It occurred to me, as I sat in a cavernous auditorium at Stanford last week, just why offshoring is such a hot-button issue for the tech industry: Engineers, by virtue of their training and intellect, see both sides of the argument clearly.
Engineers are often entrepreneurs at heart. They acknowledge the larger economic realities, with the pageant of history as a likely guide to future events. We don't assemble packages at home anymore, and why should we? It's best left to mechanization, with a factory full of $5-an-hour techs making sure the machines have acceptable uptime.
On the other hand, for those same savvy realists, it's "my job" that's at risk as outsourcing gains a foothold in design. My job. My career. My family. My future.
There's your conflict: reason vs. emotion. The arguments for protecting jobs sound tinny precisely because the engineer's conflict comes through. It resonated in the Stanford auditorium last week during a Hot Chips panel on outsourcing design. The deck was stacked against the protect-the-jobs position from the get-go: four no-nonsense executives and VCs, including uber-capitalist T.J. Rodgers of Cypress, vs. two protect-the-jobbers: Ron Hira of the IEEE and Natasha Humphries of TechsUnite Silicon Valley.
Humphries was a good pick to voice the rage brewing in the Valley's cubicles. She's smart, articulate and ticked off that her job at Palm was outsourced to India after she went there to train colleagues. But she didn't bring her A game that night. Her best shot was a response to the argument that the U.S. will create tech jobs because it leads in innovation: It's wrong to assume "that the U.S. has a monopoly on computer and science talent."
But the wholesale export of U.S. design jobs simply isn't possible, Rodgers argued. "This is the center of the technological world. The difference is the world changes, and we're going to have to change jobs and move upstream. We absolutely can do that."
Rodgers once ran around Tokyo's Imperial Palace wearing red, white and blue running shorts. He was an unabashed American who wanted everything from the sand in the silicon to the workers on the line to be American. Then he was forced to offshore assembly and test and move upstream.
The engineer's conflict had hit home. Rodgers got over it and moved on.