Joe Green of Fwd.us Has a Relapse of His Foot-in-Mouth Disease

Joe Green is President of Fwd.us, a group founded by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg to advocate for relief to unauthorized immigrants, and expansion of the H-1B work visa and employer-sponsored green card programs.  Green was a friend of  Zuckerberg at Harvard.

Some of you may be surprised to know that I first heard of Green when he was a senior in high school.  A TV documentary ran at the time on how difficult it was for kids to get admitted to top colleges, and Green was one of those profiled.  I mention this as full disclosure, as I recall that I found the kids’ attitudes to be very cynical, more interested in prestige than in a desire to learn.  I’m saying, in other words, that this has prejudiced me against him somewhat.

Yet even without that, Green’s famous gaffe in Fwd.us advocating that the tech industry muscle its way around DC, would have been enough to set up a permanent red flag in my mind:

We control massive distribution channels, both as companies and individuals…We have individuals with a lot of money. If deployed properly this can have huge influence in the current campaign finance environment…

Green later issued an apology, but now he’s said something much worse, if more subtle.  Asked why the tech industry wants to hire more foreign workers at a time when Microsoft, Cisco, HP, Intel, IBM and so on are laying off Americans, Green explained that the foreign workers are better than the Americans.  I’ll come back to this issue of worker quality shortly, but the salient point is that Green is admitting that the industry is firing U.S. citizens and permanent residents, and replacing them by H-1Bs.

Other than the special subcategory called H-1B Dependent Employers, it is perfectly legal to replace American workers by H-1Bs (and for that matter, to hire the H-1Bs in lieu of Americans in the first place).  But this was a highly, highly impolitic statement for Green to make, as it completely undermines the industry’s claim that it hires the H-1Bs only as a last resort, when no qualified Americans can be found for the jobs.  In this case, the Americans were qualified by definition, as they had in fact been doing the jobs before the layoffs.

Indeed, if an actual tech CEO, say Zuckerberg, had made such a statement, he might encounter problems getting his/her foreign workers green cards, as the latter do require the employer to show that no qualified Americans could be found for the jobs.

Now, what about that issue of quality that Green brought up?  His statement, “The difference between someone who’s truly great and just sort of okay is really huge,” is definitely correct.  I’ve often said the same thing, and once again must interject that I strongly support facilitating the immigration of “the best and the brightest” from around the world..  But is his claim, that weaker Americans are being replaced by stronger H-1Bs, really true?  Even one of the interviewers asked Green, “Are you saying that all of the [Americans] who are laid off are not talented and all the people from these other countries are valued employees?”  Green, realizing how unreasonable his remark sounded (and was), didn’t really answer, but since he did say it, let’s take a look.

I’ve mentioned my EPI paper before, which is on this very topic, specifically the quality of the former CS and EE foreign students who are now in the U.S. tech workforce.  Note that this is the group highlighted by the industry lobbyists as being of special interest to them, and in fact Green mentioned them.  In the CS case, the former foreign students turned out to have lower per-capita patenting rates, attended less selective universities, and were less likely to work in R&D, all compared to U.S. natives.  For EE, the former foreign students were on par with the American natives on the first criterion, no data was analyzed on the second, and the EE former foreign students were weaker than the Americans on the last one.   All of this is counter to Green’s claim.

But there’s more.  I submit that the industry actually is not that obsessed with having quality engineers.  Their first priority is to have cheap, immobile workers, where I remind you that here “cheap” implies young, in addition to often implying foreign. Yes, quality matters a lot–but only after the hiring pool has been narrowed by the filters of cheapness and immobility.  (I’ve cited other factors now and then, including convenience of hiring, meaning being able to pick up the workers one wants at university campuses rather than casting a wide net.)

Here’s a personal example.  Some years ago I gave a talk in a public debate on H-1B, and after the talk a man came up to me, introducing himself as the CEO of a Silicon Valley firm.  He said, “You’re wrong about our hiring H-1Bs as cheap labor.  There really is a tech labor shortage, and my company is having real trouble finding software engineers.”  I replied, “Well, my wife is a software engineer.  I’ll have her apply for a position in your company, and we’ll see what happens.  Her surname is different from mine, so you won’t know it’s her.”  He immediately backtracked, protesting, “No, that’s not fair, she’s probably making too much money!”  Indeed. Clearly this CEO had cheap labor as his first priority; quality didn’t even enter into the conversation.

I’ve seen this happen countless times.  In a recent posting, for instance, I described my encounter with a Dropbox VP:

A few months ago I was invited to participate in an industry panel whose featured speaker was a Dropbox Vice President. Actually, an over-35 friend of mine had just applied to Dropbox the week before — and had been summarily rejected the next day, with the firm not even bothering with a phone interview. My friend has a Harvard degree, 20 years of software development experience, and most important, specific modern skills that Dropbox wants. When I mentioned this, the Dropbox VP, who is in charge of recruiting, admitted that he doesn’t have time to even glance at the tons of CVs his firm receives.

Clearly Dropbox’s summary rejection of my friend shows that quality isn’t Dropbox’s priority filter either.  Instead, he too was perceived as “making too much money.”   And remember, Dropbox was one of the major founders of Fwd.us.

And that makes for a bit of irony.  My friend was a top math student at Harvard.  So here we have Green, whose struggles with high school math made him worry that he wouldn’t get into Harvard, is now, a dozen years later, defending a company that automatically rejected the former Harvard math star for a job.

Again, the second irony is that Green’s comment about engineer quality being so important was correct.  That’s why the industry’s hiring policy, to filter on cheapness/youth first and then apply the quality criterion on those who remain is penny wise, pound foolish.

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14 thoughts on “Joe Green of Fwd.us Has a Relapse of His Foot-in-Mouth Disease

  1. It doesn’t matter on qualifications because I’ve seen Indians fake-up qualifications. OR, they get a huge contract that allows them to come in and just replace people on projects with whoever they desire…which is often high school kids.

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  2. US citizens should be considered for domestic US jobs and I don’t care how smart Mr. Best .R Brightest from India is, I live here he doesn’t. If Norm’s wife fails to ‘qualify’ the hypocritical hiring criteria at Silicon XXX then I’ll offer Mr. CPO my resume next.

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  3. I posted this to the NY Times sometime back on the subject of the quality of foreign H1-Bs. It relates even more directly to Norm’s earlier ‘Where are they now’ post.

    The Times has been running news stories for decades on the foreign high tech workers here, always emphasizing the best educated from the best schools, and the most successful. At least this is labeled an editorial. Earlier articles emphasized the Indian Institutes of Technology, and seemed to imply that many of the software workers here educated in India were from them. They are fine schools but I believe less than 5% of Indian software people came from them, and the average Indian universities that most graduated from are quite dismal. The Times articles were practically an advertisement for hiring H1-Bs, and they are influential. China is seldom mentioned since someone might question the wisdom of helping our potential enemies.

    You need to do one story on Americans fired from their jobs and replaced by H1-Bs, the Americans forced to train their replacements to get their severance package. Do some personal stories on them, there are hundreds of thousands of them. I find that intelligent Americans outside the high tech industry don’t even realize that Americans are fired and replaced by H1-Bs, such is the reporting in MSM.

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    • If an employer has an applicant from one of the IITs, the employer should immediately follow up with an interview, as the quality is high, and by the way, the level of English and overall verbal ability exceeds that of most U.S. natives. HOWEVER, in my long experience teaching IIT grads, and interacting with them in research conferences, they are comparable to those who graduated with a high rank at a UC school; they are fine engineers, but generally not extraordinary.

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      • One of the gushier NY Times’ stories on H1-B and IITs quoted an IIT graduate, with apparent author approval, saying ‘They are tougher than MIT.’ I said to myself: ‘I think you’re a few Nobels short of playing in that league.’ However ‘tough’ they might be, there’s still the issue of more authoritarian schools in Asia, leading to more emphasis on rote memorization of ‘correct’ solutions, as defined by the teacher-authority, which you alluded to in your ‘Tiger Mom’ critique.

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  4. The curriculum, textbooks used and so on at the IITs used to be quite pedestrian. It may be better now, but I’m sure it’s not like MIT. According to a survey conducted by a Stanford organization of CS students at IIT, Cambridge and (of course) Stanford, the Cambridge and Stanford students said that they could barely keep up, while the IIT ones had a lot of free time (incudlng, interestingly, a lot of time spent calling family back home).

    Keep in mind that the IITs hired a PR firm in the U.S., with the project being named Brand IIT.

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  5. I always enjoy it when people that were born on third base tell me how much they know about hitting triples.
    Mark Zuckerburg wouldn’t know about technical prowess or innovation if it came up and bit him and his entire company of third-world sycophants right square on the stock options.
    I don’t think that a company known for ‘creating’ a prettier BBS should be telling anyone what to do with anything let alone immigration policy.
    Its kind of like Bill Gates asking for unlimited visas and then laying 18,000 people off. It doesn’t make much sense unless you have spent a long time living in a delusional world as anyone who thinks guest workers and visas were ever good for this country has been.

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