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The next generation of Australian IT - Pt 1

In March 2012 we published Offshoring IT: Can it be agile? about offshoring and whether or not it was truly Agile. Based on one of the comments made in that post, “what has changed in recent times is that core system functions and bespoke development are being sent to international teams”, we were encouraged to think a bit further as to how Australian developers might respond to such a trend and, as a consequence, what the Australian IT landscape might look like in a few years. This post is by Nick Oscilowski.

As we see it, the long-term consequences of continually sending development overseas will be most strongly felt in Australia by mid-level developers and graduates (which we also refer to as Junior Developers). It is the work of those groups which is most easily transferred offshore and, as that continues to happen broadly across the industry, it will mean there are fewer opportunities at those levels. To expand that trend out to its logical conclusion, the long-term result will be a progressively diminishing and under-skilled local workforce – a path down which some industries have already been. As GLiNTECH’s Managing Director, Dimitri Spyridopoulos, commented upon in GLiNTECH Managing Director Responds to 'Future of Software Development' Survey, offshoring has been around for years in manufacturing and logistics, but in terms of software development and IT it is really just beginning. Such relative infancy inevitably means there will be a lot of unknowns in terms of the industry life cycle. But that doesn’t mean we can’t see trends developing and adjust the way we do business, or provide different perspectives on ways our industry might approach foreseeable problems.

One of the far-reaching effects we believe the trend towards offshoring will have is on the education system that produces IT developers. To take the issue straight to its root, why bother studying towards an IT degree in Australia if there are no junior developer positions? If the offshoring trend is dictating that many training hubs, as well as entry level opportunities, are now located overseas, is it naive to think that migrating overseas to study won’t become an increasingly attractive option to prospective students? And are our IT education systems ready to compete in such an environment?

While not related solely to the IT industry, an article in The Australian on February 4th, 2012 entitled ‘More students and more degrees do not a smarter country make’ spoke of the fact that ‘the goal of government is to ensure that by 2025, 40 per cent of Australians aged from 25 to 34 will possess a university degree’. Taken as a single statement this is certainly a noble goal, but that same article goes on to warn that ‘the problems with this supply-led initiative is that it inevitably leads to a situation where government is forced to increase student numbers by fundamentally transforming both the content and meaning of university education. The expansion of the university sector has a direct impact on the quality of the education it provides’. In other words, the quality of the education may actually decrease in order to satisfy the thirst for supplying graduates, despite the possibility of fewer opportunities for employment being available at the end.

Regardless of whether or not this prediction proves to be accurate, isn’t the mere chance of it happening enough cause for Australian IT educators and policy makers to significantly alter their thinking? Is it worth pursuing the status quo and trying to compete with the vast economies of scale the developing IT nations hold, or are there other ways that Australian IT educators can compete? We believe that by building upon some of our traditional and recognised strengths of quality and specialisation, there are.

All of this makes it a very interesting time to be in the IT industry in Australia. At the very point we need our graduates to become smarter and more specialised in order to compete, there is suggestion that a larger trend may be compromising education standards and helping to push us further from the competition.

This is part one of a two part post. Keep an eye on our blog for part two.