Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Darn, she got there first - Microsoft edition

One of the challenges in trying to produce something novel every day (as opposed to the bloggers who churn out tens of rip-n-point posts) is that smart people tend to plow the same ground, and they're often quicker than I. Citizen Carrie has done that to me again in her work the past few days on the two big Microsoft stories.

First, she used the overpayment to laid-off Microsoft workers as a springboard to a discussion of outsourcing. There's a lot here, but the big takeaway is just how much offshoring is done under the radar. As I've written before, there is no official count of just which jobs and how many are being sent overseas, which leaves the question open enough that opinions end up carrying the day. The business apologists contend that the issue is overstated, that few jobs are in fact moving. After all, there are no numbers to back it up. (Personally, as someone in one of the major offshoring job categories, I think there's plenty of it, and more to come.)

Carrie also has this:
If you ever want to know what it's like being the low person on the totem pole, try working in the unglamourous fields of finance, accounting, payroll, human resources, legal compliance, etc., (heck, might as well add IT) in most corporations. These employees are scorned for not adding direct value to an organization and are treated as nothing more than parasites draining away profits. Instead of being treated as valuable team members, they are treated as being people who are ripe for outsourcing to the BPO company that comes in and gives the niftiest PowerPoint presentation.
2Truthy had a comment that HR folks "tend to have the loftier roles in companies." It turns out they're both right. The lower-down people, those who administer benefits and do pre-interview screening, tend to be, just as Carrie says, down in the pits with all the other outsourceable people. I've seen a big evolution there in the IT world, where, in many companies, there are no HR people at all. Hiring managers have had to add base-level resume screening to their repertoire of talents.

On the other hand, 2Truthy is right in that the top HR people are thought of as massively important. After all, we can't expect a CEO to deal directly with the outside search company that's been hired to conduct a "nationwide" hunt for the next CFO. Very often, an executive who's being groomed for bigger things is given a top role in HR so he or she can get an overview of the company.

Of course, this just makes the gulf between management and the rank and file wider, but this is necessary if the big guys are going to be able to make the tough decisions. Only by dehumanizing the employees can the non-sociopaths in the executive suite (there are a few) handle the rampant destruction they cause.

[Carrie also links to the recent Friedman column that talks up innovation. In his typical fashion, he issues pronouncements without having to consider reality. Essentially, the government should go into the venture capital business and, when the new-energy version of Microsoft or Intel hits, we the people will make 80% of the returns.

This sounds somewhat compelling, but fails to talk about the end game. Does the government retain that stake on into the future, thus nationalizing the energy industry, or do we miss out on the greatest returns?

Friedman also returns to the curious point that he has been pushing, that we should strive to produce this new energy at the lowest price possible, his so-called ChinIndia price. That it is not the goal of an American country to provide low-cost energy to the world, not if there is a higher-cost point that leads to greater profits, never occurs to our happy pundit.]

Carrie also has a post about Microsoft's other great announcement, their "Elevate America" project. As Carrie puts it:
[T]hey will take the few remaining people in the U.S. who don't know how to type up resumes, much less send them off as email attachments, and educate them into crackerjack, top-notch Microsoft Certified professionals.
I plan to keep my eye on this, but what has been presented so far does not overwhelm. There are four sections at the link, three of which are essentially ads for training programs. The one free part features five courses, each taking 2-3 hours, and they essentially constitute Computing for Dummies.

This kind of thing may be helpful for a very few people, but it's hard to believe that any of this will lead to a way upwards for our economically downtrodden. I'm guessing that the vast majority of the people who can read this blog will pass the "Digital Literacy Certificate Test" without cracking a course.

Still, I'm not an anti-Microsoft person (nor am I a zealot for them as are so many). They have a great number of resources for developers on the Internet, and it's possible that Elevate America will evolve into something useful. At the same time, let's not, for example, ramp up the H-1Bs just because MS has a program with the word "America" in the name.


Citizen Carrie said...

I think we've talked about this before. I just start the posts and let you finish them.

Anonymous said...

Neither of you mentioned the 10% paycuts for new and existing contingent staff announced Tuesday! Chew on it!

- mcfnord

Anonymous said...

Wow! $10/hr haircut! there must be an indian in here somewhere. brutal!

- mcfnord

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