Ethnocentrism Alive and Well in Australia’s IT Sector

    What’s more harmful than one country’s shortsighted, misguided, injudicious IT company? How about another country’s shortsighted, misguided, injudicious IT sector?

    The company I’m referring to is Infosys, the Indian IT services outsourcing giant whose visa and tax-related activities in the United States are the subject of an intense, multi-agency criminal investigation by U.S. government authorities. The IT sector I’m referring to is the one in Australia, and it appears to have elements that are every bit as ethnocentric as some elements in the IT sector here.

    According to a Nov. 2 story in Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald, Infosys is offering an internship program under which five students and recent graduates from two Australian universities have been invited to spend eight weeks living and working on-campus at Infosys in India. Beginning in January, the interns will be able to work alongside mentors in the company’s R&D labs, and Infosys is footing the bill. So what’s not to love, right?

    Wrong. It turns out a lot of people in Australia aren’t loving it at all. In fact, they’re having an absolute fit, and the overreaction is mind-boggling.

    Mitchell Harper, founder of Sydney-based startup Bigcommerce, called the program a “kick in the teeth” for local companies. He said the Australian government needs to act fast to “stop the brain drain of young talent heading offshore.”

    Really, Mitchell? Five young people get the opportunity to work in a different country for eight weeks, and you’re all up in arms about a brain drain? Is the communal brain down there so tiny that losing five kids for a couple of months is going to have that much of a negative impact?

    It should also be noted that the Sydney Morning Herald went a little over the top with the headline of the story: “First we offshored work, now graduates.”

    Seriously? Five kids spending eight weeks in India constitutes the offshoring of graduates?

    Fortunately, there is a voice of reason Down Under. The article cited a spokesman for the Australian Computer Society, who pointed out that IT is a global industry, and that giving graduates opportunities to gain an international perspective would strengthen their employment prospects in Australia.

    Why is that so difficult to comprehend? No one is suggesting that Australian companies shouldn’t offer similar opportunities to young people. Why should those young people be prohibited or discouraged from seeking such an opportunity abroad? Yes, they would have the chance to pursue employment in India, but why on earth is that perceived as a bad thing? There are plenty of Indian IT workers in Australia, so there’s certainly much more of a brain gain than a brain drain going on.

    I’m no fan of Infosys, because I’ve seen first-hand way too much evidence of widespread, institutionalized visa and tax fraud that has been carried out by the company, not to mention its horrific treatment of Jay Palmer, the employee who had the guts to blow the whistle on that shameless activity.

    But I’m even less of a fan of ethnocentrism. The outcry against a handful of young people getting exposure to life and work in a different country is just plain sad. And the “brain-drain” fear-mongering is downright distasteful.

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