forgot about this one – egypt’s brain drain

Don’t know how I forgot to write about this, but last week, while interviewing at the Cairo Microsoft Innovation Center, we were honored by a visit from Dr. Tarek Kamel, Egypt’s Minister of Communication and Information Technology.  It speaks volumes about the significance of a major corporate presence in Egypt – that a cabinet minister would take the time to mark the occasion of its opening.
We were introduced to him, and the center’s director Tarek Elabbady explained to Dr. Kamel that we were there to recruit students to come to work in the US.  Always ready with an unhelpful comment, I volunteered that the candidates were so strong, we might well exceed our hiring expectations.  Naturally I intended this as a complement to Egypt’s educational system and people.  It’s clear that exporting talent to the US generates mixed feelings for many Egyptians.  Years of economic troubles have fed the brain drain.  The hope is that they will ultimately be able to grow enough opportunity to retain their talent here, and also perhaps to convince some of their ex-pats to move back home, bringing with them years of valuable experience.
I’ve seen sentiments to that effect from a number of folks from outside the US who have worked for me.  People from India and eastern Europe in particular still consider those places home, but see no worthwhile economic opportunity there.  People in the US fear jobs moving overseas to places like this, but if they could understand just how badly these opportunities are needed, they might feel differently.  Speaking from years of interviewing experience, I’d like to see US candidates step things up a bit too – there’s lots of international talent out there who can capably do quite a few of our jobs.  The competition could be very healthy for us.
Of course, I’d probably feel very differently if my job were directly threatened.
One thing Kris and I explored a bit last year was doing a 3 month stint at one of the development centers in China.  They have lots of raw talent, but lack depth of experience in front-line leaadership.  The idea would be that I’d go over and train someone to a job similar to mine.
Going back to the original topic of the post, I also have some mixed feelings about that.  But working internationally would be the experience of a lifetime, wouldn’t it?

2 responses to “forgot about this one – egypt’s brain drain

  • Ashraf

    There have been many Egyptians returning to Egypt after working in the US. They come back with a lot of experience having been in contact with advanced technology as well as business methods and having gained better communication skills. I believe it is a positive thing for everyone. The greates issue most Egyptians face in the US is their being away from their families and friends. That’s perhaps one of the strongest things that lets them want to come back. Another thing is missing their culture, community and way of life in Egypt with all its positives and negatives.

  • paul

    Hi Ashraf,
    Definitely agree that people bringing richer technical experience and cross-cultural experience back to their home countries is positive.  I wouldn’t want to live 7000 miles from my extended family for the long term either.  American companies and coworkers benefit by having them, even if it’s "temporary".  Often their stay is on the order of five to ten years, so they’re able to make significant business impact in that time.  Some choose to stay longer – which ends up being even better for us.
    The cultural benefit we get here is also pretty significant.  America is a big country, and has far too insular a culture on the whole – so any sort of broader international exposure we get from other countries is very positive – person to person. 
    The macro-economic impact of easy bidirectional flow of talent is immense.  When people return to their home countries, there’s great positive economic impact.  These folks help to bolster local infrastructure and schools, and (hopefully) start new companies that drive job growth, etc.
    All we need to do to kick this virtuous cycle into gear is to raise the h1b visa limit to pre-9/11 levels.  We hired a bunch of smart people while we were in Egypt, but it’ll take us nearly a year to get them in the door!  Our xenophonic government here doesn’t seem to understand the broad benefit of making the US a place where smart people with valuable skills can easily come to work.

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