Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Firings over personal Facebook and Twitter content (sometimes posted by others) accumulate like big wet snowflakes; are people responsible for what others post about them?

Reports of people being fired for their social media activity (on their own dimes, away from the job) are mounting on the web, and sometimes the terminations happen because of what other people post about you of even of images they post of “you”.
The NBC Steve Harvey show Monday presented a woman who was fired from a school when her daughter posted a picture of her drinking on Twitter (link ).  It seems though a few schools have very short fuses about the idea of teachers being seen drinking anywhere.  And you never know who could photograph you in a bar with your image winding up somewhere on the web.  What could someone do about this?

The Commonwealth Bank of Australia implemented a policy to discipline or terminate employees who didn’t report negative comments made about the bank’s brand by their social media “friends”,  story here.  I cannot fathom what my friends say about a company on Facebook; I don’t monitor my friends that way.

A substitute teacher near Richmond VA was fired after a former student made accusations of an affair online (story).

Flowtown has a posting suggesting that many employers expect their associates to monitor their own social profiles and remove compromising content placed by others, link here. I have encountered negative content (emails on listservers) only very rarely myself. 
Huffington Post has an article “13 tweets that got people canned”.  One of these was a health care HIPAA violation, link.  

In the video above, a nurse was fired for showing a picture of an unidentifiable diabetic patient's feet (or perhaps balding legs) on social media.  Another HIPAA violation?
It will be interesting to see how the reported new NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) rules for social media and blogging policies play out.

On Feb. 5, WJLA reported the firing of a woman from a bank after she was stalked by an out-of-town jilted boyfriend who then misused her images on the web to imply she was a prostitute and porn star.  The stalker was eventually apprehended, but I don't think she got her job back.  

Monday, January 28, 2013

Retire, and face "real life" in the "proletariat" job market

Just a note tonight about how things change when you “retire”.

When you work for a big corporation in an IT department, as I did for so many years, the workplace becomes your “universe”, even when you have an outside productive life as I started in the 1990s as an author and blogger.  The controversies that occur in a workplace are often specific to the technical environment, or to the manner of ownership (especially after mergers), but they seem to “rule the world”.  (Like Vantage in the life insurance legacy software business!)
Once you “retire”, you find out how the rest of the world lives.  You find out that many people you depend on do things you couldn’t do (maybe overseas).  You get exposed to “real life” issues ranging from uniforms, personal contact, sales culture, regimentation, time clocks, commuter traffic, personality tests, graveyard shifts, and even issues like OPC (other people’s children),  Oh, yes, how about cold calling and door-to-door, things you thought were beneath the people who were smart enough.  And, now, maybe much more sensitive social media policies (although the NRLB has recently weighed in on that).  

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Do physical "work habits" really matter?

Do “work habits” matter in I,T.?  I was recalling a statement back in the mid 1990s about a young programmer who had been forced to resign for low productivity, “He had very poor work habits.” It could sound Maoist.
In the 80s and 90s, I would keep a lot of printouts around.  Why?  Call it CYA.  I would keep compiles and particularly test results, like file compares (as with File-Aid).   It is true that if you follow move procedures properly (and they’re enforced properly) there’s less of a need for a personal “audit trail”.  But in those days, “things” were not as automated as they are now.
Back in 1987, we kept listings from thirty days of master file and daily billing parallels in a conference room, rather like keeping comfort food under your pillow.  We did have a hot-shot write an ALC program to file compare the “daily billable volume” reports. A young man from Vietnam, he used to carry program specs on sticky pads on his thighs (it was a Texas summer). 
In 1989, working for a health care consulting firm, I kept a huge “library” of test results where I had verified policy model simulation results by hand calculations.  They came in handy in a crisis in January 1989 when a major client questioned our numbers.  I was able to defend my results, and then suddenly someone discovered a listing of a federal government computer program used to produce alternate numbers.  I noticed that one field in one COBOL compute statement was not the same as specified in the Federal Register.  It was similar in spelling, but not the same, and you needed to know something about Medicare provider reimbursements to realize it could be significant.  I made the change, and reproduced the desired results.  I had re-engineered one of the jobs to sort and process sequentially, rather than by direct VSAM reads, so the rerun went quite quickly.  I saved the company.  My work habits, as ungamely and inelegant (I did not have a pretty office for consumers) save me and probably everyone.
Companies have sometimes enforced “clean-desk” po0licies – everything put away at the end of the day, or only one item at a time is out.  That often happens where classified materials are involved.   Or in banks, where offices are visible to the outside street.
Parents teach personal habits, neatness, and doing chores partly because they do make their kids better on the job later.  If you can keep your workspace or home organizaed with little effort,  you don’t lose things and eventually you get your time back.  (Yup, Oprah and Nate Berkus have aired programs on how to keep work and home spaces neat with little effort.) 
There’s another reason parents teach their kids this, though.  So as adults they will be better to live with.  This isn’t just  an “axiom of choice” in finding a spouse.  It also has to do with the possibility you might have to live with other people in hard times.  Or, you might join the military (where keeping things clean is so essential because of lack of space and forced intimacy  -- my generation didn’t have a choice about this), or go into medicine, or into something where physical cleanliness and organization really matter.  Isn’t that what chemistry lab was all about in high school and college? 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

NLRB ruling on employer blogging policies probably doesn't help IT contractors much in practice

Today, I did post a story on my main blog about a recent NLRB  (National Labor Relations Board) ruling that would restrict the ability of private employers to regulate what associates do on social media on their own dimes, even in areas like criticizing the company, the boss, the other workers or even customers.

It’s important to remember that online reputation probably does affect being able to get a job with a company, maybe more than the ability to keep a job.

In information technology, one of the most critical situations come about with staffing companies, where associates are salaried (or often paid hourly “W2”along with possible overtime) with benefits by the staffer, who is in turn paid by the client.  In almost all cases, the person isn’t hired until the client wants the person.  Often these days, clients are local and state governments who want “revolving” professionals already familiar in detail with their operations and social programs or tax collection operations.  (Look at how states run MMIS.) Staffing companies could fear that publicly “sharp-edged” associates (as judged by their online presence) could drive away clients, or might have a prospective tendency to talk about clients after they have left.

I have not had a phone interview for such a position since 2007, and no longer desire to because of other circumstances.  But in retrospect, I believe my own "razor edge" online could have driven away prospects. 
Writings on public blogs and websites, using real names, could be more problematic than social emdia activity that requires friending or following for content to be viewed.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Why I don't like the idea of selling services to individual clients, as a "second career"

During the past twelve years or so – ever since the December 2001 layoff that ended my “formal” IT career,  I have been approached, without solicitation on my part, to become involved in a number of marketing-oriented jobs, some of which would involve building lists of leads and potential individual clients.

A few of these ideas have been life insurance agent, financial planner, tax preparer, credit counselor, cash flow, real estate and mortgages (that’s a good one), and multi-level marketing distributor (for a number of products, like phone cards). 

It is true, some seniors do very well with this idea.  People work as tax preparers or financial planners into their eighties or (in at least one case in NYC), mid 90s.  One attorney in Texas is 101.  (One surgeon in one of Oprah’s “Blue Zones” is 94.)

It is common, when people “retire”, to meet an expectation that they will get into some sort of marketing arrangement, because they are supposed to “know” people and have contacts.  Ten years ago, some pundits said, “anyone worth his salt can make $200000 a year easy”, as a huckster.
By the time I was 55, I had already gotten pretty far into “citizen journalism”.  I had actually decided to write my first book at a singular moment when I was on vacation in Colorado in 1994, at age 51.  By 2000 or so, I already realized that a “search engine presence” could cause serious conflicts with marketing oriented jobs.
Social media would, of course, design the new game for professional reputation.  But, imagine my being an insurance agent or financial planner.  I would have to devote all of my online presence (particularly with Facebook and Twitter) toward finding leads.  I could no longer say and publish what I think “the truth” is or may become.  I could not touch controversy with any honesty.  I would have to pamper people to sell to them.
That provides a background for my insistence that I see my plans through to the end.  I’ll have more details soon, but these plans include a formal release of a DADT Part III book (on Kindle), a novel, my music, a video, and trying to market a screenplay set up by the books.  I could not pursue this if I made another “career switch”.  Teaching, as I’ve discussed on other blogs, has presented its own problems.
My decision may seem arrogant, or it may sound like resignation, during one’s last act.  Perhaps a bit of both.   There is a bit of potential contradiction of integrity here.  If you want people to read you or listen you, shouldn’t you have to care about them and like them?  (A therapist cares about his patients.)  You should. 
But does that mean you should be ready to help take care of them professionally, or even personally?  I would have not thought so before, but the sequence of unsolicited calls and inquiries, seemingly prompted by my visibility during all those days of debating “don’t ask don’t tell” and Internet censorship, seemed motivated to give me a sense of the same interpersonal responsibilities most “real life people” face.

I have been quite impressed with the observation that many people predicate their income-earning on theri ability to manipulate others, through creating urgency and "overcoming objections".  Or, "Always be closing."  Truth doesn't count.
What could force me into a crisis is external disaster or "purification" . It could be physical (the power grid collapses after a solar storm or terror EMP attack, major Atlantic tsunami), or it could be financial (right wing bullies destroy (or "deconstruct") the financial system, to produce anarchy and their own style of “revolution”).  It could be a targeting born of indignation.  But if the world around me is destroyed (or if I am destroyed), I doubt I have much to offer it anyway.  I might not be around.   I think I need to finish what I started, efficiently.  Maybe if I do so, I will find a "legitimate" opportunity, on a cable television network, talk show, or even a "real" film production company.  (I need to look good if I do that, just as I would to "sell" -- that is "dress for success" and even make a "Clear Choice".)   Again, there are no victims.  People succeed and people fail.  On this planet, that’s it. 

 See related post Oct. 6, 2012.  

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Social Security office cancels reprimand of worker for "passing gas"; but consultants do have to watch personal habits

The Social Security office in Baltimore has taken back a reprimand given to a 38 year old male office worker for passing gas, which was said to “create a hostile work environment”.  Maybe it adds to greenhouse gasses, too.

The link for the Jan. 11 story by John Hicks is here. 

Where something like this could really matter is if a consulting firm sent a professional to a client site and the professional had this kind of hygiene problem.

Back in 1987, when we were working extreme overtime for an implementation at Chilton Corporation in Dallas, I got a SYSM (mainframe email) from a coworker titled “A Request.”  It read “Please take a shower before you come to work in the morning.”  I deleted the message out of reflex.   I had been in the habit of showering in my Pleasant Grove condo the night before.

Back in 1980, when I worked for the CABCO consortium in Dallas, a female consultant complained to me that I should excuse myself if I burped. The same female thought that I, as a male, should be able to change a tire for her.
I don’t know if this is a “roach” problem:  If you see one or two in a few years, you have a lot of them that you don’t see.

It would sound as though complaints from clients can be a big deal.  "BO" isn't just a problem for movies of Jack Nicholson reviewed by Roger Ebert.  These days, it’s extremely rare for that to happen because of sexual orientation.  Nevertheless, a consultant (from Britain and South Africa) told me in 2004 that he had been fired after a complaint of this sort from a client in Wyoming, from someone who had ridden next to him on a business plane trip. 

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Some say unpaid internships are important learning experiences

There has been a lot written recently that employers abuse interns, not paying them for real work. But Steve Cohen, with an article in the Wall Street Journal January 8, has a piece, “Minimum Wage for Interns? It misses the point. Yes. I did unpaid grunt work. But guess what.  It was an invaluable experience.”  The link is here

Cohen talks about the settlement of a class action suit brought against Charlie Rose for his production company.  He takes issue with the simple argument that interns displace low-paid workers, because it provides practical experience necessary for people to have careers in an industry.

It’s interesting that Cohen reports interning at a magazine, in a time when conventional publishing is declining, and being replaced by new online models.  (Look at Newsweek.) 
He says that his function was not to “add value” when he photocopied as an intern (I did a lot of that back in the 1980s just to get ready for walkthroughs).   It was to learn about the “real world.”

It used to be common for mainframe programming schools to send prospective employees to clients for a few weeks for internships.  I'm not sure if they were paid, or how much. 

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

LinkedIn endorsement for "old" mainframe skills, not used in a thousand years (Like in "Twilight")

I got my first “endorsement” on Linked in today from someone, actually in a personal circuit. I was endorsed for Database, Unix, Syncsort, DB2, Xpediter, Java, JCL, Mainframe, CICS, MVS, and COBOL. 

It having been "eleventy" years since my "retirement", I'm "light on the loafers" on all of these. 
I really haven’t used LinkedIn much myself, although I get a lot of requests.  I’ve moved away from the old fashioned IT world to the “journalism world”.

Meanwhile (as HG Wells said), we can debate stoics and epicureans. 
There was a time, back into the 1970s, that my goal had been to “get IBM” so I could remain emplpyed easily in “The City”. 

Saturday, January 05, 2013

My close call: "family responsibility" could have ended my career early in 1999

On March 7, 2011 and then July 13, 2012 I discussed the history of my potential “conflict of interest” when I wrote a book (in the mid 1990s) critical of the military ban on gays (resulting in “don’t ask don’t tell”) while working for a company specializing in selling life insurance to military officers.

As I noted, I transferred to another subsidiary of the company that acquired us and moved (from Arlington VA) to Minneapolis in September, 1997.

At the time, I viewed this as a critical component of my personal integrity.  I was concerned about a policy which implied that I was an employee of a company serving a customer which regarded me as less than fully morally fit, partly because of my not having lived up to all that was expected of me as I was growing up.  (In fact, I had served in the military “without serving”.  Others had made sacrifices I hadn’t made.)

In 1999, my mother, back here in Arlington, needed coronary bypass surgery.  There had been a few medical episodes before which had glossed over her heart problems,  In fact, back in 1996, after her hip fracture, a particular medical resident had expressed some dismay at my lack of knowledge of her approaching condition. The 1997 “transfer” to Minneapolis eventually went very smoothly, although it appears that it might not have happened had physicians pursued her early warning symptoms more aggressively. 

The week leading up to the surgery was trying, as I got various calls in Minneapolis.  The doctors were first going to do just an angioplasty, but then suddenly decided it could not work.

I was concerned for about a day that they could refuse the operation unless I would come back or agree to move back, which, under the circumstances, was not possible.  I did not regard “Family Leave” as on the table.  Fortunately, from the time of a decision on Saturday, they moved so quickly to do the operation Monday morning that such a dilemma did not develop.  In a few days, they suddenly moved her to a skilled nursing facility, where the experience was not good.

Again, fortunately, we were able to hire live-in home health to care for her when she returned home.  I did make a week-long trip back the following month. (I had a pre-paid trip to Europe to make right after the sudden surgery.  I went.)

Had I left Minneapolis and lost the job, could I have gotten something else, given the big demand then for mainframe given the upcoming Y2K “crisis”?  One problem is that most such jobs were contracts, and tended to be in other cities, like in Richmond or in New Jersey.   (Oh, yes, I remember a woman telling me about fixing an ALC program with seven base registers!)   This would hardly have worked better than staying in Minneapolis.

So, yes, “family responsibility” could have meant the end of a career, and a life of interim jobs,  behind convenience store counters. Of course, you can make the argument that I should have ensured that my self-published book(s) would make money. 
What seemed to make this particularly troubling was that I had not founded a family of my own.  I could have the responsibility without the ownership.  That’s second-class citizenship.  That’s how I saw it.
As history would follow, I would stay at ING-ReliaStar in Minneapolis until the end of 2001, when I could get full severance after merger-related (and 9/11-related) cutback.  

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Health care careers mean fastidious (even prudish) personal hygiene requirements, and taking shots

A nurse at Goshen Hospital in Indiana was fired for refusing to get a flu shot.
Hospitals say that protection of patients who are in weakened condition is their highest priority, but some hospitals will let nurses who refuse flu shots to work with masks. I don't think you can refuse shots in the military.  (In 1968, I got a lot of them.)  

The ABC affiliate station story in Indianapolis is here.  

Hospitals have become much stricter about isolating patients with MRSA, and in infection control generally.  I noticed this Christmas Day at a caroling event in a local hospital here in Arlington VA.

People who enter medicine as a career (just about the most lucrative as far as a job market) should realize that in the future attention to personal hygiene will be extreme and maybe disquieting.  I know of (just) one surgeon who shaves his forearms because of surgical scrubbing.  (Like swimming or cycling?)

Employers may be paying more attention to employee wellness, with almost mandatory fitness programs and physicals.  But the Wall Street Journal has a story Jan. 2 that slightly overweight people (enough to be visible) may actually live longer despite getting more mild heart disease and type 2 diabetes.  The Wall Street Journal story (tweeted by an undeported Piers Morgan) by Melinda Beck is here

However, I know of a sudden coronary death in a 69 year old man recently where excess  weight was definitely a factor.

I wouldn't put too much stock (literally) in the WSJ story. 

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

My three evenings as a fast-food worker (in 2003)

I don’t think I’ve talked in detail about the “ultimate” interim job.  That was to work three “volunteer” shirts for a church group in Minneapolis in 2003, at the Metrodome, in fast food concessions, selling mostly frankfurters. 

The first session occurred on a Saturday night in February 2003, during a “rodeo”.  The second was on the Saturday night of Independence Day weekend of July 2003, when the Twins lost a rout to the Cleveland Indians.  The third occurred on the second Saturday night of August 2003, when the Vikings played a home exhibition game.

In each case, we had only quarters to make change.  We did not have to balance a register like most “real people”.

We always met to start around 3 PM, and the shifts ended around midnight.  (Then, on to The Saloon.)  We got lessons on taking the internal temperature of meat being cooked.

At the time of the first assignment, I was working in telefunding for the Minnesota Orchestra.  For the second time, I was working as a debt collector for RMA.  For the last one, I had quit RMA and was preparing to return to the DC area to look after Mother later in the month.  I was on a downslope.
Although I did not receive a “wage” for these three evenings, I kept track of what I would have earned at minimum wage.  I looked at is as “very interim employment”.  It was suitably humbling.

But my own father used to preach the virtue of lowly manual labor.   Every starts out as a prole, and some people come back to the proletariat.  I make a pass at it.  
Barbara Ehrenreich did a lot more of this, as in her book “Nickel and Dimed”.