm of IBM Global Services to join venture capital firm Silver Lake partners, he was replaced by a troika of execs: Mike Daniels, who became senior vice president of IT services for IGS; Ginni Rometty, who was named senior VP of enterprise business services for IGS; and Bob Moffatt, who became IGS senior vice president of integrated operations. All will report to IBM CEO Sam Palmisano. Joyce was at the helm of IGS for barely over a year after succeeding Doug Elix. With his job now divided into three, could it be that Daniels, Rometty and Moffatt are auditioning for the role of Joyces successor? The tripartite structure strikes me as so unstable that it eventually will be resolved with one of the three winning out and controlling all of IGS.

Stan Gibson can be reached at

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