More than just scaling manufacturing at risk

Posted by steve | General Commentary | Friday 2 July 2010 9:44 pm

Yesterday, Bloomberg News published a piece by Andy Grove – the co-founder of Intel Corp. He makes a passionate and reasoned case for how the U.S.A. is making a mistake by outsourcing much, perhaps all, of our manufacturing base. Read the article here.

This excerpt hits a nerve that applies to more than just manufacturing:
Not only did we lose an untold number of jobs, we broke the chain of experience that is so important in technological evolution.

I see the same thing happening in software development. While it is thought true that less expensive developers are available offshore, that’s not necessarily the same thing as saying developing offshore is less expensive. The “chain of experience” gets lost somewhere in the translation. Never mind the literal loss during translation back and forth to English. Some of this gets resolved by training, mentoring and patience.

But who really believes that patience and longer term investment is given credible support today? Just because a developer knows the pertinent technology employed to accomplish your business goals doesn’t mean they understand what you are trying to do. That comes from years of experience.

I’m an “agile software” enthusiast, and there’s a saying often quoted in my world. “Do the simplest thing that could possibly work.” Those are sound words of advice. However. Just like anything else in life, you can carry this to the extreme that you lose sight of the real goals. Software development is all about 2 things:

  1. Deliver solutions for your customer
  2. Maintenance

Don’t lose sight of that 2nd one. I once worked for a very smart company president who used to say “The first order of business is to stay in business.” If you only focus on what you need right now, and don’t understand what you really need right now, you will add considerable software debt. Now I’m not talking about writing software frameworks with extensions for the future that are over-reaching. We all recognize that when we see it. What I am talking about though, is if we just focus on fixing this problem really quick so I can get onto something else, we are not doing the right thing.

As anyone who has worked in the software development world long enough knows, it’s a delicate balance.

That balance is even harder to maintain when you’ve sent all your knowledge home and asked some folks overseas to help you stay in business. The imbalances Andy Grove mentions say it all. Who’s going to stay in business, the guy with all his business knowledge contained in another company’s people?

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