The Rise and Fall of IT Innovation

Is trouble facing U.S., Canadian and European IT industries?

Is trouble facing U.S., Canadian and European IT industries?

Arlington, MA  October 30, 2003  With today's Internet-based communications environment, new technologies can hop, skip and jump around the world in a matter of moments. Within minutes, after the proverbial two guys in a garage unleash some razzle-dazzle technology upon the venture capitalists in Silicon Valley, it will show up in Bangalore, Karachi, Beijing, St. Petersburg and Manila.

According to Cutter Consortium Fellow Ed Yourdon, author of the 1992 book "The Rise and Fall of the American Programmer," the global economic boom, and the associated high-technology boom that prevailed all through the 1990s, may just have been delaying factors in the IT job migration to India.

"I think that many of the jobs that are shifting overseas now from the United States are never coming back  just as nobody seriously expects shoe manufacturers, textile companies or even automobile companies to shift from Mexico and Asia back to the United States. That's particularly true for the low-end IT jobs, such as maintaining old COBOL programs," said Yourdon.

Yourdon suggested that the United States must do something to stimulate the creation of new jobs, along the lines of the great seismic shift of the early 1990s as enterprises moved from mainframe hardware (with dumb terminals and third-generation programming languages), to client-server technology (with PCs, GUI-based workstations and interpretive 4GLs, like Visual Basic and PowerBuilder).

Yourdon continued: "Let's assume the economy recovers and some brand-new high-tech 'killer app' will excite the business community in much the same way that client-server technology did a decade ago. If that happens, I predict that there will be a lot of 40- to 45-year-old client-server programmers, and even some 30 to 35-year-old Java/Web programmers, who will find themselves unable to make the transition quickly enough to keep their jobs from being taken by the brand-new generation of college graduates."

Yourdon concluded by saying the next "razzle-dazzle" technology could hypothetically be created in another part of the world, not necessarily in the United States, simply because other places, like Bangalore, India, have a large number of venture capitalists.

"That, in itself, is an ominous sign," he said. "Some of the traditional U.S. venture capital firms are shifting their investments from Silicon Valley to India. With a population of a billion people, there are plenty of low-paid programmers who will maintain old COBOL programs as long as you want them to; but the next generation of Indian IT professionals firmly believes that the United States no longer has a monopoly on innovation."

Yourdon suggested that IT industries in the United States, Canada, England and Western Europe should be aware of these trends and evaluate what they can being to do to reverse them.