Offshoring: What Can Go Wrong?


You might wonder whether the Linux operating system provides evidence that offshoring can pay off. I had often wondered about this point myself, so I put the question to Linus Torvalds, founder of the Linux project. Torvalds replied that the two models of software development aren’t comparable:

I don’t think the Linux model works for offshoring in the commercial sense, or really ends up even being very relevant. The problem ends up being communication and the mental model pretty inherent in offshoring.

My belief is that when you say “offshoring,” you very much mean “control the project on one shore, work on the other.” That is, the implication of the offshore work being “subservient” is very much there in the notion of offshoring.

In contrast, the Linux model (and open-source in general) is that there’s no one-sided control, and that when work gets done overseas, it gets done because it makes sense to them, not to “us.” There’s no control of one end over the other–both shores do what they want to do. The fact that makes it all work out is that, in the end, everybody tends to have somewhat overlapping goals.

— Norman Matloff, “Offshoring: What Can Go Wrong?,” IT Professional, vol. 07, no. 4, pp. 39-45, Jul/Aug, 2005

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