When I was a 9 year old kid my Mom bought me a Y2K clock that counted down the days, hours, minutes and seconds before the calendar read 1/1/00. In the months prior to the impending Y2K apocalypse, my Mom and Dad stocked up on bulk spices and bags of water in preparation for society’s collapse (oddly enough they didn’t stock any food for the spices to go on). The Y2K disaster was, as we all know, adverted, but how did we prevent all those computers from malfunctioning? I read the answer to that question in The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Friedman who is a New York Times writer and author of several books on globalization. We were saved from Y2K because of a sequence of technological advances which promoted connectivity around the globe. Firstly, the advancement in the usage and monetary value of the internet in the 1990’s led to huge investments in fiber optic cables. This laying of cable spread all over the world and opened up lines of communication that were never before available. This new communication was tested with the Y2K conundrum because the US did not have enough engineers to fix all the computers because the cost and time investments would have been astronomical. Enter India. India, after 50 years of investing in technical education, had a untapped labor force ready to get their teeth on any technology work available. Since connectivity had increased so much in the 90’s, India was ready to take on all the Y2K work remotely. This was the first time many US companies worked with engineers in India and was the proverbial handshake of friendship for a healthy future of business relations. Shortly after the Y2K scare, the dot.com bubble burst and tech companies that survived the implosion now sought to cut cost as much as possible. Where could they go for reduced labor costs? You guessed right….India. The country of over 1 billion people began receiving contracts for work and the era of tech outsourcing was given running shoes.
Today, the world is flatter then ever with outsourcing occurring not only in India but in China, Malaysia, the Philippines, and a whole host of third-world countries. Before I read this book, I thought outsourcing was a bad thing…now I have a different opinion on the matter. Outsourcing is the natural result of a hyper-connected world in which companies are trying to reduce waste and optimize every step of their supply chain. The United States has lost many manufacturing jobs because of these optimizations but in the end it has meant a decrease cost for goods by consumers and a shift in career outlooks. Students are now pushed to get technical or college degrees because they can’t get a manufacturing job right out of high school. A more highly educated society will push invention, creativity, and innovation more than a society based on workers that perform menial tasks. Complex thoughts and ideas cannot be outsourced and a country that is made up of engineers instead of line operators will compete much better with other advanced nations. The flattening of the world has showed how the US has gotten lazy and fallen from its once great educational supremacy-best highlighted during the cold-war space race. We need to push the next generation to excel in math, science, engineering, and my personal favorite…history. Globalization is here to stay and the more interconnected we become the more we will have opportunities to triumphantly succeed or catastrophically be left behind. Let’s stop complaining about jobs getting outsourced and start educating ourselves so our skills can never be cheaply replicated.