Rules to be Outsource-Proof

10.18.20163 Min Read — In Career

Yesterday, some of my colleagues in Operation Code's Slack channel were expressing some concerns about outsourcing and the impact that this might have on their careers. Given all of the election season rhetoric about American jobs, this is pretty understandable. Realistically, this is also an irreversable trend brought about by high-speed Internet interconnecting the globe.

So rather than hoping that the cosmopolitan elite will change the rules of the game to favor rich world tech workers (HA!), it's worth drawing up a career plan that keeps the reality of outsourcing in mind. My experiences with outsourcing has been largely shaped by my former employment at IBM, an old-line tech company that has been arguable the most brutal and ruthless offshorer (both for it's employees and by having an extensive sales force and consulting division that sells outsourcing services to other companies.)

In my opinion, outsourcing is most common at publically traded Fortune 1000 companies that have stopped growing and need to use cost-cutting to return cash to shareholders via share buybacks. This can happen at old-line Enterprise IT companies, but the most extreme forms are at Fortune 1000 companies that view technology as not being core to their business.

At IBM, I experienced multiple downsizing rounds (called "resource actions" or "workforce rebalancing" in IBM jargon) where many thousands of people were let go, many of whom were in their 50s and a handful of years away from their pensions. The silver lining of this is that younger folks by and large able to bounce back and improve their living standards. Many of the older workers became too specialized in proprietary Enterprise IT middleware, which has made a transition very difficult.

Going through these experiences pushed me to change myself in several key ways, but here are a few key lessons that I drew from these experiences to avoid and minimize getting impacted by resource actions:

  1. Extend the “No A$$hole” rule to assessing employers because there are a lot of bad ones in the technology space. If you’re a junior seeking a first job, spending a few years working for an a$$hole company might be okay, but pull the ripcord within three years or so.
  2. Don’t make proprietary tech stacks the foundation of your career unless you’re ready for the house of cards to collapse at any time. They can be very lucrative secondary stacks, but proprietary technologies tie you to the business roadmaps of some technology company that doesn’t have your interests at heart.
  3. Don’t get too specialized. Stick to things that have the possibility of supporting you and your family through full-time freelance work.
  4. Live in a place that has several employers. If you’re in a company town, have an exit plan in writing and cash saved up to execute it.
  5. Do as the young do and have a Plan B. Realize that as your age in tech, you are going to suffer from age discrimination and people are going to target you. To combat this, you need to outwardly do as the young do and show that you’re young and hungry at heart. Realistically, many people cannot maintain this pace, and they leave the field for things like tech sales, tech marketing, management, training, etc. It’s probably good to have a plan B if your life situation changes and you can’t work more than 40 hours a week.
  6. Realize that outsourcing can hit suddenly as a result of management shifts and it does not have any relationship with merit or ability. If your friend gets hit by outsourcing, help them out. If you're hiring, and a 52 year old guy that used to work in mainframes but graduated from a bootcamp and has a good GitHub portfolio applies, give him a fair shot. If you get hit, don't blame yourself, but tap into your network for help.
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