Thursday, April 30, 2009

Should Microsoft users simplify their start-up and services to speed un machines?


AOL today (April 30) provided a story on “Switched” that ties in to my experience with the Registry, reported two days ago. The story, by Terrence O’Brien, is “How to Shut Off Startup Programs (Windows). In XP, he writes, go to the Run item on the Start menu, and run msconfig, and then uncheck some Services tab and Startup tab items. I found that the services mentioned had already “stopped”. The startup item for McAfee virus scan will be “mcagent” and it should be left checked.

I do find that McAfee takes a minute or so to start, even after running RegCure.

And I also find that Firefox takes a while to start. On the other hand, Google Chrome comes up quickly, and Internet Explorer 7 takes an intermediate amount of time.

The link for the story is here.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Swine flu and workplace presenteeism -- could companies have trouble keeping running?


I must admit that I miss the 1980s and the “Darwinian” workplace, for mainframe programmers, the way it evolved again.

My career as an “individual contributor” in financial or business systems (largely batch and old-fashioned but intricate in their own way) forced me to grow in a certain direction: how to “goof proof” and make the systems I would put into production absolutely perfect and reliable – within a finite amount of work time. I had no idea what was really expected when I started programming, actually in the 1960s with summer jobs. I learned. Certain practices – some of these I’ve discussed here, such as following elevation procedures precisely – make the work much “safer.” Medicine and surgery, we read, have to deal with the same issues – the safest way to do things for reliability. My own father’s dictum of “formation of proper habits”, which sounded at the time like a bid for authoritarian control – did make some sense after all. Later we would learn the importance or (COBOL) program structure, readability, and maintainability, and, yes, following standards really did make a difference in reliability.

Then there was the issue of being on call. In the 1980s, where I worked at a credit reporting company (Chilton Corporation) in Dallas, everyone was responsible for his own systems (mine were daily and monthly billing). From late 1981 (when I started) I never put anything into production until September 1985, but then had to deal with the responsibility until I left in the summer of 1988. But it turned out to be a non-issue. The batch system ran after midnight, but in actual practice calls were very rare (except for a couple days after a late 1987 major implementation). Still, in time, pressure increased, and management, indirectly threatened by the business climate of leveraged buyouts and hostile takeovers, put a lot of pressure on some individual employees. People were salaried, overtime was not paid, and expenses were not paid for extra weekend or night commutes (we hadn’t gotten to working from home yet). There was definitely a “fend for yourself” mentality to survive when times got tough. Sometimes that meant lowballing and working overtime for less or nothing.

Yet, personally, I was OK with this “Darwinian” world. I was single, and many aspects of my life were “simpler” and less risky (in terms of job performance effect) than for people with families. Employers knew it and took advantage of it. Before the days of formal gay rights, this was “parity”. Single people came at a discount, and then didn’t complain. The biggest issue was the possibility of a lost pre-paid airline ticket for a vacation or weekend – fortunately, that never happened to me (there was one close call).

There were a few workers with physical disabilities, and they were accommodated, but expected to perform. The ADA would be passed in 1990. In the 1990s, more responsibility for on-call was shared (we had lists) and sometimes family responsibility (or lack of it) turned into an issue; a few times I covered for other people and was not compensated. Gradually, the political and social climate would become less “Spencerian” than it had been before. I remember that Bill Clinton said, in his 1996 “state of the union address”, “we’re not going back to the days of fending for yourself”. Again, I kind of miss those days.

But we did have the issue of presenteeism. Particularly in the 1980s, employees could be penalized even for using sick leave. Coming to work when under the weather was seen as a virtue.

Times have changed. Medical technology and widespread information dissemination on the Web make people much more aware of hypothetical risks and unpredictability when faced with a problem like swine flu. There is a moral and philosophical question as to “am I my brother’s keeper” – I might recover OK from H1N1 but my neighbor may not. Public health officials have to way the idea of “social distancing” policies which could shut down and irreparably harm many kinds of businesses that are predicated on people congregating, but could conceivably even interfere with not just schools by ordinary workplaces (see my “Issues Blog” posting April 28). (What’s happened to shut down Mexico City, one of the world’s largest, is frightening; could the same happen to New York and Los Angeles – and Washington?) There are some theories that say that such policies could prevent a 1918-style deadly pandemic, and that everyone should sacrifice now to protect others in the future from unknowable threats. On the other hand, many people say that this kind of thinking reflects mere hysteria, and that generally most people get stronger by gradual exposure to ordinary (not STD) disease; new viruses are a fact of nature.

Companies – even utilities and telecommunications that we depend on to work from home – could have to struggle to keep running if the government goes crazy and flips 180% from previous values of encouraging people to go to work. Some presenteeism is necessary, even now, to keep everything – even this blog – going.

Picture: 100 Church St (Oct. 2004), New York City, where I worked for Bradford National Corporation on Medicaid MMIS 1977-1979.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Okay, I did a Registry Cleanup (with Regcure) today


Well, I tried Regcure (registry repair and cleanup) today. With a 5-year old Dell 8300 XP Home, I was getting failed startups (hanging before the startup menu worked), one keyboard failure, one mouse failure, and intermittent slowness, especially right after startup.

Regcure found these error counts:

Com/Active X 29 (repaired 58)
Uninstall 33 (repaired 37)
DLL 9
Windows startup 1
Path files (HKLM) 1070
Program shortcuts 428
Empty registry 493

It took about 30 minutes to do the scan, then reran the scan after selling a license key ($39.95); the fix took about 15 minutes.

The number of Hkey errors was surprising (4% of the total).

I then restarted. It’s too early to say what will happen.

I later noticed that my incorrect McAfee subscription date (which I was always having to verify) mysteriously got fixed. I wonder if that was from a registry error (an extraneous key record that needed to be deleted).

I welcome other comments from those with experience with registry cleanups.

Monday, April 27, 2009

IT professionals - whether employees, contractors, or freelance -- need to pay attention to changing legal requirements carefully


One of the critical tips for “staying out of trouble” in the “conventional” workplace (including working for a contractor) and when working as an entrepreneur (running and Internet publishing business, for example) is to stay alert to the “little things” that other parties require, sometimes contractually, sometimes as a result in more distant changes in the legal or technical environment.

A good example is provided by change control mechanisms. About twenty years ago, mainframe shops starting using them more rigorously (I’m talking about CA-Librarian and Endeavor, and Changeman, for example, or Harvest in client server environments). The point of following the procedures carefully was to guarantee that a link-edited load module matched the source (that is, that the source couldn’t have changed since, hiding the possibility of fraud, the way the risk could play out in the world of 20 years ago). But sometimes these packages were only partially implemented, and programmers had to remember to follow each step (such as “processing” a module in Librarian before link-editing it) to obtain the protection of the software. Sometimes management would mention the new software but not point out the reason why it was important to follow the procedures carefully. So the programmer had to remain alert.

Another example is recent: bloggers placing advertisers find out that they need to take responsibility to state “privacy policies”, that they are responsible for playing “brother’s keeper” with their visitors (see my main blog April 24). There could follow a good legal or ethics-based debate here as to whether this is necessary and the right way to do if once it is required. Bloggers might have thought this was only necessary if they required a login by the user, but one could even debate that they should require a login so that the visitor agrees to the policy. There is a always a good question in deciding when professionals need to protect themselves, and to help others using their services or content protect themselves.

Still another field with many examples comes in the territory of HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. There are plenty of traps for IT people in all the rules.

Picture: A high school architecture project, Arlington VA: perhaps a recreation of "The Bridge of San Luis Rey".

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Where to get "legit" info on multiple choice exams for government jobs (USPS, Census); ETS Praxis


Government jobs often require taking multiple choice tests as a qualification. There are companies and websites around that offer to help you pass these tests for a fee – and the government insists that these services are not necessary. You should never have to pay for information on government jobs.

Nevertheless, the test 473 for USPS letter carriers has a certain degree of notoriety, particularly sections on address matching and memory for addresses. The legitimate place for information on this test is at the USPS website itself, here. The National Association of Letter Carriers offers a link for the test. I also recall that there was a section on predicting the next number in a pattern of numbers. The test is in sections and is timed, with a strict "pencils down" after each section.

The Census Bureau also gives a much shorter multiple choice test (28 questions) on reasoning, reading, “problem solving” and clerical skills. The Census Bureau itself offers a sample practice test online here.

Again, a candidate should not have to pay for coaching previous to a test like this.

While agencies offer links to practice tests and information, the tests themselves are copyrighted; other parties may not sell them or even post them online (apart from links to authorized copies).

Agencies may vary on their proctoring rules; some do not allow writing in test booklets and collect everything, including scrap paper.

Teachers have to pass a variety of exams given by the Educational Testing Service called Praxis. The specific tests and required scores can vary among states, and typically they are too long for the time allowed. However Kaplan sells guides as large paperback books that are very helpful, for both multiple choice and free response preparation.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Taleo helps employers screen out weak candidates; how Twitter can get you fired in fewer than 140 characters!


I got an email yesterday to download a white paper on pre-selecting candidates from a company called Taleo. It’s called “Knock Out Unqualified Candidates with Taleo’s Smart Screening Kit”, link here.

I’ll let the user decide if she wants to see it, but you have to be a real “company” to see it, from the questions asks. It looks like you get a 30 day free trial with it.

But the Taleo Blog is quite interesting, link here. It pointed to an MSNBC story by Helen A. S, Popkin, “Twitter gets you fired in 140 characters or less: The 'it' social networking tool of the hour streamlines your humiliation,” link here. It gives the story of a Cisco applicant who announced his acceptance of a job with a rude tweat, and then had it rejected. Employers can track you on Twitter just like on Facebook, and you don’t have to be Ashton Kutcher (whose online stuff is pretty upbeat, really).

There is another article on Thomas Net (from 2007) about Taleo’s “Smart Sourcing” which includes a Facebook application, which would allow members with appropriate profiles to see the jobs.

It sounds like there’s an initiative to screen, somewhat more systematically, the online presence of candidates, outside what candidates give you with resumes and obvious places like LinkedIn. It’s easy to imagine companies setting themselves up to do this, very much the way public relations companies are now getting set up to repair the damage done to brands by “viral videos” (covered on Nightline April 21). The ethics and legal environment of such practices will come into consideration (I’ve seen every viewpoint imaginable written about this so far), but one obvious person is nabbing the wrong person online and mistaking him or her for the candidate – and behind his back.

See my main blog for a discussion today of the way police departments screen candidates' own personal profiles.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

MSN and CareerBuilder's "office ethics" tips


MSN this morning features ten tips from “Career Builder” by Kate Lorentz, “Ten Surefire Ways to Tick Off Your Coworkers,” here.
Although I see an awful lot of these “lists” of workplace tips (especially on Tech Republic) these, from another source, caught my eye.

The firs tip comes out of Rick Warren (“The Purpose-Driven Life”) “Is it always about you?”

I think a lot of them sound like common sense. But one tip I would add. Don’t take advantage of a co-worker’s generosity and let it just drop. For example, don’t expect rides to seminars without sharing the gas. Don’t expect him or her to cover your “nightcall” (24 hour pager-driven production support) when something happens in your family without returning the “favor.”

By the way, did anybody notice – Pagers had their own “text messaging” systems before cell phones. (In 2001 people were checking the stock market on them.) I remember the texts as far back in the 1970s even, on MMIS production systems. But a lot of the text messages you really didn’t want.

AOL also has a Business Week column by Bruce Weinstein, "The Ethics of Work-Life Balance: The recession pushes some to work harder than ever, but overextending yourself won't save your job, and it's unethical, too, writes The Ethics Guy", link here.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

"Training Camp" offers boot camps with surety


Chris Porter of “Training Camp” has been promoting a “training surety” program on CNN program hosted by Frefericka Whitfield (with the CNN report starting the weekend of April 18, 2009). The company offers one-week I.T. certification programs. It says it has partnered with Microsoft’s Elevate America to offer free training to some people who have lost jobs, and that it will also make a surety guarantee to anyone who goes through their program that they can come back again free if they are laid off from a job in the meantime. "Training Camp" offers a link to its own CNN appearance with this YouTube video.



The programs are typically one-week certification programs in a number of cities. Typically someone would have to put themselves up in a hotel. The company is based in Philadelphia. CNN's Whitfield called them "job training boot camps."

My question is, can a one-week certification training course make that much difference in someone’s overall job prospects, outside of specialized circumstances?

Marketability requires real expertise and in depth implementation and production experience. Just look at the expertise required for a Sun java certification! It’s hard to see how you can impart this to someone in one week.

Picture: Downtown Philly, near 30th St Station, October 2006, when I was there for the COPA trial.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Dell somtimes hangs on task bar after Windows XP starts


Okay, I’m having a mystery problem. Occasionally, on my five-year old Dell 8300 (XP Home) I get a hang on start up. It goes through the Windows musical signature and brings up the desktop. It is supposed to load McAfee and Mozy, but it just stops. The cursor may come up, but if you move it to the start menu or the bottom task bar, it turns into an hour glass. The monitor has "blinked" a couple times for the checking of the registry keys (although my laptop Inspiron never does this).

Sometimes it will work the second time if you hold the power button and reboot immediately. But today it didn’t.

So I tried hooking up my 2006 Inspiron (XP Pro) laptop on the same broadband line, bringing it up, going into Mozilla to bring up the Google screen, showing that the laptop was fully connected to Comcast, including the McAfee. Then I rebooted (cold) the Dell 8300 and this time everything worked.

I have a theory that it will try to connect to McAfee if there is a connection. If the connection stalls, the machine does not continue. Maybe in the amount of time it took to boot the Inspiron the line started working again, and that’s why the final reboot worked.

I checked defrag, and it says I do not need to defrag.

I also read online that if you attached another device through USB, make sure you disconnect it before turning off the machine. I had loaded pictures from my Samsung camera the last time, but had disconnected the device. But maybe I didn’t turn it off “correctly”.

Also, the last time, McAfee had replaced the security center and all components. But the machine had restarted OK from McAfee. Also, earlier yesterday, Microsoft had pushed eight fixes, but the machine had also restarted from the Microsoft panel all right. The virus scan is clean.

Another technique could be to do an extra warm restart after a major upgrade yourself before shutting down for a cold start.

I read a lot about going back to the System Disk, but that dates back to 2003, and is so old (so behind in Service Pack 2 and 3, etc.) that it sounds like a hopeless recovery if I ever tried it. As a whole, it seems like the 8300 has been less stable ever since Service Pack 3 last fall.

One other thing. Firefox is often slow to close, and when I have been in it for a long time and close all sessions, the icons on the desktop have to repopulate, slowly. I don't know what causes this. Once in a while, the icons stall at hard oot.

In December I had Hal errors, which required a Geek Squad visit.

I guess it is getting close to time on a 5 year old machine. But I hear bad things about Vista. Windows 7, according to Microsoft’s own writeup, might not be ready for prime time.

I’ve got the iMac from 2002. Everybody says that the Mac is still more stable. I wonder.

There are various forums on the XP hang problem online. The best one that I could find was on Techspot, here.

Anyone have experiences to share?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Tips in how to become more professionally visible: but you have to be proud of what you do (for pay) first!


Jason Hiner (Tech Republic) has offered “five ways to increase your professional visibility” The link includes a video (six months) and transcript. The link is here.

The suggestions may sound like common sense.

One is to speak publicly on your expertise. Another is to get published in professional journals. Another is to speak to the press, but be careful not go give your employer’s name in most circumstances, because the employer might get the idea you are speaking for the employer rather than yourself. Another is to serve as an officer or board member in a professional association.

The hooker for all of this is that you have to “believe” in what you do and that you have to work in an area that you believe is actually important and that is growing. One problem in I.T. has been that many people get “left behind” (say, not “raptured” in supporting older systems until they are shut down or taken over. This tips work only if you can stay ahead of the curve in the activities that generate your paycheck. Also, you don’t want to wind up sounding patronizing or supporting “other people’s agendas.”

What I think is really interesting is to apply these tips to a business that you start.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Tory Johnson suggests sites for entrepreneurial (tech) writers; Time Mag suggests "litte in" Internet Busienss model


A couple more (really several more) micro-entrepreneurial ideas came across my “research desk” today. USAJobs with its silly KSA’s can wait, the private sector is waking up again.

A couple of these tips came from Tory Johnson, the career coach on ABC news and CEO of "Women for Hire", on “The View” this morning. Besides talking about people-centered part-time jobs like childcare, she mentioned a couple of writing opportunities for introverts.

One of them is “Associated Content” (at one time calling itself “The People’s Media Company”), link here. The site publishes “practical” articles and pays for them based on syndication and advertising revenue, according to “Business Insider”, here. The site had a list of suggested topics when I checked, and some of the topics were about information technology jobs and training, and the values of various kinds of degrees. Other topics tend to be of a hands-on, practical nature (such as home repair, gardening, cooking, etc.)

Another site that Tory recommended is Helium (yes, named after the second element in the Periodic Table), site here. Helium says that writers can earn income from direct cash payments for contributed work, and revenue sharing.

Needless to say, with my interests, I will look in to these in more detail. The sites would probably want material as practical and objective as possible, and it is likely I would focus on the job market, resumes, interviewing, and particularly some topics that I have researched for my own blogs, such as “online reputation,” which seems now like a moving target.

Then the April 20 issue of Time Magazine, on p. 43, offers a piece by Josh Quittner, “The New Internet Start-Up Boom: Get Rich Slow”, link here. The new paradigm is “LILO”, or “little in, a lot out”. Instead of a lot of upfront money, entrepreneurs start slow with original ideas and then outsource to find the talent, often from sites like Elance or “RentaCoder”. One ingenious site, “AirBnb” (the ‘eBay of Lodging”) finds cheap, shared accommodations in expensive cities. Another, Motormouths aggregates automobile reviews and ratings. YCombinator helps investors and startups get together, and right now links to a New York Times story by Jennifer Lee (Feb. 21, 2006), “Running a Hatchery for Replicant Hackers”, shades of “Blade Runner” perhaps (link). There are plenty of sites that combine movie reviews and ratings and compare them, but I can imagine some ways to go deeper into the makings of independent movies and correlate them.

All of this is very interesting to me. It’s hard to shift gears. I would imagine being able to make commercially viable articles by tracing developments and evolution of computing culture in my thirty-plus years of information technology (it really was different in the 1960s, you know). As for the Associated Content and Helium ideas, what they would need is tight, coherent articles on specifics, not loose, reflexive expositions common in blog posts (like this one). Yup, they need “development” and “recapitulation” (not “recapture”) and even “coda”. As for the “get rich slow” idea, I find myself imagining the inevitable transition from coding myself to purchasing and managing the code of others. That’s a good reason why we used to have a job description for “systems analyst”. We sometimes have to work full time on what others will code.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Channel Insider's list of "hot" contractor skills: looks a lot like 2002


The CI or “Channel Insider” has a snazzy “slide show” ("The Professional Tech Skill Sets") of the top jobs for IT contractors. They “ain’t” mainframe. They stress SQL server, MySQL, C, java, .NET, HTML (real expertise), Cascading Style Sheets – and – this is a bit of a surprise – search engine optimization, which tells you that marketing is still pretty aggressive.

The link is here.

That sounds like the list of “what’s hot” from early 2002. There was also “what’s not” then. It’s interesting to see that Visual Studio .NET has hung in so long as a desirable skill – yet I don’t know who really uses it as a production environment. I’ve played with the Express version (the 2008 link is here.

The page also offers the Microsoft Partner program, with "flexible financing".

Sunday, April 12, 2009

AOL advises that age is advantage for many jobs (especialy when "people centered")


Today (Easter Sunday, April 12), AOL provided a long jobs column, in two parts.

The first claimed that there will be a tsunami of teacher retirements that will overwhelm the budget cuts and layoffs right now, and pretty soon the teacher shortage will become positively desperate again (probably most in lower grades). The article had been republished from USA Today.

The second part of the article gave five jobs where age (as with baby boomers finding they have to work longer because of the financial collapse) is an advantage. These included health care worker, financial planner, and consultant. What may happen with some of the jobs is that they are commission-based (except for health care) and may depend on social or business connections or “leads” built up over years – something not everyone has been very good at.

The link is here.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Turn! I.T. is a world, or isn't it?


If you’ve worked for the same company a long time as a “programmer analyst” and an “individual contributor”, have you ever noticed how your employer becomes a “universe”?

You develop arcane expertise in the intricacies of the daily cycle, end-of-month, the precedence order of computations, the automated balancing, the reports loads or the replication cycle, or what regions have to be up for direct-connect to work. You make your plans carefully, taking into consideration the on-call schedules. You’re the point man on the deepest processing secrets of the company. You survive downsizings and layoffs because for a while they can’t run their business without you.

Then, that fiction comes to an end. A downsizing so big happens that they can do without you. Perhaps the entire application is replaced by one with an acquiring company. You go out into the market. The specialized experience that paid your mortgage (even if underwater) for ten years is no longer valuable to anyone else. And you don’t have the specialized, more up-to-date skills that more maverick employers require. You’ve become obsolete through all your loyalty.

Then, you start looking at the world outside of your previous insular niche, and you realize how different it is. People actually manipulate each other to sell things. “Good-old-boy” networks and blood family connections really matter in many “old school” lines of work. Your education, it turns out, didn’t just give you knowledge and skills; it conferred a certain social legitimacy that invited you to make money by manipulating others. Techies and geeks generally don’t relate to being expected to do this.

Everything you had assumed turns on its head.

Then, one day, you create the right opportunity itself, and it turns again.

Friday, April 10, 2009

How effective are typical IT programming language training classes?


I’ve addressed before the “difficulty” that older mainframe professionals had in “transition” from the structured, procedural paradigm for mainframe business programming (with its emphasis on batch cycles and somewhat circumscribed online environment) to “client server” and “open systems.” Back in the early 1990s, a couple of recessions ago, this was the “hype” – this was what “you had to get” – from a trend that had actually started with DOD and minis like VAX in the 1980s.

The training programs in the 1980s were themselves well structured, with self-paced and self-testing materials, like those courses that I took at Chilton (in Dallas) when starting there in 1981.

In the late 1990s, when I was at ING-ReliaStar, the practice was to send employees to week-long courses in new languages given off-site, usually at training centers in office parks in the suburbs. In February 1999 I took a week long course in java this way, and in March 2000 a week of PowerBuilder. In May 2001, we took BEA-WebLogic.

The courses tend to be very fast-paced. Many times there are students with some experience in the language being taught, whereas others are novices so it is very difficult for the instructor to find an optimal pace. The material seems simple when it starts, but it quickly becomes demanding as students have to learn to use the “Help” to complete assignments on their own, in little time (although typically there are no exams or grades, just certificates). You have to "pay attention" during these classes, when your mind may be precoccupied with more permanent affairs in your daily work paradigm (or your own ideas). You may wonder if you will need the material soon, or even be allowed to practice it back at work when you go back, given workplace rules and security. Some people think that travel for these courses is a good idea, so that you're completely into it when you're there.

After the course, the material will not be retained unless it is needed on the job quickly. Object oriented programming is difficult to grasp at first until it is practiced. One cannot get enough experience to get a Sun certification (and pass their test) without doing some big time development, implementation, and then taking responsibility for what one has developed in support. This was difficult in an environment where java went from academia around 1995 to a production platform by 1998 or 1999 in many companies, particularly for data access layer and end user display. (Actually, PowerBuilder seemed more suited to end-user processing, with java being used to manage the server data access from replicated data, in my experience). Server administration and management (to access the Internet) evolved very quickly in the mid 1990s, with some friends of mine managing their own access from their own homes or apartments and at least one starting an ISP (which I used for four years).

The pace of change, even in basic paradigms, was so quick and demand for specialization so great, after 2000, that a very difficult market evolved for older professionals to keep up in. It required a great deal of natural curiosity.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

How important is "supervisory" or management experience for its own sake?


The Census Bureau application (last post) asks, in Question 20, “Do you have supervisory experience?”

In fact, when I called, the spokeswoman said that I “sounded like a supervisor.” I was surprised. I have a total of six weeks experience with formal direct reports as a Project Leader, in 1988, before I left the company before a merger. At all other times I have been an individual contributor.

The Census Bureau employment application question seems to value supervisory or management experience for its own sake. So do a lot of KSA questions from USAJobs. I’ve never been willing to relate to that.

I generally am interested in management experience only in two situations:
(1) The work is for an effort that I created. That is, it could be to make a movie of a screenplay that I wrote, or to solve an Internet law or culture and business problem as I have exposed the problem on the web in my blogs. That is definitely “task oriented” supervision.
(2) I have all the technical skills of the people that I supervise. That would be unlikely in situation (1). For example, in the mainframe world, I wanted to have fluency in coding, testing and implementation of DB2 and CICS before supervising others doing the same.

For me, personally, my “station in life” does not depend on how many people belong to my “span of control.” It’s fine for me if that number is the Babylonian zero.

And, for much of my career, middle management was not the place to be. Now, though, employers might wonder, "Why didn't you advance?"

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Federal census jobs applications ask about previous for-cause firings and "involuntary" resignations


The federal government, in job application forms, does ask point blank about whether the applicant has ever been fired for cause from any job in a certain time period.

The Census job application form, Section F, “background information”, asks (item 27), “During the past 5 years, have you been fired from any job for any reason, did you quit after you were told you would be fired, or did you leave any job by mutual agreement because of specific problems?...”

In fact, even back in the 1960s, as I recall, the Civil Service Form 171 (Qualifications Statement) asked a similar question. Particularly grating is the attempt to delve into “off the record” agreements to resign from a job.

In fact, HR departments generally will not discuss a terms under which a previous employee left, when “semi-voluntary”. But what may generate questions is a candidate’s departure from a previous employer in a time, perhaps before the current economic crisis, the employer was not under financial distress and was continuing to hire and, in fact, would have replaced the employee.

I suppose that an agency could look online to see if someone, out of a sense of grievance, had discussed his firing on a blog or social networking site.

I have not noticed this question on any of the agency on-line question scripts on USAJOBs.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Keep resumes brief, no matter how epic your career


Chip Camden has a Tech Republic blog entry “Five resume tips for IT consultants”, here and it certain reminds me of the advice from the “outplacement company” (in my case, Right Management) back in 2002.

From the title of the column, it seems to be aimed more at self-employed IT contractors, but I think when you get into the points, it seems to apply to the market as a whole.

One important point is brevity. Camden says that a one-page resume will actually get read. A five-page resume can chronicle epic history (particularly for "older" professionals) of experience, but most jobs focus on a relatively narrow set of skills that a resume must match. Some of this comes about, ironically, because of anti-discrimination laws; companies must be able to show they made employment decisions on job-related issues and not outside ones. (That’s much less true in sales jobs than in individual contributor or management technology development jobs.)

Another important piece of advice is to use active voice in the resume writing and quantify accomplishments as much as possible. It’s important to have been connected to project success; collective karma is a real thing.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Make a career switch to nursing? Hold that thought!


There’s a “conventional wisdom” that during sharp recessions, jobs requiring intensive people skills go up, and loner individual contributor jobs like programming in information technology go down.

Not necessarily so, it seems. We’ve heard again about teacher layoffs in recession-plagued (and particularly foreclosure hit) school districts, and now we learn that not even nurses are immune. Ashley Halsey III has an article in the Metro Section of the Washington Post, “Jobs Scarce, Even for Nurses: Economic Crisis Freezes Field Once Short of Workers,” Sunday April 5, 2009, Metro Section, p C1, link here.

Some hospitals have low “vacancy rates” even in medical and surgical care. However, many experts expect the nursing shortage in many areas to come roaring back as the economy recovers.

Laid off manufacturing workers at mid life, particularly in rust belt states like Ohio and Indiana, have, with state programs, sometimes gone to nursing school and made very successful career switches.

Of course, the one area where it’s obviously easier for companies to “procreate” openings is commission-only sales. Not to everyone’s temperament.

One other thing. I.T. seems to be such an exacting field of work, where perfection is demanded and mistakes are not tolerated, and all-nighters are common. Just try medicine, with its "Universal Focus".

Friday, April 03, 2009

Could I.T. have helped forestall the financial crisis?


Robert O’Harrow, Jr. and Jeff Gerth have a story about the history of information systems on Wall Street that meshes with today’s financial crisis with a bit of irony.

As recently as 2005, the trading of credit derivatives was carried on in paper, pen and fax. The mechanical clumsiness of the trading system was seen as creating a financial peril, because deals could not be closed quickly enough. What’s ironic now is that Geithner’s New York Fed did not grasp the new risk that would accrue once the mechanics of the system became more efficient. The story, on the front page of today’s (April 3) Washington Post is here.

Of course, what was missing was the ability to, in some sort of systematic processing cycle well known to programmers in all major financial institutions, “valuate” the products and give management the ability to assess risks. Was this a failure at a certain human psychological level, or just a failure in business systems analysis, to develop the aggregate reporting tools need to see what was going on?

I remember, from failed “Combined Medicare Project” that I worked on from 1979-1981, that a great deal of emphasis was to be placed on postpayment utilization review, with complete statistical reporting on trends in use. In financial services companies, complex valuations of products are always run at the end of each month’s cycle. Does this need to be done by the Fed and Treasury, much higher up the food chain?

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

FBI says it is on a hiring blitz: what about its IT jobs?


The FBI says, on its website, that it is on a “hiring blitz” with the headline “Wanted by the FBI: Talented professionals to serve the nation,” with link here.

The information technology jobs are listed under “Professional Staff Opportunities” and lists the typical categories of IT jobs.

The FBI has several overlapping divisions in which IT jobs appear, such as Criminal Justice Information Services Division, the Cyber Division, the Information Technology Operations Division, the Office of IT Policy and Planning, the Office of IT Program Management, and the Office of IT Systems Development Criminal Justice Information Services Division, the Cyber Division, the Information Technology Operations Division, the Office of IT Policy and Planning, the Office of IT Program Management, and the Office of IT Systems Development.

Most of the job skills descriptions on the site are fairly general, although there are some specific discussions, such as about fingerprint analysis.

After 9/11, however, the FBI was particularly criticized about the outdatedness of its systems and inability to connect dots. Remember that the laptop of Habib Zacarias Moussaoui was not properly followed up upon after he was reported to the FBI in August 2001 by an airline pilot training facility in Minnesota.

An even more applicable criticism might be the FAA and the state of the hardware in air traffic control systems. That seems to be a perfect example of badly needed infrastructure investment.