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Journal: The Other Side of the Table 6

Journal by turgid

In recent times I've been fortunate enough to be the one conducting interviews instead of the one being interviewed. It's been an eye-opening experience. The first few times I was very nervous in case I asked a wrong/stupid question. I wouldn't want to put someone off or give a bad impression of the company.

Without wanting to sound conceited or pompous, I have been absolutely astounded at the apparent lack of ability of some candidates.

Put it this way: I'm completely self taught. I have spoken to people who are claiming to have developed software for nearly 20 years in some cases and make a big song and dance about all the hardware they've programmed for, and all the fancy IDEs, static analysis tools, industry standards they've followed etc. and about their wonderful C and C++ skills.

But what really beats me is how anyone can have been coding for longer than a fortnight and not know what an array is, or to have been doing C++ for 15 years and not know about parameterised types.

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Journal: Mitt Romney's Attitude 5

Journal by turgid

The Guardian has a very insightful and informative editorial called Mitt Romney and the myth of self-created millionaires.

Although I'm British, the US Presidential elections are 6 weeks away, and this man stands a good chance of soon becoming the Most Powerful Man in the World, which will affect us all.

This is the man who recently wrote off Democrat supporters (47% of Americans) as being feckless, lazy leeches on society.

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Journal: Lego Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 Jet Engine

Journal by turgid

This is pretty cool. Some "professional Lego builders" have made a half-size scale model of a Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 jet engine, and it goes round! It was inspired by a model made by a 5-year-old boy and his dad.

Allegedly, it's made from only standard Lego bricks. I'd love to take it apart to see how they did it.

The Trent 1000 powers the Boeing Dreamliner.

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Journal: Gratuitously Decadent CPU Down/Upgrade 5

Journal by turgid

I've been an AMD fan since 1999 when I bought a K6-2/400. I went 64-bit in 2007 with an Athlon 64 3200+. Then I went to and Athlon 64 X2 5200+ and a Phenom II 940 BE (quad core, 3GHz).

The 64-bit chips were installed in an ASUS M2N-SLi Delux motherboard with (initially 1GB DDR2 667) 4GB DDR2 800 RAM.

Each upgrade produced a very noticeable and exciting boost in performance, and having multiple cores to play with is cool. The Phenom II 940 BE is a 125W CPU, quite hot but the fan wasn't too noisy. The motherboard eventually gave up (the capacitors split open) so I replaced it with an ASUS M4A77D motherboard, which so far (after about 18 months) been very good.

I don't believe in spending vast sums of money on the absolute top-of-the-range CPUs but occasionally I like a new toy to play with. So I went looking for a Phenom II X6 to put in this motherboard, which supports most of them with a BIOS upgrade.

Unfortunately, I left it a bit late to buy a Phenom II X6, and the only one I could find at a reasonable price was a 1045T which "only" runs at 2.7GHs but it has turbo core (a kind of frequency scaling) which means that it can overclock one (or maybe 2?) of the cores by up to 500MHz if the others are not busy. The good thing is that this CPU is only 95W so it pumps out less heat and uses less electricity. As a rough estimate, the 10% lower clock frequency is compensated for by the extra two cores fairly well so that overall, on something like SETI@Home, it should be 45% faster.

I wrote a little program to do some very simple number crunching and timed it. It does seem to go a lot faster when none of the other cores are in use. This wasn't a very scientific test, so I'll have to investigate further.

My machine only runs Linux, so to flash the BIOS I used a utility called Flashrom which you run from Linux as root. I downloaded the source and compiled it (on Slackware64-13.37) and it Just Worked(TM). Even although the M4A77D isn't listed as being supported, using lspci I saw that the chips on the PCI bus corresponded to those on their supported list. I used it to read the BIOS from flash a couple of times, and compared the binaries by eye using hexdump -C (to see whether they looked sane) against the uncompressed BIOS file to be installed which I got from the ASUS website.

So I took a deep breath, wrote the new BIOS and rebooted...

It all worked, so I installed the new CPU and away it went!

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Journal: Xerox - My Final Rant 5

Journal by turgid

OK, it's not my rant, someone else has done much better that I ever could. It's the US-centric view.

I don't care so much any more since my former colleagues are now finding new and better jobs elsewhere, but I really do think that people should know how workers are being treated and how investors' money is being used.

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Journal: Left HCL 4

Journal by turgid

In September last year, Xerox transferred me to HCL as part of a "partnership" which was really just a run-of-the-mill outsourcing arrangement.

There has been quite a bit of reporting on the deal on the Internet since it was publicly announced last May/June (2011) so I won't bore you with all the details. Needless to say, Xerox cut its Engineering budget substantially in 2011 (having become a service company after acquiring ACS) and needed a way to get more work done for less money, so it hired HCL, one of the top Indian IT and Engineering outsourcing companies.

At the time, Xerox employed 3600 full-time permanent engineers and it transferred 600 of us to HCL. Wim and Mark told us that this would be an exciting opportunity for us to find new ways of working more efficiently, that we'd get thousands of extra new colleagues to help us and that there would be great new opportunities working (on contract) for other non-Xerox customers.

You can pick your jaw up off the floor now.

What really happened was just what you'd expect. The new company told us in meetings that we'd be "empowered" and that we'd have to do more with less (especially time) so we'd have to become much more efficient, but not to worry since they were experts at it.

I've been "empowered" in the past, and it was PHB-speak for a disorganised free-for-all. I mentioned that to embarrassed silence in the meetings.

We were told by HCL a very different story: that as much of the work as possible would be offshored to the cheaper staff in India and that they'd try to find new work for "other customers" in exciting vertical markets such as "aerospace" for us. "Aerospace" kept being bandied about by PHBs to try to make us interested. I believe Aerospace is all about paperwork and "compliance." Still, it's better than having your house repossessed by the bank.

The outsourcing affected five sites (three in the USA, one in the UK and one in the Netherlands). Meanwhile, over in Wilsonville, Orgeon, some Xerox manufacturing staff were asked to take cuts to their pay and conditions.

There were a substantial number of contract staff (technical specialists) and agency staff (e.g. test auditors) employed by Xerox. During the outsourcing activities none of them received a single official communication from either side about what was going on.

A lot of CVs went on the job boards and a lot of recruiters were quite astounded and asked what on earth was going on at Xerox...

Just before the transfer, Xerox cut back our redundancy terms and conditions to not much above Statutory Minimum and then offered a Voluntary Redundancy package. HCL told us that this was to show us that we were valued because they didn't want people to leave! Of course, the experienced staff (in their 50s) who were also getting a bad deal on their pensions, took the VR anyway. Away went much institutional knowledge and a lot of current work in progress, which set things back months.

The Scrum system proved to be a very accurate gauge of staff morale. After the transition had been announced, nothing was delivered during the next 2-week iteration. To give existing management their due, they took notice and the pep-talks started.

As time went on, HCL's plans for the site and the staff kept changing. Meanwhile they started to send over Indian staff for Knowledge Transfer (KT).

HCL had sold themselves to Xerox as having the world's most modern management, having passionate and empowered staff, and having been involved in huge, important projects for the biggest companies in the world, including Microsoft, HP and Boeing (for whom they might have done wonderful job on the Dreamliner if the scurrilous rumors are to be believed). Their CEO, Vineet Nayar also once stated that American graduates are unemployable and listed a bunch of dubious reasons, which you can google. (Let's use "American" here to mean "Western" for the sake of this discussion).

Now, being a contracting company, HCL wants to keep costs to a minimum to be able to make as much profit as possible from its customers. So, not only does it expect its staff (who are "empowered") to work long hours away from home for months at a time, it employs mainly recent graduates and other people with very limited professional experience. They tend to stay with the company for a few months to a couple of years at a time and hop jobs to get salary rises. What's great about working for HCL is that they get to travel to the West and work on prestigious projects for all the big brand names, and build up an impressive portfolio of experience in a short period of time.

The result of this for the companies that contract out to HCL is, that they get young, inexperienced temporary staff who maybe stay on the project for 3 months, after which they are replaced by more new, inexperience staff...

This is exactly what happened. HCL tells its customers that it can transfer knowledge from the acquired experts, who have maybe worked on something for 10 or 20 years in large, experienced teams (10+ people), using one or two young Indians at a time for a few weeks. After all, Westerners are "unemployable" whereas HCL staff are passionate and empowered.

Can you see the problem?

This is how Indians get a bad name.

The Indian Engineers are not stupid and they are not ignorant. The ones that we see are young and inexperienced and are working under deluded stick-wielding PHBs (non-technical managers living in fantasy-land who have no understanding of the projects they're involved with) who are asking them to do person-years worth of work in a foreign country, away from their families for months at a time on pitiful expenses (barely able to afford any accommodation) on systems they are totally unfamiliar with to cuckoo-land deadlines.

There were even instances of a single person being sent over to learn an entire project in three months, going back to India and being assigned to a different project for a different customer. The work went offshore and nothing happened because no one knew how to do it.

A while back, Ursula said in an interview that Engineering was now a commodity that could be bought in when required on the open market. That's fine if you don't need any continuity of knowledge of your projects and products in your staff and the Engineering you need doing is very simple (very shallow learning curves). Multifunction office products with 20 years of history are a completely different kettle of fish (but Xerox seems to be getting out of that business anyway).

Meanwhile, she's trying to tell youngsters to study to become Engineers...

User Journal

Journal: Lack of Music 4

Journal by turgid

What with spending the last 6 months looking for a new job and having a small Turgid to supervise, I haven't listened to any music properly in months. I'm feeling tired and burnt-out, and lack of music is part of the problem.

I've got one week left at my current job, then a week off and then I start my new job.. :-)

Mrs Turgid and I are both great music lovers and we can't go any length of time without music. We got a digital radio in the kitchen so that we could listen to Planet Rock.

Planet Rock is the best music radio station in the UK. The only other one I listen to is Radio 4 which is mostly speech. I really can't stand mainstream music radio (e.g. the barftastic Radio 1 or the soppy old goats' Radio 2). Classic FM is too lightweight and for Vicars and their families. Radio 3 is for the undead.

Planet Rock is OK since they often play some good music. You do have to put up with dross such as Def Leppard, Bon Jobby and Motley Crue and old git music, even the odd bit of drippy hippy stuff and non-Dio Rainbow, but they do play Motorhead on a Sunday morning when all other radio stations are doing their best to boost the nation's suicide rate with vacuous old chart music, religious twaddle and omnibus editions of the Archers.

Radio is convenient, but it's not nearly enough. They never play what I really want to hear.

Last year I got three new albums (on CD) that I haven't listened to yet: I just haven't had time. They are the new Primus, Megadeth and Mastodon records.

We're going to see Mastodon (and Dillinger Escape Plan!!!!) in London next month, and Primus some time later :-) We saw Primus last year at Brixton. They were superb!

I believe Smashing Pumpkins (minus Jimmy Chamberlain and the other two originals obviously) are playing too, but money's a bit short these days and I reckon fond memories should not be interfered with (not that I got to see them first time around but that's a story for another day).

User Journal

Journal: Hypothetical Selfish Question 4

Journal by turgid

Wouldn't it be great to exist entirely for yourself? The objective of life would be to achieve zero pain and suffering and as much "pleasure" as possible at any cost since we are not considering the effect of our existence on other human beings.

Just think of a life with absolutely no consequences, because you just don't care. You take whatever you need or want. You eat, drink and consume anything you desire. You will not be short of heat and shelter, because you will just take it at will.

Why?

Suppose you had decided to arbitrarily limit your life to the time that the consequences got to you.

I am not asking this question because I am considering this course of action ... no, I don't have the courage.... :-) I intend to live as long as possible in as curmudgeonly a way as possible... and I want to live long enough to see a fellow human being walk on Mars.

This is an attempt to solicit some input to answer an important moral question.

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Journal: An Offer 2

Journal by turgid

I've been offered a new job, and it's a good one. It will be much harder technically, but much more interesting and I'll be developing my skills accordingly in a growing company on high-tech products. Better still, it's mostly all Linux and other embedded OSs, very little Windows at all and probably no C++!

Our poor Indian at work thought I was going to work for a different customer on a different project. When I explained that I was leaving the company, he was very surprised.

I later found out that he and his Indian colleagues have a very different perspective on what's going on, especially regarding the future of the acquired staff and the reasons for the deal. No one has told them that they are involved because they are cheaper to employ than us, and that our future is very uncertain as our existing work is offshored.

A small handful of staff have started to work on projects for new customers, but that has meant travelling long distances to customers' sites and being away from home for long periods. No one asked for this, but they're doing it because they have nowhere else to go yet.

And go they will as soon as the opportunities arise.

User Journal

Journal: Gettin' Old - Desktop Environments 3

Journal by turgid

In the olden days, your Linux (or whatever) distribution used to come with several desktop environments and plain window managers to choose from.

From what I can see from reading the comments in the peanut gallery these days it seems that a distribution comes welded to a particular desktop environment and that one changes distribution in order to use a different desktop environment...

*Sigh*

This is not How it was Meant to Be.

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Journal: Training my Replacement 2

Journal by turgid

Our Indian has been with us now for nearly 3 weeks. He's a very friendly guy but he's very shy and nervous. He also looked very sheepish and embarrassed when I introduced him to other people not in the team as the guy who was learning our project to ramp up the off-shore team that would be taking over from us.

The outsourcing company that now owns us has completely under-estimated the time required to assimilate our knowledge and I know for a fact through the grape vine that our project is going offshore very soon i.e. at the end of the 3 months that our motivated, empowered and passionate colleague will be with us to learn.

He now knows how to compile our code, but he has no idea what all the builds are for (same questions asked every day despite it being explained and documented). He hasn't really cottoned on to the idea of using bookmarks or favourites in the web browser to remember useful web pages. Every time I tell him to go to such-and-such a page, he goes to his email an looks for the particular email with that link in it...

Progress is slow, tea-breaks are long and clandestine meetings with offshore managers on the phone are frequent and long. He doesn't feel like part of the team.

The poor soul is drowning in our (not very good) internal documentation.

Some of our PHBs told me that for this outsourcing deal to be financially successful, at least 50% of us have to be off our current customer's (i.e. former employer's) projects. So half of us have to be replaced by Indians in the next few months.

Never mind: there are Exciting New Possibilities of Interesting New Work(TM) for "other clients." That could involve travel and staying away from home for weeks or months at a time, and the new employer is notoriously stingy about travel and accommodation allowances.

But, hey, the staff do it because they are so enthusiastic about what they are getting to work on and the company is so great!

Our Indian has a son who is not quite 4 months old yet, and he will be here for 3 months, away from his family. The stingy slave-driving so-and-sos will not pay for him to go back to India to see his wife and child during that time.

What a lovely bunch.

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Journal: Rejection No. 5 5

Journal by turgid

I didn't get the job (interview number 5).

They said some very nice things about me, but the particular skills they were looking for (i.e. Perl) in addition to C and Linux were too rusty. They said that there was no doubt that I'd be able to pick it up again, but that they needed a real expert who could start on the project straight away without any time to ramp up.

There are a few other things I need to revise as well.

The thing is, I don't want to spend much time on Perl since it's not a skill that's in great demand these days. This job was a bit of a niche.

User Journal

Journal: Nice Interview 3

Journal by turgid

Today I went for my 5th interview since starting to look for a new opportunity back in May.

This one was very different to the previous four (they've all been quite difference to each other). It was a very small company with great products that's growing. I also have some very relevant skills.

My first impression was that they are very nice people, very intelligent as well and optimistic without being silly (no pointy-haired buzz-words).

There was a technical test but the guy asking the questions hadn't seen my CV. I'm afraid I didn't answer many of the questions. There were several about the finer points of Perl. It's a very long time since I did any serious Perl.

I'm not sure if my technical skills are quite strong enough for them.

I was quite impressed by the way they questioned me and kept things focused. They obviously knew how to get the right sort of information out of a candidate without being intimidating and yet still being direct.

They gave me a little tour of their lab where there were plenty of scopes and pretty flashing lights to see.

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Journal: Interview No. 5 Scheduled 5

Journal by turgid

Our Indian is starting with us next week for 3 months. The existing team members have between them 25 years experience of our project, but the motivated and empowered colleague from the sub-continent is going to learn it all in 3 months, return to India and start up a team to take over the work.

There are rumours that any exciting new work procured for us will be swiftly offshored to the cheap people. Who'd have guessed it? So what does that leave us to do?

I'm down to 1 day's worth of spare annual leave now, and I'm spending half of that on an interview soon. It sounds very interesting, and a big challenge. Who knows, it might even involve growing some pointy hair.

Needs must and all that.

The first Rotarian was the first man to call John the Baptist "Jack." -- H.L. Mencken

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