[Marxism] Open source and outsourcing

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Apr 1 08:26:11 MST 2004


Salon.com
How India is saving capitalism
For one Silicon Valley company, hiring Indian programmers wasn't about 
greed, it was about survival. A special report from Chennai, 
globalization's ground zero.

Editor's note: This is the first of a series of reports on the 
offshoring of white-collar jobs, reported on location in India.

- - - - - - - - - - - -
By Katharine Mieszkowski

April 1, 2004  |  CHENNAI, India -- In an auditorium on the Chennai 
campus of the Indian Institute of Technology, Brian Behlendorf is 
stumping before 200 engineering students. The pony-tailed founder and 
CTO of the Silicon Valley start-up CollabNet is here, ostensibly, to 
talk about open-source software. The event has been organized by the 
Indian Linux Users Group-Chennai; the 30-year-old Behlendorf, who 
coordinated the growth of the hugely successful Apache Web server 
project in its early days, is one of the heroes of the open-source 
movement.

But he's also an executive of an American company that has outsourced a 
significant part of its operations to India, placing him at the center 
of the firestorm that has erupted in the United States over the 
globalization of white-collar jobs. So he can't avoid addressing the 
issue of what has really brought him to the subcontinent, even as he 
adds his own unique twist to the debate.


"Outsourcing is a sensitive topic in the U.S. for political reasons," 
Behlendorf says. "But the open-source community has been doing 
outsourcing since the beginning." Programs like Apache and Linux and 
many others, he argues, were developed by thousands of volunteers from 
around the globe -- an example of massively outsourced labor. In a 
sense, the move by Western corporations to outsource programming 
operations to developing nations isn't just about cutting costs, it's 
about adopting a new software development model.

Behlendorf's audience is receptive to his remarks. It is made up of 
students from one of India's most elite engineering institutions -- a 
school that's harder to get into than Harvard, a school so competitive 
that its tens of thousands of applicants are known as "aspirants." The 
men, who make up the majority, are dressed in button-down oxfords and 
belted khakis, the women in flowing salwar kameez. There's only a 
smattering of geeky T-shirts: "2001 Welcome to Linux: It's now safe to 
turn on your computer," reads one.

After Behlendorf has finished speaking, the students come up to the 
podium to pepper him with questions. When he finally leaves the stage, a 
dozen engineers follow him out into the humid night, intent on spending 
every possible moment with him until he disappears into the car that 
will take him back to his $130-a-night room at the Sheraton. Then, the 
students walk away into the dark, a loose group scattered below a 
jumbled canopy of banyan, neem, mango, tamarind and eucalyptus trees 
populated by dangling wild monkeys.

Behlendorf isn't here in Chennai for the second time in 10 months just 
to spread the open-source gospel. He's here because the boom in 
offshoring is resulting in a tight labor market -- in India. In the 
topsy-turvy logic of globalization, it's Behlendorf who's here to court 
the engineers: highly educated, technical talent that costs a fraction 
of what it commands in the U.S. Recruiting such talent is becoming an 
ever more competitive endeavor for companies looking to join the 
offshore flood.

In the U.S., the rush to outsource labor internationally is increasingly 
being seen by workers as an us-vs.-them zero-sum game. As they watch one 
corporate behemoth after another -- IBM, GE, Oracle, HP, Google -- send 
significant portions of their operations offshore, their agitation is 
burgeoning into a political hot-button issue. According to a new Gallup 
Poll, 58 percent of Americans say that outsourcing will be "very 
important" when they decide their votes for president. And 61 percent 
say that they are concerned that they, a friend or a relative might lose 
a job because the employer is moving work to a foreign country. 
Analysts' estimates that 3.3 million jobs are likely to be lost to 
outsourcing by 2015, and that 14 million are vulnerable to foreign 
competition, have turned India into the new Japan in the imagination of 
American workers: an ominous economic threat to their livelihoods. 
Despite assurances from economists that the furor is so much 
protectionist alarmism, the nagging question remains: How can you 
compete with a worker who makes a 10th of your salary?

But for Behlendorf and CollabNet, the outsource-or-not-to-outsource 
challenge is no cut-and-dried case of greedy American corporations 
sending jobs overseas. Behlendorf, as befits his open-source roots, is 
an idealist. Taking a global perspective, he believes that spreading the 
wealth internationally is good for the world in the long run. He and his 
fellow executives want CollabNet to be a truly global company, with no 
distinction made between employees in one country or another. But even 
more to the point, CollabNet's main product, SourceCast, is a set of 
software tools that facilitate development among teams of programmers 
working in different locations.

In other words, CollabNet's developers, both in the U.S. and India, are 
hard at work writing code that makes it easier for workers on opposite 
sides of the globe to work together effectively. CollabNet even "eats 
its own dogfood," as the saying goes, using its main product as the 
development environment for writing the SourceCast code.

One important market for SourceCast: corporations that outsource.

full: http://www.salon.com/tech/feature/2004/04/01/collabnet/

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