Saturday, January 31, 2009

Oracle issues White Paper on Social Networking Web 2.0 tools in the workplace

Tech Republic has informed its subscribers about a White Paper from Oracle, published August 2008: “The Social Enterprise: Using Social Enterprise Applications to Enable the Next Wave of Knowledge Worker Productivity”, link here. Registration is required to see the PDF.

The paper traces the develop of office technology, such as Lotus notes, and user communities like Usenet and early Compuserve to today’s social networking sites, which it says can promote “stickiness.” The paper emphasizes the free entry and ‘do it yourself” aspects of Web 2.0, which may seem a bit like a paradox in businesses (especially sales) driven by social connections. It then goes to discussion “Building Webcenter 2.0 Social Applications and the Oracle Webcenter Suite.

It does not get into the possibility of conflicts between the social or political perspective of an organization and the perspectives of the individuals who may own their own presence on the Web.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Pentagon implements new level of security allowing communication with Internet: could stimulate new security jobs in civilian infrstructure, too

Shaun Waterman from UPI has a story on p B2 of the Jan. 29 Washington Times (the "Plugged In" Section), “’Revolutionary’ software to unite Defense networks,” link here.

The US Central Command (CENTCOM) has a “One Wire, One Box” or OB1 firmware and hardware device to link networks and machines into one work station for information sharing (as with intelligence and “connecting the dots”) with special software to prevent any possibility of unauthorized access from the “public” Internet. In the past, military computers have always been physically separate from the Internet to prevent any possibility of compromise.

The concept could be used in other critical civilian areas, like electric utilities, where the remote threat of intrusion could cause a grave domestic security threat of the utility were accessible through the Internet or public networks. This possibility has been written about occasionally ever since 9/11.

Implementing such new levels of security software could soon provide a whole new set of IT jobs given Obama’s push for infrastructure, but they would require extremely specialized experience and training, largely from the military.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Management group offers white paper on social networking sites and the workplace

Today (Jan. 27) Tech Republic offered a white paper “Social Networking: Brave New World or Revolution from Hell? A look at the phenomenon of Social Networking and the implications for Businesses”. The entry link is here, and requires registration and log on for a free download.

The 4-page paper (in PDF format) comes from “Message Labs” with a tagline “Be Certain”. The paper seems mainly concerned about the use of social networking sites in the workplace itself. About 10% of professionals use social networking sites at work for legitimate business purposes, such as developing leads.

The paper doesn’t seem concerned about the implications outside of work, where clients look for the names of professionals in search engines and form impressions, rightly or wrongly.

The HR profession still deals with this issue with kid gloves, in professional-speak. I guess that’s because they’re not home to watch Dr. Phil!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Supreme Court shores up whistleblower protections of employees

Today, the Supreme Court, in the case Crawford v. Nashville School District, held that a suit from an employee who spoke in an internal affairs investigation regarding workplace harassment and then was fired, can go forward.

The case seems to be a test of how far whistleblower protection and anti-retaliation provisions in labor law go. The opinion text is here.

The daily Tennessean has this account from the AP.

The ruling may be more important for local government employees, especially teachers, but it might apply to the workplace in general, even the IT workplace. The case was discussed in the Jim Lehrer news hour on PBS Jan. 26.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Should people limit their online networking to "professional" purposes only? What about "second lives"? Facebook, LinkeIn recommended for pros

The issue of social networking sites and job hunting keeps growing, especially now in this severe recession. Today Ted Kustin has a major article in the Jobs section (page K1) of the Jan. 25, 2009 Washington Post, “It’s All About Who You Know – and Who They Know”, link here.

The article suggests that job seekers use social networking sites, especially LinkedIn and Facebook, as the focus of their networking online for employment, and keep their proflles limited to business information.

Myspace is seen as much less appropriate (and much less visible to business) for most job-related networking, outside of the entertainment and media worlds, where it is probably very relevant (after all Myspace belongs to a media company).

The article suggests that one can set up Wordpress blogs on both LinkedIn and Facebook, and that such blogs should be limited to professional content. There are those in the industry who say, however, that one should always rent his own space for a “serious” or
professional” blog, and not depend on “free services” which sometimes have trouble separating legitimate content from spam.

The article also suggests that employers are likely to start in search engines first, and then look particularly at LinkedIn and Facebook. The job seeker should be conscious of the ease with which the wrong person can be identified, especially in search engines, and structure her presence accordingly.

I don’t question that this is pretty good advice for many job seekers, especially recent graduates. After all, Facebook originated in the university community (Harvard) and always intended to focus more on academic and professional networking rather than just fun, and has generally been stricter about terms of use (especially recently) than Myspace. What about political activism? I’ll get to that below, but sometimes college and graduate students can structure their careers around some kind of synergy. I know a grad student who makes his living off of the pandora’s box of problems emanating from the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act). For some people, controversy can pay the mortgage.

I tried my own legal name today “John W. Boushka” and found the following sequence: (which is a supposedly “professional” IT site set up on Network Solutions), Blogger, doaskdotell (the large site related to my books), my Linked In site, and finally “Bill Boushka” is the pen name I used for my books (since my middle name is “William”) and it is an experimental site that I set up for certain uses, including Wordpress.

I also have beaucoup pages of references all over the Net in search engines.

Where does this leave me. Understand two things. Most of my 30+-years-long IT career, I was a mainframe programmer-analyst, heavy COBOL, and an individual contributor (the kind who carried a beeper and fixed night “S0C7” events). I got into writing and self-publishing as “career number 2” in the middle 1990s, partly because of the confluence of a sensitive political issue (“don’t ask don’t tell”) and a traumatic event that had happened early in my life. By 1998, I had discovered that I could at least get a lot of people who couldn’t afford the book to read the content if I put it online. So I developed my sites, which evolved. The technology was old – mostly flat, static HTML, unglamorous, but quickly loading, easily found in search engines, and brutally effective. I became like an old mainframe shop still using DOS and Assembler (like Chilton Corporation in Dallas, where I started working in the early 1980s). Much of that material is still around and indexed as “legacy content.”

As some early 70s song whose name (like “la-la-la”) I can’t remember says, “so much has changed.” The web experience in 1998 was largely one of publishing and the beginnings of free content and open source; by 2002 or so, blogging was coming into its own, and by 2004, social networking came out (pun intended), after which employers started to perceive personal online activity as connected to their business. In a way, social networking sites may have, somewhat unintentionally, weakened the case for personal political participation (outside of organizations and lobbyists) because employers would want to find presence that promoted business only, in a “partisan” manner. That’s a big societal and governance concern, because the “democratized” Web ought to reduce the influence of lobbyists and special interests, but it cannot if individuals feel afraid to speak up publicly (under their own name) because of their employment situation. People in the gay rights area have known about this problem for decades.

As for mainframe jobs, employers can hardly expect people in their 60s to proudly confine their online presence to old legacy mainframe experience, except maybe in some rare niche areas. (Who wants to spend his life in extended stay motels keeping old IMS shops running? A very few “professionals” still do; they are infinitely rare and infinitely expensive.) In fact, staffing companies (and their clients) need to come clean about what they really need – and the market, while partially recovering around 2003 or so, has remained politicized because of the unworthy business practices common during the Bush years (hopefully this is now going to change – it has to). But some people have a problem with the idea of people speaking out on their own and attracting attention to themselves without prior loyalty or accountability to someone (even family).

A logical question comes to mind: can one “ethically” (and I don’t mean through anonymity or pseudonyms) maintain a dual presence on the web: a LinkedIn or Facebook presence for individual contributor technical jobs only, and Blogger, independent sites or Myspace for political or personal stuff? I would love to hear comments on that.

These concerns would sound less relevant to federal employment with USAJOBS, where the application process is very structured and regulated to make it "fair" and "neutral". Political appointments are a different matter, although the new president says he wants to eliminate political favoritism. (Has any president yet?)

As for “career 2”, my main objective ought to promote the “brand” doaskdotell, which I have used as a domain name for 10 years, into a viable commercial operation dealing with leading edge social and political issues (not limited to ending “don’t ask don’t tell”) in the media. Yes, I may have to restructure everything to do this. But it is a long and evolving process.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Wachovia-Wells Fargo situation: does it set an important example for "family leave"? What about contractors?

The acquisition of troubled Wachovia Bank by Wells Fargo may put its progressive family leave program at risk, according to WorkForce Management.

The story is here.

The plan allowed employees up to three years unpaid personal leave, while “staying in the fold” although it did not promise the old jobs back. It was used by new mothers or parents, and sometimes by people with longlasting eldercare responsibilities.

Another related controversy would the jobs of reservists or National Guard people returning from active duty, particularly if Barack Obama is able to keep his promise of a withdrawal from Iraq in 16 months.

Other western countries have paid family leave, and many observers feel that the unpaid leave provisions of the 1993 FMLA are ineffective in practice.

But companies tend to be unable to paid for unworked time during downturns, and it means that working employees are paid less.

Wells Fargo has said informally that it will try to keep the plan.

Since short term contracts are so common in information technology, it’s not so clear that this situation sets a major example for IT as a whole.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Microsoft has first ever large layoff: but what about Netbooks?

Major network media outlets today made a lot of the fact that Microsoft (MSFT) is instituting its first-ever mass layoff, over 5000 people in the next 18 months. It’s net income was 47 cents a share in 4Q 2008, compared to 50 cents a share in 2007. Microsoft did not have to do a major job cut during the dot-com bust or 2001 recession, and, if anything, seemed to come out stronger then with all the industry consolidation.

But a lot of media outlets are failing to report that Microsoft’s earnings could be eroded by the sale of stripped down Netbooks, which run on Linux (which a lot of techies prefer). Preston Galla has a blog entry on Computerworld, “Netbook sales are killing us,” link here.

The Wall Street Journal has a subscriber entry maintaining that Microsoft is crying wolf.

Microsoft's new Windows 7 is attracting a lot of press, enough to make me bypass Vista altogether, perhaps.

Google reported 2008 results today, with a comprehensive press statement here. Yes, some companies are doing much better than most everyone else during this downturn.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Yes: people get fired during probationary periods: a call for more reference checking and "Internet background investigations"? Reputation again!

Benny Sisko has a great column this morning on Tech Republic about having to fire a new hire just before the end of a three-month probationary period. The title is "Firing a bad hire: a real world story."

He goes through how he was had – the overstated resume, the references who covered up, and then the lackadaisical performance and slow learning curve and recalcitrance of the individual (to adapt to new problems, apparently) once hired. He goes into the team friction and the closed-door, behind-back office politics that went on before the firing.

The end result in advice? Employers need first to test for skills themselves (even certifications can be deceptive – passing multiple choice tests isn’t the same as doing the work), and need to dig harder for secondary references, running the old liability gauntlet. This may be another argument for the notorious “search engine” background investigations, which are making online reputation such a testy and befuddling issue right now.

The article does bring back some déjà vu, of firings that happened twenty years ago or more, that I watched from the periphery. I’ve seen this sort of thing “you had to call tech support twice for something you should have known how to do yourself.” Yes, it does happen. But it’s nothing new.

Actually, there is something relatively new, though, in the age of cheaper publishing, blogs and online social networking sites—and this Tech Republic posting today brings this problem to mind, mine at least. An employer, particularly a client of a staffing company, could wonder if someone is coming to work just to “spy” and write about a sensitive issue inherent in the organization’s business later, even in disguised (without searchable names) but ultimately recognizable fashion. (There have been cases where professional news organizations have hired journalists to do just that, resulting sometimes in litigation.) We’re, as poet Walt Whitman wrote (composer Ralph Vaughn Williams set to music), moving “toward the Unknown Region.”

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Resumes for older or returning professionals: functional or chronological?

We often hear debates about gaps on resumes. Should resumes be functional or chronological?

Max Messmer has a humorous column on this issue on p 19 of The DC Examiner, called “Your Money: Bargains on the Block”.

While career counselors tend to recommend functional resumes for older professionals or for people with gaps (which happen because of pregnancy and child rearing (maybe even for dads now), and, more often in recent and future years, eldercare).

Yet, recruiters have told me in phone conversations that clients would much rather see chronological resumes. They simply want candidates to come clean about the gaps. Yet, there’s evidence that some clients are reluctant to hire any candidate with “family” issues (which may not always be voluntary) because of the fear of disruption. They simply won’t say anything.

I certainly welcome comments on the “functional resume” issue for older employees or returning parents.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Our "job creation" has depended way too much on hucksterism

I remember back in the 1990s there was talk about starting to pay people for “piecework” in lieu of layoffs. I recall news reports about a company in Cleveland, Lincoln Electric, that had avoided layoffs this way during the “first Bush” recession around 1991.

We indeed had a time where we promoted an ideology of pushing the responsibility for “job security” back on the worker. During that time, it got easier for companies to get rid of health coverage and other fringe benefits. The competition of low cost labor from overseas was part of the problem.

Yes, during these economic times now, it seems like some of this came home to roost.

But there’s one trend that’s particularly troubling. That is, pay people with sales commissions only. It’s easier to budget jobs like this, obviously, and pretend that you have “created jobs”.

There are many career fields, varying from manufacturer’s representative to life insurance agent where compensation based mostly on commissions (sometimes amplified by “training bonus”) is well established and accepted.

The problem is that, when practiced too much, it encourages a culture of hucksterism and social manipulation rather than real innovation and productivity and “real wealth” creation. The psychology behind “sales culture” tends to encourage the development of bubbles (and “herd mentality”), because people are pressured to get short term sales results and close deals. Yet, social manipulation in itself is not such a bad thing. People need leadership and supervision. The question is who should to the manipulating and how much should be done.

People also need others to explain and teach them things, like how complex financial products work, or how set up a home IT network. The problem is that we have, perhaps for understandable reasons, rewarded the aggressive social contacting, "lead development" and sales closure rather than real customer service and teaching. It’s amazing to me that the practice has continued so well, during this bubble of bubbles, while the public as a whole wants more privacy, less intrusion, and more control of personal choices.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Veterans Preference and federal jobs: get the facts

Since I am starting the process of applying for some federal jobs (some of them could be related to TARP and bailouts) I revisited the subject of Veteran’s Preference.

I served a full two years from 1968-1970 but did not go to Vietnam or see combat and was never wounded. Nevertheless, according to the rules, it appears that I am entitled to a five point preference if I qualify otherwise.

The US Office of Personnel Management has a link with all the rules spelled out here.

It’s important to note that one has to qualify for the job first before Veterans Preference is considered at all.

Although it did not affect me this way, the military “don’t ask don’t tell” policy contributes indirectly to civilian discrimination because LGBT people may be less likely to have completed a qualifying term of service. The same comment also obviously applies to tuition assistance and scholarships.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

WSJ reports on Edward Jones, selling investments door-to-door: this actually works in the 21st Century?

When I was growing up, as in the 50s, I guess people were less private and a lot more sociable. Door-to-door selling was common.

Imagine, Saturday (Jan. 10), however, my surprise to see this story on the Wall Street Journal “School of Hard Knocks: Edward Jones Still Sells Investments Door-to-Door; Turnover is high, but the company is hiring; Jim Haston sees some sales resistance”, link here.

The company’s website is this and it says “For decades, we've believed in building relationships through face-to-face interaction.” The story says that the company has 12000 brokers, with almost 1000 brokers added in 2008. The articles discusses the company’s training program, which certain have to do with how to manipulate people (and implements of social interaction) in the bricks-and-mortar world. The company seems to be unique among brokerages.

As for me, with my personal history, I don’t think I’m in a position to manipulate anyone to buy something somebody else developed (it’s different, of course, if I developed it – completely different).

As much of our culture has become more “do-it-yourself” and technology oriented (and as a lot of people resent personal intrusions now), the whole mindset of many people has changed. Salesmanship, at least as a separate personal skill, doesn’t seem to be high on the list of personal virtues like it once was. (Remember the days when home service agents sold life insurance?) My own father was a manufacturer’s representative, who lived on commissions, although he sold to stores, not much to individuals. Yet, his whole technique, that built a stable career for 35 years, was to turn sales into continuous customer service. I don’t know if a door-to-door approach works that way today.

I remember in 2002, during the previous recession, seeing Time Warner advertise for cable salesmen, with possible earnings of $75000 in the Twin Cities. I called, and found out, yes, this was door-to-door. At the time, I was surprised that door-to-door jobs were still around, that it was even “respectable.” Such was the culture I had lived in. But I suppose that door-to-door selling of cable makes sense in new developments in the exurbs. But I was living downtown. No go.

“Always Be Closing.”

Saturday, January 10, 2009

"Odesk" gives hot skills list with some surprises -- even for freelance writers

ODesk (Outsourcing tips and Best Practices) has a survey of the “hottest” skills, somewhat skewed as apparently a lot of the jobs in its survey are freelance. The link is here. You’ll see a lot of increase in Wordpress, Joomla, and SEO. There was significant demand in CSS (Cascading Style Sheets, connected to XML). It seems that there is a lot of low-keyed web design work going on right now even in a down economy.

One interesting item was the increase in “writing” explained by a link as “freelance writing” and apparently referring to technical writing and editing. The link refers to certification examinations in these areas, for which I was unaware (although one might check Brainbench for this). A significant part of this may be grant writing, which is a specific niche to get into. This might well increase with the policies of the new Obama administration. The National Writers Union, or a chapter in your city, might be a good place to get a handle on this opportunity.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Federal government KSA's: my own generic list

How would I characterize my own “knowledge, skills and abilities” in a generic sense, regardless of which federal job?

Skills: To me, this means I am job-ready, and need little catch-up time:

Here are some hands on skills that are job ready:

(1) COBOL (COBOLII, COBOLMVS) up to 20 years
(3) CICS Command Level
(4) HTML
(5) Written communications (papers, research, organizations)
(6) Oral communications (walk through)
(7) Writing systems (“what”) and program (“how”) specifications (in pseudocode if desired)
(8) Writing end user test plans (as with Test Director)

Here are some “knowledges”. Since I have not used these as much, there is more start-up time to get up to speed

(1) SAS
(2) Java
(3) C#
(4) Visual Studio .NET
(5) XML and variants
(6) Unix shells and Linux
(7) DB2 (2 years)
(8) IMS-DB
(9) IDMS
(10) Datacom DB, DC
(11) CICS Macro Level
(12) MMIS
(13) Medpar, postpayment utilization concepts in Medicare
(14) Project Management methodology (very important in federal government)

Here are some “abilities”:

(1) To manage one’s own time to meet due dates and deadlines
(2) To see all the ways a system could fail before implementation
(3) To document (and organize) solutions to support problems that previously had not been encountered

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Report on employee ethics during recession; also tips for restoring Windows (does everyone need to know how to do it?)

Tech Republic has a couple of very interesting blog posts this morning, somewhat unrelated to each other.

The most alarming post is “IT ethics and the recession.” It’s by Michael Krigsman with link here. It goes on to present comparisons of survey results of IT employees in the United States, Britain, and the Netherlands on some questions. One was, if you knew your company had a “hit list”, would you try to get your hands on it? Another was, if you were laid off, would you take corporate data with you? The results, especially for US employees, are rather startling. The web page offered an ad for business ethics training, at this site named prosaically enough.

Back in February 2003, I actually wrote a multiple choice certification quiz on business ethics for Brainbench. This posting would certainly feed more material for possible questions.

Another interesting post this morning is “Three Critical Things to Do Before Reinstalling Windows,” a seven minute video by Bill Detwiler and ITDojo, available from this blog link. It’s based on a “10 things to do” report by Al Norton, and focuses on Windows Vista. But it’s interesting to note how much work is involved. This includes saving user logons, virus scanning and backing up data on network shares or external drives, saving all application product keys (or using Jelly Bean Key Finder) and managing restores points. After a reformat of a hard drive and reload of the operating system, all service packs must be reinstalled, as well as all application drivers and user data. There is really a tremendous amount of work, yet IT geeks keep saying that all computer users ought to get good at doing this, as a kind of boot camp issue. There are a number of reasons why a machine hard drive reformat and reload could become necessary, including malware or registry corruption (from viruses), which sometimes causes various devices to work no longer, and slow or poor machine performance. (It seems that HAL problems are usually software and don't result in full rebuilds.) Will some employers want most job applicants in the applications areas to prove they know how to do this? Loot at the “10 things” list – it’s

Monday, January 05, 2009

Trends for 2009: In and Out

Jeff Hiner of Tech Republic has an interesting blog entry today about “What’s in and what’s out” in 2009, link here. This reminds me of a similar article in "Computer User" in early 2002 that went something like "Hot jobs in a down market; what's hot, what's not." Then, they said that COBOL wasn't not, and neither was freelance writing.

There are some interesting points in Hiner's blog. Telecommuting is in, the 8 hour workday is out (but was it ever in?) The MacIntosh is in; putting Vista on PC’s is out (the buzz is that security geeks are getting back to preferring to use the Mac whenever they can).

Web based applications, however secured, are preferable to in-house applications, so Java and C# sound like they only become more important.

Process automation is in when it saves money, but new projects are out in a tight economy. I think this is a distinction without a difference. I can cite a recent example: The Washington area Metro system recently expanded the user of Smart cards in bus transfers and eliminated paper transfers, to save $300000 in printing a year. I can think of another automation, but it might be a new “project”: Making smart cards interchangeable among subway systems in various cities. If you live in DC, wouldn’t you like to be able to use the Smart card on the NYC Transit or Philadelphia Septa?

Actually, the push from the new Obama administration might create a lot of full systems life cycle projects. One is full health care records automation, HIPAA compliant. Another is a due diligence system for lenders to quash identity theft. These are basic infrastructural things that will save our entire economy money (and bring a lot of older mainframe programmers back to the workplace), but are hard for individual companies to justify without government leadership. Welcome to the Democrats, like it or not. If this is the way things go during the next administration, staffing companies and clients ought to rethink the way they select candidates. It’ll be in their best interest to do so.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Federal "KSA": communication and customer service skills

In applying for some federal IT jobs, I'm starting the practice of documenting more detailed answers to the KSA's ("Knowledge, Skills and Abilties") items on this blog.

Here is a typical KSA with a Treasury Department job:

Analytical, customer service, written and oral communication

Note, this item calls for skills, which are more than abilities: they are the deployment of abilities in a real work environment to solve real problems.

So here goes a tentative answer:

From 2000-2001 I worked as a telephone systems support analyst for an application called the Customer Service Workbench. This was a GUI interface for end users at an external customer service center. I would take pages or telephone calls from the users, do the initial investigation, and, when appropriate, make and test coding changes to software (mostly in the presentation layer) and implement or promote the changes into production. The language skills that I sometimes used were C, java and Powerbuilder.

While working in support, I had to tackle problems in systems with which I was not as familiar as systems that I had written myself. That required a steep learning curve and the development of investigation and problem resolution skills, and maintenance of a file of methods for fixing problems known to have occurred in the past. Perhaps up to about 40 kinds of problems tended to occur with a noticeable pattern. Some problems were caused by Unix process hangups, and others by java “thread death” and I documented specific procedures for restarting user systems in these cases. Some problems were related to the complexity of the way legacy data from the mainframe was presented to the user: some of it came through mainframe COBOLMVS replications and loads; some came through DB2 and Direct Connect, some problems were related to some quirks in the way TPX worked with test and production systems.

It was important to listen carefully to customers and to follow through efficiently.

We did use a monitoring package with the problem tickets called AHD.

I have also gained experience with customer service “in reverse” as a customer, of cable television and Internet services. I often find that customer service agents are not familiar with the details of all environmental problems that their customers may experience. I developed some investigatory skills as a customer at home, and these could be useful in the workplace.