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The Almighty Buck Books Media Book Reviews

NetSlaves 157

Boy, is this book overdue. If you're reeling from media hype about gazillion-dollar start-ups, Net billionaires, worker benefits and stock options, here's the story -- truly nailed down -- of what life is really like for many workers in the new, hi-tech workplace.
NetSlaves: True Tales of Working The Web
author Bill Lessard and Steve Baldwin
pages 246
publisher McGraw Hill
rating 7/10
reviewer Jon Katz
ISBN 0-07-135243-0
summary Terrific Truth Telling About Hi-Tech Work

Finally. Amidst the ongoing tidal wave of Net hype, here's "NetSlaves," by Bill Lessard and Steve Baldwin, which hits like a buck of ice water splashed in the face.

If you read newspapers, books, or follow Net-business coverage on TV, you might well think work on the Net is mostly about the billionaires who found Hotmail or Yahoo or Netscape, or the clean, benefit-laced, campus-like work environments they provide. You'd have no way of knowing the much more pervasive and unnerving reality: for every one of those there's a zillion companies that come into the world still-born, fail miserably, make and sell crummy stuff, and hire countless miserable, exploited, harassed and burned-out programmers, techies, geeks and nerds.

Baldwin and Lessard are combat veterans of the Net, both in terms of writing and personal experience. They are also long-standing Truth Tellers.

In addition to writing about computing for a number of magazines and websites, they also run the guerilla website NetSlaves, a running testimonial to real life for many in the hi-tech workplace.

"NetSlaves" is a terrific extension of the site, one of the few books to come off of a website that really works as a book. Lessard and Baldwin have a powerful story to tell, and they do it with a lot of punch. "NetSlaves" ought to be handed out to every graduate of every tech school, and given to every new employee of every Net company.

Baldwin and Lessard say their grand "pre-alpha" statement about the Nature of Net-Slavery is this:

"Technology has changed, but human nature hasn't. Whether it's the Gold Rush of 1849 or the Web Rush of l999, people are people. More often than not, they're miserable, nasty, selfish creatures, driven by vanity and greed, doing whatever they can to get ahead, even if it means stepping on the person next to them, crushing the weak, and destroying themselves in the process."

The authors don't have a particularly high regard for many forms of Net work, which they lambaste as the New Media Caste System, but they care about Net workers, and the book is curiously affectionate, even loving about them, as well as a hoot to read.

Both concede that one of their purposes in writing "NetSlaves" is to have the book serve as a quasi-historical, quasi-anthropological reflection of a particular moment in the culture.

Although the tone of "NetSlaves" is informal and funny, the point is pretty serious. "NetSlaves" has done what legions of reporters and authors have so far failed to do: paint a truthful picture of about the new nature of work in the techno-centered world.

For all of the media blabber about Net commerce and hi-tech startups, life in this fast lane can be brutal - insane hours, almost no employee-employer loyalty, greed and moral cowardice, help-desk geeks driven mad by enraged customers, back-stabbing, savage pressure, competiveness and the many resultant neuroses from all of the above.

Baldwin and Lessard make no pretense of objectivity. They write with almost ferocious authority and persuasiveness. They describe themselves as "two angry, cranky bastards out for blood" on behalf of their exhausted selves and the countless burnouts, geniuses, thieves, opportunists, workaholics and losers they've encountered along the way.

"NetSlaves" gives us a whole new language for the villains and back-stabbers who make up the hi-tech workplace. Particular venom is reserved for the "Fry Cooks," the "get it done at all costs" project people of the New Media Caste System. (There's also the "Garbagemen," the workers who have to get servers up and running when they crash).

My favorite chapter is about the "Cab Drivers," the haunted and hunted itinerant Web freelancers who design sites, followed closely by "Gold Diggers and Gigolos," a scathing portrait of the ambitious, night-crawling, hard-partying, butt-kissing movers and shakers and wannabees of hi-tech work world.

"Most Web sites are designed by itinerant, restless young people who have given up the constraints of working for one company in particular, in exchange for the self-determination of pursuing their own path. The rationale is that they can earn a higher hourly rate and pick and choose their projects.

"The reality, however," write Lessard and Baldwin, "is that these Cab Drivers have to constantly hustle for work and their passengers, or clients, who are also cash-crunched, are notorious for skipping out on their fares. Added to this is the lack of health benefits that Cab Drivers face - a plight which has forced many to simply neglect themselves." This is a world in which workers are terrified or despondent when forced to take a few weeks off, convinced they'll fall behind forever.

"NetSlaves" succeeds wonderfully in its goal to tell the truth about a particular culture at a critical juncture in time. It is, in fact one of the few telling looks inside the new kinds of workplaces springing up in the hi-tech, global economy. Workers beware.

Without a doubt, the Net will continue to grow and prosper. But if you even think about working there, read this book first.

Pick this book at fatbrain.

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  • That's disturbing. I happen to agree somewhat with their position, and in fact distrusting corporate America is one thing I actually see eye to eye with Katz on, but that's _bad_. It lowers the tone of an argument that desperately needs to be made properly.
    In particular, what jumped out in your words were 'trap of stock options'- I strongly agree, as this is a major abuse in many many ways- it's an accounting loophole tantamount to fraud, it's a means of paying employees in vapor, and most insidiously it's a means of getting employees to have a vested personal interest in destroying competition and capitalism, because valuation will inevitably be _lower_ in a healthy economic situation with actual choice available. It's a potent bribe to get people to do anything up to and including breaking the law in efforts to make their company eradicate all competition, and it doesn't reward honest effort disproportionately to dishonest exploits. And these book-writing clowns have not even thought of this?
    As for collective bargaining, in a sense that's what the GPL is. "We'll benefit you _if_ you keep to the bargain." If they don't know about this stuff they are very ill suited to writing a book on any form of labor abuse...
    *sigh* I think I'm turning into a small business libertarian, operative words 'small business'. There are just SO MANY mechanisms in the current state of the economy that assume a mystical trickle-down theory that fscking doesn't work, didn't in the 80s and didn't in the 90s and still doesn't. This 'prosperity' people talk of happens to be one with unemployment levels comparable to those of the Great Depression. Entire categories of Americans are simply thrown away, don't count. And guess what? The reason companies are beginning to choke and starve and savage each other is because of a lack of trickle-UP... starving homeless people _CAN'T!_ buy consumer products. They can maybe steal them, and that's even worse for the economy. The trickle has to go both ways or nothing works- you can't either give everything to the rich and expect anything to work, or give everything to the poor either. You've got to balance it out, and I see America still doing some of that, since as far back as 'New Deal' social reform, and I see idiot college randite kids arguing like mad that even that should be stopped.
    Well, with luck the judge will release findings of fact today. Here's hoping that he slams MS, and be ready to sell every stock you've got on Monday, because MS now is built into every major stock index, and you're looking at a crash that will take your head clean off. The fantasy is over, reality is coming to call, and the rich can now share in some of the Great Depression that they are currently ignoring completely because it only happened to the poor.
  • I've had to stand in a bread line. In my town, storefronts are going up for rent like it was property leprosy, and nobody is renting them, either. What is the figure, something like 20% of city minority groups unemployed? While I grew up, the employment rates for _my_ age group consistently were worse than those of the Great Depression my grandparents lived through.
    THIS IS the Depression. Suck it up and deal. And think again about quitting or coding less than 60 hours a week >:) in fact, hadn't you better up it to 80? If you don't there are about 600 starving people who would love to replace you >:)
  • I would love to [refuse to work less], but if I don't, the company will find some schmuck that will. And quite likely, some schmuck that will do it for less money. That is the way of the world.

    As long as you believe that is true, it is true. Don't want to risk getting fired this way? Job hunt on the side on the sly, and make sure any potential new employers aren't demanding ridiculous hours. You may find that they'll pay you more to work less than you are now.

    I've worked in IT for 6 years and never worked much beyond 40 hours a week. And I don't plan to start. Ok, I am a C++ guru, but even so...
  • I agree that a programmer needs to control his or her computer environment.

    One of the reasons I use Linux is because of the ability to customize the environment. Another is because of the assortment of tools that comes with the distributions. I would not enjoy being forced to develop web applications in a Windows 98/NT/2000 environment...especially if locked down.

    I will require that future employers allow me the freedom to use whatever operating system I like, as long as I get the job done! Luckily, I've never had a boss tell me I could not use Linux.
  • An interview with these two poseurs on the radio revealed them to be incredibly naïve about labor, industry and the goals of the current underclass.

    They were incapable of speaking intelligently about current legislation, modern unions, collective bargainting, high pay as compensation for long hours, the risks of IPOs, the trap of stock options, the benefits of loose working environments, marketability of skills, easy job mobility and dozens of other things. They were incoherent when they tried.

    Instead, they reverted to "as we say in our book" and then they'd offer useless anecdotes of very little relevance.

    Their voices were smirking, self-interested and self-indulgent. Their word choices and terminology were clichéd, hackneyed, borrowed. Overall, their tone was, "I can't believe a good fortune! I thought people would have found us out before now!" You could hear it all in their voices: pathetic, whiny, voices of spoiled children arguing from a position of supposed superiority.

    I'm convinced that these two are the kind of people speak with their eyes closed, a psychological indicator that the conversation is all about the speaker, not the recipient.

    Jon Katz's review does the book too much of a favor. These two dolts not only do not deserve space on Slashdot, they probably do not warrant space on your bookshelf.

    This is not a troll. I believe these guys are in it for the money. They know zip about the high-tech working poor or other mistreated entities; they just thought they could make a killing on a book.
  • Wow... great comments. I hope you are moderated up. Your link re:work addiction was really interesting.

    Thanks for posting :)

  • Try working a retail job, or at a restaurant, where you get to enjoy the following 'perks':

    1. Low, low pay.
    2. Some pink, doughy-faced 'supervisor' checking to be sure you 'look busy' at all times.
    3. Reprimanded for being 10 minutes late. 3 reprimands (or thereabouts) and you're fired.
    4. Low, low, LOW pay

    I now bow and salute the people who hold these positions. I leave good tips.

    Are you in a hurry to go back? I'm not! I am so dang thankful for my current position in 'hi-tech' (SQA Engineer) that I could get down and kiss the floor.

    As a matter of fact--


    TttthhHHHHPPpppPpppt! Damn hairy-ass carpets!

  • Hey, guess what. You're 4 months out of High School, and you got lucky enough to find a good job. I bet it dosn't pay that well. What about when you start getting taken for granted, you don't want to push the management too much because you don't want to rock the boat and you've got a family to feed.
    You are inexperienced, wait until you have spent 4 years in the business, and then come back and read this post, you will laugh at yourself.

    • If you're given more responsibilty, ask for more pay. What if they say no? Go and find another "Dream" job?
    • If you have to work longer, ask for more time off. Again, what if they say no?

    This is not a flame. Just me ranting. I've been working in the IT industry longer than you have, believe me, it won't be long before your dream job starts turning into a nightmare. I hope it dosn't happen, I really do, but I would be supprised if it didn't.
  • Hmm, interesting point of view. I must say, I don't visit /. so often nowadays, nor post so much, simply because I feel that an on-line forum that can accomodate the likes of Katz isn't for me. But, where else does one go? Technocrat [] has much better editorial control, and more intelligent posts, but doesn't have the "critical mass" in user numbers to generate real discussion -- 2 to 9 comments seems to be the usual range. I don't see people leaving slashdot; most are morely likely simply to ignore Katz. But there's the rub -- can Katz be ignored? I think not. He is symptomatic of a deeper problem at slashdot: the lack of proper editing. Stuff posted as news sometimes contains hearsay, rumour, and plain misinformation (not deliberate, I'm sure). Katz is not the only offender, merely far and away the worst.
  • by Signal 11 ( 7608 ) on Friday November 05, 1999 @05:07AM (#1561203)
    Yeah... welcome to the real world people. Silicon Valley ain't so glamorous. You're gonna work 60+ hours a week in a server closet with inadequate ventilation where the temperature is about 90o in the winter. Was this your idea of a dream job?

    Computer geeks may be the latest thing to be... but there's a huge gaping chasm between what you see on TV and what your job really is. System admins are the janitors of e-business.. they clean up the messes from the PHBs, work long, late hours. It's a thankless job.. and it isn't the only one. Programmers are put under incredible stress to meet that next deadline... I'm suprised most of them aren't more neurotic from sleep deprivation. These poor souls literally live or die by whether or not somebody brought in the folgers this morning. Then you have the helpdesk. Need I say more? Technical support feels more like psychological support. Having been there myself, I can personally attest to this - I've had callers in the middle of domestics (you know - husband goes whacko) and had to step them through configuring their DUN because they were getting "Error -691... the computer you are dialling.."

    Let's face it people, life in the computer field can suck. What we do at work is hell. What we do at home is heaven. Don't go for the long hours, the promise of IPO, or the lure of money. Ignore it all - if you wish for it you may just get it. Pursue your personal interests. Work a regular workday. Tell your boss to fsck off if he wants you to put in overtime without compensation. KNOW YOUR RIGHTS AS AN EMPLOYEE.. and don't be afraid to use them. We're geeks.. but we're also professionals.. and we are deserving of the respect other professions receive.

    Working with the fancy hardware is no excuse for them paying you nothing to work 60 hour weeks. Stand up - take the power back. Or unplug the server if you're the introverted type. =)

  • >This is not a troll. I believe these guys are in it for the money. They know zip about the high-tech working poor or other mistreated entities; they
    >just thought they could make a killing on a book.

    I was wondering about that. As I've metioned elsewhere, I've been toying with putting in somekind of form my own horror stories about life at the bottom of the high tech food chain. At one point I was thinking of submitting this for use on their website until I noticed that they retained all present & future copyrights to material published there.

    Yeah, right. I might not care if I ever see a cent from my writings, but if anyone's going to make money from it, I want to be first in line.

  • I've been in Silicon Valley for three years now, and have only worked for startups. I came in as a lowly webmonkey with no experience, and in 7 months became the VP of Content Sales at the 20+ employee company. The reason this was even possible was the realities of a startup:
    1. Startups can't afford to just throw bodies and money at problems.
    2. Given 1, _all_ employees are pulling duties across multiple disciplines, giving them the opportunity to make a real difference in the performance of the company.
    3. REAL startups (not some ex-HP or IBM Veeps with a bundle of cash) need the vision of employees to identify opportunities, and those who are most passionate about those opportunities get the chance to actually DO something about it.
    4. Working 9-5, 5 days a week is just fine for engineers and IT folk wanting the gold watch at age 65...which has nothing to do with startup mentality. I've consistently taken under-market wages in order to increase the number of options I receive. I'm all for working 80 hours a week, 7 days a week, to make those options worth more than the paper they're printed on because I don't WANT to be punching the clock at Faceless Large Corporation at 65.

    Startups aren't about the paradise of technical joy, nor are they remotely viable for those who crave security. They ARE about risk, not just financial but also emotional and intellectual. We risk losing our jobs, stunting our social lives, and creating products that we love but fail in the marketplace. And we take those risks because the rewards for success are, in our opinions, worth it.

    The amusing thing is that current startup tech workers are much like the health care workers. Doctors are well-educated and technically skilled workers who are on call 24/7, and are paid well as a result. They chose that lifestyle because they believe in what they're doing, as do we. Nurses work the same "slavish" hours, and deal with disgruntled patients, emergency situations, and the sad reality that some things are beyond their help...which sound suspiciously like the people I know who work the help desks. ;)

    If you want regular hours with predictable and intellectually undemanding work, I suggest an exciting career in the janitorial or food service industries. Tech isn't better, or worse, than any other's just different.
  • Seems odd for the other fellow to count this as an off-topic post - it clearly relates to the topic.

    need to be first = long hours in an ability to make an impossible deadline.

    But it might be added that I'm not sure being first is necessarily that powerful.

    Bill Gates didn't create the first personal computer operating system.

    VHS was not the first consumer video format.

    What people actually need is a compelling reason to switch. If you give them that, they will. The trick is finding out what that is, and executing well.

    The advantages I see are pretty interesting.

    Bill Gates leveraged the potent IBM brand to create the PC standard that we're still stuck with today. He also took advantage of the complacent nature of Lotus and WordPerfect when he brought out Excel and Word.

    Panasonic/JVC realized peoplen needed longer recording times, and provided that in VHS.

    Seems like a little more thought put into original product designs (in the case of VHS, anyway) might really help. Perhaps that's another lesson to the startup.


  • > Panasonic/JVC realized peoplen needed longer
    > recording times, and provided that in VHS.

    I thought VHS just had more pr0n since Beta was under tighter control by Sony, so first adopters bought VHS so they didn't have to go to adult theaters. Up until not too long ago, the only money makers on the web were purveyors of peurile pages (pr0n).

    Sometimes freedom (and pr0n), can be a key to success.
  • "Many more than 10% of today's kids are quite hungry right this second."

    And, like tribbles, if you feed them they will grow up unable to feed themselves, reporduce and you'll have many more hungry kids.

    If we are to do anything, we need to teach them to feed themselves. All our problems would be reduced with a smaller population. We must stablize the world population or nature will do it for us.

    We are the "red tide" of earth. Our own waste products will kill us but not before it kills most everthing else.

  • Having done something similar as a teenager, I've been on both side of this fence, and they both have their own little hell to contend with.
  • I think you're right. There's nothing particularly magical about the web, from a business standpoint. It's just another place to make a quick buck. And so it attracts people of ambition. These people care primarily about their own goals, and leave it to the employee to look after his own interests. The employee may be tempted by stock options and perks, which may never materialize, or may be disappointing when they do.

    I was recently discussing with a friend the fact that many times in my life, people have described me as "lazy". She said she didn't regard me as lazy. Then when I thought about it a little harder, I saw that each person who called me lazy was actually trying to get me to do something for them, to put aside my own agenda and help them with theirs. You need to be careful about that. Sometimes such people can be very convincing, and sometimes it can be difficult to sort out what will best serve your own interests.

    Cooperation is possible, and it's good, and capitalism facilitates it, and capitalism is good. But capitalism expects each person to look out for his or her own interest; your employer is not motivated to do so.

  • Katz is such a hack. I can envision him right now, holding up a blade of grass trying to determine which way the geek wind is going to blow tomorrow. The moment he detects a movement, he proclaims it as his own. When the direction changes, he jumps the bandwagon yet again, hoping no one is the wiser....

    I, and many others, tire of Katz and his routine. I suspect the powers that be on slashdot know this, yet they realize that his inflamatory trash generate increased traffic (look at how many comments he averages). It is a free country, and he does have the right to hear it. I don't blame slashdot for posting his articles. However, one thing they should be aware of is that it detracts from the site. Though I may occasionally click on his articles, there is only so many of these i'll tolerate. I suspect others share my view, maybe even enough to bite into their profits. I can hope, can't I?

  • Agreed, though the point I'm trying to make is that, perhaps, being a corporate entity, their wallets might not be best served by this behavior. Though in the short run, it would appear to generate increased revenues, can this hold out? I don't think this is so obvious. I suppose it comes down to knowing the readership. Are the kids (yes, a generalization) and those who get caught up in Katz content (for lack of a better word) representive of the general readership? What happens when those with real insight and knowledge leave? Are the kids' comment traffic self-perpetuating? In other words, when the more substancial content has totally left slashdot, will these kids still be drawn to Katzian debates?....etc etc etc
  • White phosphorous in the knees! Jeeze, you are /vicious/. I would hate to work where you do...
  • Hey I can't complain either.. we have a foosball table, free soda, large cubes and work 40 or so hours a week.
  • All I can say is AMEN BROTHA!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • I'm a web developer for a startup, but I knew what I was getting into. Everybody was pretty upfront about what was going to be expected of you. And yes I have worked some insane hours. But then there are weeks when the hours are rediculusly short.

    Jon, what was the last startup you worked for?

  • (The Subject line says it.) There are similar, indecent percentages (or totals, such as the number of homeless) that are a real disgrace in a society that has a national budgetary surplus as large as it is. There's currently far too much selfishness; but, this is getting off topic. I've been close to homeless (or living with relatives who really didn't have the space) and blocked out of my own apartment by a mentally-ill sister who refused to get prof. help. No picnic!


  • I gave up when I reached my 62nd birthday; went for early-retirement Social Security, and by doing so, took a large hit in my monthly payment (I get about 2/3). Nevertheless, I have several $100/mo. after food and rent are considered. Not much, but far better than being homeless. (I'm single.)

    I've been a mechanical analog computer tech., a Flexowriter tech., Philco 2000 assembler programmer (coding forms, have them keypunched and verified, and do not drop your card deck!!!), but primarily an electronic tech in field service and manufacturing. Was first downsized in 1964 from my only engineering job. Joined the working poor in 1991; since then, have made over $9/hour for only a few months. No car, either; that really cut me off from 90%-95% of all jobs. My work situations were very benign compared to what's described in the book, but I well know the feeling of being valued as much as the card that falls out of your magazine as you look at it next to the rack in a store. What these poor devils don't yet experience is age prejudice; I did, and didn't think of trying to prove it. (I'm lucky: I look as though I'm about 45 or 50. Still doesn't matter.)

    I get somewhat peeved to hear of the wonders of our economy. What is it--10% of our kids are living without enough to eat?

    Since Uncle Ronnie was elected, selfishness has become something to celebrate rather than to be ashamed of. The concept of "noblesse oblige" never made it across the Atlantic.

    A rising tide sinks most boats in our society, and that's not global warming and sea level, either.

  • Funny; I used to work with one of the authors at a Silicon Alley startup. He was a complete non-techie, a "Webmaster" who produced neither HTML nor English for the site, but instead concentrated on the "overall architecture" of the site. Whatever that meant.

    He's probably angry and bitter his experience there didn't make him rich. On the other hand, he didn't stay around long enough to vest any of his options. On the third hand, I never noticed him working particularly long hours.

    He feels sorry for the guys who kept the servers going? That would be a couple of 23-year-old college dropouts (and one Columbia grad), who rarely showed up before 11 a.m. but often stayed past midnight, got paged at 3 a.m., and worked a lot of weekends. I'm glad the authors feel sorry for them ... but at least one of them doesn't know a thing about that life.

    (Since you're probably wondering: I was a lead developer, then "Manager, Content Acquisition Software," for a team of five Unix/Perl programmers and one NT/C++ guy. I didn't work very long hours, unless you counted the productive four hours every day on the train. I stayed around long enough to vest about a third of my ten-cent-a-share options. But when the company laid off most of the technical staff, I saw the writing on the wall. I found a job closer to home, and let my options expire. The company's doing okay, with twenty employees instead of the hundred and twenty it had when I was there. I don't think it'll ever IPO. Bottom line: I'm not rich, either. And, yes, when the sysadmins weren't around, I was one of the other guys who kept the servers up.)

  • I think here in the Valley, convincing someone to come in to a job and pull the 60-hour week is harder to do. I think people are much wiser, and won't jump as quickly at new startups unless they have a top-notch management team, and/or impressive VC backing.

    At my "elder" startup, there has been an ongoing backlash against long sacrificial workweeks. 40 hour weeks and 2 hour lunches are more the norm now. No chance to go IPO IMHO, but hey, I have lots of free time outside work and the salary is pretty good. No complaints here.

    There will always be freshly minted graduates willing to go to a dubious startup dangling the promise of riches and 50,000 option shares, but there's too many stories of failure around here to not have heard at least one and be concerned.
  • Yes, the high-tech jobs are indeed not the magic fairyworld that it sometimes seem to be -- so what? The rules have not changed -- but the very fact that people perceive the field as the fairyland, is what makes the high-tech hell possible -- like the Ouroborous Snake, eating itself.

    The businessmen always have tried, and probably always will try, to make a buck -- nothing new or immoral here. The workers always have been, and probably always will be, selling their skill -- ditto. The difference is that this is a new field, not that it is a fundamentally different one -- things are not settled, workers have not come to grip with it, and it is still a primordial capitalistic cahos.

    The answer, of course, is not to lament our fates, but to take control of them. Me, I am finishing my MS now, and working as a systadmin at my university (40-hour week, minimum stress) -- I would never, never take one of those archetypical high-stress 80-hour-week jobs, no matter how much they pay me. I refuse to be treated like an expensive slave -- and so I live a life that I actually enjoy.

    Stop and think -- what do YOU want from your life? Is all the stress and the work actually worth it? Happiness and satisfaction come from within, after all...


  • Many times they "outsource" the network duties to contracting firms so that they do not have to hire and pay their own employees to do the work. This saves the megacorp lots of money.

    It can, but there are other reasons why this happens - it's not as callous and cruel as it sounds.

    Consider: contract employees don't get much in the way of benefits (not from the widget company anyway - the contracting firms sometimes have good bennies, as it helps them keep qualified people) but they often cost more, on an hourly basis, than WidgeTron's own employees. 'Cause the contracting firm has to take their cut, and still pay the "netslave" enough that s/he will stay on. It's a tradeoff. And for many companies, what swings the balance is that they want (to borrow a Dilbertism) to "concentrate on their core business". For a widget manufacturer that means manufacturing widgets, not being a cutting-edge IT firm. But they need cutting-edge IT people, so they contract for them from a company whose core business is cutting-edge IT.

    It's not good; it's not evil. It just is.
  • ...almost immediately they say: "Oh wow, that must be a great job! Working with technology, and such."

    Maybe they're just trying to be polite.

    Maybe they really do envy you.

    Think about it. You're stressed, your bosses expect the impossible, and the deadline was yesterday. Their job is just the same! Only they probably don't have a valuable skill like yours. They don't get to feel superior to their incompetent bosses, or to the morons who call with questions or complaints.

    People think it'd be great if only they could get a high-tech job like yours? Pity them. Think how dreadful their job must be.

  • There is always greed in all industries, be it business or tech.
    however, i think that in the computers industry, you have more of a choice in how you want your career to develop. whether you want to butt kiss your way to the top of the corporate ladder, be a consultant to the highest bidder or pick a job that you sincerely will enjoy but pay less.

  • speaking for myself.. an ideal job is something which i enjoy doing (ie, code. real coding.. not maintaining websites, db's and servers) and which has a vision that i can get myself excited with.

    as for work conditions.. 40 hrs/wk is not bad. and i dont mind working extra hours when there is a big project thats going to be rolled out, but not consistently. casual dress would be plus too.

    but i think.. the most important in the end would be the people. i want to surround myself with people who are intelligent and curious. who love what they do and love sharing their knowledge and learning new stuff... also who know how to relax and laugh at themselves.. in that way, the job can never get boring and i would actually look forward to go to work.

    hey, you did ask for an ideal ;)
  • Too bad it won't be this way for much longer... EDS is taking the shop over, and I'm out the door before the poopies start flying.

    Right on, and the other thing to look for will be EDS junking as many unix boxes as possible, and replacing them with NT...
  • "...the company will find some schmuck that will. And quite likely, some schmuck that will do it for less money."

    That is a common fear and one that A**hole bosses will play on if you let them. But, unless you are a ditch digger or floor sweeper, i.e. unskilled, casual labour, it is a crock.

    Here are a few reasons why he is *very* unlikely to let you go if you just say, "No!"

    (1) In most jurisdictions, there is a maximum number of hours that you can work without being paid overtime. After that, overtime must be paid, or your employer is breaking the law. Check with your local department of labour.

    (2) If he did fire you for standing up for your rights, what's to say that the next person he hires won't be just as cranky about working for nothing.

    (3) Many young people in the workforce don't know this one, but it's taught in the b-schools: The cost of hiring a skilled person usually costs out around the value of a third of the employee's annual salary. In other words, firing someone for no good reason is running up a major cost. (If he fires say five or six people, he's cost the company more than his annual salary. And what will *his* boss have to say about that?

    (4) If you are fired for refusing to do unpaid overtime, you can sue for wrongful dismissal in most jurisdictions. Here in Canada, the courts will normally side with the discharged employee unless the employer can show (a) sufficient warning was given of unacceptable behaviour, (b) sufficient time was given for the employee to make corrections, (c) evidence is given to show that the unacceptable behaviour continued, and (d) "unacceptable behaviour" falls within the legal definition - which does *not* include working for free!

    In other words, if your boss is pressuring you do work overtime fornothing, he's probably just trying it on to see if you are sucker enough to do it.

    Just tell him politely, "TANSTAAFL!" ("There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch!")


  • Yes a number of professtions (big law firms?) make the young pups do all the crap for a a year or two before they realize how much they are doing is worth, once you have that figured out you can reach a more equitable arrangement.
  • > People seem to envision us as:
    > Smart people who can sit back and relax most of the day while getting paid nicely for it.

    Damn! That's the description of my job. In fact, I put in a request to my boss to change my title from "Sys Tech Anyl V" (production systems adminstrator with UNIX boxes) to "Web Surfer V". Trust me... it just boring on the other end of the spectrum. I go crazy trying to find something to do with my time.

    But I realize that I don't that much room to complain. There are people who would KILL for my job. Too bad it won't be this way for much longer... EDS is taking the shop over, and I'm out the door before the poopies start flying.
  • I enjoy being a contactor... There's nothing like guranteed overtime @ double my Rate to really make up for having t be onsite for more than 40 hours a week.

    I've done both slary, and Contract (1099, and W2) and I'll always like contracting more.. Usually less tress, more rewarding, and with my current contracting company, training is free.. So now I get get all of the sundry little resume fodder (CCNA, MSCE+I) done, and done for free.

    The slight negatives are No Health Insurance, and no 401K... But those are negated for me, since I've always kept independant Health insurance, and Have had my own set of Stocks, IRA's and mutual funds.

    I personally don't give a crap out Life insurance, because my only my cat survives me..

    All Spelling errors are intentional
    Do not point Happy Fun Starvo at face
    May couse Leprosy

  • I dunno... Sometimes one does get into insane jobs.. but not for the supposed gold of stock options... Sometimes you see something as the next freakin' wave, and you just want to ride it.

    My Sordid tale begins in Late 1994.... Presently working at a computer repair shop, turning wrenches, and setting up computers.. Life was good, if only for 20 hours a week @ 9 an hour... But I was still in community college, and the wages were ample for my needs.

    Sometime around mid 1995.. The internet really started rearing it's big ugly head to the *rest* of the world... I repsonded with a yawn.. I had a shell account since 1992.. This was nothing new to me.. but to everyone else... they started acting like it was the next big thing... Being more than a bit intrigued, and doubly worried.. (Did I want Joe Moron, reading my Favorite Usenet groups?) I eventually started discussing all of this with a friend....

    Which lead to me meeting the future president of a ISP in Illinois... Grand plans, Low Cash, and my brain on overdrive menat I started werking.. for Less $ than I was making, and for more hours... But the plan was magnificent.. And the users hadn't gotten too stupid yet...

    I almost got pigeonholed into being an onsite installer of internet software.. But after the desturction of the bosses mini-van (He should change his own damn oil, and not expect someone borrowing it to check the oil..Doh) I was moved back to Tech support/Jr Admin Wanker.

    that's when the hell began, life took a turn further down, as I was exploited by the drooling, unwashed, PPP-ignorant masses.. I started to dred work... Luckily, I was moved to 3rd shift, where the masses were slightly less braindead, and the oppurtunities to play Quake were quite abundant..

    But all good things to come to a fiery crashing end... Eventually life started to suck even on the magical late shifft, and I made it worse by coming in late for work, more than a few times.. And eventually, I was dropped... thankfully..

    The moral is? 2 years of my life almost.. No stock options, less than $12 an hour, and I learned only how to verbally spar with morons on the phone... Phah.. Netslave? Perhaps... But now I make about 4 times that rate.. and it's only 3.5 years later... ;-)

    I never finished more than a year of college.. (I only regret it because I wanted to party more) and I have no certs aside from A+... So I guess the moral is.. Eventually you'l get a decent salary, adn a nice job, if you don't sweat the small crappy stuff...
    yeah, right.

    ---All Spellng erors intentional
    ---Do not taunt Starvo, the happy fun admin
    ---May cause leprosy, or gingivitis

  • I honestly don't know why everyone is griping. I work as a contractor (UNIX Sys Admin) for a Fortune 500 company and I am treated quite nicely. I go in anywhere from 7-10am (my choice each morning) and leave when my 8 hours is up. I put in about 10 hours overtime per month, and that's just from carrying the oncall laptop/pager/phone for one week each month.

    everyone knows that salaried people just get abused! quit working salary if you don't like 60 hour weeks!!! Go to work as a full-time employee of a consulting company. I mean, sure, they get 50% of my earning, but I still make more than any Sys admin here who works full-time salary for the company.

  • I really enjoyed that book... I picked it up at a book sale for $5 or something... and read it in 2 days (couldnt put it down)
    It was indeed very insightful... but not negative.
    I'm not going to buy the book "NetSlaves" it seems to me that theres a danger in writing a book when you're pissed off... you might just get published.. and then the world see's all your negativity. Well it seems to me that this book (Netslaves) will explode with negativity. I have 3 semesters left on my MIS degree and I just don't need something like this influencing me. The world is NOT a bad place.. yes there are greedy people, and yes there are backstabbers... but deal with it. You get what you put into it... and don't forget this is survival of the fittest. We're all greedy (including the Netslaves authors or they wouldnt have written the book)
    It just seems to me that 2 pissed off guys wrote a book because they wanted to tell their side of the story. Well maybe people just didnt like them because of their... oh I dunno... negativity.
    But yes.. if you're looking for a good book about the life, and feelings of a programmer... Microserfs is a great read. (it was recently mentioned in an article called "Myths of the e-factory" in Newsweek's special "Careers 2000" publication) btw... the article in Newsweek is quite insightful as well... and not negative... just states the facts and quotes various workers in silicon valley. These companies are great, lets not forget that... I mean you could work for some old skool hitler boss in a "ladder" type environment... but we have the chance to work at places where if we don't want to take the stairs... we can take the slide! And wear khakis to work! This is a wonderful time with wonderful companies coming forward... lets not forget that. I can only hope to find a place somewhere like this when I'm done my degree.

  • There ought to be some way of stopping these pains. Can somebody please stop Douglas Rushkoff (SP probably) from every publishing a new book ?

    Computers are about science and technology, not sociology.
  • Too true.
    Before university I had a job at a fast food store for a year, and that was something else. Me and my co-workers treated each other well, but everyone else really treated us like shit. Now I'm coding in a real job in Europe, and I do whinge a bit now and then, and my life is a bit strange but I know it's a lot better than a lot of people wind up.
    But hey, perhaps I should write a book saying how awful it is that no one gives me $20 K a week. Add the word internet and I could get Jon Katz to review the book...
  • I believe he was talking about the American economy, not the world economy. America has a great economy in my opinion. We have so much that we waste more natural resources in this country than the average country uses. And I believe we use about 5 times as much resources as an average country. Good old US of A.
  • I just recently graduated with a degree in Computer & Systems engineering (from RPI), and had a few different sysadmin / 'IT' jobs before I left school. After reviewing my job choices, I went with a position doing hardware design and microcode (at Big Blue), rather than an IT position with a Fortune 500 company (GE, Paine Webber, etc...). The opportunities were there (and paid well), but you just have to look at what you are going to be doing, and whether or not that is going to be satisfying.

    Sysadmin roles aren't always firefighting, but there is certainly far too much of that for my liking, and it tends to wear on a person pretty quickly. It's fun for a while, and you get satisfaction from it... but eventually you can get fed up if you aren't doing as much new stuff as you are fighting problems... It takes different personalities, and the motivation is a big factor. They've even started a neww IT major at RPI (damn them to hell) for those who are looking for easy money and don't know what they are getting into. A less technical curriculum with more interdisciplinary courses... CS/CSE is still more valuable on an overall level - I think the larger background and deeper understanding of the systems you are working with is a big help (a little CS never hurts for automating tasks, or trying to patch security holes...).

    Just my $.0004^.5
  • Is there anything unique to the computer industry that creates this situation or is it simply the fast pace and large size of the market? I tend to think that any other industry, booming on the same scale and schedule of our computer industries would show similar characteristics.
  • Their website isn't any better. Some of the stories are amusing, but describing, for example, a web columnist (with a decidedly non-technical subject matter) as a "high tech worker" does nothing to inspire any confidence they know what they're talking about.
  • or is this a new company thing?

    I've done my share of tech work, and it wasn't much like net.slaves. Of course, most of my tech work is for a fortune 50 company, in the most computer oriented section of it.

    I worked a Tech support hotline, the calls were long, tough and frequent, but it was rare that I did more than 42 hours a week, and when I did I got overtime (neat trick for a salaried employee).

    Now I'm a liaison between the hotline and the software engineers, and the hours are still reasonable. My managers respect me,I get to play with neat computers, all in all, a good life.

    Our SA's are subcontracted, but they don't seem too stressed.

    Of course, I do geek stuff at home, mostly writing about geek stuff, but it's at home, at mostly my pace (except when we have a deadline to meet), and about things I like.

    So are slashdotters in bigger, established companies away from the Valley seeing this much? Maybe it's just related to people willing to kill themselves on hopes that they're gonna get in on the next amazon.

  • Dear god... "netslaves"? Doesn't that sort of
    dilute the meaning of the word "slave"? I work
    40 hours a week, I'm paid obscenely well, I read
    /. at work, and I came in today at noon. And I know there's a hell of a lot of people just like me out here. Admittedly not everyone has it as easy, but come on! Tech workers are some of the luckiest people in the world. Compare it to the relative amounts of work and wages that an EMT, teacher, farmer, machinist, or even mathematician has to deal with. I know pure science guys that are twice as smart as most of the engineers out here, who do twice the work and get one fifth the pay.

    No matter how good life is, some people will always bitch...
  • True. What was that Russian workers' saying?

    "We pretend to work, and they pretend to pay us."

    I could be making ten times what I do now, if I just go back to the US. But it's actually nice to live in a culture where people expect that you'll demand baksheesh before you do any work. :)

    "Cheap, Good, or Fast. Normally, we tell you to pick any two, but we seem to be all out of Good and Fast today. You'll have to settle for Cheap."
  • I've just finished my MS, but I have absolutely no plans to pack up for Silicon Valley and "hit it big", as all my former classmates are doing.

    Sitting back, enjoying a good game of Starcraft or Homeworld from time to time, and making sure the lusers are properly thankful whenever you get off your ass to fix something. Love being a BOFH.

    Whenever someone starts to complain, I pull out my last payslip and show it to 'em. No, you're not paying me what I'm worth. So if you gonna make me stay late, you gotta make sure I'm properly bribed.

    Of course, things can go wrong - change of bosses, and maybe some fresh-faced MCSE'll walk in and take over my job... but there's plenty of good jobs out here in the boonies, what with all the actual tech people going up and packing for California...
  • I used to be in MIS, and I whole heartedly agree
    that software engineers are treated somewhat
    better than sysadmins. Then again system admin
    has been traditionally a stepping stone on the
    path to coding godhood. I wouldn't make a career
    of it, but others disagree nowadays.

    I have no illusions - executive management and
    VCs will never be your friend, but they are not
    necessarily your enemy. Things are a little
    more complicated than that.

    It's about stupidity, but also not wanting to
    be smart.
  • I have not read this book, and I am glad it has been brought to my attention; I look forward to reading it. I will do so, though, with a certain amount of trepidation.

    I have been a temp/contractor/freelancer for 8 years now; I have never held any other kind of job. And I am rather used to the warped media view of what I do. All stories in the press either take the stance that (less commonly) temps/contractors/freelancers/etc. are incompetant bloodsuckers who will take the client for all they're worth or (the vast majority) temps/contractors/freelancers/etc. are exploited by the system of temping/contracting/freelancing and duped into thinking there's something good about it.

    My trepidation, then, arises from the bit Katz quotes on "Cab Drivers". Sounds like - and, no, I don't have enough information to really know - the same-old-same-old. "Oh, those poor benighted independents! Eeking out a hard-scrabble existence, chasing job after job, for a chance of getting paid! Oh, pity the poor contractor without health insurance, without 401(k), without job security!"

    For what it's worth: I chose this lifestyle because it works for me. Most reasonable agencies in this day and age offer benes (health, 401k, etc.) to their W2 employees. I have, in some ways, more job security than most people: if my relationship with a client deteriorates, I call up my agent and say "Get me out of here" - and he does.

    That having been said, on to the real point:

    In the last eight years, I've worked on some 50 client sites, in just about every conceivable kind of workplace: businesses of every shape and size, univerisities, non-profits, the gummint, even a major religion (no kidding). Sometimes for a day, sometimes for a month, sometimes for many months at a stretch.

    Part of what got me hooked on this kind of work was the opportunity to see the insides of so many different workplaces. I wanted an answer to "What is 'work' like for most people?" and I didn't want to generalize, as everyone seemed to, from a paltry handful of data points.

    These are some of the things I have learned:

    Everyone thinks their workplace is "normal", no matter how abusive it is.

    Workplaces are like families in that, because people tend not to be in more than one or two at a time, they have no benchmark against which to compare them. So everywhere I went, from places with fantastic morale and loyalty to the pits of Hades, everyone thought that where they worked - their relationship to their boss, their relationship to their coworkers, their morale of their division/company/branch/department, etc. - was "normal", and that if they changed their jobs their new work experience would be just the same. If their current experience was bad, it wouldn't get better anywhere else; if their current experience was good, it wouldn't be worse (or better) anywhere else.

    The major reason that's bad is that it allows people in positions of authority to get away with murder. It's fatalism pure and simple.

    The minor reason that's bad is that it reduces the posibility for sympathy between workers of very different companies to nil. Say worker A, coming from The Eighth Circle, LTD, applies for a job at Elysian Fields, Inc. where they are interviewed by worker B. All worker B can tell is that worker A didn't get much accomplished, had a rocky relationship with their job, and seems pretty despondent/desperate. Worker B does not see that in the context of Elysian Fields, Inc. worker A could be a great employee, because worker B doesn't realize the existence of different contexts. This is one of the reasons people tend to move from cruddy job to cruddy job, and good job to good job!

    People believe their bosses have the power of life and death over them.

    Sometimes, I think that a whole lot of people try to use their bosses as substitute parents, trying to earn the love and appreciation and approval of absent parents through the proxy of their bosses. Cuz they act like kids: unwilling to say "no, I'm sorry, I can't do that for you", shameful and resentful at not doing things good enough, and in short completely manipulatable [].

    (Which is one of the reasons I suspect as crooked any company which makes a big deal of how much it is a "family".)

    Self-determination (poo-pooed above) really is worth it

    Self-determination, however, is not just a function of being independently employed. It is much easier to find self-determination when you're on your own - that's a good chunk of why I went that route - but not everyone (or even most everyone) manages to find self-determination in being a temp/contractor/freelancer, nor is it impossible to be self-determined while "employed directly".

    Self-determination is a state of mind, or, if you will, a state of spirit. It is a deep undertstanding that you are, in the end, responsible for the course of your life.

    Some people get to self-determination via paranoia and cynicism: "Ain't nobody looking out for me, ever, but me." Some people get there via religious faith or a strong sense of calling: "I have to do what I was put here to do." Some people get there via a brush with death: "I am not going to waste any more of my precious seconds of life in such misery." Some people get there via philosophy, some people get there via hunger.

    Doesn't matter how you get there: get there.

    Self-determination is the rope by which you can haul yourself out of the quicksand of bad employment situations. Self-determination is the difference between being pathetically vulnerable and being able to shrug off the crap.

    This isn't some woo-woo newage neo-psychology about positive thinking. Self-determination is a tool for hacking on lives. And its old name is "liberty", and people fought and died for it.

    Most people believe that the expression "Being your own boss" actually has relevant meaning

    Look: you, every last one of you, are the captains of your own fates. You are your own bosses, already.

    Ultimately, you have only yourself to answer to. Are you, upon your death bed, going to worry "Was I sufficiently obedient? Was I a good enough employee? Were my bosses pleased with my service?"

    You are responsible for the course of your life. That doesn't mean it's entirely your fault, but it is your responsibility, same way that if your puppy messes on your rug, the mess is not your fault, but it's still your responsibility. Shit happens. What I'm talking about is how you then deal with the shit.

    It is nobody else's job to rescue you from the misery of an abusive job, or a job you just don't like. It's nobody else's job to answer the question "What shall I do with my life?" It's nobody else's job to intervene and say "You're throwing the best years of your life away on a crummy situation."

    It's your job to care about you . It's your job to care about you enough to stand up for yourself; to refuse to allow other to take advantage of you; to force yourself to get out of fatal ruts. It's your job to step back and take a good long look at your life so far and ask "Is where I am now on the path to where I want to be? Is this getting me where I want to go? Is this trip I am on worth being on?".

    A staggering number of people entrust this job to their bosses, or to Lady Luck (Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi!). But, ya know, those bosses don't care about you. That's not their job. You cannot abdicate this responsibility without suffering. To try and get someone else to do this for you is to look for parenting, to try to find someone to treat you like you're a kid and they're your mom-or-dad. But not even your parents can do this for you once you're an adult. This is what it means to be an adult.

    Most (adult) people who are abused allow the abuse to happen

    If your work situation is abusive - whether your boss is taking advantage of you financially or you are being sexually harassed by co-workers or your workspace is giving you an RSI - ask yourself "Why am I putting up with this?"

    If the only answer you have is "I've gotten myself into debt up to my eyeballs and I'm terrified of being unemployed, so my current employer has me by the short and curlies", then I recommend to you the book Your Money or Your Life [] (Joe Dominguez, Vicki Robin)

    If your answer is "Because I am too timid to confront the problem/people", then you really do have a problem, because even if you get out of the current situation, you'll bring your fatal weakness with you. You'll be an abuse victim waiting to happen.

    Only you can rescue you. The rest of us are powerless to. You have to decide to be brave and decide stop it for yourself.

    And that's what I learned as a temp/contractor/freelancer.

  • If you had STUCK THROUGH COLLEGE, you would not be in that situation.

    What are you, this kid's superego? Get off his case.

    Sheesh. Spare us your insecurity. Only someone completely unconvinced at the worth of his degree could write that. Get therapy or something, dude; don't take it out on some unsuspecting passer-by by trying to shame him.

    Both of you have WAAAAAAAAY too much faith in the value of degrees or certifications. I haven't any, and I'm doing Just Fine. School is most certainly NOT the only way. I wouldn't got back to school for a million bucks.

    A luser with a college degree is still a luser. Evidently.

  • "Couple of years"? "Couple of years?"

    Are you out of your MIND?!

    NOW! Put together your resume now, and get it out. Do you have any idea of what the job market is like right now?

    You don't need to suffer more where you are to gain "valuable experience". You could be getting the same "valuable experience" and more pay.

    The willingness of employers to look past qualifications right now is better than you may ever see again. The market is so tight for people with clues that employers are willing to compromise.

    If nothing else: ask for a raise, if you're doing the work. Hell, ask for a promotion.

    Yes, accepting a pay cut for some other intangible reward is OK, but, dude, you are not in a situation in which you should have to accept a pay cut for the intangible rewards you're getting.

  • "What is it--10% of our kids are living without enough to eat?"

    No, actually. According to USDA figure less than 1 percent of children ever miss even a single meal in a given year due to lack of food.

    The two are not exclusive - it's quite possible (although I am not stating that it is the case) to get three meals a day and still be undernourished, if the meals are small and nutritionally poor.

    Of course, a lot of middle-class kids are malnourished; not from lack of food but from too much junk. But that's another issue.

  • ... who are so proud that they use NT and MICROS~1 environment.

    Whatever lets them sleep at night.

    I rather work in a mixed environment. Yes, even with NT. Have one or two NT servers on hand keeps things interesting by every once in a while getting up and pushing the reset button.

    It breaks up the monotony(sp) of surfing for porn, playing Quakeworld and reading /.

    ChozSun [e-mail] [mailto]
  • ... however you are in control of your own destiny.

    I have walked in and right back out on companies during a interview. What reasons?

    1. They used (put in crappy brand name computers) across the board (Compaq=Windoze everywhere). This one particular company I had to tell off that their equipment stinks. They kept calling me afterwards wanting me to work for them. They were supporting 95 workstations while the tech people where on NT 3.1.

    2. You are almost guarentee to walk through the work area on the way to the office. If not, ask for a small tour. Ignore the faces of the manager and supervisors, look around for the techs and sysadmins. If they look like they are in a pissed off mood, do not work for them. Chances are, that is not a place to work.

    3. Finally, ask the manager "do we have free roam on our computers?" i.e. "Are we treated like the power users that we are or do we get our machines locked down so much we cannot even change the time".

    The third point is happening at my job as we speak. Of course, on NT workstation, they can lock your machine down. Unless you know the admin passwords and edit your account or even better: if logging into a NT server gives you the heebee geebees, log into the domain of the workstation. Simple simple.

    We also had a situation where we had a programmer working on Linux (hey Alan). Moving over to a new building, he was informed that he will be moving over to a NT workstation (applied to all programmers moving over). He said that he would quit (naturally). Not letting that happening, I put up the fight that they should not transfer over to NT. Of the couple weeks of battling that included the CEO, we finally won.

    I am just a tech, only a tech. I have lost a lot of battles but that was the one that really matter. My managers cannot still understand that the fact that a programmer couldn't use the OS he wanted that he was going to quit.

    The point is that you need to take control of your environment. I know everyone needs a job but what holds true for relationships holds true for a job "you are only truly happy if you are really picky."

    ChozSun [e-mail] [mailto]
  • As a college student who has worked in a variety of "information technology" settings, I am pretty sure that it is not the field that I want to work for. Our kind, for a lack of a better word is seen as someone that does not need any respect, and is often treated as a non human being. When something goes wrong it is always your fault, and when you try to explain (such as Windows spiral of death) to your supervisor, they beleive that you are just making excuses and are lazy.

    My solution? I'm only going to work for myself. No one else.
  • The book _Microserfs_ is another excellent novel that's been out for quite some time now. It follows a programming nerd through some job changes, including a Silicon Valley startup. Very good book. Very funny. Somewhat insightful. (Goodly speaking English is me.)
  • Couldn't agree more. The IT industry is an incredible one; we are truly given a choice as to where our priorities lie.

    You want a cool job? Don't expect to work for a huge company and get paid the big bucks.
    You want to make good money? Don't expect to be able to leave the office in the middle of the day just to sit in the park and drink coffee.
    You want to make great money? Don't expect to work 40 hours a week and command the respect and admiration of all of your co-workers as you claw your way to the top.

    How many other industries give you those options? I've opted for a job in a cool company that I truly enjoy. I'm not rich, but I'm far from destitute! These people who are whining about horrible working conditions in big Silicon Valley start-ups have made their decision: They want the big bucks, but they're not willing to put up with the horrible hours and mundane work to get it.

    It's a decision we all have to make when entering this industry. It's a decision we have to be able to live with.
  • Interesting, but I worked a lot harder and and was much more underpaid when I worked in K-mart, Winn-Dixie Super Markets, Bradlees, that one crooked liquor store... the list goes on. I admit, I'm not paid what I'm worth and I don't buy into the stock options bit (I'm not expecting easy millions, especially since I'm just being told I'll get them, I've got nothing on paper.) But there are a lot of former co-workers from those other places whose only choice was to remain at K-mart in the hope of being raised to the exalted position of manager one day. I'm happy to have gotten out...
  • It isn't "a scam" that you get paid to write code. Never think that, never let others convince you of it. Remember there are people in the world who do no work and produce nothing that get paid a lot. How long would any software company last without any coders? Not long, that's for sure.
  • One of the reasons the IT industry may be so over-stressed and over-rushed is that to win in the market place often means getting there first. And getting the opening market share. Like VCR's, it's best for people to buy what everyone else is buying, not what's best. Because you get the most support that way (more videos are made for the popular VCR, more software is made for the popular computer....).

    So, the first company out the door with a product, whether it's better or not, wins.

    On the plus side, open standards are also an advantage in this type of arena. So, I believe we will see public software (whether GPL or whatever) win out as time goes by.
  • I wonder; buying a book like this sounds like a bit redundant. It seems to me most professional geeks go through what this book covers on a daily basis.

    So what's in it for geeks? Insiders? Why should I care for this book if it's targeted to outsiders to the hi-tech industry? (Aside as a present idea for my mother, that is?)

    Additionally, what has it to say that hasn't been flogged to death by Dilbert [] yet?

    Is this News for Nerds or News about Nerds?

    Why not review a dated by classic novel on the subject, such as Douglas Coupland's Microserfs []?

    "Knowledge = Power = Energy = Mass"

  • I didn't go to colledge -my story is Very close to this kids but I'm 23 and have a better job. The trick is work above expectations at a shitty job in a big company and you will excell, then the company will train you and you will have something a degree can't give you -real world experiance.

    I know people with masters in CS that don't know what SSH is, I wouldn't hire them -but I would hire the geek/hacker kid that has 3-5years in a do everything position at X company with training from Y and Z company.
  • I'm underpaid, and though I'm bitter, for the most part I accept this. We're ALL underpaid, and we all have varying degrees of ability, qualifications and experience. I'm the l'il web monkey, but the MSCEs still ask me questions, because a piece of paper doesn't mean you know what you're doing. Allow me to tell my story.

    I'm 22. I do web design and programming on Unix based Xerox printers in a bank. I'm also the unpaid techie and a thousand other things that I can't keep track of. I don't have a degree. I left college, and left home a few years ago, because I decided that was best for me (long story). I was sleeping on a friend's floor in a different city with absolutely no qualifications, working a couple shitty jobs to try and afford an apartment. I should also point out that I have never taken a computer class in my life (with the exception of a keyboarding class in high school, but that doesn't count ;-)

    I got on my feet, and took a temp job in a bank doing data entry stuff. Anyone ever work with Restrac? Anyway, I was hired on full time and quickly far surpassed expectations and standards. They noticed I knew alot about computers (I'm a geek; I taught myself BASIC in 3rd grade; you all know the story :-), so they started finding things for me to do. Long story short, I taught myself web-design (all in notepad at work, and emacs at home) and a few programming languages. I work in HR, but the webdesign group are very impressed with my work. But I'm still doing it for data-entry money. But I'm (sort of) okay with that for now. This is why:

    I'm building experience. I have skills, but I have nothing to back up those skills. Nothing other than myself says that I can do all that I can. The money isn't great (or even good), but the experience and resume building I'm gaining is invaluable, and in a couple years I'll have my choice of exploitative jobs ;-)

    Moral of the story: there are times when it's okay to be underpaid. And sometimes abilities really are qualifications.

    I'm going back to bed now.
  • I stopped college for reasons beyond my control. I didn't do it because I wanted to. I'm young; I'll go back. But computers were for fun for me; if I had stayed in school then I wouldn't have taken computer classes, and I would have entered the work force exactly where I am now. I didn't know then what I know now.

    As for methodology, I think that I do just fine reading books instead of sleeping through classes and maintaining a 4.0. I couldn't do that if I was a compsci major, but I wasn't. I'm not saying that anyone should learn anything particular from my story. If you learn that I'm an idiot, that's fine.
  • Being a computer geek, I know what you mean.
    Alas, I am still a new geek, and have only
    worked in 2 place with IT jobs. I agree with
    your post fully, except for:

    Working with the fancy hardware is no excuse for them paying you nothing to work 60 hour weeks. Stand up - take the power back. Or unplug the server if you're the introverted type. =)

    I would love to, but if I don't, the company will
    find some schmuck that will. And quite likely, some
    schmuck that will do it for less money. That
    is the way of the world.

  • Not that this troll warrants a reply but since you are totally backwards I thought I'd set you straight.

    Abe Ingersoll, the "MTV hacker kid," isn't dropping out of college and doing data entry for some greasy-spoon ISP. He's going to a college just down the road from my house. According to a friend of mine on the college's newspaper staff, he's pursuing a career in journalism (which seems appropriate given his story).

    Whether or not he knows what he's doing is subject to debate I'm sure, I don't know him so I couldn't lend an argument to that debate. The point is that he's generally got his head on straight and doesn't deserve to be remembered in the picture you've painted.
  • There are lots of people much worse off than your
    average overworked web page designer. People who
    work the same number of hours, but for a pittance compared to what a typical tech worker makes, and
    often in conditions that threaten their life
    or health.

    Frankly, it is embarrasing to read such drivel,
    although I guess it does beat watching
    professional athletes complain about their
    low pay and bad working conditions.
  • So, having read all of this, the question that I haven't seen raised yet is this: What are ideal working conditions for net workers (programmers, engineers, sysadmins, etc.)? I'm specifically talking about situations where geek types have to work with non-geek types (i.e. the marketers and business people).

    What would your ideal job be? A lot of engineers I know would tell me that they would want to work for a company with only engineers, where they get to work on whatever they want, at their own pace. Sounds good to me. The thing is, though, that methodology doesn't leave a lot of room for actual 'business' -- who's gonna sell the product?

    It seems to me that since both types of people are necessary for any given company, the most important thing to keep in mind is that (theoretically) everyone should have a level of respect for the jobs that other people do. Now, I know that there are many companies that have completely bloated staffs in one direction or another, and in every barrel you get a couple of dead fish. But I'm talking about an ideal situation here: if you were the founder of a startup that had decent funding and a really cool product, what kind of environment would you create where everyone necessary would be happy and get along?

    I raise this point because I've been struggling with this very issue lately. I'm an programmer/geek at heart who's been working on a startup. Once I start hiring people, my main concern (I really mean what I'm about to say) is that the people I hire enjoy what they do and feel like they are being treated fairly and contributing to the success of themselves and the company. Everyone, which includes the marketers and financial people, not just engineers.

    I'd love to hear thoughts on this.
  • If you don't like what you do, then you've got someone else's job. Go do what you want to do, you'll end up happier, with a better attitude, and likely more money.

    I program because it beats working. And yes, I often spend incredible hours at work, under lots of pressure. But the pressure is more self-imposed that otherwise. When I stay late it is only because I am not finished yet.
  • IT people actually have it better than those in other fields in NYC. Try working in a bank or brokerage house back office.
  • I have, and there are days I would prefer it. Hell, there are days I'd rather be chained to an awful McCollough trimmer for twelve hours, in the blistering sun, on a ninety-five degree day. (Nothing like sun blisters and the vibration that never ends!)

    No quitcher bitchin and get back on the damn Z.
  • you better believe it - this life rules.

    as a software developer and young entrepreneur, I can tell you honestly that this is the best time I can possibly think of to be alive. the employment landscape is heavily sloped in my favor, salaries are completely ridiculous, opportunities are everywhere. if youre bitching about workign too many hours and being too stressed, youre a chump and I have no sympathy for you. go find a job that you enjoy with good hours and acceptable pay, because there are more than enough of them out there unless youre ridiculously unqualified.
  • Instead of wasting your money on the book, you could check them out on 5/netslaves.html []

    Artist description: Unplugged robots who've decided to use MP3 to spread their subversive, anti-technology, anti-boosterism.

    I came across these guys on a couple months ago and found nothing of value. It appears that they've decided to move to print media since web and audio wasn't selling.

    They've added some new MP3's since the time I found them, and if they're anything like what I've already heard, then clicking the above link is just a waste of time anyway. Or maybe it's just me...I didn't get it.

    ?syntax error

  • Not in this day and age in the IT industry. For once in a LONG time, the workers have the upper hand. There is a massive shortage, and if we keep allowing more visas to take up these incredible positions, the workers will lose the upper hand!

    Anyhow, you've got the upper hand. It is a nightmare for a recruiter to find qualified individuals.

  • I'm with you. I work from 7AM till 3:30, with a half hour lunch (this is the only way I figured out how to beat Atlanta traffic!).

    I've told people that I will stop mid-sentence if I'm talking to somebody and it's time to leave. Nobody's complained, and in fact, everybody seems to understand!
    My job can mostly be described as in-house developer, EDI support, and analyst, and sticking to my strict 8 hrs of work-per-day schedule has left me remarkably stress-free.
    If somebody's having to work 12 hour days, every day, just to do their job, something is wrong and it most likely has to do with management. I could be making more money working somewhere else, with longer hours, but on the other hand my job would slowly suck my life away. Is it really worth it?
  • ...I'm just dumb enough to like my company at the pay they give me(~20-60% less than market). Boy, I need to bang my head against a porsche.....
  • 10%? 1%? What real world are you talking about? The Internet is global. Many more than 10% of today's kids are quite hungry right this second. Think that has little to do with programming jobs? Fast foward: 3 billion people will have 'net access in ten short years, including a few of the hungry kids who don't die of starvation this year. Lots of hungry people will be competing for "jobs" in an idea economy. Welcome to Bangalore. Welcome to the Real(tm) RealWorld(tm).
  • My solution? I'm only going to work for myself.

    It may be the only solution, unless you want to be a cog in a wheel that spins only to maximize the ROI for shareholders and their greedy values. Increasingly, corporations are getting hip to ownership as motivator, and so offer employees teensy tiny shares of stock. Better than nothing. But when you form a company to employ yourself, be sure to consider alternative [] structures for incorporation that distribute ownership equitably among all participants.
  • As Katz' book review describes the insecurity of tech workers, this is simply a part of the larger trend toward less job security, in the New Economy as implemented during the administrations of Reagan, Bush, and Clinton.

    Of course, the new environment has both positives and negatives. Intense competition has increased the pace of innovation, thus providing products to consumers at lower cost, and hence contributing to the prosperity of the late 1990's and early 2000's. A downside, as Katz describes, is the loss of job security, and some of the confidence of knowing that one may plan to move up the ladder over the long term.

    However, prosperity always comes at a price. Would anybody want to return to the bad old days of stagflation?

  • The authors of that book had horror stories to tell. So do a lot of other people. But I gotta wonder; why all the angst?

    Seriously, how many of you had a gun to your head when you took that job as a 'netslave'? Come on, you know you have a choice! We all do. If you don't like it then move on! If you can't find another job in the industry more to your liking then start selling shoes for a living!

    Real slaves never had a choice and it is a great wrong to claim your priveliged lives have any relationship with their hardship and plight!

    I like what I do. In many ways my job is the brightest spot in my life. Coding is fun! Sometimes it seems like a scam that I get paid to do it. And I have plenty of experience outside the industry; there was a time in my life when I thought I would be a mechanic for a living.

    Sure I have had to deal with PHB's and unrealistic deadlines and flawed specifications and unqualified co-workers. But that comes with the territory. In my case I did it for a while and then opted out (I am currently working a non-net related business systems job with more realistic hours). But I also took a 20 grand a year pay cut. It was my choice. I live my life and work where I want to because, as a highly qualified programming geek, I have more choice than ninety percent of the poor bastards out there. If I don't like things I vote with my feet. I don't whine about it...


  • "What is it--10% of our kids are living without enough to eat?"

    No, actually. According to USDA figure less than 1 percent of children ever miss even a single meal in a given year due to lack of food.

    The 10% or so is the number of families who are worried about having enough money to buy food.
  • The stories about working countless hours without compensation, for bosses who don't know anything about the field, are stories that exist EVERYWHERE. I know someone who works in the IT department at a community hospital, and his director has a degree in law. In fact, not one of the board of directors there are even doctors.

    I also know people who are salaried employees of Wal-Mart. And as a salaried employee, they are not only subject to uncompensated overtime, but are also subject to national relocation at a moment's notice.

    If you want a dream job, then go after it. I found mine,... working for a small community bank doing PC/Lan work. 40 hours a week, holidays paid time off, and great benefits. And I'm 4 months out of High School.

    The main idea is that people are exploited because they allow it to happen.

    • If you're given more responsibility, ask for more pay.
    • If you have to work longer, ask for more time off.
  • Fully agree


  • I work in Silicon Valley as a software engineer. I know there are a lot of people in the Valley who will identify with the portraits in this book, but I'm not one of them. I don't feel exploited, overworked, underappreciated, etc. Probably one reason for this is that engineers tend to be treated a little better, on average, than QA, MIS, or customer support people. But I think the principal reason is that I've learned to be careful about choosing the people I work for. When I first interviewed at my present company, I came away thinking, "Nice, intelligent people" more than "This place is going to be the next (insert some huge corporation's name here)." Of course, I wouldn't have signed on if I'd thought their business plan was loony, or if they weren't offering decent stock options, but the quality of the people was as important to me as the business details.

    It also helps that I'm no longer in my twenties. When you're first getting started in a career, you don't have much to recommend you other than talent (not yet fully developed) and a willingness to work hard. So you have to work hard unless somebody like Jim Clark hand-picks you to be the next-Bill-Gates poster boy for his new company (which is another kind of servitude, albeit a lucrative one). But after you've been around several years and proved yourself (if you manage to do that), you're in a much better position to choose your employers, rather than taking whatever job comes along. You've also had time to learn more about people and the work environment in general, which is helpful in detecting abusive employers in advance (at which point you can either avoid them, as I do, or make a conscious choice to put up with them for a few years in order to achieve some goal of your own, such as pioneering in a new field, becoming filthy rich, or whatever).

    What it really comes down to is just that your twenties are a time of apprenticeship, and apprenticeships involve a lot of hard work. This is not unique to the software industry, or to high-tech.

    Jon Katz, of course, tends to view all corporate executives as evil exploiters of the common worker. This isn't really true. There are certainly a lot of assholes running companies and working in management, but I think in many cases it's not so much evil and greed as mere incompetence that is the basis of abusive treatment of employees. And there are also some very intelligent, decent people running successful companies. You just have to find them.

  • I have seen how these copanies, who depend on their networks, treat their IT workers. Many times they "outsource" the network duties to contracting firms so that they do not have to hire and pay their own employees to do the work. This saves the megacorp lots of money. If the contracting firm after a few years demands too much money they are replaced by another firm. Many times this costs valuable IT employees to loose jobs, benefits, etc. Hopefully things will get better; But until then look out for yourself or you could be one of those 'NetSlaves' who gets stepped on so that someone else can profit.
  • They are everywhere. I had a newspaper publisher (I used to be a mnging editor) who was famous among the surviving staff for his staff meetings. One story I favor is the one where he spent 30 minute berating an ad rep until she fainted and slid off the chair. He simply shifted fire to the next poor schmuck and let her lay. Last I heard, he'd gotten fired, but not until he'd ruined a dozen more people. I finally quit, without having another job, because it was either that or choke the life out of him one day. That sort of thing plays hell with the old career plan, believe me. No particular lesson here, I suppose, other than the obvious: A**holes are always with us. Count yourself lucky if you never work for one.
  • There are a few valid points made, mostly the unapreciated nature of any job in IT/IS but so what? I dont remeber ever feeling loved and apreciated by the customers I serviced at Sears or Crown Books. If you are working in a crappy IT job and cant stand the people/situation/pressure or whatever, go find a less stressful job. Personally I love it. Where else could I make this kind of cash without a doctorate degree? I dont have to carry heavy boxes off of trucks or get up at the crack of dawn everyday. If you choose your workplace carefully you can use "I was out late drinking" as a valid excuse for coming in at 11am.
    My Mom was right, I had to go to college to find a good job, but not like she thought :)
  • I work full time as an "Internet Systems Developer" for one of the provincial governments up here in Canada. I've designed and built, by myself, not only web pages but complete intra/internet applications using a wide variety of tools and techniques (CF, ASP, PHP, Perl, XML... mmmmmm acronym soup!). I don't really know what to think about my job as there are so many conflicting opinions about tech jobs, especially in the "web" area.

    I'm a tech geek. I've been one for about 15 years now. One of those typical "I taught myself" type of people. Been working "professionally" (ie. with a diploma) for two years now, all at the same place. My hobbyist background is c/c++ and x86 assembler, but I've moved on to 4th level languages and rapid application development environments, but still write some backend stuff the old fashioned way.

    I work 36.5 hours per week and get 3 weeks of holidays/yr. Good benefits. $40K cdn/yr salary. Looking at my salary, that's a mere pittance compared to the astronomical sums of cash that I hear are being made in the valley. Every 4 months or so, I read Wired and go through this bout of depression relating to my pauper status amongst the glittering rich of the tech world. I lose all perspective of the good things in my job and start to loathe it.

    This lasts for about a month or so, where I tend to become uncommunicative and terse with my fellow employees as I feel it's my right, as the alpha geek around here, to do. Then I go through this wake up process where I realize, things aren't that damn bad around here.

    I get to run a Linux box and two low volume NT development servers (the production servers are Solaris boxes managed by another division). I get to talk directly to my management about the issues I face, even if they are fairly clueless as to how I "make it work". My workstation isn't the greatest in the world, but the office is pretty nice. I wear khakis and button down shirts with semi dressy shoes, but I don't where a tie, I hardly ever have to shave, no one complains about my earings, and every Friday is casual day. My supervisor is a graphic designer by trade who's been thrust into management, so he's very laid-back and easy to talk to, even if he dosn't understand a quarter of what I'm talking about.

    When I really get down to it, the only problem I have with this place is that I could probably be making better money somewhere else. Also, that this isn't an IT focused department so I'm relegated to a support role and my achievements are not the end all be all of the company, which sometimes hurts my ego, but from a business perspective that is entirely understandable.

    I'm thinking that a lot of the bad feelings and resentment in the IT industry is from people letting their ego run away with their good sense. Sure, there are deffinately the underpaid and underappreciated out there, but I wonder sometimes if a lot of the horror stories are simply people with bruised egos making mountains out of mole hills and jumping on the "I'm an overworked underpaid IT person" bandwagon. I also wonder how much of it is jealousy towards those who "made it big" with their overblown high tech startup?

    I really do hate reading about how almost every well coifed poster boy/girl with their hands in a tech business seems to be heralded as the next coming of christ by the tech hype machine. I hate how there's a class of people who love to pose as geeks by memorizing all of the buzzwords in those fluff mags and then spouting off about Linux (or whatever else) as if they actually KNOW something because they carry around a Palm V and a StarTac. Yes, all this crap makes me angry and jealous and resent my position, but only when I make myself aware of it.

    So stop reading about that sort of crap then and start trying to enjoy your own life instead of constantly competing against the joneses. Yes, even for the intelligencia, a good dose of forced ignorance can be bliss. But it's up to the individual I guess.

    Just my thoughts on the matter. Do they related to the topic in any way?

  • Just tell them you are from Europe and you will in most instances get away with 8 hours/ day. Worked for me! (Ok, it was work for the Government but the pay was great)
  • netslave == webmonkey == IT and CS students fresh out of college ?
  • Want to know what I'm sick of? Meeting people and when they ask me what I do and I tell them I'm a IT professional (can't tell them what I do in more specific terms, otherwise they get confused). Then, almost immediately they say: "Oh wow, that must be a great job! Working with technology, and such." My reply; "Trade you jobs for a day."
    It seems the world has an over glamorized view of the tech industry. People seem to envision us as:
    a)Smart people who can sit back and relax most of the day while getting paid nicely for it
    b)People who are working to make star trek a reality.

    Umm I think that about as far from the truth about the average tech as you can get. 60 hour weeks, screaming idiots who don't have the slightest idea about technology wondering why can't we give them a Network that doesn't crash. Why? Cause they're the moron who wanted to ditch the unix/linux/novell server in favor of NT because they saw a neat little commercial on TV during ally mcbeal or some such tv show, and totally diregarded the conclusive evidence that there are better ways to go then a pure NT network.

    Then they wonder why I can't keep the help desk fully staffed with people when the usual call begins with: "Why in the hell can't you people give me the answer I want to hear? Why can't you people fix the problem? I don't want to hear excuses I want it fixed. No, I won't do what you tell me, get a tech over hear now. What do you mean I did something wrong? It can't be my fault. All you help desk people are the same! YOU SUCK!"

    I'm glad some on is finally giving a decent account of a day in the life of the Tech.

  • KNOW YOUR RIGHTS...(snip) excuse...paying nothing for 60 hour weeks...

    Know your status as a salaried exempt, non-exempt, hourly, etc. and check your local and federal laws on the subject. Especially check the laws concerning 'on-call'. In some (most? all?) areas, there are two types of on-call. Those that can say 'no' when you get paged, and those that cant. If you are required to work when you get a call, they are required to pay you a certain number of hours worth of work, evan if it only takes 10 minutes of your time, or your not called at all.

    But also check to see if the field your in makes you exempt from those overtime laws. Many technical jobs are. Evan the states and federal government expect those 60 hour weeks.

    There are websites out there that can tell you just about everything you need to know. I found a really good one... but I forgot to get the url off my system before I quit my last job. =(

  • Our grandparents had to stand in a bread line. Cry me a handful about how bad your job sucks. I code 60 hours a week. If I get sick of it, i'll quit.
  • I'm sure it is hard to find qualified people in this industry. Most of the problem, as I see it, is that people feel they're qualified if they can rattle-on a few acronyms (Correct or not), and talk a good game. Recruiters aren't technical enough to know when someone if full of it before they hire them. Now, instead of using well writen software, we've got an array of NT machines that will be handed-off to us to reboot several times a nite. Poopy.
  • check out my favorite "fake" world this week - but only if you're ready to laugh about this topic...
  • Nope, you're exactly right. Here in Oregon, by some twisted fluke, a 9 hour workday rather than 8hr. is pretty much standard. As hubby and I were fresh from Silicon valley, we were not impressed with this habit. Hubby would get up and leave at the end of an 8 hr. day. His supervisor started getting huffy, and put his foot down, demanding 9 hours, "just like everyone else in the work center". Conserned about getting fired, we had a family meeting, and agreed that he would not be donating any "free" time to this job. Hubby ignored crabby supervisor, and not one further word was said on the subject.
  • (3) Many young people in the workforce don't know this one, but it's taught in the b-schools: The cost of hiring a skilled person usually costs out around the value of a third of the employee's annual salary. In other words, firing someone for no good reason is running up a major cost. (If he fires say five or six people, he's cost the company more than his annual salary. And what will *his* boss have to say about that? This is exactly right, but you underestimate the cost of replacing someone. Not all areas even HAVE ready access to engineers. So the stipulation would be -provided- that they could find someone equally qualified, they'd still have to relocate, and get that person up to speed. Replacement costs on engineers run in the area of 150K. That supervisor had better have one blinking good reason for unloading a funtioning engineer.

C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas l'Informatique. -- Bosquet [on seeing the IBM 4341]