Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Should one be in management for its own sake? Continued!


I was revisiting the “advancement into management” issue again today, at least with respect to some situations that might occur soon.

As I indicated in an April 9 posting, I do not like the idea of being in management or supervising others just for its own sake. (A chess playing friend of mine in Texas as far back as 1983 said, “I thought you manage people.” Wrong. I was still a “proletarian programmer”.)

Nor do I like the idea of being expect to serve as a “male role model” just for its own sake.

And, not do I like the idea of going out an selling other people’s messages when I had nothing to do with creating the message or need. This is not a disinterest in helping people. It is a desire to help people in a manner commensurate with my own skills and accomplishments.

I suppose that, in terms of the movie “The Blind Side” (and the 20/20 special last night), I don’t have “the protective instinct.”

I said back in April that as a manager I would want to have all the skills of the people who reported to me. That’s not realistic all the time. If I was a manager responsible for an “online reputation management” system (or perhaps an identity due diligence system based on National Change of Address databases owned by the USPS, as described on another of my blogs), I would need to know the business and legal issue inside out, but I could not necessarily master all the java coding techniques of the system I was responsible for. (In the mainframe days I could have said that about COBOL, which is rather circumscribed. But pretty soon the skillset even in the mainframe world became overly specialized everywhere, so no one could keep up with it all and advance; it had not been like this twenty years before.)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

After I.T. layoff or "retirement", should one become a TSA security screener?


I’ve gone off track from information technology as we usually see it, but I thought I’d revisit the fact that in 2002, among the “real jobs” that I looked at after the December 2001 layoff and retirement was TSA security screener. The TSA was going into various cities on hiring binges in August 2002 with all-day “assessments” at various hotels. There was some confusion as to the starting salaries, which were in the 20s.

The recent incident in Detroit is calling attention to the need for pat-down searches, body scans, and the like. Even then, I wondered if there could be a “legal” problem if a gay man who had intentionally “outed himself” in a book and websites worked in a job that required these functions, by some kind of analogy to how the military ban and “don’t ask don’t tell” policy worked. The security questions on the job application did not bring this up.

The TSA then had an 800 number for applicants which was always unreachable. But at the time you were told you weren’t supposed to disclose that you had taken such a job if you were hired.

In 2004, the TSA was hiring part time screeners, and actually conducted the initial assessments at CompUSA store. However for these jobs people without prior training or screening experience probably would not be able to pass the assessment tests.

Update: Jan. 1, 2010

Check this MSNBC/AP story "Pat-downs often ineffective security stop: TSA limits use of 'enhanced' searches due to privacy concerns", link here.

Also try this 2-minute security screening quiz. I got a "C" on it. The link is here.
This would be a very regimented, very trying "real job" for 40 hours a week, or more.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The ultimate sales job (in the operating room)


Here’s a good story from David S. Hilzenrath in the Washington Post Sunday Dec. 27, about medical sales reps. Apparently they have to scrub down just like doctors and nurses (sanitize their own bodies just like in Michael Crichton’s “Andromeda Strain”, maybe) in order to go into the O.R. and, well, sell. Supposedly they tell doctors what instruments are likely to be needed where and even how to sanitize them. Do they have the best interests of the patient at heart? The link is (web URL) here. The Post article discusses the issue with respect to a spinal repair procedure called a kyphoplasy.

I remember when I was a site rep for Univac back in 1973, management thought I didn’t have a “marketing profile.” What does a “marketing profile” mean for a medical sales rep? Selling is, well, selling. It supposedly takes extroversion, not attention to detail.

Hospitals are getting I.T. savvy, giving caregivers CD's of their loved one's Xrays and Catscans, only to find that some doctor's offices don't have the right PC software to read them. And it's a little bid rude for a doctors' appointment to start with showing the patient the cat scan of his brain on an office laptop. But younger doctors do that.

Search engine companies do work in making searches more productive in academic and school settings


So here’s another area for jobs, maybe, as suggested by an article Saturday in the New York Times (Business Day) by Stephanie Olsen, “Helping children find what they need on the Internet,” CNET link here.

The article discusses the way middle school age children use the Internet, and they are more likely to want to ask full questions or use images and icons. And they may not know the appropriate context for putting together lists of keywords.

Instead of focusing on the dangers of the Web for some families, the article takes the position that search engine tools could be designed to help students with lesson plans, especially in math and science, or in developing contexts for studying humanities (with literature).

A good example would be looking for a proof that y=1/x fits the definition of a hyperbola, using parametric equations and trig functions (rotation 45 degrees). The Wikipedia article gives you a head start but it’s hard to find the derivation on the web.

Wikipedia attribution link for conic sections.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

It's important to understand the difference between employee and contractor, and, for employees, salaried v. hourly


Wednesday, AOL flashed a banner saying that in some fields it’s better to be an independent contractor. I couldn’t find their story today, but I did look up About.com’s discussion of the legal distinction in the U.S. between employee and independent contractor.

The guidelines say you are one or the other, there is nothing in between. But if you are an employee, you can be salaried (exempt, which means you don’t punch a time clock but can be expected to work uncompensated overtime “until the job is done”, usually outside of government) or hourly.

The link is called “your rights as an independent contractor”, here.

The government and IRS has some guidelines as to who can be considered an independent contractor. They are pragmatic, with some surprising results. For example, a taxi driver is often an independent contractor (I actually “interviewed” for that in Minneapolis in 2003). But usually sales people are employees (except in multi-level marketing arrangements).

Many times people work for staffing agencies, and clients pay the agencies which in turn pay the workers either salaries or by W-2. This has been common in information technology since the 1970s, but has become especially common since 2000.

Sometimes people who need to hire help need to decide whether to work with a company or agency or hire directly. This is true, for example, with nannies and caregivers, as well as building contractors. It is typically legally much safer for the homeowner to hire through an agency, and leave the HR work to others, but it may be more expensive (than hiring directly with Craigslist or direct ads). Homeowners who believe that they are “public people” and known to be connected to some sort of controversy (this might even include bloggers in today’s environment) may be much safer if they work through other staffing companies rather than deal directly with individuals.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Your employer is "Big Brother", at least at work


Okay, as a warmup two days before Christmas, here’s a "Career Builder" link to ten ways your employer can spy on you. Don’t worry, these are only things that happen at work; this isn’t about your own online reputation. It appeared on AOL Tuesday. Here's the link.

Note that employers may keep track of how much you print; they may keep track of your whereabouts with your coded ID card (an RFID) or even with a GPS device if you drive a company car. Many jobs do involve a company car, with a mileage charge for personal use.

A lot of jobs (especially in media or sales), however, involve using Twitter or Facebook as part of work, so you need to “proud” enough of what you do to broadcast it with social media.

Another item in the story is cameras at work. Don’t do anything at work (or in public, especially in London, that you wouldn’t want to see yourself in on YouTube.

When I worked for Univac in site support at a New Jersey Utility back in 1972 (it was Public Service in downtown Newark -- a long time ago) I wrote a program (I was assigned to do it) in Univac assembler to analyze the Univac 1106 log tapes and count the number of times each programmer used each processor. Management could tell how many "shots" it took each programmer to get his job done. Back then, when computer time and disk space was expensive, that was actually a job performance issue. We called the program "BIGBR" for "Big Brother." This happened before 1984.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Census will ramp up to hire temporary census takers for spring 2010


MSNBC has a story by Allison Linn about the effort that the Census Bureau will face soon in hiring 1.2 million temporary workers to help conduct the census. The link is here, title “Census workers wanted, local roots preferred: Officials face daunting task of hiring 1.2 million to canvass neighborhoods“.

The Census tested a large number of people in groups over 2009, and offered some temporary clerical positions and some “supervisory” positions. (A few started as early as the beginning of 2009.) The story would make it appear that a major hiring effort for street troops is yet to occur, and that actually doing the hiring may be a major task for those who have already been tested and who may be offered jobs in early 2010. The high unemployment rate may make temporary census jobs more attractive to some.


Update Dec. 29

Here is the brochure on temporary census jobs (link).
The bureau will particularly need bilingual employees (for specific neighborhoods).

Here is the link for the current 2010 application forms, I-9 information, and practice tests (URL).

Friday, December 18, 2009

Is it "wrong" to log on to your own home server from work?


It is not unusual for associates of a company to have their own servers at home connected to the Internet, sometimes running their own businesses. One friend had a server on a 386 machine as far back as 1993; another who ran ISP services for my domain from 1997-2001 also did so.

It’s possible to Telnet or otherwise connect to an up server from work when in command mode (as in Unix) and maintain things at home without actually using your employer’s machine in a detectable way (except maybe for the original connection command itself). You can run commands on your machine at home from work and still use “your” machine.

In a situation where a salaried employee works uncompensated overtime often anyway, is this unethical? Should this be against company policy?

I had a situation like this in January 1999, when my friend connected at home in order to get Microsoft Front Page running on my account. The boss wondered why I was watching him. Was I guilty of an ethical breach? Nothing happened, but you don’t like to go near the ethical edge, because it invites further problems later. I could argue that learning the technology would be a good thing anyway (we weren’t even going near the “content” of my domain) and history would prove that correct; one year later I would be working in support.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Is employer control over use of its own computer resources absolute?


The Supreme Court will hear a case about the “limits” of control employers have over communications using their equipment and services. The cause is City of Ontario CA v. Quon, in which the police department audited an employee after excessive use and fired the employee. The employee claims that a charge for going over implied some expectation of privacy. The Ninth Circuit has ruled that the police department had violated a 4th Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure. There is also a technicality over whether the equipment really belonged to the vendor and not the employer, but the “usage rights” obviously belonged to the employer.

A link is in Tech News World, here, story by Erika Morphy, title “SC's Hearing of Texting Case Could Shake Up Workplace Privacy”.

Jeffrey Toobin on CNN pointed out that employers nearly always have the right to monitor their own systems, but they can't tap your personal phone (for government to do it is controversial enough). But more iffy is monitoring what employees do on their own time on social networking sites and blogs.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Banks have outmoded IT systems (Economist)


The Dec. 3, 2009 issue of “The Economist”, on p. 83, has an intriguing article about the information systems in financial institutions, “Silo, but deadly: Messy IT systems are a neglected aspect of the financial crisis”, link here.

The article points out that banks were among the first large businesses to invest in home-made IT back in the 1960s (about the time of the IBM 360), a lot of times with the help of EDS.

But bank systems seem to lack the architectural flexibility to develop new ways to reliably assess risk, which helped contribute to the collapse of 2007/2008, and now to their unwillingness to lend to small businesses. The article suggests that the way banks use data warehousing systems can be one piece of the puzzle. I was considered for a data warehousing project with Wells Fargo back in 2002 while I was still in Minneapolis and still vaguely remember the issues.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Is it wrong to "friend" subordinates or clients? Florida ethics ruling on judges and trial lawyers raises questions for the workplace in general


An article in the Friday New York Times today Dec. 11, p A18, by John Schwartz, “For Judges on Facebook, Friendship has some limits,” (link) reports that Flordia’s Judicial Ethics Committee has ruled judges may no longer be “social networking site friends” of lawyers who will appear before them, because it creates the appearance of conflict of interest.

Can a similar rule be expected between managers and subordinates in the workplace in general?

An article by Jim Giuliano in HR Morrning (Oct. 30, 2009) seems to think so. The link is here. Legal problems (or hostile workplace issues) could result if the boss takes performance-related action against the associate and there is controversial material on either party’s social networking pages or other findable online content.

It’s murkier in cases of informal team leadership or “matrix management” (even “involuntary management” over an existing relationship) or “managing” contractors, as I’ve pointed out before. Should contractors “friend” members of a client company that they work with? I wonder what the policies are on this out there?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Can outplacement firms guide IT people toward teaching?


It would be very helpful to laid off “older” information technology professionals if outplacement firms could counsel them on “career switchers” to teaching.

My outplacement company in early 2002 was Right Management in Philadelphia. I never seriously thought about the possibility then.

But it would have been helpful to know that many states, like Virginia, don’t require subs to be licensed (Minnesota does, or at least did then). And states vary widely in how easily someone can get licensed.

It would also be helpful to know if someone can focus on upper grades only, with an emphasis on science and math AP. There could be good personal reasons for wanting to do this, although then one is perhaps not “paying his dues.”

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

So you want to move into management?


So you want to be a manager? Toni Bowers of Tech Republic has an interesting video today, warning prospective candidates to expect resentment from workplace buddies, to have to document every step of progressive discipline before firing someone, and even to have to tell associates about B.O. – yup, the Witches of Eastwick. The link is here.

During a period of extreme overtime in 1987, I once got a SYSM from a co-worker asking me to shower before coming to work in the morning. I deleted it at once.

Furthermore, managers have to watch their online reputations, facing concerns that I addressed here Nov. 29.

Back in the 80s and early 90s, when mergers occurred, it was often the super-indians who survived the layoffs. That's all changed now.

Yet, promotion is always voluntary. You can be groomed.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Windows Vista sends Sevice Pack 2 to X64 bit machines today


Today, Thursday Dec. 3, Windows Vista greeted me with an update, KB948465, Service Pack 2 for 64-bit systems. It warned that it could take over an hour and restart the machine multiple times. The actual experience took about 45 minutes and caused only one restart.

The copy part of the install took about 10 minutes, and then after a wait a restart prompt appeared. The restart was followed by the usual two configuration steps, which this time gave a percent update status of each step, followed by a similar practice in Step 3 after the shutdown and reboot.

One problem is that Microsoft tends to leave you clueless when it gets stuck at one percent number (like 1%) for ten minutes, and not tell you that the process really is working and not hanging.

It seems that Thursday morning is the time for updates. No matter if you have to go to work.

I’ll need to check out Best Buy’s deal on Windows 7.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

In the supermarket checkout line: "pay your dues"


While in a checkout line at a Safeway this morning, I sensed what a bit of “pay your dues” in the workplace can get like.

The number for the next checkout line was on, but the cashier-checker was nowhere to be found. The assistant manager in my lane had to use the intercom several times to get the checker, whose shift had just started, in position.

Someone like me that spent thirty years in I.T. largely as a developer (with light telephone customer support at the end and some sporadic on-call duties) probably would have a hard time adjusting to the regimentation of a job like this. Imagine some other jobs (USPS letter carrier, which starts by accurately casing the mail each shift).

I said, “it would be nice if you could just hire a customer.” The assistant manager said, yes, she would if she could. She was short of checkers (even in a jobs recession). Well, I face a hernia operation soon and couldn’t do the work right now if they could hire me.

I can remember comments during past recessions. “Get laid off from data processing, go out and get real jobs.”

Pay your bills and pay your dues.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Employer blogging policies and "involuntary" management duties


Just to continue the discussion on the post here on Sunday November 8 about employer blogging policies (for personal blogs not part of the job), and especially the possibility of triggering hostile workplace risks:

It seems that employers may need to have some sort of policy even for “matrix managers” – those who “manage” consultants, or for project leaders or team leaders if they are suddenly asked to write performance evaluations. The policies would probably be more “lenient” and allow much longer terms for compliance if the management assignment were not “voluntary” or sought by the employee. At one time, back in 1988, I was made a group leader and then project leader by the manager, without prior consultation. I had one direct report (project leaders there were considered “management”). Another area would be where staffing companies send contractors to clients (almost the business norm in information technology employment these days), and feel that clients (other than, perhaps, public sector clients like state governments) could be driven away if they get curious and look up the contractor online and are distracted by what they find.

Some was of defining the policy could include some combination of these measures: (1) the associate agrees to place everything under privacy controls and exclude from search engines with robots entries (2) the associate agrees only to take up narrow subject matter totally unrelated to work and “non political” (3) the associate is able to get his or her own media perils insurance for blogs (possibly through umbrella coverage), (4) all blogging goes through pre-approval or third party supervision, and (5) (most important) the associate agrees never to mention the fact that he or she blogs at work or in front of clients.

The mandatory insurance idea would deserve note: media perils insurance typically deals with libel and with invasion of privacy (as do some umbrella homeowner’s coverages – a questionable practice), and only sometimes copyright infringement; the risk to an employer of a hostile workplace or discrimination claim seems far afield from the perils insured against. Yet, third party determination that a person’s publishing or online activity is insurable might improve the comfort level of the employer or clients.

There is something very crippling about this sort of thinking, that an individual is required to “indemnify” others against the hypothetical risk that can occur. This sort of question can come up with the “ballot access petitioning” drives conducted by “minor” political parties in many states, or with any other political petition drive or referendum. The party (or political pressure group) will have a fact sheet explaining that the signee’s name and address will not be given out to anyone (a concern that has become bigger in recent years because of widespread identity theft in our society). Yet there is no way to guarantee that the volunteer collecting petition signatures could not violate the trust and misuse the information anyway.

But employers will need to get a grip on what the “best practices” will be for managing this issue, in a world where self-expression – for professional, social and publication purposes – has a new and unbounded topology.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Mac or PC: the "battle continues


This “Fast Forward” article from the Washington Post Holiday Tech Guide: “Home computers: decisions”, by Rob Pegoraro, is already among the most visited at the newspaper’s online site this morning Nov. 29 (two days after Black Friday's pre-dawn wakeup call for a lot of retail employees). The link is here.

He links to an earlier review on Windows 7, which, in terms of simplicity and boot-up speed, offers an enormous improvement. Some Best Buy customers get a free upgrade from Vista as part of their purchase contract on some models.

But he still thinks that the Mac is simpler, and only slightly pricier, the one “luxury” most consumers should consider. The writer considers Mac’s tech support (and genius corner) more reliable and simpler than those of most outlets selling PC’s.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

My own Brainbench certifications: a note


A note on my own Brainbench certifications:

Between November 2006 and April 2007 I earned certifications in COBOL, JCL, DB2, ANSI SQL and CICS. The certifications last for three years. The COBOL certification rolled off on November 20, 2009. The history of the certifications is available on my “professional” Netsol site at this link. Soon I’ll add a note to that file explaining the rolloff of certifications. (Network Solutions is a bit more complicated to log on to if you don't use it a lot, and Image Cafe isn't my first choice of a webpage editor.)

In some current circumstances, it is difficult to consider traditional contractor mainframe development assignments and take the time to recertify. I hope that will change in time. My Brainbench subscription was renewed recently.

Mainframe IT professionals will find the tests challenging. I discussed some of the background material for these subjects on this blog back in 2006.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Linux has not caught on as a desktop O.S.


Jason Hiner has a Tech Sanity Check article, Nov. 23, in Tech Republic, “The Market Has Rejected Linux Desktops. Get Over It”, link here.

He gives some reasons: a lack of innovation (Windows does a lot more), and businesses want somebody (Microslop) to blame. A better reason is that the Mac is easier and is built on a Linux basis, and yes, the Mac may be more stable because of the Unix-like root underneath. (Anyone who has ever worked with Mac support: their scripts are proprietary.) And Google’s plan for Chrome OS, based on cloud computing, is based on Linux only in a trivial sense.

Hiner reports that Linux is losing its share of the desktop market, despite all the purist hype a few years ago. I thought that Negroponte’s “laptop for every kid” was going to be based on a Linux model.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Freelancers Union is important for health insurance now, but what after health insurance reform?


Today, Monday Nov. 23, the Washington Post runs a column “America’s next great pundit”, which invites a vote today, and the column by Zeba Khan “A blow to the self-employed” is very relevant to IT freelancers (such as web developers and tech writers), link here.

She discusses Freelancers Union (link) , which if you look at the web page right now, shows an open enrollment for its health insurance. But Khan reports that the bills for health insurance reform (especially the House) would deny the ability of groups like Freelancers Union from negotiating within the health insurance exchanges. I don’t get the point of denying them the ability to participate.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Canadian IBM employee disciplined for Facebook photo while on sick leave


Here is another indication that employers pay attention to what employees post online, even on their own dime. A woman working for IBM in Quebec lost her sick leave benefit, allowing her time off for treatment of “depression”, after IBM’s insurance company found pictures of her in a Chippendales show on Facebook. It wasn’t reported whether privacy settings were turned on.

The AP/MSNBC story Nov. 22 is here.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

How should older pro's approach learning "new-fangled" skills?


How should older employees make the switch from linear mainframe skills to more modern client-server and distributed computing skills?

One tip is to maintain absolute concentration and focus on employer-provided training, usually months before the associate really needs the skills. Do all the exercises. Employers should allow off-site training course homework on their corporate computers to be considered proper “business use.”

Another problem is that instructors do like to give problems that are hard to work quickly from the available help screens. I found this particularly true of PowerBuilder as far back as 2000. Consider how much more thorough help screens from Google are for home bloggers. Or even Microsoft’s solutions, which tend to be very detailed.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Should employers offer "involuntary" or "under the table" promotions with "direct reports"? Could be dangerous


Should companies promote information technology “individual contributors” involuntarily?

It happened to me once, in 1988. I had worked in monthly and daily billing with a “group leader” and the manager decided to have me and the other person switch places. Then a third person was put in the group. Then the manager made me project leader, which in that company was a “having direct reports” job.

Companies often have team leaders or project leaders who make assignments informally without formal authority. Back in the 1970s, that’s how it worked in a company with the New York State Medicaid (MMIS) contract.

Or sometimes, someone will be a project leader and the manager asks the project leader to fill out a performance appraisal on the “subordinate” anyway.

This may even cross corporate lines, when contractors (from staffing companies) are part of the team. Sometimes the project leaders are contractors, but are asked to do appraisals anyway.

I’ve often wondered about the legal implications of all this. For one thing, a person with direct reports has to be much more wary of his own personal “online reputation” today, or risk, retrospectively at least, the risk of triggering a potential “hostile workplace” incident if there are underlying tensions.

Companies should be careful in developing promotion policies and make sure that direct reports are a welcome “responsibility.”

See coordinated post on main blog today.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Shops find infrastructure consultants more essential than "regular" employees


Ever notice that in shops that have layoffs of permanent salaried employees, a few critical contractors wind up getting hired after all?

How often is it that contractors have written and maintained critical enterprise architecture components, whether a bridge in C++ (to a data access layer or end user GUI) or perhaps a set of IO modules in DB2, perhaps converted from another database (IMS), perhaps after going through some inhouse internal IO controller (often in assembler with lots of arcane macros). Think of the position the consultant has been in, having to design “The Modules” that will have to work time after time – with due diligence to all those design questions (like when to use correlated subqueries).

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Hostile workplace law can get tricky in the area of social media and Internet expression


Law professor Eugene Volokh at UCLA Law School has a worksheet and whitepaper on “Freedom of Speech vs. Workplace Harassment Law – A Growing Conflict”. The link is here. The source is older: the original seems to be “Cite text as Eugene Volokh, What Speech Does "Hostile Work Environment" Harassment Law Restrict?, 85 Geo. L.J. 627 (1997).” There is a sublink for cyberspace issues near the top of the link, and another sublink on “breadth” that appears very important. He argues that there will necessarily evolve constitutional conflicts between the First Amendment and workplace law. He also proposes that the law should make much more distinct between one-to-one vs. one-to-many speech. I agree, this is a constructive approach, as the problem evolves in a world of social media.

Volokh argues that the vagueness of employment harassment law increases its breadth and that official “pervasiveness” requirements are ineffective and may have unintended consequences. He gives many examples of workplace speech that does not sound patently offensive to most people that still resulted in litigation. For example, he says that if someone spreads anti-Semitic views among co-workers whom he knows won’t be personally offended, he is still contributing to a hostile work environment because others lay learn of his attitude through the grapevine. Any statements made "at work" can lead to legal problems.

What about statements found on the public Internet, perhaps from search engines, and known to be authored by someone at work, especially by a manager who has authority over workers? Common sense would lead one to imagine scenarios (and maybe make them into screenplays or films!) where this could lead to serious consequences. This is related to other problems like “online reputation” and “implicit content.” The problem could be compounded by the fact that people interpret context and infer the purpose of others so differently. One partial solution is, of course, installing stringent filters at work, banning non-business use of the Internet, and perhaps blocking specific sites, including social networking sites, or personal sites known to be by other employers or managers from work computers to avoid the indirect inference of potential harassment. On the other hand, some jobs by their nature require the use of social networking sites as part of the job. Even so, employees could find material they believe to be prejudicial (perhaps believing incorrectly) from home, and this could conceivably lead to legal consequences down the road. That’s one of the reasons why employers should have blogging policies, especially for management employees. It does seem to be true that if the troubling material is not mentioned at work, that the employer’s situation sounds more defendable (hence “do not mention” policies as discussed on my main blog). You could pose the question: in an age of telecommuting (even more important given energy conservation and environmental protection), what does "at work" mean?

Some of these concerns were covered in a relatively little known book, Nancy Flynn. "Blog Rules: A Business Guide to Managing Policy, Public Relations, and Legal Issues". New York: Amacom/American Management Association, 2006. ISBN 978-0-8144-7355-9. Paper, 226 pgs. Also sold by the Society for Human Resource Management. I’ll probably add some material about this book on my Book Review blog later.

It does seem that hostile workplace problems develop retrospectively, based on how people perceived past statements or behaviors (as to their intention or purpose), rather than making something of unspecified potentialities in the future ("speech codes" notwithstanding). Nevertheless, the hostile workplace problem does go along with this notorious "don't ask, don't tell" style of thinking that developed during the Clinton years.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) statement on this issue is here. There is a considerable focus on suspect classes in EEOC rules.

(Discussion continues with Nov. 30, 2009 posting.)

Saturday, November 07, 2009

DC area utilities have "real life" systems problem this week: Why is DC area power so unreliable?


A few real life computer problems at utilities marked the lives of DC area residents this week.

In Montgomery County, MD, the computer system that cycles traffic lights inbound broke down on some arteries, and was out of commission for two days, as traffic engineers had to reset hundreds of lights manually. The Washington Post story is by Ashley Halsey III URL link here.

The Metro had power supply problems that caused the software system that updates Smart Cards and some other ticketing functions to fail.

Then in Arlington VA Dominion Power had a bizarre outage yesterday with an “animal on the line”. It’s hard to believe that a squirrel could disable the lights on much of Arlington’s main artery, Glebe Road for so long. Maybe a bobcat. Bears have been seen in the DC suburbs recently. But much of the outage was fixed in about ninety minutes, whereas residents in the Halls Hill section (an area that was walled off in the 1940s during segregation) and some adjoin sections were out for six areas. This area has undergone at least three major outages this year during fair weather, and sometimes power comes back to “new houses” in the area but not to others. There seems to be some inadequate metering transformer wiring that causes residents not to get power back quickly. Sad to say, this may be a deplorable remnant from the days of segregation and discrimination before the Civil Rights movement of the 560s. The vestiges of the past remain.

The Dominion Power website does allow residents to monitor outages, if they have battery-powered laptops and wireless Internet. The link is here. It’s worth exploring; there are some videos showing how power distribution and restoration works. I see that there are still some remaining spotty outages in northern Virginia Saturday morning, for no apparent reason.

I did not encounter constant power problems in either Dallas or Minneapolis, where systems are newer and, given the prairie geography, there are fewer trees. Actually, I had two sets of job interviews in the 1980s with Texas Utilities as a contractor and just missed getting offers. One of them had to do with the Glen Rose Commanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant, which I visited in 1982 on, of all things, a Sierra Club weekend trip. They sounded like a good place to work.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Unexplained invalid passwords: does this have to do with how OOP handles "equals"?


I found a technical discussion on OOP, “how many definitions do you have for ‘object equality’”? as I was surfing around trying to figure out why sometimes passwords “go bad”. Or sometimes they start working when a browser window is closed completely and restarted. This has happened at work before, and happens with accounts on some commercial websites.

Here “Scott” goes into a discussion of what happens in the OOP world when your car (a single instance of a class “car”) is repainted. The discussion is the difference or distinction between “reference equality” and “value equality.” But it seems that many sites do not regard a logon with a password as “equal” when a previous one was logged on during the same browser session.

It’s a pretty lively discussion and you can check it here.

I remember, after writing my first book, getting an email from a coworker titled “My book”. He should have said “My instance of your book.”

I also remember something else squirrely. The night before my learning of my layoff in December 2001, I had trouble logging in after hours. I had a sinking feeling that maybe my account had been invalidated; but no, it was one of the OOP problems in the way logon passwords are managed. The password worked the next morning that I came in to work. But then, right at 9 AM, I got a Netware message “your account has been disabled; please log off” while I was working with an internal customer to solve a problem. That was a moment of career cardiac arrest.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Rethinking the security of mainframe elevation procedures


Should an elevation to production in a mainframe environment be accomplished by moving all the components (copycode, source (most often COBOL), object, load modules, etc, as well as JCL and Procs) separately from a QA region or even the programmer’s region, or should the modules be recompiled and relinked in the production environment as part of the promotion process?

I seem to recall that back around 1991, when the shop where I worked used CA-Librarian, that all the components were moved separately. Testing and file-file comparing had been done with the load modules that were actually moved. Theoretically, if they were recompiled and relinked in a production environment, the same load modules so heavily tested wouldn’t be used. The programmer had to remember to manually “process” the source (that is, lock it) to guarantee that the source and load modules match. But to the best of my recollection, in the late 1990s with a Changeman environment, all the load modules were recreated with the production environment. This seems like a more secure procedure. It guarantees that source and load modules are in sync.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

ADA should be respected in IT employment (note warning in recent case)



I’ll start this posting by giving the DOJ’s own definition of who is covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, link here. “Under the ADA, you have a disability if you have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity such as hearing, seeing, speaking, thinking, walking, breathing, or performing manual tasks. You also must be able to do the job you want or were hired to do, with or without reasonable accommodation.”

Tech Republic, in a column Oct. 30 by Toni Bowers, has a curious warning that a recent court ruling in Indiana could encourage some employers to discriminate against obese people in hiring. In a case there, an employer had to pay for weight-loss surgery to correct a back injury that had occurred in restaurant work. As the column explained, the employee had incurred a “single injury” which the employer had to fix. Bowers points out that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not include cigarette smoking or obesity .

Since I.T. work is usually sedentary, it would seem that this sort of concern(about health insurance) is much less likely to apply in an IT shop than in a workplace like a restaurant. In my thirty-plus years in IT, I almost never saw discrimination in these areas. I did not encounter discrimination on the basis of being single, which in the 1980s might have been viewed as a surrogate marker for an increased risk of HIV. Yet, in my three-plus decades, I saw or became aware of very few instances of catastrophic illness or claims due to any situation with an employee. Nevertheless, Bowers in her column talks about the possibility that some employers will be “paranoid.” Perhaps this is speculative. The larger and closer to the mainstream the employer is, the less likely this is to happen. Mainstream employers, in my experience, are very sensitive to being perceived as having discriminated, even in an area that is not covered by legally-driven protections. It will be interesting to see if Workforce comes up with a paper on this.

In many shops, there are one or more persons with some physical disability who are accommodated and turn out to be among the most reliable employees in terms of technical expertise and the ability to serve as the “last resort” in solving unprecedented technical problems. People with some sort of physical disability are often very intense in their interest in the technical world in which they work and develop arcane levels of skill and stamina. Companies do not do themselves a favor if they overlook this reality of the business, whatever the exact coverage of the ADA.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

There exists training is using social networking sites for work!


Susan Kreimer has an interesting piece in the “Jobs” section of the Washington Post, Sunday Nov. 1, 2009, “Workers’ critical update: Computer skills”, link here.

We’re familiar with training in ordinary office products (like Microsoft Office, problem tracking systems, etc), but part of the training mentioned here is the use of social networking sites for professional purposes or for sales at work, a concept unknown perhaps as recently as five years ago.

You no longer own the right to your own online presence, if you are in many lines of work. That’s the hidden message, or not so hidden.

Friday, October 30, 2009

ICANN will allow domain names with non-Latin characters


ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) will allow Internet addresses to be spelled with non-Latin (that is, English and Roman alphabet, as in most Indo-European languages) characters, starting in the middle of 2010. The New York Times story is by Choe Sang-Hun, “Internet Addresses Can Use New Scripts”, web URL link here. For example, domain names with Arabic, Russian, Chinese, Japanese or Korean characters will exist.

ICANN has a video on the announcement on its website and a PDF position paper on how it will implement the change (to the process for developing and submitting an “IDN ccTLD” here.

ICANN also displays an “Affirmation of Commitments by the United States Department of Commerce and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers”.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The IT market: the Darwinian workplace and hyperindividualism: is the pendulum swining back?


Well, do we still have a Darwinian (or Spencerian) workplace today, given the recession, with workers lowballing each other to keep their jobs? Or will employers have to become kinder and gentler, given the needs of communities as a whole?

It's true, that some of us took hyperindividualism to an extreme and actually benefited from the changes that led to offshoring of old jobs on the one hand and new opportunities for self-promotion (on the Internet) on the other. Now the pendulum swings back, as we become concerned with "systemic risks" and the need to pay attention to sustainability of whole communities, not just individuals.

We see this problem with the presenteeism debate. Twenty years ago, in some shops, employers tended to punish employees for taking legitimate sick days. With salaried employees it was, get your job done or else. Today that may be counterproductive, as sick employees (with H1N1) can cause more absences, although that may change if the vaccine supply improves. HR people are looking more closely at abuse if exempt people, as are lawyers. And the same goes for “background investigations” based on what people post on the Internet. Although everyone was talking about this two years ago, now lawyers warn that this can lead to discrimination claims.

Despite the economy, this may be a good time for younger IT workers who developed the right skills in high school and college. Compared to how things were when I came of age in the mainframe IBM and Univac world of the 1970s, today’s market requires much more mental agility and non-linear learning. IT, “created by the kids”, is changing who we are, and how are brains work. The irony it is that IT was born out of individualism and a desire to become mentally self-sufficient, but social networking is bringing us back together.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

On-call responsibilities still provoke workplace controversy, and sometimes litigation risk


Workforce has an important issue on a testy topic in the I.T. world (as well as medical world, as discussed here), being “on call”.

Yes, employers can require salaried, exempt employees to be on-call and not compensate them for the time, unless it provides major intrusion into the use of the employee’s own time. Geographical restrictions on the employee’s whereabouts could be an issue, and forbidding employees to trade onccall time could also be risky. In some shops, some employees with family responsibility (after pregnancy, for example) will not be able to perform these duties, leading to resentment among other employees (especially single or childless or even LGBT) who must pick up the slack without being compensated. (This gets into Phillip Longman’s concerns about “social contract” and childlessness.) Yet, there are “exceptions”: some people with several kids still do more than their share of the oncall “sacrifice”.

Of course, a weak ecnomomy, and the possibility that and employer can offshore work more cheaply, can make salaried workers feel intimidated and willing to "sacrifice" or "work for free" or even lowball other employees (those with more family responsibility at home) to keep a job. It's easy to imagine how this could lead to discrimination or EEOC complaints. No wonder unions push "solidarity".

Contracting companies are often paid by the hour, but some contractors are paid salaries (corp-to-corp) by staffing companies, whereas others are paid W-2 and can charge for overtime (usually straight time), including taking calls.

Even some federal IT jobs at USAJobs warn applicants that on-call is sometimes required.

The shop that I worked in Dallas in the 1980s (Chilton Credit Reporting, now Experian after a couple of mergers) had an arrangement where you were always strictly responsible at night for your own system (in my case, daily and monthly billing, COBOL and ALC systems). So these sorts of tensions never arose. I was able to keep the system reliable and stable enough that in general there were few problems. (There was a bizarre problem one time when not everything got billed because of the way ALC halfword boundaries work after another programmer had done some maintenance; I still recall this 1986 incident!)

The Workforce article is titled “On-Call Disputes Create Litigation Dangers”, link here.

Workforce also has an article of litigation regarding workers being forced to work through meal breaks, here.

Monday, October 26, 2009

It's not a plane: it's a computer, it's an echocardiogram!


Last week, I had the “privilege” of watching part of an echocardiogram. The room was darkened, and the “PC” lit up, with all the keyboard keys and additional buttons, more or less matching electrocardiographic leads, lit up in garish orange. I kept thinking how much medicine has come down to “playing with computers” or devices that are like video games. Appeals to kids, doesn’t it.

I don’t mean to belittle the jobs of medical technicians. Actually, the jobs involve both technology (basically appealing to workers brought up to be computer literate and to enjoy working with computers) and people, in this case, placing a few stickers on the person, applying a gel and passing the transducer wand, and creating the “Youtube-like” video images of the function of various portions of the heart.

Jobs in medical technology require a people-sensitivity that ordinary technology jobs don’t. It’s an important thing to bear in mind in looking at the new job market, where personal medicine and nursing is something you can’t offshore.

Here is a UC Television video on the topic.


Attribution link for Wikipedia p.d. image of an echocardiogram.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Windows 7 available Thursday Oct. 22: it's official


Windows 7 was officially released as available Oct. 22, 2009. Microsoft advises Vista and XP users to run a “Windows 7 adviser” to make sure that their systems are compatible, link here. Visitors will also want to follow MSDN’s blog ("Engineering Windows 7") here.

Some users have been playing with Windows 7 since it was leaked through BitTorrent in December 2008.

The October 22 date had been confirmed as far back as June 2, as with this story in PC World.

Amazon sells Windows 7 upgrade for $119. The upgrade requires a PC-like machine running XP or Vista and it should pass Microsoft’s Upgrade Adviser, above. Other users require a full version. It’s not clear if the MacIntosh will eventually be able to run Windows 7 emulation the way it runs XP emulation now. Some users, as those who want to edit video, will need to purchase an additional package called Windows Live Essentials (wiki link here).

Some consumers may have maintenance contracts with sellers offering them free upgrades to Windows 7. Best Buy offered this with some laptop sales this year.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Recruiters and employers should be careful with conventional background checks (as well as hidden BI's on social networking sites)


Workforce Management has advised its subscribers of another trend in employer background checks. Recall that back in September it had advised recruiters against careless use of social networking sites for “background checks.” It also advises against misuse of conventional background information, including credit scores. The link for the story by Fay Hsnsen (which it advised its subscribers by email Oct. 22) is here.

Some employers still do regular drug screenings and credit checks. It is important that employers don’t use these in a way as to cause as disparate impact related to a suspect class. It’s also important that the screenings be legitimately related to a genuine security concern. (For example, it would never be acceptable to day to examine an associate’s sexual orientation.)

The article discusses a company called “Hire Right”, which has many white papers and services, with this link summarizing what the company checks applicants for.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Do prolific bloggers face "online reputation" issues when job hunting?


How does blogging in volume (as opposed to use of social networking sites) affect the “online reputation” of job applicants in HR?

Because publishing, as opposed to “meeting people”, is seen as a “fame-seeking” activity, the4 psychological impact may be more challenging. What I wonder about particularly is when a staffing company hires an information technology professional to send to a client, and the possibility exists that the client as well as the HR company can surf the web with search engines for what the applicant or contractor (after starting work) does online at home.

It is common for bloggers to discuss nettlesome incidents (especially “political” problems in offices) that have happened at past workplaces. Most of us know that ranting about the boss (or about the employer as a whole) online can get you fired (go to the Feb. 26 2002 archive entry at “dooce.com” and read about how Heather Armstrong’s experience invented the verb “to dooce” -- and by the way, I'm surprised if Heather was eligible for unemployment!). But the problem can be more subtle. If a client found a lot of material about past workplaces, the client could become concerned that at some unspecified time in the future the contractor will write about the client. (This sounds to me like the “logic” behind the “propensity” concept of the “rebuttable presumption” clause of the federal law known as “don’t ask don’t tell” regarding gays in the military.)

I know that I am “guilty” – in retirement, although I might go back to work soon, maybe in a different kind of environment (more about that later). But generally I don’t identify a company unless the work environment in which I performed has long since changed radically because of changing business conditions (mostly because of mergers and acquisitions or major downsizings or offshorings). And I don’t “name names” of people. This sort of problem could occur with other situations, like the delivery of medical or nursing care (as I’ve discussed on my main blog).

The other rub with clients might be a tendency (“propensity”) to talk about controversial political issues in an unsupervised (without third party due diligence) blogging environment. If the issues (even when presented as abstract "ideology") are really sensitive (say, affirmative action, or some of the nettlesome “personal responsibility” arguments being made in today’s health care reform debate), and particularly is the issues are connected to historical personal narratives, a client could fear a legally significant “hostile workplace” element developing, especially if the contractor managed employees of the client (which happens a lot in practice). The client might fear that the posts had no real purpose other than to snicker or communicate some level of contempt for certain persons.

I wonder what experiences IT pros have seen with this issue. I really haven’t seen a blog or video posting on Tech Republic about it yet. What's the solution? The HR and Staffing World needs to develop detailed "business privacy" agreements that work prospectively, for openers. And Staffing companies and clients do need to develop blogging policies.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Watch your Blackberry's "back": it's is a magnet


I noticed this morning that the Blackberry device (even outside the holster) is magnetic. The top portion on the back will hold a paper clip (it happened by accident). I did find a link on the web about the “magnetic holster”. Only the upper back is magnetic; the front portion is not. Actually, I'm surprised that the paper clipp got magnetized; sounds like a middle school science experiment.

Does this mean it could be harmful if next to a laptop or PC in order to use Verizon Wireless? I haven’t noticed any problems. But I always thought you should keep anything magnetic away from a PC.

Likewise, I’ve wondered if driving right past power stations (or along major high tension power lines) could harm a laptop in a car. I’ve done it many times and it’s never hurt anything.

Any feedback on this?

Even the President’s Blackberry is a magnet, probably.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Windows Vista Home Edition hangs when installing updates, which apparently are miscounted; have others seen this problem today?


Today, when I tried to shut off my Dell XPS with Microsoft Windows Vista Home Edition (purchased Ju,y 2009) the system applied nine automatic updates, and then hung with “Please do not turn off or power off the computer; installing automatic updates” or words to that effect, while applying the 9th of 15 updates.

After over an hour, I powered off the machine, and rebooted. Dell run a couple of registry repair scripts automatically, and after thirty seconds of that, the boot process resumed and the “registry” of the updates (3 steps) went normally. I checked Windows Update Center and found nine updates installed successfully (the last one was a .NET update which may have been rather large). There were no important updates to install. There was optional update available. I don’t know why Microsoft thought there were 15 updates during the shut-down process when all the evidence says there were only nine.

This problem may happen today with Home Vista users. It might not happen on networked machines as in a corporate office.

I don't think this is related to the Dell-imaged Recovery Space being low.

Has anyone else seen this problem recently?

Update: Oct. 29

If you witness the update prompt and use it to restart the computer immediately, it seems that this does not happen. But during the "Shutting Down" phase of the restart, the computer appears to be doing the installs; that can take up to 45 minutes in some cases. Thwe update procedure in Vista still takes too much time.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Should IT consultants warranty their work forever?


Chip Camden has an interesting Tech Republic article Monday Oct. 12, concerning “Should IT consultants provide warranties?” (web URL link here).

After all, in the old salaried workplace, you stayed at your job until you got it perfect.

Consulting, however, follows the mantra “under promise, over perform”. He makes up a theoretical example of a (java) utility class, that only a few years down the road is used in a multi-thread environment and experiences thread death. A consultant can never pin down exactly what the client will do after he leaves.

But a consultant should fix for free any problem that is clearly his “fault.”

Monday, October 12, 2009

Cisco innovations, offering server-like features to routers, could help create jobs


The New York Times Bits Blog on Monday, Oct. 12 has an interesting piece “Making Routers Act like Servers”, link here. The online story by Alshee Vance is “Cisco teaches routers to act like servers” and as correction to note that the product uses low-power PC chips.

Cisco has developed a feature called AXP, or Application Extension Platform, which adds some firmware to the router which invites programmers or developers to develop tasks normally taken on by servers.

This could provide a source of new jobs.

It’s not as clear how this could affect the stability of networks, when router failures, for example, cause some Internet sites available at home to be unreachable for a while.

Attribution link for Wikimedia picture of Cisco router.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Should employers maintain absolute bans on cell phones at work?


Here’s another good one: a total cell phone ban at work. Although it’s understandable that someone in customer support should not respond to personal calls (or make personal calls), it sounds as though an employee ought to be able to have a phone in vibrator mode to respond to family emergencies. I can recall an episode of the WB show “Seventh Heaven” where an intern in the operating room did not know how to turn off his cell phone!

The article appeared in the Jobs section of the Washington Post on Sunday Oct. 11, but Lily Garcia has a “how to deal” article from Sept. 17, 2009, “issues arising from a cell phone ban at work,” link here.

Friday, October 09, 2009

More attention given to abuse of "exempt" IT contractors and employees


Toni Bowers has an important article on Tech Republic (on October 7), “Why programmers are not subject to protective labor laws,” website URL link here.

She, along with Justin James, argues that programmers should be covered. The article gives several reasons for what the authors see as abusive and probably illegal labor practices by contracting companies, including H1-B visa mills or “puppy mills”, along with psychological pressure related to competitive pressures from overseas markets. In the past, there was a cultural issue because programmers were seen as introverts who did not belong to the “real world” and should “pay their dues.”

Hopefully the political climate under the current administration will improve and programmers will be better off.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

DOJ looks at IBM "monopoly" on mainframe side (it's been going on since the 1970s)


Here’s a good story for mainframe programmers: Cecilia Kang has a brief "Post Tech" story, “DOJ Probes IBM on Mainframe Monopoly,” in The Washington Post online Oct. 8, link here.

The article says that there is an issue with IBM’s refusal to license its mainframe MVS or OS/390 to run on competing hardware. In the past, however, MVS has run on Amdahl and Hitachi mainframes.

Around 1970, IBM had mainframe competition from Sperry Univac (where I worked 1972-1974), Burroughs, CDC, and NCR, as well as RCA (where I started my “career” in 1970, which emulated much of IBM’s DOS). Univac lasted the longest, but gradually these all fell (today Unisys, still in good old Blue Bell, PA, is a contractor company). Later smaller mainframes like VAX and Data General came along, and Univac emulated IBM DOS mainframes with small reduce instruction set minis in the 1970s. IBM also had the Silverlake and AS400 machines (at one time particularly popular with mortgage applications) in the 70s and 80s.

IBM so dominated the mainframe market that programmers needed to switch from other manufacturers to IBM, and them aim for IBM-specific software expertise in areas like IMS-DB/DC, CICS, and only later DB2. IBM usually used EBCDIC instead of Octal or Ascii (check this comparison site).

IBM introduced its "360 architecture" in the 1960s, and Ross Perot took it up almost immediately when he formed EDS. IBM also had earlier computers like the 7090, which the military used a lot (like the David Taylor Model Basin, where I had summer jobs in the 1960s).

Picture: Older mainframes at the NASA Udvar-Hazy Chantilly VA museum.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Windows 7 will offer Problem Steps Recorder, could revolutionize tech support jobs; many other benes


Bill Detwiler has a video today “5 Features that will make you love Windows 7” (link here). For some of them, it’s about time. The features include allowing you to create a system restore CD yourself along with much better control of system backup options (apparently not dependent on the manufacturer’s imaging of the main hard drive – solving the out-of-space problem); the ability to make an ISO CD; easy-to-learn Unix-like scripts from the command prompt (the “Power Shell”); a Problem Steps Recorder (PSR).

The PSR will be very helpful in help desks, of systems engineers or programmers who must take calls of “bugs” from users. The PSR allows the user to enter a simple command and then reproduce the problem. The engineer can analyze a log of the commands entered. Some of this technique for problem solving is common today (support people often look at Unix or Linux logs to analyze user freezes or failures or incorrect results).

Many people who bought computers recently have contracts that allow free installation of Windows 7 in January 2010. It does sound as though Windows 7 solves many of the problems slowing down Vista users, and that corporate IT support departments (even customer service departments in ISP’s and cable companies) will find the PSR a tool to resolve many kinds of problems much more quickly; but end users will have to be trained to use it, too. These features could change the nature of IT and customer service support help desk jobs in the future.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

"As the World Turns": my own focus on my workplace could make me obsolete


Ever notice how a workplace becomes a “world” or a universe. The arcane ways of doing things in your own shop generate controversies, exercises in pickiness and second-guessing, both technically and in terms of office politics.

I can remember all kinds of things that were issues in their day: leaving “DISPLAYS” for safe sleeping in programs even in production, the use of packed unsigned numbers in ALC programs, the proper use of automatic integrity checking in elevation procedures, all the way to the wisdom of using a replication and midtier design to combine the results of various legacy applications for end users at one customer service center.

On the outside, there is only “as the world turns.” Technology marches on, leaving behind workers too focused on the arcane intricacies of their own workplaces, making them valuable only as long as their current operations continue. But business models change, and workers have to change.

My own mode of change was to move into self-publishing, and explore all of the sharp-edged controversies that result in a world where “free entry” is the norm and the previous rules of due diligence are suspended, but maybe not for good. But the freedom for me to do so would be my only way to save myself.

I note also that the world is turning away somewhat from jobs based on individual contribution and precision, toward more involvement with people, something that goes back to a presumption that social orders matter again. I did not have to deal with this until "retiring."

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Recruiters should be careful with background checks, both with search engines and with data brokers


Workface Management has an article playing healthful devil’s advocate with the practice of recruiters and employers checking applicants’ social networking sites or other web activity as part of “background information.” The article is by Fay Hansen, the long title is “Discriminatory Twist in Networking Sites Puts Recruiters in Peril: Sourcing applicants from Twitter or LinkedIn or screening candidates through Facebook or MySpace may open employers to discrimination charges. The link is here.

Recruiters or HR departments might find and “use” information that could not be used in a properly designed application or interview. That would include race, religion, political views, and (for many states and for most sense of fair play) sexual orientation and even gender identity.

This is particularly an issue for recruiters looking for people to fill federal contracts. There is an Office of Federal Contract Compliance Program (link). Recruiters will need an audit trail of where they got background information on candidates, and the discovery trails need to be more substantial than caches or cookies for search engine results or social networking site profiles.

One interesting point is that these concerns run counter to a practical reality: clients are very likely to lookup individual consultants or sales agents on search engines, and make decisions about doing business with the company, whether "morally right" or not.

Another interesting statistic: Only 5% of LinkedIn users are African-American and only 2% are (non-European) Hispanics.

All of this flies in the face of mainstream media advice that job applicants need to watch their social networking profiles and expect that employers will have at them.

CNN’s Gerri Willis did a story today (on CNN American Morning Tuesday Sept. 29) about background investigations for applicants with data brokers like ChoicePoint. A woman told of a job offer rescinding after ChoicePoint delivered a derogatory report on the wrong person (the person eventually got the job after a Congressman got involved). Also data brokers keep records of arrests that don’t result in convictions or that are adjudicated out of court. Consumers, after job denial, have a right to request a report from ChoicePoint much as they would from credit reporting companies. Senator Patrick Leahy has introduced legislation to make data broker companies more accountable.

Here’s an older column “Advice for Choice Point Victims” from CNN, from 2005 (link).

Monday, September 28, 2009

Exempt v Non-exempt issue and I.T. people


An important issue in the IT workplace can be “exempt” and “non-exempt” classification.

The colloquial explanation for “exempt” is, you don’t sign a timesheet or clock in. But what it really means is that you are paid a flat salary, and you have to work as long as it takes to complete a job, without overtime. For example, if you work all weekend before a major implementation, you are not entitled to extra pay if you are salaried.

Typically, “inhouse” programmers and systems analysts, as well as management, are exempt. Companies will try to retain the best employees with ad hoc bonuses or larger raises, and discretionary, “under the table” comp time.

Contractor are often hired as W-2, and are then paid hourly. That means in practice that they must work efficiently to avoid over-billing. Sometimes they are hired “corp to corp” and are salaried by the staffing company as exempt, although the staffing company can bill the client hourly. Typically consultants who want benefits must accept a “corp to corp” arrangement. In any case, contractors often must pay their temporary corporate housing out of their hourly rate (sometimes IRS rules work to their advantage if they work only 364 days in the year).

The IRS and the governments of many states (especially California), as well as the Department of Labor, have been looking at the exempt status question, partly because sometimes tax revenue is lost when employers don’t have to pay overtime.

Here’s a typical reference on “exempt v non-exempt” at Net Polarity, here.

Here is DOL's reference on the Fair Labor Standards Act (link).

The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 would apply to both exempt and non-exempt employees, but it has never been considered very effective for those having to meet "family responsibility".

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Why do companies take so long getting their websites up?


I’m thinking of a particular company (a “club”) that took its site down in March and won’t be live until October.

It can’t be the programming. Plenty of people around know Visual Basic (COMM or Visual Studio), java, and many of the web generating packages. Now Expression Web is around.

The content of the particular place, mostly the calendar, can’t have that much.

Maybe it’s that companies have such stake in the results, whereas “amateurs” often believe, incorrectly given “online reputation” concerns, that they do not.

I remember that at my last “major” IT job in 2001, it taking about four weeks to deploy an internal site. But a coworker developed, on his own, with a style similar to javadocs or to Sun’s java site) a reference website for the midtier application (I’d call it an internal “do tell” site) that other analysts used for support problems for over two years, and on his own, he got it put up very quickly.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Retraining programs need to be realistic to work for unemployed


Mike Brunker has a major story on MSNBC, “Retraining roulette: New skills, no new job”, and gives as an example the Ivy Tech Orthopedic and Advanced Manufacturing Training Center in Warsaw, IN, near Elkhart. The link is here.

Retraining for more manufacturing jobs does not necessarily result in placement. But a couple years ago, PBS reported on a retraining program in Ohio to teach laid-off steel workers to do jobs in health care and even become nurses. Like it or not, jobs in personal care are becoming more numerous in the mix because of demographics (and such hands-on, people-centered jobs can’t be offshored).

In IT, it seems that the right place to get the jump is in college, because requirements for IT positions seem to be so specific and the expertise that employers (mostly clients) want is so narrow and focused.