A few years ago a my father told me that he had been asked by an businessman friend of his how I was keep my business going in light of the competition from India that was going to be able to provide web development services for 1/20 the cost I was charging. That was several years ago and I wasn’t worried then, and I’m not worried now.
Although it will come back to haunt my political career someday, I don’t mind revealing that I’ve tried outsourcing web programming to companies overseas before. The first time it was to a company in Bulgaria. They charged me a few grand, did some shoddy work, and I finally fired them after they told me they wouldn’t be in touch for three days because they were going to “a party.” If I weren’t Mormon and married I would have been intrigued, but instead I just felt ripped off. I ended up losing a client over that debacle.
More recently I’ve tried India. The nice thing about India is that they don’t go to parties. As near as I can tell, people who have jobs in India work 20 hours per day, and the other 4 hours are spent on work-prep. Indians (and I do mean real Indians, not native American Indians) are also possibly the most polite people on earth. However, what I’ve been learning from my experiences with two Indian outsourcing firms is that hard work and tact aren’t enough. There are still some huge barriers between Americans and Indians and I’m not sure how easy they are to overcome.
1. Language. Yes, they speak English, but the accents are so strong and the specific vocabulary so different as to make it impossible to understand more than half of what they say. Even communication by email can be difficult when they say things like “Please intimate your response” which I’ve learned means “Let us know.”
2. Time and Cost. Face it, there’s only one reason why people outsource–it’s cheap. Or is it? It doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out that three hours at $20/hr and one hour at $60/hr are the same thing, except that the $60/hr is better because it only took an hour. My experience so far is that when you add up all the hours, outsourced labor isn’t necessarily any cheaper, and then you find yourself saying “Well wait a second, so I paid the same amount but it took three times as long? Why did I do that?”
3. Quality. There’s ups and downs here, in my experience. Some of the projects I’ve had done have gone very well and work very well. But only after fixing 20 things, which, to their credit, the Indians fixed very quickly. I would prefer, of course, that they fixed those things before I ever tested their work since the problems were fairly obvious, but I guess you can’t have it all.
5. Independence. Or lack thereof. Whenever a former employee asks if they can use me as a reference I say “Sure! I’ll tell them that you work well under constant supervision.” That’s how working with Indians has been. If you don’t tell them explicitly to do it, it doesn’t get done. Someone once described this to me by saying that you have to give them a blueprint and instruction manual to get them to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It’s true. I believe this is a result of #6.
6. Creativity. More than anything else the Indians I have worked with lack creativity. I don’t mean they aren’t good at scrapbooking or watercolor, I mean they seem to have a distinct inability to bridge gaps and connect two seemingly disparate ideas or concepts. Or in other words, they don’t think of things on their own, they only follow instructions. Well, perhaps I’m wrong on this point. There actually have been a number of times they haven’t followed instructions, especially when it came to implementing visual features of websites, but I never thought of those moments as sparks of creativity.
This lack of creativity is what I believe gives Americans and some other cultures an edge. I recently had a project that I got estimates from several people on, including an Indian outsourcing firm. I gave everyone the same information. The Indian firm sent me scores of questions, 85% of which I was able to answer myself, despite them being the programming “experts” whereas I’m just a high-level geek. After a month, I still didn’t have an estimate because I hadn’t been able to answer all their questions. By contrast, I had a British woman turn around an estimate in 24 hours. Turned out it was wrong because she hadn’t accessed some important information. She corrected the error within an hour and got me a revised estimate. She got the job, and the Indians didn’t.
This isn’t just a repeat of historically precedented abuse, it’s a serious competitive disadvantage for India if this experience is in any way representative of the majority. The Indians lacked the knowledge and experience to provide a proper estimate. They got hung up on the parts where they didn’t have the answers. And this resulted in them taking way too long, being paralyzed, and losing the business.
Now I’m sure there are Indians who would look at this and say “Well yeah, you just hired the wrong company. There are 1.2 million outsourcing companies in India that would have done a better job.” Really? Because I am in the process of trying out another Indian outsourcing firm, one that has received venture capital financing from a reputable, US VC fund, and yet I’m having the same type of experience. I believe there probably is an Indian firm out there that can do high quality work and do it fast, but I’d be willing to bet they charge more than $20/hr, and so once again, I have to ask myself whether there’s any reason to go overseas if I can get the work done here with the same or better ROI.Liked it? Share it!