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Comment What about VCE and VMWare? (Score 2) 93

EMC, Cisco and VMWare are tied up in a sort of loose alliance to sell cloudy boxes to large companies (VBlock.) I wonder what would happen with that, and also whether Dell would own VMWare. That would be a pretty huge reversal of fortune for Dell. I guess that trip through privatization let them fix the company without being under the microscope every quarter. It seems to me that this would be a lesson for companies looking to IPO -- unless you need access to billions and billions of dollars in funding, being out of the public eye can be a good thing.

I honestly haven't looked at Dell hardware for a very long time, since most of the physical stuff we deploy is outside of the US and they have horrible international warranty service. Their low end consumer PCs are garbage and always have been, but I've heard the business lines of desktops, laptops and servers are still halfway decent.

Comment Re:I worked for the anti-Zappos once (Score 2) 313

I'm guessing the name of the company is also a color between red and yellow in the rainbow. Good guess?

I also work for a not-to-be-named European company and the management culture is very strong in European organizations. It's very confusing to American employees on first brush. I'm not defending it because it's stupid, but the reasoning behind it is that companies in Europe are much more insular -- a lot of them almost exclusively promote from within. People tend to have much longer tenures with the same company and slowly rise in the ranks, so you are more likely to have a manager who knows the job function they're managing. This is not always the case of course. In addition, European companies have been increasingly adopting US-style MBA management tactics. They sometimes mix and match these styles resulting in a messy organization. Finally, in European companies, management below the executive level is a much more privileged class than in American ones. In countries like the UK and France where private car ownership is expensive, management are the ones given a car allowance for example. The privilege tends to feed a "we know best" attitude, and it can work well or be quite toxic given the company's situation.

Not to speculate, but this may have led to the situation at VW. Given my experience I could definitely see one or two managers convincing the rest of the organization to go along with something like this simply based on the culture difference.

Comment Interesting experiment (Score 2) 313

OK - I've recently been "promoted" to a Senior Lead position in a small group. This means, in addition to the work I have been doing and continue to do, I now have to deal with the management and HR stuff for a bunch of coworkers. Even though we have a "technical career track," at this point in the track I'm expected to take on some management duties. I'm of the opinion that management by socially promoted workers isn't the way to go. Despite all the complaints from workers, first-line management is an essential function and needs to be performed by people who are good at it, period. I really am trying to make a go of it, and I consider my mandate to be something along the lines of "don't be one of the numerous idiot managers I've had in my lifetime." That said, management is a completely separate skill than just about anything technical. It's not "better," it's just "different" and therefore it shouldn't be held out as something to achieve after working as an individual contributor for X years. I think the fact that management is sometimes much better compensated than their workers leads to people ill-suited for it fighting to be promoted into it.

That said, unless you have a universally motivated workforce, the Zappos no-management thing can't work. There really are people who will do the absolute minimum to avoid getting fired. I've always been a good worker; no one would ever call me a workaholic, but I do put in extra effort consistently and have been recognized for it. It is a huge eye opener to be in the management seat and see that (a) not everyone is like this, (b) those who are not motivated need to be pushed along constantly, and (c) very little can be done to motivate said people beyond keeping their jobs. That's one of the fundamental realizations new bosses should get early on.

I agree that many companies have changed since the authoritarian style of management was the most effective everywhere. Some companies really are capable of having their staff do a good job without being helicoptered constantly. Some (law firms, consulting firms, etc.) have kept the authoritarian and up-or-out style, mainly because they only hire new graduates and indoctrinate them completely. It'll be interesting to see where this experiment ends up in the MBA case study book.

Comment Isn't this what Agile promises? (Score 1) 281

The company I work for, who is late to everything, is now starting to get the Agile religion and is trying to apply it to systems work. (Yes, DevOps.) My honest opinion, having really given it a try, is that Agile is designed for the lowest common denominator engineering teams. Everything has to be broken up into small enough tasks that no one takes on too much, and sometimes more time is spent planning than actual working on stuff, forcing tasks to fit into this model. It's perfect if you are a big offshoring shop and are performing run of the mill development tasks that don't involve any business understanding. It's a whole lot easier to say "code me this service with these interfaces in 2 weeks, don't worry about the rest of the project" than to get developers thinking about the bigger picture.

It seems like Agile and DevOps culture was designed for this kind of "we add developers at web scale" approach to development. If you're doing something that's more complex than the back end for a phone app, that's where it can break down. With Agile you _can_ split tasks up such that no one developer knows anything beyond their own little piece, but that doesn't scale because you can't quickly train new guys in a codebase or operational environment without any context.

Comment Re:Natural effects of a maturing field? (Score 1) 349

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) 349

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) 100

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) 94

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) 1163

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) 231

"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) 231

"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) 231

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.

If in any problem you find yourself doing an immense amount of work, the answer can be obtained by simple inspection.