Monday, February 09, 2009

Should I.T, people "volunteer" to work for free? Recall training mills from the 60s and 70s


Should IT professionals offer to “work for free?” I saw that advice in the current Reader’s Digest for the job market in general. And, a couple recessions ago (around 1991), I actually saw resumes where people offered to work as “volunteers” for a while in programming jobs.

Companies do hire unpaid or lowpaid interns, and the practice used to be common with students graduating from programming schools. Schools like this thrived in spurts from the late 1960s until the early 90s. Interns would do the simplest clerical tasks, like compiling or making inventories of programs in a shop with some characteristic.

I almost went to one of those mills myself in 1971. I was getting laid off from a job as “operations research trainee” at RCA David Sarnoff Research Center in Princeton, my only layoff until the end of 2001. I had relatively little practical programming experience then, although I had coded a “dynamic programming” manufacturing model in Fortran, would you believe. Fortunately, I got a job with Uncle Sugar, because I knew somebody, and moved back to Washington to work for the Navy Dept, NABCOSSACT. I did not have to “volunteer”.

Back in the 60s and 70s, companies really did having training programs for new hires, the most notorious of which were conducted by EDS for its “systems engineers” in the days that “data processing” was a mystery. In 1970, RCA had even trained programmers (in ALC) for its “MIS” program, and actually put them up three to a motel room for the ten weeks. Those were the days, my friend.

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