Technically… it’s not “outsourcing”

I just recently started a new job at an ecommerce web design company in my hometown, Philadelphia.  It’s a startup environment and even though I am starting at the bottom of the food chain, there is a ton of room for advancement and growth – which has me excited and accepting of the low starting salary.

It seems pretty “American,” a few young guys in an office near downtown Philadelphia, working at making it as ecommerce web designers.  It’s the new American dream – the successful tech startup.

Here’s the kicker; neither of them are web designers and neither of them have a background in web design.

This company either pursues a client lead or a client calls in, they hear what the client needs for their site, they send a scope of the project and an estimate of the cost (never less than three grand) to the client.  If the client says yes, the company contacts their design team in Pakistan and voila! in a few weeks you have a website “homegrown” with good ol’ Philadelphia web designers.

It blew my mind, really.  All of the design and SEO is done in Pakistan!  It’s actually my job to edit blog articles and social media posts that are written poorly in English and make them sound more “American.”  Yes, this does fit the entry level description of a technical writer, but it still makes me uncomfortable that the bulk of the work is outsourced, or, as the company describes it “created in collaboration with design teams in Pakistan”.

Dicks’ discussion in Chapter 2 makes me think about my current job.  Yes, they hired me because they needed me but I realize that I really do need to prove it to them that I am valuable to the company and that I can prove to be an asset to their operation.  All they need is to find someone in Pakistan that has excellent mastery of the English language as well as knowledge and understanding of American culture and I would be out of a job!

Posted on September 28, 2014, in Society, Technology, Uncategorized, Workplace and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. I thought your post was interesting for a couple of reasons. One, I connected with the oddity of a web design company having owners who have little/no background in web design. Ten years ago, this would have been absurd, but I think the rise in user-friendly design options have broken down some of the barriers in digital literacy.

    Second, you mentioned needing to prove yourself an asset, which is exactly what faces so many technical communicators. I think it’s interesting that the area you identified, someone “…in Pakistan that has excellent mastery of the English language as well as knowledge and understanding of American culture”, is not a digital threat but a linguistic and cultural one. Do you think that, despite the advances in digital literacy, linguistic/cultural literacy will always ensure that technical communicators have a role in organizations?

    • I think companies are willing to take the risks for cultural misunderstandings in order to save a buck. It’s painful to say, but I really do believe it to be true. With my job, the copy has already been written overseas, but it’s just been written for SEO purposes so search engines can crawl the copy and boost the client’s website rankings. The tricky part where I am come in is to make it sound more “American” while making sure all of the SEO keywords are still in the copy. So, yeah, it’s basically the safety of cultural differences that is keeping me employed right now. However, I do not put it past most larger companies to sacrifice quality for quantity – especially if it means saving money.

  2. You have great incentive to follow Dicks’ ways to show your bosses how you add value (on p. 61) and the cost reduction value-added can be a creative challenge! To tap into Jessa’s question, I see the value in cultural literacy, and how that is important. What I got to thinking about, is whether we’ll move toward a variation of digital literacy, or perhaps internet literacy, much like English is the language of business. For example, I know I cannot understand some Pidgins or Creoles unless I really focus, and the people speak slowly. But once we have exposure to a Creole language, we can understand it. Perhaps English online will make its own path, or continue on its current path of emoticons.

    That being said, I think the user value placed on ease of use and with that cultural literacy, your job is fairly secure.

  3. Jen,

    I couldn’t help but smile when you described your new opportunity with such passion. Despite the monetary compensation being less than desired, feeling passionate in your work can’t be bought at any price. I see you in a unique position to understand global commerce and multicultural relationships and their impact on business. Having a technical writers mindset, after you are exposed to this opportunity, you will be able to process and share it in a clear and concise manner making it beneficial to others and future employers. Personally, I have had business interactions with a group in India that my former company utilized for elementary tasks. If it was possible to quantify the total cost, including fixing their mistakes, it would’ve been cheaper to keep the work on US soil.

  4. I am very curious about your company after reading your post. I don’t want to bombard you with tons of questions, but is your official job title technical writer?

    I searched for “web design companies in Pakistan”, and then clicked the first link. There are quite a few grammatical errors, but this one is my favorite: “We ensure quality work, dependable support and off course very attractive pricing for all kinds of IT services.”

    • My official job is not technical writer, but the things I am asked to do, I feel fall into the realm of technical writing: writing blog articles describing how to do things with different ecommerce platforms, editing SEO articles, and editing project proposals. My job is rather entry level but the company I’m working for is a startup so I’m excited at the growth possibilities and the ability for me to create my own role within the company instead of trying to adapt and fill one that was given to me.

  5. natashajmceachin

    This is so scary and insane! I have been applying for technical writing positions for almost a year now with hardly any luck, and it’s interesting to know perhaps the job I could have gotten has been outsourced. Thank you for sharing this with us!

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