Outsourcing, the IT industry, and talk-show radio

Why is it that I have to keep being reminded – over and over again – that much of what we read or hear in the media is missing context.  Why is it that I continue, year after year, to read interesting points in newspapers and magazines and parrot back their position – unless I know better?  Why is it that I hear stories on the radio and take them at face value, even though when it is about a subject with which I happen to have intimate knowledge I know that they don’t quite have it right?  In fact, sometimes they have it dead wrong.  Why is it that, despite the number of times I am given the lesson to take what you read and hear with a healthy dose of skepticism, I continue to believe?  I guess I’m a patsy.

CBCradioMy most recent reminder came this past week as I was driving to an appointment.  The car is my radio time.  I was idly listening to The Current on CBC Radio 1 while driving.  The subject was outsourcing, of particular public interest because of the situation at RBC.  For those of you who aren’t current with Canadian news, let me provide a brief summary, even if it’s tangential to my main point.  Early this past week news broke that the Royal Bank had laid off 45 IT workers in its Investor Services unit in Toronto.  Not many people in the overall scheme of things, from some people’s perspective.  The work was to be outsourced, a fact of life these days.  The rub came when it emerged that the outsourcing to India was a two-stage process.  In fact, at least one employee who was being given the boot was asked to train the temporary foreign workers who would be replacing them – replacing them in Canada, at least in the short term.  Thus two separate realities of our world collided: outsourcing and a federal program that allows temporary foreign workers to enter Canada on limited terms to fill jobs that have not been able to be filled by Canadians and allows these workers to be paid up to 15% lower than average Canadian wages.  Needles to say, the program is not meant for temporary foreign workers to replace employed Canadian workers.  You can see how an uproar might have ensued!  After one or two false starts on handling the considerable fallout, the RBC CEO has now apologized to all its employees and to the entire Canadian public, whose custom he and his bank cherish.

Hence the topic of outsourcing on The Current.  As I say, I wasn’t paying too much attention until I heard the host, Anna Maria Tremonte, ask one of her guests if, given the amount of IT services that are now outsourced, he thought people should no longer be going into the IT field.  I was incredulous when this professor of IT management at Ryerson University, Ron Babin, actually said that he thought Canada wouldn’t be needing programmers for much longer and that he’d think twice before going into software engineering.  What??!!!  And there was nobody on the show to question that line or take him to task; he was their expert.  To be clear, Prof. Babin’s expertise is in IT outsourcing and off-shore delivery.  The fact is that technology companies all across the country – and other countries – are ictchallenged to find enough skilled programmers, analysts, software engineers, and project managers.  Computer science programs have worked hard for more than a decade to overcome the erroneous perception left with the public, thanks to the media, that after the dot.com bubble of 2000 there were no more jobs in IT.  As a result, we have innovative young companies that could be making a difference to the economy of many regions, providing well-paying jobs and contributing needed corporate taxes, but they have trouble finding the employees they need to expand.  Our innovation is constrained because we don’t have enough of these grads, not because we have too many.  Irresponsible statements such as the one made by Prof. Babin on The Current are about as misleading and as unhelpful as possible.  It’s very sad.

This is the lesson I have to keep relearning: don’t accept everything from the media at face value.  When the subject being discussed is one about which I happen to be knowledgeable, I can recognize a question as inappropriate and know that the answer needs to be qualified, discounted, or challenged.  In this case, Anna Maria Tremonte shouldn’t have asked the question she did to an outsourcing expert.  When her guest gave Question-1such a surprising response, she immediately should have said something about looking forward to hearing what others have to contribute, giving the signal that even if she doesn’t know, she suspects there will be more than one opinion.  When the discussion is on a subject about which I don’t have that level of knowledge, I’m sorry to say that more often than not I am likely to blithely accept what I hear and take it as a given.  The thought that people who don’t know the IT industry would hear Prof. Babin’s response and accept that there is no future for technology graduates in Canada is beyond the pale.  But if they react as I often do to things that aren’t central to their lives, then that is exactly what will happen.

Lessons to be learned:

  1. Not everything you hear or read from experts being questioned by the media is as it seems.  They have their own perspective and their own agenda, and they are often asked leading or loaded questions outside their direct area of expertise.  You can’t always take everything at face value.
  2. There is a shortage of qualified IT workers in Canada and elsewhere.  The future is bright for computer science, software engineering, and other technology graduates.  We need them!

Image sources: cbc.ca, ec.europa.eu

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16 Responses to Outsourcing, the IT industry, and talk-show radio

  1. alesiablogs says:

    Point well taken. How so often we take the words of someone on the radio as the whole truth and nothing but the truth. There is really so much rhetoric in so many fields that you feel sorry for anyone trying to pick a good line of work these days! In the world of information could there be too much information?

  2. Makes you wonder where the newscasters get their info and are they reporting what they think will up their ratings whether it’s truth or fiction. What happened to the world of reporting the truth “for a fact”???

    • Jane Fritz says:

      To be fair to the host of this show, it is a “comment on current events” show rather than reporting of news per se. However, it IS interpretation of news, for which she brings in people who have been found to have expertise in the topic to provide input. And, depending on the topic and the background of the guests, it’s easy for the discussion to go off topic and slide into areas that are not central to the discussion. I think that’s where this one went wrong. On the other hand, as you say, I have certainly heard other news analysis that has had me shaking my head – or grinding my teeth!

  3. As an avid CBC fan and someone who loves The Current – I urge you to contact Anna Maria Tremonte via email at CBC and make your concerns known to her. I have heard many CBC radio people backtrack, apologize and correct themselves and that in and of itself makes for interesting radio. People in the know absolutely must speak out. Go for it – give CBC a blast – they can take it.

  4. It so happens I’m currently reading “Empire of Illusion” by Chris Hedges so your current post certainly strikes a chord. I highly recommend it:
    http://www.chapters.indigo.ca/books/empire-of-illusion-the-end/9780307398468-item.html

  5. Mirko Crevatin says:

    I heard the same interview and was shocked when he said that. You make some great points.

    What I found particularly hypocritical to me is when he said that he himself started his career path as a software developer. Many people, myself included, started as a software developer and moved through the ranks in different roles but that foundation was critical to my success in the IT world. If we remove the foundation…what happens to the reset of the industry? I don’t think I have to draw a map.

    His comment was baseless and reckless. If too many take what he said to heart it will undermine the IT industry in Canada, and the innovation that comes from it, in an irreparable way.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks for commenting, Mirko. I know, it was irresponsible in the extreme. People who don’t know will simply believe it. Here we go again. Frustrating beyond belief.

  6. Barbara Wasson says:

    After reading about Canadian scientists being muzzled, one might wonder if his opinion has been approved by higher powers as it can be used to support their actions (i.e., approving the RBC outsourcing plan) ?

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Now there’s a comment from one who’s learned to be skeptical! I doubt that his opinion has been approved by anyone; I’m pretty sure he’s an independent broker who shouldn’t have been given the opportunity to make such an ill-considered comment on live radio. The feds came out with a rigorous position on tightening up on the temporary foreign workers program right away when the RBC story broke, distancing themselves from “stretching” the intent of the program. As you say, that is decidedly not the case with any facts that might be construed as supporting things like climate change!

      • Barbara Wasson says:

        Skeptical, well yes — I am part of a department that also educates journalists :-).

        FYI: We are three Canadians at the University of Bergen, the other two biologists (aqua biology) and they, in particular, have been closely following the “muzzling” debate as there is quite a bit of collaboration with Canada in this area as well. Karin sent out this link today: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0025326X13000507

        • Jane Fritz says:

          I can’t tell you what an odd feeling it was to be giving our PM the benefit of the doubt when I replied to you! 🙂 Re the muzzling-of-science issue, about which there is no doubt in my mind, THE LINK YOU HAVE PROVIDED ABOVE IS REALLY IMPORTANT FOR CANADIANS TO READ. I HOPE THEY WILL ALL TAKE A LOOK!! Thanks, Barb.

  7. Jane Fritz says:

    Reblogged this on New Brunswick Women in ICT and commented:
    In case you didn’t hear an upsetting response from an IT “expert” Anna Maria Tremonte had with her on The Current this past Tuesday morning, you should know what he said. How do we get the word out that he is wrong? Or is the damage done for that particular audience, who has already heard that there is no future in IT?

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