When I first landed in the US to start university. My dad and I hopped into a Taxi. I was excited, this was an amazing new chapter in my life. I was about to study computers... how is this even a thing? I imagined class would be like playing video games. Not in the terms that it will be relaxing, mindless and inconsequential but more in terms of it will be fun, an adventure and what I learn will give me new opportunities.
"Ah! you are going to RIT... that is a good school" the Taxi Driver said. It was a white man in his 50s with a scruffy white beard. "What are you studying?" he asked. "Computer Engineering," I replied proudly. "That's a shame.." he replied immediately. "Why?" I asked, at this point confused. "All the programming jobs are being shipped to India!". I remember thinking this man is bunkers, and what a rude thing to say to a new university student, but in retrospect, he was not wrong. For everyone who was not in the field, that was what was on the news. This was 2004 and the DOT com burst had just happened and then 911 caused a hit on the economy and so there was no faith in the expensive developers America was producing. India was cheaper (So we thought). I enrolled in my classes and quickly forgot all about that interaction. Luckily he was wrong, but why?
After graduating college, through a series of events I moved to Denver and worked in the same company with a College friend Ben. This was a startup and we deliberately chose this because we wanted to work in places where we could make an impact, where our code mattered. Many times the Chief Technical Officer (CTO) would come to us telling us about a new company initiative or instructions to build a new system and sometimes we would think it was the most stupid thing we ever heard. Ben was never shy about this, he would readily and easily show his disdain for the idea. I was usually more diplomatic but would express "concern". These disagreements usually turned into a respectful sparing match between the CTO and us, the CTO usually humored us but once in a while, when he had enough he would throw out his famous line "The decision has been made..." by whom? he never told us 😂. Ben was always the most vocal, I never told him this but I always wondered why he never got fired, actually I watched him get raise after raise and get promoted before anyone else. Now that I run a business, I know why.
The value Ben brought to the company was "Initiative". The ability to question if the steps taken by the company lead to the company's intended goal, his ability to work on issues he found before they were brought to his attention by his boss, and if the instructions he got were bad, he found other ways to achieve the same goals a different way. In small companies this is especially important, the leaders of these companies have to make decisions every single day, so a good hire for them is someone who can take the workload off their plate, a GREAT hire is someone who takes stuff off their plate and yet keeps them accountable for the company mission. Avoidable mistakes happen not when no one saw it, but when no one is bold enough to speak up to a bad idea or are too lazy to notice. So showing Initiative signals you are paying attention to the company and you are not lazy, so it is rewarded.
Through experience working with American, Nigerian and Indian developers, A common thread I have seen in the really great ones (which are expensive) is they have an insane level of initiative and the mediocre to bad ones literally twiddle their thumbs till you give them a new instruction. So it turned out good developers across the pond in India were just as expensive as the good developers in America (That is if they had not already moved to America). American companies that hired
bad cheap developers ended up paying the price because developing software is both an art and science and it takes developers with initiative to create great products. So the programming jobs ended up staying home.
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