Carly Fiorina, HP, Foreign Labor and All That

An alert reader pointed me to an appearance by Professor Ron Hira on the Laura Ingraham radio show yesterday. Ingraham had asked him to respond to remarks presidential candidate and former HP CEO Carly Fiorina had made on the show on September 23, where Fiorina had said “Shame on them” when Ingraham brought up Disney and SCE’s replacement of American ITers by H-1Bs. Yesterday Ingraham wondered whether Fiorina had been a bit hypocritical, and Hira’s answer was a likely Yes.

Ron’s explanations were excellent as usual, very insightful. The gist of what he said was that not only had HP embraced hiring H-1Bs and offshoring tech work during Fiorina’s tenure as CEO, the firm actually had earlier been in the vanguard of the use of foreign tech labor. Indeed, I would add that HP was the focus of a 60 Minutes expose’ of H-1B back in 1993; see for example the section titled “Media Reports of Abuse” in a House report in 2000.

So, is Fiorina a hypocrite? I will argue here that she is not. Instead, I would point to her remarks as yet another instance of the harmful emphasis on the word replace these days (as in “replacing Americans by H-1Bs) in discussions of foreign tech workers.

I might be a little biased here, as I was quite impressed with Fiorina during the recent Republican debate. I’m a Democrat myself, but I felt that among all those on the panel, she was by far the most intelligent, knowledgeable and sincere. But I would suggest that the distorting effect of the H-1B debate’s focus on the Disney and SCE cases these days may absolve Fiorina of guilt in her remarks on the show.

I harp on this issue so much that I hardly need review it, but for completeness, here is a summary. The Disney and SCE cases make for good press for critics of H-1B, due to the dramatic nature of H-1Bs being used to replace Americans. The mainstream tech firms such as HP don’t generally engage in direct replacement like this, hence the perception that the Intels are the Good Guys while the Infosyses (one of the major  brokers of replacement actions) are the Bad Guys. But the fact is that the mainstream firms are just as culpable, as the hire H-1Bs instead of Americans, rather than to replace Americans. Either way, Americans don’t have those jobs, so it shouldn’t matter, but unfortunately, the hire-instead-of actions just aren’t visible. The vocal H-1B opponent Virgil Bierschwale, a victim of instead-of rather than the replaced-by, is a case in point, and is quite typical, based on my 20+ years of watching this issue,

I don’t mean that Fiorina was playing word games here, sneakily exploiting the specific term replace. On the contrary, I think she sincerely believes that HP’s hiring of H-1Bs, mainly foreign students at U.S. universities, was a legitimate remedy to a shortage of Master’s degree-level (not PhDs, by the way) American engineers. Actually, there was and is no shortage, but I can easily see Fiorina, as a CEO far removed from the shop floor, did mistakenly believe it. To her, “Intels good, Infosyses bad” becomes “HPs yes, HCLs no.” And as I sadly pointed out, Donald Trump, for all his bluster on H-1B, turned out to have the same misguided view. (Trump was the target of a classic zinger by Fiorina; see this article, one of the few accounts that correctly explained it.) And if you view me as naive for saying this, note that over the years, whenever I have mentioned HP in the H-1B context, I hear from readers who strongly oppose the H-1B program but  who staunchly defend HP, insisting that the company cleaned up its act after that 1993 60 Minutes piece ran.

My constant mention of the “Intels good, Infosyses bad” misperception sometimes annoys some critics of H-1B, but the perniciious effects of that misperception are everywhere. Take the recent scandal involving hiring of H-1Bs by Wright State University as a backdoor way for a non-university firm to hire foreign workers on the cheap — and without worrying about the H-1B cap. Why did Congress exempt academia from the cap? Well, sir, same answer — the misperception that the H-1Bs hired from U.S. university campuses are the “good” H-1Bs.

I have warned that this thinking will ultimately have very tangible, adverse impacts on American STEM workers: In “reforming” H-1B, Congress will impose a mild punishment on the Infosyses, while actually rewarding the Intels with an INCREASE in the H-1B cap and/or an expanded green card program. The Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) Bill, passed by the Senate in the last Congress, did exactly this.

That bill failed in the House, for a reason we are all aware of: The increase in H-1B was coupled with amnesty for the unauthorized immigrants. That coupling created a deadlock that has continued to this day. Democrats in Congress see those immigrants as, in Jay Leno’s clever line, “undocumented Democrats,” while many Republicans fear the same.

But maybe not anymore, now that House Speaker Boehner has resigned and seems to be slated to be succeeded by Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California’s Central Valley. Today’s newspaper headlines here in the Bay Area present a Speaker McCarthy as “good for California,” but the more likely effect is that he would be good for Latino farmworkers and the white and Japanese growers in his district. McCarthy’s stance on immigration is much more positive than those of many of his fellow GOPers, and he has been quite outspoken about it.

So, we may actually finally see a loosening of the disgraceful logjam that has been the rule on immigration legislation in Congress in recent years. In this scenario, there may be enactment of a scaled-down version of CIR. If so, it is safe bet that its provisions on tech immigration will again focus on clamping down a bit on the Infosyses, while expanding the Intels’ ability to hire foreign workers. Will this be good for U.S. citizens and permanent residents in STEM fields? HCL, no.


14 thoughts on “Carly Fiorina, HP, Foreign Labor and All That

  1. >HCL

    Never heard of them, are they the ones at Edison or Disney?




    Is that the term we’re using?

    This is all hazy, but I think the 1993 incident was not even the first, and HP had been stuffing twenty Indians into one-bedroom apartments for ten years by then and paying them Indian wages which were about a dollar an hour at the time.

    I’m perfectly happy to pin Fiorina with all the sins of HP even if they came twenty years before her time there or afterwards like right now when Meg Whitman has effectively announced laying off 30,000 Americans in order to hire probably 50,000 Indians. Sorry Carly but that’s how it works, until and unless you stand up forthrightly stand up for the voters you want to support you.


  2. Couldn’t agree more with you on Carly or any of the other CEO’s.

    But she will not get my vote just as Romney didn’t get my vote because he made his fortune sending jobs offshore which destroyed no telling how many families.

    I do agree with everything else you have said here, and even on Carly.

    Folks, there are bigger issues here than just the H-1B or the other non immigrant visas that we are being displaced with.

    The easiest way I can explain to you what is happening is using a very large barrel of water to signify the 142 million jobs that we currently have in America.

    This is what is causing all of the resentment, and the Displacement of Americans in America and even older H-1B ‘s and Green Card Holders.

    Perhaps the easiest way to visualize it would be to think of a large barrel that holds 142 million gallons, or jobs.

    And because we are not increasing the size of the container (sending jobs offshore), as we add 1 million gallons of water to it each year, those with fewer credentials (I admit it, I went into the navy rather than college), those who are older and less credentialed are being destroyed even though they have the skills.


    We need to get past this crap and do more to Keep America At Work by hiring Americans in America.

    Simply put, we have more job seekers than we do jobs.

    Yes, I feel for those in India that cannot find jobs because India is not creating jobs in India.

    But I feel more for the Americans in America who have families that are depending on them to bring home the bacon.

    And for now, this is America, and we are Americans.

    And we need to stand up for Americans in America, don’t we?

    After all, our children are depending on us and right now we are letting them down.


  3. HCL, it turns out, is the worse of the worst. Some years ago, I got a copy of the H1-B Database (LCA), and asked it which employer in California pays their H1-Bs the lowest salaries. When the computer said “HCL America”, my immediate reaction was “Who?”

    It turns out that not only was HCL paying a Software Engineer in Sunnyvale $29,000 per year, they also has dozens of people who were getting less than $49,999. Even looking at the entire US dataset, I was unable to find anybody quite as egregious as HCL.

    “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who’s the Crookedest of them All?”



    • If you ever want to do your own analysis of this data, you are looking for the LCA apps spreadsheets on this page (there is a most recent one near the top of the page and multiple years down lower on the page

      I have found that it is easier to convert the spreadsheet to a foxpro / dbase / xbase type system so that it is easier to query the data.

      I have converted multiple years to use for the maps that I have generated on this link that you are welcome to use (I simply have too many irons in the fire with no job to focus on programming at the current moment, but I will give you access if you want it).

      If you want the easiest way to work with the data, you can use openoffice calc to save it as a dbf and from there you can import it into whatever system you are most familiar with.

      Have any questions, email me and I’ll do my best to answer as I’ve been in there numerous times.

      My maps can be found here:

      I also have different views on this page:

      If any developers have the time to expose this data, I could use your help (students too)

      I would like to add some maps showing the actual companies requesting the H-1B’s as I believe that particular map will be very interesting since I don’t think these parasites are nationwide.


  4. Not only is “replace” a problem, and also “instead” a problem, but I perceive a longer cycle process also taking place in terms of offshore outsourcing. Corporations pay big-money consultants like IBM and their peers to offshore whole departments. It takes about 3-5 years to compete the process. When companies find out that it doesn’t work very smoothly (reasons to follow), they decide to “insource” the work gradually. Of course the “insourcing” (relocating the offshore work back to the U.S.) uses the people currently doing the work — people in the offshore location in Singapore, India, Mexico, or wherever.

    The reasons the offshoring doesn’t work as effectively as marketed are as follows:
    1. Handoffs of work-in-process from one “shift” to another of techies cannot be a smooth process, because coding and engineering work is an internal, left-brained process that doesn’t transfer easily from one person to another. The handoff requires explaining the logic being used to implement the solution — thus the handoff takes time and requires significant overlap between the “shifts”.
    2. Global communication by voice is hampered by three issues:
    a. accent differences are troublesome — much worse over telecom than in person
    b. long-distance voice calls suffer from RTD (round trip delay) issues
    c. the trend toward IP-based or webphone telecom to “cut costs” makes (a) and (b) much worse
    3. It’s much harder to hold people accountable when they are invisible and thousands of miles away.

    Not to mention beyond the work issues listed above, security and IP (intellectual property) issues keep popping up as well.

    I’m sure when this offshoring scheme was cooked up, some “stick in the mud” “fuddy-duddy” engineer types warned about these things, but I can tell you from personal experience that once the minds upstairs are made up, the die is cast and the Hindenburg sails toward the iceberg no matter what.


  5. I used to work for Digital, then Compaq. I was there when HP purchased Compaq (it was an acquisition, not a merger). I witnessed Ms Fiorina coming to the Compaq building in Nashua, NH where she told us “the technology in this building is why we bought Compaq.” She was referring to the Operating System work we had done there in Clustering, File Systems, Kernel Development, and the TCP/IP stack. I sure there was more.

    18 months later, a VP came in, and essentially told us that there would be massive layoffs of the former Compaq engineers. HP stopped trying to integrate the Clustering and file system technologies into HP-UX and instead embraced the Veritas file system. The whole acquisition had been for nothing.

    As best I could tell, the failure came from the top – Ms Fiorina failed to get at least the acquiescence, if not the total embrace, of the management over the HP-UX operating system to one of the main purposes of the acquisition. The person over HP-UX development at the time was Xuan Bui (spelling could be wrong.) The HP-UX management just ran out the clock and declared defeat, rather than integrating the Tru64 and VMS engineers into their group, or taking the technology. They even ditched the portable TCP/IP stack that already had IPv6 working. It was sickening – thousands of people lost their jobs.

    And still today, no computer clustering solution beyond VMSclusters or TruCluster exists.

    That is why I will never vote for Ms.Fiorina in the primaries.


  6. Professor Matloff

    If Fortune 500 companies like Intel, State Farm, USAA, Google etc. are going to use the H1B visa like HCL, Tata, and Infosys, then what is the point of trying to fix the current H1B visa laws? What fix, that would be favorable to U.S. Citizens, could there possibly be that would actually pass Congress?

    I would favor abolishing the H1B visa. I also would be in favor of changing the law so H1B visa holders have to be paid at the highest prevailing wage level. This would ensure that the H1B visa holders are not being brought over just because they are cheap.

    Sadly a whole industry will be turned over to foreigners if something is not done soon. What work will be left in the United States?


  7. It’ll be poetic justice as baby-boomers retire, as fertility rates have been declining worldwide for decades.

    Regardless, I’ve been working on my next career for years (not in IT).


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