Competing with the Third World – An American Coder’s Lament

As many of my readers may know, I’ve been seeing a bit of down time in my professional life lately. And like any professional looking for his next project, I’ve made my trade’s LinkedIn discussions a daily stop on my journey.

But something disturbing has happened in the couple of years since I last had this habit. Everybody seems to be talking about how wonderful it is to bypass professional developers, or failing that, to hire developers from third-world countries for $7/hour or less.

Twenty-five years ago, when I was living out of a step-van with no rent to pay (the only home I have ever owned debt-free), I was able to eke out a living on $7/hour. Things are different now. My rate is low – and we live frugally – by American standards, but it still takes about $2500/month for us to get by.

So I’ve grown more fed up with people on LinkedIn promoting $7/hour developers off-shore, and then seeing that multiple users clicked “like” on that promotion. When I criticize this practice, no one comes to my defense.

It’s enough to make me want to say “F**k it” and start driving a cab*. That’s how America loses the talent that it invested so much to develop. (*Never mind what the “sharing economy” is doing to that business.)

Anyway, I got set off again a day or two ago. Someone started an unrelated discussion on a technical issue on developing WordPress themes, and during the discussion it was revealed that this Canadian client had purchased the theme (likely unknowingly and indirectly) from a Turkish developer. I called him out and said he should be ashamed of himself for going offshore if a Canadian developer could do the work.

After someone pointed out that the poster was probably unaware the theme was developed off-shore, someone suggested I was a racist for saying, “I’m sure there are plenty of Canadian developers who would have eagerly taken on the work and done a far better job of it.” All right, maybe I could have said, “… and done as good or better job…”, but some people are overly eager to play the “racist” card (which to anyone who really knows me is laughable) when they’ve got nothin’ else.

But the person who said that went on to say he’s a Dutch person living in China and serving clients all over the world.

That set me off on a rant that I feel is too important to be limited to a remote corner of LinkedIn, so I will share it here with The Rest of the Class:

@[other user]: not racist at all, but…

As an American developer, I am struggling to find work while potential clients are hiring developers in third world countries for less than $7/hour… which is about half of what a full-time payroll worker needs to barely scrape by in this country, never mind what is fair for a highly skilled independent contractor.

I have turned down international work because I don’t want to be a hypocrite by being some other country’s cheap offshore labor. I tell these people to call me back if and only if there is no one in their home country that can do the work.

If you live in China, you should only work for the Chinese market. Canadian clients should hire Canadian developers, and Turkish developers should work for the Turkish market. Otherwise, we have a race to the bottom of pay scales while our neighbors are falling into destitution.

Maybe I could work for third-world wages if I had third-world expenses, but that’s not the case, and you all know that. And we have a web where every site is starting to look the same, because they’re all built on the same corner-cutting frameworks by the same third-world programmers.

If your neighbor is an unemployed carpenter, and you hire an immigrant from the other side of the world for 1/10 the local livable wage to build a deck, then your unemployed neighbor has every right to be pissed off at you. But that’s what clients are doing when they hire offshore developers when there are local developers that can do the work.

So yes, Piet, all of your clients SHOULD be ashamed of themselves, unless you’re leading them to think you’re somewhere other than China, in which case YOU should be ashamed of yourself.

It’s not a racist thing at all, it’s a Main Street thing (or “High Street” for those of you across the pond).

I read labels. I don’t buy imported produce unless it’s something that doesn’t grow in the US (bananas, for instance). I buy American clothing when I can find it, and used clothing when I can’t.

And before you all come down on me for typing on a Chinese laptop… American corporate greed has put “American made electronics” in the same category as “Wisconsin-grown mangoes.” A country that cannot produce its own clothing or electronics is not an independent country, but that’s another rant.

2 thoughts on “Competing with the Third World – An American Coder’s Lament

  1. Being a VA – recognized, disabled person, & a former Unionized worker, I highly commend anyone for siding with locally produced goods & services. I generally eat locally (or USA origin foods). I buy USA produced garments or purchase used products from resale shops & thrift stores.
    It hurt my heart to search all of the local clothing establishments to find. NO AMERICAN MADE UNDERWARE, in any LaCrosse establishment. In light of this, I’ve discontinued using any. I, to the best of my ability & my wallet, purchase locally grown produce & refrain from purcahasing out of season produce to reduce the carbon footprint as well. That’s another subject.
    One cannot complain about having no job, or not being able to earn a liveable wage while buying up cheap imported garbage from the local Walmart/Sam’s Club.

  2. I know how you feel. I am a systems guy, I worked in Railway Automation for five years, I worked in pretty much everything that can be networked. I am one of about 50 people in the world who can administer a large railway control system on top of SCADA system. But when I apply to railway control jobs I have been told I have been out of it too long (now approaching 3 years, but they started telling me I was out of it for too long after 5 months) and when I apply to another Systems job they tell me I was “too specific” and they cannot hire me because all they know is I specialized in something they do not understand. Now when I try to look for other systems jobs too I find they too have been outsourced by 1/2 American 1/2 foreign companies ..meaning the mailbox is in the US but they workers are abroad.

    The good news is I have been getting by, the bad news is that the day of me going to an interview and saying “Linux, solaris, OpenVMS, Fix BSOD fast” and having them hand me money is gone.

    LinkedIn is useless because they have a weird “cult” of “Positivity” there and if you lament your lack of work it instantly becomes your fault somehow and no one wants to touch you because you have just been afflicted with “negativity” and they do not even allow negative middle aged tech guys the equivalent of a “Menstrual Hut” where we can go and get ritually clean again.

    Anyway, if you know really old stuff like Novel Netware 4.x and Pascal shoot me an email, I might have a project coming up that pays pretty good.

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