The OldTraining Trick

Haven’t posted for a while, though I do have some news events to comment on. I’ve been saving up various pieces here and there. But this one I feel compelled to post now.

Over the years, the tech industry lobbyists have found that one magic incantation fools everyone into ignoring the problems of the H-1B work visa: training.

Many of you no doubt are aware of Joe Biden’s call for teaching unemployed coal miners to code. It’s almost a “Let them eat cake” kind of attitude, not because it’s far fetched in terms of the capability of the lesser-educated to become coders — coding just requires good common sense, clear thinking, and a love of solving puzzles — but because it’s absurd to say many tech firms would deign to hire more than a token number of these “coalgrammers.”

Now we have Google offering online courses in Python coding, to fill an alleged shortage of Pythonistas. The courses will be offered at community colleges. This is exactly the grand plan that Congress hatched in 1998 to excuse doubling the H-1B cap. The idea was, hire H-1Bs now but train Americans so that H-1Bs will no longer be needed. A few years later, one of the IT trade magazines ran a major piece showing that this just didn’t work — complete with a quote from Sun Micro (major player at the time, later acquired by Oracle) that “We never intended this program to supply us with the workers we need.” The Commerce Dept. (GW Bush administration) then shut down the program. Talk about deja vu.

Google is working with Ivanka Trump on this, and there was an illuminating related interview of her dad by Laura Ingraham recently. Trump seems to really believe H-1B is no problem, because we “need” the foreign students for our tech industry, and important in the present context, because he’s going to create so many tech jobs that there will be plenty of jobs to go around.

This too is deja vu for me. Some years ago I was asked to speak to a top aide of a certain California senator, and that’s exactly what he told me too; in the next few years, there would be so many tech jobs created by the mobile app boom that no techie would have trouble finding work. Of course, it didn’t work that way.

The retraining program created in the 1998 act was in large part in response to the fact, pointed out by me and others, that many older programmers and engineers were having trouble finding work, in spite of the tech boom then in progress. The idea was to provide coursework that would enable the “elderly” (age 35+) to learn new programming languages and the like. But any good techie is quite capable of learning on his/her own, and much more important, the industry wouldn’t want to hire them anyway, even with retraining, as they are too expensive.

That is the real driver behind the “shortage” claims — younger labor is cheaper (and young foreign labor even cheaper).

And similarly, the industry’s claim that “Only the young new graduates have the latest skills” is obviously phony. Who taught those young new graduates those skills? It was old guys like me. 🙂

And finally, once again: If the Americans are the ones who need the training, why are they being forced to train their H-1B replacements, who are hired ostensibly because the H-1Bs, not the Americans, are the ones with the needed skill sets.