[thelist] Outsourcing

Luther, Ron Ron.Luther at hp.com
Tue Jan 31 11:24:31 CST 2006

Hershel Robinson asked:

>>I was approached by a potential client last week. 
>>His plan is to outsource the actual programming to cheap 
>>programmers in India or the former Soviet Union from one 
>>of the various websites offering such services.
>>What do people think about his idea of outsourcing? 

Hi Hershel,

My experience would agree with what seems to be the consensus 
so far.  It can be an interesting experience and you can run 
into some really good folks. But picking an overseas team off 
a code bidding website (or whatever) for a one-off project to 
rewrite core business functionality?  That sounds like a risky 
proposition for your client and a potential nightmare for you.

I've spent five years now working with programmers (mostly VB 
guys) and Oracle dbas out of Bangalore, India. I have a good 
relationship with the current team. Some of the folks have 
been very bright.  All have been willing to work hard and 
put in long hours. 

I haven't worked with every shop in every country ... or every 
gin mill where coders walk into mine [projects]. 

*My* experience is just that.

You could do better, You could do worse.  You rolls the dice.

Some notes:

* The time difference _can_ be an issue.  Sometimes you need 
to get these folks on the phone instead of spending three days 
trading emails.  I don't like late night work calls, so maybe 
it's only an issue for me.

* ESL can be an issue. Even if you know the coder is bright, 
if their correspondence reads like IM from a 13 year old it's 
not going to inspire confidence that you are both on the same 
page.  [I've had more trouble with Asia than India on this, 
but I run into it in India from time to time as well.]

* "Initiative".  Yeah, lots of IT folks everywhere like to cop 
out and take the "I vuz only followink orders!" excuse when they 
misinterpret your badly written specifications.  But I feel like 
I run into this more with the overseas crowd.

I find that I need to go further out of my way to coax or demand 
suggestions for alternative approaches from the overseas folks. 
They also appear more reluctant to point out flaws or ask 
questions than my on-site folks.  

They also appear more reluctant to explain details when I ask 
how things actually work.  Eventually, however, they see the 
light.  ;-)

* Need to micromanage.  Yeah. It has come up more often for me 
that I would like it to.  But if you don't have confidence that 
they understand what you want, if their correspondance is not 
clear, if you see that they are not asking questions when they 
should be ... You are going to end up micromanaging to bring the 
project in.

* Define "senior".  Heh.  I dodged the bullet and didn't work 
with them, but there was an outfit in China that had you pay 
a premium for the 'senior' team - that was the one that included 
a guy with more than 3 months experience.  Don't assume that 
titles overseas correspond to similar titles elsewhere.

* "Swarming".  I see this more with overseas teams than local 
teams.  They really are 'teams'.  If you are working with a 
five person team and send one email to a developer asking a 
question and another email to a dba asking a question ... you 
might expect the other 3 to keep working on your project.  

Nope.  Once your first email lands all project work comes to 
a halt while all five swarm together to discuss the question 
you asked and the appropriate response.  Could get back to 
that trust thing again. Just letting you know this happens 
so you don't get the impression that some of the folks on 
the team aren't doing anything.

>>I wonder about the quality of the code which will be produced. 
>>how valid (HTML and CSS) it will be, 

Good concern!  I would set my expectations low.  I would expect 
the team to be 'junior' and very very young. I would expect them 
to be willing to learn about validation and accessibility - but I 
wouldn't assume they knew that stuff.

Do more than ask.  [Cuz if you ask, you get the "Sure sure. We 
do that!" canned response.]  If the CSS structure is important to 
you, ask to see some examples. Or hyperlink structures. Or JS or 

Another perspective: I might be willing to 'take a chance' with a 
one-time shop of this kind for a very specific new development.  
Say construction of an 'events calendar' if I didn't have one.  
But entrust a rewrite of my core business functionality to a shop 
I've never worked with? Operating in a country where I may not 
understand my legal rights for recourse? Noooooo. I don't think so.



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