The New York Times
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March 1, 2006

Computing Error

The outsourcing of computing work overseas may not be as bad as you think. In fact, it probably isn't bad at all. Consider one recent study that says the problem isn't so much the competition from high-tech workers in places as far-flung as India and Romania as it is the discouragement caused by the doomsayers themselves.

The Association for Computing Machinery, the professional organization that issued the report, says that there are more information technology jobs today than at the height of the dot-com boom. While 2 to 3 percent of American jobs in the field migrate to other nations each year, new jobs have thus far more than made up for the loss.

Think of the local companies that service people's home computers in towns all over America, the way mechanics have long worked under the hoods of our cars. When three people start a company, it attracts no fanfare, but put such companies all together and there is a big effect in aggregate. The Small Business Administration says that those smaller enterprises provide around 75 percent of the net new jobs added to the economy.

And when a big company slowly adds workers to a new division because, say, the middle class in India is buying more high-priced gadgets, the move garners little attention. Globalization advocates have long contended that everyone benefits from greater growth worldwide.

That picture, of course, stands in contrast with the more familiar gloomy depiction of runaway outsourcing. Perhaps that explains what the report says is declining interest in computer science among American college students. Students may think, Why bother if all the jobs are in India? But the computer sector is booming, while the number of students interested in going into the field is falling.

The industry isn't gone, but it will be if we don't start generating the necessary dynamic work force. The association says that higher-end technology jobs — like those in research — are beginning to go overseas and that policies to "attract, educate and retain the best I.T. talent are critical" to future success. Given the post 9/11 approach to immigration and the state of math and science education in America, that is hardly encouraging.

Information technology jobs won't go away unless we let them. Computing in the past five years has become, according to the report, "a truly global industry." In the next few years, jobs won't just land in our laps. We have nothing to fear but the fear of competing itself.