Programmers: when less is definitely less

Australian programmers need to move with the times before their opportunities and pay packet dry up due to the increasing trend for Australian companies to outsource to Asia and India.

Richard Hogg, national president, Australian Computer Society, said a significant number of Australian companies are outsourcing programming jobs overseas.

His best advice to anyone who still wants a programming career is: expect to work harder for less.

"Contractors' rates have dropped by around 40 per cent in terms of hourly rates so they are working as hard for less money. Employees can expect minimal salary increases in the future."

An IT manager from a consulting company, who requested anonymity, agreed the current employment market for programmers is low.

"I was talking with an agent recently who [was looking to fill] a programmer (SQL, Web, Java) vacancy. The first to be interviewed (although his last job was circa $75K) was offered $45K. He refused. Number two was interviewed and offered $33K - he accepted."

The IT manager said recruitment agents were to blame for the mess of overseas outsourcing and the low employment market for programmers.

"They were charging exorbitant rates two years ago and now it has bitten the programmers."

Wayne Barlow, manager application services, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, said IT people in Australia have to be flexible and go with the flow: learn new skills in a changing industry.

"I don't think Australian software developers are threatened in the long term as long as they are willing to change, learn new skills and be more person-oriented rather than machine-oriented.

"The question is: does anyone now really want to do that sort of sweat-shop, mass-production programming work? I think not," Barlow said, pointing out that it's getting rarer to see the classical propeller-head programmer of the past who was stuck for 12 hours a day in front of a computer monitor.

Barlow said the new way of developing software requires more creativity, communications skills and local business knowledge.

"I think you need people physically closer to the business and from the same [business] culture to succeed at that. When the client thinks up a great new idea at 2am, you need someone flexible and available enough to sit with her in an all-night cafe and sketch the details on a napkin. You can't get that response from someone who is working from India."

Edward Liu, IT manager at recruitment company Robert Walters, said it is debatable whether foreign programmers produce code as good as that coded by Australian programmers and for less.

"Two clients who have outsourced their development overseas have since reported that the project cost of development is significantly more expensive than if the project was given to their incumbent, locally-based vendor.

"The quality of code standards is one of the key cost impacts but cost of setting up remote project controls to ensure adherence to specifications and deadlines with an overseas vendor is often overlooked."

While Hogg said he doesn't think Indian and Asian programmers work any harder than their Australian counterparts, evidence suggests they cost less.

"It's hard to compare products -- each is potentially different. On the surface, if you have to choose between $40 an hour or $50 an hour, you will naturally choose the cheaper price, providing the quality is comparable.

"It's not the greedy CEO, but the demands of shareholders that is causing so much focus on the bottom line, which leaves little room for altruism."

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