Where are all the programmers?

Programmer's aid
Creative Commons License photo credit: dunkv

Yesterday evening I posted a small C# project on Odesk.

By noon today, I had 19 responses.

Most of them were qualified (a few were VERY qualified) and had passed enough of ODesk’s tests for me to know that they could do the job. In the various .Net test topics, several had numerous scores over 95%, with one showing a dozen or more top 10% scores.

Of those, several had 500+ hours of ODesk work, great recommendations from prior jobs and fairly well written replies.

East 19, West 0

Yet none of those replies from countries that you would consider English-speaking, nor were they from Western Europe.

ODesk also has language skills tests to make sure the contractor can speak the language of the person who hires them. In my case, English is required because my language skills are limited to programming languages, English and the occasional ability to read French. In written English, several of the applicants were at 95% or higher, test-wise.

I talked about this with a couple of U.S. based programmers today and wondered aloud if this was a function of Western programmers who have “better” things to do, or that they don’t do piece work. Maybe Western programmers feel that freelance sites are for “commodity programmers“. I’m just not sure.

Many of the previous ODesk jobs listed for applicants as successfully completed (by the happy buyer) were 500 to 2000 hours in length. Full-blown internal development projects, software products and so on. I suspect some of the work is commodity programming, but I seriously doubt all of it is.

The commoditization of programming is not a new situation. Friedman’s been talking about the flat world for as long as anyone would listen, almost…

Where’s the West?

The skills that make a Western programmer valuable these days is business knowledge, vertical market expertise, project management abilities, responsibility-taking initiative, vision AND tech skills, to name a few. Being “just a programmer” is how you end up competing with someone who bills at 30% of your rate.

Perhaps being a Western programmer by the definition above means you’re automatically busy working. I could make assumptions, but I’m curious what your thoughts are – where are all the Western programmers? For my part, I guess they’re busy. The .Net guys I know locally all have jobs or long-term consulting gigs.

PS: Late in the day, I heard from an Ohio-based guy via Twitter who offered to take a look if I sent him a link to the project. I had already assigned the task, but will keep him in mind next time.  In overtime, it’s East 19, West 1.

Quality: As your small business grows, it’s more critical

The Lady in Red
photo credit: Hamed Saber

Have you ever been 1 in a million? If so, you’re one of those hypothetical software bugs that programmers talk about as they work on a routine that processes transactional data in a new system.

During that conversation, the pragmatist in the group mentions the possibility of a problem with the programming in a certain situation. The rest of the group rolls their eyes and one says “That’s a one in a million shot, we don’t have to program anything for that.”

And maybe, just maybe they’re right. Until they find real success.

How do I define “real success”? Let’s take a random number. Suppose you consider success to be 1000 customers.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that those 1000 customers average 10000 transactions each, per day, in your software.

That’s 10 million transactions per day. And while this is somewhat of an edgy assumption, 10 million opportunities to stumble across a one in a million issue means that 10 times today, your phone is going to be lit up by a ticked off client.

Tomorrow, the same thing. And the day after.

In many situations, good enough is good enough (those of you who follow Dan Kennedy know exactly what I mean). However, the problem with waiting to fix these kinds of things is that they tend to crop up when your quality can least afford to get in your way.

  • On the Friday after Thanksgiving if you are in retail.
  • On the Monday after Thanksgiving if you have an e-commerce store.
  • On April 1st through 15th if you are in the tax business.
  • In June if you are a wedding photographer.

You get the idea.

Where are the critical locations for improving quality in your business?