These are scary times for U.S. IT professionals, many of whom are convinced that they’re this generation’s steelworkers. The growing reliance on offshore partnerships and the spectacular spread of the global marketplace are leading to the revamping of business models, the reshuffling and downsizing of IT outfits throughout the United States, and the shifting of workforces across continents. This rapid evolution is forcing tech workers to realign their skills to advance their companies’ core business needs while putting a premium on agility and international-business acumen.
The sustained upheaval in the IT labor market prompted the research firm Gartner to devote its May 2005 ITxpo to the thorny question, “Where Do We Go From Here?” (The consultancy predicted that by 2010, IT departments in large and midsize companies will shrink by nearly one-third of their size in 2000.) For years, business executives answered that question by hiring overseas. Matthew Bradley, vice president of corporate engineering at Hyperion, for instance, recently heralded offshoring as a “strategic imperative for the business to remain successful.” Kim Polese, CEO of SpikeSource, agreed, saying, “any forward-thinking company has built a global presence into their planning and strategy.”
As more and more companies seek their competitive advantage offshore, stateside technology workers are struggling to find what their edge will be in the years ahead. Fortunately, U.S. workers willing to adapt will find themselves with several options to stay gainfully employed. Hiring managers and outsourcing specialists point to an increased demand for managerial positions that incorporate broadened project-management skills. They also point to new titles, such as business transformation architects, and the prevalence of client-facing roles that simply cannot be outsourced.
“There are a lot of in-demand IT jobs in the U.S., but they’re more likely to involve product architecture, new products, and innovation,” says Gordon Brooks, CEO of Symphony Services, which manages globally distributed development centers in the software industry. Three years ago Symphony set out to help U.S. companies expand into foreign markets. It now employs roughly 2,300 workers worldwide, 99 percent of whom are U.S. citizens, according to Brooks.
Innovation as Birthright?
Industry Pollyannas typically point to the long history of U.S. innovation as the cure-all that will produce the next generation of jobs. This time around, however, opinions differ drastically, and caution is in the air when the word “innovation” springs up. India alone is conferring thousands of computer science degrees a year, and hiring managers there expect a lot of those graduates to be hard at work innovating. According to Shashank Samant, president of managed strategic services at Ness Managed Labs, India is indeed gearing up to take a leadership role in engineering and software development, but it’s not at the stage where it is wholly innovating yet.”
“It’s years away,” Samant emphasizes. “It’s still primarily a software factory.”