Why Tech Writing Skills Will Become a Commodity

Dan Pink found this quote. “[The programming language] C++ is now an international language. If that’s all you know, then you’re competing with people in India or China who will do the work for less.”

Creative Commons License photo credit: bfishadow

The argument here is that if you can’t out-perform other writers, programmers or designers in Asian, then you’re toast. I’m not sure this is the way to look at it for a few reasons.

How to compete?

I’ve worked in both the US and Asia most of my adult life. There are major differences in how both cultures work. And, no this isn’t a rant about which is the best, but a look at how to weigh up this situation and see we (you?) can capitalize on it.

A few words about competition. US workers will have a hard time competing against their Asian counterparts for a few reasons:

  • There are no work hours in Asia. At least not in China. If we have to sleep in the office all weekend, so be it. The project has to be – and will be – completed.
  • Salaries are a fraction of the US. While quality will always be an issue in developing countries, not all companies are concerned with absolute perfection. If it’s adequate, then fine. The cost benefits outweigh the customer complaints.
  • Setup costs are less. Asian workers can accept poor working conditions and still perform. I’ve seen teams of developers squeezed into a tiny room that wasn’t much more spacious than our apartment’s elevator.
  • There is almost no social benefits in many Asian countries. The pressure to find and keep your work is very intense. Whereas here in Europe many will not return to work as the benefits are so attractive.
  • US companies have embraced Asian and are developing massive plants here. Intel is building a huge site in Dalian, North China. US and European workers are getting relocated there and, I assume, glad to have the choice. Dalian also happens to be incredibly beautiful.

and I’m sure you can add other points below.

The Argument Against

is that to out-source defeats the company in the long run ‘Companies that turn jobs into robotic procedures and then outsource them based upon cost are totally losing the creativity of their employees and then their loyalty, commitment, desire to think creatively’ which may or may not be true.

For example, Apple use FoxConn in southern China to assemble most of it gadgets, including the iPad, iMac and IPhones. The design work is still in the US but parts that can be automated are shipped out.

Does this make Apple a bad company? Is it killing US jobs?

Chip makes the point that ‘Anyone who would lose their job to outsourcing is simply not a very good programmer. I empathize with people losing their jobs, but there is no substitute for talent — no matter the market size.’

While Simon Gornik adds that, ‘The key is to “self-commoditize”, i.e. to control the commoditization of your skillset. The one weakness of outsourcing is that it weakens creativity. You outsource tasks that don’t require it. Tasks that do – stay at home.’

Opportunities for Tech Writers

In the past, talent came from Asia (mostly India and Japan) and helped build the economy. Take all the asian software developers out of the IT industry and they’re be a huge gap.

It’s also shaped the culture.

The incredible hours that startups are famous for owes a lot to the immigrant mentality.

‘This has to work. I’ve got nothing to go back to.’

Yahoo!, Google, and other Nasdaq darlings owe much to their Asian founders.

What interesting now is that Chinese companies in Beijing, Shanghai, and ShenZhen are posting jobs (well paid jobs by any standard) for experienced talent.

And this is where the opportunity lies for many Tech Writers

The gap right now in China and India is the lack of experienced writers, developers, project managers who can walk into these Software, Documentation and PM Depts and put the systems in place to make them more organized, more structured, and more productive.

If you’ve worked in a major org in the US/Europe, you probably know how to do this. It’s around you every day.

If something can be outsourced, in time it will. But real experience is hard to ‘shift and lift’.

Instead of fighting the wave, use it.

My 2c. What’s yours?