Overpaid or Over There?

When I was growing up in the 60’s in the UK I often heard my Dad use the phrase “Overpaid and over here”. It was a disparaging remark aimed at the cashed up US airmen who spent the latter part of the Second World War carousing British women and spreading their greenbacks wherever it took their fancy. This week’s Blog is not about cashed up US airman, but it does have a similar message, focussing on cashed up International Consulting companies and overpaid local software testing professionals.

This Blog is going to upset a lot of people. A lot of people…. but, then again, we need to discuss these sorts of issues and think about what is currently happening to our industry. I may come at this topic from a different perspective to others but, whether or not you agree with my reasoning, I think most of you will agree that this is something worth talking about.

How many of you believe you (or any of your colleagues) are overpaid; yes, I said OVERPAID. I’m not referring to freelance/contracting staff – who are paid a premium to compensate for various risks associated with their employment status. I’m talking about permanent employees of large international Consulting firms, major financial institutions, major telcos etc. who are distorting the market within which we operate.

Now call my cynical, but these same large Consulting firms, financial institutions and telcos are also the ones championing the concept of offshore Testing Factories in the name of cutting costs and increasing efficiency. What this strategy of overpaying staff has done is distort the software testing market in many 1st world countries, not least in my own backyard of Australia.

I believe it is no coincidence that the major international consulting companies who pay premium rates for local testing talent also have the lowest paid overseas-based staff, in order to optimise their profits. Let me explain what happens. Consultancy X hires some impressive looking locals (let’s call them the A Team) who can sweet talk prospective clients. Once the Consulting company wins the business, the A Team are removed from the scene as quickly as is politically expedient (in order to join the hunt for the next prospective client). While the A Team is being replaced by the B Team, the Consulting company is also looking for an opportunity to substitute some of the B Team with cheaper offshore staff (the C Team).

Another version of this model, that has gained traction in Australia over the past 5 or 6 years, is where a major financial institution is looking to save money (within their IT budget). The organisation has previously struggled to deliver solutions on time and has thrown dollars at the problem by paying above market rates to obtain as many locally-based talented software testers as they can find. The bean counters then question this approach and apply pressure to cut costs, but projects must still be delivered on time. Where can these organisations turn now? To the Consulting companies of course – and the cycle continues…

What this does to the local market is prevent the development of younger talent and as this shortage plays out more and more organisations look offshore to compensate for the lack of local skilled resources. This has been very apparent in Australia over the last few years where trying to recruit home-grown software testers with 3 to 5 years experience has become almost impossible. The future of the local software testing community is being hijacked by multinational business-building opportunists who just want to make the dollars balance and don’t care about the sustainability of the local market. This is obviously not a new concept as we have seen this play out in a myriad of other industries where money takes precedent over economics.

An opportunity to reverse this trend, that has so far been mainly ignored, is that of employing the use of software development and testing tools more effectively. While automating your test suite is not the silver bullet some salespeople would lead you to believe, the strategic deployment of software to aid in the delivery of software can make a significant difference to your bottom line and encourage greater innovation within the local market. I have long believed that the way we break down tasks within the software testing paradigm has ignored the use of technology to deliver technology.

The concept of setting a timer to kickoff a process while we are away from the office (so that when we arrive it is ready for us to check) is not new; however, the opportunity to extend this concept to embrace more complex tools has been mainly ignored. If we deconstruct the software development process into tasks that can be performed by a computer (automation in our current language) and those that can only be performed by humans (sapient) we can start to benefit from software innovation and utilise creative humans more effectively.

Let me take another tack. Why do we continue to deliver software projects late and over budget, even though we’ve been doing the same thing for almost 50 years now? Because we continue to re-invent the wheel. We continue to attempt to deliver fundamentally identical projects using different processes and procedures. Re-use (even within the same organisation) is mismanaged due to the rush to deliver the current project and keep costs down. Project teams are built and dismantled with great haste and the majority of the team has moved on by the time delivery is complete. This means that capturing how stuff was done is lost and not available for re-use. The next project starts and new processes, procedures and tools… the waste cycle continues ad nausea….

Those of us who have delivered software over the last 40/50 years have seen many innovations in technology, but the majority of these have been in the end product – not in the delivery of that product. If we continue to deliver projects the way we do today I can foresee a day (in the not too distant future) when the multinational consulting businesses will begin to increase their prices because they have no local competition to underbid. As I said before, we have seen this in other industries. I fear it is already too late to reverse this trend of denuding the local market in search of cheaper (offshore) solutions. If I am correct in my assessment, the software testing communities that we are currently building in Australia will be very short-lived and our livelihoods will go the way of the cabinet makers and other artisans.

I have not written this piece to disparage the efforts of those working in countries that offer cheaper labour opportunities – they are the innocent parties. My motivation is to question the status quo and begin a discussion that will lead to a more sustainable outcome for the Australian Software Testing community together with those of other 1st world countries.

Dateline: Friday April 5, Melbourne, Australia


2 thoughts on “Overpaid or Over There?

  1. Interesting topic Colin, well done for calling the spade a spade. We see it here in NZ as well, the local market has been decimated by 1) offshorers & 2) consulting companies (although could be argued that 2. IS part of the local market). However that is the playing field we currently toil on & like all business-driven change, new opportunities will arise (I can already see a couple) with the Digital’s, Wang’s, Prime’s, Data General’s of the testing world eventually taking their places in testing history. Whoever thought that the world’s no. 2 computer manufacturer would end up consigned to the past.

  2. Phpft! Welcome to the rest of the world. Sorry… Sad but true as this has already happened here in the U.S. Some of it is self-inflicted (the DOT COM boom & bust, and the associated hyper-inflation of salaries during the run up), and others are not (the DOT bomb and subsequent deflation by the bean counters). All in all the key thing is the issue you brought up about how we keep re-inventing the wheel on how we build/deliver the final product. That and not learning from our past mistakes.

    All automation may do is speed up that process. In the end it is GIGO (garbage in, garbage out).

    Good post, definitely will be watching for more on this one.

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