Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive


Forgot your password?

Comment Re:Natural effects of a maturing field? (Score 1) 348

This is precisely what a guild would have to focus on first. I don't know much about the lobbying process, but I do see that politicians are very well compensated by other sources of income than their legislative salaries. You don't see very many Congresspeople living simple lives. However wrong it is, it's time people admit that the only way to get something you want passed is to pay for it. Every other trade/industry group does this. I say form a guild, take up a massive collection, hire lobbyists and basically tell them "we want visa reform and worker protection laws, and here's $XXX million for your "re-election campaign"

You can't win the game if you don't play...and the IT employers are playing the game.

Comment Natural effects of a maturing field? (Score 4, Interesting) 348

I really like working in IT - it's good to have a job where you're using your brain every day instead of just churning out reports or something similar. The major complaints I have are:
- Age discrimination -- I haven't been looking for work lately, but I'm sure getting more paranoid about keeping a job when I see stories of people who are basically unhireable after 40. I just crossed that magic threshhold and although I have tons of experience and a solid reputation behind me, I do worry about companies just not even bothering to interview me because of a stupid set of unfounded beliefs.
- Work visa program abuses -- I have absolutely no problem with companies using H-1B, L-1 or other visas to bring in super-intelligent people who are providing a key service to the company. I have a big problem with Tata, Infosys, Accenture, IBM, HP, etc. using them to bring in a cheap run-of-the-mill developer, DBA or sysadmin who could easily have been sourced locally if the company would pay reasonable rates.
- Clueless employers -- This isn't something easy to solve, but outside of Silicon Valley and extremely high-tech or enlightened companies, IT is considered a janitorial-level service. This is why the Tatas and Infosys's of the world are called in. Everywhere I've worked that has done this has had IT productivity slow to a crawl because of change management paperwork, dealing with absolutely clueless remote employees and other factors.

The only long term solution I see is a guild system...heaven forbid you call it a union in front of Libertarian IT workers. If we want a career that continues to pay off and be enjoyable to work in, education has to be standardized in at least the fundamental level, and a career progression needs to be put in place. We need to fund some lobbyists to give Congress the brown paper bags full of money they need to pass limits on work visa programs, and most importantly it needs to be done as a group. Doctors have the AMA, and it keeps their salaries high by limiting the number of medical school graduates and lobbying for favorable insurance rules. Musicians, actors and writers have their guilds that ensure they don't get screwed by studios and keep getting royalties for their work. I just don't see why it's taking so long for people to realize they have no power against any of these forces we're seeing. No one is going to win an age discrimination suit against a corporation and their well-funded legal team. It's nice that people are trying, but it will never happen. At most they'll get a small payout and be blackballed from working in the industry ever again.

Comment IBM does research? (Score 1) 99

I'm only kidding, I know IBM does have a pretty big basic research program. I'm just shocked it's even operating anymore given how crazy things have been at IBM these days. Why does a white shoe management consulting firm (which is what IBM is trying to turn itself into) still have a lab?

Don't get me wrong - I want them to continue and hopefully they'll get through this crazy period. But now that IBM doesn't manufacture anything other than mainframes and p-series, and no longer owns its own semiconductor fabs, I'm sure semiconductor research will be next on the chopping block.

Comment OMG, $2 billion??? (Score 1) 145

I know that's funny money pre-IPO valuation, but come on guys, why isn't ANYONE saying "it's the dotcom bubble all over again, run! Save your investments!" Most of us lived through the first dotcom bubble and watched the market for anything technology related go insane, then collapse completely. It's going to happen again.

Github is cool right now because it's at the nexus of these social media startups, that's it. It's a useful tool, sure, but trying a silly idea like "making everyone a coder" just sounds like 23-year-old CEO hubris again. I guess I just don't see the allure of working 80-hour weeks banging out webmonkey code for yet another phone app, but that's exactly what's going to happen when these new "coders" enter the world of work and find out it's not all that exciting for the most part.

I'd much rather see advances in semiconductor technology or energy conservation or space exploration than Yet Another Social App pushing ads to eyeballs...there's better places to spend money.

Comment We'll see what Microsoft has planned (Score 2) 90

One thing about Microsoft these days is their relentless push to stop you using their software on-premises, or at least out of their control. "Cloud first" means local datacenter last, so I'm expecting that they're going to be slowly increasing prices to a point where the MBAs have every argument they need to move the company to Office 365. Their hosted email is admittedly very good, but it's still not "yours" and not reliable in the case of network failure, Azure hiccups, etc. I'm definitely not cloud-averse, but I do know that it really doesn't cost that much to run an Exchange server in house -- the architecture has changed enough such that it's not total black magic anymore, and the majority of the day to day admin can be done by regular help desk guys or automation tools. So, most normal-sized places with simple email requirements can get away with one guy who's good with Exchange, and it doesn't have to be their full time job until you get to a certain number of users.

Management accounting is weird -- it makes more financial sense for a company to pay and pay for years on end for a service in a subscription format, rather than buy and hold onto a software license. Same thing goes for assets -- every big company is falling all over themselves to sell real estate only to pay someone else for the privilege of occupying what was their building...all because of accounting tricks. It's so strange because it's backwards compared to personal accounting. People usually want to pay off their cars or houses and live in them without a mortgage or car loan, for example. Businesses seem to want to go to software companies and say, "Please, let me pay you forever to use your software."

Comment Fundamentals never change (Score 3, Insightful) 162

I've been doing systems work of some kind since the early 90s. The technology changes a lot, but learning the fundamental concepts early on will allow any sysadmin to continue being productive even when entire platforms get swapped out from under you. Unix --> Linux, Windows GUI --> Windows PowerShell, Physical servers --> Virtual servers, Virtual on-site servers --> cloudy virtual servers -- all these transitions can be made successfully by falling back on the fundamental tasks of controlling access, dealing with failures, providing resources, etc. that are similar at their core no matter what you're running on.

The thing that trips up a lot of sysadmins is getting bogged down in the details of one particular platform or aspect of their job and not seeing the big changes that come up. For the right kind of crazy person, this job is actually fun. I hope I'm doing something like it years from now.

Comment The mental health system needs fixing! (Score 4, Interesting) 1146

I'm from the gun-averse camp, but I'm well aware that nothing can be done to silence the gun lobby in this country. It's in the Constitution, and we're too diverse a country to ever support taking it out. You could have daily mass shootings of 50+ people and the NRA would still defend gun rights, with millions of owners right behind them. Even background check laws will never be strengthened beyond what's there already because people are going to assume the government will be coming for their guns.

So, it seems to me that the next best thing would be to fix mental health care and make sure everyone has equal access to it. Who knows what happened, but it's most likely someone with an ax to grind who just happened to get triggered today. Right now, there's virtually no state-run inpatient mental health treatment beds outside of maybe the psychiatric ERs. You basically have to be Hannibal Lecter to get committed to an asylum now. There's also not that much support available in the community. Deinstitutionalization was supposed to get people out of the hospital -and- treat them on an outpatient basis, but they forgot the second part when states closed all the asylums.

Comment That's the downside of the iEcosystem (Score 1) 366

One of the reasons people buy iDevices (and Macs to a certain extent) is the fact that everything is provided in a neat little package that just works. The downsides are that you don't get to question how it works, and therefore Apple can just yank your app (and therefore your direct or ad revenue) if they decide they don't like you. Ironically, this is also a strength for the platform - they control the hardware and software. Android's wild west app store is a lot more chaotic, as is their hardware outside of the Samsung/Nexus flagship models. Microsoft's store is even stranger - back when they were paying developers to write apps, anyone who could open Visual Studio hacked up a skin for YouTube or created hundreds of apps that had different names but did the same thing. By contrast, you can give an Apple product to a knowledge-free consumer and be confident that they'll at least figure out the basics and won't be tripped up by weird problems.

The fact that everything is super-miniaturized and functionality is provided on non-repairable systems-on-chips makes things hard to repair, this is true. However, I don't understand why Apple refuses to let people see behind the curtain, even if they can't do board-level repairs. I agree that there is a lot of engineering and design that goes into stuffing all those components into a tiny rounded rectangle Jobsian (Iveian?) package with no buttons, but we're not talking trade secrets here.

I do think that people should have the right to repair. Not everyone wants a throwaway appliance that is made that way for no good reason other than to make money on the next model, or the ability to charge $100 for $2 worth of flash memory.

Comment Re:Where are all these employees? (Score 1) 230

"it's just really hard to find qualified candidates"

I can't totally disagree, as I have been on the hiring side as well as the engineering side. I guess my question is how unqualified you feel they are -- and in the case of the visa programs, how every employer feels about this. I think it's somewhat unrealistic to find a drop-in replacement for someone who knows everything about how your company works and can be productive immediately. I do systems engineering work in the airline industry -- there is a huge amount of domain knowledge that you have to gain before you can tackle the technology side.

I think companies do need to bear some of the responsibility of training their workforce. Most used to do this with no issue - they'd take a completely green college graduate with no work experience and make them productive. The visa programs just remove another incentive for companies to do this.

Comment Re:H1B Visa Scam (Score 1) 230

"By the time I quit, those thousands of jobs had been cut to hundreds and the campus was a ghost town."

This is mainly what I'm worried about, and why the article was a good thing to get in front of everybody. I've spent a long time working either directly for very large companies, or as a contractor to them doing various IT jobs. These are the kinds of companies like you describe, with huge multi-floor buildings employing thousands of people. (Basically, you're not in the "very large" category until your building/campus has its own parking garage.) The problem that not everyone seems to get is that the entire economy is based around giving thousands of people like this a way to earn money and have a stable existence. Unless you want to throw out money and switch to a Star Trek utopian society, people need to work, earn money and spend it. People in favor of squeezing out every single inefficiency in the economy love to point to big employers and say how much waste there is, how much less they could be paying their workers, etc. And yes, large companies do have some completely dead wood and less productive people -- I've seen tons of dead wood over the years. I've also seen a lot of corporate jobs that involve little more than taking a stack of input work, performing some sort of process on it, and submitting it to the next person in the chain.'s something to think about:
- A lot of those paper pushers own real estate and are paying property taxes.
- Many have one or more children, and are using public education to educate them while they work, which requires property taxes.
- Most, if not all, have had to purchase or lease one or more cars from car dealerships.
- Everyone pays sales tax, and car owners pay gasoline taxes to keep the roads in driveable condition, so they can get to that 10,000 person corporate campus every morning.
- Every W2 employee pays Social Security and Medicare tax, and most 1099 contractors pay it themselves as well.
- The ACA as it currently stands means we will still be on the "insurance" model for healthcare regardless of who pays for a very long time, and large employers are able to get better deals from insurers than individuals can.
- Employees who are happy and feel safe in their jobs are going to be willing to spend more money. This includes discretionary "treats" every now and then as well as vacations, and this spending powers a huge other side of the economy. Employees who are scared about being laid off next week are going to hang on to their money.

Given that large employers' employees affect a large portion of the economy, I'm all for some inefficiency. Otherwise, you're going to get the same effect that I saw growing up in the Rust Belt-- factories and steel mills that had the 70s equivalent of these corporate jobs all of a sudden stopped contributing to the economy, and everything just started grinding to a halt. Unless we want to flip the entire economy on its head, everyone is going to need a way to make money, and getting rid of these jobs is not the way to do that.

Comment Larger macro-level problems are coming. (Score 5, Insightful) 230

When I saw this in the Times yesterday, the thing that surprised me was that a major news outlet was reporting on this in very matter-of-fact terms. As we've seen, these discussions get heated, and for the record I'm not one of the "they took our jerbs" people for the most part. What I don't like is the abuse of the system by these offshoring companies, and the erosion of any sort of stability throughout the workforce.

As originally intended, there's nothing wrong with the H-1B and L-1 visa programs. I work for a multinational company and we often use these to bring in very talented employees who just happen to be citizens of another country. The difference here is that most of these people are designing products and providing the exceptional advanced-level knowledge that the visa was originally intended to allow. In the article, and indeed in most IT departments, this is just a flat-out replacement of a low level office job. Tata or Accenture or whoever is just bringing in the few people in their offshore centers who have the capability to learn the target job and teach it to the hundreds of other interchangeable workers they have back home. This is what I think has to be looked at; companies simply don't want to pay for any labor anymore if they don't have to and now we have an environment where they can easily avoid doing so. I like how the article puts it right in peoples' faces -- it's no longer the problem of some anonymous factory worker in the rust belt or an IT worker that makes a higher salary and has a higher perceived degree of stability than the accountants they were profiling.

What bothers me more about this is the loss of economic stability. People are going to avoid buying things if they aren't secure in their jobs, period. The 30-year mortgage was designed around the idea that people would at least stay in the house for 10 or 15 years, preferably for the full 30. Someone who's picking up stakes and moving every five years chasing the jobs around the country to the lowest-cost environments is wasting a huge amount of money in real estate transfer taxes, realtor commissions, loan fees, mortgage interest (since it's front-loaded), etc. It easily costs mid-5 figures when everything is added up to move, but most people just pay for it with their next mortgage and don't think about it. Not to mention the cost -- moving a family with kids around constantly does not make for a stable home life. Ask any military family about that; every military kid I've ever talked to says they hated moving every year or two because they never got to settle in somewhere and put down roots.

It sounds really mean to say this, but think about your average corporate worker. Not management, not a hotshot developer, just a random cubicle dweller producing reports or processing customer records. The jobs in the article, like low level corporate accounting tasks and such, were where the vast majority of average, C-student college graduates have wound up for the last 30+ years. The progression was thus - get into a big state university, party your way through 4 years and get a generic business or communications degree, show up at corporate recruiting events during your senior year, and get hired on for some sort of entry level task. If you kill off all the middle class jobs out there, what do you propose doing with these educated people who previously bought houses, paid property taxes, and felt secure enough in their lives to have a family? If there's no good answer for this, why are we bothering telling students that college is worth it in the long term? These are the questions that need to be asked, and no one is doing it because companies are only focusing on today, not 20 years from now.

Submission NYTimes: Temporary Visas to Import Talent Help Copycats Take Jobs Abroad->

ErichTheRed writes: I was surprised to see this article in the NY Times today. It describes what we in the IT industry see all the time — H-1B visas being used way outside of their original purpose. I think this is significant because the article describes the problem well and shows how Tata, Accenture, etc. are offshoring regular office work as well as IT work. I feel that showing the average Joe/Jane that their nice safe middle class office job isn't so safe is the only way to sway popular opinion on this important matter!
Link to Original Source

Comment Every monitoring system will be gamed! (Score 1) 165

I've worked in call centers, and done IT work for call centers. If you think you're being tracked at work, and you don't work in a call center, you shouldn't complain. :-) Seriously, I can't think of a more soul-crushing work environment. Every single customer interaction is timed, recorded, and used to rate performance. Some call centers make their employees ask if they can go to the bathroom, like they're back in school. And call centers are usually supervised by the worst micromanagers. Some of this is because the employees aren't exactly high level and will goof off otherwise, but a lot of the monitoring is done simply because they can, and they will use it to control every last aspect of a worker's job.

The problem with this is that the same kind of monitoring is trickling into "knowledge worker" territory. Companies hate paying high salaries, and a lot of them are very insecure, trying to make sure every single minute in the office is a productive one. I only expect this to get worse as the Milennial generation takes over, because they're used to things like gamification and "quantified self" kinds of monitoring. These technologies aren't inherently bad, but they can end up being used for purposes that people don't exactly think of. Take an example of a company giving away a health-related app or something to employees, and using it to track movement in the guise of lowering insurance costs. It's fine right up until the point it isn't...

Comment "Normal" introverts are overlooked (Score 2) 307

I read "Quiet" a few years ago, and the author really does make a good point. Outgoing, gregarious people like salespeople, athletes, politicians, and so on are the ones who get the most attention simply because they're always out there. Likewise, the ultra-introverted (read: borderline autistic) also get noticed because they're so different from this norm that everyone has in their head.

The problem with rewarding extroverted behavior in education or the workplace comes when you're dealing with "normal" introverts. I'm one of these guys. I really dislike group work, and I'm not at my best working with others. However, I'm not staring at my shoes all the time either...I just -prefer- individual activities and pretend to enjoy office politics, etc. when it comes my way. I just think people need to understand that extroversion is not the default choice, and that there are people who thrive with others and people who do best on their own. For a workplace example, take the open office plan -- no quiet spaces at all, designed to encourage "collaboration." Extroverts like me who prefer to work alone find environments like this distracting, but HR dogma is pushing these through at every company lately.

Comment It can go either way (Score 3, Interesting) 131

I work for a professional services company. I have the title of "systems architect" which is just a fancy way of saying I have enough end-to-end knowledge to glue together software, hardware, network, storage, etc. to build a working product. I'm definitely not an "enterprise architect" which is another thing completely. EAs can almost be thought of academic positions. These are the guys who report directly to the CIO and basically keep up with all the goings-on in the field. Neither I, nor the EA, should have the title "architect" -- that implies designing a stable structure built to last hundreds of years. Nothing in IT Is stable or built to last.

When they're well trained, highly experienced, and provide relevant feedback, the EA position is a positive thing. However, I've seen it devolve into something less than positive. How many here work for large companies and see one or more of the following from the EA role?
- Technology choice as religion: System X or Cloud Provider Y or Vendor Z is the EA's favorite, so therefore it will be force-fit into any situation.
- "Gartner Rubber Stamp": Those guys at Gartner throw their chicken bones every year and come up with their Magic Quadrants. If Gartner or Forrester has not endorsed a technology, this type of EA will never let it surface anywhere in the organization. The big problem I have with this is that when I've seen it happen, the EA in question has no skills of their own and is simply falling back on these research firms to get their ideas.
- Professional conference-goer and vendor schmoozer: Yes, you do need to do some of this as an EA. However, I've seen this taken to an extreme. These are the guys who are never actually in the office; they're always on the road at industry conventions and playing golf with the consulting firms who will be offshoring IT next year or selling a billion-dollar ERP package whose implementation will fail. All I'm saying is that the EA role is ripe for abuse by individuals who are so inclined...I've seen a large company's "Labs" division of their IT department burn through tons and tons of money and produce nothing of value whatsoever, while "regular IT" went for years with inadequate training.
- Framework/process Nazi: What large-company IT denizen hasn't heard of ITIL, TOGAF, CMMI, ISO-whatever, horribly butchered Agile Waterfall dev processes, and other "enterprisey" stuff? Chances are that a lot of this is coming from the EA, advised by Reassuringly Expensive Consulting LLC. Don't get me wrong, process is good and necessary, but process taken to an extreme is horrible.
- ADHD Architecture: Companies shouldn't stagnate, but they also shouldn't be pivoting towards whatever brand new, unproven, untested technology comes out every 2 months. This is the danger of the position basically being academic -- vendors are salivating at the chance to sell new shiny stuff all the time, and I in engineering have been the victim having to implement what an EA saw in a sales demo. "What do you mean it won't work in our environment? The nice sales guy who paid for my strip club visit in Vegas assured me everything would be fine! Oh, I guess we should just hire their professional services team if you aren't up to the task..."

An actual experienced, seasoned enterprise architect can help keep the ship from sinking even when new technology keeps shooting holes in the hull, as long as there's a CIO-level commitment to enforce at least some key choices made by the EA. When that EA is incompetent, or a tool of the consulting companies, or just a drain on resources, that's where the complaints surface.

May all your PUSHes be POPped.