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Extreme Telecommuting 370

Posted by timothy
from the this-ain't-elbonia dept.
wiredog writes: "The Washington Post has an article about a company in Chantilly Virginia, most of whose programmers telecommute from Novosibirsk, Russia." Anyone out there in a similarly distant job?
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Extreme Telecommuting

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  • by Mumble01 (5809)
    Sure. I show up to work faithfully every day but my mind is always a million miles away...
  • My body may be physically here, but my mind is a million miles away, so I guess that's a pretty far telecommute, ain't it?


    • To the moderator who modded this post down... Quit wasting your mod points by being an ass... His post was at 1:50, the post that you believed he copied was at 1:49... Giving you the benefit of the doubt that his post was submitted at 1:50:59 and the orignal post was at 1:49:00, it's still less than TWO FREAKING MINUTES!!!
  • by NineNine (235196) on Tuesday August 28, 2001 @02:56PM (#2226404)
    The only reason this company is doing it is because they can pay the Russians the equivalent of minimum wage. ($1000/month /160 hours = $6.25/hour if they only work 40 hours/week!). There's nothign admirable about this company.
    • Now, wait a minute. Sure, the guys in VA are saving a shitload of money, and why shouldn't they?

      This is a *voluntary* transaction. If the guys they hire could get a better rate, nobody has a gun to their heads to prevent them from changing jobs.

      Now, the free market being what it is, I'm rather intrigued with the idea of setting up shop in Novosibirsk, and hiring the star performers away from Plesk. Let the low-rent bodyshop sort them out, I'll cherry pick their talent.

      -jcr

    • The only reason this company is doing it is because they can pay the Russians the equivalent of minimum wage. ($1000/month /160 hours = $6.25/hour if they only work 40 hours/week!). There's nothign admirable about this company.

      I know of a number of educational software houses that do the same thing, subcontract to developers in the Ukraine.

      On the other hand, The more they are addicted to the American Life Style, the more trouble they will make for big corporations and governments where they live.

      - - -
      Radio Free Nation [radiofreenation.com]
      an alternative news site based on Slash Code
      "If You have a Story, We have a Soap Box"

    • Oh hogwash (Score:3, Insightful)

      by FallLine (12211)
      Plesk is providing consumers with what they want and, perhaps most importantly, very solid jobs in a country that rife with corruption, poverty, and starvation. Those kinds of wages put each one of those 25 year old kids into the top economic brackets in their region. It'd be like handing a 25 year old kid here 150k a year salary. Anyways, Russia needs MORE jobs like that, not less.

      Save your outrage for someone else.
    • This brings up an interesting point. Are they working in Russia, or are they working in the US? So are they subject to Russian labor law, or American? Could they legally be paid under US min wage this way? While they're physically located in Russia, by telecommuting to the US, it isnt *that* different from someone who crosses a border physically each day to go to work.

      -J5K

    • It's companies like the one mentioned in the article that make me think that we need more, not fewer, labor laws. There is something wrong when a "U.S. company" can actively discriminate against Americans in its hiring practices (how many of those jobs were offered to U.S. citizens?) while circumventing OSHA, FLSA, and other labor regulations. The U.S. needs to make U.S. firms hire U.S. workers or pay a stiff penalty so that there is no monetary incentive to engage in the practice described in the article.


      How would you like to go to a job interview and be told "you have to work 55 hours per week for $12,000 per year or we'll give this job to some guy in Kiev"? Sure, it's annoying if it occurs once, but what happens if the majority of high-tech firms start doing this to "remain competitive"?

      • Hate to break it to you but in many places it happened years ago. Look at the label of the shirt you are wearing, it probably does not say "Made in the USA" there is a reason for that. Its a lot cheaper to make them in India or China. My Mother is CEO of a textile company that manufactures stuff here in the USA, and they are having a lot of trouble with imports.

        Because lets face it in many parts of the world the average person gets by on $2/day or less and if you pay someone $10-12 a day and give them a room with 4 walls and a roof to live in they are doing a lot better than they were. These guys in Russia are making by local standards a lot of money. I heard an Interview on NPR a while back with a factory worker in China who was making about $400 a month, as a low level manager. He lived in a 1 dorm room and slept on a cot. But he was still able to send money home to send a sibling to school.

        The US does make companies pay a penalty for doing this its called a Tarif on imports. But it doesn't work so well on digital goods.
      • A-men or G-men? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by virg_mattes (230616) on Tuesday August 28, 2001 @04:57PM (#2227036)
        > There is something wrong when a "U.S. company" can actively discriminate against Americans in its hiring practices (how many of those jobs were offered to U.S. citizens?) while circumventing OSHA, FLSA, and other labor regulations.

        Here's the fatal flaw in your argument, pointed up by the simple question, "how many of those jobs were offered to U.S. citizens?" In response, how many of those jobs were offered to British, or German, or Japanese citizens? The answer is "none", and for exactly the same reason. They aren't discriminating against Americans, they're discriminating against expensive programmers. Yes, it sucks that they can take a job offshore and get it done for less money, but that's not a new practice by any means, and it's a short-term problem anyway. Your solution has an abvious flaw as well. If the U.S. government forces U.S. companies to use U.S. talent only, they're going to have to charge more for the finished product. That means that they can't compete as well with U.S. companies who use offshore talent (which your solution will fix), but it also means they can't compete as well with Russian companies who use Russian programmers. It's easy to say that that's not a problem, since the U.S. software is better, but that's just pro-U.S. bias, and besides, what if U.S. companies want to sell their software to the rest of the world?

        > How would you like to go to a job interview and be told "you have to work 55 hours per week for $12,000 per year or we'll give this job to some guy in Kiev"?

        Again, this argument doesn't make any sense, on two levels. Firstly, to compare apples to apples (we'll use year 2000-value apples), you'd have to say, "you have to work 55 hours per week for $134,000 a year in purchasing power, or we'll give this job to some guy in Kiev" which is the equivalent earning power. Conversely, as companies compete in the world market, these nests of underpaid resources will rise to levels more in line with the U.S. and other countries. For now, there are lots of programmers willing to work for peanuts in Russia and India, but the talent pool is going to get tapped eventually to the point where salaries will have to rise, as companies battle for the talent in these locations. For now, there is a wild discrepancy between the developed world and the developing world, and because of that the U.S. job market is going to suffer. While it seems to make sense on the surface, your solution is historically referred to as "economic isolationism", and our country's history shows that it simply does not work in the long term. See the automotive industry for a pointed example, or the garment industry, wherein government protections drove prices so far out of line with reality that, instead of forcing U.S. companies to hire US-ians, it forced many of the companies to move to other countries entirely, which, of course, did not help the U.S. workers who now had no company from which to demand a job. The only way to solve such an imbalance is to adjust prices, and again, historically prices don't fall on the whole. What will end up happening is that prices for good programmers outside the U.S. will rise as local demand exceeds local supply.

        In short, while it's a very feel-good gesture, government protection of U.S. jobs will not be worth the stunting of the U.S. programming industry that such sanctions will engender.

        Virg
        • If the U.S. government forces U.S. companies to use U.S. talent only, they're going to have to charge more for the finished product.

          The products sold by Plesk are priced at what the U.S. economy will bear, not at the measly sum that they pay their engineers.

          Firstly, to compare apples to apples (we'll use year 2000-value apples), you'd have to say, "you have to work 55 hours per week for $134,000 a year in purchasing power, or we'll give this job to some guy in Kiev" which is the equivalent earning power.

          The purchasing power in Kiev is irrelevent. Corporations do not care about the cost of living here or overseas. Their sole concern appears to be the cost of labor. They aren't about to pay me $134,000 to do the same job that some guy in Kiev would do for $12,000.

          What will end up happening is that prices for good programmers outside the U.S. will rise as local demand exceeds local supply.

          Let's not oversimplify. The following will also happen:

          1. More people in those countries will start majoring in computer science, increasing the labor pool.

          2. Software engineers in the U.S., displaced by overseas competition, will start taking jobs at lower wages, driving down the standard of living here.

          3. As the wages for software engineering jobs in the U.S. go down, fewer U.S. citizens will major in computer science.

          The end result will be that there will be a world-wage for software engineers -- minus the minor costs associated with telecommuting inefficiencies. Poor countries will see their wages increase while those living in wealthy countries like the U.S. will see their pay slashed.

          While economic isolationism does not work for commodity goods like textiles and grains, it can work very well for software. The vast majority of software is purchased by "first world" companies and individuals. If, for example, Microsoft discovered that they could cut their engineering expenses in half by hiring Russian programmers, it is highly unlikely that the price of Office would drop. Bill Gates and the other Microsoft executives would just pocket a higher percentage of each sale.

          Software is a vast sea of mini-monopolies. It doesn't matter that Software 602, StarOffice, WordPerfect Office and other office suites exist. Even though some of them are totally free, Microsoft still enjoys the highest user base with its expensive Office product and that's largely unaffected by price. Believing that S/W engineering costs savings will drive the price down is naive.

          If we don't take action, we will find that our standard of living will plummet -- excluding those of us who are corporate executives -- as the world economy sets a price for software engineering.
          • > The purchasing power in Kiev is irrelevent.

            You are right. This part belonged to another reply. Damn those cut-and-paste gremlins!

            > While economic isolationism does not work for commodity goods like textiles and grains, it can work very well for software.

            Bad planning for precisely the same reason you stated. If Microsoft decided to use Russian programmers, and the government enforced some economic penalty on them for it, do you think it would be difficult for them to relocate to Canada or Mexico (or Russia, for that matter)? Unlike companies that make "real" goods, software companies can relocate very easily, and in history even companies that produced "real" goods relocated to avoid such sanctions (which is the driving force behind Ford (or GM, I don't recall which) building most of its engines in Brazil). If it's naive to assume price reductions based on lowering developer cost, it's just as naive to think that heavy governmental protectionism will do anything other than chase away software companies.

            > If we don't take action, we will find that our standard of living will plummet

            If you can suggest any particular action that works any better than the failures we've seen so far, you would be one up on every economist in the country. It's easy to say "take action", but what exactly do you suggest?

            Virg
            • If Microsoft decided to use Russian programmers, and the government enforced some economic penalty on them for it, do you think it would be difficult for them to relocate to Canada or Mexico (or Russia, for that matter)? Unlike companies that make "real" goods, software companies can relocate very easily, and in history even companies that produced "real" goods relocated to avoid such sanctions (which is the driving force behind Ford (or GM, I don't recall which) building most of its engines in Brazil).

              By putting tariffs in place on imported software, you could take away the economic incentive for software companies to move operations to other countries. The idea is to make it an economic wash to move jobs out of the country. You don't want there to be some kind of tremendous financial reward for employing foreign labor over American labor.

              We have import tariffs on many goods and it's not destroying us. There is not the free trade that so many would believe.

              Why do you think that GM, Chrysler, and Ford aren't all having their cars produced at a fraction of the cost overseas? One reason is that there are protective tariffs in place.
              • > By putting tariffs in place on imported software,
                > you could take away the economic incentive for software
                > companies to move operations to other countries. The
                > idea is to make it an economic wash to move jobs out of the
                > country. You don't want there to be some kind of tremendous
                > financial reward for employing foreign labor over American labor.


                Nice thought, but very limited in scope. For example, if import tariffs are put in place on software such that it's financially a wash to sell product X in the U.S., but there's still money to be made by reducing overhead in other markets (like selling to every country in the world other than the U.S.), there's still economic incentive, and not diddly squat the U.S. government can do about it.

                > Why do you think that GM, Chrysler, and Ford aren't all having their cars produced at a fraction of the cost overseas? One reason is that there are protective tariffs in place.

                Again, only true in a very limited scope. Chrysler became DaimlerChrysler, which is a huge multinational car builder which produces car parts in other parts of the world at a fraction of the cost of building them in the U.S. and Ford and GM offloaded most of the expensive work to other countries as well. In case you're unfamiliar with that market, assembling the cars, which is what happens in the U.S., is only a tiny fraction of the labor cost of building a car, and it's actually cheaper to build a car in the U.S. in most cases (due to factory automation technology and economies of scale) than it is to build it elsewhere and ship it to the states. Most of the labor cost is in making the parts, which happens overseas because even with import duties and protective tariffs, U.S. labor is still far too costly.

                But all of this is beside the point. Software is very different from cars, in that the shipping cost is negligible and there is zero cost to getting materials together. Its cost is virtually all buried in the labor cost (with tiny percentages embedded in infrastructure). Since it's not a physical good, software does not play by the same rules, which means that it resonds entirely differently to tariffs, and so any analogy with the auto industry is bound to break down at the border.

                Also, your idea of import tariffs only seems to fit for shrink-wrapped packages, and so does not encompass programming jobs done on a custom basis. For example, If I have a corporation that needs a special billing package, and I contract with another company to write it, there's no real transfer of any package that the government can tariff. About the only thing they could do is charge me a tax on using a foreign company for contract work, which is already done, with little effect.

                In short, my original challenge is unmet. You still need to provide a workable solution that hasn't already failed and that fits the market in which our discussion takes place. Keep trying.

                Virg
                • About the only thing they could do is charge me a tax on using a foreign company for contract work, which is already done, with little effect.

                  Then I submit to you that the tax is not high enough.
                  • Raising the tax doesn't help, because it's not going to induce me to pay the higher price for local programmers. What'll happen is just what happened with the company in the article. I'll use a local programming consultancy, but that local programming company will begin using telecommuters from other countries (which is not at this time covered by the tax), which then allows them to underbid their competitors. This highlights a real problem with economic protectionism, in that it must be reactive (proactive laws are laws that protect against economic situations that don't exist, and if you advocate that then you'd need to be willing to, for example, pay tax dollars to an agency to oversee the limitation of mineral imports from the Moon), and every time someone finds a loophole there's a lead time to passing laws to close it. Trying to pass laws that have no loopholes only results in laws that are so draconian that they're quickly overturned or laws that are so generalized that they're ineffective.

                    The simple fact is that such protective taxes and tariffs serve the purpose of preventing rampant shifting of the means of production, but historically there's always been a limit to their effectiveness, and (for the most part, and in the software industry in this case) that limit has been reached. We're long past the point where raising the tax would stimulate local demand, and well into the area where raising the tax will simply cause those who are newly subject to the tax to find a different way around it. If you think of protectionism as a bucket with a hole halfway up, you'll get the idea. It holds water well at first, but after you reach the hole, more water isn't going to add to your storage capacity in the long term.

                    Virg
      • If a company can find someone to do the same job as me -- at the same level of quality etc. -- for less money, then they would be insane not to hire that person. And I would really have no basis to complain. Employment is fundamentally like any other form of trade: I give you my time/skills, you give me some money. Both parties agree to engage in that trade because both benefit. But if either party can get a better deal -- if I could go somewhere else and get a better salary, or if you could hire someone else to do the same job for less -- why would you expect them not to do so?

        To take an example less close to home: If I were a car dealership and you as a consumer walked in and told me "I can get the same car for less if I buy it at the dealership down the road," should I blame you for making that choice? Similarly, if someone is willing to do the same job as you for less money, what basis do you have to complain?

        Also, you say: The U.S. needs to make U.S. firms hire U.S. workers. I'd like you to try to explain, from a moral or ethical foundation, how you come to that conclusion. It's far from obvious to me. Is a citizen of India, for example, any less worthy of getting a decent job than a U.S. citizen? If that Indian citizen can do the job better, for less, than a U.S. citizen, why should I deny him the opportunity to do so? Simply because the U.S. citizen happens to have been born in the U.S.?

        Incidentally, adding more labor laws is likely to have an effect exactly opposite what you desire: It will drive companies to other locations where they can get cheap labor entirely unfettered. Do some reading about the labor situation in France and you'll see what I mean. With the labor laws in place there (among other things, it is illegal to work more than 35 hours a week, even if you *want* to), companies should be -- and are -- loathe to locate in France or hire people there unless they have absolutely no alternative. And you see that in the ridiculously high unemployment rate, for example.

    • Actually, when you come to think about it, it may not be as evil and greedy as it sounds. The article says that they're in the higher-level range of the middle class. Considering how bureocratic they say Russia is, would they be happier earning more money? More taxes, bribery, corruption, etc. (My apologies to any fellow Russian /. readers... this is what I've read about in the news)

      And I know it sounds like a trollish comment, but you can't say a salary is too low or too high unless you consider the circumstances and the environment around it.

      For instance, programmers here in Mexico earn about... i dunno, maybe one third of the salary paid to same-level programmers in the US, but the cost-of-living is considerably lower here. So you may get paid less, but you spend less money, too.

      Although I wouldn't mind receiving a higher salary so I could get me a better 'puter!

    • Sure, the company is taking advantage of the developers, and they are taking advantage of the company. Just like any normal employment situation, or other business deal for that matter.

      The idea that it's better to give rich americans a job than to give it to poor foreigners is based on the idea that americans are worth more than other people, and have an inherent right to be the richest people on the planet.

      It is no less reprehensible because it comes from people who think of themselves as leftists.
    • ... the more people I have "taking advantage of me" the more money I'll make? That's cool. I've got six people who act like my direct supervisors now. If I stay home and only listen to five bosses, I would earn a sweet $5,000 a month. Sign me up! Sign up my other address too!
    • In the case of my company, we farm out a lot of engineering work to Cairo -- but it's not just because of money.

      See, our CEO, and several key employees, are Egyptian immigrants. By making jobs in Cairo, he's giving something back to the community that raised him.

      It's a charitable thing to do.
    • Company gets developers dirt cheap ($1000/Mo and no health care, 401K, etc, to worry about) and the developers make 5 times their national average salary. Nevermind that their stock is tanking because consumer spending is plumetting because unemployment is on the rise. I wonder why that could be...
  • by Rupert (28001) on Tuesday August 28, 2001 @02:59PM (#2226430) Homepage Journal
    ... because their competitors would have them arrested.

    It's the American Way.
  • A grand a month? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jcr (53032) <.jcr. .at. .mac.com.> on Tuesday August 28, 2001 @03:00PM (#2226436) Journal

    It seems to me that paying these guys only what they ask for is rather short-sighted.

    If I were employing coders in Russia, I'd pay what they would cost me here. Why? Because for that price, I'd be able to get the Russian equivalents of Donald Knuth, or (insert your favorite god of coding's name here).

    -jcr
  • by GiorgioG (225675) on Tuesday August 28, 2001 @03:01PM (#2226446) Homepage
    I telecommute - I could be dealing with a customer in Belgium, in Denver, CO or to the company down the street from my house (in Buffalo, NY) - who cares as far as I'm concerned? I'm sitting in my office @ home and I could be dealing with a client on Pluto, doesn't change much for me..

    See, that's the whole point, telecommuting - you can work from anywhere. Who approves these submissions and why haven't they been shot? ;-)
    • I'm sitting in my office @ home and I could be dealing with a client on Pluto, doesn't change much for me...

      Except, perhaps, for your ping times...

      • So what? I work with people in france from time to time. I'm not going to get up at the same time they do, and they won't get up at the same time I do. Thus all our email exchanges are delayed by a day anyway. So if you work only by email, you just send a question, and then go on to something else, it doesn't matter if the 10 hour delay is in transit, so long as they respond. Now if they are working in anouther solar system I can see a problem. Indeed I would expect that someone working 45 light years away would have no contact with somewhere here. Assuming reasonabbly close levels of research odds are by the time details of a new discovery reach us we have discovered it independantly. (Of course we can perhaps direct research into different branchs if we see them ahead of time, but 45 years worth of one research path is hard to plan in advance)

  • by Phrogz (43803) <!@phrogz.net> on Tuesday August 28, 2001 @03:03PM (#2226456) Homepage

    I went to a guest architecture lecture (my wife's in grad school) recently where the (US-bound) speaker had collaborated with an architect in Finland for a particular contest. He attributed much of their success in winning the project to that partnership; they could work almost twice as much within the tight deadline over the other competitors, trading the work off as daylight reached the respective timezones.

    My company has recently been working on a project in France which has had some of our workers colocated there. While it can be frustrating if you need answers (and they've already gone home) to have to wait until they wake up again, but OTOH when timelines were tight trading the development work back and forth more than made up for the overhead of communication.

    IIRC, No Magic Inc. [nomagic.com] offers (or at least used to offer) Lithuanian Java/C++ programmers for hire. [And not only do you get the alternate-timezone benefit, but they were cheap, too...something like $25/hour (this was 2 years ago...I dunno what their pricing is like now).

    • I forgot to add--while the above comment details some non-obvious benefits of a remote telecommuting force, there are some side-effects you should be aware of before deciding to telecommute from home.

      I have been telecommuting from St. Louis to Philadelphia for over 2 years now. I've gotta say, full-time isolated telecommuting is NOT what it's all cracked up to by. From my own experience I've accumulated a good sized list of pros and cons of working at home [phrogz.net].

      • I read your article--great work! I myself deal with the depression by making sure I take at least a couple significant breaks during the day (one of which involves walking or other form of exercise). Also, having a bottle of St. John's Wort nearby doesn't hurt! :)

        I agree about the lack of social interaction being a drag (and a damper on my personality), but the rewards outweigh this, in my estimation. I still meet people when I *have* to go out. :)

  • My company's doing a similar thing. We have a handful of engineers here in California (mostly senior or specialized/highly-educated juniors), but the bulk of our staff is in Egypt.

    It's not just about the cost savings. The company was founded by an Egyptian immigrant, and is staffed with several of his family members here and in Cairo. It's a way for them to give something back to their home community by providing well-paying jobs to people who simply don't have the opportunities we have.

    It also poses some interesting problems. Egypt's internet infrastructure is sorely lacking. Since that's our main means of communication, it makes life difficult; a true broadband connection doesn't even exist; the 128kbps ISDN line they do use is laughably expensive, and goes down frequently.

    Now imagine running the above connection over a VPN with Windows Active Directory. A small CVS check-in over the VPN takes anywhere from five to fifteen minutes -- which wouldn't be so bad if we could trust the network to stay up during that time. So one night, I set up my home Linux box (on an old P-233) with OpenSSH and CVS and did the same experiment...and it only took 20-30 seconds. Better security, better performance. Hooray for OpenSSH! Bad news for Win2k.

    The Linux box for our future version control use should be arriving today. :)
  • It doesn't matter much if you are across the building form me, or across the world. We won't talk face to face so who cares. I know that I work with and talk face to face with people within 50 feet of my cube, but farther then that, I have better things to do.

    Not that I'm lazy, just that Curt is across the wall, and I don't have to move to ask a simple question, and when I realize it wasn't simple I'm motivated to get up. John is a little farther, but I can look out the window on the way. I don't even know where Adam is, and the odds that he isn't there at the moment make it not worth my while to check, I send email. Bob is in Arizona (I'm in Minnesota), and I'll contact him and Adam the same way: email or phone.

    When we set up this location we found some studies, that showed the above is typical. So they tried to put me and Adam o different projects (this helps, but even still I sometimes need him), while Curt should work on the same projects.

    My boss has ordered me to work from home though at times. If you want something done, nothing is better then sitting at home and cranking it out. I can't solve every problem at home, but time at work is best spent with others planning how things will work.

  • Sweatshop? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sulli (195030) on Tuesday August 28, 2001 @03:15PM (#2226532) Journal
    What about the following:

    Lomeiko acknowledged a problem with vacations. Under Russian law each employee is entitled to 24 days of paid holiday, but Plesk can't afford the disruption that would bring, so the company tries to "limit" vacations to 10 days. The work ethic here is pretty intense.

    I'm not one to crow about exploitation, but come on: they're paying Russian wages, can't they accept Russian vacations? It's not like 24 days is that much anyway, for most of the world.

    • Twenty-four days is nearly an entire month; longer, when you take weekends into account (nearly five five-day work weeks). Can you imagine how much client work would pile up if half of your department's staff took the entire month of August off? If all of them too the entire month off?

      True, it's a fair tradeoff for the wages. But it's also true that it's a major disruption for any business that works under deadlines.
      • Which would be why I hear that many people in the UK get around 28 days off on average... and that's one of the low numbers from Europe.

        America has its priorities so fucked up that I can't stand it. A nation of the corporation, for the corporation and by the corportation. Families? Forget it! And, if you're working for us (at bargain basement prices), we expect you to ruin your life just as much as we ruin our own.

        Read this and think about it [frommers.com], unless you're one of those manager-types. You probably would understand the concepts anyway.

        • Only 28? ;) In South Africa you get 14 public holidays, plus a minimum (statutory) 20 days paid leave per year. Plus a fairly liberal sick leave policy on top of that, and companies are expected to be fair in the granting of compassionate leave and leave for religious reasons (albeit unpaid).


      • The rest of Russia, and even most of Europe, get by with that sort of vacation time. I don't see why they should be a special exception. If they can't get all the work done, hire more people.
    • They are worried about somone taking 24 business days off in a row, with no one to cover that area. I doubt it's much to do with the money.
      • I work in a job where I get 35 days a year in total vacation, sick and personal time.

        There are clear rules that vacations are subject to supervisory approval. Very rarely would a vacation over 2 weeks be approved in the summertime. Occasionally you see someone take a month off in Aprril or during school holidays.

    • I'm not one to crow about exploitation, but come on: they're paying Russian wages, can't they accept Russian vacations? It's not like 24 days is that much anyway, for most of the world.


      You want 24 days? Check out this:

      A year has 365 days. Out of that you sleep 8 hours or 122 days.

      243 days remaining.

      Every day you have 8 hours offwork, that's another 122 days.

      121 days remaining.

      On the 52 sundays each year no work is taking place.

      69 days remaining.

      You still with me ? Fine ! Saturday is usually 1/2 of a working day, removing 26 complete days.

      43 days remaining.

      With a daily break of one hour you are again removing 15 days from your workforce.

      Just 28 days remaining.

      And with that and a few bank holidays you are still asking for 24 days of holiday?

      Damn you!

      (Special note for the humor-impaired: This is supposed to be sarcastic. We all know that the mathematical path taken for this conclusion is wrong like hell)
  • by mblase (200735) on Tuesday August 28, 2001 @03:18PM (#2226551)
    Last year while I was on a job search, I was offered a position as an information architect for a small Chicago firm. Since I'd only worked in production up till then, I was definitely intrigued. But when I heard that all the developers who'd be working under me were located in India, I declined.

    I mean, the position and authority sounded great. But who'd want to manage a group of people halfway across the globe? Even if there were no language barrier to overcome, I'd be "managing" a group of programmers whose clock was off of mine by nearly twelve hours. We'd do almost all our interaction by e-mail, asynchronously.

    I know from having worked only in production that unless you can meet face-to-face with your immediate supervisor on a regular basis, it's difficult if not impossible to develop any cohesion as a team. I could have told those guys what to do, and I'm sure they'd have done it, but I'd never have been able to get a sense of who they were and what they were truly capable of. I'd be managing a big black box.

    Sending programming labor overseas is no new concept, and it has obvious financial advantages. But practically speaking, I'd much rather have a highly-paid programmer next door to me than an inexpensive one several thousand miles away.

    • I work for a company that, despite our proximity, limits non-asynchronous communication (voice) to a once-a-week two hour phone call. It works wonderfully. Asyncronous communitation is usually quicker, more complete, easier to save for future reference, and less prone to topic devolution. I rue the day I have a job that mistakenly beleives meetings are good for more than drinking bad coffee.
    • If the project you're working on requires a highly cohesive team in order to succeed, then yes, it'll be tough to manage a team remotely. I've done it -- albeit across only three time zones, and with extensive travel. I can tell you from firsthand experience that it's very hard to, for example, initiate termination proceedings for an unproductive employee when you are on the opposite coast. It is definitely a stressful position to be in.

      That said, I'm inclined to believe that certain projects could work in spite of the distances involved. If the problem domain is sufficiently well defined that developers can work on a solution without needing constant interaction with management, for example, I could imagine it working.

      Incidentally, Boeing designed the 777 using engineering teams in three different parts of the world, if I remember correctly. That's a bigger project than most of us will ever work on, but it sort of demonstrates that physical proximity is not absolutely essential to success.

  • virtual team's suck (Score:2, Interesting)

    by awerg (201320)
    I have a Development team in USA and France. I also have a team of business analsysts all over the world. Which means that I get a break on Saturday for the business people.... from Saturday night (Sunday in Israel is a work day ) till Friday night (end of US work day). And 24x7 for the Development team. (because they work whenever)

    My advise...

    If they offer you a PM position for a global project say NO!.

    virtual teams suck

    People need to have some interaction in order to have a group goal and synergy. It is much easier to yell across the cube for the database call then to send an email to someone who is asleep.

    It is not impossible to have a team work virtually, but it is not as effective as a group that works in the same room.

    /Andy
  • by gnovos (447128)
    I know it has been said before, but $12,000 a year for a programmer position makes me feel icky. Where are all the people chanting in front of the world trade center complaining about the "russians taking our jobs?" :)

    Seriously though, how can the company feel even the least bit of pride in knowing that they are exploiting the naivety of the foriegn job market by the order of tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars? It's not like they really need to pay them an exhorbant amount of money (hell they could even pay them half as much as an American programmer and still save money) but they should at least be fair. Is "Business
    Ethics 101" still taught in universities?
    • The thing is that in some places, $12,000 a year is a great living wage. Let's face it, there are several places in the world that have a lower cost of living. Friends of mine from India say they could live well on a $12,000/year salary, depending on where they want to live.

      It's all relative to the local economy.
    • Suppose a Russian company offered you, an American, a Russion salary. Would you laugh at them, or accept?

      If the Russian programmer accepted the deal, why is it any of your concern? If he's making the Russian equivalent of what an American would make here, and has what he considers a good enough life style, what makes it any of your business?

      It's their contract, not yours. Show he was forced at gunpoint to work cheap or shut up.
    • Yes, I know you can live off of 12,000 a year in Russia, but that isn't the point. The point is that there is a moral imperative to pay a reasonable sum to anyone who is working for you; Offering just how much you can get away with and no more is wrong. Just because the Russian programmers don't know or do know and are willing to be exploited doesn't mean that it is right to do so.

      • Okay, now suppose that your expertise where you live gets you enough to be a member of the lower middle class in the area where you live. Let's also assume that you have incurred massive amounts of debt due to college. You owe lots of cash, can't move, and the local company is paying you enough to live from paycheck to paycheck.

        Now, someone from another country comes up and offers you a job that lets you suddenly live in a wonderful new home, cover all your debts, and still put cash away each month. Do you really see a problem with that?

        It's not exploitation to them, since there's nowhere else to go. And as soon as they've saved up the cash (2, maybe 3 years tops?), they'll be in the US demanding 3 weeks vacation, 75K/year minimum, and getting it.

        The way I look at it, they've got it all figured out.
      • No, it is the point. Maybe there's a moral imperative to pay a reasonable sum to someone who's working for you -- and in Russia, $12,000 a year could well be a reasonable sum. I don't know, I haven't been there... but I have traveled to places where I know I could live quite well on an after-tax income of, say, $50 a day, or under $20,000 a year. If $12,000 a year is 99%th percentile Russian salary (again, I don't know), then how are those programmers being "exploited"? They could be living like czars for all you know!
  • Greece (Score:2, Interesting)

    by websensei (84861)
    Our lead web developer when I started at my current job was telecommuting from Greece. The office is located in Brookline, MA, USA.


    I have his job now, he moved on to a different position within the company... and still lives in Greece. He's been a HUGE contributor, is accessible through the early afternoon by phone or email, and generally it worked very very well.


    Just anecdotal, but it can work with the right person.

  • Does anyone have any real good studies of the productivity of working at home? I can do my entire job via VPN, and do it quicker. But since Im not a programmer, they dont feel inclined to do it, so I need to come up with a proposal. ANy help?
  • by annielaurie (257735) <annekmadison.hotmail@com> on Tuesday August 28, 2001 @03:47PM (#2226705) Journal
    I worry about this a great deal because the potential for abuse and exploitation seems very great. The vacation issue is really only the tip of the iceberg.

    I had an experience about four years ago that has left a bad feeling ever since. I was working on a project where a headhunter brought in about 30 highly-trained programmers from a single Asian country--at a fraction of the hourly rate a U.S. programmer could command. They were all young men in their early twenties.

    About a week into the project, one of them came down with measles--the old-fashioned "red measles" that U.S. kids are immunized for in infancy. Far from being just an annoying childhood disease, measles can rob you of your sight. It requires bed rest and protection for the eyes. This man's illness didn't slow the headhunter down for a second; his computer was moved to his apartment so he could code right there in his sickroom. No amount of reasoning, argument, pointing to medical articles, or petitions to management could make this idiot listen to reason. I didn't have any authority in the matter, and all those who were concerned were helpless.

    I don't know the outcome. But I will always wonder if somewhere there is a talented individual robbed of his sight by callous and ignorant exploitation. So I have to ask: Whether locally or remotely, are we turning the talented people of other countries into a technological version of plain old-fashioned cheap/exploited labor?

  • I'm going to ignore the economic implications of this story for a moment because others have already discuss this.

    I consider someone to be extreme telecommuting if they work from a <i>home office</i> more than 75% of their time. Distance from the corporate office doesn't necessarily dictate this.

    I currently live in Spokane, WA and do customer support for a large company any geek would recognize the name of. The office I report into is in the San Francisco Bay Area. The good thing about this (for me at least) is no time difference. However, I deal with people in just about every timezone, so I'm quite familar with asyncronous communications. Anyone working for or with large multinational corporations will have to deal with the timezone thing, even if they don't telecommute, so I don't see this being a big deal.

    One thing my boss makes a point of doing with all of the remote employees that work for our group is to have everyone come into the office for one week every so often. The economy of late has dictated this occur less frequently than he wants, but he does make it happen. Aside from training, we make it a point to do some non-work things together. Face time is important.

    The other thing that goes along with "extreme telecommuting" is making sure is constant communication so that you feel "in the loop" with what's going on. As someone who has been telecommuting successfully for the past three years, I can tell you that it does take some work, but it is possible to telecommute and be "in the loop," at least on the important things. We've had to set up a few things like instant messaging, internal email aliases, and so forth to help this along.

    In short, I look at this story and go "yeah, and tell me something I don't already know."

    -- PhoneBoy
  • I think my ex-boss has the record for distance. As far as I could tell he was on either the Moon, Space Station Alpha or Mars and was using an android as his interface with us "mundanes." I suppose he could have been a small creature inside of the android, but he definitely wasn't either here on Earth or from Earth - if you catch my drift.
  • Oh, great, a firm in Chantilly has people telecommuting from Russia. This is what the internet is all about. I'm glad to see it. If more people could do this, we'd reduce traffic, road rage, pollution, and all that rot.

    Of course, since I live next door to Chantilly (and will be moving into a Chantilly zip-code next year), I have only one question:

    Why the hell can't we get broadband HERE!??

    Gr. Less than 10 miles from, like, AOL, WorldCom, and even MAE-East, and most of us can't get DSL or Cable Modem. You'd think....
  • by GMontag (42283)
    I work in Chantilly, VA, my local home is Reston, VA and real home is Knoxville, TN.

    Not even allowed to telecomute on snow days!

    UGH!
  • At the last company I worked for (before it went south with much of the rest of the high tech sector), there were programmers in California, Washington and Germany. Plus we were looking at hiring some consultants from Russia, and I kept getting calls from a consulting group with programmers based in India (until I had to tell him the bad news about the company).
  • No really. There are lots of offshore jobs located there. Lots of college grads.

    Come to sweet sweet Bangalore. There are call centers there that teach their employees how to speak with flat midwestern US accents so the callers can't tell they're talking to someone in India.

    Most of my team is out of the state and many are out of the country including the UK, France, Israel, Oz, Singapore, Japan, Brazil and Canada. Seems to work as long as you don't mind calling people at midnight.

    Come to think of it Hawaii should be the next great thing because you can conduct business in the same business day with both the US and East Asia.
  • What's extreme about this? The distance? The alienness of a post-communistic European country in shambles, as perceived by an average, ethnocentric American Slashdotter? The underdeveloped network infrastructure? The exploitation of workers who are only too happy to work for Western-funded peanuts because it's a lot more than they would otherwise earn in Russian jobs?

    This isn't exactly news that matters.

    • Anyone out there in a similarly distant job?

    Yeah, I work from Norway, for a New York start-up. Technically it works well: CVS, SSH, web, instant messaging, email, NetMeeting, phone -- technically there is no reason for me to be physically located alongside my coworkers.

    However, the psychological effects are dire. Somebody else in this discussion has already catalogued them [phrogz.net] pretty well (though the thing about bad breath was surprising to me). I never see my co-workers. Communication mostly consist of typing, aside from daily phone meeting and the odd call. I spend all my waking time alone in a rented office. Since I started on this project, my personal life has fallen into ruin, I basically have no friends anymore. Et cetera. It is fun, rewarding work, but man, it can be painful.

    On the other hand, I live in one of the world's nicest countries, and I get to sleep late (I'm basically on an EST schedule).

  • Now that they've managed to outsource those high paid IS/IT jobs, the next step is to start moving those even higher paid managerial jobs over there. It's the next logical step, right?
  • Most of the time I telecommute to work from my armed home office on the near side of the moon. This is to protect me from the vicious and savage Earth denizens held in my thralldom.

    However, when I care to visit earth my minions drop a few neutron bombs, killing all life for dozens of miles around. My giant lander comes down and I enjoy a peaceful weekend in the mountains, and then to my lunar retreat I return.

    It's not like living in Russia or anything like that, but, hey... --Bill Gates, 2032

Murphy's Law, that brash proletarian restatement of Godel's Theorem. -- Thomas Pynchon, "Gravity's Rainbow"

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