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Comment: CEO cheerleading book (Score 3, Insightful) 37

by ErichTheRed (#49783953) Attached to: Red Hat CEO Publishes Open Source Management Memoir

One of the things that bothers me about books like this is how they become primary reference material for MBAs and managers. I've lost count of how many times managers have referenced "Good to Great" or Jack Welch's book to implement very questionable policies. Some guy waxing poetic on what a wonderful job he's done is a lot different from a rigorous study.

One real world example about anecdotal evidence shaping global HR policy is the Google "open floor plan" office trend. Our company is moving from semi-private cubes and offices to a hideous Google-style design. This is for a professional services company where most people require quiet, and are taking phone calls and working on individual/small group projects, not for a software startup. We and countless other companies are doing this simply because Google does it, and has published many articles on how wonderful it is. Evidence is coming out against this (increased sick time, loss of concentration, people hating their co-workers more, etc.) but damnit, if it works for Google it must be right.

Comment: I agree with this somewhat (Score 4, Informative) 179

One big problem with equating CS with "coding" is the fact that low-skill and high-skill jobs get lumped into the same bucket. Same thing in my side (IT) where systems architects and help desk guys get painted with the same brush. If you teach a student to just "code" then all they're going to know is a few web front end tricks and they'll be difficult to train for the next thing. The students coming into the profession now need to have a science background, not just a 9-week coder bootcamp. Remember MCSE bootcamps from the late 90s/early 2000s? We in IT are _still_ working with some of the products of these.

If anyone is serious about fixing the skills problem, the following needs to happen:
- Salaries need to be stabilized at a level that will attract new entrants to the field. No one is going to waste time and money studying something that doesn't pay off later on. Look at all the little private colleges that are going out of business after burning through their endowments. Lots of students know that they can no longer expect a job after graduating studying just any college. (I was one of the last graduation years where that was true.) Unfortunately, college is a trade school now for most people.
- Jobs need to be available. Companies can't cry "skill shortage" while outsourcing their IT department to the lowest bidder or throwing people away when they turn 40. I think a technical career provides a very fulfilling job if you're lucky and choose your employers well. But, if I were faced with a choice of what to study, and saw stagnant wages, mass layoffs, and a career that can end at 40, I would probably pick something else.
- A career progression needs to exist. My career progression was help desk monkey --> desktop support monkey --> data center guy --> system administrator --> the strange hybrid admin/designer/architect/integration combo I do now. Now, it doesn't exist to the same degree. Help desk is in India, desktop support is significantly reduced and the pay is much lower than it was, data center monkey jobs now consist of replacing parts in Google or Amazon or Microsoft data centers, and so on. Where are the next generation of IT people and software developers going to be trained? On the dev side, the QA and maintenance coder jobs are increasingly in India or automated. Getting rid of low level jobs means that new entrants can't grow into the better jobs.

I'm an advocate of taking the different tasks in IT and dev, and splitting them into "technician" and "licensed engineer" tracks. Licensing the top tiers of the job field might mean higher quality of systems and software, fewer major security hacks, etc. The technician track would allow people to grow into these jobs, steadily gaining responsibility and salary over time. The thing we would have to avoid is what lawyers are going through now...the Bar Association threw open the doors to the profession a while back, opened tons of law schools, and allowed the offshoring of routine legal work. Now, look online sometime -- lawyers who spent $250K on school and passed the bar exam can't find work. The only way to make money as a lawyer now is if you manage to graduate at the top of your class at Harvard, Yale or Stanford -- otherwise, don't even bother.

So yes, definitely find ways to keep students interested in STEM -- but don't be shocked if no one signs on for the long haul when they see what's coming at the end...

Comment: Billionaires funding schools = bad (Score 4, Insightful) 230

by ErichTheRed (#49776407) Attached to: Elon Musk Establishes a Grade School

Some people might point to this as a good thing, but I disagree. When rich, influential people begin taking control over key aspects of our society, such as education, even small experiments like this run the risk of being trotted out as the antidote to all those evil government-run schools out there.

Look at political advertising pre- and post- Citizens United decision. Smart people can see though most BS that either side generates. However, the reality is that the masses are definitely swayed by political ads. Now, it's just a matter of who has the most money and can blanket people with their message. A lot of political advertising is "issue advertising" designed not to promote a candidate, but an ideology. Education sounds like a perfect place to get that message in early. (And yes, I'm aware that the conservatives will point out the evil liberal agenda that public schools have...anything that isn't American exceptionalism is an evil liberal plot.)

I'm not saying it would happen, but giving influential people access to educational institutions could just end up creating students in their own image.

Comment: Sysadmin FTW (Score 3, Insightful) 268

by ErichTheRed (#49745753) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Career Advice For an Aging Perl Developer?

I do a strange combination of admin/design/integration work, and one of the reasons I do a decent job is because I can also script and automate stuff. You wouldn't believe how many Windows (and some Linux) admins lack these skills or are very rusty on them. So I'm the admin who can do a little coding -- can you be the coder who can do admin work? I believe the new phrase is DevOps...

I feel your pain and I'm getting older too. The company I work for does industry specific IT work, in an industry with a huge amount of proprietary, barely-transferable knowledge. I've seen people in my group get sucked so far down the proprietary knowledge route that they might as well be in your spot. I've had to really work to keep up to date, and am always trying to rotate my responsibilities around as much as I can to avoid being labelled "The X Guy", where X is some crazy technology that is interesting, but not conducive to employment outside our industry.

One thing I'd recommend is to think twice about management if that's not what you want to do. Most companies try to force good techies into management simply because that's the only promotional path available. However, I've worked for some awful managers who were great techies, and I'm not liking the small amount of management duties that have started creeping into my job description. if you like computers because they're more predictable than people, just wait till your first management job. People are not predictable or easy to deal with unless you have the skills...and it's something you're born with, not something you can acquire.

Comment: This is why IT should be a licensed profession (Score 1) 82

I know very few people agree with me on this one, but this is a perfect example of where professional licensure of at least the design part of IT and SW development could prevent problems. No civil engineer with the PE designation would sign off on a dumb design because they and/or their firm would be personally responsible for faulty work, and companies couldn't pressure people into doing so. Engineering of real world systems involves using proven methods and thoroughly testing anything new or different before it gets anywhere near the real world. IT is famous for "oh well, it compiles, we're done" and "I want to implement this in LangDuJour On Rails because it'll look good on my resume." I'm not saying it will solve all problems, but that would certainly weed out most bad design and many bad practitioners. You would standardize the education requirements, and at least ensure that people who get the license to practice think twice about taking dumb shortcuts. Lots of people would complain, and yes, it would slow the insane pace of new technology introduction, but it's been's time for the profession to grow up.

Licensing would not fix the other part of this problem -- companies not devoting the right amount of resources to IT. IT is almost always considered a cost center, and not understood by anyone in the executive suite (including the CIO.) I don't know this for a fact, but I'll bet that at least some of CareFirst's IT is outsourced to a lowest-bidder contractor -- just because I know companies that aren't IT-centric don't care about what happens in IT. That outsourcing either has their entire infrastructure in a disinterested third party's hands, or a split that's painful enough to make in-house staff think twice about changing something.

Finally, the problem is that companies get away with this all the time. Credit card fraud is completely victimless in the eyes of companies as long as they passed their PCI audit...their insurance company just pays and the banks eat the rest of the losses. Same goes with personal data -- it's always "oops, here's some credit monitoring service for you." Any class action lawsuits end up settled 10 years later for a few dollars per claimant. Until companies get in serious trouble for this, it will continue to happen.

Comment: This happens everywhere (Score 1) 150

I work for a multinational private company and we see the same thing, not just with security breaches.

The reality is, in most labor environments now, why would anyone make an effort to point something out that would get them marginalized or fired? This is especially true in the "outsourcing countries" -- most of the people working in these locations are extremely happy to have stable employment and will do anything they can to protect it. As a result, huge problems are hidden for as long as possible until they really can't be hidden anymore. In the US, that fear is instilled by the scarlet letter of unemployment. Even with an improving economy, I still see unemployed people who can't even get an interview because they have a gap in their employment history. Unemployment in the US equals financial ruin for most people -- your credit will be destroyed once you can't meet your obligations and unemployment insurance doesn't come close to replacing most salaries. And once your credit is messed up, most companies will pass on hiring you anyway because they have 20 people with good credit and clean background checks.

Also, regarding public sector vs. private sector -- I know lots of people who work for our state university system. Even though these positions are technically permanent, there's nothing stopping the internal politics of the system from making your life so miserable that you might as well quit. It's very similar to the way private companies manage people out -- start enforcing rules more stringently, change work assignments to something awful, etc. The public sector just has due process with regards to getting rid of someone. Soon as someone shows up for work 3 minutes late more than X times, they have their excuse, just like a private company does. So yeah, I have no doubt that anyone with a shred of self-preservation instinct would keep their mouth shut about a security problem unless it was directly attributable to them.

Comment: Not all tech-specific, but... (Score 1) 302

Every "tech skill" most people talk about has a very short half-life. Look at how many languages, mobile platforms and frameworks appear every year. Some get picked up, some don't, and some live on in some obscure corner of the world.

Don't focus on "skills" -- focus on "fundamentals." I've had a reasonably good career for almost 20 years now, and falling back on strong fundamentals has always saved me when faced with a new challenge. Anyone can learn how to write code in Python or Ruby -- it takes a solid grounding to transfer that knowledge into different areas.

What fundamentals would I want to teach newbies now?
- Logic and reasoning -- It's fundamental to software, and aids in the troubleshooting process
- Methodical troubleshooting -- I do systems work and I have encountered so many people who troubleshoot using the shotgun method, changing 50 things at once hoping one of them will work.
- Information management -- again, from the systems world, I see lots of people who google error messages, etc. (myself included) and get 20+ ways to solve the same problem. This is one place where instant information access can backfire. Learn to recognize what is relevant and what is not.
- Systems integration -- a catch-all term, but basically "how to gather all the components together and make them work." I have had the opportunity to work on very interesting projects simply because I was willing to get my hands dirty in areas outside of my comfort zone and learn enough about them to be useful.
- Social skills -- I'm not, and will never be, an extroverted salesperson type. However, there's a broad spectrum and you don't want to be on the "asocial nerd" side of it. Fair or not, people who don't at least try to work with others are increasingly marginalized in their careers. Management would much rather offshore some obscure technical skill than deal with someone they find unpleasant. If every interaction with you becomes an argument about who's right, that's a pretty good sign...and I see this time and time again with lots of people I work with (both technical and non-technical.)

On the technical side, I'd love to see a demystification of platforms-in-a-box. The tablet/phone world is a perfect example of abstracting a system so far that you can't see anything it's doing under the hood. There's no more filesystem, data access is handled for you, etc. If you grow up using systems like this, it's hard to come back down into the weeds and see the "magic" that makes all this stuff work end-to-end.

Fundamental stuff like this has been a very good skill set to build on. The rest is all learned as needed, forgotten about, and dusted off later on. For example, I've learned and re-learned Citrix 3 times when I've needed to for a project. I re-learn enough Linux for a project when the need arises (I do Windows stuff for work mostly.) And, I'm currently upgrading years of Windows scripting and automation knowledge by learning PowerShell.

Comment: The problem is choice (Score 1) 608

by ErichTheRed (#49725819) Attached to: The Demographic Future of America's Political Parties

In the US, one of the problems with the system is that there really are only two choices. Even if independents don't feel like they're throwing their votes away, realistically, they are. One of the things I like about European parliamentary systems is that minority parties do have a voice in the system, and the ruling parties have to play nice with them to get anything done. Congress since 2012 has been a mess with both parties digging their heels in, to the point where even the simplest routine business can't get done. And with the unlimited spending by businesses and wealthy individuals now part of the mix, there's no way anyone who doesn't align with one of the 2 parties can ever hope to get anything done.

One of the things I've noticed about the Republican side this election cycle is the effort to replace that older, whiter group of voters mentioned in the summary with Hispanics. It will be very interesting to see what happens. It makes sense; Hispanics are typically very religious and socially conservative, so Republicans probably see that as a way to offset the loss of religious whites. But, how do they square that with their economic policies, which basically boil down to giving business whatever they ask for, and the anti-immigration policies championed by the remaining older whiter crowd? We'll see...

Another demographic that Republicans may be losing is rural working class voters. Whatever political side you end up on, the fact is that available employment for middle/working class people is drying up due to automation and the downward pressure on wages. We in IT see this all the time with the H-1B program and offshoring. Lots of working class Republicans seem to think that if they just work harder, they can become successful, and they don't see that some policies actually hinder their progress, nor do they see that there really is no path to riches when you start at a certain level in society. If enough working class people finally realize this, they might tend to align with Democrats as a lever against the rich/business owners. This, plus the fact that religion is becoming less and less of a draw to people and social issues aren't as big a deal anymore, is the demographic shift they need to worry about.

The thing that does worry me is that younger people will continue to see politics as something they can't influence or participate in, and let the rich in both parties just use the system for their own gain. I tend to be a very left wing, big government type, but I think it would be interesting to see a _credible_ independent third party challenge the system, just to see what a difference it could make. The problem is that political minorities don't have the credibility among most voters. I'm certainly not a Libertarian, nor would i ever vote for a TEA party candidate...but I wouldn't vote for a Communist either. The problem is that in our system, any non-mainstream political view is treated as completely irrelevant. Look at how many times the president has been called a "socialist." If he were a true socialist, we wouldn't have the Affordable Care Act in its current form or the income inequality we have...yet the right wing guys are convinced of this.

Comment: Agile is like ITIL (Score 3, Insightful) 507

by ErichTheRed (#49691007) Attached to: Is Agile Development a Failing Concept?

I do systems engineering work for a professional services/software company. Development is fully Agile with a capital A, whether or not it makes sense for a particular project. On the systems side of the house, we have another particular religion called ITIL which lots of companies have jumped into with both feet. The problem with both of these concepts is that they are adhered to, almost to a comical level, even if it's painfully obvious that parts of it don't fit.

Adhering to all of ITIL, for example, is a really good way to ensure your production systems almost never change. The number of people and sheer volume of paperwork, tickets and meetings to get anything even scheduled for a change in a "true ITIL" system is beyond insane. The same goes for incident management -- we have so many single-task focused "resolver groups" that I have no idea how anyone knows how any of our systems operate end-to-end. ITIL is great for mainframe systems, safety sensitive stuff, and networks which never change.

"True Agile" and "True Waterfall" are opposite ends of the spectrum. Agile gets you very fast development, at the expense of pinning down any sort of architecture in the beginning. Waterfall often results in software you have to throw away because the requirements change out from under you. However, there are some things that require at least some discipline, both in systems and development. No systems guy would ever advocate just logging in and making random changes on a production system to see what happens. No smart developer/architect charged with writing something that underpins tons and tons of other things would advocate swapping out the core components without at least some backward compatibility thrown in. The prpblem is that "gurus" make their money selling management on these methods. In the case of both Agile and ITIL, it's a manager's dream -- everyone becomes a replaceable unit and business requests can get promoted to production in one Sprint.

Comment: Re:Lots of other stuff swirling around Common Core (Score 1) 284

by ErichTheRed (#49682395) Attached to: Bill Gates Still Trying To Buy Some Common Core Testing Love

From what I've seen, especially with math, the terms have changed but the entire way it's presented has also changed. For example, I have always been a poor math student unless what I'm learning can be applied to something real-world -- I have more of an engineer's brain than a mathematician's. All the algebra, trig, etc. that was force-fed into my brain in high school only started making sense when I started struggling through my college chemistry curriculum and finding out that it was actually useful for something.

My memories of elementary school math consist of endless repetition of arithmetic facts and simply memorizing procedures for things like solving ratio problems, working with fractions, etc. And every high school graduate instinctively remembers "x = (-b +/- sqrt(b^2 - 4ac))/2a" whether or not it made any sense at the time. It seems like the new curriculum acknowledges that computers exist and focuses more on developing the reasoning/estimating skills than the old-school math we were taught. I think parents are really confused by this.

Comment: Lots of other stuff swirling around Common Core (Score 4, Insightful) 284

by ErichTheRed (#49681725) Attached to: Bill Gates Still Trying To Buy Some Common Core Testing Love

My state (New York) which had semi-decent education standards to begin with, recently switched to the Common Core curriculum and it's really stirring up a mess. Partially, it's the mandatory testing that parents are opting their children out of, but it's also being tied to a bunch of other things. For example, teachers now have to deal with the same BS performance evaluations that corporate employees do, and a huge chunk of their rating is based on these test scores. They were evaluated in the past, but it was understood that there was no objective way to evaluate teacher performance with variable student performance. Now, new teachers will lose their jobs if their classes don't do well on these tests, with no regard for whether the teacher has a bunch of losers or geniuses in their class. I'm not a teacher, but I'm definitely on the teachers' side in this case. I would hate to spend the time to get a teacher certification (not impossible, but harder in NY than many states) and have my job be at risk due to factors I can't control. For example, most new teachers can't get jobs in the nice affluent school districts because there are tons more qualified applicants who want to work there, so they usually have to start off teaching in a crappy school district. Crappy districts tend to have kids who have crappy parents. (And yes, affluent districts have helicopter parents that make teachers' lives miserable, but that's another story.) If you have a class full of students who have bad home lives, parents who don't care, or have been socially promoted for years, they're going to do badly on these standardized tests and your performance rate will suffer through no fault of your own.

The other thing I've seen is that the material used to teach the common core curriculum is really different from stuff we saw in earlier times. I think that's another big thing -- parents feel they can't help their kids with homework. However, it's the material, not the curriculum itself. Blame the educational publishers for that, not the standards.

One thing I definitely don't agree with Bill Gates on is his love of charter schools. These just suck more money away from the public system and funnel it into corporate interests' pockets, making the public system weaker. What Gates or anyone doesn't understand is that education won't improve until it's valued by everyone. The reason China, India, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, etc. are ahead of us in test performance isn't the curriculum -- they push their students like crazy from both directions (teachers and parents.) Kids in these countries spend many more hours in school than US kids, and have information drilled into their heads. That's what needs to happen if we want to compete with these countries in the future. In the case of India and China, school performance is basically some kids' only ticket to a better life given the population and structure of society. Things might be a little different if students in the US who didn't excel in school were permanently doomed to a life of poverty...I think the parents might care a little more.

Comment: This figure must include high end consultants (Score 1) 85

by ErichTheRed (#49666785) Attached to: The Best-Paying IT Security Jobs of 2015

My experience, having worked with security "consultants" in the past, is that many of them are of the same stripe as the management consultants from Accenture, KPMG, etc. and just fly around the country giving PowerPoint presentations to scared executives trying to sell them a packaged appliance/solution. If these guys are part of the survey, I can easily see $200K+ -- their firm is billing them out at at least twice that. I know lots of young grads with zero or little experience routinely get jobs with the big consulting firms if they went to the right school, and are immediately put into service at large companies in positions of relatively high authority for their actual skill level. As long as they don't mind traveling 50 weeks a year, it can be a very lucrative first job for an Ivy League grad. I doubt their business model is any different with IT security.

People actually working on real day to day security see a lot less than that in most organizations, simply because most places don't care about security. If you're a retailer, your insurance company just pays out when you get hacked as long as you checked the PCI DSS auditing box. (That's another stripe of "security experts" who pull in the higher levels of salary.)

I'm not sure what it's like in places that actually need real security (intelligence, banking, etc.)

Comment: It's not just at work (Score 1) 147

by ErichTheRed (#49648989) Attached to: Technology and Ever-Falling Attention Spans

(Disclaimer: I'm the guy with 6 browser tabs open right now who _should_ be finishing something.)

I think that in the workplace, simple demand on knowledge workers' time is the reason for loss of focus. Fewer and fewer people are being hired to do things, and at the same time more things are being asked of the remaining individuals. I often find it hard to sit and actually solve a problem completely unless people leave me alone and let me work on the one or two hard problems. The thing that does keep me motivated is this -- now that I have children, I can't just spend forever getting things done at work. Once time is up, I need to head out and take care of family stuff. 10 years ago, I could stay an extra hour or two if I got stuck on something. Now, it's tough to even pull out the laptop after they go to bed, so I'm very motivated to do work at work. This keeps me out of most of the time-sinks -- Slashdot is not one of them though. :-) If I were 20-something, had no kids and nothing going on outside of work, I'd probably just work the 12-hour days that Google or other companies like it enable for their workers by providing free food, etc.

As far as society in general, anecdotal evidence seems to point to smart phones and social media as big distractions. I'm kind of in between on this -- I like my phone, but I also have the patience to, say, sit and wait for the train without constantly messing with it. A lot of people can't do that or don't want to. I've seen more than a couple of people bump into light poles on train station platforms because their noses were stuck in their phones. I still have enough patience to use most of my downtime to think about solutions to work problems, or just stare into space and think. But if I was a Facebook-addicted kid or Millennial, that might be harder to do.

Comment: Depends on the company (Score 1) 429

by ErichTheRed (#49639391) Attached to: Why Companies Should Hire Older Developers

I'm 40 this year, and therefore washed up, useless and unemployable. :-) Not really -- but I do have to choose my opportunities carefully.

I've posted about this before, but software development and IT have the same skillset regardless of age:
- Attention to detail
- Intelligent troubleshooting skills
- Creative problem solving skills

The things that differentiate the older people are:
- Experience with technology cycles, and the ability to see what is a fad, what's a rehash and what will stick around
- Experience with doing things -- leading to less rework because we've already tried a lot of the ways that don't work
- Most of us know how to play the working game now and aren't willing to kill ourselves for deadlines/projects that don't go anywhere
- Most of us have responsibilities outside of work (kids, family, etc.) that a younger worker doesn't

In my personal case, my employers get a solid, committed employee who does great work and is able to go home on time. Younger employees tend to like startup culture or employers like Google because they continue the dorm atmosphere from college. Google provides free meals and other services to employees for the sole reason that many don't have a family or other out-of-work commitments yet. My employer doesn't provide free meals - I work for a professional services company. They pay me pretty well, keep feeding me interesting work, and I generally have a healthy balance of work and life. I haven't had to work any outside-of-hours time that hasn't been comped in some form -- after-hours conference call == late arrival/early leaving next day, for example. They do reserve the right to send me to a customer location on short notice in case of a real disaster -- but that's happened once in the 10 years I've worked here.

I guess my question is this -- would older workers even be happy working at EA or Google or similar? Not to say they should be denied the opportunity, but most 40-somethings and above have families or at least something going on outside of work to occupy their time. I think the best strategy for "old" people is to try getting hired onto a consulting firm (where your experience is an asset they can bill out) or something like local/state government work with a guaranteed retirement and benefits.

Comment: Things like this will only increase (Score 2) 249

I think that most people understand there are a certain percentage of truly bad cops who will tamper with evidence, lie, etc. to get what they need. The thing that's new is the Internet, social media, and the ability for guys like these to collect and publish records. If a bystander hadn't taken (or published) the video of that guy in South Carolina being shot, the cop would still be working today and no one would have said a thing. It used to be extremely rare that something like this surfaced, and it often took a major news organization to do the kind of investigating and analysis.

You can't go into law enforcement without having at least some tendencies towards being a bully. I think that, plus the unlimited authority police get, plus the fact that they deal almost exclusively with "bad" people produce the police that make the headlines. I don't know how most are able to keep their bully tendencies in check when they never work with good people, plus racism and fellow officers reinforcing bad behavior probably have an effect over time as well. The end product of that is the stereotypical "bully with a badge" that gets the most media attention.

In the age when anyone can post video of bad police behavior, the only answer is to have tamper proof cameras on police every time they interact with the public. It's too easy for people to make false claims, and it used to be too easy for the police to sweep things under the rug.

"What if" is a trademark of Hewlett Packard, so stop using it in your sentences without permission, or risk being sued.