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Comment: Question is - will they keep going? (Score 1) 123

by ErichTheRed (#47893305) Attached to: Harvard's CompSci Intro Course Boasts Record-Breaking Enrollment

I'm assuming they're talking about the physical on-campus version of CS50 right?

I'm very slowly working through the online version of the course (2 little kids who don't sleep + nothing but crap on TV = bite sized chunks of academic goodness) and it's a really good intro. I guess my question is this - how many people are going into this thinking they're going to be the next iPhone app billionaire? How many people actually want to learn the fundamentals and build a solid knowledge base that will help them get and keep future employment?

I saw this same jump in enrollment in CS towards the end of the dotcom boom, and that was even before everyone was carrying around computers in their pockets. I'm a systems architect, and I've seen the products of the quickie certification courses for system administrators. Some people can do this job and others just aren't cut out for it. Unfortunately, everyone's chasing money. IT and software development are increasingly becoming commodity skills, salaries are dropping except in "hot" bubbly fields like mobile and big data, so those who want to stick around are going to have to really enjoy the work, as I do.

I'm not saying I don't welcome new blood - everyone could use a healthy dose of the logic and troubleshooting skills that systems administration and SW development require. But I don't know how many people are going to make it through the whole program when they see how much work it is at the 200 level and out in the real world. The good news for newbies is that there really is still solid work for those who want to keep their skills sharp...it's just harder to find and you're just not going to see the salaries you used to for a number of reasons -- offshoring and H1B are the most visible, but cloud computing is another big one.

Comment: Some bribery is required to operate in some places (Score 1) 110

It doesn't make it a good thing, but the reality of international business is that bribery is required if you want to do business in some countries. This looks like it was pretty overt though, so that's probably why they got caught. I work for a multinational that routinely has to ship equipment all over the world. There are some places like Africa and the Middle East where your stuff will never clear customs without someone getting paid, or you have to pay someone off to make sure it doesn't disappear. There's a whole shadowy "import/export freight forwarding" industry that companies use to avoid directly bribing customs officers and other civil servants. It's kind of like a cash business owner cheating on his taxes -- no one ever talks about it, but you know it's happening to some extent. The bribe money is included in the freight fees so that companies can pretend it doesn't happen.

Paying off some underpaid civil servant is one thing - it sounds like HP was directly giving money to top government officials. That's where the real line is when you're talking about punishable bribery. I wonder how they got caught -- it sounds like they had a pretty elaborate system set up. The only thing I can think of is that someone tipped them off because they didn't get paid enough or they were jealous when they found out someone else was getting a big payday. Once you start paying bribes or extortion money, you have to realize it will never stop.

Comment: Re:Right. (Score 1) 140

by ErichTheRed (#47883375) Attached to: Accused Ottawa Cyberbully Facing 181 Charges Apologizes

Agreed - I have no idea what it is about kids, but they can be the absolute worst to other kids. Maybe it's bad parenting or the lack of parenting, I don't know. Even looking slightly different from everyone else is seemingly an excuse for torment. When those bully kids grow up, I guess some of them don't magically grow out of it. I always figured most of them became cops or joined the military -- what better way to assert authority over people than having a mandate to do so? But i guess it's the parenting. If you don't have your mom or dad telling you from an early age that some things aren't acceptable, you grow up without limits. And since we're just a bunch of smart primates, instinct kicks in.

School sucked for me, kindergarten through 12th grade. Finally getting out of there and going to college was what basically turned my life around and prevented me from becoming this guy, or worse, tracking down the bullies and torturing them. The serial killer from the movie "Seven" comes to mind here...very creepy movie. Living well is the best revenge.

I've got two little kids now, and my son's almost 4. I can't do anything about other parents' shitty parenting skills, but you can believe my kids aren't going to be the bullies.

Comment: At least he didn't snap and kill them all! (Score 2) 140

by ErichTheRed (#47883161) Attached to: Accused Ottawa Cyberbully Facing 181 Charges Apologizes

Especially in the US, a lot of these kinds of incidents end with the person getting a gun, going back to the office and wiping out those that have wronged them.

It is interesting to see how much pent-up anger must have been in this guy's head to spend the amount of time and effort he did "getting his revenge." I don't have access to the case details, but that must have been a LOT of name-calling and jokes. If the guy really didn't leave his apartment for 7 months, that kind of sets a new record for obsessive behavior. I'm envisioning a whole bookshelf full of methodical notes about his tormentors.

It doesn't excuse what he did, but it's kind of sad when stuff that should have been left behind in high school persists in the "adult" world. But it goes to show you that the quiet guy you're making fun of might be taking careful notes and biding his time. His co-workers must not have been too busy if they had all the time to crack jokes at his expense.

Comment: Avoid pigeonholing and this can work. (Score 4, Insightful) 380

by ErichTheRed (#47862967) Attached to: Unpopular Programming Languages That Are Still Lucrative

I'm a systems architect with a company that does IT services for the airline industry. Airlines are the third oldest users of computers, next to banks and the military. There has been an amazing amount of legacy technology that has been built around for the last 60+ years. Systems that are running modern languages and OSes today need to interface with systems via IATA protocols that were invented decades ago. Even though those legacy systems may run on new mainframes, they're still speaking the exact same language they were when they were rolled out. All that whizzy new stuff passengers see (cell phone boarding passes, full function booking websites, etc.) is riding on top of an ancient core that fewer and fewer people know everything about.

Anyway, my point is this -- we do have some people on staff who know about all these systems, and have built or worked on parts of them. They're paid very well, but I guarantee they would have a very difficult time finding work if they were suddenly not needed. The main reason for this is that they're solely dedicated to supporting these older systems. People sometimes allow themselves to be pigenholed into a single task or set of tasks. In my side of the house (systems engineering,) admin tasks are becoming like this through things like ITIL. ITIL is solely designed to remove any sort of judgement from an administration job so that you can plug an interchangeable human into any process, give them a runbook and tell them to execute only these steps when prompted. It's a huge problem, because the next generation of admins is having difficulty graduating to systems engineer and systems architect roles, simply because they don't have a big-picture view of everything.

I've been with the same company for quite a while, but have taken this approach to managing my career -- never do the exact same thing for more than a few years. I get to work in the same field and do _similar_ projects, but I also don't stagnate into a single role. This is very difficult to do because it requires you to be very flexible and constantly learning new things. You need to push your way into new projects because managers will want to hang on to the skills you've developed. Because of this, you need to be willing to document your work and train a replacement when the time comes. Also, you need to actually have some depth in the technology you're working with. There must be 20 or 30 new web frameworks that come out every year, on top of everything else that exists out there. You could try to learn everything but you'd never get good enough at any of it to be useful. At the same time, specializing in ancient languages and systems may be lucrative but you need to be prepared to jump as soon as your skills aren't needed anymore.

If you do it right, you can make a lot of money by being able to jump into a position that no one else knows anything about. But if you can't jump right back out, you will end up doing the same thing forever.

Comment: PowerShell - the whole language (Score 1) 727

I'm not saying PowerShell isn't extremely cool -- it is, and I'm working on wrapping my brain around it. But I do have a lot of experience in multiplatform environments, and PowerShell's syntax is stitched together from so many sources that it gets very confusing.

- You have extensive pipeline use a la UNIX/Linux, but those pipes don't necessarily contain text, they contain references to objects.
- You have very long command syntax a la OpenVMS DCL. A line of PowerShell can perform lots of operations, but that line can be hundreds of characters long. Also, since it references .NET-style objects/properties, these names tend to be very long and add to the number of characters.
- You have branching/looping/basic structure syntax from everywhere. A little looks like Perl, some like bash, some like Java/C#.

Granted, VBScript and the various ways to interface with stuff like WMI and the XML parser were awful. I'm converting a lot of my old scripts now, and see hundreds of lines of wasted code doing stuff like opening a file, parsing fields, checking a WMI variable, executing some COM-exposed method, etc. etc. etc. It just takes a very long time to get used to the syntax, and the fact that Windows is basically doing everything for you and you're just gluing it all together.

Comment: Re:Another building full of robots? (Score 3, Insightful) 157

by ErichTheRed (#47820645) Attached to: Reno Selected For Tesla Motors Battery Factory

Right, which is what I was saying -- no one is going to actually support subsidizing unemployment no matter how bad things get. Look at the number of poor and lower-middle class people who idolize the "job creator" class and deride people on unemployment/welfare. People are convinced that just working harder will make them rich -- and no amount of convincing will change that mindset. Unless, of course, 80% of the workforce is unemployed.

I don't have a good answer for this. People who worked like dogs their whole life won't support it because their entire self-worth is based on what they've managed to save in their retirement accounts. People who are working are going to feel like they're subsidizing freeloaders. It's going to be a very ugly 21st century.

Comment: Another building full of robots? (Score 4, Insightful) 157

by ErichTheRed (#47820343) Attached to: Reno Selected For Tesla Motors Battery Factory

I mean, I guess it's good that they're not manufacturing the batteries in China (batteries are heavy so I guess the shipping outweighs the labor savings) but it sounds like Tesla is just going to pocket a ton of tax credits and other stuff in exchange for putting a building of robot manufacturers in Nevada.

Say what you will, but the middle class needs work. We need something for the vast majority of people who aren't scientists, engineers or politicians to do. That used to be traditional assembly-line manufacturing. After that, it was the millions of people routing documents and reports around large corporations. This next wave of automation is going to put a real crimp on the middle class that it can't easily absorb. Unless people start paying full-salary wages for stupid stuff like rating cat videos or posting on social media, the traditional model of 2-kids-and-a-mortgage is out the window. For the low end, we need something like the steel mills and other factories that would employ thousands of workers in 3 shifts. And for the medium end, we need to preserve at least some of the "corporate drone" jobs. At the risk of sounding like a Luddite, it looks like there's nothing left for the middle of the economy -- it's going to split into ultra low end jobs like cleaning and food service, and high-end jobs like engineering, science, etc. (And I'm guessing management will reserve itself a place in the high end too.)

The problem is, without rolling back a lot of the benefits automation brings, I don't know how we're going to handle the next level of change.

Comment: New rapid release cycle? (Score 5, Insightful) 251

by ErichTheRed (#47756657) Attached to: New Windows Coming In Late September -- But Which One?

Our company has a Premier Support account manager at Microsoft, and I can't even get a straight answer out of him, so either the communications are really screwed up about this or they're being very tight-lipped.

I'm guessing that this is part of their new "no frozen releases" cloud-enabled release cycle. It's no secret that Microsoft wants people off the on-premises software because they want to collect recurring revenue. Constantly rolling in new features is going to be the way they get customers used to the idea. Apple does it with iOS, and most people (consumers) are comfortable with constantly-changing software. Businesses are a whole different story.

I still am trying to figure out how Microsoft is going to support enterprise customers with the constant release of patches plus feature changes. (August's Internet Explorer patch broke Java on enterprise desktops, and while it's a good idea for consumers who never update the bug-ridden JRE, it makes for a lot of headaches. There is no end to crappy IE-only, JRE 1.4-only, hastily thrown together "enterprise" Java applets.) Speaking as an end user computing person, targeting master images around SP1 of an OS release has been a pretty good standard. Service Packs or at least Update Rollups have been a convenient point to stop the integration work at, make all the desktop apps hang together, and concentrate on regression testing of patches. Without these big milestones anymore, it's going to get harder to roll out a stable platform for people.

Microsoft's in an interesting spot. They could just ignore business customers and force everyone onto the cloud, which I doubt they'll do right away. I also doubt they'll have the courage to backtrack and give people back all the features in Windows 7. However small it is, they now have a whole App Store ecosystem to support, and it's apparently going to be even more important since they're merging Windows and Windows Phone. Whatever happens, I'm sure someone has said that Windows 9 is going to have to be a huge hit with both the desktop and the tablet crowd. 8.1 is now usable with keyboard and mouse...hopefully Windows 9 will allow desktop-only users to not have to switch between Metro and desktop to do things like use the control panel. I hear the Charms thing is going away-- that's a huge help for desktop users. I think if Microsoft actually listened to customers, then they'll be in a good spot. Traditional desktop users don't want change as drastic as the 7-to-8 transition -- you have to introduce stuff like this slowly. Everyone hated the Ribbon in Office 2007, and some people still do, but most people are used to it now.

I think my #1 feature request would be to put Aero Glass back into the OS, plus better theme support in general. The 2D Windows 2.x look is really awful if you're not on a tablet. The OS under the hood is actually quite good...unfortunately performance and stability enhancements don't sell licenses.

Comment: Re:Unions (Score 1) 441

The problem is that you can't call it a union, even though programming is closer to a skilled trade than a profession. Most tech workers are lone wolves, Ayn Rand devotees, etc. who feel there's absolutely no benefit to something like this. I've heard lots of arguments where people's sole experience with unions boiled down to something like "I was at a trade show/hotel/construction site, and the IBEW guy refused to let me plug in my own equipment." They conveniently forget that those electricians are getting paid a decent wage and have work.

I think the only thing that will work in IT is a professional organization like the AMA. Doctors are never going to have their salaries reduced, and there will never be an oversupply of labor because of this organization. The AMA and the various specialist boards keep salaries high, make entry into the profession very difficult, and lobby for their members. Imagine if the IT profession were able to buy Congresspeople the same way large companies do...you would probably start seeing a lot more worker-friendly legislation coming out.

(Side note, I really wonder what happens in the "lobbying" process. If you're elected to Congress, do you just get a never-ending stream of free trips, gifts and prostitutes? Do the companies doing the lobbying just hand them money over in brown paper sacks? Or is it all "in kind" gifts?)

Comment: BS, yet with the tiniest grain of truth (Score 1) 441

Anyone who has worked in the IT field long enough knows this truth -- there are rockstar, mediocre and just plain awful tech workers in both the foreign and domestic camps. However, other than people complaining in general about how awful people they have to work with are, I've never heard anyone say anything like "All US engineers/programmers/IT guys are universally bad and so my company should hire foreign workers so I get to work with the best of the best." (I've seen a lot of people who *think* they're the best of the best and aren't. I'm pretty good and would *never* give myself the label "rockstar" like some of these idiots do.)

The central argument against something like this isn't "I want my job protected at all costs against competition." It's the fact that large employers are working to reduce the baseline salary for everyone regardless of talent level. It sounds like the "vast, vast majority of tech engineers" interviewed for this aren't really workers -- they're probably startup founders given the lobbying org this guy works for (fwd.us). The guy who came up with Snapchat probably isn't coding anymore -- he's busy trying to convince people that Snapchat is worth 44 billion dollars.

I've worked in a few different companies, and been on lots of projects (I'm in IT services.) I've seen lots of perspectives. I was on the systems integration team for a very large offshored dev project to replace a critical system that basically had to be thrown out, taken back in house and reworked. I've also seen situations where offshore coding and H-1B holders end up doing decent work. The same goes for the US as well...I've been very fortunate to work with a few people who *really* knew their stuff in the little niche I work in. They're few and far between, and very expensive, but worth it. There's also horror stories...I remember one guy who basically BS'd his manager for over 3 years that he was administering a systems management application, but in reality he was doing the absolute bare minimum to keep it from falling over (and yes, I wound up having to clean up the mess.) I've dealt with systems guys who have absolutely no concept of troubleshooting, and just lack a grasp of the basics. Everyone starts out that way, but there are some people (domestic AND foreign) who don't put the effort into getting better. This is why arguments like this are so hard to completely refute, but on the other hand are mostly BS.

I think companies need to get back to investing in their employees and keeping them around for a while to see a return on that investment. If they did that, employees would be more loyal and employers wouldn't feel like (a) training money is "wasted" and (b) they need to hire a ready-made rockstar with every single skillset they could possibly need. Job descriptions are crazy -- they want everything, when in reality a good systems engineer can jump between hardware, software, operating systems, etc. pretty easily given enough time to learn the basics.

Comment: Re:SW Engineering as a _trade_ is still maturing (Score 1) 548

This is a big issue for me as well (I'm in systems integration, not dev, but we have very similar problems.)

- There's no equivalent of an ABET accreditation for training standards. I know lots of awesomely talented self-taught IT guys, but I also know a lot of people who just don't have the troubleshooting skills or discipline. (I would qualify as self-taught, coming from a science background.)
- Training is left up to vendors with an interest in selling products, as well as making IT professionals think their products are the only way to accomplish something. (Every OS, every packaged product, every database, is like this -- even for open source stuff.)
- There's no professional standards. Standards are extremely hard to nail down in a fast paced world, but I'm talking minimum stuff like secure coding and the low-level plumbing of network communication.
- There's no barrier to entry and no progression within the profession. It would be great if we could make sure people start out as technicians, then lead technicians, and THEN they start to get calling themselves senior, architect, whatever. How many Senior Systems Architects do you know who have amazingly huge gaps in their knowledge?
- Because there are no standards, or professional qualifications, there's no basis on which to hold someone accountable for a bad design. Their responsibility ends with "sorry."

I think some maturity and standards would do the software and systems worlds a lot of good. Employers wouldn't have to guess whether a candidate is lying to them regarding their abilities, professionals would be able to push back on stupid decisions based on a body of standards, etc. I think too many people think the equivalent of a P.E. is too much like a union, or they don't want the responsibility that a designation like that brings with it.

Comment: Re:Not flat. (Score 3, Insightful) 233

Your parents and grandparents were able to buy a house, two cards, and send 2 children to college on a single income. You can't.

I think there are two main factors driving this:
- Up until about the 70s, there was no competition for labor...the US was its own market and very few people ever even left the country for extended periods.
- The labor/management balance has shifted dramatically in favor of management.

The other component of your nostalgia moment was that your parents or grandparents were typically employed either for life by the same company, or by a small number of companies. Jobs were stable and employers invested in their employees, who in return had more loyalty. In the case of factory work, unions kept management in check and ensured their members got a decent middle class wage. I know this because I grew up in a Rust Belt city in the 70s/80s, and saw exactly what happens when this support structure is kicked out from under employees.

The problem today is that management is in the drivers' seat, and has convinced labor that they can be exactly like them if they just work harder and complain less. The "job creator" meme is very strong, even among the poor/unemployed, which is surprising. Not every employer is like this, I agree, but enough of them are that it affects everyone. I happen to be very lucky and working for a good employer, but when competitors start putting downward pressure on wages and benefits, it takes a very strong company with a good market position to hold the line.

Comment: The cycle continues (Score 1) 233

It's interesting to watch how things oscillate from one extreme to the other. In computers, it's the shift from terminals connected to mainframes, to PCs, to terminals that look a lot like a smartphone, and now a little bit back towards PCs. I'm guessing this insourcing trend will start swinging back the other way once labor here gets too far above the price levels it's at now.

The company I work for basically the opposite of leading edge -- we do IT services for a very staid, downtime-averse, risk-averse industry segment. They're just starting to figure out that offshoring whole development groups isn't giving them the savings they predicted, a fact that most companies realized a lot sooner. So not every industry oscillates in phase, but the pattern is everywhere.

Serious question though, for those with experience...one of the most often cited problems US manufacturers complain about is the lack of skilled factory workers. What exactly do people need in the way of skills that they didn't have 20-30 years ago when the manufacturing was offshored originally? If it's just running CNC equipment or similar, isn't all the programming and such done by the engineers? What is the skill they need?

Comment: That's never going to happen in a US company (Score 4, Insightful) 232

by ErichTheRed (#47695113) Attached to: Daimler's Solution For Annoying Out-of-office Email: Delete It

The problem with implementing something like this in a US company is the staffing model. European companies tend to have more people doing similar jobs, so that one person actually can fill in for another. Most out of office messages say something like "I'm not here, please contact my manager XYZ for assistance." 9 times out of 10, there's no backup person who can actually provide an answer, simply because there's no backup staff that knows enough to solve a problem.

The other issue is that at least in IT, most places still allow individuals to knowledge-hoard. Often it's unintentional (see understaffing above) because there's simply no time to ensure someone else knows about what you do. But sometimes people do this in a misguided quest for job security. Also, a very small number of people do it to cover something up -- there stories out there about people who found loopholes in purchasing/accounting systems and used them to write checks to themselves or divert equipment...and only got caught when someone else started reviewing things they had been handling themselves.

In my opinion, a lot of the knowledge-hoarding would stop if people were able to trust their employers to keep them employed, or to at least treat them fairly if they had to be laid off. Sure, implementing worker-friendly policies would probably be expensive in the short run, but I can't tell you the number of times I've walked into a new job where the previous individual held all the tribal knowledge about a system or process. I think this policy is a very good one -- especially for employees who work a stressful job and have family commitments, etc. Being able to completely ignore everything during a vacation would be something many employees would stick around to keep. Personally, I have a very busy work schedule and 2 little kids at home. Between not sleeping normally and often having to use my downtime to finish extra work, I would _love_ to be able to say "here, this is your problem now" for 2 weeks. (I wouldn't even have to go anywhere...just put me somewhere to turn off my brain for a couple days.)

It'll never happen here though -- there are too many people who buy into the "job creators" meme and let their employers walk all over them...everyone who even suggests a worker-friendly policy is a lazy entitled socialist here.

Bringing computers into the home won't change either one, but may revitalize the corner saloon.

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