Virtual enclaves: the influence of alumni email lists on the workspaces of transnational software engineers



At the turn of the twentieth century, ethnic enclaves helped immigrants to find jobs and to adjust to their surroundings. In the twenty-first century, transnational professionals also have other spaces of support: the ‘virtual’ enclaves made possible by new communication tools. Based on interviews with high-tech professionals over the course of an industry boom and downturn, in this article I trace the institutions that affected structures of online help with work. For some engineers from India and Taiwan, alumni ties, maintained by email lists, were important; these transnational workers had an allegiance to their ‘batch’ (university cohort) that the US-born workers lacked. Their far-flung, multi-tiered alumni lists combined the benefits of strong and weak ties: deep commitments and unique information. This study makes a contribution to theorization of immigrant adjustment, social capital and work technologies.