LIke many people, I hear rumors occasionally. The challenge is in determining whether the source and substance of the rumor can be trusted.
If you’re dealing with a familiar source, you’re in a relatively good position to assess the veracity of what you’re being told. When that’s not the case, you’re in uncharted waters, left to navigate without a GPS or a compass — and sometimes without even a paddle. It’s in those cases that you invoke deduction and intuition.
There’s a rumor I’ve been hearing lately about engineering defections at HP’s American operations. I don’t have granularity on the numbers involved, where or in what departments the exodus is occurring, or how widespread the flight might be.
At first, I dismissed the rumor. Given the state of the economy, I wondered, where would these migrating engineers go? Still, at the top of the food chain, somebody always needs a good engineer. The best would find new employers.
But why would it be happening?
Well, under the rule of Carly Fiorina and now Mark Hurd, HP has become less the redoubt of the engineer. Under Fiorina, marketers were ascendant, and under Hurd we’ve witnessed the rise of beancounters and operational technocrats. It’s not the company of the eponymous founders, and the HP Way is as likely to be a street address as a company ethos.
Then, if you’ll remember, there was the recent Glassdoor.com survey, listing the best and worse of technology-industry employers. HP ranked as one of the lowest-rated technology companies for which to work, and Mark Hurd was not viewed favorably by HP employees.
In 2008, Hurd gave a talk bemoaning the deteriorating pool of technical talent in the USA. Said Hurd:
“In this country, we have a problem. The source of this country’s greatness has been its technical talent . . . But you have to go where the tech talent is, and right now the tech talent is in Asia.”
“We often can’t keep [engineers] in the country even after they’ve graduated from U.S. universities like Stanford.”
Hurd said that only 40 percent of HP’s then-40,000 engineers were based in the US. Previously (he did not specify an earlier date), HP employed about two thirds of its engineering staff domestically, according to the HP CEO.
The evidence suggests that HP was having an engineering problem in its home market. In his 2008 talk, Hurd rationalized HP’s engineering offshoring. It isn’t a stretch to suppose that HP’s American engineers might wish to seek employment at a company more committed to their job security.
Finally, HP recently announced the acquisition of 3Com, formerly an icon of American computer networking that has remade itself into a Chinese company with an American history. Most of 3Com’s engineering is done in China. When the deal was announced, I wondered whether HPs ProCure engineers might be the ultimate losers.
I don’t have hard data to confirm the rumor about engineers leaving HP. If the rumor were to be confirmed, though, it wouldn’t come as a shock.