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Comment Re:Maybe US IT deserve what they get? (Score 2) 260

"US IT workers could change the situation if they wanted to do so. But that would require actually doing something."

I totally agree. The problems with the current situation are:
- The problems are appearing too slowly for people to perceive any wider issue. Everyone assumes that it's just their company making questionable decisions and everything will be made right once they come to their senses. The reality is that this is accelerating and it may be too late to stop the train.
- Most of the people I've ever worked with are very conservative, free-market, Libertarian types -- I'm a pretty big exception among IT peers. Mention anything that might limit a company's power, or involve an organization drive on the labor side, and you'll be labeled a pro-union communist.
- There is also a very strong belief by people in our field that they are the absolute best at what they do, and they would never dare compare themselves with peers, let alone organize alongside them.
- I'm not sure where it comes from, but there also seems to be this belief that if we allow executives to do what they want, then they will let us into their club and we will be rich beyond our wildest dreams. Anything that might limit their ability to amass wealth is seen as jeopardizing that (nonexistent) goal.

Currently, there is very little support for my suggestion -- creating a profession for IT and development, and buying the laws we need. I think it's going to have to get much worse before people get mad enough to fight. And I'm not even talking about a traditional labor union; I'm talking about a professional organization that can lobby alongside the big companies who are fighting for things they want like more H-1Bs and the ability to offshore work more easily.

Comment It's the IT service providers that need fixing (Score 3, Interesting) 260

I've been working in IT for 20 years now and have been through a couple of these outsourcing/offshoring exercises. The truth is this - there is no way to convince executives that IT is a strategic investment opportunity unless the company's only business is IT. Therefore, outsourcing will happen in most big companies the first time the MBA's spreadsheets show a big enough paper cost savings. And in Disney's case, it's not the money -- I have 2 little kids. Disney could fill several of Scrooge McDuck's money bins with just the daily cash flow from their parks. They must carry all the cash out of Disney World in dump trucks. So, there's proof that they're not doing it for cost savings.

The thing that needs to be attacked is the IT service providers' use of H-1B and offshore labor for inappropriate tasks. Go after Cognizant, Tata Consulting Services, Accenture, IBM, HP, Infosys, Tech Mahindra, Xerox, etc. for bringing in H-1B labor for purposes that don't meet the original intention of the program. H-1B was designed to import specific high-end skill sets for a limited time to fill in actual gaps in education/experience. These service companies use the H-1B to bring in "job shadowers" who train the offshore teams, and low-level DBAs, developers and other roles that could easily be had locally without the communications or quality issues. The problem is that this will never get popular support until the vast majority of white collar workers are out of a job or underemployed. IT is still seen as a hot field, and we are all still considered well paid, so we don't get any political attention.

Do I think outsourcing is a good idea? No, I think companies need to have some FTEs who at least have a connection to the company. When you go down the service provider route, the provider has to make money at the rate they bill you. The only way they can do this is reduce labor costs and reduce service levels to the absolute minimum to keep you from invoking breach of contract clauses.

I have no idea how it will work out for Disney, but I've worked on both sides of the outsourcing fence. In the company doing the outsourcing, the FTEs left behind are stuck in a stagnant IT department behind a wall of change management process, 2 AM conference calls and incompetent newbie offshore guys that keep rotating. The outsourcing company is forced to cut so many corners that being an on-site employee of the company is not a fun job -- you get to tell people why they can't have things, why projects are late, etc.

Comment Not just development (Score 1) 167

Systems work is impacted by this style of quick fix answers as well. There's ServerFault, as well as vendor support forums and other sources. I love and hate these sorts of resources. They're great because they get fixes and workarounds out there far faster than official vendor support channels can. What they're awful for is providing half-working or potentially dangerous answers that look fine but may not apply at all to the problem at hand.

You can say that the root cause of the problem is inexperienced sysadmin staff, and you would be right. However, the same problem exists on the developer side. On the admin side, it's worse because there are honestly a lot of admin staff who can't automate, can't script and some have trouble with the command line. Therefore, when the requirement comes up to do so, these admins are at the mercy of sites like this. The worst of them copy and paste script code without knowing a thing about what it does.

The state of programming and IT doesn't need to be measured by StackOverflow or ServerFault data. It needs to be measured by the number of staff who lean on these resources too hard and lack the fundamental troubleshooting/reasoning skills to filter the content.

Comment Get a customer to complain loudly (Score 1) 192

I've worked with a lot of products that are obviously like the one you describe. They tend to be vertical market things where the vendor is one of maybe 2 or 3 choices and has their customers completely locked in. The only way to jar them out of their rut is one of these:
- Have a major customer pull up stakes and leave out of frustration. (They would have to generate a big percentage of your product's revenue)
- Have a major competitor undertake a similar radical change that leapfrogs anything you're currently doing.

I can think of several "enterprisey" software products that fit this description - SAP, Oracle DB, any CA product, etc. These companies know that migrating away from their product is nearly impossible and so they don't invest in it until they're forced to.

Comment IT doesn't have to be a sweatshop (Score 2) 242

IT has several factors that encourage poor work/life balance:
- The IT landscape is littered with awful companies to work for, who treat their IT people like the janitorial service. The ratio of good to bad employers is very low.
- Companies that are considered "fun to work for" encourage people to constantly be at work by providing free food, free personal services, etc. I just got back from a meeting at Microsoft, and even after Nadella took over and the reduction in their monopoly power, the place is still like a college campus and employees are encouraged to basically live there.
- There's pressure on older workers, who have been around the block and know the game, because there are always younger workers who will willingly work 100 hour weeks because they have nothing else going on in their lives.
- There's also H-1B and offshoring pressure. It's not uncommon to hear CIOs remark that their offshore teams never complain about hours worked. And, outsourcing the entire IT department means the company pays a monthly bill and gets even more compliant H-1B workers.

Outside of crazy industries like video games, or investment banking where you can make massive bonuses that make working the extra hours worth it, I think most employees would prefer to be given a 40 hour week, decent pay, and a good work/life balance. The good companies who provide these things tend to have longer staff tenure, but you don't hear about them as much. This is for 2 reasons -- (1) they're not sexy SV startups writing phone apps, and (2) there aren't very many open positions because employees tend to stay where they're happier.

Employers who treat their employees well will be rewarded in the long term.

Comment Not shocked (Score 1) 43

One problem with Citrix is that their cash cow, XenApp, is getting less relevant. They have a huge presence in health care and other sectors where they can't assure endpoint security, have lots of shared machines/terminals, and have a lot of regulatory compliance issues. However, Microsoft keeps improving RemoteApp which can be had for the price of a CAL rather than a CAL plus Citrix seat. In addition, more applications are migrating to browser-based HTML5 type systems that don't require weird client-side plugins or settings anymore. VDI is also more useful and easier to do now, as long as your company falls into one of the favorable Windows licensing scenarios that make the price reasonable.

I've worked with Citrix since MetaFrame, learned, forgot and relearned it 3 times for various jobs. Every time I came back to it, there was yet another massive shift in the architecture, management tools and deployment model. This latest version that I'm relearning (7.6) merged the XenApp and XenDesktop management platforms into one. I imagine that's a pretty huge shift for average Citrix admins. Anyway, they keep changing things on the periphery of the platform, but the core doesn't change -- it's still a more WAN-friendly drop in replacement protocol for Remote Desktop.

Selling off the GoTo stuff is probably a good idea. It'll let them keep pumping out new XenApp/XenDesktop enhancements or improving NetScaler, which are probably more reliable sources of revenue. And here's the reality from an end user computing guy who works for big companies -- there will always be "senior applications" that are deemed business-critical and cannot be replaced for whatever reason. A new sexy startup isn't going to have these, which is why the cloud, mobile access, etc. is gaining so much traction now. But, even in the more technologically forward companies I've worked for, I've seen stuff like really horrible Access applications, Excel macros, VB 6 GUIs cobbled together by "consultants", and others that just need to keep chugging along. And anyone who says "just move to Salesforce.com" hasn't experienced the corporate politics that prevent some of that from happening.

Comment Happens in all vertical market applications (Score 4, Informative) 116

It's not just medical devices. Anything reasonably proprietary has historically had the security by obscurity defense and that hasn't changed. Why do you think manufacturers of SCADA gear, connected sensors, etc. beg customers to put them on their own disconnected network? I've done a lot of work in this sector and see lots of this all the time --
- Currently shipping devices running old versions of Windows, Linux, etc. with no way to patch them
- Simple passwords that can't easily be changed
- Obviously hacked-on network connectivity, where the connection is running vulnerable firmware unmodified from the firmware provided in a test kit by its manufacturer (complete with default passwords)

Manufacturers of these devices have historically not cared. Look at magnetic stripe credit cards -- the system was designed in an era where a magstripe encoder was a magical tool that cost thousands of 1970s dollars. That was the only thing that kept the technology safe. Other devices rely on the fact that no one knows their proprietary firmware (or so they think.) Avionics systems were designed in an era where the Internet didn't exist for the public. My experience has been that vendors do not fix security problems even when presented with them. Medical devices might be a different story if the FDA gets serious about it.

I think that if Microsoft, Amazon, Google, etc. get their way and force everyone into the cloud, it'll take a few major hacks into things like these for people to change their security mindset.

Comment Re:Kickstarter Campaign (Score 1) 331

Only half-joking -- what about just using Kickstarter to buy the members of Congress directly? I know it's not polite to talk about, but I do wonder how many truckloads of money lobbyists and donors funnel directly to these guys every year. After all, lobbyists wouldn't do the job unless it was lucrative, and I don't see too many politicians who aren't fabulously wealthy. It's certainly not their Congressional salaries...

Comment Not a provocative title at all... (Score 4, Insightful) 331

OK, I'm pretty left leaning, but unfortunately the conservatives appear to be the only ones attacking this issue at all. I think that's just because it doesn't affect "average people" yet, but it's creeping that way slowly.

I posted a piece the other day about Cengage Learning kicking out their entire IT department to Cognizant and forcing their "unskilled, unqualified" staff to train their H-1B replacements. Here's the deal -- nothing is going to get done until some of us become "beltway crapweasels" and buy favorable legislation through a professional organization. Not a union, an AMA-style guild dedicated to making sure salaries stay reasonably high and employment remains stable. Every single one of these Zuckerberg "everyone can code" initiatives or pushes to increase the visa cap is designed to get what these companies want - cheap labor.

I walk the employee-manager line in a "lead" role, so I have to hire staff as well as do actual work. (I'm a pretty well-seasoned systems integration guy with a solid reputation, if that matters.) I'm not entirely deaf to the "we can't find talent" argument, but I do think it's overblown. Even if you're not looking for a drop-in replacement for someone who left, and I'm not, there are some pretty big gaps in knowledge. Nothing is insurmountable given the right attitude and background, but I've seen lots of padded resumes and people who call themselves "expert level" without any justification for that label. It makes the hiring process frustrating because you have to wade through the obvious liars, then phone-screen the people who might be somewhat close, and then still interview a bunch of duds.

Being "experienced," I don't like the trend of entry level IT and dev jobs going away, because that kills your talent pipeline. I like the idea of a professional organization for the following reasons:
- If done right, it could ensure a basic vendor-agnostic, technology-agnostic fundamental education for members. No more "web architects" who can only stich together node.js snippets they saw on Stack Overflow or MCSEs who can't troubleshoot basic TCP connectivity.
- Gives members a career progression while still allowing them to be individuals -- makes the Libertarian crowd happy.
- Unlike a union, each member would be their own person rather than bargaining collectively.
- Gives employers a consistent experience and recourse in the case of malpractice -- professionals would need to be responsible for their work, which is sorely lacking today.
- Allows members to buy favorable legislation via lobbyists. I can't imagine Congressmen would turn down millions in campaign donations in exchange for a few limits on the H-1B program.
- Provides a pipeline of newbies to train as apprentices so companies aren't reliant on these offshoring firms for basic work in the future.

I just don't know how bad it's going to get before people wake up and realize they're not going to become billionaires just because they let them get away with things like this.

Comment I've seen this before (Score 2) 412

They used to have adult dorms very similar to what's described...state mental hospitals. :-)

Seriously. I somehow doubt this catching on. Every Millenial portrait I've seen/heard/read is a caricature...I have seen very few people who fit what are cemented as unshakable models of the generation. Outside of San Francisco hipster startup culture, I doubt anyone actually wants to live in a college dorm past their early 20s. I graduated in the 90s, so I was just before the generation that had all sorts of crazy dorm amenities like private bedrooms...my brother who is 6 years younger than I got to experience apartment style living.

Just because people grow up with Facebook, Instagram and Twitter doesn't make them all narcissistic social butterflies. It seems to me that if someone actually wanted this kind of experience, they could choose to live in a densely populated urban core and talk to their neighbors more often.

Comment Not a union, a professional organization (Score 5, Interesting) 607

I already see the posts coming in saying "No union for me, thanks, I can take care of myself." I honestly used to think that, back when companies were only outsourcing routine tasks and qualified people were still being treated well everywhere. All I can say is, just wait until you're 40 or end up at one of these places offshoring their entire IT department. I am incredibly lucky and (for now) have a great senior-level position doing systems engineering work. However, between age discrimination, the loss of entry-level work, and the relentless drive to offshore anything that costs real money, we run the risk of driving talented people away from IT.

Here's my idea -- form a profession similar to the one engineers have and a related trade guild, not a traditional labor union. Unions will never fly with the Libertarian, lone wolf, I'm-better-than-everyone-in-my-field crowd. It would have to be structured around the professional licensure model, like the AMA. The AMA and related organizations keep doctors employed and making serious money. How do they do this?
- Limiting labor supply by not allowing new medical school slots to be opened
- Paying for laws their members need passed, such as forcing recent health care reform to rely on the insurance model that keeps their reimbursement rates high
- Ensuring quality of profession members by licensing new medical school grads, and training them through residency and fellowship programs
- Requiring continuing education

I would say the biggest benefit to members of the profession would be standardizing basic education. I'm not talking about handing Microsoft or Oracle or Google the reins, I'm talking about making sure people understand the fundamentals of IT and development, not just how to feed code into the magic black box. This would mean evil tradesy things like apprenticeships and OJT for new members, but it would ensure that we wouldn't get the typical MCSE bootcamp or coder academy graduates who only know one way to solve a problem.

The first step beyond getting people to agree would be to basically do what the other professional organizations do -- take up a collection and pay for laws to be passed limiting the ability to offshore work. It's time we admit that the only way to get anything passed in Congress is to pay for it, and lobbyists are the equivalent of handing lawmakers paper bags of money.

To make this fair to employers, they would need to get something too. I would say the best approach would be to promise no union style work rules would be enforced, while quality would be maintained by self-regulation. I think it's horrible that someone can screw up a job so badly they get fired, then just clean up their resume and get another job without any repercussion -- and I've seen this happen many times. If companies could be assured that their job would get done without the need to bring it back onshore to clean it up at consulting rates, they'd be open to this possibility.

Comment Chinese long term thinking (Score 2, Interesting) 109

I think it's been mentioned before that China is moving a lot of its rural population into cities to allow them to provide government services more efficiently, as well as create a larger consumer culture. At the same time, one of the only stable stores of wealth for Chinese is real estate. As many articles lately have mentioned, the stock market is even more speculative than ours and not suitable for long term investing. The only issue now is filling all these empty spaces so the original investors can get their money out.

We'll see what they have in mind for this next phase, but China has been remarkably good at long term central planning. It's something missing in Western countries -- the full control of authoritarianism while doing anything necessary to grow the economy. It'll be interesting to see what happens.

Submission + - Computerworld: Fury and fear in Ohio as IT jobs go to India (computerworld.com)

ErichTheRed writes: A company called Cengage Learning now joins the Toys 'R Us, Disney and Southern California Edison IT offshoring club. Apparently, even IT workers in low-cost parts of the country are too expensive and their work is being sent to Cognizant, one of the largest H-1B visa users. As a final insult, the article describes a pretty humiliating termination process was used. Is it time to think about a professional organization before IT goes the way of manufacturing?

Comment Happening in software too (Score 2) 622

I have no idea how carriers and customers are going to agree on sane pricing. We're right back to the AT&T model of very expensive metered connections. I'm old enough to remember when in-state long distance phone calls were billed at 15+ cents a minute. With HD video streams eating more and more bandwidth as quality improves, typical
unmetered monthly allotments will get used up after a couple of streaming sessions. There's that, plus Facebook constantly pulls data in the background, as do messaging apps, as does the automatic cloud backup mechanism on iOS. I predict the carriers will keep billing at current rates until enough people start complaining, then we'll go through another anti-trust process.

That said, there's parallels in the software/infrastructure world. Adobe knows they have a lock on professional creative applications (Photoshop, Premiere, etc.) and decided to force people to pay the Creative Cloud bill forever to use them rather than pay once for a license. Microsoft is headed that way too; Windows 10 may be free, but options for perpetually licensing server software are getting harder to justify to the MBAs. The next step is convincing everyone to just run their stuff in Azure for $XXXX per month rather than forking over that same amount one time. Both situations are only coming around again because consumers are receptive to them, or because they have no other choice.

Comment Surprising but not shocking (Score 5, Interesting) 130

We're in the middle of the planning for the Windows 7 to 10 transition, and 2008 R2 to 2016, so we're getting plenty of face time with the premier support guys. The message is abundantly clear -- Microsoft is done selling one-off licensed software. Everything is going to be Azure based in their mind, and on-premises installations of software are the exception now. Server 2016 has so many Azure hooks that it might as well not have been released as a standalone product. Windows 10's updating model relegates stable releases to a much more minority position than they were in the past...it requires an Enterprise Agreement/Software Assurance to deploy Windows 10 LTSB and avoid constant cumulative upgrades.

In an environment like this, where they're moving back to mainframe style custodial IT service models, why wouldn't they partner with Red Hat or any other OS vendor for that matter? They want companies to move everything into Azure, not leave some bits hanging out on-premises or with another cloud provider. The Windows vs. Linux wars are cooling off because vendors sense the juicy returns in the cloud. Why sell software once when you can force businesses to pay over and over again for decades to use your resources/products? I've said before that both Amazon and Microsoft are building their clouds on the backs of Bubble 2.0, so funding is plentiful and therefore prices are incredibly cheap. The thing to watch will be when the bubble bursts, and a duopoly exists...will those low prices continue?