Friday, May 18, 2007

High-tech and Foreign Workers

Last night PBS ran a report on "High-tech Companies Seek to Hire More Foreign Workers" which looked at companies trying to be able to hire more foreign high-tech workers as well as the political reaction in Washington.

I have mixed thoughts on the whole thing. Assuming a steady demand for technical talent, an increase in the number of available works (supply) means the average salary (price) for technical talent will fall. From a purely selfish point of view, that makes me hesitantly against allowing more and more foreign workers into the United States.

At the same time, again from a supply & demand perspective, I think additional foreign talent might actually lead to an increase in demand, overcoming the downward price shift of the greater supply. Why? Well, to quote the article, "Companies like Google, Yahoo, eBay were all founded by immigrants." Each of those companies has certainly created a larger demand for technical talent.

I also can't help but wonder if native-born Americans already have an upper hand at landing technical positions. Increasingly, these jobs are requiring "soft skills". To quote The Rabid Paladin:

This is what lies at the heart of recent calls for developers to learn "soft" skills and develop better communication. That's because, unless you work in some back-water in the benighted hinterlands, the days of the cave-troll coder are over. A developer can no longer count on being isolated from users, managers, or <shudder> marketing weasels.

When I review resumes for software development positions where I work, I've noticed a large gap between foreign-born applicants and native applicants in their ability to communicate in the English language effectively. Domestic applicants certainly aren't all perfect communicators, but more often than not the foreign born applicants include cover letters with sentences like:

My area of interest being networking from the start of computational studies has inspired me to choose it as my concentration. With the best knowledge gained at [school] backed with my undergraduate study at [other school] in Computer Science makes me a strong candidate for this co-op position.


Being groomed under variant working circumstances and pressure conditions have made my abilities effective to handle rigorous work schedule faced at corporate level. This gives me a great confidence level to work with great and reputed organization like yours.

If the job position requires the applicant to interact with a client or a group (something I believe is becoming increasingly comment), such awkward language puts the typical foreign candidate (at least in my experience) at a strong disadvantage.

1 comment:

Jacob said...

Good point. This is at the heart of why I don't really fear imported technical workers. Software development (at least in the U.S.) has become more and more responsible for communicating and understanding the business. In other words, more analysis and less rote implementation (bearing in mind that by analysis, I mean discovering a solution from base interaction with other business units).

As good as foreign coders may become, right now they tend to skimp on being able to find creative solutions in favor of competence in base implementation. It was the hardest part of hiring foreign-born developers.