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Programming United States Technology Politics

Paul Graham: Let the Other 95% of Great Programmers In 552

An anonymous reader writes: Y Combinator's Paul Graham has posted an essay arguing in favor of relaxed immigration rules. His argument is straight-forward: with only 5% of the world's population, the U.S. can only expect about 5% of great programmers to be born here. He says, "What the anti-immigration people don't understand is that there is a huge variation in ability between competent programmers and exceptional ones, and while you can train people to be competent, you can't train them to be exceptional. Exceptional programmers have an aptitude for and interest in programming that is not merely the product of training."

Graham says even a dramatic boost to the training of programmers within the U.S. can't hope to match the resources available elsewhere. "We have the potential to ensure that the U.S. remains a technology superpower just by letting in a few thousand great programmers a year. What a colossal mistake it would be to let that opportunity slip. It could easily be the defining mistake this generation of American politicians later become famous for."
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Paul Graham: Let the Other 95% of Great Programmers In

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  • by Mordok-DestroyerOfWo ( 1000167 ) on Friday December 26, 2014 @04:32PM (#48676889)

    with only 5% of the world's population, the U.S. can only expect about 5% of great programmers to be born here

    The vast majority of excellent programmers were born before electricity was harnessed. What a waste!

    • Mod parent up. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by khasim ( 1285 ) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Friday December 26, 2014 @05:16PM (#48677119)

      While I believe that you intended that as a joke, it actually reflects the reality that he missed.

      Becoming a programmer requires that a certain amount of infrastructure exist to provide the education necessary. So , no, we aren't talking about 95% vs 5%.

      Secondly, the companies pushing for more visas are NOT doing it because they're looking for the best and the brightest from around the world. They're doing it to drive the price of programming down.

      It's fucking PROGRAMMING. It can be done ANYWHERE in the world. If company X wants to hire the top 20 programmers in India then they can do that. And those programmers can work from home (in India). They are the best, right?

      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 26, 2014 @05:36PM (#48677229)

        The other thing that nobody has mentioned, exactly HOW do you measure whether someone IS an excellent programmer?

        Define "excellence".

        In all my years in this business, I knew quite a few people who designed and wrote code that was easy to read, worked, easily maintained, got it all done on time and were considered mediocre.

        I have seen many times that one person's excellent programmer is mediocre to another.

        Excellence is subjective.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 26, 2014 @06:17PM (#48677447)

          I used to write software for medical equipment. I wrote drivers for serial ports on the device, communication software with all file handling. I also wrote the software on the PC side... and the front end for the database. Another guy in the office did the printing software. I gave him the code for the decompressing and translation to PS. HPPCL5 and HPGL (since he was totally worthless). HE got a huge bonus and a project lead. Why? Our CTO LOVED the splash screen for his software! "WOW! When the customers see this they will be really impressed!" He had photoshopped a bunch of pictures together and slapped our company logo on top... Excellence is relative to the brain power of the beholder.

          • Frankly... (Score:5, Insightful)

            by fyngyrz ( 762201 ) on Friday December 26, 2014 @10:58PM (#48678427) Homepage Journal

            ...when every programmer (and tech support person, and manufacturing person) in the US can get a job, that's the time for US operations to be looking for foreign help.

            But since age, health, formal schooling, in-country location, and credit score are widely and consistently used to deny highly skilled US programmers jobs -- I am very confident in saying that Mr. Graham has not even come close to identifying the "programmer problem" from the POV of actual US programmers. All he's trying to do here is save a buck, while screwing US programmers in the process.

            Do it his way, and the US economy will suffer even further at the middle class level as decent jobs go directly over our heads overseas, while, as per usual, corporations thrive.

            This is exactly the kind of corporate perfidy that's been going on for some time. Graham should be ashamed. He represents our problem. Not any imaginary lack of US based skills.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              I think the issue is more complex than simple job arithmetic - if you can attract the very best it has a very non-linear effect on the country and its economy as a whole. Such as the programmer who left South Africa for the US and started a few companies you may have heard of - PayPal, Tesla, Solar City, SpaceX.

              That said, I'm a programmer living in South Africa and working for a US company, and it would be pretty stupid for me to actually relocate to the US - I get to live in Cape Town (which is actually

              • Re:Frankly... (Score:5, Insightful)

                by Kariles70 ( 3750637 ) on Saturday December 27, 2014 @07:46AM (#48679233)
                Microsoft laid off over 20,000 IT people just recently. I guess they were all just bums? Hell no. So no one can find these top programmers? Hell no. And you expect us to believe it has nothing to do with costs and everything to do with around 300,000 programmers a year being just no good? Sorry I won't believe any of it. We have an idiot govt. in the tank for big corporations and Congress doesn't give a damn about us. There are currently 96,000,000 people in the U.S. who are either unemployed or underemployed and looking for work elsewhere. The H1-B program will keep it that way and make it worse.
        • And of course, when 95% of the coders jobs don't require excellence (and when you try to work to produce something excellent, management interferes anyway because quality isn't as important as making a shipping date), the local 5% are more than enough. The reason you can't find them is because you've driven them into other fields.
        • by Bengie ( 1121981 )

          I knew quite a few people who designed and wrote code that was easy to read, worked, easily maintained, got it all done on time and were considered mediocre.

          That would be above average in my book. To me, an "excellent" programmer would not only do that, but also not be wasteful with resources, and would analyze the problem themselves and architect the program their-self.

      • Re:Mod parent up. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by J-1000 ( 869558 ) on Friday December 26, 2014 @06:03PM (#48677363)

        Secondly, the companies pushing for more visas are NOT doing it because they're looking for the best and the brightest from around the world. They're doing it to drive the price of programming down.

        Thank you, I agree.

        OK now to muddy the waters with my ignorant thought. Seems to me this isn't the whole story. Since their goal is to spend less money on programmers, the increased tax money from immigrants would be offset by less money moving from the company to the economy. Score one for hiring domestic workers. On the other hand, educated immigrants (also bearing educated children) might improve the economy as a whole, since their presence lowers the cost of doing business while adding new entrepreneurs. This increases the likelihood of companies headquartering in the U.S. rather than somewhere else which, in turn, creates more tax revenue. Score one for immigration.

        I really have no clue where this all leads, but at the very least I do agree that we should get companies' intentions straight: They want cheaper workers and they do not value their excellence as much as they say they do.

        • Re:Mod parent up. (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 26, 2014 @06:30PM (#48677513)

          If the cost of programming comes down, there will be less incentive to do it, so people smart enough to do it (domestic and foreign) will look to apply their intellect in a more profitable industry.

          Of course, the industry doesn't actually need to be awash with top-tier talent. Most of the work involved in software development can be done by people of mediocre talent. You need at least one true architect on your team if you are to pull it all together, but you don't need a team full of architects.

          The industry moguls are keenly aware of this. They would be delirious if the market was brimming with cheap and mediocre talent, with precious few superstars who are paid on an entirely different pay grade. These superstars will be priced far out of reach of the startups that might threaten established businesses, and the available mediocre talent can't pose a threat by itself.

          Where does it all lead? The steady movement of the middle class down into the lower class. That is basically where everything leads, eventually.

        • Re:Mod parent up. (Score:5, Insightful)

          by khasim ( 1285 ) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Friday December 26, 2014 @06:59PM (#48677655)

          On the other hand, educated immigrants (also bearing educated children) might improve the economy as a whole, since their presence lowers the cost of doing business while adding new entrepreneurs.

          I think immigration helps this country (and our economy).

          The problem is that he is attempting to conflate FOUR different issues:

          1. USA! USA! USA! - (technology superpower): Just make all the STEM programs FREE. You want college level calc? Here's your free book and this is when/where your free class meets. His approach would have us relying on the educational systems in other countries that supply the immigrants. That's stupid.

          2. Immigration - he really means H-1B visas.

          3. Cheap labour - see #2.

          4. What would personally benefit him and his company - see #3.

          If we are turning away Nobel laureates because of our immigration limits ... no, we aren't. It's about cheap labour.

          From TFA:

          I asked the CEO of a startup with about 70 programmers how many more he'd hire if he could get all the great programmers he wanted. He said "We'd hire 30 tomorrow morning." And this is one of the hot startups that always win recruiting battles. It's the same all over Silicon Valley. Startups are that constrained for talent.

          Bullshit. Startups are constrained by MONEY.

          It is a RISK for an established programmer to work for a startup. They have families. They have responsibilities. You have to offer them a LOT of money to take that risk.

    • by sosume ( 680416 )

      In the same line of reasoning , the US would need only 5% of the software produced. So nothing is lost, except preventing other economies to grow properly by stealing the talented .

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 26, 2014 @04:33PM (#48676895)

    Show me how do you measure what a great programmer is?

    • Presumably he talks of people like Joy, Torvalds, Stallman, Norvig ... Basically people you don't have to ask about who they are?
      • by Penguinisto ( 415985 ) on Friday December 26, 2014 @05:24PM (#48677165) Journal

        If you don't have to ask who they are, then they won't need an H1-B to get here. Seriously.

      • Presumably he talks of people like Joy, Torvalds, Stallman, Norvig ... Basically people you don't have to ask about who they are?

        Presumably not, since those are all people who could easily immigrate here under current regulations.

      • It depends on the situation. As an example: I am the world's crappiest coder and designer... when it comes to maintainability, legibility, reusability. Undisciplined at (re-)factoring, test harnesses and version control. However, I work fast, faster than most, and my code generally has very few bugs. That sort of thing is worth a lot in places where you need agility rather than maintainability, like in innovation, rapid prototyping, or production software of temporary value.
    • by Penguinisto ( 415985 ) on Friday December 26, 2014 @05:17PM (#48677125) Journal

      Show me how do you measure what a great programmer is?

      Why, the ability to work 110 hours each week to crank out working code for $15/hr, of course!

      Of course, it's easy for the VC types to demand more foreign (read: cheap and abusable) labor... it allows them (and their beneficiaries, the start-ups) to spend less money on overhead like employee salaries, and more money on infrastructure, executive bonuses, wild parties... shit like that.

      • Hitting 36 years old (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        IN my 20s an dearly 30s, I always received great reviews and was even called a "genius" once.

        At about 36 years of age, overnight I turned into someone who "sucked" and didn't have the "skills".

        When I asked what "skills" were those, I was told "skills". I never got an answer to why I 'sucked'.

        So, when anyone who says that "if you have the skills, you can get a job", I just shake my head at the ignorance because one day, you will see that having "skills" is just part of the equation.

        My wife is in medical and

        • by BarbaraHudson ( 3785311 ) <barbarahudsononl ... Nom minus author> on Friday December 26, 2014 @06:57PM (#48677647) Journal
          The dirty truth about software development written by a professor of comp. sci. [bloombergview.com]

          say you interview as a graduating college senior at Facebook Inc. You may find, to your initial delight, that the place looks just like a fun-loving dorm -- and the adults seem to be missing. But that is a sign of how the profession has devolved in recent years to one lacking in longevity. Many programmers find that their employability starts to decline at about age 35.

          Gone by 40

          Employers dismiss them as either lacking in up-to-date technical skills -- such as the latest programming-language fad -- or "not suitable for entry level." In other words, either underqualified or overqualified. That doesn’t leave much, does it? Statistics show that most software developers are out of the field by age 40.

          Employers have admitted this in unguarded moments. Craig Barrett, a former chief executive officer of Intel Corp., famously remarked that "the half-life of an engineer, software or hardware, is only a few years," while Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook has blurted out that young programmers are superior.

          Vivek Wadhwa, a former technology executive and now a business writer and Duke University researcher, wrote that in 2008 David Vaskevitch, then the chief technology officer at Microsoft Corp., acknowledged that "the vast majority of new Microsoft employees are young, but said that this is so because older workers tend to go into more senior jobs and there are fewer of those positions to begin with."

          Doesn't matter if you're the best programmer in the world once you hit 40 - it's up or out, and there aren't that many "up" jobs.

          • by juancn ( 596002 ) on Friday December 26, 2014 @07:37PM (#48677817) Homepage
            That's a lie for good programmers, for mediocre ones, it might be true. I'm 38 and I've never before had more offers. I work with 60 something programmer (not manager, just a coder) he's one of the best developers I've ever met. He's still in demand. Only crappy consulting jobs care that much about per-hour cost. Most high-end product development typically care a lot more about quality of the code produced and productivity than the per-capita cost of an engineer. They usually can afford to pay well and provide a decent technical challenge.
    • by Bengie ( 1121981 )
      The level of interest someone has in a subject is generally a good indicator. When it comes to programming, it's not the answers that count so much as how one arrives at an answer. What we need is interactive dynamic analysis of logic. Generally it works best just to have another "great" programmer strike up a conversation with another.

      Programming is a bit different than other fields, there are many technically correct answers, but few good answers. In hindsight, identifying a good programmer is much easi
      • When it comes to programming, it's not the answers that count so much as how one arrives at an answer.

        I used to believe that. Never thought to question it, because it's taken as an article of faith in the industry. But it's dead wrong. If you don't get the right answer, you fail, same as any other job. Code it right first, then adjust / optimize as necessary (which is just another way of saying premature optimization is evil). Or, "There are two ways of constructing a software design: One way is to make it so simple that there are obviously no deficiencies, and the other way is to make it so complicated th

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Why do you want them to come to the US when you can work remotely?

    • by tepples ( 727027 ) <tepples@ g m ail.com> on Friday December 26, 2014 @04:56PM (#48677035) Homepage Journal

      If they come to the US, the US can tax their income. If they work remotely, their home country gets all the income tax.

      • If they come to the US, the US can tax their income. If they work remotely, their home country gets all the income tax.

        That isn't even close, income tax in the US is paid by the employer and credited back to the employee as a tax credit. People not physically present in the US would fail the substantial presence test and so would be taxed as a non-resident alien. This severely limits the deductions that they can take (number of deductions, marriage status etc) but they still pay in at roughly the same rate. I've never had to deal with in myself but from what I understand you would have to be a complete idiot to take up a c

    • Yeah, *The internet has no borders*.. We should follow its example and tear ours down. Don't do this half assed. We all should be allowed to live where we please.

    • If the really excellent people are few and far between, say a few dozen or hundred in every country, isn't it logistically easier to let them immigrate rather then to establish fifty small offices in fifty countries for every company employing them?
      • It would be easier to set secure VPN servers and ship them laptops, if you truly want to argue logistics. ;)

        • Indeed, if people were rational, international telecommuting would be an obvious solution. But I have no idea how employing foreign workers from countries in which you don't even have an official branch legally works for US companies.
          • It is actually very simple.

            I ran the software engineering department at a previous job. Despite my and my boss's vehement objections we outsourced our entire software development team to India to reduce costs. I was to manage them remotely.

            We made it work for a while, but in the end we did it by replacing 5 US developers with an office of about 20 in India (15 of whom were developers, rest were support staff like HR, LAN admin, Office manger, etc.) and I was able to show to our CEO that the cost of the In

  • by MikeRT ( 947531 ) on Friday December 26, 2014 @04:36PM (#48676911) Homepage

    Is that most of us firmly get now that the H1B is about cheapening the value of the good and decent developers, not bringing in developers who are productive wunderkinden. That's why the anti-immigration tone in this country is going through the roof. Good for productivity? Why the fuck should the average American across the spectrum care about that if it doesn't translate into a better standard of living for them?

    • by JaredOfEuropa ( 526365 ) on Friday December 26, 2014 @04:46PM (#48676977) Journal
      I wager that most companies are incapable of recognizing top programming talent, let alone nurturing such talent, offering a wage matching their skill, or offering a viable career path that doesn't end in management or even a leadership role. In fact, most larger corporations I've seen aren't even capable of using top talent accidentally; the way the work is organized in cookie cutter roles and jobs means that they are really better off with cheaper average talent; top talent will be somewhat better in those roles, but not that much.
      • by RingDev ( 879105 ) on Friday December 26, 2014 @05:39PM (#48677249) Homepage Journal

        Absolutely.

        Where I work now there are 4 classifications of employees, progressing in pay level, but all assigned to the same software development services efforts.

        My jaw hit the floor when my boss told me that anyone at level 4 is expected to perform project management duties.

        So now I have a couple of rock solid level-3 developers that are on track to move into a true software architecture style role. I look at these fine developers and think, you know, it would be great if I could put together a training plan for them to really take their design approach to the next level and put goals together around their technical skill set, technical leadership, and continuing education with a prize at the end of the road of a nice shiny new title and pay bump.

        But nope. If I want to promote these guys, I have to send them to project management 101. They need to go back and learn a whole new skillset, change over from dealing with code to dealing with people, and take on a whole new style of work.

        What sense does that make? It's like someone is running an experiment to see if the Peter Principle is real.

        -Rick

      • by sjames ( 1099 )

        Better still, they should upgrade their management.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      That's the thing... it does translate into a better standard of living for them. These excellent programmers boost the value of the companies they're working at. They increase the amount of innovation going on, they pay more taxes to the american government than most. They increase the quality of the work being done in the country as a whole. That increases the average income, and increases the salary even of the less wonderful programmers.

      The UK has an equivalent "problem". We see lots of immigration

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 26, 2014 @05:09PM (#48677085)

      Paul Graham is correct (posting anonymously to keep my "foes" quota manageable). The exact same complaints about wages were no doubt made when Jackie Robinson integrated USA baseball, or Red Aurbach began recruiting African American players. Were weak white American players dropped from the bench? Absolutely. Were the ones who lost a job angry? No doubt. Did the influx of Dominicans in baseball and African Americans in basketball end the careers of white players? Only the weak ones.

      The arguments against Graham's do not suggest that programming will be weaker, or that the software industry will be weaker, by allowing H1B recruits. They are arguing about keeping their own butts on the bench. What we want is to have the very best Baseball and Basketball and Software Coding industry, and those industries don't thrive by creating barriers to entry to hungry young talent.

      The best solution, if you are a weaker, older programmer, is to be the one who gets along with the new teammates and perhaps getsa coaching job. Your short term solution, to keep the Jackie Robinson's off your damn lawn, will make your company a failure. If your only goal is for your company to last a few more years until you retire, the fans say screw off.

      • by Penguinisto ( 415985 ) on Friday December 26, 2014 @06:16PM (#48677435) Journal

        Paul Graham is correct (posting anonymously to keep my "foes" quota manageable).

        No reason to hate someone if their argument is coherent and clear. So let's see what we have here...

        The exact same complaints about wages were no doubt made when Jackie Robinson integrated USA baseball, or Red Aurbach began recruiting African American players.

        Bad comparison; Jackie Robinson was a US-born citizen, as were his pioneer contemporaries. He wasn't shipped into the job from overseas and threatened with deportation if he bitched about his pay. He also didn't have rival baseball teams clamoring Congress for tickets to import more black players. Also, your argument sets up a strawman for later, the part which I won't even bother to address due to the fact that it is also irrelevant.

        The arguments against Graham's do not suggest that programming will be weaker, or that the software industry will be weaker, by allowing H1B recruits.

        False argument: no one is credibly arguing that importation of a rockstar H1B-holders would weaken programming or the software industry in the US --if that were truly the case (it most often isn't).

        I can say however, as someone who once worked at an H1-B-happy corporation, that I've found one big fat problem: cultural and language difficulties have often gotten in the way of communication within a given team, causing information and data to take up to twice as long to get across (especially if a conference phone is involved). I am confident that others have also found this to be a problem, and I defy you to prove otherwise.

      • Nice troll (Score:5, Insightful)

        by s.petry ( 762400 ) on Friday December 26, 2014 @07:10PM (#48677699)

        Contrary to you pulling out the race card, there is an underlying problem with TFA's points. Primarily, that a Country can only be successful when taking care of itself FIRST. I realize that this takes some deep thought to comprehend, you are not going to get it if you continue to look at things as you proposed as a racial issue. It's not a racial issue, it's an economic issue.

        Look long and hard at the US, and what happens when a country dumps out all of it's local income generation for "cheaper products". We are still told that this is the way it should be, but it's bullshit. That economic model only benefits the top .01% who already has way more wealth than they could ever spend. For the rest of society, we are shafted by the deal. Read Milton Friedman, perhaps you will understand.. if you can get over your simple belief that it's only bias that stops importing workers at any rate. Carol Quigley is another great read to understand how this is economic, not racial. Racial issues are what rich people use to keep us bickering with each other, arguing over who has the larger pile of sand.... while they polish their gold. (not all of it obviously, there are pure bigots but those people are easy to deal with in the grand scheme of things)

        Today's economic model does not match what gave us tremendous growth and achievements. Henry Fords model was pure capitalism. Pay the worker well, they will buy the products. Not just the cars, but the furniture so that the furniture makers can afford cars too, and the guys in the restaurant, etc... Middle class income _IS_ the mobile income in society. Middle class people don't hoard, they spend what they make. When you take away the middle class income, the economy and growth all stagnates. This is the problem with the last 40 years of economic policy, the middle class has vanished and the top .01% have grown exponentially in wealth. That is factual, you can research the statistics. The US today is ranked 4th in the world for economic disparity (yes, we are worse than nearly every other country in the world). We are at the same level today as we were in 1928, but it looks better since we are printing out more and more fiat money as loans.

        Importing workers does not make better programmers. Innovation and education makes better programmers, interest in societies development makes better programmers, and more importantly opportunity makes better programmers. If we don't have a positive economic outlook (which I will argue most people 30 and under have) then it does not matter who you bring in. Society needs to change, and the money has to get out of a few select hands and back into average people's hands. That is how we will see improvement, not by simply importing a few people at reduced wages further depressing wages for US workers.

        Personally, I don't have anything against "globalization" if it's done where everyone prospers. That has not been happening with any of the Globalization that has occurred. The majority has suffered under the current policies, so I'm against the current economic policies that continue to pool wealth into few hands.

    • by ameoba ( 173803 )

      Paul Graham gets it perfectly. He's no longer a "hacker", he's a venture capitalist that lives to churn through startups & make money by exploiting workers.

      He doesn't care about keeping wages up, he wants cheap labor to drive his costs down.

  • Sounds great! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anon-Admin ( 443764 ) on Friday December 26, 2014 @04:36PM (#48676915) Homepage Journal

    I love the Idea, we are looking for the top 5%. We need the elite of the programming world to immigrate to the US and help us keep the US are the top of our game.

    Seeing as we agree on that, then I am sure you will agree that the best way to get exceptional programmers, is to offer them exceptional wages. So lets work together to change the H1B's requirement and to require that all H1B's are paid in the top 1% of the pay scale.

    • I see what you did there.
    • Yes, a high minimum wage is required to prevent such a system from being abused. Either that or the employer should pay a set amount to the government in addition to whatever is paid to the employee. If a foreign programmer can remain hired for several years, despite an artificially high cost being applied to the employer, then give them a path to citizenship - the US well benefit from them.

      US programmers are at a disadvantage due to the hight cost of education. Foreign educated programmers can afford

    • If the idea is to import the best of the best, well then the pay needs to be for that. You can't say you are after the best anything and then offer even average wages. The best can command high pay.

      Now if that's not the idea, that's fair too, but stop trying to bullshit us about it. None of this "We only want the best but we want to bay substandard wages!" crap.

    • Well, maybe it would be easier if we retained more programmers in the first place. By 40, most programmers have left the industry. [bloombergview.com] - Norman Matloff, professor of computer science, University of California, Davis.
    • by gweihir ( 88907 )

      You know, these days the US is perceived as such an undesirable destination with all its xenophobia that even that will not get you the top people. Really exceptional technical people are not primarily motivated by money and cannot be.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 26, 2014 @04:36PM (#48676917)

    Let's first try with upper management and see how it goes.

  • by Matheus ( 586080 ) on Friday December 26, 2014 @04:38PM (#48676923) Homepage

    Companies aren't importing those creme-de-la-creme programmers that we just must have in our country because we are apparently sorely lacking. They are importing labor that despite supposed protections is cheaper (and from what I've experienced socially easier to push around)

    My big question is why are you so concerned with bringing them here? The average American corp seems to have no problem having the work done elsewhere anyway so what is the difference if they are sitting in an office here vs. an office in Hyderabad or Bangaluru?

    I have no problem with immigration in-general but this whole "we need more h1bs to fill a dire need" BS is just utter hogwash.

  • Wrong assumption (Score:5, Insightful)

    by danbob999 ( 2490674 ) on Friday December 26, 2014 @04:38PM (#48676925)
    TFS assumes that all great programmers actually want to live in the US.
    • by OrangeTide ( 124937 ) on Friday December 26, 2014 @04:48PM (#48676985) Homepage Journal

      Luckily for my country, most of people can be swayed by money. Big salary, and low taxes and houses with a big yard as still affordable for a professional.

      Brain drain is vitally important to America's future, these ideological games being played by xenophobes and people with anti-immigration politics may result in some very serious long term consequences. (yes, I'm basically stating that we cheat to stay on top.)

      A nation that is manufacturing less every year, and has zero growth in agriculture, but continues to have a significant population growth needs to have a plan for the future.

      As for people who are worried we'll [continue to] hire armies of cheap labor under H1B visa program, I would much rather compete with a foreign worker who is located in the US, than compete with that same worker in his own country. At least he's paying taxes and rent here, and spending some of his money in the local economy. If they decide to apply for citizenship, I welcome them. We can complain about elections and jury duty together.

  • by NoNonAlphaCharsHere ( 2201864 ) on Friday December 26, 2014 @04:38PM (#48676927)
    We will have to import the great programmers because we shipped all the entry level jobs overseas. To use a baseball analogy, all the farm teams and minor leagues have been shipped out of the country, so where do we get the next generation of major league players from?
    • To use a baseball analogy, all the farm teams and minor leagues have been shipped out of the country, so where do we get the next generation of major league players from?

      Same place NFL and NBA get their players: college.

      • by Duhavid ( 677874 )

        Why would anyone in their right mind go to college for a programming degree under those conditions?

    • by greg1104 ( 461138 ) <gsmith@gregsmith.com> on Friday December 26, 2014 @05:20PM (#48677147) Homepage

      The premise of this fairy tale is that great programmers have a quality unrelated to training. You split Zeus's skull, great programmers jump out, and then they are Rock Stars. There's no place for entry level jobs in that story.

      I can't decide if this is more less funny than the idea that startups are constrained by programming talent instead of working business models. I used to enjoy Paul Graham's writing sometimes, but he's so drunk on the Y-Combinator Kool-Aid now it's kind of embarrassing.

  • by man_ls ( 248470 ) on Friday December 26, 2014 @04:42PM (#48676943)

    VCs like Mr. Graham here have a vested interest in driving down the wages of U.S. employees so they can extract a greater amount of value from the companies they invest in. Those exceptional programmers who are missing from the pipeline are choosing to go into finance and other professions where they can make huge sums of cash with their natural talent because anti-competitive and anti-worker agreements between tech companies, such as the recent and absolutely massive "anti-poaching" agreements, have suppressed wages to the point where good talent is choosing to go elsewhere.

    If they want more talented programmers in the United States, then pay them more. The petroleum industry suffered a shortage of talent a while ago, raised their wages, and now there's no shortage of petroleum engineers and other related roles. It's disingenuous at best to continue to assert that immigration rules are causing a tech shortage. It's simple laws of supply and demand: tech companies aren't willing to pay tech workers enough to make it worth their while. Letting in cheaper foreign laborers to drive the prices down further for everyone is only good for two groups of people: CEOs, and venture capitalists.

  • I'm not anti immigration, but it seems like sort of an inefficient system. I mean if 95 percent of great programmers aome from outside the US, does that mean we're for shit at programming, or does the rest of the world turn out programmers that aren't great too? If a non-us Citizen is already a geat programmer, there should be no problem getting him or her over here.

    Oh wait......

    THen we'd have to pay them what they are worth, and not rely on the indentured servant system.......

  • by aardvarkjoe ( 156801 ) on Friday December 26, 2014 @04:46PM (#48676963)

    ...while you can train people to be competent, you can't train them to be exceptional.

    Two things:

    First off, American companies love programmers that are merely "competent" -- or that don't even meet that standard. That's why jobs keep getting shipped overseas to shops that can hire three incompetent programmers for the cost of one good programmer here in the US. The tech companies' actions speak louder than their words here.

    Second, while you might not be able to train everyone to become exceptional, it's safe to say that most people with the ability to become exceptional will not do so without training. Mr. Graham is relying on the argument that the only way to get more exceptional programmers in the US is to import them. That is flat-out not true.

  • by mpercy ( 1085347 ) on Friday December 26, 2014 @04:51PM (#48677005)

    "with only 5% of the world's population, the U.S. can only expect about 5% of great lawyers to be born here"
    "with only 5% of the world's population, the U.S. can only expect about 5% of great teachers to be born here"
    "with only 5% of the world's population, the U.S. can only expect about 5% of great CEOs to be born here"
    "with only 5% of the world's population, the U.S. can only expect about 5% of great parents to be born here"
    "with only 5% of the world's population, the U.S. can only expect about 5% of great ax-murderers to be born here"
    "with only 5% of the world's population, the U.S. can only expect about 5% of great plumbers to be born here"
    "with only 5% of the world's population, the U.S. can only expect about 5% of great piano-tuners to be born here"
    "with only 5% of the world's population, the U.S. can only expect about 5% of great cricketers to be born here"
    "with only 5% of the world's population, the U.S. can only expect about 5% of great chicken-feather-pluckers to be born here"

    "with only 5% of the world's population, the U.S. can only expect about 5% of great [insert job title here] to be born here"

    • "with only 5% of the world's population, the U.S. can only expect about 5% of great idiots to be born here"
      • by gwolf ( 26339 )

        OK, you proved the GP false. Given the huge disbalance, with ~30% of the world's Great Idiots born in the US, anything based on a representatively significant distribution is proven to be false.

    • With only 5% of the world's population, the U.S. can only expect about 5% of great Americans to be born here.

      ^ I started writing that sentence as a stupid joke.

  • F Paul Graham (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 26, 2014 @04:52PM (#48677009)

    Spoken like a rich a-hole!! I'm a middle of the pack developer and I don't want the world's top talent coming over and taking my job. I like programming and I like a comfortable salary. If he wants to ship jobs overseas then good for him and good for America, but screw him if he wants to better the long term at my expense. I've only got this one life and I'm not rich.

  • Why not tak about e.g. gardeners or houskeepers or taxi-drivers. Just say "Let the market sort it out."
    And when you are the one that is controling the market, that is what you would say. (Looking at e.g. Microsoft.)

  • Oh no! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ol Olsoc ( 1175323 ) on Friday December 26, 2014 @04:55PM (#48677029)
    If the women who are being frightened away from STEM careers by the disgusting American Pig male programmer hegemony, Just wait until they experience the way some of these other countries male programmers act toward women.
  • by Irate Engineer ( 2814313 ) on Friday December 26, 2014 @04:57PM (#48677045)
    Can't we simply send the mediocre 95% of programmers out of the country? Then we would have 100% awesome programmers!
  • Maybe Paul Graham (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Overzeetop ( 214511 ) on Friday December 26, 2014 @05:04PM (#48677067) Journal

    Maybe Paul Graham should go and live (and capitalize) the part of the world with the 95% of the awesomest programmers and leave this (apparent) intellectual backwater he calls home. I mean, what's he doing slumming here if 15-20% of the great worldwide programmers are bouncing around China and another 15-20% are making magic in India. If he wants to leverage brainpower, he should go where the brains are.

    Oh, and I hope he doesn't let the door hit him in the ass on the way out.

  • Wrong Percentage (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dracos ( 107777 ) on Friday December 26, 2014 @05:09PM (#48677081)

    Companies don't want the exceptional 5%, they want the cheapest 5% that is slightly above average. They don't look past the per-head cost to find the hidden costs of bad code, poor design, and higher maintenance.

  • by gwolf ( 26339 ) <gwolf&gwolf,org> on Friday December 26, 2014 @05:09PM (#48677093) Homepage

    The amount of great programmers who don't want to live in the USA.

  • by jgotts ( 2785 ) <jgotts.gmail@com> on Friday December 26, 2014 @05:10PM (#48677101)

    The best programmers are already around. They live in Western Europe (and also Eastern Europe), the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, and demand a high salary because to become a great programmer requires major investments in time, formal education, practice, not to mention innate intelligence. There is no shortage of great programmers where programmers are needed.

    What there is a shortage of is managers who are willing to pay programmers what they're worth. For many companies your programmers are your company. They're responsible for all of your income and pay your executives' salaries. For many companies your programmers bring in millions of dollars each. For most companies programmers are working for lesser positions in IT, and they make sure that your computer infrastructure is safe and reliable where failures would cost you millions of dollars.

    The best programmers from outside of this region have made it here already. There are plenty of international students at our best universities.

    What you're actually looking for is a group of inferior programmers with low salary demands who you can exploit until they get wise, followed by a new batch of programmers that you can exploit, and so on.

    The situation is quite clear to programmers living outside of Silicon Valley. There are plenty of programmers in the United States who could do great work for you there, but for many of us you'd have to double or triple our pay just for us to maintain our current standard of living. A friend of mine knows two people making just a bit below one hundred thousand dollars a year who couldn't afford to come home to see their families for Christmas.

  • by msobkow ( 48369 ) on Friday December 26, 2014 @05:26PM (#48677177) Homepage Journal

    There are few jobs for great programmers. Great programmers tend to work best on an independant task and can put out an ungodly amount of functional code in the same time as a whole team of "competent" programmers.

    But that's not the kind of work most companies need done. What they need done are huge applications (primarily web based nowadays) that can only be accomplished through teamwork, because the sheer volume of work required is far beyond that of any one programmer by themselves.

    So the vast majority of jobs only look for (and barely pay for) merely "competent" programmers. They're not looking for and not interested in hiring "top talent" if they can get 2-3 "bodies" for the same price.

    I agree with most of the posters that if you want to attract top talent you need to pay top wages. But for every company that wants to hire a "Linus Torvalds", there are a thousand that want to hire "Joe Coder" instead.

  • Do we want the 5% of programmers born in the US to be able to command good salaries, or do we want the tiny number of company owners to command massive profits on the backs of their poorly paid programmers?
  • Why presume that programmers (or anyone) have to travel from distant lands to the US in order to have an impact? Why not stay in whatever country they currently reside and try to have an impact there? Granted there might be more cutting edge stuff going on here (or there might not -- I could make a case that stuff happens everywhere), but in countries on the verge of being first world, wouldn't there be more to do there? At very least, wouldn't there be more low hanging fruit?

    I guess I'm asking, why shou

  • Fine. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by epyT-R ( 613989 )

    When every decently skilled US programmer has a job, and there is still demand, let some foreigners in. This should apply to any industry. When there is a glut of labor, like there is now, close the borders.

  • Only 5% of the excellent programmers are in the US if you assume that all the factors that contribute to excellent programmers are randomly distributed. It's a statistically fallacy. I wouldn't expect most of Africa to produce many excellent programmers due to the large uneducated population. I also wouldn't expect China, or India to produce a directly proportional ratio of excellent programmers ether due to the massive illiteracy rate in their populations. I also wouldn't expect Middle Eastern countries wi
  • Instead if replacing comparatively-cheap programmers with cheaper overseas programmers, why not replace expensive middle and upper management with cheaper overseas middle and upper management? For what our CEO makes, I could hire a couple hundred engineers. But I bet I could find a guy from India who'd be happy to be our CEO for about what one engineer makes. And he'd be every bit as effective at it as our CEO is!
  • "just by letting in a few thousand great programmers a year."
    We already do that, and more. Immigration, right now, allows you to import some of the best of the best. Any argument to make it looser is talking about letting in large numbers of average workers, workers who are comparable to talent already available.
  • Can't you just be content with what you've got? Because you've actually got quite a lot.

  • By this logic, US firms are doing a great disservice to themselves by limiting the availability of exceptional talent in the fields of executive managment and even public office positions. What's good for the goose, after all...

  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Friday December 26, 2014 @07:22PM (#48677749) Homepage Journal

    Not my choice, we got them in a deal with a VC. And I will tell you from experience that they're not all great programmers. A *few* of them were very good programmers, most of them were OK, and a few were very *bad* programmers. Just like everyone else. The idea that the H1B program just brings in technical giants is pure fantasy. This isn't 1980; if a CS genius living in Bangalore wants to work he doesn't have to come to the US anymore, there are good opportunities for him at home..

    H1B brings in a cross section of inexperienced programmers and kicks them out of the country once they've gained some experience. I have nothing against bringing more foreign talent into the US, but it should be with an eye to encouraging permanent residency. I think if you sponsor an H1B and he goes home, you should have to wait a couple years before you replace him. Then companies will be pickier about who they bring over.

    I have to say, managing a team of H1Bs was very rewarding, not necessarily from a technical standpoint but from a cultural standpoint. Because I had to learn about each programmer on my team and the way things are done in his culture, I think I became closer to a lot of them than I would have to a team of Americans.

  • by Bob9113 ( 14996 ) on Friday December 26, 2014 @08:55PM (#48678113) Homepage

    Simple question: Are you talking visas, or greeen cards?

    If you're talking H1B visas, you're looking for indentured servants, and you are being disingenuous.

    If you mean green cards, permanent residency, sponsored by the corporation that brings them in so we know they really are the elite, then I'm with you 100%.

    • by shutdown -p now ( 807394 ) on Friday December 26, 2014 @10:44PM (#48678383) Journal

      What you and a lot of other people don't understand is that for many of us, H1B visas are the only viable path to a green card. US immigration policy is rather ridiculous in that respect in that it doesn't have a properly designed, dedicated skilled immigration track, the way e.g. Canada, Australia or New Zealand do. So in practice that role is subsumed by the "dual-intent" H1B, where you come into the country on that as a "temp worker", and then get your employer to sponsor you for a green card.

      Thus, H1B has two kinds of people lumped together into it: the true temp workers, usually paid low wages, and kicked out as soon as their visa expires; and people who are trying to actually immigrate and using it as a stepping stone. In most other countries, the two pools are separated much earlier on.

  • by Baldrson ( 78598 ) * on Friday December 26, 2014 @10:57PM (#48678413) Homepage Journal

    Graham pretends that there hasn't been massive fraud in guest worker visas.

    Why should anyone pay any attention to him on the issue of immigration at all?

    The abuses of immigration statutes mean one thing and one thing only: Shut down immigration and repatriate those that were let in during the period of systemic fraud -- then after we've put our own house in order to a level of prudence commensurate with the history of fraud in this area, reconsider.

  • by Karmashock ( 2415832 ) on Friday December 26, 2014 @11:53PM (#48678563)

    Force companies to pay them more by law so it is clear that this is for the talent and not to save money. If they want the talent, I have no problem with it. If they're doing it to put pressure on domestic workers then fuck them.

  • by ub3r n3u7r4l1st ( 1388939 ) on Saturday December 27, 2014 @02:14AM (#48678833)

    Bad MBA programs produces bad managers who don't know how to fully utilize the most educated, skilled generation since World War II. Our company just hired a PhD in Victorian-era literature over an Indian H1B for I.T. work, and gosh, she was a fast learner and hard worker.

    And she is a hottie.

    It takes good, ethical managers on how to train / re-purpose all these over-educated workforce.

  • Drop Dead (Score:4, Insightful)

    by danheskett ( 178529 ) <danheskett @ g m ail.com> on Saturday December 27, 2014 @03:26AM (#48678939)

    I have a few thoughts:

    1. Mr. Graham can drop dead. I had to look up who this guy is, Y Combinator has produced such companies as:

    Scribd, reddit, Airbnb, Dropbox, Disqus, Stripe

    These are not the companies that make the US a "tech superpower". We have a document sharing company, an online community that is 33% porn, 33% cats, and 33% reposts, a house-sharing operation that is constantly on the run from regulators, a company that resells cloud storage to end users, a company that facilitates cat-posts online, and a credit card payment processor. News flash, the world let alone the United States does not revolve around Silicon Valley and your narrow alleged needs. This guy is crazy if he thinks we are going to screw with the iron clad law of supply-and-demand and let in a "few thousand programmers" for no good reason.

    2. Mr. Graham knows that he can already get in the very best programmers. We have plenty of avenues for letting in the very best. For one, it means, we have a real shortage. Secondly, it might mean we educate them here. Finally, it may mean you have to really invest in attracting the top talent internationally. That may mean - gasp - setting up foreign operations, and then domesticating the worker after a few years. That's right, Mr. Graham, years. What he really means is "we want to attract the best programmers, for cheap, chain them to a job, and then wash our hands of them when the job dries up or it doesn't work out".

    3. This is yet another case of an over-privileged idiot trying to social costs and privatize profits.

    4. The reason you can't find as many American top programmers to work for you is because Silicon Valley sucks. The culture sucks, the location (esp. real estate) sucks, the working environment sucks, the stability sucks. It's just another gold rush scenario, this time with Aeron chairs and floor to ceiling whiteboards, and lots of fast talk. And let's be honest. The work sucks. Most of these starts up are doing nothing at all really useful. A huge majority will fail, suddenly, having wasted everyone's time and someone poor suckers money. Spinning this as disruptive, or revolutionary is sad, and a lot of people are jaded against it. The company structure sucks. There are many programmers who have been to three, four, five failed startup operations, going through the same stress, the same pain, the same loss only to end up being told they are now too old for another try at the pie. There are no plans to provide for a long-term company, no hope for a business that is lasting and built upon solving problems that people are willing to pay to have solved.

    5. The fact that Mr. Graham and his friends can't attract a few thousand of the best of the best to work for them just means that the costs outweigh the rewards. Instead of fixing their toxic culture, failing mentality, and gold rush dynamic, they want to break the country further. Because they feel entitled to have what they want, without putting in the years, or decades that other industries have to make it to stability. They've already been given a subsidized work force, where they feel entitled to reap the top talent for middling pay, massive cultural influence, outsized political influence, and regulatory preferences. And yet, they've done almost nothing for the country. We are plus 10 new billionaires, but there has been no standard of living bump for most Americans.

    TLDR: Drop dead, Mr. Graham. You do something for the country, and the rest of flyover territory will think about doing something for you.

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