Stop the IT brain drain, demands Intel CEO

Intel chief executive officer Craig Barrett had harsh words for corporate IT professionals attending Gartner's IT Expo this week,...

Intel chief executive officer Craig Barrett had harsh words for corporate IT professionals attending Gartner's IT Expo this week, warning them that their companies risk falling behind global competitors if they continue to shrink IT spending and if IT jobs continue to migrate overseas.

Barrett also condemned the state of California's political system as "antibusiness", and blamed US education system for a shortage of computer scientists.

He said California's political crisis is the result of years of antibusiness legislation, adding that his company has more US employees outside California than it does in the state.

When asked about future investments in California, Barrett replied,  "There's not much incentive at this time." While Barrett said he did not expect governor-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger to repeat those policies, he would not say whether the change in leadership would affect Intel's view of the California business climate.

Barrett's assessment of public education was equally blunt.

"The K-12 system in the US does an excellent job of weeding out anyone who's interested in science," he said to scattered applause. Barrett also criticised public education's seniority-based system. "Meritocracy should rule, not seniority," he said.

He also dismissed the idea that bringing more technology into schools will solve the problem. "If technology was a solution to the education problem, we'd [already] be far ahead," he said. The end result of the existing educational system is a shortage of US talent and a situation where half of all advanced degrees are awarded to foreign nationals.

US-funded colleges pay to educate them, he said, "and then we send them home and the jobs follow them". To reverse the brain drain, Barrett said the US should "staple a green card to every diploma. [That] would do wonders for the US economy".

While he said the ratio of domestic Intel employees has remained constant at 60% during the past decade, increasing competition from US-trained IT professionals in Russia, China and India and the "dwindling number of IT graduates in the US" could change that.

"There is huge competition coming for jobs," he said, noting that those three countries could produce between 250 million and 500 million knowledge workers.

Barrett said that while European and Asian companies continue to spend on IT, "the US enterprise market is the weakest we see today".

While Intel has seen "a bit of strength" in the market after two and a half years of flat sales, US global competitiveness will suffer if enterprises wait much longer, he warned.

"The US is still the most powerful economy in the world," he told the audience. "If you want to maintain that, you have to continue to invest. The world is the economic play space."

Robert L Mitchell writes for Computerworld

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