Fair Sourcing: a new take on an old idea

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There are many social, political and economic implications, benefits and detriments of hiring technology outside of the country in which you live. I am going to be speaking here about only a few of them, and want to apologize in advance if my treatment of the subject is focused in a way that seems to ignore things that, in a similar but different discussion, would seem important.

I also first would like to say that there is a calculus that I am assuming here that actively strives to be fair. A calculus that takes into account a 'standard of living' that is fairly determined for a given city, takes into account the social and economic disparity between the two countries and seeks to do better, and uses that calculus to come to an equitable salary based on what is fair instead of on what you can be gotten away with. In what I am about to say, the business model I am using assumes that the 'fair' in Fair Source is actually fair.

The biggest risk in outsourcing technology is culture.

There is a cultural translation of 'western business expectations' that if not somehow addressed, has a tendency to make technology projects using teams from other countries/cultures buggy and expensive.

If you have ever worked with organizations who hire 'abroad', you know exactly what I am taking about. For those of you who are as of yet uninitiated into this way of working, when things get lost in translation during a technology project, some variation of the following can happen:

  • meetings/meeting times can be difficult to schedule (for overseas work).

  • specifications can be miss-communicated (sometimes many times over) which as well as being expensive in terms of time and money, can result in a code/structure/architecture that is fundamentally a work around: fundamentally flawed.

    This expense is compounded every time that code is used or referenced by subsequent development – which for longerterm projects can necessitate having iterations upon iterations of the project devoted to nothing but fixing what is there.

  • expectations around the firmness of deadlines and budgets can be misinterpreted or not accounted for in a project which can make creating buzz or promises around a 'launch date' difficult.

Strategies for managing the risk effectively.

In any case, there are a variety of ways that the above mentioned 'risks' are addressed in the industry.

The first way to minimize risk is to isolate the work of the team. This is often impractical (as technology is invariably connected), and also sets up a strange relationship between teams which can have cultural and economic implications as well.

The second way to minimize risk is to send a company representative to the country in question. This bridges the gap with respect to transplanting the 'company culture' into another context, but is not always successful at integrating into the new context. Ideally, the goal is to create a hybrid of the two cultures that take both into account. The success of this strategy depends on the incoming representative having the skill and leadership to co-create that culture with his/her employees.

The third way is to hire someone who already has one foot in both cultures. Someone who resides locally or within traveling distance of the development team (lets say, in this case, Mexico), while at the same time having citizenship or residency (past or present) in the same country as the company doing the outsourcing (in this case, the United States). Having someone on board with a deep immersion in both cultures can bridge the gap of distance and culture in one fell-swoop, while at the same time carrying a smaller price tag as the standard of living is less in the country where your project manager will be spending the majority of their time (Mexico) than it will be, for example, in the Bay Area.

I know in making a case for this business model I am stepping on a variety of toes mostly coming from some flavor of the pro-America constituency who wants to see America hire local (and with whom I share a sympathy as someone who is pro-Union). At the same time, we live in a global culture, and technology is by it's very nature a global platform. There has to be a place for collaborating conscientiously across cultures and platforms.

If we take the case, for example, of small to medium sized non-profit organizations who are already struggling to make ends meet organizationally, hiring fair-sourced development teams can make the difference between on the one hand an organization having a brochure website with a newsletter sign-up link, and on the other, an organization being in a position to create and powerfully engage their online network.

I think there is something to be said for giving folks in developing 2nd or 3rd world economies a hand up while at the same time placing important but struggling organizations at an economic advantage.

In any case, if this is something that you are interested in exploring, please contact me!

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