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Comment Pushes all the right buttons (Score 1) 202

Anyone who's worked with Accenture or similar companies more than once knows the business model:
- Partner and "A-Team" expert consultants sell a dream to the executive who called them in.
- Project begins, A-Team replaced with C-Team of fresh college graduates and maybe one or two "adults" running things
- C-Team is only the PowerPoint presenters -- if any "work" is done it's done by low-cost "delivery centers" in India or the Philippines or similar
- C-Team bills and bills for months on end, flying everyone in from all over the place and charging it all to the company
- Project either succeeds and the executive gets an ironclad "CYA PowerPoint" absolving him of any blame, or it fails miserably and a new project is put in place...

An announcement like this pushes the right buttons, because Accenture is probably one of the biggest employers of business degree new graduates. I've worked with people who were employed with them, and the orientation is basically an indoctrination -- the entire career path is laid out exactly like a continuation of school. It's apparently like mini-MBA bootcamp -- you learn how to dress, how to talk, which buzzwords to use, etc. to ensure you don't embarrass the firm too much. 23-year old college grads go from eating ramen to flying to client locations 40 weeks out of the year and billing thousands on hotels and meals to the clients. I don't want to perpetuate their business models, but it would be funny if something like this reduced the number of students complaining about paying student loans. Don't get me wrong - it's good to employ new graduates, but I'd prefer they were doing something useful.

I have a relative who's an "experienced hire" with them, and he confirms the business model...they are paid ungodly sums to either give CYA to executives or make whole departments of companies roll up into a monthly check they cut.

Comment Yes, the Cloud, but other factors too (Score 5, Informative) 118

One of the things mentioned is the jobs lost to mergers. When two big companies join up, generally one IT department wins and the other gets thrown in the trash. Dell is in Texas and EMC was in Massachusetts -- I wouldn't be surprised if they just emptied out EMC's offices in one day and sent maybe 2 or 3% of them to Austin. Big companies are the source of a lot of good-paying, middle and upper middle class jobs, and they tend to acquire a lot of people over time. It's inevitable that big clean-outs happen every few years or so. Another huge one the article didn't mention is the HP and HPE demerger, then split-sale of EDS to CSC. That must have been an absolute bloodbath, because I know people who work for the former EDS, HP Services and CSC. All of them are absolutely packed with layers and layers of project managers, account executives, etc. that can hang on for years because customers pay for them. The problem is that big companies have gotten so big that these mass-firings affect an entire industry. What happens when 30,000 people are competing for the same 100 jobs in an area, for example?

And yes, the other thing is the cloud. This one drives me nuts as a systems engineering guy, because the reality is that the cloud just shifts the same issues around in many cases. Your IT guys are not suddenly useless dinosaurs, as some DevOps consultants would have you believe. You still need people with a good grounding in the fundamentals of computing even if you completely rebuild your apps to be RESTful, microservice-y and fully buzzword compliant. Even with access to "infinite" computing resources, you have to deal with new problems like accounting for downtime you can't control, dealing with network latency, huge bills for using services you don't need, and integrating old-world applications with new stuff. The problem is this -- we have tons of people in the systems world who could easily be trained on this stuff. Shifting your focus from managing systems to automating stuff is a big shift, but it's doable; I'm working on it right now. What I'd like to see is the cloud providers work on bringing the IT side of the house into the tent, not just the developers. Microsoft's been doing an OK job with Azure, but they could improve and write documentation that doesn't assume decades of software dev experience. AWS is almost completely focused on developers. I'd write a book, but it would be out of date before it was published. Maybe I should start a video series or something...

Comment Over-sharers nightmare + legal age discrimination (Score 4, Insightful) 85

People are indeed going to have to check their privacy settings (assuming Facebook will allow the Jobs stuff to respect them.) Over-sharers are the obvious target (old sage advice about not posting keg stand videos or political opinions applies here.) But, there's something more insidious -- recruiters will buy access to Facebook Jobs, and start randomly trawling through profiles looking for a match. What happens when they see someone like me, a 41 year old dad with 2 young kids? I can just imagine some 22 year old cold-calling recruiter fresh out of their business degree saying "Oh, let's skip him, he'd never fit in at Company X." It would just be another way to side-step rules on age discrimination. Unlike the stereotypes, I work my butt off to stay current and not be an old stick in the mud. It's a lot of fun being the "adult" in a younger group of peers because I do enjoy sharing knowledge and teaching people. But, I do know that if I'm ever caught out in a layoff situation and don't have any luck with my contacts, I'm pretty stuck when it comes to getting cold recruited for a job. This is why my LinkedIn profile doesn't have a photo, even though I look pretty young.

I wish we could just get beyond the whole recruiter thing. Often, these guys are the only way to get your resume even looked at in big companies, and they're basically sponging off your salary. It's kind of like real estate agents -- they still get a huge commission even though most of their job is now automated (MLS sites replace books of Polaroids, Zillow and friends replace their knowledge of the market, and people generally drive themselves around looking for houses now.) Back in the day, recruiters had the same advantage as intermediaries even though most professionals put some or all of their qualifications out on LinkedIn or similar for people to see. The company I work for uses recruiters, and the worst offenders are the big temp companies they make us recruit through (TEKSystems, etc.) We have had painful interviews with people who have been presented to us as experts and quite obviously have had their resumes doctored by these guys. (And, we're not a bunch of hipster recent CS grads asking stumper questions -- we're looking for generalists with amazing troubleshooting skills mostly.)

Bottom line is that you have to keep the professional network going, lest you be at the mercy of these recruiters.

Comment Fix the abuse, keep the program (Score 5, Insightful) 268

The thing I really don't like about the H-1B program is the abuse. There's nothing wrong with keeping a few visa slots open for truly exceptional people. I've seen the program used for this purpose and it mostly works. The problem is the companies that use it to directly replace older workers in routine, run of the mill IT and dev jobs. Companies are totally aware of what they're doing when they hire Tata, Infosys or Cognizant -- it's a "Pontias Pilate" move that lets them wash their hands of the IT department. That's what has been happening with the big stories making the news (Disney, Southern California Edison, etc.) The outsourcer comes in, has to make a profit on the deal, and so they offshore everything they can and slowly replace domestic workers with H-1Bs for things they can't. These are not the best and brightest -- its mostly DBA and dev work that requires just enough on site interaction to make offshoring ineffective. I've worked in outsourced IT environments -- everything takes twice as long and nothing new will ever be attempted in a company that has someone else running their iT, partially because change orders cost so much.

Allowing the abuses is essentially a brake on IT workers' careers and an artificial salary cap. I've been lucky enough to become the senior guy in our engineering group over years of experience, and feel very strongly that we oldies (I'm 41 :-) ) have to develop the next generation. I don't want the pipeline of newbies to dry up because they're worried there's no future in technology. Young students are going to make rational choices and we're going to be stuck the same way the mainframers are now...no one will take the leap to learn enough to replace the retirees.

Also, I totally don't buy the argument that there's no domestic talent. No one is a drop-in replacement for the last guy, and especially today it's impossible to be an expert at everything. That narrative that paints offshore consulting firms as world-class experts on technology has to change. I would love to hear accounts of domestic hires that had zero talent -- I just haven't experienced it!

Comment Maybe people are settling down again? (Score 1) 490

When they breathlessly proclaim that Millenials are the ultimate nomadic tribe willing to pick up and move at a moment's notice, people forget that the economy supports different types of people. Lots of people like the idea of not being a permanent transient, picking a community and trying to stay in it for an extended period. You'll find way more of these people in the ranks of parents -- unless you're moving for truly greener pastures it's a good idea to keep your kids in the same school system for at least a few years at a time if not their entire school career. I can think of a lot of reasons why moving is less attractive:

  • Moving is expensive. Even a small collection of stuff costs a lot in time and money to move from place to place constantly. You could say that Millennials don't have anything that can't fit inside an SUV, but people haven't magically reduced their piles of stuff.
  • If you own a house, moving is VERY expensive. Most people don't realize how much of a waste of money frequent real estate transactions are. Fees, various recording taxes, professional services, etc. can easily run in the double digit thousands even for a simple cash sale. Most people just roll this into a new mortgage, but if you do this every 4 years or so, its a massive waste of money that can't be recovered.
  • Jobs aren't worth moving for anymore. In the golden age of company loyalty and gold-watch retirements, it was expected that you would relocate several times during a career to work on new projects, and be rewarded with a stable job and increasing income/responsibility. For better or worse (worse IMO,) company loyalty is dead and both sides of the relationship are to blame. As a result, companies are less willing to pay to relocate you unless you're some kind of superstar.
  • It's the top of another dotcom bubble. Smart people are starting to see the 1999-2000 news articles filtering out about insane startup valuations, ill-advised IPOs, massive layoffs, VC punchbowls being taken away, etc. and might be subconsciously preparing for another crash. People might be (should be?) trying to plot out their next steps, and staying put might be one of them. An interesting statistic to monitor to confirm this might be job-hopping. In the first dotcom bubble it was common for employees to stay for 6 months at any one job and move on for massive raises.

Personally, I think the Millenials are just growing up and realizing that there's more to life than working for some web startup cranking out JavaScript or the Googles and Apples of the world 100 hours a week. They might be settling down, getting married, having little "Millenials++" and rediscovering the value of having some stability in life. If you need to move where the jobs are, that's one thing. But if you have a stable situation with a few employers to pick from in case yours flakes out on you, I highly recommend staying somewhere, getting involved in the community and actually putting down roots. Upending your life once every few years sucks, especially if you have a family.

Comment Ask the Longshoremen about basic income! (Score 5, Interesting) 722

A perfect example of basic income working is the longshoremen's unions in the US. Before containerized freight and automated cargo terminals, thousands of men would stand on the stones every morning and work a back-breaking job hauling loose cargo off ships with hooks. After containerization, instantly, there was no more work for the vast majority of these people. Since most of them were completely unskilled, and not capable of retraining into any other job that paid the same or better, they could have been in danger of seing the same fate we assign to the unemployed today -- eventual destitution. However, the longshoremen's unions implemented what amounts to a tax on cargo handled through these automated terminals that goes towards paying "retired" longshoremen a basic income. This is one example, and let's just say the union has a lot of muscle behind it that helped this get passed, but it does show a way to help the unemployable -- and make no mistake, that's going to be 90+% of us sometime before I'm dead (in the next 50 years or so.)

I guess my problem with people who argue against a basic income is that they don't have a better alternative in mind. Sometime in the near future, the vast majority of low level service jobs will be automated. At the same time, the use of intelligent systems will come and cannibalize the top end of the spectrum too. Think about doctors for a second -- they're smart enough to have a regulated profession and should be fine because of that. But what if they didn't? Medical education is basically academic hazing, from the MCAT to the preclinical firehose to 100 hour weeks as an intern. Med schools select for people with photographic memories and perfect grades because that's basically the only way to survive the training as it is today. Well, thanks to Google we don't need photographic memories anymore, so the only skill left will be synthesis of all the stored knowledge. This is why IBM basically sold off their entire business and are building Watson and other AI-type systems. Soon as these algorithms get good enough, most work that requires intuition is toast. Hospitals won't have to pay doctors when they can feed test results and live observations of patients into a machine and get a diagnosis.

I think basic income is the only reasonable transition vehicle to move the world away from traditional employment. Imagine telling everyone who's about to retire that people entering the workforce now won't have to save. Or, tell people who define themselves by their work that they've all been made redundant at the same time. Or, try to divide up the accumulated property among people when money stops being critical -- who determines where the renters go, or who gets to keep the houses they own? All of these are too much stress for the economy to bear all at once and will lead to a mess. Phase in a low-employment world over time with controls, and it makes the shift easier.

Comment Will it also affect "financial advisors"? (Score 1) 142

I can definitiely see human traders playing less of a role. As HFT has gotten better over time, people are less reliant on traders going with their gut or even reasoned research. The trades move too fast for traders to keep up with anyway.

The next frontier is the advisors. Whenever I run into anyone who's a professional "financial advisor" I get used car salesman vibes. Every one of them is trying to pitch products guaranteed to make them money, but "not guaranteed - not insured - may lose value" on my side. The worst are the life insurance salesmen who branch out into financial services -- I wonder how many naive people have been tricked into buying variable annuity life insurance instead of investing. It seems to me that the machines are going to squeeze out the advisors living on tiny commissions as it is. Kind of like travel agents -- they disappeared for the most part the second airlines stopped paying them commission to sell tickets.

Comment Work culture and environment is likely the reason (Score 4, Interesting) 283

I work a fairly normal job doing systems architecture stuff for an IT service provider. I have a spouse and 2 kids, and some semblance of a life outside of IT/dev. I seriously doubt I'd have the family and normal life part working for some of the crazy SV employers. I think the key reasons are crazy work environment and cost of living:

I've never worked for a startup or a tech company notorious for crazy culture, but I have plenty of acquaintances who do. I say "acquaintances" because they're never around to talk to -- they're always working. I love my job; it's great getting paid to solve complex problems. But I don't love it so much that I work 90 or 100 hour weeks constantly. Even established companies like Google, Microsoft and Amazon are famously "all inclusive" -- 3 meals a day at work, bus service to and from work and an implicit expectation that you belong to them. Startups are even stranger with the founder-driven work or die culture. Having a relationship is incompatible with this. In a startup, I've heard you barely see anybody outside the company...that limits the pool to other workaholics trying to win the buyout lottery...and they don't have time for each other either.

The second thing is cost of living. I live in New York, and I think the cost of living here is crazy. California and SV take it to a whole new level. Either you perpetually rent a tiny apartment with roommates, or you go into permanent indentured servitude to buy a $1.5M house that costs $300K elsewhere. Who has the money available to go out and play the field in a situation like that?

Another poster mentioned something about basement-dwelling nerds, but don't forget that that's mostly not SV anymore. Most of SV is these hyper-social startup companies where the stereotype "brogrammer" was born. I'm sure there are still plenty of nerds, but most of them are migrating to places like cloud providers or established software vendors.

Comment Do you just need the right teacher? (Score 5, Interesting) 229

I think one of the problems with mathematics is that it's pretty hard to get the average person to see it as anything other than a tool. Maybe that's how it's taught, but how do you get average students interested in math the same way mathematicians are? Where is the hook in people's minds that turns them on to it as something other than a bunch of formulas and operations? I know it's a cop-out to say I suck at math, but I really do feel I'm mathematically challenged. I wonder if it was just because I didn't get some magic spark early on. I remember all of my elementary and high school math being a long slog of memorization with very little understanding. I was never very good at it and just learned enough to handle the exams. Like every high school student, I still remember to this day that x = -b +/- (sqrt(b^2 - 4ac)/2a) but I have no idea why that is or what it's good for other than getting the answers to a quadratic equation. I think my lack of math background kept me out of civil or chemical engineering, despite a huge interest in both.

One reason why I think proper teaching may play a role is because I had a similar experience studying chemistry in college. I had a very good introductory chemistry teacher and something just clicked. Almost everyone saw it as a bunch of nonsense formulas and equations for various phenomena that had to be memorized for the exams and forgotten, but somehow I got a little more out of it and it was interesting enough that I got a degree in it. Good thing too -- by the second year of engineering school I knew I wasn't going to be able to keep up with my poor math background and didn't want to end up a generic business major!

Comment Interesting if they can pull it off (Score 1) 31

One thing I don't know if Google could match is the legacy support. Microsoft wants everyone off on-premises Windows and onto Azure badly and is investing a lot of money to do it. I come from a very legacy industry with lots of ancient Windows software, and Microsoft's attitude has been "bring it in, refactor it and move it to cheaper PaaS stuff if/when you can." They're offering lots of help too -- as soon as they saw companies were OK with Office 365 permanent revenue lock-in, the strategy is now to get everyone's workload in their cloud and charge perpetually.

AWS and Google in my experience seem to be much more focused on the "cloud only, mobile only, desktops are for LUDDITES, apps!" crowd. And it makes sense -- if you're a startup and have no identity management needs, no ties to Active Directory or an on-premises infrastructure, then why not throw out the rulebook and develop from scratch? How many thousands of web frameworks are out there? I'm sure AWS and Google have a pre-built template for all of them. AWS has virtual machines, and they even do a sorta-DaaS service. But you can tell their heart's not really in it...yeah sure, here's some VMs to run your Luddite stuff but check out all these cool new microservices! Microsoft's approach so far has been that they have all the cutting edge stuff, but are willing to invest the time and infrastructure money to host IaaS stuff as first-class citizens.

One thing I think Microsoft could step their game up on is catering to "IT Pros" which is their name for non-developers. Yes, we're all going to be DevOps ninjas or whatever the hipsters are calling us, but IT guys need to come up to speed fast on this stuff, and fill in the gaps in their knowledge. I've been doing this like crazy over the last year -- if you're not a full-time web developer the documentation is a little opaque at first until you get some backstory.

Comment Should be done in the US too, but won't be (Score 4, Insightful) 532

I live in New York, and prices for cigarettes are incredibly high (for the US.) Go to South Carolina, and by comparison they basically give them away because SC is a tobacco state. It's been proven over and over again that long-term smoking causes expensive end-of-life health problems, and when the majority of people who smoke are poor and uneducated, everybody pays in the form of increased charity health care. And in the US, if a smoker makes it to 65, Medicare has to pay a lot more to get the average smoker through the end of their life so everyone pays regardless of the person's income in Medicare taxes. In my opinion it's fair to tax cigarettes to a high degree as long as the proceeds go directly to health care or smoking cessation programs.

In NY, smoking is a very expensive habit and it's hard to even smoke in public anymore. Go elsewhere in the country (Texas, Nevada, lots of Southern states) and everyone can smoke in public along with most businesses being smoker-friendly indoors. The problem is that the US isn't a monoculture and a small country -- each state has its own agenda. New York is dealing with a city the size of a small country combined with a poor rural upstate region...that's why high tobacco taxes make sense. A smaller state is going to have lower overall public health expenditures regardless of ability to pay just based on population. Also, tobacco-producing states aren't going to be happy with any taxes because they want a market for their product. Back in the 50s, the majority of men smoked and something like 35% of women did too. Now, it's way less than that and dropping.

I think taxing tobacco heavily is a good compromise. Unless you want an outright ban (which I don't think is the best idea even if it would improve public health,) this is the best way to recover the additional costs a smoker places on society.

Comment I think there's plenty of domestic talent (Score 1) 477

I have very little problem with the original intention of the H-1B program -- giving companies a safety valve to import a small number of workers who actually possess skills that can't be found domestically. I work for a multinational and we use internal transfers a lot for that purpose...and most of the people they bring in are actually the kind of people that the program originally targeted.

What I don't like is the abuse. Any time a company's IT costs get too high for the MBA's liking, they can turn to any number of "IT services" providers. These companies will always come in cheaper than FTEs, both from a cost and an accounting perspective. Since the company has to make money, they'll offshore most of the work and bring in a few H-1B's to displace all the FTEs over time. In places that do this, I have yet to see evidence that any of these H-1B replacements are exceptional in any way. Often, they're just swapping out a DBA or sysadmin who's been working for 20 years with a DBA who will work much cheaper regardless of quality. What bothers me more is that the company can just pull a "Pontias Pilate" and wash their hands of their entire IT department. This is what happened with the bigger swap-outs that have made the press like Disney and others. All they have to do is point to the fact that their IT is now in control of one of the body shops and they had nothing to do with replacing domestic workers.

I have absolutely no doubt that (a) there is plenty of domestic talent, and (b) if you don't set an expiration date on people's careers, even more people will study CS and engineering. I say the program should be kept to some degree, but the obvious avenues for abuse should be shut down. My suggestions would be to crack down on the fake labor certification processes, and raise the minimum H-1B wage to a certain percentage over the average prevailing wage for the area they're going to work in. If people see that the program is fair, and don't feel like it's a serious threat for their future earnings and career, then everything will work out for employers over time. The workforce will be happier, and there won't be as much of a language/timezone barrier.

I don't know -- maybe I've been lucky and have worked with very talented domestic people. But I don't believe companies who say they can't hire people domestically -- they just don't want to pay for it.

Comment Insider perspective (Score 5, Insightful) 141

We may never know what happened - but airlines are coming off their holiday change freezes so I'll bet one of their releases went bad. I don't work for Delta, but I do work in the industry, including some stints at airlines. The central problem is that airlines are incredibly low-margin businesses. Yes, they charge for everything and flying is expensive, but for every last minute $1000 ticket are hundreds of people demanding the same flight for $129 and getting it, even though they barely break even on those customers. Airlines' biggest costs are fuel, labor and planes. When it comes to IT, it's just massive amounts of technical debt built on a very old core set of systems. All that customer facing tech is really driving some ancient stuff several layers deep, collecting the information and presenting it in a nice format like your phone screen. All of these abstractions, wrappers on wrappers and middleware have to work perfectly and it's a rickety tower sometimes. Also, airlines are run by MBAs who don't consider their IT a "core competency", so it either gets minimal funding or dumped off on a contractor. Often, the contractors develop stuff like the phone app or one of a billion middleware components and there are always integration issues...but the people in charge love the ability to pay someone $x to implement "that phone thing" or "the ability to do X without talking to an agent."

With all the negatives, it's a very challenging and fun environment to work in for the right kind of person. I've been doing it for 20+ years and on balance I really like it. Resourceful types do very well in airline IT, as do IT geeks who understand and care about the business they're supporting. It's extremely frustrating at times as well, and there's way more firefighting than there should be. Typical businesses will just throw money at a problem until it goes away or they run out, which is why there are so many software tool vendors and expensive hardware systems out there. Go to an airline and tell them to spend 5 million bucks, and you can forget it unless it's required for compliance, safety related or guaranteed to return an immediate increase in revenue. Unfortunately this is where the technical debt comes from because there's never enough people, and all those people are running around putting out fires all the time. If I were working for Delta right now, I guarantee I wouldn't have been sleeping for the last 24 hours as everyone tried to figure out what had gone wrong.

Comment Re:Basic Income Now (Score 1) 91

Actually I find myself agreeing with this, having been through two tech startup bubbles in my working life now. There's plenty of "real work" out there if we could just reallocate the resources that get flushed down the toilet in startup-land. One of the best things we could do is something similar to what the Chinese did around 2008 -- pump massive amounts of money into infrastructure. We'd be able to rebuild a lot of the stuff that's been slowly rotting away since our last golden age of the postwar era, and we'd have something to show for it rather than BS marketing-driven tech bubble companies.

At the same time, yes, give people who aren't doing anything useful money to stay out of the workforce. It's a lot cheaper than paying for the increased crime that comes with poverty that comes with unemployment. It's sad, but as even knowledge worker jobs get automated away, there will only be a subset of the population that is capable of doing the level of work that remains. Think about your average big company -- what percent of the staff could you get rid of today with minimal impact? That percent has been creeping up pretty high in recent years and it's only going to get worse. Does an IT services company need thousands of "account executives" whose sole job is to take customers to lunch and get them to buy more BS services contracts? How about all the people in marketing? Most could go with no impact. Once you do that, however, you have the problem of what to do with everyone. So, either we incentivize busy work in the private sector, create make-work jobs in the public sector, or just pay people to stay away. Anything else will lead to a complete breakdown in society; look what happened when unemployment got around 10% in 2008-2009 -- now triple or quadruple that.

Comment It's just another bubble popping (Score 5, Insightful) 91

The wearable device bubble is ending, mainly because manufacturers are finding that they're not Apple. Even Apple is having trouble convincing the true believers to buy their first Apple Watches, let alone upgrade them. Fitbit and friends probably saw the following:
- A lot of the purchases are gifts or corporate giveaways from a company's health insurance plan. They get used for a while, then thrown in a drawer.
- Even among the hardcore users, there's very little reason to upgrade unless new must-have features, so you're not going to get the once-every-18-months cash infusions that Apple had recently been getting for iPhones.
- It's expensive to build and maintain the apps that attach the devices to the users' phones, and the data can't really be monetized the same way Google search history can.

Microsoft even dumped the Microsoft Band, probably realizing very similar things Fitbit did. The question is, are they hoping for an acquisition from a watch maker or something, and just trying to hold out long enough to get the founders their exit money? Also, why so many employees to design a hardware specification once, then build a simple phone app? Did they just get pumped full of startup money and go on a hiring spree?

Wearables are neat - I have one of the Garmin ones and it works well. But I'm not buying a new one every year.

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