I’ve been a geek since before I knew the term existed. I would say it probably started when I was about four or five years old, when my sister started reading me The Hobbit. I didn’t truly “identify” as a geek until I was about 14 or 15, and it was part of a process of realizing I wasn’t alone. I discovered that other people liked Star Trek, perhaps a bit too passionately. There were folks out there like me that read Asimov, Tolkien, Pohl, McCaffrey, Niven, Lackey, Heinlein, and the rest of the pantheon like a form of alternate truth. People who saw the world through a slightly different lens, intensely, with a quiet (or sometimes not so quiet) passion.
Given my long-standing sense of myself as a “geek”, my ears perk up when I see discussions of what the term means. Of who is “in” or “out”. Apparently there is some sort of brouhaha in progress of late regarding whether female geeks exist. Some guys claim they don’t, or that many of those of the feminine persuasion who claim to be geeks are lying. One recent article I read on the topic gave me much food for thought. For that I thank the author, Sarah Kuhn: thinking is something I like to do 😉
There is a problem here, and I can tell you exactly what it is. For years, the largest American employers of scientists and engineers have been pursuing a policy that clearly identifies technical skills as pure commodities. As commodities, they are trying to fill positions in these areas with the cheapest resources possible: that is, they are finding their geeks and scientists in India, China, Russia, and Brazil. The basic premise: they can get four or five guys with science degrees “over there” for the price of one in North America.
The big U.S. companies been doing this for a decade. The numbers are staggering: millions of technical jobs have gone “off shore” since the late 90’s. North American technologists wanting a continued career are increasingly being forced to lead a team, manage projects, provide “business analysis” services, or consult. None of these roles really require a technical degree, and they certainly don’t emphasize geek skills.
As a young person just going in to university/college, it isn’t very hard to see the trends. If you want a job in North America, you want business skills: a B.Comm, an MBA, or similar. Oh sure, you might pick up a science degree as well, but you’d be best off eliminating any geek-like tendencies from your personality early on. If you truly like programming, there is some hungry guy in China with a PhD who’ll do it for what would be starvation wages here: and the vast majority of Canadian and U.S. companies are more than willing to hire him rather than you.
The long term result of this “offshoring” of originality and creativity is, to me at least, obvious. In several decades, the United States will no longer be a significant innovator, creator or manufacturer. All of the skills necessary to do these things will exist somewhere else. The U.S. will be a nation of managers, with no one to manage: and I’m pretty sure that the Chinese and Indians can figure out how to manage people pretty well.
I hope I’m wrong. But my guess is that the trend is irreversible- as long as sending skilled technical work elsewhere is cheaper, companies will continue doing it regardless of the consequences. The one hopeful factor is that salaries in “developing” nations are gradually catching up. Maybe it will become less appealing to send a job overseas when it costs nearly as much as it does here. Time will tell…