Before You Outsource a Programming Job to Asia, Read This.
May 17, 2012
If you want to hire one creative Indian programmer cheap, he may be just right. Just be sure he writes detailed documentation. Make sure he beta-tests his product. Make sure you beta-test it. But that is true for any programmer's work.
As for hiring five Indian programmers in India, be very careful. Teamwork in Asia is different from teamwork here in the USA.
In programming, there are two choices in each digital decision: yes and no. This is not true of Asian culture.
Here are posts from members of my site, Gary North's Specific Answers (www.GaryNorth.com). This is from one of my forums.* * * * * * * * * * *
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Posted May 15,2012 8:03 PM platinumgrit
As a Senior Test Analyst/Test Lead/Test Manager, I've had to manage Test Analysts and interface with Development teams both in the same building and offshore (I live in Sydney, Australia.) The constant problem I find with offshore Indian work is this: They may be able to write code very effectively, but they do not think rationally or logically. They are able to do exactly what you spell out for them to do - and you DO have to spell out things extremely explicitly - and you absolutely have to check their work. The company I work for has outsourced the writing of our automated testing suite to an Indian consultancy; we have one of our most competent Senior Test Analysts performing daily code reviews of their work. No matter how many times you spell out why it's important to write code according to a logical framework, and why it's very important to structure each module so that the variables are defined in a central place, we're constantly finding all kinds of shortcuts and bad hacks in the code.
The other problem is how easily the Indian workers are offended. They start yelling and/or getting offended SO easily. I made the mistake one day or losing my temper in a phone conference about the difference between Yes and No; Yes means Yes and No means No. Do not send me back the spreadsheet of all the tasks and checkpoints assigned to you with Done and Pass next to them when the work is NOT done and the tests do not pass! Indians will say Yes, Yes! when really, it's all No's.
I understand now this is their culture, this is how things work over there. You dare not tell someone you don't understand what they're saying, or you can't do what they are asking, or anything like that. You just say yes to everything, and they assume that *I* should know that their yes really means no.
Therefore, when I've been tasked with delivering project objectives to certain timelines, and I've had Indian workers or offshore teams thrust upon me, I've learned to modify my approach to using those resources. I've put a host of checks in place so that they are forced to perform the tasks I am depending on them to perform, to the basic level of quality I need in order to deliver my deliverables.
This is why I love dealing with Swedes, Danes, Fins, Germans, Norwegians, Brits, South Africans, etc. I can sit down with them in a room, explain all the challenges we are have to overcome to get this thing over the line in time, and we brainstorm together what each person can do to get it done. The logic, rationality, creativity, and strategic nature of our thinking is explosive, and when you (in the style of Ricardo Semler) give everyone the freedom to breathe and think, and own their little slice of the deliverable, it's amazing - great things happen. You have a team that hits hard and really performs.
That being said, India's best and brightest would probably be heading to America's best and brightest opportunities. Australia has many good things about it, but we do not have the same culture of excellence as the entrepreneurial American enterprises. In America, if you're a genius with quirky social skills, someone will jump at the opportunity to leverage that genius for their benefit. In Australia, we have a serious tall poppy syndrome - genius is torn down, attacked, and ground into powder. During my stint in recruitment, I saw this repeatedly - likeable fools were hired over competent professionals more often than not.
Anyway, that's beside the point I was trying to make. There is a layer of Indian society where there are some exceptionally bright, well educated visionary thinkers. However, my experience with Indian IT labor has been the opposite, they need constant supervision, are highly sensitive to any sort of criticism, and you have to double and triple check all the work they do. There are benefits to be had from swarms of cheap foreign labor, however. You just need to ensure you make plans to manage these things right from the beginning.
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Posted May 15,2012 10:38 PM jhnzr
I have had the same experience with Indians. Back in 2006 the market research firm was acquired by an Indian firm. I noticed that the next batch of research studies were lacking in depth. My suspicion was that this Indian firm fired all of their U.S. analysts who had in depth market sector knowledge and substituted Indians who lacked said depth. The reports went from very detailed drill down deep dives to high level overview reporting on the markets. I was going to cancel the subscription when the sales woman insisted that I first speak with her manager, an Indian. I communicated my observations and the guy went ballistic on me and started hollering and screaming at me over the phone. So I figured okay, I'll let him vent for 5-10 minutes and then I'll say no to a renewal. As far as Americans not being able to compete from the previous post, I agree and will add part of the problem is that American parents want football players and cheerleaders and that is what is emphasized during the child's upbringing. This leads to an environment conducive to the creation of morons. In Asian cultures by contrast, STEM education is emphasized and the sports and after school activities are frowned upon unless it is a STEM related tutoring session. Think about it. You do not see too many Asians on football teams or cheerleading squads in American universities.
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Posted May 15,2012 11:31 PM alpha
In one sense, Asia is still very much a feudal society. The difference between the elites and the plebs is that the elites are trained and expected to think while the plebs are there to obey.
I have found that leadership is not the same everywhere. American leadership styles do not work well in Asia. What will motivate smart American workers will leave Asian employees confused and angry. You must spell out in a very detailed manner not only what must be done but how it is to be done. And you must check each employee's work or they will feel that you are ignoring them. Your employees will not speak up if there is an idea for improvement-- that is your job as the leader to do so. My firm is in the middle of negotiating a dispute which could end up in a Japanese court. I researched the Japanese legal system and have counseled my firm not to push that direction. My employees would only confirm my suspicion when asked-- they did not volunteer information on how to negotiate. They weren't hiding info-- it just would not occur to them to tell a manager differently or even that someone wouldn't understand basic negotiations here. This also explains why American and Asian engineers will have very different competencies.
On the other hand, the relationship is the most important thing to maintain. You must maintain good relations and harmony even at the expense of productivity. The 'lifetime value of the customer' is far more significant here than America. It is the reason that decisions take so long to make here-- the time expense in building a complete consensus.
It sounds completely backward. Micromanagement, no room for thought and creativity... and you shoot yourself in the foot if you don't here. But by bringing in management tools that seemingly increase productivity, you are asking Asians to do the opposite of what has been inculcated in roughly centuries or millennia of cultural conditioning. It is a high cost.
Another significant difference is explained by the Japanese terms 'tatemae' and 'honne.' Americans reveal much more emotion and speak their mind much more than Asians. Asia is not verbally oriented-- it is context oriented. Westerners just don't pick up on the signals.
Here is where it gets really tricky. You as an American will likely not be respected in Asia, regardless of wealth and power. By long cultural experience, westerners are still considered barbarians-- even if only subconsciously. An Asian may bow and scrape in the presence of an Asian mid-level manager but you giving the same orders may invite passive-aggressive resistance (this explains the Indians yelling-- they would not behave like that with an Indian manager). Look up the terms 'guanxi' and 'mianzi' for a more in depth explanation of this. We not only speak with an accent, we walk, think, and act with an accent. To have success in Asia, you must gain the loyalty of Asians. Most often this is done by marrying one and the Asian wife giving good advice. I have not yet figured out this piece of the puzzle, how to inspire loyalty in Asian subordinates (or how to gain referent power rather than expert power) but I am learning more every day.
As is apparent to me now, the easiest way is to gain face and have good relations with Asians is to have face with the elites. The best example of this is the Jesuit conversions in Japan at the beginning of the Tokugawa shogunate. Prior missionaries tried to convert the lower classes and got nowhere. The Jesuits converted the daimyos (feudal lords) and entire provinces became Christian quickly. Having good guanxi (relations) with the upper classes will gain you good mianzi (face) in Asian society. The Tammany Hall version of this is "Who's your rabbi?"
The more successful western firms in Asia hire a competent Asian manager to be the interface and largely stay out of day to day operations. The less successful ones don't.
This lack of common interface between Asia and the west is a two-edged sword. It only benefits the Asians as long as they are creditor nations. It will always benefit those willing to be a liaison.
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Posted May 16,2012 12:06 AM jhnzr
Well this explains a few things. I have 2 chinese engineers assigned to me to support business development/product development initiatives. These 2 engineers are very good at executing tasks. That is to say if I went to them and said I needed a product with the following features, they were good at execution. However, when they were asked to come up with ideas of their own, they both floundered. Both told me that I am the manager and I need to come up with the ideas. Okay fair enough, I came up with 6 that they are working on but what if none of my ideas work out? So I tasked them to come up with a list of 3 each of ideas. They are still struggling with this. One of them came up with something unique recently. I had another instance a few months ago where we found a partner in China that we thought would be an asset in terms of new technology development. Needless to say that this firm totally screwed up the development of the product to the extent that we needed to interceed to fix the mess. This really suprised us as this firm outnumbered out engineers 30:1. How could they have not been able to fix this?? In addition my experience is that Chinese businesses do not like signing exclusivity or joint development agreements with U.S. companies. They want to do everything on a verbal and do not like legal contracts. We in the states realize that these Chinese companies will try to screw us and more and more companies not only here but in Europe have had the same experience. If the Chinese don't clean up their act with respect to IP, I think they will be limited in terms of the high value growth opportunities. Sure they are great knock off artists but I think fewer and fewer companies will want to do business with them going forward unless it is for a low margin commodity product.