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Comment Re:H-1B at least changes the dynamics (Score 1) 417

"That, and the immense boost of worker value and thus power, is the natural consequence of eliminating all government support for college education, leaving the individual to find a job. "

But in the apprenticeship system, at least in union-strong states, companies don't hire trade labor directly; they go through the union and pay union rates. Businesses would benefit overall by increasing OJT, but they don't presently. Unions run apprenticeship programs to make sure they have a future workforce to bargain with employers over. Take, for example, the IBEW or steamfitters' union. A kid out of high school is hired on as an apprentice electrician for 4 years. During that time, they get a mix of OJT and classroom training to increase their skills. Companies that take on apprentices pay a much lower wage than to a journeyman, so they get the cost advantage. At the same time, the union benefits because they have a workforce that does lots of dirty work and will eventually be able to hire them out at the full rates.

That said, unless things change dramatically, I think support for college -- for those who would benefit from it -- needs to be maintained. You don't just learn random facts in college or a narrow trade -- if you do it right, you learn a lot about how to approach problems and grow up at the same time. Unless you plan on enforcing mandatory military service or something similar, I can't think of a better way to produce a skilled, well-rounded, mature workforce.

Comment Re:Demand segmentation 101 (Score 2) 379

Airlines set their schedules months in advance based on previous passenger load data, so all the aircraft and crews are committed. Most can't just not fly planes at the last second because most airlines operate on very tight schedules, where having a plane not showing up somewhere on time bubbles through the entire system. Back when airlines hadn't figured out how to get 90+% load factors on planes, you would sometimes see (especially late night) planes fly nearly empty because they were needed at that airport for the next morning. I took a transatlantic flight 3 months ago that had only 60 people in economy class, less than 1/3 capacity. The FA said that was the strangest thing she had seen in a while and they're usually over 75% full. Domestic carriers on some routes are so full they are starting to have passengers complain about overcrowding (and airline employees can't standby travel easily anymore, or get to work in some cases because of it.)

Fare data for most airlines is considered a trade secret - each carrier knows the environment they operate in, the type of travellers they attract and want to attract, and they know their internal costs. Fares are published to ATPCO, SITA and other fares management services, so it's partly an open trade secret, but the secret part is how the airline arrived at those prices.

Comment Demand segmentation 101 (Score 4, Insightful) 379

I guess this is the next logical step from HP chipping ink cartridges to enforce an expiration date.

This must have looked like an amazing idea on some MBA's PowerPoint presentation -- manufacture the exact same thing, sell it for more in the developed world, -and- increase market share in the developing world. Just have to hope the customers don't find out about it....oops.

Airlines do this all the time. They charge more for last minute purchases or travel over holidays even though the customer is getting the same service -- moving them from point to point. Why? Because they can!! The difference in this case is that Xerox can now force customers to keep paying the higher fare.

Comment Good idea for a changing world (Score 1) 755

Go read this:

Here's the problem -- society in North America and Europe at least has been predicated for some time on the concept of full time employment. People buy houses and cars on monthly installment plans, and pay their other obligations monthly as they come due. In the US, unemployment is a disaster. Even if you're not living paycheck to paycheck, most people are hurt financially when that steady income dries up. Worse yet, these "gig economy" supporters are gaining traction and love the idea of having a disposable workforce with no fixed costs.

A plan like a basic income, along with controls that will prevent providers of essentials (landlords, grocery stores, etc.) from simply raising prices beyond attainable levels is a good way to handle this transition. Simply cutting off full time employment will gut the traditional pension/retirement systems, and you'll also have an angry set of retirees wondering why they've saved their whole working lives. The way to make the move to unstable income easier and keep retirees happy is to basically say their savings is for the sole purpose of not having to live on the basic income. No one is ever going to propose getting rid of money as a store of value, nor are we at the point of zero scarcity that would even allow for this to be considered.

What I worry about is that, on the way to the utopian Star Trek economy, we're going to have a few French Revolution style uprisings, where the previously middle class start attacking the super-rich who are immune to any of the forces in this discussion. Something like this would help prevent this possibility. It would also acknowledge that there are some people (drug addicts, mental patients, the disabled) who are not capable of taking care of themselves, and keep them from ending up on the street like many of them are now.

Comment H-1B at least changes the dynamics (Score 2) 417

I've been through this on both sides, working for the outsourcer and the outsourcee (as a US citizen for US companies.) What I've seen happen in most instances of worker replacement is this -- CIO signs a huge outsourcing deal with Tata, Infosys, CSC, IBM, HP, Xerox, HCL or one of the other huge consulting companies. This company gets a fixed price per year to deliver the same services the customer's IT department delivered, and this price is usually significantly less than they previously paid for IT employees. (We'll ignore time and materials, change orders, rework, etc. etc. that push the price back up eventually.) Because the outsourcing company has to make a profit on the deal, their task is to provide the minimum service required to avoid contract cancellation, and drive the cheapest cost possible to make it happen. Usually, about 10% of the IT department remains with the company, mostly the business analysts, project managers and other touchy-feely roles that can't be easily done remotely. Some percentage is laid off immediately, and the balance transfers over to the outsourcer. Over time, these workers begin being replaced by H-1Bs or offshore labor because of cost pressures. H-1B labor is brought in to fill roles that absolutely can't be done from some call center environment, and the remaining ones (day to day administration, help desk, etc.) get sent offshore or into a sort of sweatshop "sysadmin farm." This is directly due to cost pressure, and service suffers because of it.

Companies might "create jobs" but they're generally not IT jobs in environments like this. I'm very lucky and now have a system architect level job that I've earned through years of experience in the trenches. What I worry about is that these low level jobs that new grads learn the ropes on are getting harder to find. As it is, I'm often in the position of just telling an offshore team what to do. I don't think arrangements like this are sustainable because you're not building up the next generation of techies to take the high level jobs later on.

I don't know what's taught in MBA school, but I guarantee a good portion of it is telling them that numbers on a spreadsheet are the only data that deserves any weight. I've seen IT outsourcing fail to produce the desired results far more often than it has succeeded. If your company does anything with IT beyond keeping the lights on, you'll be disappointed with an outsourcing arrangement -- but the numbers don't lie, at least in the short term.

Here's what I'd like to see happen: IT and dev workers should create a professional organization similar to the AMA, Screen Actors' Guild. It would have to be anything but a "union" because techies have this individualist streak that prevents them from wanting to associate with others in that way. This organization would do what the AMA does -- limit the number of new entrants, lobby for laws to be passed that favor its members, and ensure professional standards. Low level tech work would be on an apprenticeship basis, which would allow people to learn from experienced folks rather than the hodgepodge of self-teaching, vendor certification, etc. High level engineers/architects would be professionals, with responsibilities similar to actual, real PEs. I know most people think they're super-special and would never dare to compare themselves to their peers, let alone associate with them. But this is the best long-term solution -- it keeps tech a well-paying career, ensures that we can bribe Congressmen the same way businesses do, etc.

Comment Little incompatibilities are a big concern (Score 4, Insightful) 316

I've been doing end user stuff for years, and Microsoft Office is a de facto standard. It's not because it's the absolute best product out there, but because compatibility needs to be maintained. Most -simple- documents and spreadsheets will open in one or the other. The problem comes when you get documents created with a Word template that someone got very creative with while building it. This happens a lot in engineering organizations, places that have document control/management systems, and yes, governments. Word has never had the easiest-to-decode formatting methods; that crown still goes to WordPerfect for the closed source world, and some law firms still use it today. Little stuff like page breaks, font kerning, and special positioning that don't matter in a simple document but matter a lot in a formal contract are sometimes very hard to find and fix in Word, for example.

The reality is that even though the format sucks, everyone is used to it and works around the quirks. Is it right? No, but it happens. No one outside of scientific publication is going to advocate for regular users to write their documents in TeX for example, even though that's the perfect example of a completely open, known formatting standard.

I think open source office suites are fine as long as you don't have crazy formatting needs and you don't have to share complex documents with too many Microsoft Office users. Otherwise, like the article says, users will waste time tweaking little things in their documents instead of doing productive work. If you're a small shop that has standardized on Linux, that's fine. One of the lifeblood things the company I work for does is respond to RFPs from governments. The standard response usually needs to be added to their crazily-formatted Word docs and Excel spreadsheets, and $deity help you if your use of LibreOffice is even thought of as the reason that a bid is rejected.

Comment Virtualization requires memory (Score 4, Insightful) 350

I routinely have scenarios where I have to take entire environments "on the road" with me. Either the access to "The Cloud" isn't available at a reasonable rate, or I have to simulate something in an environment where I control all the variables, like WAN speeds and such. The single best way to make VMWare run better on desktop hardware is to feed it more memory. The less it needs to swap out to hard drives, the more responsive it is.

With the advent of cheap SSDs and multicore, multithread CPUs, the "responsiveness" factor requires less memory than it did for normal workloads. I put that in quotes, because responsiveness is a very fuzzy quantity, pretty much defined as "does the user notice how slow it is?"

Comment Negative publicity is the only way to stop this (Score 1) 268

I see a lot of posts blaming the "left-leaning liberal progressive New York Times" for this whole thing, but the reality is that there are really awful companies to work for out there. I would love to work on something like AWS -- it's super-interesting to a systems management nerd like myself. Here's the problem; I'm 40 and have a wife and 2 little kids that I'd like to see every now and then. Most older techies I know who either have no children or a very understanding spouse would have no problem in an environment like this. The younger folks are a little more enthusiastic about working 80+ hour weeks, simply because they have fewer commitments outside of work and haven't seen that every place doesn't operate like this.

The problem with both SV startups, and apparently, huge companies that haven't shaken the startup culture, is that they can't run on burned-out employees and starry-eyed newbies fueling their operations forever. I'll bet that's one of the reasons Google re-orged -- potential acquisitions of other companies that don't want to buy into the free food, free services, nerf toy techie preschool culture. I work in an environment that has almost no expectation of crazy hours, and we get things done. I and most of my colleagues are on the older side, have a lot of experience in our field, and don't usually have to work nights and weekends to fix problems. In the 8 years I've been here, I've had to work one very extended day, one weekend day, and was dispatched twice with less than a week notice to fix a mess halfway around the world. Given my salary and the insane flexibility the job offers me, I can live with that level of extra work. When it starts becoming constant because managers refuse to say no to their higher-ups, then that's another story.

Another problem is that techies promoted into management can fail spectacularly at this job. I'm a lead on a small team, and I -know- it's not my primary skill. People I've seen that get promoted into management because they're good workers either adapt, or their subordinates suffer greatly. My goal is to not be the a**hole or ineffective boss, plain and simple, because I've worked for a bunch. That said, even if you don't have a people problem, corporate policies like stack ranking are stupid. One complaint I do have about our company is that they're a big "trailing trend follower" when it comes to HR. We did stack ranking for a few years after Jack Welch promoted it as the greatest thing, and lost a lot of good people before it stopped -- try telling top performers in a 4 or 5 person team that one of them has to get a bad review. We're finally starting the first inklings of waking up to realize that offshoring development isn't producing results -- I expect that to take another couple of years. And of course, we're jumping on board the Google open office trend, years after implementation elsewhere, despite everyone's pleas to the contrary.

There's good and bad in every workplace, and a good workplace for a 23 year old new grad is not necessarily the right fit for a 45 year old mom or dad.

Comment I would see this working in government positions (Score 1) 170

Forgot to post this also -- one place I could definitely see this being used is in government positions. I know a lot of state university employees, and the big downside they cite for their job is all the paperwork required for time tracking, timesheets, requesting days off, etc. According to them, you really need to balance this with the benefits and job security. Add in micromanaging bosses who are also scared about losing their positions, and it can really be a drain. One quote -- "I have to be in at 8:30 every morning, without fail. I could be watching cat videos on YouTube waiting for everyone else I need to talk to to come in, but I have to be doing it at my desk."

One of the reasons that's needed is all the transparency needed for government positions. Almost on a schedule, the local rag goes out, files FOIA requests, and drags local government workers over the coals for unofficial use of government cars, incorrect time sheets, etc. You know, all those lazy people stealing the taxpayers' hard earned money and all that... (Yes, I'm aware there's corruption, but low level workers aren't the ones who benefit most.)

That said, I don't know if even tenure-style job security and a pension are worth the hassle.

Comment Trying to sell data mining software I see (Score 2) 170

It's been my experience that implementing stuff like this only works if your workforce is totally undisciplined otherwise. Call centers operate almost exclusively in this manner -- relentless data obsession, micromanaging and basically providing the worst possible work environment. Some call centers I've had experience with actually make their employees ask a supervisor if they're allowed to go to the bathroom, rather than just making themselves unavailable. Maybe the Milennial twist of "gamification" makes it more palatable, I don't know. But I do know that employees in this environment who have a choice, are reasonably skilled, and have better employment available will take it at the earliest possible opportunity. I doubt even the most social media obsessed Milennial is going to be happy enough about earning badges for doing their job to keep them from seeking less horrific working conditions.

It's similar to introducing time tracking in a professional (salaried) environment. Professional services does need to track billable hours, as is common in consulting firms, but insisting that employees be warming their chairs for exact time frames and penalizing infractions just leads to a mess. Just like the call center workers, everyone who's good leaves for less abusive workplaces, and you're left with the broken people who can't get a job anywhere else.

I sound like a Luddite when I say this, I know, but the economy needs some inefficiency. Even factory workers, who are arguably performing the most robotic of tasks, shouldn't be expected to clock in, perform their tasks at 100% efficiency for the full shift and clock out.

Comment Form over function strikes again? (Score 4, Interesting) 207

I'm convinced that this phase of computer history is going to be remembered as the "UX Revolution." Seriously, even Linux distributions' GUIs have turned into iOS clones. Windows 10, while better than 8, is still a disaster because Microsoft is still convinced that people want to run a phone/tablet OS on their desktop PC.

It's the deadly combination of:
- Everything is a touch screen, so UI elements have to be massive and convey no meaning unless you know what the symbol means.
- Millions more "normal" people have computers in their pockets now, so even if "spotty nerds" want to use them, the UI can't be made functional because it has to be dumbed down for everyone.

I agree that just letting the developers do a user interface would probably leave us at slightly above the verbosity level of vi, and a complexity level of emacs, but there's a happy medium. Not everything needs to be rendered in a flat, featureless Jony Ive rounded rectangle style. Seriously, if people who are used to computers have to look at a user interface for more than a few seconds to figure out what performs an action, and where that action is located, than form has won over function.

I'd rather have an ugly, functional UI any day. AS/400 style green screens are hideously ugly and primitive, but they're laid out well, the intelligent use of color highlights important things, and they're easy to stare at for long periods of time. I'm absolutely sick of web pages and app screens that have bright white backgrounds and tiny light grey text, chosen simply because it's pretty.

Comment At least there's an LTSB option... (Score 1) 193

I'm just glad they didn't totally abandon business customers. Running a constantly-changing OS is fine for a home machine that browses the web, makes Skype calls, and watches movies. It's even tolerable in some office situations where all the person is doing is Office documents with no systems interaction beyond email. When you build a software component on top of an OS, however, and come to rely on things working a certain way, that's where the Agile thing breaks down.

The company I work for sells a suite of middleware that relies heavily on some of the internals of Windows. Changing out anything is a risk that the product doesn't work as expected. It's one of those things where Windows Embedded might be a better choice, save for the fact that we need to run an actual end user system on top of this stuff. Microsoft's been really quiet about this, but it seems like the LTSB option is the closest thing to the old RTM/Service Pack model.

Comment Re:U.S. Naïveté (Score 2) 72

Absolutely. I work for a multinational that has to get equipment into...less than of the world. If you try to ship something yourself to some countries, you can guarantee that most of it will be "lost in transit" or stuck in customs for months and months while a whole network of people get paid to get it through.

Companies that do lots of international shipping have to rely on "freight forwarders" These are the companies that actually pay the bribes, know the right contacts to get stuff through customs, etc. This way, the company doing the shipping is "protected" from directly bribing officials. As you can imagine, shipping bulk goods this way is not at all cheap!

Comment How is this different from any other SAP sale?? (Score 3, Interesting) 72

I know I sound cynical, but enterprise software vendors can't make these multimillion dollar deals happen without greasing a few palms. These software packages are so awful and require millions more in consulting beyond the license price -- I can't see any technically oriented person supporting their purchase without some inducement. In this case, it was a direct bribe that the sales team thought they could get away with.

Most software companies slip these things under the table through channels that don't legally qualify as bribes. Ever wonder why horrible expensive software packages are sometimes called "golf course ware?" It's a dirty business and things like paying for some kid of an exec's school tuition, or rounds and rounds of strip club visits, or golf, or "educational product seminars" in Aruba is just cost of sales for these companies. It's kind of like lobbyists -- they can't legally hand a Congressperson a paper bag full of money, but they can sure make things happen for them behind the scenes that are the equivalent of the paper bag.

Part of me wishes I was a CTO so I could just line up the vendors and collect bribe after bribe...oops, sorry, "favor" after "favor." Then again, I've worked with some of this horrible software (SAP, Oracle, etc.) and the awful botton-of-the-barrel offshored or H-1B management consultants they send in to "implement" them. No wonder everyone outside of large businesses wants nothing to do with big monolithic packages!!

Comment There's a definite split in the IT workforce (Score 1) 293

What I'm finding is this:
- Really good people with lots of experience are having an easy time finding work. (I get recruitment emails at least 2 or 3 times a week and haven't updated any of my resume/linkedin stuff in 3 years, nor have expressed any interest in a new job right now.)
- Lower-skill people or those with less experience are really having difficulty, especially new grads.

I attribute this to a couple of things. First, the nature of the work is changing somewhat, and companies are increasingly looking to hire people who possess a lot of experience and multiple skills. Second and more ominous, the low level jobs are increasingly being offshored, outsourced or eliminated. As an experienced guy, I don't like this because it doesn't allow for succession planning. New grads and new entrants into the field need those jobs at the low end to learn and grow into the experienced peoples' roles. I was a help desk person and a desktop support guy for quite a while before I got my first system admin job, for example. Let's say everyone migrates all their data to the cloud. This means that all the data center jobs move to the cloud companies, who mainly roll their own hardware and have endless fields of servers that are just swapped out when they fail. Those data center jobs then become break/fix maintenance jobs, making it difficult to make the natural progression that data center operations guys normally go through -- system admin, architect, etc. once they learn the ropes and the end-to-end of everything.

It's definitely going to be a big change coming up. Wages are going to be driven down even further, and you're going to see a binomial distribution that's more pronounced than it is now. I think the layoffs the article is referring to are definitely hitting the lower end of the IT job spectrum harder than the higher end. The company I work for is notoriously stingy with headcount and even they are hiring experienced people right now.

I was playing poker the other night... with Tarot cards. I got a full house and 4 people died. -- Steven Wright