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Lessons from Training Camp Genghis Khan
January 1, 2007 11:14 PM   Subscribe

A mere 800 years ago, the Mongol Empire was a lot bigger than you might imagine. Now a different Empire unites a lot of different states, and it's not working out to everyone's benefit. To elaborate, America is rich, we are poor. It’s not fair, they have to share. This is the first among many lessons from Training Camp Genghis Khan, a school for "rookie offshore programmers."

Lesson five: Never say “I do not know”. Accept all assignments – one of two things will happen – either you’ll figure out how to complete the assignment, or it’ll get cancelled. Indeed.
posted by cloudscratcher (27 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
I should add that a) I've no idea whether that's accurate reportage and b) it's not so far away from some experiences with developers here in the US. The problems belong to a free market, not Mongolia.
posted by cloudscratcher at 11:17 PM on January 1, 2007


Some problems with your numbers: The Mongol Empire was actually about the size of Mongolia 800 years ago - Genghis Khan's first conquests were against Western Xia in 1207, it only got huge later in the century. Also it seems that there were exactly 10 lessons from Training Camp Genghis Khan, not so much with the many.
posted by blahblahblah at 11:21 PM on January 1, 2007


...but still interesting, despite my nitpicking.
posted by blahblahblah at 11:24 PM on January 1, 2007


these are same rules for make benefit intrepid programmers of glorious america!
posted by bruce at 11:28 PM on January 1, 2007


Yakov Fain made this comment,
...The only positive experience with outsourcing I had so far was when we were working with bright individuals from overseas and closely managed them.


Their IM icon displayed "Available for Chat" day AND night.
posted by hal9k at 12:07 AM on January 2, 2007


I highly recommend Genghis Khan: And the making of the modern world. It highlights the many innovations the Mongols developed, including postal service, weaponary, representative government and religious freedom, all in a tightly written easily read ~300 page history.

It's one of the best books I read this last year.
posted by Berkun at 12:18 AM on January 2, 2007


This is horrible, horrible advice for any programmer, unless you're so inept that your only option is to run out the clock on every project. It's jokers like these that give offshore and onshore programmers a bad name.

As an alternative, let me offer this suggestion--find out what the real problem is and solve the hell out of it.
posted by Nahum Tate at 12:36 AM on January 2, 2007


Nahum, it is well known that outsourcing brings with it the inherent risk that interests of the outsourcing partner and the client do not coincide. This is something to be adressed at the strategic and legal level.

In other words; if your outsourcing company plays these tricks you'd better be sure that you have a credible alternative in switching to another outsourcing provider or have legal fines in place. Or decide not to outsource if the extra cost does not outweigh the benefit.
posted by jouke at 2:29 AM on January 2, 2007


I'll admit I routinely do the following with my overseas (non-US) colleagues:
7. Use time difference to your advantage. For example, if you want to send an email asking for some clarifications, do not send it in the moring, because you may get an immediate answer. Do it in the evening (your time zone), before leaving the office – you’ll get the answer only next day.
Then again, I suppose I do that only when I am asked for clarifications. When I ask for clarifications, it's usually by Google Talk.
posted by the cydonian at 3:07 AM on January 2, 2007


find out what the real problem is and solve the hell out of it.

What , you are suggesting they start their own company and get rid of profiteers ? Uhm you may be right, but is a tad expensive and difficult.

Meanwhile, overstressing themselves and overproducing is not likely to be met by any a proportional wage increase, because that would make the next poorer country more profiteable !
posted by elpapacito at 3:09 AM on January 2, 2007


This video is also second only to crack
posted by elpapacito at 4:09 AM on January 2, 2007


I'll second Berkun's recommendation. It's quite a good read.
posted by bashos_frog at 5:55 AM on January 2, 2007


In the beginning, their manager will try to scare you by promising that he’ll check up on the status of your assignments daily. Do not be afraid – a status report is just a formality, and they’ll take whatever you write.

True, true and true. The only offshore work I've seen where there clients were satisfied were those in which someone competent was sent overseas as a lead for the team. The end results? All the usual pitfalls and hangups you get from a dev team, but at 1/3 the price of doing it in house.
posted by furtive at 6:05 AM on January 2, 2007


It highlights the many innovations the Mongols developed, including postal service, weaponary, representative government and religious freedom, all in a tightly written easily read ~300 page history.

Yeah, sure, the Mongols had religious freedom. Everyone had the right to be massacred, no matter what religion they followed, and Chinggis Khan accepted the longevity prayers of all manner of clergy.

And representative government, lol. He means they occasionally included select non-Mongols into the undemocratic imperial power structure, right?
posted by thirteenkiller at 6:58 AM on January 2, 2007


Again recomending Berkun'book suggestion.

I love the image of Genghis sleeping in a tent next to his 10 story pile of gold. And his kids partying for 10 years on that pile of gold once he died, before picking up the conquest thing again.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:22 AM on January 2, 2007


Never say “I do not know”. Accept all assignments – one of two things will happen – either you’ll figure out how to complete the assignment, or it’ll get cancelled.

And people wonder why outsource code is almost always total crap.
posted by Afroblanco at 7:48 AM on January 2, 2007


And people wonder why outsource code is almost always total crap.

Now we just need to figure out why non-outsourced code is crap too.
posted by chunking express at 8:38 AM on January 2, 2007


You know, in 50 years, we're going to look at this whole outsourcing / offshoring craze with a mixture of horror and humor. There's just no justification in any rational sense. The practice is pretty provably destructive in all but the most limited applications, and just about the only thing that it ACTUALLY accomplishes is allowing different departments to push THEIR operating costs onto another department.

For example: the development department sends all their programming overseas. This allows them to cut their budget by a third and look like gold to management. All of these managers get promotions. In the meantime, a year down the line, when the product is released with more bugs in it than a rotted tree, tech support gets slammed and sees their costs skyrocket.

But, in all likelihood, tech support just gets punished for not keeping costs under control rather than anyone bothering to hunt down the actual source of the problem.

And so, in our hypothetical scenario, what's tech support's best option? That's right... OUTSOURCING. And another year down the line, when sales are slumping because no one will buy their crappy, badly written, badly supported product, the CEO who should have seen all of this in the first place will blame a market downturn (since, after all, he kept costs SO LOW and Wall Street just loved him) and happily jump out of the spiraling plane with his $50 Million Dollar Parachute.
posted by InnocentBystander at 8:54 AM on January 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


A Wikipedia map and a blog post?
posted by dhartung at 9:56 AM on January 2, 2007


This really bummed me out; I just finished Imperial Grunts which gave a lot of credit to Mongolians and portrayed them very favorably.

America is rich | Yes we are.
we are poor | OK, thanks for the info.
It’s not fair | Sure isn't.
they have to share. | No we don't.
posted by Science! at 11:08 AM on January 2, 2007


Never say “I do not know”. Accept all assignments – one of two things will happen – either you’ll figure out how to complete the assignment, or it’ll get cancelled.

And people wonder why outsource code is almost always total crap.


Ehhh -- I was about to comment on how I've pretty much followed my programming career by this creed. In fact, it's closely related to the Hacker ethic -- in so much that I can't really tell you how or why I know how to program in LISP and FORTRAN and the like, but give me a few days, and I'll get your project done.

The only problem I've ever had dealing with outsourced code is that it consistently ignores formatting conventions. Most of my time refitting such code is simply formatting the braces and tabs correctly, and then adding in some inline commentary. The logic itself doesn't appear to be deficient based on the part of the world that generated it.
posted by thanotopsis at 11:41 AM on January 2, 2007


Never say “I do not know”. Accept all assignments – one of two things will happen – either you’ll figure out how to complete the assignment, or it’ll get cancelled.

That's what absolutely everybody does - mongol or not.
posted by Artw at 1:01 PM on January 2, 2007


Artw writes "Never say “I do not know”. Accept all assignments – one of two things will happen – either you’ll figure out how to complete the assignment, or it’ll get cancelled.

"That's what absolutely everybody does - mongol or not."


Bullshit. I'm a professional programer. I say "I don't know" all the time.

Often it's followed up by "but I know something related or analogous", but when you don't know, you say you don't know and either ask what you need to do to learn what you need to learn, or you refer the client to a specialist.

My mom's a doctor. Outside her speciality, she says "I don't know, ask someone who specializes in that" if she doesn't know. My aunt's a lawyer. Outside of her specialties, she says "I don't know, ask a (whatever speciality) lawyer, as do all the lawyers I know.

That's what professionals do. Anything else is being a bullshit artist, not a professional.
posted by orthogonality at 1:50 PM on January 2, 2007


Wow. Foamy was used as a positive example of how someone should do their job.
posted by nyxxxx at 2:07 PM on January 2, 2007


If outsourcing didn't work, people wouldn't be doing it. Yes, I'm sure there are some "Horror stories" But wages for programmers in India are rising so fast that they'll soon reach parity with the U.S. That's not happening because it never works out.
posted by delmoi at 3:35 PM on January 2, 2007


Sadly hilarious post cloudscratcher. Got some good laughs from the awful cartoon/vid on point 10.
posted by nickyskye at 6:12 PM on January 2, 2007


Surprisingly, Training Camp Genghis Khan has skipped a prime strategy of its patron which would seem to have considerable potential for motivating even us moderns-- killing all the men and systematically raping the women:

Documents written during or just after Khan's reign say that after a conquest, looting, pillaging, and rape were the spoils of war for all soldiers, but that Khan got first pick of the beautiful women. His grandson, Kubilai Khan, who established the Yuan Dynasty in China, had 22 legitimate sons, and was reported to have added 30 virgins to his harem each year.

Don't you want your 14 million direct descendants, too?
posted by jamjam at 9:25 AM on January 3, 2007


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