Sunday, February 22, 2004

THE INDIAN PROGRAMMER MYTH

I have posted a few items pointing out that the outsourcing of service jobs to India and other poor countries is beneficial to the communities in both countries. One of the big complaints is the outsourcing of computer programming jobs to India. As a programmer myself, I have always thought that the possibilities there have been much exaggerated. Typically, writing a program involves a constant interaction between the programmer and the person who wants it written and you basically have to be in the same room together for that to work well -- not continents apart. One of my readers who is a much more experienced programmer than I am agrees:

The whole idea is a fad. The idea has been around for more than ten years - I have a book on my shelf, published 1993, called 'The Decline of the American Programmer'.

The decline of course is driven by cheap Indian programmers. It is only now that the idea has taken hold among the real movers and shakers in the industry - corporation management (who of course have no idea how software gets done).
I have no beef against free trade, exporting jobs to India etc - all A-OK by me. But it hasn't worked in the past, won't work now, and is unlikely to work in the future.

That will NOT stop corporation management spending billions over the next 3/4 years finding that out.
Shall I tell you the ways it won't work ? Nah - don't have time.

BUT - just get this one point - Automatic Software Generators. They are there, they are real, and they work. Just google for 'Rational Rose' and 'UML'.

All these tools need to create robust, efficient, software is a good design.

These tools will, and do, totally out-perform out-sourced Indian code-monkeys. Given that a good design is presented.
So why aren't these tools being used in western countries now ? Because the critical piece they need, the 'good design', is very hard to get. Western companies have found that the best way to get to a good design is to give a crap design (the 'standard' sort) to a team of software developers who don't actually encode it - they create a 'good design' by expressing it in code. The work that they are doing is NOT coding. They are actually doing design - not just 50/50, more like 90/10.

And Western developers find it easier to express these designs in code than entering them into automatic software generators. Note that some western developers DO use these generators, but most don't.
In short: Corporation management have no idea what the developers are actually doing, and they will learn this lesson (but only temporarily) at the cost of billions of dollars, which you and I will bear in increased prices and stock devaluations.

I have worked with cheap Indian software developers on significant projects twice before.
And my experience tells me that culture counts. The mindset, attitudes and work-ethics of the Indian middle class software developer is actively hindering him (they are nearly all hims) from turning out good software. It can still be done (both of those projects wound up with working software). But not by mail-order from Seattle - you have to get in there and get involved. And it costs at least as much as locally developed software. The only reason to attempt it in the past was due to the lack of available local developers (not currently an issue).


History of Software Fads:

The software industry is always being gripped by fads, which usually have some logic, but the structure of the industry generally puffs them up to be bigger than Ben Hur, following which everyone has a hangover, while we wait for the next fad. And again, the 'puffing' of the fad is always driven by Management - the people who have least idea.
The original 'fad' generally emanates from a technical area, and is a sound proposition. It is when the 'barbarians' (technically ignorant management) get hold of the idea that it heads for faddism. Some past fads - good ideas to start with, eventually blown out of proportion by Management barbarians:

(1) Artificial Intelligence. Back in the 80s this was gonna revolutionize computing. Remember the Japanese IPCOT project ?
(2) 4GLs. Remember them ? Where are they now ?
(3) Y2K. So why did we spend 3 trillion dollars again ?
(4) The Net PC. Have you already forgotten Larry Ellisons baby - no hard drive, no software - just a screen and CPU that gets everything it needs off the web. The PC is dead!

I note a 'lifetime' of each fad of about 3 or 4 years. Generally they just fade away after a 12 or 18 month peak, except for the Y2K fad, which had a close-off date. So expect this one to peak this time next year, then just fade away as the 'bad news' (project completion) stories start to trump the 'good news' (project initiation, complete with rosy savings estimates) stories.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Teaching unions accused of stealth

Malcolm Cole
NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT


TEACHER unions were creating "a climate of deception" with misleading claims about school funding, federal Education Minister Brendan Nelson has said.

Dr Nelson said a new campaign against private school funding, bankrolled by state school education unions, did not provide the full facts.

According to the unions, state schools teach 70 per cent of Australian students but receive just 30per cent of Federal Government funding.

But Dr Nelson said the unions were only giving half the facts in their advertisements and said even the poorest private school received less public funding per student than state schools.

"The 2.2 million students in Australian state schools receive in total $20 billion of public funding," he said. "The 1.1 million students in Catholic and independent schools receive $6.2 billion, and there is $4 billion of hard-earned after-tax money that is paid by parents in fees to Catholic and independent schools."

However, the Opposition's education spokeswoman Jenny Macklin said the Government had clearly signalled that private schools were its priority for funding.

"Over the last four years the increases from the Commonwealth to government schools has been about 20 per cent," Ms Macklin said.

"For students in Catholic schools, the increase has been about 25 per cent.

"For the students in independent schools, the wealthier schools, the increase (has) been over 150 per cent. That's why we have so many parents who think the Commonwealth system of funding schools is unfair."

Dr Nelson said parents who sent their children to nongovernment schools took pressure off the public school system and saved money for both state and federal governments.

The above news item appeared in "The Courier Mail" of Brisbane, Australia on February 17, 2004, p. 3 but does not otherwise appear to be online. What the teacher unions are deliberately ignoring is that most funding for government schools in Australia comes from the State governments, not the Federal government