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’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.