Confessions of an offshore developer

I'm the guy you're afraid of. I was born in India, and in 2000, fresh out of college, I was working for an engineering services company in Pune -- one that helped design and build manufacturing plants worldwide. The company was a wholly owned subsidiary of a US company based in New York.

I had less than a year's experience when an enterprising project manager decided to make me the lead engineer on his project. He told me that a similar project was being run out of the New York office with a 10-year veteran as the lead. I guess the idea was to compare costs and results.

Working in conjunction with a group of engineers at the New York office, my team was responsible for writing software and specifying equipment for five new manufacturing plants in India. Needless to say, offshoring posed a real threat to our New York associates. Still, they seemed friendly enough, and I was determined to do my best. I had no idea my co-workers had decided to sabotage my project.

Due to the nine-and-a-half-hour time difference between Manhattan and Pune, phone contact was rare; our primary mode of communication was fax. I'd fax specs to New York, and a few days later, they'd come back marked up with comments. Lots of comments. Typically the cover page listed 15 to 20 issues, followed by pages of corrections marked with thick felt pens. These faxes were hard to read, meaning I'd have to send back more faxes requesting clarification. It was a nightmare. Every morning, a new, dreaded fax would be waiting for me on my desk. This went on for months.

I fell further and further behind. When I heard that the parallel project running out of New York was complete, I knew I was in deep trouble. Then my associates from New York arrived in India for a project review meeting.

So began the Spanish Inquisition, a gruelling, four-hour meeting during which I fielded questions from the bosses. We started at the top of a 10-inch stack of marked-up specs and worked our way down. It became evident that many of the markups were needlessly confusing and that my original specifications had been perfectly adequate for purchasing the equipment. I had been set up.

My New York associates received a stern warning and were instructed to resolve future issues via phone or e-mail. We completed the project without further incident, and by the time I left the company, the Indian office had grown to 350 people. By then, the US office was half its original size.

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