Trading Places with Indian Outsourcers


What happens when a successful US-based computer programmer, who lost his lucrative job to outsourcing, travels to India to try to get it back?

Will he discover the secret of India’s success, or that sending jobs overseas is an unstable gamble?

The videos below share his incredible experience. It’s a fascinating and humanizing portrait of real Indians in Bangalore, the “Silicon Valley of India”.

This inside look shows how ridiculous it is to throw around terms like “slave labor” and “stealing jobs” without understanding the realities of this unusual world where best jobs start at 6pm and end at 3am…

Three suggestions:

1. Keep in mind which jobs are displacing foreign workers and which are not.
2. Notice the level of complaining among Indian workers. It’s almost non-existent.
3. Give the videos a minute to load. Patience, young Jedi.

This is hard-to-find coverage that will change how you think about “your” job. Highly recommended.

Posted on: June 7, 2008.

Watch The Tim Ferriss Experiment, the new #1-rated TV show with "the world's best human guinea pig" (Newsweek), Tim Ferriss. It's Mythbusters meets Jackass. Shot and edited by the Emmy-award winning team behind Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations and Parts Unknown. Here's the trailer.

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99 comments on “Trading Places with Indian Outsourcers

  1. This was done on the “30 Days” series on FX hosted by Morgan Spurlock. It was very entertaining and thought-provoking for the guy who went to India, the Indians themselves and, of course, those of us watching.


  2. I have two comments:

    1. I’ve worked with outsourcing for 2 years (managing a team overseas) and it is very frustrating to get someone to understand your business needs. Indian counterparts are very good at doing exactly what you ask them to do, provided you’ve come up with that. But if you only have a vague idea and are asking for their expertise, it can be a frustrating job.

    2. Americans need to come to terms with the idea that a job as the sole provider of income is a very dangerous thing to have. You are working hard but not building any assets or multiple sources of income (a 401K does not have enough pull) When hard times come around, what are you going to fall back on? Savings? 401K?


  3. Those were incredible. I teach Procurements & Contracts online and one of the primary issues we discuss is outsourcing. I shared the link with my students because I think it provides a perspective that is often lacking in discussions about this sensitive topic.


  4. Hi Tim,
    I just wanted to say thanx for an awesome book. I have been able to follow your advice and I now have pretty close to a 4hr work week. The reset of the time I am working on my startup…but you info game me the leverage.

    I outsource quite a bit and i asked my lead provider about the quality of life he get from what I pay him $60 per day for programming Flash and PHP.
    He stated ” That for what you pay me, I can afford to have a BMW, live in the most expensive city, and make more than the highest paying government employee….and I am very happy with the work you provide me”

    I wanted to make sure that he was happy with what he was earning, and in turn I have good Karma.


  5. As Americans we forget that our value comes from our ideas and a culture that supports innovation. Having this perspective gives us the ability to outsource and leverage our dollar for greater productivity and results. Think of the manufacturing worker who gets laid off due to outsourcing, goes to college, and starts the next great company …. he will outsource some of his work!


  6. I think at the pre-trip dinner, Chris’ father had a good point: With a middle class emerging in India, those people are going to then afford to buy American products and services.

    Tim, I think this ties very nicely in with your constant reminder that spending time in foreign countries can be cheaper than spending time at “home”… and that there are inexpensive places that are very nice and Americanized. In that light, probably the best thing an American can do is build a business that creates income independent of working a set amount of time in a set location… and then spend time in locations with a very good ratio of cost of living to quality of living. This, of course, suggests locations outside of the U.S.

    Have you traveled to India yet, Tim?


  7. Thanks soooo much Tim for posting these videos! I love Morgan Spurlock.

    I think most Americans have an obsession with complaining. The video showed an amazing juxtaposition of poor and middle class in India. My hope is that Americans realize how blessed we all are. I know I am thankful to Eisenhower for helping build our infrastructure. I pray that after losing a job we are all able to find the confidence to create our future not dependent on corporations but on ourselves. My hope is that the US economic downturn will bring strangers together to become families that help each other live more like the human family we all are.



  8. Outsourcing is good and bad. Definitely puts a perspective on American jobs. The one issue that I have is “culture.” Outsourcers may be able to learn the language and rid themselves of their accents, but they still lack to cultural knowledge. I have recently discontinued to services that I use just because the culture clash over the phone was unbearable. It made me want to switch. Now, I find myself asking customer service reps, “What country are you from?” Because I expect it.


  9. Yay “30 Days”. There’s a whole new season out this year (I have it Tivo’ed for Tuesday’s at 10pm here on the pacific coast.

    Had to give credit to Morgan Spurlock since it’s literally the entire show being posted here. The show’s website is here:

    The one from the first season where he lives off of minimum wage is great also.


  10. I’ve worked with technical teams remotely in India in the past and while it is a more economical choice, the turnaround in responses to simple questions can be extremely slow.

    As Ergest pointed out above, Indian teams (from my experience) are fantastic at following instructions if you know exactly every little detail before the project starts, however, with even the smallest ambiguity, they’ll ask for instructions instead of making a decision. This can be frustrating due to the lag in turnaround time for email responses.

    There are of course extremely talented and responsible tech workers in India, but are harder to find, since they are either employed by foreign companies or are living abroad working for a foreign companies.

    Thanks for sharing, Tim!


  11. Outsourcing is really just a variation on the word “competition.” To be against free competition in the market place is an absolute proof of one’s ignorance of economics.

    In the early 1900’s, workers in the agricultural sector all had their jobs outsourced. The percent of Americans working as farmers dropped from about half of the nation to the single percentage points. They lost their jobs to people who could perform them more effectively and inefficiently in other states or areas (people with mechanized tractors). As China opened up in the 70s, textiles and clothing manufacturers closed up shop and outsourced the jobs. Then came everything else that is manufactured in Asia. Basically, the US has a history of outsourcing.

    How has this history treated the US? It made it the most prosperous nation on earth, because companies were free to operate efficiently in areas that are better suited toward making their products. Areas that have a competitive advantage *should* be able to produce whatever they want without government stepping in. It allows both countries to prosper because each nation specializes at what it is most efficient at.

    Outsourcing is a never an “either-or” issue where one countries is a loser and one country is a winner. It is always a win-win situation. Government restrictions on outsourcing is always a lose-lose situation. If groups want to “keep outsourcing in check” in the US succeed with their laws, they will force American businesses to be uncompetitive and wasteful in the long run. That destroys the economy.


  12. Morgan Spurlock did a “30 Days” episode very similar to this. It was fascinating–if you haven’t seen it you should check it out. In the end, the US guy who had been laid off decided his job was more meaningful to the people over there, but it didn’t explain what he ended up doing afterward.



  13. I think that seeing things like this really put things into prospective. I used to work at a call center as well and could see the steady flow of jobs moving to either another country or cheaper areas of the country to save one costs.


  14. This is a really interesting show, the 3rd season has just started and Morgan Spurlock spent 30 days as a coal miner. It really gives you a better look at some of these issues, he seems to have a very good nack at getting both sides of the issue without casting judgment either way.


  15. Morgan Spurlock isn’t really known for his in depth, balanced documentaries. His programs are entertaining but little more than that. In this case he managed to find one happy family working in a call center where everyone was happy but who also knew that cameras where filming and their jobs probably depended on it. Now I work in Silicon valley for an Indian who made his money in the tech industry and I know there are a lot of super talented Indians when it comes to technology and in such a poor country I’m sure the one’s who have jobs are happy and don’t complain much. But this video shows one family from a director who is known more for the entertainment factor of his films than his in depth reporting. There is another movie about outsourcing called “Roger and me” it’s not exactly about tech but it does show how a major city was practically destroyed due to outsourcing. The fact of the matter is that the United States is a capitalist country and we outsource to save/make more money but you can’t ignore the consequences of not taking care of people in your own country. Keep in mind that although the man in the videos view point of the people taking his job may have changed, he still doesn’t have a job.


  16. Hi. Thanks for this. A lot more fluff in this piece than I had time for, but it’s interesting. I would have really liked to understand why it is that I am your 4th comment (unless someone slides in while I am typing) and most of us have the same opinion that outsourcing is extremely hard to do when you want people to think. I don’t mean outside the box thinking, I just mean common sense.

    I am having issues now since what I requested wasn’t in the ‘scope’ of the project. It’s a website that supplies requested information, only each request opens up another browser window, so if you make 10 requests, you have 10 windows open. I didn’t request that this NOT happen, but who would ever assume that it would be created in such a way. Small silly example, but indicative of a much bigger problem. The issues can then be solved, but it takes longer, will cost more (its not their fault you have different expectations), will aggravate, and invariably some other issue comes up . I hate to sound like I am generalizing, it just generally happens to me :)

    I am now thinking I will save money if I hire people who will ‘get it’ not just ‘do it’

    Thanks for sharing!


  17. An unstable gamble.

    The creativity and venture capital startups are still mainly in the States, which is why so many tens of thousands of bright Indian and Chinese young people find a way to get here and not the other way around.

    I was just at the Society for Technical Communication Convention in Philadelphia, PA. There was much talk of “localization” and “outsourcing.” According to a number of speakers, many companies that thought they could outsource programming to India have pulled it back to the States. The same has happened with technical communications and localization work.

    There will always be companies for whom the cheapest route is the best (read Microsoft) and they will outsource to India and China. Others who value quality will keep the work Stateside.

    I know this is a contrarian view and one you will not hear in the mainstream media or Gates ever pushing, but many companies have pulled back from India. They have a different ethos. It is one of those intangibles that cannot be measured easily in survey or by the academics, but it is real nonetheless.

    Companies like Avaya who only want it cheap, cheap, cheap will continue to go to India, but many others have pulled back because they’ve been burned…and the word is spreading.


  18. I’m kinda surprised that it took spending a month there for this guy to realize some of the things he said at the end. Like how they don’t control the world over there, and many people over there are impoverished and resentful.

    I mean, really… shouldn’t that have been obvious?


  19. Thanks for sharing this story. I have worked face to face with Indian computer programmers for many years as a manager in a US company. I have also worked with remote teams based in Chandagahr, Delhi, and Bangalore. I was fortunately to meet many Indian Managers while getting my MBA at Thunderbird Graduate School of Management. I have always been thankful for the excellent level of service that Indian trained workers provided, but now have a much clearer understanding of what life looks like on their end. They say that the heart or pulse of India is in the villages, but it is apparent that the rich culture still lives within the homes, even in Bangalore.


  20. I agree with some of the readers here. Outsourcing occurs everywhere and every level. I think American are too fixated on the outsourcing that happens overseas. I work for one of the big 4 consulting firms. American companies hire us (a form of outsourcing) for their IT work. We in turn outsource it to smaller and cheaper companies, as well as outsourcing it to our India office to try to remain competitive. People need to get off their high horse and face the reality that you have to become innovative and create value in order to remain competitive.

    With huge multi-million dollar contracts that happen all the time in the States, it is not surprising at all to see the winning bid, outsource pieces of their work to medium sizes firms which then outsource their work to even smaller firms. It creates work all around.

    Research has shown that when it comes to ideals and prices, people talk with their wallets. Sure you want that pair of sneakers not to come from a sweat shop in China, but when it comes down to it, more often than not, people go with the cheaper option.