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The Almighty Buck

Dot-Commers vs. Government Contractors 424

StrangeBeer writes: "When the dot-Com movement went bust, it sent thousands of former employees running for cover (or the unemployment line, whichever was closer). One place they didn't go was the way of the Government Contractor who, incidentally, is doing just fine right now with or without a recession. Various reasons are given for this and one I'd like to point out is that the government managers would rather hire an underqualified person with a security clearance and later train them in their tradecraft. The vast majority of these kinds of employees are coming from other kinds of federal work (military, civil service, etc.) and not defunct dot-Com companies."
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Dot-Commers vs. Government Contractors

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  • by msolnik ( 536110 ) on Thursday January 17, 2002 @02:42PM (#2856160) Homepage
    Truthfully its a pretty good idea. Yes you wont get paid as much as usual but you do get a lot of benifits working for the government. And very good job stability considering they are in desperate need of good IT people with knowledge and experience. Also you know they wont pull an Enron on you. Just a few of my thoughts...
    • by 2Flower ( 216318 ) on Thursday January 17, 2002 @02:50PM (#2856228) Homepage

      I'd like to second this. I got VERY lucky... just coming out of college and looking for my first job, I NEEDED something in the area, stable, and with decent pay. I found a job as a webmonkey (with training opportunities for database programming and multimedia) for the FDA's Center For Devices and Radiological Health [].

      The practical upshot is that I got lots of great training via the Killing-- err, the Learning Tree, expanded my skills tremendously, started out with a fairly eeeh salary but am now living quite comfortably... and most importantly, I did all of right at the start of the .Com Crash.

      If I had jumped in on the corporate entry level (not that there were many jobs for someone who previously thought Cold Fusion was a physics thing) I'd probably have bounced around a couple jobs, maybe had to move once or twice, and definitely not had the ability to save money and get nice and financially stable. While others were auctioning off their Aeron chairs to afford cold cans of beans, I was sittin' pretty on my cheapo Ikea office stool (with homemade padding).

      There are drawbacks. One, you don't start out with the Hat Made Of Money. If you can live 'comfortably' and likely single without needing a ferrari, this is not a huge hurdle. Two, if you're young, a lot of government employees are not. I'm the youngest guy in my office by about ten years. Three, no, the work is not very sexy. I view work as a means to an end (end meaning "$$$" which I spend on things I WANT to do). If a sexier job with the same amount of stability pops up, I'll go for it, but until then make mine federal.

    • > Also you know [the Government] wont pull an Enron on you.

      Oh yeah? Tell that to any government employees in Argentina! ;-)

  • not so fast (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Em Emalb ( 452530 ) < minus poet> on Thursday January 17, 2002 @02:42PM (#2856162) Homepage Journal
    As a former military person, I would like to debunk a myth a lot of techies seem to have. Not everyone who worked in the military is under qualified.

    In fact, a ton of inovations have come from those supposed undertrained military folks. Getting a security clearance is easy.
    • Indeed (Score:5, Insightful)

      by FatHogByTheAss ( 257292 ) on Thursday January 17, 2002 @02:57PM (#2856324)
      I've found, as a general rule, that people with some military training and background are generaly better engineers than your typical CS grad, as they have a real understanding of what mission critical means.

      A 21 year old kid who has legitimately been responsible for someone elses life is far more experienced than the valedectorian at your local code monkey U.

      • Re:Indeed (Score:2, Interesting)

        by batboy78 ( 255178 )
        I totally agree, going back to an earlier slashdot article about the CMM, and code coming in on time, and under budget. Only two organizations have a level 5 rating, one is NASA, and the other is the ALC out of Ogden, which just so happens to be an Air Force coding shop (among other things).
      • I've found, as a general rule, that people with some military training and background are generaly better engineers than your typical CS grad, as they have a real understanding of what mission critical means.

        I agree, but for a different reason: military personnel have more discipline. That is the key. You don't find discipline in young "code monkeys". You'll find it more often in those who have either a) been brainwashed by the military or b) been brainwashed through several years of training as a professional engineer working in a high-quality ("mission critical") environment.
      • Re:Indeed (Score:2, Interesting)

        Speaking as a government contractor...Me to!

        There is a factor you young-uns out there should consider, too, especially you young "hackers": Don't do anything that could screw up your being able to get a security clearance.

        If you think it's fun when you do it on the sly, try doing it for real! (Disclaimer: I don't, but I know those who do). Break into things for a living? MONDO fun, and I wish I did that.

        Sadly, I gather a good paycheck for trying to design features into the systems to stop them. But that money depends on a clearance, too.

        With a clearance, many things become possible that would otherwise land you in jail.
  • by jejones ( 115979 ) on Thursday January 17, 2002 @02:48PM (#2856213) Journal
    ...they can always shake down the citizens for more money or pile on some more deficits rather than fold. If people would come and throw you in jail and take all your money if you didn't buy a BeBox, Be would have done a lot better. Wouldn't have been right, but they'd have done a lot better.
  • by wiredog ( 43288 ) on Thursday January 17, 2002 @02:49PM (#2856218) Journal
    As was pointed out in the article, many contractors will hire someone with a clearance and no experience because training them takes less time than clearing them does. A top secret clearance is a real meal ticket. The cultural differences are interesting. The government contractor expects to provide support for a product for years where the dot-com guy expects the product to be completely gone in less than a year. The government contractor wants coding standards and lots of documentation, so that if the programmer gets run over by a bus someone else can step in. The dot-com guy doesn't have the time, or inclination, to do documentaton, and often feels that coding standards are an infringement on his creativity. The contractor expects to stick with the same company, often the same project, for years. The dot-com guy expects to go from place to place following the money or the latest new exciting thing.

    I work for a DoD contractor, and there's a war on. Woo! hoo! I'm gonna buy a house!

    When life hands you a lemon, make lemonade.

    • And yet you were saying how us at SAIC are "scary" a couple of months ago 'cause we do all kinds of secret stuff :)

      Truth is, working at a government contractor is great right now - especially a defense contractor, which SAIC is. Our stock is going up. We've got thousands of openings. We're hiring, not laying off. The benefits are great.

      The problem is, it takes discipline. I'm only 20, so this is something I had to learn the hard way. I'm still learning. Government contractors are different. They do require documentation. They want to know exactly how you made the broken software work so that if you do get hit by a bus, someone else can make it work. It's serious business. Unfortunately, not many from the dot-com bust really seem to understand this. It's a shame too, 'cause we miss out on a lot of talent simply because people don't understand the scope of what we're doing and how it must be complete and perfect because lives depend on it.

      Those who do get it though... this is the place to be. You couldn't ask for anything more.

      (OT: Where do you work again wiredog?)
      • IMC []. We don't do anything with you guys, but we do a bit with GRCI. Most of our stuff is for DMSO, but BMDO may give us some business.

        Last Sept was freaky here. It seemed that everyone knew people in the Pentagon, WTC, or both. Having to ask the question "Is our customer still alive?" is a bit unnerving.

      • SAIC? hmm... I seem to remember projects with a project manager, scheduler, assistant, 3 researchers, 3 configuration managers, 2 client interface managers, 1 release manager, a build manager, 2 guys sleeping in their offices (no kidding), 1 guy who's entire job was to cut tapes, and 4 actual programmers, working 80 hour weeks because the project was constantly late. Can you name a single, successful commercial product that SAIC has produced? I heard of plenty of failed government projects that SAIC did. Something about SAIT (a subdivision of SAIC) having the FBI come in and take their records because they produced fake demos for a helicopter targeting system? You couldn't get fired for sleeping in your office, but if you said that a project wasn't going well, or that its management was incompetent, you might as well start looking for another job. There are commercial firms that are professional software development organizations which don't have these guys piling on their projects. I never saw this much waste at Microsoft or Adobe, and I don't think anyone would call them dot-coms. You may be able to look down at your nose at these ex-HTML jocks, but the software developers who create commercial products like Oracle, AutoCAD, and PhotoShop get the job done quickly, efficiently, and professionally. Enjoy your moment of Schadenfreude.
        • It all depends on the project you're on. I happen to be on a good one that gets the job done on time and makes a lot of money because of it. We've been examined many times and have passed scrutiny every single one of them. We're working on SEI Level 4 too, and after that, I'm sure we'll work our way up to 5.

          Hope it felt real good nailing me on something you're completely ignorant of.
    • ...for that last part: hiring people with no experience. I'm sorry, but if doesn't take that long to train somebody, you might as well hire a trained monkey to do your job. I didn't spend most of my life in computers just to have some computer illiterate dumbass get hired, just because he has "clearance".

      Now, I argee with good documentation, coding standards, and other ideas which most of the OSS community follows. I think most business should follow this. Am I being reasonable, or just liberal (as usual)?
    • This is along the lines of what I've been telling anyone who asks me about the Military.

      I got out of college after 2 years bored to tears with it. I had a computer for games and that was it. No plans or what not. Not even a decent job.

      So I walk into an AF recruiting office and they send me to take some tests and say that they have a slot open for a programming position. One year later I'm a computer programmer with 65 more college credits under my belt and a job and training and a top secret clearance and they paid me for it.

      Granted the position mostly sucked but what the hell 4 years later and I got out and into a contractor position without any hassle other than moving. I now have my company tuition assistance and the GI bill so I actually make money going to school. On top of that the people you meet now will remember you later so I've got friends in all kinds of positions that can throw my name out if I get bored with what I'm doing and want to work on some other contract.

      Only took 4 years and now my college is free, I have a job and My contract just got extended.

      The military is great when you have nothing better to do and no way to find out what you enjoy.

      Plus its and In for contractor work as well as showing that you can deal with any little pressures that come along.

      The only problem is that you see things a bit differently. Most problems can be viewed as "No one is dying, it will be fixed soon." Panicky people don't enjoy that view very much and will continue to run around like an idiot.

      So in closing if you have no career aspects or no chance of college you could do alot worse than signing up for the military. (just make sure you have a confirmed job (AFSC if you will) going in)

      Man I sound like such a cheerleader.
    • Spent about 12 years in that business, then used the IT skills I learned to move to the commercial side. Having a higher level clearance (TS or poly/lifestyle) REALLY helps.

      There are different types of contractors - some build/code stuff, some advise the program offices that buy the stuff other contractors make, some help the government operate the stuff they've bought. My experience was in the second group, the "support contractors". There are many IT jobs in the 3rd group (operating contractors, sometimes also called support contractors, depends on the agency)

      Since we didn't "officially" build anything, much of our work was writing reports, making presentations ("viewgraph engineering"), etc. On one project, however, we wound up developing and running a substantial web-based information system (yes, we used linux for some of it). A .com person would have felt at home (and it did become the youngest and most civilian-background group on the contractor team).

      I got bored and left for a real .com. Now working for yet another commercial firm.

      In the meanwhile, the project is STILL going strong. People who were working on it in 1985 (when I joined it) are STILL THERE. So as long as your employer wins the contract renewals (or the customer INSISTS the new contractor take you on - it happens), there's job security, as long as politics (it was a high-visibility program and a political target) doesn't kiil it. Many projects do take on aspects of jobs programs, the job security follows. Helps if your Senator is a committee chairperson.

      Breaking in - it helps if you speak the language. There are a lot of TLAs, processes to learn, the way of doing business is DIFFERENT. Not always good, not always bad, but DIFFERENT.

      Having a clearance helps, it was less important when the job market was tight.
  • It was kind of sad, though, because she all but admitted it was because she couldn't hack real programming work. She frabricated a great deal of false statements on her resume and came close to out-right lying in her interview. But she was more than happy to get the job with a contractor, because she figures the combination of slow-moving projects and general red tape involved in firing someone would give her tremendous job security.

    That alone made me scared of government contractors. But they can't all be incompetent slackers, can they? They can't, right? *sigh*

    • That alone made me scared of government contractors. But they can't all be incompetent slackers, can they?

      Deep insight for the day: most people are lazy.

      I used to work for a major defense contractor, and I saw lots of people wasting lots of time and lots of money (I was one of them ...)

      I talked to one of my co-workers about it, who was a colonel in the Air Force. He was one of the guys who used to award contracts to these companies. He told me that they were well aware that 80% of the work got done by 20% of the people, but they accepted it as a fact of life.

  • by J.D. Hogg ( 545364 ) on Thursday January 17, 2002 @02:51PM (#2856248) Homepage
    "When the dot-Com movement went bust,"...

    dot-coms are so 2000, I put all my money in dot-orgs now ...

  • by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Thursday January 17, 2002 @02:51PM (#2856250)
    How 'bout the really simple explanation:

    Any geek worth his salt has read Neal Stephenson's description of "Fedland" in Snow Crash.

    Any geek who's ever seen the work processes in place in the real government (either through knowing someone who works there, or by morbid curiosity and reading policy/procedure manuals that describe to government workers how to process forms filled out by the public, for instance) has realized that Neal Stephenson's imaginary "Fedland" wasn't an exaggeration.

    Stephenson's Demented Imagination: Fedland []

    NEW TP POOL REGULATIONS I've been asked to distribute the new regulations regarding office pool displays. The enclosed memo is a new subchapter of the EBGOC Procedure Manual, replacing the old subchapter entitled PHYSICAL PLANT/CALIFORNIA/LOS ANGELES/BUILDINGS/OFFICE AREAS/PHYSICAL LAYOUT REGULATIONS/EMPLOYEE INPUT/GROUP ACTIVITIES. The old subchapter was a flat prohibition on the use of office space or time forr "pool" activities of any kindm whteher permanent (e.g., coffee pool) or one-time (e.g., birthday parties). This prohibition still applies, but a single, one-time exception has now been made for any office that wishes to pursue a joint bathroom-tissue strategy. [ ... ]

    Random Excerpt From The Real Thing: Meat, Poultry, Egg Produce Labeling Review Process" []

    FSIS streamlined the system in a final rule issued on December 29, 1995, (60 FR 67444) that became effective July 1, 1996, by expanding the categories of products for which labeling can be approved generically by industry. For example, the rule allows Federal establishments to design and use labeling that conforms to the regulatory requirements for meat, poultry, and egg products that have standards of identity and composition defined in the regulations (9 CFR 319 and 381) or in the Food Standards and Labeling Policy Book.
    • To be honest: I don't see the parallel...

      The first is an example of wasting resources detailing new regulation which looks like it was written by a male secretary who only uses TeX and drinks Jolt cola, and has serious problems identifying the priorities in life.

      The second is a government docket from the USDA detailing in what seems to be the streamlining of the inspection and labeling system. The context is unfamiliar for most of us (food inspection + labeling), and he may not have don't the greatest job trying to be clear and concise.
      However, He makes an honest attempt to be precise, probably because it is a docket.

      Oh yeah, one of these affects the quality of our food supply.

      Here's some more examples to what seems to look like stupid and complicated excerpts. (Atleast by your standard...)

      Subsection 1201(b)(1) is similar to subsection 1201(a)(2), except that subsection 1201(a)(2) covers those who traffic in technology that can circumvent "a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under" Title 17, whereas subsection 1201(b)(1) covers those who traffic in technology that can circumvent "protection afforded by a technological measure that effectively protects a right of a copyright owner under" Title 17. Id. 1201(a)(2), (b)(1) (emphases added). In other words, although both subsections prohibit trafficking in a circumvention technology, the focus of subsection 1201(a)(2) is circumvention of technologies designed to prevent access to a work, and the focus of subsection 1201(b)(1) is circumvention of technologies designed to permit access to a work but prevent copying of the work or some other act that infringes a copyright. See S. Rep. No. 105-190, at 11-12 (1998). Subsection 1201(a)(1) differs from both of these anti-trafficking subsections in that it targets the use of a circumvention technology, not the trafficking in such a technology.

      Source []

      Wow... That looks stupid and frivilous too!!! Why can't they just make these things simple.

      How about this example:

      The WRR qdisc distributes bandwidth between its classes using the weighted round robin scheme. That is, like the CBQ qdisc it contains classes into which arbitrary qdiscs can be plugged. All classes which have sufficient demand will get bandwidth proportional to the weights associated with the classes. The weights can be set manually using the tc program. But they can also be made automatically decreasing for classes transferring much data.

      The qdisc has a built-in classifier which assigns packets coming from or sent to different machines to different classes. Either the MAC or IP and either source or destination addresses can be used. The MAC address can only be used when the Linux box is acting as an ethernet bridge, however. The classes are automatically assigned to machines based on the packets seen.

      The Source []
  • I know what i'd want in order to accept a government contract techie job:

    1. a gun
    2. cool black suit with black sunglasses
    3. a really intimidating badge which says United States Network Administration Special Forces Covert Operative.

    seriously, if nothing else these jobs offer stability... but there's no feeling of the gamble, no thoughts of going 1.0, no watching stock rise and fall... i dunno, maybe it'll appeal to me in twenty years or something. i hope not though.
    • Hmm. As a "special covert operative" the badge stays in the top drawer of your dresser at home, while you are many many miles away, perhaps with having lunch with people who call you by a different name, and would kill you if they knew... You may not have a gun, and you most certainly will not wear a cool black suit with black sunglasses. You may not even get to finish your couscous before losing consciousness.

      Seriously, government work does not always suck. Projects may move at aglacial pace, but they are frequently unstoppable. Compare that to the feeling of never getting to version 1.0. Compare that to having some of your best work thrown out because of some venture capitalist's "refocusing" whim. In gov't work, you occasionally get to work on something really, really cool for years and years. I'll take the chance of that rare opportunity over the constant rushing sound of bungie-CFOs flying by and flitting venture capitalists wringing their hands over excessive foosball usage any day.

      Government contracting offers a lot of advantages over .com/high tech "permanent" work. If you are married, it might actually last. If you have a child, you're not automatically perceived as "undercomitted" (unless you have the operative job above). Your health insurance might actually be worth something, and you might actually retire only once, instead of retiring at 35 only to discover that your paper millions are... paper.

      And there's one other huge advantage: no sales droids.

  • Most of the former dotcom techies I know that are employed are gov't contractors. Maybe upper management/sales/marketing dweebs don't fit into gov't contracting, but tech types adapt and survive rather well from what I've seen.

    Sure, things like reasonable development cycles, following set procedures, working normal hours, and documentation seem odd at first, but once you learn to accept those oddities it's a fairly easy transition.
  • WTF does it matter if you've spent the last few years working for the government, a big corporation, or a dot-com-then-dot-bomb? What matters is if you're a good programmer, with the skills to analyze, plan for, and solve a specific programming problem.

    Or are we really talking about managerial types, who are essentially the same (they're all suits, regardless of the color of the suit) but who love to make up fake differences for themselves and segregate into the "fast-moving, innovative" dot-bombers vs. the "disciplined, dependable" gov't and big-corp types? In which case, why should real techies care? Management will always be management, and they'll always have their turf wars and suit-speak, but meantime, those of with real technical skills will always be the ones who get the job done. It's not the corporate structure that matters. It's the quality of the code.
    • The difference is that, as a government contractor, you need discipline. This is very hard to come by in the dot-com world of lax business. I work at SAIC - a very large government contractor. You know what I was told during my interview a year ago? "You seem very bright and technically capable of everything we'll ask of you. But we need you to be dependable. That's the most important thing. You might be the smartest guy in the world, but if you're not dependable, we can't use you."

      Yes, you need technical skills, but you do need to be dependable. It's not all about technical skills or being a "good programmer" - you can learn those. The most important thing is that you can be counted on to be at work every day and to get your job done.
      • Dependable? Disciplined? Seasoned? All nice extras. Being able to work though the process - that is rare.

        Some of the core competencies are the ability to put up with mindless political nonsense and being able to get stuff done while everything around you is frozen in a red tape. This is really harder than it may seem - I remember they wanted some COM components that touched the kernel layer, but IP would not permit Admin access on any lab or dev machine. A half a year latter, the technology changed to something that could be developed in user space to make the project plan. All while an MCSE claims you don't need the access.... Staying professional is really tough at times when you are use to getting stuff done rather than working the journey...

        As for lax, I know many of the dot.commers worked insane hours - building the code base and everthing else from ground zero. You hear the stories of the fooz-ball tables and beer in the fridge, but what you miss is the 7 days a week, 12-16 days of hard code pounding. We lived at work. A little play was about the only social life a person had at times...
      • The difference is that, as a government contractor, you need discipline. This is very hard to come by in the dot-com world of lax business.

        [Shrug] I moved from working in Big Healthcare (US Air Force medic, then Denver Health, then Kaiser) to Small Software (my current employer []) and there was no difference in the discipline needed. In all circumstances, as long as I showed up and did my job, I got paid. Granted, the penalties for not doing my job were a bit worse in the USAF -- I could go to jail for not going to work, as opposed to just being fired -- but for someone with a good work ethic, it doesn't really matter. You go to work and you do your job. Everything else is details.

  • The market favors the employer right now.

    I saw the DoD comment, we will not change for the dot.comers, they will change to our culture. This is not only government; this is most companies out there. A couple years ago companies had to handle their employees with care because you could get another job by lunch. Now, well, I'd put a pained smile on my face and say sure - I can do that in VB for you. Reminds me of the Dilbert cartoon - You mean Unix programmer. Oh, just say never mind when the nurse shows up. Today, you would not get the option...
  • Maybe not yet (Score:3, Insightful)

    by opkool ( 231966 ) on Thursday January 17, 2002 @02:54PM (#2856277) Homepage
    Maybe former dot-commers are not in Government-contractor firms (not yet) because the following points:

    -Government-related positions run through a long and tedious line of HR, supervisors, interviews, political screening, more supervisors, more screening, yet more interviews... and all cluttered by unending bureaucracy. And now more than ever, after 9-11. So it takes some time (up to 2 years, IIRC from ComputerWorld or InfoWorld or something similar) from sending a resume to get hired.

    -Many Government-related positions want only American citizens. Let's face it. Many IT workers are from outside the USA. So H1-B holders do not qualify. Then, permanent residents, legal aliens ans do on, also do not qualify. And, maybe, recent American-passport holders will not qualify by "security reasons".

    -What is the ratio of Women in Government-contractor firms? How many managers do you see in Government Contractor firms? They all look to me like dinosaurs from the 60s. Yes, women only allowed as clerks.

    So all this disqualify and dis-encourage most of former dot-commers: brilliant people that just cannot wait 2 years to get a job, people that has a good chance of being born elsewhere outside the US, and about 40% chance of being a women!

    Hope those 2 years come-by fast, so I can get hired by Uncle Sam.

    Of course this is my opinion as I see it.

    Plese, what do you think?
  • Out of curiosity, how would one go about getting Security Clearance? I think I could use one of those.
    • The contract house, if they do gov contracts that need that kind of thing, have the form - about 4 pages asking about your former addresses, references, + fingerprints, etc. I suspect you could find it on line if you poked around.

      In most cases, you need a corp. sponsor... I don't think they just give you a clearance without a reason to need one - kind of a chicken and the egg mess, and even then it can take a while to process.

      Of course if you forgo civilian life and be all you can be, its a bit easier to get one... (grin)
    • The easiest way is the military -- that's why its easier to get a job if you already have a clearance.

      If you have to go for a top secret clearance, it will cost your company about $10,000 to have it done for you. Needless to say, not a lot of companies will do this if they can hire someone who already has the clearance from prior military or private work...
  • I went from working for a large webhosting company on the east coast (long hours, much stress, underpaid, long commute) to a government contractor (reasonable hours, less stress, paid significantly more, 15 minutes from home). I have to say that I love it. I get to do the job I always wanted to do (UNIX/Linux system administrator), there are good benefits, and I am building up a lot of marketable experience. You just have to find the place that feels best for you.
    • I've been out of the field for over a year now. I can handle all facets of web design: graphics, code production, info archtitecture, useability testing, and product strategy. I've done it all since '95. I don't mind hard work (even like documentation) and would love a regular job where I am respected. Heck, I've even done contract work for the government before.

      Oh wait! I'm not in a location that does a lot of gov't contracting (minnesota) and I have no money to move. People look at my resume and see no tech employer for a year and think I am behind the times. Nevermind all the volunteer and non-profit work I've been doing the past 4 years.

      So got some ideas on how to break in to this lucrative career fold?
  • how do you go about getting this security clearance? I'm going to be a college graduate come spring time and I'm facing a very poor job market. I would gladly take a job working for the government at first. Can I get security clearance now so when I graduate I will be all that more attractive to government hiring?
    • It's basically impossible to get a security clearance without having a need for one. Need meaning being in the armed forces or guard, or being employed by the gov or a gov contractor.

      Don't worry too much about it, though. If you have good grades and skills, and haven't gotten into much legal trouble, it will be easy to get you Secret clearance. This article is focusing on Top Secret clearances, which are much, much more difficult to get (often requiring recurring polygraphs, random drug testing, and other weirdness).

      If you really want to get a clearance, try to get a job with a gov. contractor (SAIC, MITRE, Booz Allen Hamilton, CSC, etc.), and they will work to get you cleared.

      Good luck!
      PS-Go with Booz, we got a nifty acronym- BAH! (sorry...)
  • Making Changes (Score:2, Insightful)

    by slugfro ( 533652 )
    A lot of these posts talk about how bad working for the gov't can be (Old technology, lack of innovation, rigid and structured environment, etc.). Maybe if enough people with a strong drive for success and innovation enter the government workforce we might actually be able to change the government for the better. Increase speed of technology adoption, increase technical knowledge, speed up the bearucratic proccesses (well maybe), etc... Maybe I'm being too much of an optimist but it's just and idea.

    I know I turned down a gov't offer after graduating due the huge pay difference but I would much rather have an ok paying job than no job at all (Thankfully I still have my job).
  • Well, two years ago the world of technology was heading for the frontier in the dotcom boom. And the frontier mentallity abounded ("I don't care what it costs, I want a man on site now"). Many people spent lots of money stupidly in their race to be first to market. This was the era of "management by shouting at people very loudly". And the dirty secret: most of the people working in the dotcom gold rush, techies and otherwise, weren't actually very good - it was all held together by a small core of people who *were* good at their jobs.

    So now the frontier has been reached, the land claimed etc., and those who've staked out their plots are having to cultivate them. And loads of people involved in this goldrush have fallen off, others have grown up. Those involved in contracting in both the private and government sectors are mostly the same people as a couple of years ago, but all of a sudden it's become "the place to be" because there's a steady living to be made there.

    What's news worthy about that?

  • If dot-commers in general are anything like the population of geeks I know, there might be issues with the whole security clearance thing. Whether it be a high school record of messing with the school's computers, or bizarre political opinions posted prominently on the 'Net, or just having had a lot of people see you inhale, I don't think your average libertine, libertarian, privacy-mongering geek is going to be a great fit for a gov't job.

    That, of course, is a blanket generalization. I'm sure there are many competent technical types who would do just fine getting a security clearance, and enjoy working for The Man(tm) just fine. But on the whole... I dunno.

    - B

    • "Radical resources for the thinking patriot" [] []

      uh.. No.

      Just an opportunity to buy a sucky teeshirt.

      How *radical*

      How *American*

      How pretentious...


      (A "..libertine, libertarian, privacy-mongering geek..")

  • Yeah, no kidding (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jhines0042 ( 184217 )
    I was offered two positions three years ago. One was from a large government contractor, the other from a startup. Both offers were for the same amount of money. Both were within a reasonable commute distance. The large government contractor had the need for a security clearance. This I had no problems with, I even filled out 27 plus pages of forms to get that process started. The other company offered stock options which may or may not have paid off.

    I opted to go with my current company instead of the large government contractor and boy am I glad. A year after I joined I was saying to my co-workers.... "wow, here we are, stock is worth a bundle, and at the large government contractor I could still be waiting for my security clearance.

    Despite all that has happened in the markets. I'm still very glad that I made the choice that I did.

    The main reason I made the choice though was NOT money (same base salary) was NOT stock options (they are nice though) but was rather culture. I frankly didn't want to wear a suit to work. I still don't.

    I'm happy in the fast paced commercial environment. And guess what? We are selling software to the Federal Government as well as Global 2000 and Fortune 500 companies AND to the large government contractor that I didn't take the job from.

    And right now I'm wearing Jeans and a T-Shirt.
  • by bryan1945 ( 301828 ) on Thursday January 17, 2002 @03:09PM (#2856436) Journal
    I thought about jumping into the .com arena during the heyday, but I held back for some vague reasons. Sure, I only got my ok raises every year rather than huge bonuses and such, but I still have my job and have increased my income 50% in 4 years. I liked my job, I liked my coworkers, and I liked where I lived- why should I have jumped for the possible big gains? Turns out I was right, at least for my circumstances.

    Some possible reasons why .comers won't go to government positions:
    1) Less flexibility in hours and attitude.
    2) Lots of military types in upper management.
    3) Sensible business plans where everyone does NOT get $2000 chairs.
    4) You actually have to work rather than just hype vapor.
    5) You actually have to produce something, or provide a service, rather than just market yourself.
    6) Generally need to have multiple skills in a variety of areas, rather than be _The Wizard_ in only one area.
    7) MCSEs don't count as degrees in this line of work.

    There's probably more, but this was just off the top of my head, and this is just my take from what I've seen of friends, coworkers, and acquaintances.
    • Heh, some of these are funny:
      3) Sensible business plans where everyone does NOT get $2000 chairs.

      You're right, I'm sitting in a shitty chair, but then again, there are plenty of brand new HP Laserjets sitting here, one on each desk connected with parallel cables, non-networked and wasting away. Add those up. Waste is waste, regardless of sector. And that's just one example. You would not believe what the government pays for for somethings (and I don't mean the '$400 wrench' that is commonly referred.)

      4) You actually have to work rather than just hype vapor.
      I've met some of the laziest people on the planet in the government. I've also met some of the smartest and hardest working. Once again, a disease that doesn't discriminate.

      7) MCSEs don't count as degrees in this line of work.

      This one is absurd. MCSE chest pounding is rampant throughout the entire industry. If you don't think some government worker is riding this one for what its worth then you're being idealistic.
    • wow. I just started contracting at a place that contracts at a large governement agency after being at a .com for 1 and a half years. I work on site and most of my observations run the opposite of yours.

      1. Hour flexibility: Supposedly, this division works 7 to 4. In reality, I come in at 7:30 and no one is here. People leave when they feel like it starting around 2:30.

      2. Lots of military types: No argument here.

      3. Chairs: Entire division just got SWEET bodybuilt chairs. Cost: about $600 apiece.

      4. work v. Vapor: Umm, the only people who work are contractors. Even then, we're the third contractor on this project. The first two didn't deliver anything, but still got paid.

      5: See above. Marketing is FAR more important. You only get a contract by knowing someone (or paying them under the table, but that is another discussion.

      6: specialization.... I think this is far more specialized here. Dev guys don't touch the servers (support does), dev guys don't touch the data (a DBA does).

      7: Degrees v. Cert: My MCSD is a big reason I got this job.
  • SEI CMM (Score:3, Informative)

    by xphase ( 56482 ) on Thursday January 17, 2002 @03:10PM (#2856451)
    I think the main reason that 'techies' don't want to work for Gov't Contractors is the strict development environment. Think of this in terms of an open source project. Generally there is no strict QA, no extensive version control, no set requirements, etc.

    Now this, the general OSS development model, doesn't represent all techies, but I think many programmers, esp. the dot-commers, don't want to deal with all this crap. It's not that they can't deal with it, it is just that they don't want to.

    The software development programs are many year long projects that have continual reviews: Design reviews, code reviews, SEI CMM(Software Engineering Institute Capability Maturity Model) or some other model reviews, documentation reviews, etc. These projects have *MASSIVE* code basses, and track *ALL* changes made. No one programmer can just decide to re-write a large portion of code. There are entire sections devoted to testing the software. Some employees do that, and only that. No bug fixing, no looking at the source, just testing.

    Also time accounting is exact. You can't just decide to leave 15 minutes early and not report it. You must record all time worked, if you leave 15 minutes early, you must report it, then report again when you make up that time.

    Sound fun? Some enjoy this model of work/development(me), but it is not for everyone, i.e.someone who is used to the dot-com lifestyle.

  • by argoff ( 142580 ) on Thursday January 17, 2002 @03:17PM (#2856525)

    When I worked on a recent government contract, everyone I ran into just assumed that I would want to work there for the rest of my life. They also just assumed that I wanted a security clearence. I don't. I'd much rather be in an environment where I'm free to share what I know with whoever I want to share it with, and where every last anal probe of my private life is not imspected with a fine tooth comb to get some "elite" type of clearence that is likely to pigon-hole my career anyhow.

    I saw my dad slave away for the government for 30 years+ of bullshit and politics, and seeing billions wasted without tangable real-world results. I cant stand the thought of it.

    People there don't understand - this is not a normal market institution. You can be more efficient, effective, and competent - but that will get you nowhere in government because they are accountable to political forces and not market forces. The only one meere advantage that they have is that in some minute areas they are non-propriatory. Well dammit, with linux out on the business world now - and the comodity PC, that is not even a real advantage anymore.

    They are wrong, it is not the government that drives the market, they are the followers, free enterprize is the leaders because they are accountable to real economics.

    • My father was in DoD for years doing R&D work. He retired in 89 and every once in a while some Cool New Thing comes out and he says "Oh yeah, I remember working on that 20 years ago."

      I've seen companies, market leaders even( *cough* seagate *cough*), that had incredible bureaucracy. Have to go through five layers of it to get a $50 expenditure approved.

      • It's true that many large companies are nearly as bad, but when push comes to shove - people still half to volunteer to give them money, that at least gives some sembalance of accountability.

        Ironically, many large companies ar not totally accountable to market forces either because government tax and business regulations make it artifically difficult for competitors to start up or break into the market.

      • Yup. I did both the Army and DoD thing, many years ago (hardware and RF) and I am still seeing "new" civilian stuff that I remember from back then. I got to play with a lot of seriously fine electronic-type toys, and even got to drive a tank a few times and play with things that went BOOM! very loudly now and then.

        Saying "the government" or "the military" doesn't mean much. Different government agencies and different military units can be as different as civilian companies are from one another, and sometimes you find technical challenges in the government where you wouldn't necessarily expect them. The Department of Agriculture has done some serious supercomputer research. Ditto the National Institutes of Health. The IRS was a sinkhole for puter people for years, full of incompetence, but I have a friend who's doing system design there now and having a great time replacing some of their ancient junk. He took the job because the pay was okay and he wanted stability, not because he thought it would be fun, but he's really gotten into it. No clearance required, either.

        There are lots of idiots and bad places to work in the government, but there are also great people and great places. Even in the Army, I generally did interesting things and didn't suffer too much from bureacracy. And as a free benefit, I didn't have to worry about what I was going to wear every day. :)

        - Robin

  • by guttentag ( 313541 ) on Thursday January 17, 2002 @03:23PM (#2856576) Journal
    Shannon Henry is a good columnist, but her columns aren't directed at software engineers in Houston, New York, Seattle or Silicon Valley.

    Her job is specifically to cover the DC area's technology industry, which is saturated with people who work for government contractors or the federal government itself. In that sense, it's quite different from other areas of the country.

    Traditionally, the DC area experiences an economic boom when the country goes to war (thousands of jobs are created, houses are built, etc.), so there may be jobs created there that don't exist where you live. Just something to bear in mind.

  • Civil service blows (Score:3, Interesting)

    by imac.usr ( 58845 ) on Thursday January 17, 2002 @03:23PM (#2856579) Homepage
    government managers would rather hire an underqualified person with a security clearance and later train them in their tradecraft

    What bullshit. Government managers want somebody with 10 years of Java experience to come and work for $35,000/year. Then, once you get in, they remove all incentive for you to advance by promising cushy benefits, annual COLAs, and best of all, job security. Here at NIH, it took almost two years for a grossly incompetent worker to be fired, simply becuase of the bureaucratic crap they had to wade through. There are techs here who let their NT 4 MCSE certifications lapse because our institute is primarily a Novell shop (although we use Exchange, we have no full-time Exchange admin); when I asked if they were planning to go for the upgrade to Win2K, they said "why bother? I don't need it" That's the kind of attitude they have here.

    Then there's the condescending view all government employees have of contractors. That Dilbert cartoon a few months ago where the contractor is asked to bring his own air? It's not a joke.

    I hate it here. As soon as I pass my Oracle certification tests, I'm out of here, and the federal government can kiss my fucking ass.

    • I hate it here. As soon as I pass my Oracle certification tests, I'm out of here, and the federal government can kiss my fucking ass.
      GOVERNMENT: Please send the coordinates, in NAD83/NAVD88 form, to your rear-end toxic output interface so that we may determine funding qualifications for this project. This will need to be reviewed for a possible 2008-2009 fiscal year deployment.
    • Then there's the condescending view all government employees have of contractors.

      That's "blood sucking government contractor" to you, bud. :)

  • by reaper20 ( 23396 ) on Thursday January 17, 2002 @03:26PM (#2856621) Homepage
    Working for the government is a double-edge sword where I work. I'm also a contractor working at a government facility.

    At first, I did it our of desperation, since I got out of the Army last August, and there were serious hiring freezes in effect. "Infantry Platoon Leader" doesn't garner accolades with normal businesses.

    Government work was a no-brainer for me, I had the clearance already, all I had to do is basically show up. Yes, I have to wear slacks and shirts with collars on them, but all in all, not to bad a situation, considering where the economy is.

    My problem is lack of challenge. Everything is pretty backwards here. Users are expected to backup and install their own software, and print/sharing is basically all we have, but that doesn't matter, because God knows where the hell everything is anyway. Desktops and Laptops that come with Win2k are immediately downgraded to Windows 98 first edition, because it takes a LONG TIME to get anything approved. Every piece of software and hardware that we buy has to go through 3 comittees before approval. (Yep, even that printer cable).

    We're running some sort of hybrid Novel 3.x network with some hastily thrown together login scripts, 10 Exchange servers that go down all the time (I believe it's 5.5 they are running), and some Computer Associates stuff that has yet to do anything. Some people even use Ghost to install client software, but only certain people are 'authorized', so all in all, the Dell Desktops (not allowed to buy anything else) are the default install, complete with AOL icons and everything. The typical 'security bulletin' is "Everyone go to Windows Update."

    Of course, the mail system is clogged by the 'normal' US Army 300MB Powerpoint presentation that needs to be forwarded to multiple people, multiple times, at least three times a day. That's always great over our antiquated network.

    What I don't know is if this is a typical situation in corporate America. I know other government agencies are more advanced, but its definately not us. I would like to know, because I'm pretty darn sure that Outlook shared calendars and Powerpoint "collaboration" using file sharing is considered enterprise level.

    If that's the ONE great thing about working for the government, there's never a shortage of stuff to do.
  • Its about impossible to break in the govenment job industry, unless you are a minority, a been shot in war, or otherwise, are "blessed" in some way. My Girlfriend's mother works for the post office and can't even apply for the Postmaster job in my little podunk town cause its on different levels of govenment service jobs. So even after you get in your railroaded around, and its about impossible to advance.
  • (A first comment before I get distracted: There is a difference between working for a government contractor, which is a civilian company whose major customer is the government, and working for the government, where you are directly employed by a government agency. Reading other posts, I'm not sure people have been carefully distinguishing between the two...)

    My friend and I graduated from college at the same time and both hired into the same major defense contractor within a week of each other, though in totally different areas. (His area of expertise was photonics; I ended up in a systems/software engineering role.) I have had a positive experience so far -- I work with bright people who are very technically skilled, although the development environment (Solaris 2.X; source code written in C) is far from any of the "buzzwords" like Java, C++, Linux, etc. that people love to put on their resumes. The pace of the work has been brisk -- I work in surveillance and reconnaissance systems, and as you might expect, we have gotten even busier after recent events. If anything, we have more work to do than people to do it -- we could stand to hire several more staff.

    On the other hand, my friend hated his time at the company and found it to be utterly stagnant. Compounding his dissatisfaction with the projects was his frustration with the security clearance process -- the project that he was hired for required an SCI, which would have taken well over a year to obtain, and no one had discussed security clearances when he was hired. He left to join a startup company which did well at the time (1999), but has been cutting back staff and struggling to survive recently. I asked him if he'd consider coming back here if things didn't work out, but his preferences are strongly for the small company environment with the flexible work arrangements and informal structure. One thing he never could get over was the idea that work was work here. In his college lab, his co-workers were also his social group, and I think he expected that he'd meet a bunch of young engineers and have an instant peer group. I've certainly met some wonderful friends here, but it's far from a collegiate atmosphere.

    Government contractors, like any other big company, are really a bunch of small companies under the same banner. If you end up in a good group, it might feel very much like a "dot-com" with the pace and challenge of the work. On the other hand, if you end up in a program which has been around for ten years and is in a maintenance phase, it might very well resemble all of the stodgy nightmares you had about "government work." The requirements are quite different -- the technology you develop today won't see action for a few years, and will be expected to function for a decade or more, typically. And above all -- like every other business -- you must understand your customer. Utility, reliability, maintainability, and ease of use are critical considerations, and your end user (at least for defense products) will be 19-year-olds who can't call you for tech support.

    It's important work, and we could use more technical expertise to help us accomplish our goals. But any "dot-commer" considering the switch should carefully consider how well they can adapt to an entirely different culture before sending that resume.
  • The category "Government contractor" is just as broad a generalization as the category "information technology worker". Government contractors vary wildly in size and bureaucracy level, mostly related to the branch of the Government they work for.

    Little contractors who work for researchy bureaus like NASA, NOAA, NIH, have IT jobs that feel a lot like CS graduate school. with firmer deadlines. Big contractors who work for the IRS or Social Security have IT jobs whose atmosphere rivals IBM in the old, pre-Microsoft days.
  • Like other posters, I come from the dot-com debacle. Been thru 3 companies, all of which bombed, largely due to executive headupassis.

    So I left the Valley and now I'm a defense contractor in the southeast. Nice job. Doesn't pay as well, but I don't have continual nightmares about overdue projects and the sort of chronic stress that's imposed from all sides in the entrepreneurial environment.

    The article makes way too much of this sort of hostility between the two camps. I haven't seen any of that. What I have seen is a good amount of respect for the technology skills that I am bringing to the table, all of which were picked up in the commercial world.

    Even though we deal with legacy system integrations issues, it's not a technology backwater here ... they avoid Fortran here ... they like Java here ... just like everyone else. And HLA is basically CORBA as designed by Duke Nukem ... lots of cool weapons to fire.

    There isn't any of this vengeful kick-them-when-they're-down attitude that the article portrays. Perhaps this is because there isn't a whole lot of substance to this article, so the author felt obliged to manufacture some.

    I also think the perception of defense contracters as technology underacheivers is unfounded. We seem to have the same percentage of motivated, smart people here that we did in the dot-com arena.

    We also have the same number of doltish poltroons, of course. The non-performers here, though, are here more for the security and laid-back pace. They aren't the collection of half-skilled flakes, con-artists, and hangers-on, all pulled by the lure of easy money, that dot-coms usually accumulate to ride on the coattails of the star developers.

    And it is very strange working on a project that has a delivery date 5 years out. In the commercial world, this thing would be on a (highly unrealistic) 6 month track, and would probably end in a complete cluster-fuck because we'd be throwing shit out there before we even understand the problem.

    And as a bonus, I can read /. now ...

  • There's a difference between working for the government and being a contractor for the government.

    What I've seen is that contractors

    • (-)are treated ever so slightly 2nd class
    • (-)have slightly less job security
    • (+)their companies (themselves if they're lucky) get paid more than being employees of the government
    • (-)pension and benefits are less than straight government
    Just what I've seen.

  • The defnse sector is a good business to be in right now. To wit: the sector has an endemic problem, where large amounts of management is dominated by older employees who will, of course, eventually have to retire. This naturally leads one to wonder where the next generation of DoD managers will come from.

    As this tail expires over the next half decade, I see a demand rise, yep. Opportunity abounds.

  • I think that different branches of the government have different hiring priorities, and it's hard to generalize about "the government" as a single institution.

    I don't have any military background, as either a contractor or soldier, but I believe the posts about the military preferring experience over domain-specific training. However, I do have experience with civil administration (more than I should have, really) and my experience has been that education is very highly valued. I expect that most of the PhD's in Philosophy who aren't teaching or flipping burgers work for the government. I've certainly heard that the State Department is that way...the great salt lick of social science PhD's who don't go on to teach.

    Having said that, I'll go ahead and generalize about the government vs. the private sector--there's a huge difference in views on equal opportunity. I not-to-recently moved in the opposite direction--from government & education to the private sector--and it sure looks like all white folks all the time to me. When I point this out to management, they give me a very thinly veiled "but they'll steal the office supplies!" speech, and insist that they need to go check their voice mail. Maybe it's just the particular company I work for, or the Midwest, but it feels like there are very different ideas about EOE.
  • by curunir ( 98273 ) on Thursday January 17, 2002 @03:59PM (#2856962) Homepage Journal
    I'm so sick of everyone bashing .com workers. The media is so quick to label everything .com a failure. The reality that many of us .com'ers know is that the .com bubble burst because of terrible business plans and greedy venture capitalists. It was *rarely* because engineers weren't able to get the job done.

    People have the mistaken idea that just because workers were given more freedom, that the quality of their work suffered. The idea that people working for .com's don't document their work is just wrong. Every .com I worked for (and there were 5) highly valued detailed functional and technical specs. We had coding standards which included fully commenting code. The difference was, we didn't have two years to complete the product. It was always ASAP. As a result, we did view our work less as striving toward a finished product and more toward meeting a deadline and then revisiting it again to add in the features that product planning decided were necessary.

    It is truly a shame that so many great ideas are being discarded by labeling them part of the .com phenomenon. Ideas like respecting your workers and trying to create an environment where they can achieve as much as possible. From someone who saw them first hand, these ideas worked. Some amazing things were accomplished by tech workers at .coms...they just didn't have any business application.

    So, if you have to slam the .coms, talk about the marketing people who spent millions on advertisements before the company saw revenues, let alone profits. Don't blame it on the engineering teams...we did our job.
    • Hear hear! I've worked in 2 .coms and, for the most part, was very impressed by the professional pride and passion that the employees had for their work and for the companies, in both cases.

      While I don't doubt that there are people who were in the .coms simply to cash in on the stock market frenzy, most of the people I've worked with were very dedicated, very competent and very committed to putting out high quality stuff.

      And I loved the culture (which is why I sought to work for another .com after the first one failed). The sheer necessity of having to get a lot done in a short amount of time with little money has a way of forcing people to be innovative and efficient and to focus on the important things and cutting through the bulls**t.

      -- D.
  • Seems to me this thread is locked into an either/or mentality. But think about this: if you had a nice stable government/government contractor position with good benefits, that was relatively mundane with fixed hours, and you supplemented that by moonlighting on a project you were really, really interested in (Open Source, hint, hint) you'd have the best of both worlds.

    It may even be possible to hire in at less than full time, depends on the position whether or not you would get benefits.
  • I test software for the Space Station. We have a goal of 1 defect per 20,000 lines of code that
    goes out the door. What's a comparable goal in the commercial world?

    We have twice as many people testing the code
    as we have writing the code.

    If MS Word crashes in a commercial office, no
    big deal. If the code that I test crashes,
    it can kill the crew or destroy the Space Station.

    The point is that government projects often
    involve critical systems, where screw-ups will
    kill people (or worse). So the whole software
    development process is geared to getting it
    right. That means analysing the task, writing
    the software requirements, writing the code,
    testing exhaustively to prove you met the
    requirements, and each step of the way cross-
    checking your work with the other guys.

    The requirements guy sends his document to the
    coder and tester to make sure he doesn't write
    requirements that can't be coded or tested.
    Likewise, as a tester I pass my test procedure
    back to the requirements guy and coder to
    make sure I covered the requirements and I
    understood how the code is supposed to work.

    This takes a lot of work and time, but you know
    what, we put up around 35 MBytes of embedded flight
    software up there (not counting the astronaut
    laptops). The hardware that software
    controls was never all put together except
    on orbit. And it worked. Sure, there were
    bugs in the code. But by and large it
    worked the first time.

  • I can attest to that. From 1995-2000, I worked for a company that was a custom-software house that went after government contracts. My first 4 years were on a mobile computing and dispatch system for the RCMP. Government work. Then my next year was working on a Tactical Mission Trainer for the CF Air Navigation School. Defence Work.

    Then I decided that the company had been bought out and went from 200->1800 and that was too big for me. So I went to a 50 person .com custom-software house. For a year, until the US .com crash caught up with us. There I worked on speech recognition systems and cellular portal software frameworks. This was clearly a corporate job and different in nature to the government work - faster cycle of delivery, less ISO, less overhead in management, more pruning of anything that blocked hitting deadlines and budgets.

    Then, it was off to an even smaller .com developing massively multi-user immersive 3D virtual worlds. This is product development and bears little in common with contract software work. And an 11 person firm bears nothing in common with a 200 person firm or a fifty person firm (well, not much).

    So it is easily possible to move between these markets if you had an open mind, a broad based skillset, and an attitude of "I can do it, whatever it is!". Three years ago I couldn't discuss details of my work and held a Top Secret Restricted Access clearance. Now I tell everyone what I do and teach at the local tech college for fun!

    Moral/Lesson: With a broad based skillset, and adaptable mind, and useful experience (you sometimes have to understand what parts of what you learned can be generically useful), you can make the transition between private sector and government work. I could probably go back. You just have to adjust your thinking accordingly and you keep getting a paycheck, which is a nice plus!
  • State Government worker moves on to another position (with Feds)

    10 REM Start of process
    Documenting what they did takes 2 months, entering it into the system takes another month, It's advertised for a month, another month goes by for interviews, oral exams, second interview takes some time.

    We weeded it down to three people: One who we didn't want, one who was looking to bounce from this job immediately to management, and the third who would have been a GREAT person on the job...but we couldn't meet on price. (Mid-$70k with mediocre health benefits and a killer retirement plan; 80% of the average of your top three years if you hang around long enough)

    He passed on the deal, so what do we have to do?
    20 GOTO 10
  • I did the "government thing" for a few years, working at LANL. It was a wonderful experience, and I had the privilege of working with many, many wonderful and brilliant people.

    The benefits are outstanding: interesting work, job for life, cushy retirement, two months vacation a year (18 days, plus every other Friday off if you work a 9x80 schedule, which it's stupid not to do).

    Exactly one year ago, I quit and went back to private industry, where I had spent most of my working life. Am I nuts? Well, yes, but apart from that, here are some of my reasons:

    • Work Preventers. This is a class of person unfortunately too prevalent in government. They are unable to do anything useful, but are threatened by your ability. Hence they spend their time preventing you from getting anything useful accomplished (paperwork, audits, meetings, their tactics are numerous). After a while, I just got tired of these twits.
    • Rewarding the incompetent. I never understood the "funding game", but it's all a nasty personality cult where you get rewarded for sucking up to the people who control the money. Some projects are assigned in this manner, and it just makes extra effort to work around the less-than-optimal decisions that then get made.
    • Walkin' retirees. A number of people are just hanging out, doing the least they can possibly do until they are able to retire. Fortunately, there aren't many of these, and they aren't as harmful as the work preventers. But still frustrating.
    • No incentive to excel. Performance appraisals are on a "curve", so everyone's graded pretty much as mediocre. Raises are unrelated to performance: right before I left, my group got a flat across-the-board (tiny) raise. I enjoy working, but I expect some sort of benefit after doing good work.
    • Can I get a real job?. I worked in the Bay Area for a number of years, and remember interviewing people who had worked "too long" at government contractors. After enough of those, I started chucking resumes simply based on length of employment at certain places. After working too long at LANL, I started being afraid that I'd become unhireable in the Real World, and slowly descend into the spiral of the Walking Retirees.

    So it's now a year later. My job is no longer guaranteed (but I've survived two layoffs so far). I don't get Fridays off. My stock options are worthless.

    Any regrets? Nope! I'm still ecstatic, enjoying the work, the people, and the sense that if I'm still employed, it's because I am still somewhat competent. It's a wonderful feeling.

  • I think it's a myth that government contractors are doing so great. I happen to personally know the managers of several companies.

    One is a genuine government contractor, which designs, produces and repairs all sorts of weird computer systems for government and military. About 5 or 6 years ago, business was booming for them, and they moved from a 20,000 square foot building to one twice as large, hired many employees, purchased all sorts of equipment... you name it. So much money was rolling in, they didn't know what to do with it. Now, they can barely pay the bills, and they might have to shut down.

    The other two are aerospace design and manufacturing companies. One has been slowly shutting down for the past 3 years, and the other is just starting to get back on track.

    If these folks aren't government contractors, I don't know who is.

Vitamin C deficiency is apauling.