Offshore tempest in a teapot - Embedded.com

Offshore tempest in a teapot

Offshoring is nothing new and nothing to be concerned about — unless it hits too close to home.

There's been so much debate, argument, and vitriol expended lately on the topic of offshore engineering that I almost hate to add to the noise.

Almost.

Frankly, I don't see the problem. First of all, the number of engineering jobs sent overseas is miniscule. Political rhetoric aside, the actual numbers are something like a tiny fraction of one percent of high-tech jobs. We're talking about a rounding error, not some enormous tidal wave of economic or social disaster.

Second, every industry has always outsourced some of its jobs, and Americans depend on it. When's the last time you bought an American-made television? (Hint: there aren't any.) An American-made DVD player? American-built VCRs, athletic shoes, CD players, and sports equipment don't exist. Most of our cars are designed and made in other countries, as are virtually all appliances, most electronic items, and the majority of our clothes. Nike doesn't manufacture anything; never has. It's purely a marketing organization for other companies' products. As Americans, we love offshore labor and manufacturing. Wal-Mart and Target stores wouldn't exist otherwise. Wal-Mart, in fact, distributes a large percentage of China's gross national product.

That's all well and good until the trend hits a little closer to home. We start discussing our own jobs and suddenly everyone turns protectionist. So let me get this straight: It's okay to export automotive manufacturing but not network router manufacturing? Tech support from India is okay but Indian software engineering is not? European wristwatches carry a price premium but imported development tools are unfair?

I don't think we can have it both ways. Free markets are a two-way street. If the “invisible hand” of the market so wills it, our jobs will be done somewhere else, by someone else. (And yes, that includes me.) It has ever been thus. The hand-wringers and doomsayers shouldn't fall into the trap of believing that they, or this time, or this place are somehow unique in history. The arguments we hear today are no different than those coming out of Detroit in the 1970s or the coal mines of Britain in the 1850s. We can ignore history and be doomed to repeat it, we can protest and complain, we can artificially tilt the playing field, or we can embrace the system we claim as our own (and promote so heavily abroad) and get on with doing the best work we know how.

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