Are U.S. Programmers a Dying Breed?
American programmers are under siege. Edward Yourdon’s book, The Decline and Fall of the American Programmer, depicts programmers in the U.S. as arrogant mavericks who are reluctant to embrace more efficient programming languages, CASE tools, fourth-generation languages, and other approaches (such as object-oriented programming) that can make them competitive in the world marketplace. Yourdon points out that programmers in India and Philippines may be up to five times less expensive (in terms of salaries and benefits), but are comparable in competence. Such labor cost differences are causing many American firms to outsource programming tasks to contract programming companies in other parts of the world.
Downsizing - that is, the movement of applications that were traditionally run on mainframes to smaller hardware platforms such as local area networks – is another source of stress for American programmers. During the 1990s, the number of mainframes used in the U.S. has steadily declined, and the number of computer programmers employed in the U.S. has also fallen.
The disintegration of the Soviet Union means that programmers from Russia and the other members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), who were formerly employed by the military or heavy industry, are now available to help with commercial software ventures. And, they are becoming very competitive.
Generally, the software produced by CIS programmers is theory-rich; that is, they are programs that encapsulate and integrate concepts from diverse intellectual fields. Many of the programmers are physicists, mathematicians, or geologists first and software developers second.
The average CIS programmer makes less than half the salary of his or her American counterpart. Largely due to a dearth of mainframes and minicomputers and no market for large computer systems – because of the controlled Soviet economy – most CIS programmers have PC experience. Among the software companies that have sprung up in the post-Soviet economy, C and C++ are the two most commonly used languages. Assembly language and Pascal are also widely used. The percentage of CIS software development firms using object-oriented design and object-oriented programming exceeds that found in the U.S.
Entrepreneur Lev Weinstein assembled a collection of former Soviet programmers and formed a contract programming firm that specializes in large systems development and integration. Companies from Europe and the United States have reduced labor costs by more than 30 percent by using Weinstein’s employees.
In addition to contract programming, former Soviet programmers have developed PC board design software (software that assists electrical engineers in designing PC circuitboards), expert system development toolkits (to facilitate the development and refinement of expert systems), health diagnostic systems, and a variety of educational software for children.
While U.S. programmers are feeling some pressure from CIS counterparts who are low in cost but not in talent, U.S. corporations are recognizing some tremendous opportunities. Strategic planners see the opportunity to work together with the new CIS software companies to develop the advertising, sales, billing, shipping, and customer support systems needed for other companies that are emerging in the former communist states.
Source: C. Parker and T. Case, Management Information Systems: Strategy and Actions, 2nd Ed., McGraw-Hill, 1993.
1. Describe how the use of object-oriented programming, CASE tools, and fourth- generation languages could help American programmers be more efficient and competitive in the world marketplace.
2. What challenges will be faced by companies who want to use CIS programmers to develop business software (for example, billing, shipping, and customer support) for emerging CIS companies? What steps could be taken to meet these challenges?
3. What opportunities do the new CIS software development firms offer to companies from other parts of the world?
4. Is it right for an American company to contract with foreign programmers to develop applications? Why or why not? What long-terms affects may such actions have?