Sunday, January 31, 2010

Security clearances and federal jobs, and contractor jobs

Derrick Dortch, of the Diversa Group (link) sets the record straight on how security clearances affect federal jobs in a column on p H1 of the “Jobs” section of the Washington Post today, Sunday, Jan. 31, 2010.

His column today is “You don’t need a security clearance to get a federal job,” link here

When a federal agency wants to hire you and you don’t yet have the necessary clearance, it will make a conditional offer and then submit the required background investigation. You can’t start work until the clearance is granted. In a few cases, as with the CIA, this could take a year or more (and that’s something that the administration should fix, because intelligence services need more brain power right now to connect the dots – badly). Military departments may take longer (but civilian employees are not held to the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy, even if they go overseas or live temporarily in military quarters or on ships).

However the “Beltway bandits” – the contractors – often require that candidates already have necessary clearances, and even hold special job fairs for them (Dice often sends me advice on these fairs by email – and Dice is a good source on these jobs). I’ve always wondered why polygraphs are OK for government clearances but not in court or for ordinary job investigations. (I wonder if future clearances will involve MRI scans for “thought reading”, like “No Lie MRI” ).

By the way, Dice and other similar databases can be fairly pricey for very small headhunting agencies. Economy of scale is definitely advantageous for placement companies using these databases.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

How much has changed since 1969 (when we put Man on the Moon)

Remember how I.T. was in the days that we put Man on the Moon? We had the technology to control a mission to an object 240000 miles away, and could control it through space remotely.

Yet, in the late 1960s, for programmers, computing was a tedious and bureaucratic process. I worked for two different parts of the Navy: for the David Taylor Model Basin (or Naval Ship Research and Development Center) on the Potomac River near the Cabin John Beltway crossing in the summers of 1965 through 1967, working mostly in FORTRAN (“Formula Translation”, at one time a competitor of COBOL), and then in 1971 and 1972 at NAVCOSSACT, the Naval Command Systems Support Command at the Washington Navy Yard in Washington DC.
(An electric utility I worked at in 1972 with Univac still used FORTRAN, as did a health care consulting company in 1989, although then it was switching simulations to SAS. I don't know if anybody uses FORTRAN today.)

We would code programs on coding sheets, where specific columns were set aside for specific areas ofd statements (COBOL certification tests still ask about this), turn them in to keypunch (or sometimes keypunch ourselves), get them back, and submit compilation or “load and go” decks as “shots”. Two or three cycles of submission and output (printed and deck) a business day was good turnaround (or you could go to the EAM room sometimes and run it yourself).

People tended to become specialists on one little subroutine of some sort of simulation model. Whole jobs were budgeted based on expertise on one little bitty area – because for some things in space or military applications, the work had to be perfect, and there was not an efficient way to get it done.

Our culture has certainly changed direction since 1969 (“One step for mankind…”) Now people set up businesses on the Web with little programming skill, or whole publishing operations, or invent on their own whole facilities for social networking or gaming. How things have changed.

And then James Cameron gives us a movie that suggests that on other planets, Internets could grow as part of biology – natural “social networking” with bees and ants have already!

Second picture: both the Moon and Mars.

Monday, January 25, 2010

CNN outlines 22 best companies to work for, each with over 500 openings (also with Fortune)

Check out CNN’s Best 22 Companies to work for, with a total of 87000 openings, each company with over 500 openings, link here.

The companies vary from major consulting and accounting firms, to information technology, to retail. Many of them have a major presence in the Twin Cities (I lived in Minneapolis from 1997-2003 and it strikes me how many of these do have major operations in Minnesota.)

Each page includes a blurb from the company’s HR on what it looks for now.

Google was on the list, and I was particularly impressed with the idea that the company says, “Candidates should bring their whole selves to the interview and not try to fit some mold that they think Google wants” . It sounds like they want candidates who can “connect the dots”. I relish their finding this comment on my blog if I ever have an interview with them.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Social networking tools: both a requirement and maybe a pitfall for job seekers

Baseline Magazine has an “Intelligence Slideshow” that maintains that social networking and “broadcasting” sites, especially Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, are becoming the hottest technique in job hunting in a recessionary economy. It's less clear how blogging (on Blogger or Wordpress or personal sites) fits in; but some people can bolst their presence by blogging about relatively narrow professional topics -- even in the arts.

At the same time, Baseline is warning that social networking activities, especially on Facebook, are “haunting” job searches, with a slide show link here.

It’s a little unclear what the “ethics” of looking up job candidates online should be, since it is likely so much of the information is wrong or an employer could easily find the wrong person.

Conventional wisdom has it that the behavior employers worry about the most is the “obvious” no-no’s of underage drinking, drug abuse, and sometimes nudity. But it doesn’t take much thought to realize that employers could wonder if a lot of other “voluntary” or “gratuitous” conduct could be distracting to their businesses if clients find it online, or if it could indicate that a job applicant would eventually compromise the business online after leaving the company by talking about the company online. We’re only beginning to grasp the scope of these potential problems.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Should employees let their bosses know that they write or blog at all? The pre-dooce problem.

Back in 1988, during my last six months at Chilton (now Experian) in Dallas, before returning to the DC area that summer, and during some time of stress because of an impending merger with TRW, I recall telling my immediate boss in a SYSM (the mainframe’s version of office email, which usually runs as a CICS region) that I saw that the day of low cost publishing was coming soon, and that I wanted to get into it. I think the boss knew I had interviewed already on the East Coast.

I was right: desktop publishing would become a buzzword by the early or mid 1990s, even before the Web took over (and finally social media) as a platform for “self promotion”.

But of course, I didn’t realize at the time that I was creating an “existential” problem for myself. If I announced the desire to be known as a writer, doesn’t that tell an employer that the innards of its workings might some day be made public? I wrote a post about that (the “pre-dooce” problem) last Thursday (Jan 14) on my main blog.

This sort of problem would return in 1996 when I was working for a DC area company that, among major lines of business, stressed selling life insurance to military officers. When I had to tell my boss and then HR that I was involved in the political battle over “don’t ask don’t tell” and planned to write a book that would cover the military gay ban. In my circumstances then, I took it personally, given my history. (I still do.) Eventually (in 1997) I would “take advantage” of a merger and “transfer away” from the potential conflict of interest.

But today, with a wide open Internet, buttressed with social media, I can see how employers could worry that “future speech”, unpredictable at the time, could become a problem for stakeholders in the future.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Tory Johnson outlines income opportunities working from home with your web content (your "online reputation" matters!)

Tory Johnson (“Women for Hire” and “Tory Johnson’s Job Club”) gave some good advice Tuesday Jan. 19 on “Good Morning America” on how to make money at home from your web presence in a “positive” (in an “online reputation’ sense) way. On my main blog this morning, I discussed her treatment of “Sponsored Tweets” and gave the ABCnews link (there is also “Pay My Tweets”).

She also explains how one can make money submitting articles to AOL for its subscription site. It can pay $25 to $75 per assignment, but only the “best content” is accepted and published on its site. AOL has a reputation (more than Yahoo!, CNN, MSNBC, Fox, and other news sites) with grabbing member’s attention with shocking stories (remember how it handled Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson in the 2004 Super Bowl?). So if your story is really original and really unusual and unlikely to have other writers than you, it might have a better chance. It seems to like stories about getting jobs, dealing with mortgages and banks, and other practical tips, too.

She also discusses Web Site testing., which is likely to be a consumer or shopping site where you will be asked to find a particular item and check it out, and test the navigation within the site. She also discusses being a Web Affiliate, of large companies like Amazon, and a particular site called “The Giftonary”, here. Another opportunity that I know is Link Share (here) , which I was much more active on early in the previous decade.

It’s important to consider how you set up your web presence if you want to go the affiliate route. Provocative political content might drive some advertisers away (I found this particularly the case with airlines, which would never accept me in LinkShare probably because I had so much material about 9/11). To quote a line from one of my favorite horror films ("Bugcrush"), "You have to know what you want."

The long title of her article is “Earn Cash from Home When You Work with Twitter, AOL and Other Online Companies : Web Site Testing Can Pay, Expert Says.”

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Can Microsoft Expression help webmasters duplicate the features of blogs on "flat sites"? It's "what", not "how".

I’ve mentioned before that I’m thinking about restructuring a lot of my web materials after getting Microsoft Expression, placing a lot of book and movie reviews (now in blogs) in some new web structure. One concern that I had was how manage the issue of user comments (with captcha and spam screening) and perhaps user forums. Another was whether there is something like cross labeling commonly used in Wordpress and Bloggers.

You won’t find this topic discussed in books on Expression Web. Sso far, the only book I found at Barnes and Noble was Jim Chesire’s Microsoft Expression Web 3.0 in Depth from Que (2010). I see a “for Dummies” book at Amazon. I also see a SAMS book and a “Step by Step” book from Microsoft Press. They’re all a bit pricey.

There’s a great posting on this topic on the Microsoft Expression forums by “Scott” (Paladyn?) at this link. The writer (look toward the bottom of the link) points out a problem in the conceptual thinking behind the question. In systems analysis, we sometimes have to ask “what” before “how” as to satisfying requirements. Yes, we have to make this clear with users and behave like sales persons sometimes. Comments and forums are expensive in terms of resources required, so they should be deployed in appropriate circumstances, not everywhere if you want inexpensive, very fast loading pages just with information.

Comments belong on blog entries or news items. Generally, publishing services (Blogger and Wordpress) and ISP’s offer full-service ability to manage comments with their own server site programming (it’s not something easily done with HTML and JavaScript, etc). The “what” of the problem is that comments are appropriate on dated items, noting an event. Yes, the release of a movie is an event. But items in a static library (of movie and book reviews) generally don’t deserve comment facilities; instead they deserve email comment forms, with the intention that the webmaster will post the comments himself if appropriate.

Of course, that means that to some extent you may be tied into your ISP and its resources, so you want to make sure it is stable and offers good technical support.

As for the wonderful categories feature of Wordpress (and labels in Bloggers) could be approximated with inverted lists of hyperlinks, set up as conventional tables in HTML, with an effect similar to what you see in Java docs. Or you could put the inverted list into an set up and essentially concatenate everything, but you have to know in advance what you want to concatenate.

Of course, Wordpress can be used to simulate a "static" site with a blog, because the categories facility is so powerful in the way it concatenates. (Wordpress is "just" using MySQL behind the scenes to do all the concatenations, which otherwise you would have to code yourself (all those subqueries) in java or php). Here's a good reference on Wordpress hosting (link). It seems more flexible than Blogger, which seems to require you use the Templates a certain way to get all the features.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The permatemp workforce is becoming routine

The “permanent temporary workforce” is becoming more common, according to a BusinessWeek article reproduced on MSNBC, by Peter Coy, Michelle Conlin and Moira Herbst. The title is “The rise of the permanent temporary workforce: Pay is falling, benefits are vanishing, and no one’s job is secure”, with link here. The article discusses one example with a home telephone customer service job with LiveOps, where pay is by the minute connected. Another feature of some jobs is the lack of benefits, although the new health care reform bills may have some impacts.

Today managers are still rewarded by short term bottom line results, and have every incentive to use short term contractors with exact-fit skills. Managers are no longer paid by their “span of control.” There’s a good question as to whether business will find this sustainable.

Back in the early 1990s (during an earlier first Bush recession) employers were begininning to see that they could sometimes prevent layoffs with "piecework" policies, like Lincoln Electric in Ohio.

The situation has implications as to how workers should manage themselves online. Being a freelancer with no people under you would imply more freedom, right? Maybe so as a matter of ethics and avoiding conflict of interest. But employers might well expect to find an online presence consistent with a resume of skills.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

It took a while for end-user-driven computing to take hold: remembering the "salesmanship" lessons of the 1970s and 1980s

Back in the early 1970s, companies already understood the idea of user-driven computing. At NBC, one of my first tasks was to write an RCA Spectra COBOL program to manipulate a “parameter file” what would eventually set up the options for processing general ledgers on a number of NBC’s owned stations and companies (from a package called Infonational, that ran on Univac 1110 “Ascii COBOL” (36 bit words) in a day that this sort of mainframe computing was thought to have a future, before IBM drove everybody out.

The Univac mainframe system also had a “report writer parameter file” that users coded on sheets and employees keypunched. But even then I.T. was ready for the concept that individually owned subsidiaries of a corporation could continue to operate differently. The economy of scale came from combining processing in a data center, not from making the companies process the same way.

But when I went to CABCO (Combined A&B Medicare Consortium) in Dallas, of six Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans, I ran into a similar issue. I worked on the back-end systems, especially surveillance and utilization review. So I designed a subsystem that would express company-driven parameters, much the way NBC had, as I was familiar with that way to do business. But I was never able to “sell” the idea. Users complained they were confused by all the “options” and did not seem to understand that the point of a combined system is processing efficiency; it is not intended to tell constituent companies how to run their own businesses. This became a deeply political issue (around 1981).

Things have changed a lot then. Now, when companies combine they keep separate systems and replicate to a common mid-tier, or use direct connect mechanisms to provide customer service center end user GUI interfaces.

But was my little “downfall” in 1981 a failure in “salesmanship”? I was on to an approach that had not quite caught on yet, but that would become the business norm by the mid 1980s, as Wall Street started forcing companies into mergers.

When one goes to sell a vision, even to internal customers, one should first determine how widely held that vision already is, in other organizations.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Job market finishes the 00 decade with losses; the engine for jobs growth has stalled because of paradigm problems

Neil Irwin has an important story on The Washington Post online New Years Day, “U.S. Economy Took a Dive in the 2000s, a Lost Decade for Workers”, link here.

Although the 00’s were the “Bubble Decade” and although there are conceptual problems with managing financial regulation, the job market seems to have finally fallen victim to excessive short term focus by employers, which then got further squeezed by the collapse in credit markets (particularly affecting loans to small businesses), even as the stock market started to recover, an anomaly that Donald Trump has criticized as dangerous, pointing to another stock market bubble.

The job market may have fallen victim also to excess “hyper-individualism” and vanity. New trends in social media encourage the propagation of free user-generated content, which turns out to be valuable as a source of journalism and even the arts, but which also undermines the job base in traditional media industries. “Free” can’t pay mortgages or support families.

Try this MSNBC video that compares "real life" outplacement companies to the movie "Up in the Air". I went through this in 2002. True, most of the time the outplacement company does the post-partum counseling, not the original firing. In the movie, George Clooney characterizes the corporate managers who hire him to do the firing as "cowards".

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