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Dead Souls From Overseas

How to lead offshore developers

From Yakov Fain's blog

Today’s topic is how to lead offshore programmers. To make this discussion a bit more interesting, let’s go back in time into the first half of the 19th century.

The novel “Dead Souls” by the Russian writer Nikolai Gogol was published in 1842. At that time, landowners paid taxes based on the number of people registered with their properties. Often, landowners were taxed even for the dead souls after people passed away. Guess what, one entrepreneur  named Chichikov, started visiting landowners offering  to purchase dead souls from them, as this would lower their taxes. Why Chichikov would need to have legal rights to these dead souls? C’mon, it’s elementary, Watson!  He wanted to inflate his importance in the society by showing the large number of souls he owned, so he could  take a large loan against them.

Now, by a magic wand, we are back in the 21st century. You are a team leader (a  technical guy) on a project that includes both local programmers and an offshore team of Java developers. The boss said that there is no  budget for hiring  American programmers, so the management has decided to hire a large and well known offshore corporation called XYZ Consulting. You firm can hire three XYZ’s programmers for  the salary  of one American with the same skills. I’ve already written that things may not be as rosy as they look on paper, but  here’s yet another twist to it. While technical leaders work harder as they need to find a substantial chunk of additional time EACH DAY explaining to the offshore team members how to write code and fix errors, the managers of  XYZ Consulting send their timesheets directly  to your manager for approval.   By now, you should be able to guess who these dead souls may be.  You believe that three programmers from overseas are coding for your project, but the manager might be receiving (and signing) timesheets  of 5 people, and each of these souls was working really-really hard putting 80 hours a week. Talking about cheap labor. Talking about Chichikov of the 21st Century.  Two centuries ago Mr. Chichikov has founded the   Dead Souls Movement, without even realizing how to do these things on a large scale. They did not have the Internet in Russia-1842, so his “crimes” sound like an innocent joke of a kindergarten boy.

Anyway, what’s the bottom line?  Is there anything you (the tech lead) can do about it? Yes you can, namely:

1.    Interview and hire each offshore developer personally. Phone tech interviews are OK. Do not agree on working with an offshore  team that someone else has put together.

2.    Ask your manager to show you the timesheets BEFORE signing them. Ideally, all projects with offshore teams should have a fixed price regardless of how many hours their programmers put in.

3.    Do not leave your office without giving  assignments to each  of the offshore developers. Remember, if you forget to assign work to your local developers, this can be fixed an hour later. But if you did not give the assignments to the offshore peers, you ‘ve lost a day because of the time difference.

4.    Make a habit to have a quick 20-min morning conference call with  that remote team of telecommuters (you can just dream of working remotely, aren’t you). Find out what are their issues. Do not postpone these meetings to the end of the week – too much time will be lost.

These simple rules may prevent your project from being yet another failure with “cheaper” (but still inflated) cost. You may not like this kind of a job, but at least you’ll know that you are in better a control of live souls, and if some little dead soul will sneak in, kill it again.  You can’t get convicted for a murder of someone who was  already dead.

More Stories By Yakov Fain

Yakov Fain is a Java Champion and a co-founder of the IT consultancy Farata Systems and the product company SuranceBay. He wrote a thousand blogs ( and several books about software development. Yakov authored and co-authored such books as "Angular 2 Development with TypeScript", "Java 24-Hour Trainer", and "Enterprise Web Development". His Twitter tag is @yfain

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