Wednesday, May 25, 2011

"Take your training!" and watch out for ADHD at those sleep-inducing outsourced courses

I guess one lesson from my own IT career was, if you want to stay current, “take your training.”
Back in 1981, when I joined Chilton in Dallas, new programmers were scheduled for self-study training sessions “upstairs” with a VHS video and book lesson, exercises, and quiz, all to be finished in 4 hours. The lessons were in a number of topics like Structured System Design, JCL, Assembler programming, and solving mainframe dumps.  The pace was slow, but effective.  Your course completions were considered in the performance appraisal.

Training has tended to outsourced to training companies, that usually visit most cities and conduct week long courses in suburban industrial parks  (I-494 south of Minneapolis, for example), often near airports. (Business travel can be uneventful.) There is a tendency for them to start simply but for the pace to accelerate. Students are then presented problems which require a lot of “self-sufficiency” (using help) to work.  This was particularly true in a PowerBuilder course in 2000, a little less so with a Java course in 1999.  If you don’t code java everyday, can you define a “constructor”?   This was really a problem in 2001 with BEA Web Logic. 

There is a problem that in a typical shop, most of the material will not be used by the programmer, particularly in maintenance or support. That was much less a problem in the mainframe days where much more development was done in house, even with purchased systems (like Vantage in life insurance). It’s hard to pick up modern IT skills without being on board with a project early.  That fact tends to give younger workers, especially college and graduate students, a big edge.  (I heard plenty of stories in my libertarian world contacts about IT course projects at the U of M back in my Minneapolis days.)

Perhaps I experienced some ADHD  in these courses (even a later one in version management on Unix in 2001; we actually had a class in FileAid two days before the layoff at the end of 2001!). I had a little publishing “empire” that I didn’t like to desert, and was in a space where it was hard to focus on stuff I wouldn’t ever use.  After I went into book and web authoring on the side, I had my own world to maintain, and too much distraction was a problem.  Like the world, I was changing, too.

Monday, May 23, 2011

More employers use social media for job postings; more people have to use social media for professional purposes only

NBC Washington reported Sunday night that employers are rapidly turning to social media to post their jobs. In one survey, 95% used Linked In, 57% used Facebook, and 42% used Twitter.  (Ashton Kutcher often posts openings in his own company, Katalyst, on Twitter.)  (See also May 11 posting.)

The pressure increases on many job seekers to use social media for “professional purposes” rather than their own person motives.  Social media are certainly starting to enforce a “one identity” policy on individuals, even older individuals who may have wanted to stay private.  (At one point, as I have written, I had envisioned that some sorts of jobs would have required me simply to be off the web for my own political expression, but that was in the old Web 1.0 environment.)  All the sudden, multiple identities, pseudonyms, and anonymity are coming to be viewed as evidence of lack of “integrity” in our new culture. Do ask, do tell. 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Recoveries are no fun for IT staff; lessons from my own career, and for Blogger

During the second week of May, 2011 Blogger encountered some problems that required a rollback of some new posts, apparently a database recovery, and restoration of the posts and comments.  I wrote about this on my “BillBoushka” blog May 14. I’ll add that since then, on a few occasions “draft” copies of restored blog posts have reappeared on my dashboard.

The bigger technical issue was how companies manage “disaster recovery”, of databases once corrupted. (I presume Blogger has some sort of SQL-based relational database underneath; Wordpress uses MySQL).
I had a few brushes with these situations in my mainframe career. 

Back in the 1980s, we had to rerun three days of daily billing at Chilton Credit Reporting after we found a member master had been incorrectly restored. Fortunately, each run took only about an hour, even in 1980s Ahmdahl technology.

Most mainframe shops have “incrementals” and “full backups”, for everything (including reporting packages like SAR and Dispatch).  One place I worked in the early 1990s used to do full backups and “compactions” every Saturday night, taking everything down at 4 PM Saturday.

The ultimate nightmare for a senior programmer-analyst who “owns” a major application is to find corruption and the need for a major recovery.

Recoveries usually consist of going back to the last “full” and then applying “incrementals” successively.  Or cycles would have to be rerun if there was actual application corruption. In the mid 1990s we almost had another catastrophe with an IDMS VSAM-transparency and the backup GCVEXPORT, etc, but a techie figured out the problem and bailed us out.  Recoveries are not fun for support staff, anywhere.

In 1999, I participated in a twenty-four hour disaster recovery dress rehearsal offsite near Minneapolis. 

Update: June 6

Blogger has a detailed explanation of its incident on Blogger Status, dated May 31, 2011, link.  It's titled "Blogger Incident Report", authored by Eddie Kessler, Tech Lead/Manager, Blogger.  I urge people who work in large IT production environments, even financial institutions, to read it (I don't know if you need a blogger account to see it), as it gives a perspective as to what can go wrong in companies with many servers and how harrowing recoveries can be. It's educational! 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

ABC reports that employers are deliberately saying they will consider only the currently or recently employed, complicating the stigma of unemployment

Diane Sawyer, on World News Tonight, reported on six million unemployed Americans, and the disturbing trends from many employers to say (in position descriptions) that they will consider only the currently or recently employed.  Only New Jersey makes this illegal, as unemployment does not make one a member of a “protected class”.  So many employers are considering long term unemployment a kind of secondary social stigma.

In information technology, the practical concern is a candidate’s technical sharpness. If he or she is not current, he or she won’t be able to deliver for a client. That’s true of Internet-related skills, less so of older mainframe programming. You never forget COBOL.

ABC’s report recommended “volunteering” in your field to fill in recent gaps in your resume. How can you do that in IT?

Update: June 10: USA Today has a point-counterpoint on this practice by employers here.  The opposing view says that when an employed person is hired, another vacancy is still created, so the problem self-corrects without government intervention.  But USA Today says that to declare unemployed candidates as automatic losers is to show lack of ethics and "imagination".  New Jersey recently passed a law partially banning the practice, and New York may consider it.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Employer use of social media is becoming more mainstream

It is becoming more “mainstream” to include social media checks as part of candidate “background investigation”.  Law firms and HR consultants are starting to say that the practice is acceptable, even desirable, if done carefully.

But there are several points to bear in mind:

Despite a recent flap at the Maryland Department of Corrections, it’s generally not all right to ask for a candidate’s social media password, and it might violate the TOS rules of the social media provider.

Generally, it’s all right to look for items that come up as available to the public from search engines. But the employer should inform the candidate or employee that it will do so.  Furthermore, it is very easy to misidentify someone, especially with a common name or even with a name you think is less common. My name is rather unusual, but I use both “John” (the legal first name) and “Bill” (the nickname) online.  That has actually created an issue in the past with a school system (back in 2005). Note that Facebook and maybe some other social media sites may require that users actually disclose their own legal names, under the “one public identity” norm for “public integrity” which is an idea that Facebook says it believes in.  It is important to have a specific procedure to allow the applicant or employee to answer potentially negative information on social media, which always has the chance of being false. It is also easy to misidentify facial images on the web, and there is no guarantee that tags provided by others are correct. Employers generally do not have the accurate facial identification software available to government and intelligence, and should not behave as if they did.

It will be tricky to look at social media which are likely to disclose protected characteristics such as gender, race, and, in many jurisdictions, sexual orientation.

An article Feb. 24, 2011 by Jessica Ollenberg at “Ask HRS” is typical, with a link here

She writes “how a candidate chooses to be known on the Internet as searchable by customers, co-workers, competitors, associates, vendors, investors and other stakeholders, is certainly a BFOQ.  Such a presence affects on-duty performance, especially when easily detected by search engine or links to professional or company presence”.  A “BFOQ” is a “bona-fide occupational qualification”, and that gets touchy in an area where it is someone’s job to manipulate others socially to sell to them. It’s obviously an issue for a member of the media, where objectivity is so importance.  The best situation, from the employee’s point of view, is the situation where the job involves transmitting to the public ideas that the employee actually believes (a good example would be Anderson Cooper’s responsibilities as a CNN host for his “keeping them honest” on AC360).

Stokes, Lazarus & Carmichael at “Atlanta Business Litigation Lawyers” has a similar article from January 2011 in a paper “Considerations when screening applicants with social media” here.

Workforce Management also has an article on the topic this month, subscription required.  

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Twitter gives "me" a blank page; stability problems reported earlier today; are they resolved yet?

Are a lot of users (as of about 10:45 PM EDT Tuesday May 10) still getting blank screens when logging on to Twitter?

Twitter’s explanation today is here
So far, none of these steps have worked for me (I’ll try it on the Mac Safari shortly;  in the PC environment, Chrome, Firefox, and IE all behave the same way, in XP and W7.   In fact, Internet Explorer says “done, with errors”)

MSNBC had reported a similar problem Feb. 17, story.  There is talk of the “failed whale”.

You can also check “Downrightnow” here

I did get Twitter to reset my pw, no change.

I can go to, not log on, and see my most recent tweets with a search. If I try some friends or people I “follow”, I get a similar result, no activity in the past few hours or so.

Update:  I tried it on my new MacBook.  Same result, in Safari  (with Verizon instead of Comcast).  My Mac has never been on Twitter before, so browser caching is not the issue. Also, Safari was just updated the other day, and the browser is as new as possible.

Second picture: from the DC Metro. Should IT people "pay their dues" with "real jobs", even as volunteers?

Update: May 11

Twitter's back now, for me.  I wonder if the East Coast had a major Internet routing problem last night. Both Comcast and Verizon kept stalling, but work OK now (8 AM Wed EDT).

Monday, May 02, 2011

Emails invite former IT pros (me at least) to recruit

Today (May 2), I got several emails from an outfit called “” (no MYWOT or McAfee website rating), saying it had reviewed my resume and could earn over $60 an hour screening other resumes.  Although recruiting might be a promising income earning idea, as the economy slowly re-expands, I suspect that at best you get paid only when someone is placed.  It all sounds like “a likely story”.  Anyone know anything about this?