[plt-scheme] Re: Programming for non-programmers

From: Rohan NIcholls (rohan.nicholls at pareto.nl)
Date: Fri Oct 15 07:33:36 EDT 2004

On Thu, 14 Oct 2004 11:44:17 -0500
Robby Findler <robby at cs.uchicago.edu> wrote:

> I suppose it's a theoretical worry to some (esp. until Nov...) but
> anecdotally the information I've come across seems to suggest that
> outsourcing overseas doesn't work very well at all.

I have first hand experience with the outsourcing disaster, and it was
not pretty. You are absolutely right, I don't know if the project was
typical, but it was for a big bank, who had hired a development
company that worked with "virtual teams" ie. a couple of people on
site who then communicated with a programming sweat shop in India.

> First, that altho the programmers are cheaper, they're
> definitely not better. 

The development company kept putting off the evil day, and finally
they were told to produce one unit 5 weeks after the 8 month deadline
was passed. This code was so bad (things like nested if statements 12
deep amongst other coding tragedies), that the project managers (who
had no technical experience, and were not listening to their
architects and in house developers on the project) finally had to
force the dev company to give over everything it had. Nothing actually
worked or ran, it was unuseable code.

The first review by the in house developers lead to the whole thing
having to be trashed (8 months of billing) with the architects and in
house team of about 10-15 people put to work to get something
up and running, which they managed in 4 weeks.  Pretty much all the
functionality without bells and whistles was done in 6 weeks.
Interestingly the in-house team (develpers and architects) were all
freelancers under contract.

> Second, the communication between the clients
> and the programmers (which is already the source of many problems...)
> is next to impossible when you're communicating from the US to
> Pakistan or India or wherever.

This also was a major problem, not only for obvious language reasons,
but even more because of communication bugs due to cultural
differences.  One example is that the word "no" has a different
meaning and weight in different cultures, as well as the unwillingness
to disappoint (in the indian subcontinent this tends to be much
stronger than in the west), and the list goes on.  What you can be
sure of is neither side is entirely clear of the ground rules, not due
to concious misrepresentation but through not understanding cultural
assumptions.  The end result can be an was in this case an enormous

That said, a lot of larger "software consulting" companies are putting
their whole marketing force behind farming out development, so those
managers who have not actually had direct experience can be sold on
the idea.  I think this idea will fade somewhat as more experience is
gathered over time, and the novelty wears off.  Outsourcing will
always be there, but I think it won't be seen as the holy grail it is
deemed at the moment as more disaster stories are told.  The greatest
obstacle to this happening is that the companies that experience it,
don't want to admit publicly that it was a mistake, so it will have to
build through word of mouth, but I think it will.

This of course is not good news in the short term, but I don't see it
as the end of an industry in the west.

my 2 cents.


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