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Comment Not a surprise (Score 4, Insightful) 289

If you're among the 1-percenters' offspring whose parents either went to these elite institutions or can afford to donate something substantial to get you in, why is it surprising that elite schools have more well-off students? There will always be efforts by the institutions in the form of scholarships and flexible admissions practices to diversify the student body, but the top colleges are definitely a pay-to-play operation.

There's basically 4 factors that determine where you end up in life -- how smart or successful your parents are, how wealthy they are, how much raw potential you have, and usually a whole lot of dumb luck. Smart or successful parents can afford to live in a good school district and provide a stable environment for their kids. Really rich parents can buy their way into the elite prep school track. Really smart students can often succeed enough to overcome a bad environment. Anyone can get lucky and just have things sort of work out for them. In my case, it was a combination of a good home life and a lot of right place/right time luck. I wasn't a good enough student to be in the scholarship bucket, and my parents weren't rich, but I did go to a decent K-12 school system and had involved parents who kicked my butt enough to do reasonably well. My dumb luck was getting a part time job doing tech support for the state university I went to, eventually doing it just short of full time, and using that to get my foot in the door at my first IT job.

The reason the elite schools will always have the lock on the 1% crowd is that once you're in, regardless of how you got there, you don't have to rely on luck. It starts with non-religious elite private schools. If your family can afford college level tuition for a K-12 education, there's a tacit agreement that one of the elite universities will have a spot for you. (Seriously, one school near us charges almost $40K for grade school tuition, but it's in the top 15 or so among elite boarding schools.) If you can get into and graduate from a Harvard, Yale, Princeton or similar, the school and its alumni network will not let you fail. White-shoe management consulting firms exclusively hire from the elite universities, and that's probably one of the most lucrative jobs a new graduate can have. The same goes for investment banking -- going from being a broke college student to making $250K a year is a big change. People who work for investment banks, management consulting firms and other similar employees mysteriously tend to wind up in very lucrative positions at their clients eventually, and the old boys'/old girls' network perpetuates.

This is why I feel states need to invest in public universities. It's basically the only lever the non-elite among us have to get ourselves to a better situation. If you're not smart enough or have a unique enough situation to get a full scholarship to a private university, your best bet in most states is to go to a big public college and milk your time there for all it's worth. I'm socking away money for my kids' college education, but unless they turn out to be absolute geniuses this is going to be the advice I give them too. Life may be a matter of who you know or dumb luck sometimes, but it never hurts to increase your chances. If you work hard and have a good run of luck, it is still possible to at least be comfortable. We'll see what the future holds though.

Comment Makes every IT person look unprofessional (Score 1) 253

Whenever I see stories like this, and there are a lot of them, I'm reminded that the executive crowd is seeing the same news. Has anyone ever stopped to consider the possibility that part of the offshoring and outsourcing has been to mitigate against the "anti-social jerk sysadmin" issues? I'm not perfect, but one thing I do as part of my job is to be as professional as possible. There are always bad apples, but it's rare to see stories about a lawyer stealing client funds or a doctor intentionally mistreating patients. Actually in this case, the equivalent would be a fired corporate lawyer taking all their clients' paperwork and lighting it on fire to spite their bosses. I'm sure one of the big selling points of the Tatas and Infosyses of the world is that their customers have a legal contract and that they have very "compliant" employees compared to the average US-based IT guy (in the exec's minds.)

Revenge is never the best course of action, no matter how much of a dick someone is to you. In my particular sub-specialty in IT there are maybe a thousand or so people who really know everything end to end and rotate from employer to employer. If I pulled anything like this, I guarantee I'd never get a job in my field again -- I've been working for 20+ years in the business and keep running into the same people over and over -- and they talk to each other! The IT field is smaller than most people think, especially when you get beyond the first-level support jobs.

Comment Hope he's right, but I doubt it (Score 4, Interesting) 158

"Technology's always taken jobs out of the system, and what you hope is that technology's going to put those jobs back in, too."

I doubt this is possible. Mechanization replaced subsistence farming and reduced the number of people in agriculture from 80+% to 2% of the US population. Factories replaced individual craftsmen with assembly line workers and also took up the unemployed farmers. Large organizations developing around manufacturing companies took up the slack of workers being replaced by machines and put them in desk jobs. This went well until the first downsizing waves of the 90s, which were largely driven by computers replacing manual clerical work like typing memos, routing correspondence and filing/records retrieval. This was the first time we didn't have a ready answer for what people could do next when they no longer needed a typing pool, etc. Some people wound up in IT, some people wound up in various other corporate positions, but a lot of them were forced out of the workforce. Now, this growth in the capability of computers and the amount of work they can automate threatens to remove another huge pillar of strength in the economy. All those corporate employees pushing around reports and being good little salesdroids (and using Salesforce in lots of places!) are about to see their ranks thinned as well. I don't see a good future for them unless we find some way to give them jobs that produce a similar standard of living.

I'm in IT (systems engineering, not operations) and see this every day -- every new system out there is shipped with automation capabilities that just didn't exist 15 years ago. One of my side projects is gluing together all this vendor automation into a Chef-like framework for the many small system on-site installations we do for customers. Having a way to have a tech follow "rack systems like so, attach cables here, plug in laptop here and power on" would save huge amounts of time and money since these systems are deployed to places where tech knowledge is spotty at best.

I hope executives like Benioff don't just assume everything is going to work out. Ask yourself this question -- what are we going to do with the millions of people who make large organizations work when a computer is in charge of most routine processes? Maybe 10% of them have the aptitude to move up to the "robot repairman" level of employment, so where does the other 90% go? While growing up in the Rust Belt, I saw factory closures that dumped thousands of low-skilled workers out onto the job market all at once. Sadly, the answer to this question in that case was that the 90% ended up moving away, employed in menial minimum wage jobs like home health care aides and fast food workers, or perpetually broke. Some sociology student should do a study negatively correlating income with increases in the number of shady personal injury lawyer advertisements around town...I know it's true but it just has to be proven! When people have no income and no way to get the old lifestyle they had, they're going to be hoping for a lottery payday or similar.

Comment Someone please think of the C students!! (Score 4, Insightful) 405

The work I'm actually most concerned about being automated is upper-middle class office work. Otherwise, unless the rules change completely and we stop using money and property as a store of value, economic activity will slowly wind down as people can't buy things and don't feel secure.

I work and have worked in large companies almost exclusively over a 20 year career. In environments like this, you will always have a distribution of abilities and skills. However, doing IT systems engineering work, I tend to agree with this report's findings. There are tons of jobs that could easily be automated with a little work. In banks I've worked at, as an example, there are people whose sole job is to accept documents mailed and faxed in for mortgage verification, enter the information into a computer, and take a fixed switch...case type action based on inspection. There used to be tens of people processing checks on two or three shifts. These jobs and hundreds more are the equivalent of an assembly line skill level, just working with paper or electronic files. Outside of the paper-processing world are tons of questionably-useful jobs in sales and marketing -- things like coordinating trade shows and putting out press releases. Across the organization are things like liaisons, project managers, business analysts, and other jobs that simply involve taking information from one group and passing it along to another. Yet, these jobs pay middle class salaries and give average-ability people something to do, regardless of how much raw revenue or cost saving they add.

I think a lot of the instability we see now is what's currently happening in companies - these simple jobs are either being eliminated or offshored in the desire for companies to save a few bucks here and there. The typical occupant of these jobs is a product of the last 30-40 years' obsession with sending everyone to college instead of giving them a trade or skill-based education. I went to a large state university, and back then just as now, they were pumping out thousands of generic business majors into the job market, most of whom were/are the typical C student partying their way through school. Here's the difference between then and now -- back then, that C student would just roll up to the career counseling office during their senior year. Recruiters from big companies would interview them, they'd get a couple offers, and accept some random entry-level position. Now, no one's hiring the C students and even the A and B students are having trouble finding that first job. (I was a B student, but that was in a hard science and I worked full time.) Fast forward, and that C student is working their way up the ladder with salary increases along the way -- paper pusher associate, senior paper pusher, supervisor of paper pushers, Manager of Bulk Pulp Transport, Director of Document Services...

The problem now is that the ladder is broken for an increasingly large swath of the population. Once the career progression is gone, that kills the salary increases that occur over time and allow for things like buying a house. 30 year mortgages are painful in the beginning but are supposed to get easier as you age because your income is expected to increase. Car manufacturers can't sell cars to people who don't feel comfortable enough in their jobs to take out a car loan or spend a little extra for a non-base model. And, companies can't sell products to their employees if the employees are worried about whether the axe will fall tomorrow. This squares with everything we've been hearing about Millenials - they don't want a car mainly because they can't afford one, they don't want to own a home because they're not secure in their employment, etc.

In my mind, this is why we got Trump. His rhetoric about rolling the clock back to the late 1940s was an easy sell for blue collar workers, but I think enough white collar workers took a hard look at their situation and remembered stories from their parents/grandparents about times when companies showed loyalty, when there were no layoffs and no outsourcing, and when their retirements were secure through pensions as long as they continued working hard. Am I advocating make-work? Actually, yes...it's the only palatable solution in the US. Unless unemployment is 90+% and people are dying in the streets, no one is going to allow people to not work and get a basic income payment. We need to find something for people of basic intelligence, average ability and average motivation to do. Most people aren't creative, so turning everyone into YouTubers isn't the answer. We need to find a way to be able to just dump people right out of high school into a middle class job they can keep. The only economic indicator that matters is employment and job security if you want to keep consumers consuming.

Comment Good, but... (Score 3, Informative) 186

My guess is that they're just extrapolating out an estimate of the number of people it will take to run their new in-house FedEx/UPS service and staff warehouses. Also, if I were a retailer, I'd be banking on trying to capitalize on Sears and Macy's likely bankruptcies in the next 18 months. Macy's might survive in a smaller form but I'm sure Sears is going to be parted out because it's being run by a hedge fund. I doubt technical jobs will be a double-digit percent of this amount -- it's going to be line-level grunts packing boxes, flying planes, driving delivery trucks, etc.

I've also heard many stories about how Amazon is to work for in both technical and ground level positions. I don't think I'd want a tech position there, even though they're working on really cool stuff with AWS. Accounts from alumni I've heard describe it as a huge employer who's insanely tight-fisted and never grew up out of startup crunch mode. Their perfect employee is a fresh grad with no previous experience that will say nothing of working nights, weekends, etc. for low pay. I think the phrase "Seattle hundreds" was coined there initially. Add that to the pressure-cooker back stabbing culture I've heard described many times, and I think I'll pass!

Comment Faking PTSD maybe? (Score 1) 305

It sounds to me like these people are trying to get a retirement plan paid for by Microsoft. It makes sense -- I'm pretty sure people saw some disturbing things -- but I doubt it rises to the level of PTSD. No one with two brain cells to rub together would share anything truly illegal over Hotmail or any of the other platforms provided by Microsoft. Everyone (should) know that free email and social networking sites will mine every single byte of data you give them, and that includes scanning it for terms of service violations.

Also, I think there's different levels of tolerance people have for disturbing stuff. A lot of people can just take it at face value and report the offenders without internalizing it. People who don't have this personality type shouldn't work in a position like this. Microsoft was dumb on two counts -- forcefully transferring employees to this group and not finding something else for them to do when they started showing signs of cracking up. Microsoft's a big company -- I highly doubt there is no wiggle room in the HR budgets to "park" people someplace until you find them a permanent spot after they don't work out on one team. It seems to me like you need to rotate people in and out of this duty to keep them somewhat mentally healthy.

I'm pretty dead on the inside in terms of being negatively affected by things I see, but I don't know if I could do this work full time. It would really depend on what they actually were looking at on a daily basis. I just don't think it rises to the level of "PTSD." Unless people are really more fragile than I think, I have a hard time believing most claims of PTSD, even in combat situations or similar. Unfortunately, unless AI becomes 100% reliable, there are going to have to be groups of people like this who do nothing but trawl through sick stuff so that other people don't have to see it.

Comment I don't think I'd want to survive cancer (Score 1) 210

I can definitely see less smoking being a huge contributor to lower cancer rates. It's no surprise that lung cancer is still the most prevalent cause of cancer death though. Smokers are almost guaranteed to have expensive health issues later in life, and a shorter lifespan overall. Consider that more than half the male population and almost 30% of the female population smoked in the 50s, and in 2017 smokers in the US and many other countries are relegated to a sad little corner away from basically any public place. People used to smoke heavily in their offices, their homes, etc. In the circles I run in it's very rare to find smokers; if they are they're older and just don't want to quit...in for a penny in for a pound I guess!

If the study went back further than 1991, I'd also think that deindustrialization and environmental regulation in the US might have something to do with it. Around the 70s and 80s was the time people got serious about not letting companies dump toxic waste into the groundwater, and companies also offshored a lot of their manufacturing. Reduction of air pollution might also contribute - it still amazes me when I drive through big cities with terrible traffic and imagine thousands of pre-catalytic converter 1970s GM/Ford/Chrysler V8 tanks pumping crap into the air.

That said, I don't think I'd want to fight cancer if it turned out I had it. I'd rather have the option of a quick painless death than endless rounds of chemotherapy, radiation and surgery that would only give me a few years of painful life at best. We can't live forever -- even though average lifespan keeps increasing. What kind of shape would most people be in at 100? 110? 115? I'd rather get my 85 or so years in and make the most of them than end up in a progression from assisted living to nursing home to the hospital. It really seems like cancer is an evolutionary check on longevity given that it's a spontaneous uncontrolled cell growth. Pediatric and mid-life cancer is sad, but cancer at an old age is almost expected.

Comment Can't ignore a billion-person market (Score 0) 174

It wouldn't go over well if Apple just said, "Sorry, we don't support this, so we're going to stop selling apps and iThings in China." There's a market of billions of people to sell things to, and I doubt they're willing to fight with the Chinese government over their censorship policy.

I think reaction to this is actually bigger than Apple -- it's the way the US in general acts towards the rest of the world. We have no tolerance for anyone who does anything differently and are convinced that our way is superior and everyone else is just backwards. This happened during the Cold War (the containment policy) and is happening now in the Middle East (refusing to close the power vacuum and insisting that democratic governments be installed in places that aren't ready for them.)

China has chosen a system where they have total central control over the population, media and economy. Honestly, the country has beneifted greatly from it -- there's no opposition when huge projects are undertaken, for example. When the recession hit in 2008, the government plowed untold sums of money into infrastructure to prop things up. Try doing that here -- it's impossible given the stalemate we have today. The government also directly supports industry, another thing that would be impossible to do in the US. I think in the long run they're going to be better off for it because they can just make tough decisions by fiat rather than arguing over it for years. Honestly, I don't care whether or not they let their citizens read the New York Times -- it doesn't affect me.

Comment Interestng trend in app development (Score 2) 84

I've noticed similar behavior with 2 other vendors that I use a lot lately -- they'll kill a feature or way of doing something, then build it back in slowly over time. Meanwhile, the end user is stuck with reduced features. I think I'm not Agile enough to understand how this helps.

Example 1 -- VMWare -- after announcing that they were effectively killing the VSphere Client Windows application, they announced a replacement -- the Flash-based web client. Oops, all the browser manufacturers started dumping Flash, _and_ VMWare admins hated it anyway. So now, they're slowly re-introducing a new HTML5 based client that only has basic features, but gets new ones with every release. You have to run the Flash client anyway to do anything beyond basic admin stuff in this latest build.

Example 2 -- Citrix -- During their heart attack-inducing takeover by a hedge fund, they merged XenApp and XenDesktop into a single technology stack to save development money. XenApp (arguably the #1 killer app for healthcare application delivery) actually lost features for several versions in the early 7.x environment while the development teams were building them back into the XenDesktop model. It wasn't uncommon to hear "Oh yeah, this doesn't work in 7.3, it's scheuled for 7.7" or similar.

I'm all for continuous integration, agile development and all that, but does it make sense for enterprise applications to follow the same model of a consumer service like Netflix or Facebook?

Comment Desktops aren't dead (Score 5, Insightful) 240

For me, docking stations and big monitors allow me to use my laptop in a reasonably comfortable work environment. But, there are still use cases for desktop PCs, especially those that aren't shoved into the back of an all-in-one monitor. You're not going to let a call center employee in a regulated, locked down environment pull out his iPad or laptop to work, for example. A cash register is likely going to be some sort of PC, same thing with a kiosk or ATM. And at the high end, workstations are meant for "real" work - though most have the Xeon processors in them. It's an interesting time; desktops and thin clients are sort of merging and tablet use is demanding more of CPU manufacturers' attention. And this makes sense - mobile stuff has the constant pressure to be squeezed into smaller spaces, produce less heat, provide more on-chipset functionality and run cooler at the same time. I'm still surprised when I see a Surface Pro or other convertible tablet and remember that there's a full-fat Intel processor crammed inside that tiny case without melting through the bottom!

I just think the desktop market is maturing and there's less and less that Intel processors and chipsets don't natively provide. PC processors are already insanely fast and powerful for what typical users throw at them. Desktops aren't dead, they're just a niche market these days, but one that is still there. The pundits want to claim that no one wants a powerful client device and just wants all their stuff streamed from the cloud onto a tablet or phone they don't control. I think that's true in the consumer space, but businesses still have use cases for desktops.

Comment I'd be totally on board with this (Score 1) 234

I'm OK with this, which is probably going to get me labeled a lazy French socialist. (I'm in the US.) But, I've worked jobs where I've had to be available 24/7 on an on-call rotation basis. Weeks where I've had to do this sucked badly. It was earlier in my career pre-kids, but the feeling is exactly like having a newborn at home in terms of the sleep quality you get. You're never fully asleep after being woken up at 3 AM for yet another false alarm (or real emergency!) And, I was lucky it was rotation work -- lots of companies have cut so much staff that they just make everyone on-call for the applications they support these days.

I think that a lot of people, especially young ones in their first jobs, don't realize how much they're being taken advantage of by employers. The other people against this are hard-driving "tech entrepreneurs" who have the crazy Type-A personalities anyway and would work 30 hours a day if it was possible. If you're just out of college and don't have a family, significant other, or even a time consuming hobby, you might not realize that it's healthy to turn off work when it's time to go home, and spend the remainder of the day focusing on your own pursuits. Same thing with the entrepreneurs, they live to work and have no idea why anyone would want to be doing anything other than responding to 3 AM emails. The reality is that the vast majority of people are not driven to work 18 hour days -- they want more out of life.

Does this make me lazy? I doubt it -- I work like crazy to fit my tasks into a standard workday, and count myself lucky that I'm not in support anymore responding to pager calls at night. I do have a self-imposed flexible schedule -- my wife has a long commute so I sometimes do a lot of family things during the day. So, I will occasionally send out a 2 AM email, but it's my choice because I left work 3 hours early that day. What i don't get is people who call this move by the French "lazy" -- do they really want to be chained to work 24 hours a day? Do they not have lives outside of work?

Comment There's merit to this, I think (Score 1) 111

I try very hard not to look at email, Facebook or the news until I've had a chance to wake up, get the kids out of bed and get ready for the day. Working for a global company in systems integration, most of the first emails in the morning are from India or other countries far ahead of us timezone-wise, and they're almost never good news. My first few morning messages from the last week have been similar to:
- Yet another broken code release failed in production and they're throwing it back over the wall to the systems guys for the 20 millionth time
- The developers are going to be late again delivering something that was due 3 months ago
- Company that has repeatedly presented itself as world-renowned Technology X experts is proving yet again they were lying

Looking at that as the first thing you see when you wake up, it sets the tone for the rest of the day. You wake up mad, aren't as nice as you should be to the spouse or kids, resulting in "if mama's not happy, no one's happy", resulting in pretty much guaranteeing a bad day. If everyone's doing this every day, no wonder we have so many pissed off, uncivil interactions with others. Everyone's mad!

Comment Fun in different ways (Score 1) 449

It's not as roll-your-own as it used to be, but I still enjoy working with computers. The big trend I see causing long term issues is consumerization -- everyone is demanding services that work 100% of the time on their phones, so everything is geared towards that. My big thing is scripting and automation -- making something idiot proof so I can send it out to idiots. ;-) I don't have much time for gaming anymore as I have 2 little kids, but when they get old enough I'm sure I'll get back into it.

One thing I miss of late is physical hardware. I'm a data center nerd at heart and love getting the odd project to do equipment installs, etc. These days it's kind of a treat to do that because all our on-premises stuff runs in VMs and other stuff runs in some cloud data center...I can't remember the last time I worked directly with some of our VM host servers. But, it's a change just like any other in our field. So many people I know are upset about change, and yes, the environment has gotten a lot less "fun" in that a lot of problems are solved. But like I keep explaining over and over to bosses and anyone who will listen, the problems don't disappear -- they just move around, some get smaller while others get larger. Even with the downward salary pressure and rampant ageism, I don't think I'd go back and do something different even if I could -- if you keep learning and pick your projects carefully things stay interesting.

Comment All high-end PCs should have this. (Score 1) 99

I think companies will still build their own image or use the Windows 10 provisioning tools to slice and dice the image deployed by the factory, but for Lenovo's laptops this makes sense. ThinkPad professional series users (T and P series) are paying a lot of money for their machines compared to the $300 consumer junk at the low end of the line. I'm just about to replace my T540p and the prices are super-high, almost Apple level margin. It should be noted that you do get what you pay for - ThinkPad users are pretty loyal customers and the laptops have a certain "anti-hipster" all-business look and feel.

I think all PC manufacturers should adopt this approach. Leave the bloatware for the consumer models...after all, everyone needs 3 firewall and antivirus applications running on home machines. Ever since Windows 7, Microsoft has been working with the vendors to build more of the software controls into the OS for various hardware components, reducing the need for buggy vendor applications to do things like control volume and brightness. (One of the worst things about building a hybrid desktop-laptop disk image for PCs is managing the multiple post-OS installations of vendor packages that are required to control things.)

This just makes good sense. It gets Lenovo some good press to put the bloatware security debacle behind them, and sets the tone for other manufacturers. After all, aren't PCs dying? Doesn't everyone use business apps on a 9" tablet screen? In that market, people who need PCs are going to pay specialty prices to get a quality product.

Comment I'm worried about future quality of service (Score 1) 531

I've worked for companies whose core business was not IT, and also for the service providers who "service" businesses who outsource their IT. The one thing I can definitely see happening long term to companies that kill their IT departments is a loss of creative solutions to unique in-house problems. Here's why:

IT services companies don't care about the business. - I say this as someone who works for one. It's almost impossible to get an employee of a third party to put in more than the minimum required to keep the contract and their jobs. The only ones who seem to succeed in this are services companies that sign long term contracts, keep local people and keep working conditions good enough that people don't quit.

Services companies will only do standard things, absent minimum 6 figure change orders - An IT services company's goal is to keep the cost of delivering the service as low as possible, otherwise they don't make money. The ways they do that is offshoring of tasks (as we see in this and many other cases,) or charging the customer for every microsecond of effort expended that isn't explicitly spelled out in the contract. Remember, the services company has to come in cheaper than the existing IT department (on paper) and has to generate enough money to pay a lot of non-technical management salaries such as multiple layers of account executives, project managers, change managers, etc. You can't offshore reliably unless the task can be boiled down to a single non-changing script that executes with very little technical staff involvement. This is where we get stuff like ITIL, a weeks-long change management process, etc.

Everything is slooooowwww. - Any company that outsources their IT can no longer go down the hall and ask someone to help them. Anecdote: The specialized IT services company I work for offshored their tech support but kept some application support guys local. I needed to get access to an internal application controlled by these guys, and was told by the outsourcer they'd be fired if they helped me without a ticket. I actually had to go back to my desk, file a ticket, and show them that it was in the system on the way to them. The change was done right away, but the ticket bounced from a technical router in India to a first level helpdesk in Costa Rica, to the application support guys...it took over a day for that to happen. Forget about actually getting something changed in production -- it takes weeks in the worst organizations I've seen.

Nothing new or innovative will come out of IT again. - This is actually what worries me the most. IT services companies doing the lowest common denominator work are not going to come up with any brilliant cost-saving strategies other than "buy more services from us" or "buy our Cloud." Companies that do IT right actually do gain benefits from IT proportional to their cost. Over time, relying too hard on offshore IT that can't do anything beyond the basics makes it harder to convince CIOs that they should consider bringing it back in-house.

Think about it -- ITIL is actively designed to prevent changes to systems. Agile, JIRA and full reliance on frameworks on the dev side is designed to reduce the required skill level of developers. Both of these are championed by offshoring firms because they make it easier to break up the work and send it to the cheapest possible location.

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