Reports of IT job losses and outsourcing trends have been in the headlines for several years now, so it's no surprise that even the most experienced and talented IT professionals have started to worry whether their jobs will be the next to go overseas. There's no doubt that more IT professionals will lose their jobs to outsourcing. However, although outsourcing may seem widespread, the jobs of many IT professionals are difficult to outsource and essentially immune to it.
How can you predict whether your own job is likely to be outsourced? First, you can watch for early warning signs. Granted, the decision to outsource is sometimes made completely behind the scenes and without warning -- often as a knee-jerk response to demands to cut costs. However, in most cases you don't need a crystal ball to see that your job could be outsourced.
Management typically decides to outsource jobs for two reasons. The first is to reduce costs. The second is to reduce headaches. So, if your team is not cost-efficient or is the source of management headaches, be careful. Is the team constantly missing deadlines? Do a lot of bugs make it into released or deployed products? Do you frequently hint that you need more staff in order to complete the requested projects on time and on budget? Are you receiving competitive salaries, but apparently not delivering what management wants when they want it? If so, management might be tempted to send some or all of your team's jobs overseas.
The IT professionals that should be least concerned about outsourcing threats are those with skills that their employers cannot easily replace. Contrary to popular belief, being the most experienced or flexible person in your IT team will not make your job immune to outsourcing. Rather, the IT professionals who are safest from outsourcing are those who are highly specialized. They know the business well, have helped invent and/or implement technologies that give the company its competitive advantage, and have an advanced knowledge of the technologies that are most important for the company's current success and future prospects. Being extremely productive, innovative and capable of solving the most challenging problems doesn't hurt either. If you fit this description, your job probably will not be outsourced. Your skills can't be easily replaced -- even by the hoards of low-cost programmers overseas.
Adam Kolawa is co-founder and CEO of Parasoft, a vendor of automated error-prevention software and services based in Monrovia, Calif. Co-author of Bulletproofing Web Applications (Hungry Minds 2001), Kolawa has contributed to and written more than 200 commentary pieces and technical articles for numerous publications. He holds a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from the California Institute of Technology.