Outsourcing and offshoring

30 06 2006

This one came up on one of my email discussion lists the other day. Here is my off-list response to one of the people who responded to the initial post.


… Whenever the subject of ‘offshoring’ comes up, those of us who live and work in other countries usually get p***ed off by the “sky is falling” attitude of many in the US.

Living in Australia, I’m no different to someone living in India or China in that I don’t live in the US. Yet I doubt that the hue and cry over Australians getting ‘offshored’ work from the US would be as loud.

I suspect that Australians, New Zealanders, Brits, and Canadians aren’t treated with the same contempt and Indians, Chinese, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, whatever…

I suspect it’s a case of thinly-disguised racism.

And hell, offshoring or outsourcing has been going on for years and in every industry. The same people who complain about Tech Writer jobs being offshored to India/China etc. probably have no qualms at all about buying clothing made in those countries, or buying Japanese/Korean/Taiwanese electronics and vehicles. I guess they just don’t see that it’s a double standard that they’re applying.

In fact, many probably have home help – cleaners, gardeners, lawn mowing contractors, and the like. And I bet they don’t have any qualms about that either. My house cleaner costs far less than I make per hour, does a better job, and likes what she does. So why *wouldn’t* I outsource something I hate, don’t do well, and make a loss on?

Yet these same people complain about “their” jobs going to someone else – who might or might not live overseas. Gee, I wonder if they’d be as snooty and holier-than-thou if their job went to a fellow American who could do it for far less instead of someone in India or China.

<end of what became a bit of a rant!>



3 responses

1 07 2006

I can’t speak to the racism thing, because it’s not what fuels my objections to some offshore outsourcing and it’s not what fuels the objections of those colleagues, friends, and relatives with whom I associate.

As writer, my objection to *some* offshore outsourcing is when communications functions — like writing documentation or training materials — is outsourced to someone for whom English is a second language. I’ve seen far too much stuff produced by a non-native speaker who messed up cultural references, misapplied idioms, and chose a lot of wrong words, for me to not be irritated by the fact that *they* got the work while a technical writer in the U.S., Canada, U.K., or Australia is struggling to find work because too many companies in their own backyards are outsourcing so much work. To me, it makes no more sense to outsource the writing of documentation in English to non-native English speakers than it would be for a company in China to give me a contract to write documentation in Mandarin because I’ve been speaking it for five years. (Of course, if a U.S. company needed documentation written in Urdu, you’d WANT to find someone who primarily speaks Urdu and secondarily speaks English.)

So, no, I wouldn’t have a problem with documentation work being outsourced to writers in the U.K., Canada, Australia, or New Zealand. For those countries (well…at least for most of Canada), English is the primary language. You might throw in an extra vowel here and there (colour vs. color) and switch some letters around (theatre vs. theater), but English is the native tongue and you know how to write in “global English”.

For programmer friends who have been out of work more often than not for the last four years because so many of the companies in their own backyards are outsourcing programming jobs overseas (and thus increasing competition for the few jobs that are here), I think it’s a general frustration to see the jobs going anywhere overseas…not just India or Pakistan or China. And they’d be frustrated by other Americans who *are* able to make really low bids for jobs.

So while racism *may* be an underlying reason for *some* people, it’s a generalization that shouldn’t be made for all Americans. In many cases, I don’t believe the frustration has as much to do with the countries in question as it does with a frustration with our own government and our own corporations and how both have continually de-valued the American worker and devalued the concept of “made in the USA.”

1 07 2006

Hi Whitney

Thanks for that perspective. I completely agree with you about the language thing – if you’re writing for an English-speaking audience, then the ideal situation is to have a writer whose primary language is English.

On re-reading my ‘rant’ I realise that what I said was in direct response to a post – which I didn’t provide in this blog. That post was what got me a bit hot under the collar, as I read it as ‘thinly-disguised racism’.

OK… after a bit of searching I’ve found the original post and reproduce it here – in full (but with no identifying information) so you can see why I reacted as I did:

Good morning, all!

I have an interesting situation and I’d like to solicit some opinions on how to handle it.

I received an email from someone I don’t know who is apparently based in India. He/she (I can’t tell from the name) wrote this (sic):

> I, , a Technical Writer for the last 4 years want to
> know about the documentation creation.
> Atually I am able to create user manuals, online helps, website
> contents, reference guides but do not much about the ceation of
> documentation on every phase of SDLC.
> I heard about your company a lot that you are specialized in all
> these. i would be greatful to you if you will anyhow help me in my
> problem.

I responded by asking what exactly is the person’s problem in order to get a clearer picture of what the request is. My guess is that he/she is looking for me to explain how to write SDLC docs (for free). There is a slim possibility, I suppose, that he/she is looking to contract my services. (I really doubt this.) The response was simply, “My problem is that I do not know exactly how to write documentation on every phase of SDLC.”

At any rate, what are your feelings on a request like this and what suggestions do you have for a response? Do you think this kind of request from an offshore writer (in particular) is appropriate?


12 10 2006

Pamela Slim had an interesting take on this on her blog. I agree with it all, even though I don’t yet need to make use of a Virtual Assistant (VA).

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