Wednesday, April 30, 2008

More advice on how to interview job candidates

Here’s another nice Tech Republic blog story, “10+ useless interview questions,” by Erik Eckel. In fact, there are 13 questions on this list (so maybe it’s not for Friday afternoon interviews). The link is here.

In each bad question, the author turns the concept of the question around and turns it into a more “positive” question.

Back in the 1970s, the most popular interview question for COBOL jobs was “what’s the difference between an ordinary SEARCH and a “SEARCH ALL”. Or you can turn that one around, too. Actually, a better question would be to ask about how to improve the runtime performance of a job that does a lot of random VSAM reads. (Sort first, and match sequentially). Back in those days, taken-for-granted structured programming techniques, taken for granted since the 80s, could be a real challenge for codes (such as the “balanced line method” for keeping sequential files in sync, which was a big issue it seemed on the New York Medicaid MMIS Project at Bradford National Corporation).

What I found in those days, when a company needed a lot of people quickly for a new contract, the interviewing tended to be quick and superficial. Times would change.

Picture: 100 Church Street, where Bradford ran its MMIS contract in the late 1970s (as Bradford Administrative Services). The area is near the WTC site but largely escaped damage on 9/11.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Contractor's right to reuse code can become a legal copyright issue

Another Chip Camden email from Tech Republic landed in my (AOL, have you) mail box this morning, and he does get you thinking. Today the topic is “Do IT consultants have the right to reuse code?” The link is here (may require registration logon or subscription).

He goes over some litigation in the past. In one case, a client refused to pay a consulting firm for using non-standard coding practices, making it hard for clients to maintain. It turned out that the code was written according to a standard but one not understood by all clients. There was the possibility that “less standard” code could amount to reuse in violating of a copyright, in this case an ambiguous situation.

He talks about how IT contracts should be written: “Work rights” should have exclusive use, and “Background rights” should have non-exclusive use for clients. He mentions that use of open-source software in a project might violate the terms of a General Public License, which would require compatibility.

He then refers us to his own technical website “Chip’s Tips” and talks about the pros and cons of multiple inheritance, particularly with respect to C# (but the concepts would generally apply in different ways in java and C++). He brings in the subject of operator overloading and the idea that context can establish how an operator works. (In the Internet speech world, we’re quickly finding out that “context” is everything – is this a reflection of the overloading concept so well known in software engineering?) The overall intention of this piece seems to be to get the consultant to contemplate the possible legal or contractual implications of using some coding technique.

The piece also gives an idea of what happened to the job market from the 90s until now. Companies started outsourcing their code development, particularly in the midtier and client server world. To get and keep the skill you needed to be competitive, you needed to work in a more entrepreneurial operation. In-house work migrated to maintenance, where it is hard to get and keep a competitive level of skill. (Just look at what Chip goes into in his writings!) Mainframe skills got an extension because of Y2K, but that was mostly maintenance tedium; otherwise mainframe systems tended to get outsource, too (like Vantage for life insurance) to companies that set up “rule the world” operations where the job skills were very specific to their systems and culture.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Resumes and confidential posting

The April 2008 e-letter “The Career News” provides an effective discussion of confidential resume posting.

The letter recommends “Resume Rabbit”) and the feature “Post My Resume Confidentially”. Other sites, the letter says, will replace personal information with non-descript information.

The tone of the article deals with “gaining an ‘unfair’ advantage” in the job seeking process by posting the resume on many smaller and specialized career sites, where hiring managers my find more exact matches. But that could expose the candidate to his current employer’s finding out about his or her search. (“Don’t apply for your own job.”)

I have my IT resume posted on Dice, and if I were working again in a customary contract, as it stands now the resume would remain visible.

I have an IT resume site ( ), which is open to search engine robots, and a certifications page at Brainbench here, which apparently does not get indexed by search engines because it requires paid subscription (on my part).

Generally, resumes on sites don’t get picked up by search engines unless the applicant wishes. As I’ve noted on my other blogs, the tendency for employers to look up applicants (sometimes finding the wrong person with the same name) on search engines to do “background checks” is becoming an ethical problem, part of the whole “reputation defense” issue and connected to valid employer concerns that clients or stakeholders might do the same thing. That’s one reason I think that in the futures employers will want more of their associates to allow their online presence to be professionally managed. The world of “public relations” is well known for celebrities, politicians, and corporate offices, but I wonder if the effect of that kind of thinking will drift downward.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Using java to debug COBOL (with or without "reflection")

A reader tells me that it is possible to build a debugging interface for COBOL in java. He mentions building a java class that maintains a TCP/IP connection to a debugging client.

He says that the “ADDRESS OF” special register for COBOL does not adequately simulate the concept of “reflection” in java, the ability to provide the value of associated with a variable name in a string. It seems that in a normal CICS environment, the ADDRESS OF mechanism with XPEDITER would give the programmer the ability to track anything. The reader says he wants to get offsets from BLL and BLW from the TGT area, but that depends on being able to track back to Register 13, which he says cannot be done in COBOL. The environment is OMVS/USS

SUN has a writeup on java “reflection” here.
Sun writes “For example, there is no way in a Pascal, C, or C++ program to obtain information about the functions defined within that program” and that would seem to be true of COBOL except for what can be derived by manipulating ADDRESS OF. I seem to recall that this was an issue with some “direct connect” applications.

If someone knows about using java to look at the internal addresses associated with COBOL work areas on various platforms, please feel free to comment.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Is long term independent consulting the best way to go?

Chip Camden has a useful discussion on the pros and cons of very long term IT contracts today, on Tech Republic’s blogs (may require subscription or registration), “Why long-term consulting engagements may be preferable,” here .
He points out that tracking down new clients takes a lot of “non billable” time, comparable to the time and expense of a new conventional job search. A long term contract is more like a “job” and indeed that is what W-2 contracts are like (although with those, the contractor usually works on the client’s premises and is usually set up with a staffing company). One risk of having only one or two clients is being sued by one if there is a dispute over the work delivered.

He recommends not stalling out the work to get more hours or to keep a job; consultants who deliver workable systems on time typically get more work from the same client. He also mentions that “reputation” – that new buzzword amplified by the world of search engines – is the be-all and end-all of consulting work.

Self-promoted consulting is becoming increasingly popular; companies think it saves them money and gets the work done without the commitment to long-term employees. It’s interesting to see how some of the healthcare proposals could affect this world.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

CVS v. Kodak in the Photo CD applications

A little note today about customer service. I turned in some photos at CVS yesterday for CD processing, and this time I was asked, “Kodak, or ours.” I had noticed that CVS has its own “brand” of photo CD now. I had always been annoyed that Kodak, most of the time, tried to load a new version of its software and made me go through all kinds of gyrations to get 27 pictures. CVS (powered by Corel) would let me copy all 27 into a directory of my choosing without loading anything.

When I click on a JPG on a Dell, I get “Dell Image Expert” and lots of complications. It seems interesting how companies wanted to make just looking at digital stills and copying them complicated.

The other thing is that with both CVS and Kodak, it’s hard to get the application closed. It sits and hangs in XP until you force close it. Then the CD drive doesn’t recognize and audit CD or DVD until the machine is restarted.

The one-hour turnaround on photos and CD's does seem to keep at least one person employed. There is a lot to know how to do.

Why do companies want to load up picture image processing with cumbersome bells and whistles and application re-installs?

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Personal confidentiality statement: renewal and review (with "Reputation Defense")

Back in May, 2007, I wrote a “confidentiality statement” on this blog, reassuring any potential employer about my intention to honor normal business confidentiality agreements should I return to work at any time. Here is the link to that.

This still holds. The volume and subject-matter scope of my postings has increased even more since then.

I’ve said that, in many cases, people whose job involves making decisions about others or speaking for their employer publicly should not broadcast themselves outside of the scope of their job, without some kind of agreement. That is still true. Were I to develop some opportunity in, say, “knowledge management,” or perhaps in solving some of the issues related to “reputation defense,” I would behave online in a manner agreed upon mutually with the employers. In some cases, that could mean that a lot of or all of this material could disappear. There would have to be enough compensation for the entire situation and arrangement to “make sense.” But, in some situations, the individual “pamphleteering” would stop.

I’ve wondered about the individual contributor situation in an information technology contract, particularly a W-2 contract. In the past, there has existed the view that a person, especially a contractor, is on his own and “owns” his own life and personally expressive material, including online.

Staffing companies are likely to pay more attention to “online reputation” in the present and future than in the past. One problem is that someone like me is perceived as “sharp-edged.” I don’t gossip or spread rumors about or attack individual people (which is the activity that generates the now increasingly well known “reputation defense” problems) in any situation (employer, church, political group, social group, etc.) However, I do bring up issues and “connect the dots” among the issues in a way that makes some people jittery and in a way that probably gives me a certain “reputation.”

Staffing companies will want to sell their contractors to clients with resumes and profiles that maintain credibility in a specific expertise (including mainframe areas) (DB2 internals, Vantage, specific case tools, MMIS, etc.). It sounds like it’s possible that this would be “diluted” by a large Internet search engine presence on dicey political issues.

The problem might be more important with corp-to-corp (where the person is a salaried employee of the staffing company) than W2. Some proposed changes in health care (especially by Democratic candidates) and some mandatory health insurance laws in some states might force contractors into corp-to-corp arrangements when they would have preferred the “freedom” of W-2 (as would have the staffing companies).

If anyone has more specific information on all this, I would appreciate comments (monitored for being “on-subject”).