Friday, May 29, 2009

Twitter could become the next innovation on IT recruiting and job hunting


Toni Bowers has an interesting piece on the “Career Management” (and “View from the Cubicle”) blog today (May 29) at Tech Republic, “Six steps for using Twitter as a recruitment tool”, link here.

She suggests that companies or employers not only set up Twitter Profiles for posting openings, but that they engage in constructive dialogue with potential candidates. What seems apparent is that recruiters and staffing companies would find this approach useful. But the staffing companies would need to network with their client companies (which might tend to be old school and less technically aggressive) to become part of the process. Large manpower companies could even set up positions for people to be responsible for directing this networking.

The other obvious area for this technology would be in agenting for actors and writers in the media – although various legal and guild agreements would have to be considered. But judging from Ashton Kutcher’s promotion of Twitter, you might start seeing that happen.

It’s interesting how job networking is moving away from resumes and publications to short bursts of communication.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

"COBOL People" has website with interesting "factoids": Is COBOL alive and well?


I thought I would pass along the name and URL of a prescient group called “Cobolpeople.com”. The tagline is "Got COBOL? We've got people". The website says “COBOL "is" the backbone of the majority of mission critical business applications in use today” and gives an impressive list of “COBOL Factoids” including “70% of mission-critical applications are in COBOL”.

The site has signups for candidates and employers.

I will follow this site, but it seems to disagree with my previous assertion that today’s IT professionals don’t want to bank on an online reputation based on “old technology” including COBOL.

I had a manager back in Dallas in the 1980s who actually said “I am a COBOL person.” Then, when the company I worked at was chased in a hostile takeover, she said “there are no jobs in Dallas” (as of 1987). I wonder what mainframe is “doing to Dallas” today.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Information Technology professional profiles really can't afford to be too narrow, even if the jobs are: will TARP change things?


Over the holiday weekend, I had a yard conversation with someone in information systems management in a large financial company, and he agreed that the Internet – and the idea of “reputation” or profile along with online networking – has confounded the way the job market works.

Nobody wants to be known “just” as a mainframe person with a specific arcane old skill, so it is almost impossible to find anyone with the specialized knowledge necessary to keep an old mainframe system running. So the deterioration of the mainframe job market became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

And all the job counselors are warning people about integrated online presence – have what you are good at, and only what you are good at—able to make money with. But that doesn’t make real sense when the hot skills can turn so quickly. It’s necessary to be good at a lot of interrelated things.

The other problem is that the hot skills are often used to offer services or products that turn out to be socially objectionable. One has to think very carefully about career planning strategy today. But young people, despite the doom and gloom about the job market for recent college graduates, will have a real edge in being able to plan their educations on what employers will need. There will be a lot of specialized areas for which steady demand will grow: security, capacity planning, network architecture, operating systems, artificial intelligence, distributed databases. But the old fashioned mainframe culture seems to be floating out to sea, except in specialized areas, like MMIS. What I wonder is if the TARP programs and need for much more regulation in the financial markets, with some good old-fashioned mainframe discipline (like in doing valuations, which Vantage is so well known for) will bring a lot of it back.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Have you ever dreamed about computer programs you have written?


Last night I had a dream that I was back on a conventional mainframe workplace, somehow working as a contractor. Somehow a cat came into the office and sat in my cubicle. Then a user called and complained about an extra trace displaying to users in some sort of CICS transaction – in dreams, things can get scrambled. I somehow repromoted a command level program, and then another manager from the client called, and I really had a cascade of traces. I woke up, from deep in REM sleep, my heart racing, as it sometimes does after very vivid dreams.

I remember fifteen years ago that it, in batch, was very easy to use the COBOL DISPLAY statement to debug programs – much less effort sometimes than forcing a dump and analyzing it, even with Abendaid. Displays simply went to “SYSOUT DD SYSOUT=*”. If left in production, it simply was saved on SAR or DISPATCH with the JCL, no big deal. Or maybe an embarrassing “crime.” (That reminds me of the practice of using NOOP’s in IBM assembler, something people call “lazy code.”)

By today’s standards, such practices, often acceptable in inhouse systems, seem lazy and sloppy. But that’s because most systems are now developed by software houses, sold to clients, with code that has to fit exacting standards and be supplied and licensed to clients. In the insurance industry, Vantage is the leading system now. It “rules the world.”

Speaking a dreams, back in 1985 a coworker told me that she dreamed about an end-of-month implementation, where both of us got fired and our boss got demoted. There was a pink slip in our mailbox and on it was written “BA165”, a controversial inhouse ALC billing program in that shop (with a lot of code out of addressability and temporary base registers), being converted from DOS to OS.

The implementation went OK, however. It was my first implementation in seven years, that Sunday in September 1985. Those were the days, my friend. But they did end. Until last night’s dream.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Windows 7 vs. Vista vs. "The Mac"


Anyone for Windows 7 Release Candidate testing? Microsoft has an installation page here but warns that the beta test is only for the technically self-sufficient, prepared to backup and rebuild their own machines. So don’t do it with a mission critical home or small business PC.

The pre-release expires June 1, 2010, and your PC would start shutting down every two hours in March 2010. A non-expired version will become available in early 2010.

What’s interesting is that Microsoft is bragging that it has made Windows 7 much “simpler” than Windows Vista.

Wikipedia says that Windows 7 is supposed to be released by the end of 2009.

Yet, technical media stories maintain that Windows 7 is “that good”. Dwight Silverman has an article May 19, 2009 in the Houston Chronicle “Windows 7 Release Is That Good”, link here.

I guess the next question, is what about a Mac that runs all of Window products transparently? Maybe that’s the simplest path. I’m starting to look my further into this now. Look at the Mac FAQ’s.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Is modern "open systems" programming much more easily learned when "young"? Probably!


What’s the best age to learn programming skills? Judging from hearsay, the younger the better. It sounds a bit like chess, or even music, doesn’t it: if you become very good at something before puberty, you may grow up to become a star at it. Why? Some of it is biology. As you mature into young adulthood, your brain prunes away unnecessary connections in order to let you focus on what you can do best. That’s why we sometimes see some unbelievable levels of talent in late teenagers in some areas.

Shawn Fanning was 19 when he wrote Naptster, and I believe that Mark Zuckerberg was 20 when he launched Facebook from his dorm room at Harvard.

This development helps explain some of the issues in the job market. It is, for biological reasons, harder for older people to pick up totally new ways of thinking (object orient programming) that they didn’t grow up with. That may account for some tacky comments we used to read about learning curves a few years ago.

Add to this the incredible level of specialization required in some of today’s open systems. This caught a lot of people by surprise during the 2001 recession.

The unfortunate thing is that a lot of the world’s talent goes for destructive purposes, especially overseas. Is it that teens sometimes don’t have the social or moral judgment that comes with skills? Or is it bigger global and social and political problems?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Will financial crisis, ironically, save I.T.?


Patrick Gray has an interesting article in Tech Republic, “Why taking a few punches on the financial crisis might just save IT,” with link here.

Gray talks about the face that a CIO does indeed belong to the “C suite”, the membership of which is a prerequisite to many paths in life’s careers, according to some job postings.

Much of the recent financial meltdown results from the lack of “transparency” in the way certain kinds of business (such as those dealing with derivatives) were conducted. But generally, information systems are concerned with transparency and clarity for its own sake, a long with perfection. At any point, an end user is entitled to get the information she needs to make the best business decision about her responsibility or about a customer. And the information must be “perfect”. IT, as a field, after all, has tended to appeal to “perfectionists” and to introverted people with very exacting standards.

The earliest phase of a systems development project generally consists of defining the information requirements in gross, high-level terms. How many walkthroughs have I attended where the complaint was “too much detail.” But then, six months later when a project is stagnating, “the detail just isn’t there.” Nowhere does this show up more than in the grasp of the information that investors need in order to make decisions for their clients competently.

The Washington Post has a chart “Out of the Shadows” on p A12 May 15 with a visio-like chart showing how a central clearinghouse for derivative trading word work. It looks like the first phase of a system design document (and I can’t find it online yet – it was prepared by David Cho, Brenda Maloney and Cristina Riverio).

The financial crisis may well generate more IT jobs in government and with closely connected Beltway bandits – to implement much more complete reporting cycles for financial institutions and transactions. And the jobs might be of the old fashioned mainframe type. Maybe there is hope for 60-somethings – even those out of work for a long time.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Job Hunting Strategies are "In" and then go "Out"! -- when the show confidence and enthusiasm


CareerBuilder and AOL yesterday (May 13) presented a “what’s ‘In’ and ‘Out’ on the Job Hunt column, and some of it is very worth passing along. It's not the same idea as "What's Hot and What's Not" that got passed around in 2002, after the 2001 recession.

They’re right in that you don’t need to worry about monogrammed stationary and French fold resumes, and the Sunday want ads rarely provide the leading edge on opportunities. I wonder if they ever did.

But there is a bit of a paradox. Your job search should be targeted to your talents, and yet it needs to be broad enough, to realize that there could be a variety of companies or needs that could employ your talents.

The big killer ap in the list is the gap in work history. Layoffs provided by very long periods of unemployment seem to raise flags – people are saying you should get out of the house and do something, even volunteer.

But that raises the question of the “Mommy break”. You have the stay-at-home mom who finally finds that the family (whatever Laura Schlessinger’s book says) needs her wages. Or you have the retiree in his 60s doing eldercare for parents in their 90s and staying home, and then having to go back to work. Our culture has not figured out what it wants to do about this.

The piece talked about using social networking for your search -- especially LinkedIn and professional networking sites, and Facebook (Myspace less so). The social networking paradigm has become so established that it is no longer practical for an "individual contributor" to lead double lives -- one in the office and the other on the Internet. Physical space and cyberpsace are "reconciled" (to use Clive Barker's terminology from "Imagica") and online reputation is a very real issue now. Networking in person matters, too, and this is hard for people tied down by circumstances. This is not a good time for introverts (unless they have the very specific "hot skills").

There is the issue of confidence and enthusiasm. That goes along with some job fairs mentioned in the media recently where people are urged to offer to intern or work for free. But, in that case, this has to be something you really “want” to do.

Would I have much enthusiasm, for example, working to raise money for a charity? That puts me on the spot. It would have to be a cause connected in some way to my own life and to the way issues had played out for me personally. I can’t go to bat for someone else’s cause unless I already have some standing in it – and then there is the old question that I’ve talked about on my blogs – objectivity.

That raises another question in mainframe contract work, for example. Many IT professionals view the mainframe as a dying skill. It’s hard to be “enthusiastic” about it. But you might feel differently if you have ten years of experience in MMIS and are the right fit for the next MMIS contract in another state. Or you might be able to sell yourself on a HIPAA-related job (with the Obama administration in command, there should be more of these soon) if you have personal experience with the gross inadequacy of the way medical records among different providers are managed today. Or maybe you have worked on NCOA (National Change of Address) and can sell how it could be the centerpiece of a system to prevent identity theft. And guess what systems are the most secure – mainframes!

So these suggestions need to be taken in a certain context.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

More on certification: my own history, for openers


I see that back on March 24, 2006 I discussed certification of computer professionals on this blog, particularly the company Brainbench, which offers certification tests in a huge number of areas (just explore the site), and the Institute for the Certification of Computer Professionals, near Chicago.

I actually wrote a certification test for Brainbench on business ethics as a contract in 2003 (and, no, I can’t give out any of the questions) but I did learn a lot about multiple choice test writing, including “distractors”. I can imagine trying to get a contract to write mathematics SOL questions for Virginia, for example.

And I’ve certified in Brainbench in a few areas (you can check this link for my certs (http://www.johnwboushka.com/certifications.html ) and the transcript link on Brainbench will require you to enter a captcha. The questions tend to be problems (some are simple facts), with sample program output as choices, and they can be very complicated. No, I won’t give away questions. They’re copyrighted. But it’s the same with Sun java certification – there are books on how to prepare for it, and the sample exams look difficult – even the multiple choice. Sounds like law school or medical school.

I remember taking a Saturday prep for the ACP exam (Associated Computer Professional) at corporate campus in the fall of 1991 in Lanham Maryland, and actually taking the test at Catholic University in early 1992. I followed up with the “procedural programming” ICCP test soon. I renewed the certification in 1995 with continuing education credits at Northern Virginia Community College, Wednesday night courses in Unix and DOS – material that seems very dated now. But I let it slide after 1998 because I got so wrapped up in authoring my books – and then there was the layoff at the end of 2001, which “ended” my traditional IT career of 31 years at age 58.

Check the 2006 entry for links.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Work as a movie extra: a good idea for an IT person?


Today, ABC “Good Morning America” suggested another kind of interim work for anyone – including I.T. professionals. That is, as an extra in a film.

To get this kind of work, you usually have to go through as casting agency, for which this site gives some typical suggestions.

Extras are sought in television and motion picture productions in many cities, especially New York, Washington, Baltimore, Richmond, Charlotte, Seattle, Minneapolis, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, and of course Los Angeles. Typically there are many opportunities in Vancouver and Toronto also.

I suppose that Hollywood never really has shown I.T. “how it really is”. Of all actors, Justin Long comes the closest to fitting the stereotype of the geek, as he appears in an ad pitching Apple. But I don’t think that the “culture” of the older mainframe world has ever been portrayed. I’ve never heard the term “S0C7” in the movies, or even “JCL error”. It’s pretty easy to imagine how being on-call with a pager or cell phone can generate some dramatic situations for the movies.

I worked as an "extra" as a member of a baseball crowd at the Metrodome in Minneapolis for a scene in "Major League 3" in 1997 (Morgan Creek Pictures). We were compensated with dinner.

For another post, I'll have to find out how movie productions build their systems departments (for animation, 2D, 3D, etc).

Picture: President Obama's "Georgia" train car, Union Station, Washington DC

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Remember Billings computers? Oh, so 80's


Remember a company back in the early 1980s called Billings? The company, I believe, originated in Utah and had a vision of renewable energy, advanced agricultural production, and personal computers, about the time that Radio Shack TRS-80, with its black 64 character built-in monitor.

In a brochure, it even advertised a career program for techies who would go door-to-door and maintain them for consumers. It was like a 1980s “geek squad”, but very culture dependent. The techies, in fact, were not to be paid during their training or apprentice period. It sounded like a setup out of the guild society of mid-millennial Europe.

I still remember a visit to the company in Independence, MO in the summer of 1982. At the least, it was a curiosity, even then.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

General Dynamics, and Armed Forces Branches will be looking for "ethical hackers"; need to understand "social engineering" was well as technology


General Dynamics is looking for candidates who can “think like hackers” for a contract helping unspecified US government agencies strengthen security. The NBC Washington story (April 18, 20090 is here. It has the funny title, “U.S. hiring hackers for protection”. One of the job postings for a “Sr. Ethical Hacker TS/SCI” is here. The position is in Chantilly, VA. Most of these jobs require established clearances, but new applicants with very specialized knowledge might be needed. Again, some people say “I’ve been programming since I was 12.”

Although it’s pretty obvious what the infrastructure components are, it’s no so clear why some of them would be vulnerable. Many components, like the Pentagon, the FAA, and electric power grids, should be completely inaccessible from the “public” Internet (despite dire reports of vulnerability ever since early 2002). A big problem is control of components falling into wrong hands (as in Pakistan).

However, hackers could undermine the infrastructure credibility in other asymmetric ways, such as coming up with schemes to frame ordinary users for crimes. Carelessness and triggerhappiness of some prosecutors around the country has been a problem (as in my Internet Safety blog). But another is a lack of completely reliable source identification, as email senders, which are so obviously spoofed. A lot of work needs to be done with social engineering and with legal processing and legal concepts as well as just computer code.

Anti-virus software has gotten more complicated, and more vulnerable to failure (or to false positives) because of increasing complexity of operating systems and interaction with other products, as well as with “mutating” worms and viruses.

The Army is going to create a new command for digital warfare, either at Edgewood Arsenal, MD or Fort Meade MD (or both), according to an NBC story May 5, link here. Obviously, this would lead to civilian openings similar to those at General Dynamics.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Is Nwiz.exe (part of nVidia) a culprit in slow Microsoft XP boots?


Okay, last week I wrote about Regcure. First, I found that in a few days, some errors (about 50 of them) came back, and I had to do another clean. I also did a disk cleanup (it did not need complete defragmentation). Once the Dell 8300 is up and all services run, it runs quickly with few problems.

My biggest problem seems to be much longer boot times, that started suddenly. This morning, a complete cold boot cycle took about nine minutes. The “Windows XP” progress bar runs longer (about 90 seconds), the blackout lasts longer (about 30 seconds). Then the blue Windows start up screen, inviting sign on comes up. That responds OK, with the courtly E-major musical trademark, but then the screen is blank blue for about a minute. Finally, the desktop icons fill in, the screen blinks black a couple times (I think that’s a registry check from McCafee), McAfee itself starts, and then the desktop arrow comes up. Mozy backup starts.

Then, it takes about two minutes for any web browser to connect to Google. The first time that I key in another URL (like aol.com or yahoo.com) the key board process is slow. Then, suddenly, everything is working just fine until I have to reboot again.

Following instructions online for desktop icon problems, I find that Mirosoft has given me “nVidia” I no longer have the “appearance themes” on my control panel (as in Microsoft’s support document for Desktop issues here ). So I ran msconfig and unchecked nviz.exe.

The boot process is still slow, but unchecking nviz means that the icons remain populated during an entire session. It does seem that the computer runs fast and efficiently once everything is up.

McAfee advanced scan doesn’t find any (unexplained) problems. The updates run normally, but McAfee still makes me verify the subscription once in a while, or makes me restart System Guards. (It does that on my laptop, too).

The browser startup is slow on my Dell Inspiron XP Pro laptop, too. But the basic boot process is still OK.

The problems with slow boot and slow service startup have generally gotten worse in the past six months. I see a lot written about this online. But I can’t come to any conclusion.

Here is a writeup I found about nVidia on Winhlp. Please feel free to suggest other references. I think it may be a major culprit. It seems as though it keeps polling the registry unnecessarily until everything is running. It may be processing “sequentially” because it can’t find an accurate registry record. That’s like processing a VSAM file sequentially on the IBM mainframe when the index is corrupt. Is that what is going on?

I would appreciate comments if anybody understands what Microsoft has been doing recently, especially with NVidia. I wish they had left this alone. I don’t need multiple desktops.

I’ve noticed in general, at least on Dell XP machines, that processes run in random order during boots. There is some variation normally in how long a cold boot process takes, but it should never take more than two minutes total on a healthy machine. I’ve also noticed that McAfee was always the last process to start on my 2003 8300 desktop, until I ran Regcure and unchecked nwiz. Now it is always the first to start. Does this make sense?

For reference, I’m also giving the link for Safe Mode boot, in case I need it myself. It’s this.

Later today, I found this post on the screen being blank, suggesting that it is possible that there can be a power issue. I don't know if this makes sense.

Here's another one, "no advice is better than bad advice," and it's pretty complicate.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Should you "audition" for an information technology job? Georgia tries an experiment with "real jobs"


This past weekend, CNN has aired a story about people “auditioning” for jobs, as if one auditioned for a job the way one auditions for a role in a soap opera.

The specific situation dealt with the Georgia unemployment department. The state has a program with certain employers to let people try jobs for up to eight weeks before the employer makes a hiring decision or commitment. The applicant continues to collect unemployment benefits during the period.

I don’t know whether this is being done with any information technology jobs (as opposed to "real jobs", as a favorite female manager in Dallas called them in the 1980s). It could make sense in telephone or customer service support positions, as with cable companies or ISP’s, it would seem to me.

When I worked for a local insurance company starting in 1990, the company did hire “interns” from local programming schools for a few weeks and assigned routine “tedious” tasks like library cleanups. Fifteen or more years ago, private programming schools in every city (usually belonging to national chains) commonly offered courses in mainframe languages like COBOL.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Some census takers have already been hired, apparently


I’ve covered Census Bureau (U.S. Department of Commerce) jobs before. Recently, someone rang the doorbell and handed a form apparently advising of next year’s census, which starts April 1, 2010 and the basic facts that apply to everyone are here.

If someone applied for a job as a census taker and did not apply early in 2009, it’s likely that it has become too late to be hired as a runner who passes out the year-in-advance notices. These people were hired from the very first batch of applicants who passed the test.

The small piece of paper warns that census takers are subject to criminal penalties, including jail, of they disclose any information at all that could identify anyone whose information they collected for the Census.

All of this is a minor matter so far – but worthy of note.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Paranoia: it can affect IT testing: production problems can have hidden "contagion"!


All the “hysteria” over possible pandemic flu and the change in attitude toward “presenteeism”, particularly in information technology, makes me ponder another point. We have different experiences with how much “risk” we will tolerate.

In the I.T. workplace, that can translate into “paranoia” that something can go wrong after a major change has been elevated to production. It’s very difficult to anticipate everything that can go wrong in making up a test plan.

In my experience, in a more “conventional” mainframe business IT career, one particular area would be archiving of data or reports, as on microfilm, data warehousing or various backups. Since users didn’t typically need to refer to these, it was possible that some item might not be getting saved when it needs to be, and not be noticed for months or years. I remember a couple of moments of panic, one time running in to the office twice to look at an image copy that no one had checked, another time not being able to find a fiche at all. Back in 1976, we actually did a “tape save” of a company’s accounting data with a COBOL program but never bothered to check that it would be usable.

Self-preservation in those days meant maintaining CYA hard-copies of dumps and tests, often in cabinets. Today, we might see such a practice as a security problem, possibly compromising the privacy of consumers.

The other area where there will be “testing paranoia” would be in Internet deployment of fixes. I can imagine the care that would have to go on at Microsoft before pushing monthly security updates through automatic update feature, or McAfee or Norton before replacing anti-virus engines as well as DAT files.