Buggy Salesmen 2.0

April 13, 2009 | By | Reply More

Do representatives of America’s High-tech workers “get it” or are they stuck in the past?

A recent New York Times story (by Matt Richtel) highlighted some cracks in American attitudes towards immigration. We know the republicans have been against the immigration of “poor and downtrodden” – but apparently there is now significant pressure against the immigration of “smart and innovative”.

The Times’ story was primarily about US immigration, it’s impact on individuals enmeshed in the process,  and how it is perceived among some in the tech community.  (disclaimer: I am a beneficiary of the H1-B/Green card immigration process, and I’m working towards citizenship)

I was interested less in the story of the Google innovator who feels the need to stay in Canada – so that his wife can work – than the attitude of the American, who purports to represent American-born high-tech workers.

Mr. Berry, of the Programmers Guild, is a native of Sacramento and finds it

unfathomable that Google, which receives one million résumés a year, cannot find enough qualified Americans. Further, he says immigrants depress wages.

The former point is simply an unfounded assertion.  I’m an HR consultant, and Google (in common with most US corporations) has extremely stringent interview and selection procedures.  As a professional in recruitment, I can attest to the difficulty in finding high-tech workers stateside who are willing or able to work in the industry, regardless of their visa status.

As to the second, an influx on immigrants is not a salary depressant. As the article correctly states, H1-B workers must be paid prevailing wages. The cost of the H1-B visa process is an additional burden that most organizations would rather avoid, if they could.

The primary salary depressant in the high-tech industry is, in fact and quite simply, the globalization of high tech.  Programmer farms in Hyderabad can compete equally with Americans on quality, technology, and timeliness, and out-compete on price.  $100 will barely buy me an hour of programmer time in California: it buys an entire day in Hyderabad.

Perhaps Mr Berry and his colleagues think that being American somehow justifies a 900% markup on a globally available, and increasingly fungible commodity. The non-fungible part of high tech is the front end innovation, the client-centric design, and the back end customer focused service.  My colleagues, my clients, and my entire industry seek local people to fulfill these roles. But these are not programmers jobs. These jobs require people willing and able to be flexible and innovative, traits that Mr Berry and his guild seem not to share or are unwilling to learn.

Mr. Berry is the modern-day representative of buggy-whip salesmen.  His head in the sand, blame it on the immigrants whine does a disservice to those of us who came to the US to succeed, and to succeed on exactly the same terms as ‘native-born’ Americans. His attitude does a similar disservice to those millions of Americans who are ‘rolling up their sleeves’ and re-tooling to compete in a global marketplace.  It does a greater disservice to the country itself.

I remember reading the placard on the Statue of Liberty, and wandering through the halls of Ellis island.  Would Mr Berry rather the immigrants were only the poor and downtrodden, so that he can pretend to be king of the hill?  Or would he rather the immigrants were smart, inventive, and hard-working, so that his country remained king of the hill?

I know which America I prefer.

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Category: American Culture, Current Events, Economy, Law, Media, Politics, Technology

About the Author ()

I’m a technophile with an enduring interest in almost anything real or imagined. I suffer fools badly, and love trashy science fiction, plot-free action movies, playing guitar, and baking (especially scones. You haven’t lived ’til you’ve eaten my scones. I’ve recently undertaken bread, and am now in danger of gaining in a matter of weeks the 60 pounds I’ve lost in the past 2 years). My wife & I are Scottish, living north of Atlanta, GA, with two children, one dog, and a growing collection of gadgets. I work for a living.

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