Monday, February 06, 2012

Did I "blackball" myself online out of the old mainframe world? (Really?)

So, given all the attention I have given to “online reputation” and the workplace, I have to ask myself, did I get myself blackballed?  Did I shoot myself in the foot?

As I wrote on my main blog yesterday, I think there was a “sea change” in this area in the middle of the last decade.  Conventional wisdom had always been, before then, you had a work life and a personal life online, and you should keep them separate.  Employers had been concerned mainly with misuse of their own computing resources (previously mostly mainframe), all the way back to the 1980s, when my Dallas employer told associates in a memo they would be terminated even if they did their community college homework on company computers (in-house training was the only exception, and the company, Chilton, actually had a pretty good in-house technical skills program in the early 80s).

The change appears to have occurred because of the rise of social networking sites, doing more than just professional referrals.  By 2005 or so, employers (particularly school systems) knew that Myspace could provide a disruption, even from home.  Facebook was taking shape, even if Mark Zuckerberg was only 21 or so then.  Suddenly, around the dawn of 2006, career pundits were talking about “online presence and professionalism” and “cleaning up your digital dirt”.  But no journalists seemed to realize how quickly this problem was evolving, and no one questioned whether employers or HR departments had been behaving ethically (except for Workforce Management, which published a thoughtful essay on the problem sometime around 2007).

I’ve documented (on the main “BillBoushka” blog, including a posting yesterday) how I got snarled as a substitute teacher in 2005.  I can say that the main incident depended partly on some improbable coincidences.  (Even a reporter agreed.)   Now, I look back on the incident and see, ironically, a nice indie movie screenplay in it.  But I may have had issues before that I didn’t want to face.

Remember, back in  March 2000, I had published (on an older site called “”, moved to “”) an essay anticipated “conflicts of interest” that were likely to arise in the future over web self-publishing even in a Web 1.0 environment.  I even got some reaction to it (including from someone at the WSJ in 2002).

As I’ve noted before, my own “legacy” career had a “cardiac arrest” in 2001 with the December layoff.  In the later part of 2002, while still in Minneapolis, I corresponded with a headhunter about a job in Richmond with a PPO regarding HIPAA.  They fooled around for four months, and when they finally called for an interview, it didn’t go that well – but I had already lost interest.  I chalk that one up to a client’s dragging his feet.   On September 11, 2002 (that day!) I had also done an interview on Bloomington MN with Express Scripts (familiar at the local pharmacy), only to find that the hiring manager really didn’t have authorization yet to bring on contractors.  That’s what I was told, as well as the feedback that I had “tried too hard” in the interview. (Who wouldn’t?)

But then it got even more interesting. While I was back in the DC area for Christmas break in 2002-2003 (and was just working part time for the Minnesota Orchestra) I got in touch with Group-1 Software in Lanham, MD (PG County, on Route 50, on the way to the beach). Now part of Pitney Bowes, this had been the vendor that had worked with ReliaStar in 1998 to install NCOA (National Change of Address) processing.  The interview went very well. I flew back to Minneapolis the next day (Saturday Jan. 4) and emailed the company Monday morning.  I was willing to move back starting Jan. 20.  I never heard a thing.  Why?  Was it because of a remark I had made about criticisms that had been made of the company when I used their  software back in 1998?  I was just being candid.  Or had they Googled me and found out about my sharp edges (involvement online with the fight against “don’t ask don’t tell” which had expanded to so many areas).  When companies stop following up on a candidate because of online reputation problems, the candidate never hears about it.  But in early 2003, this problem was not yet “well known”.

In the succeeding years, after coming back to Arlington, I went through a Brainbench recertification cycle, and a had few more phone screenings.  The phone interviews were often done by separate companies hired by clients, and included technical questions on COBOL, JCL, IMS, etc.   The last time I was close to a “contract” was 2007, with Loews in North Carolina.  But, again, I never heard anything.  But, was it credible that I would want to live in the rural North Carolina Piedmont?   (I once got a call about a job in Lynchburg, VA and wouldn’t pursue it because of who I thought it was.)

I’ll say something more soon about my own planned disposition of my “mainframe” career (as I am 68 now;  had I built a more focused reputation in trendy stuff before 2001, all the excursions like substitute teaching [yesterday’s main blog post] might have become moot, but that’s another discussion). There was a time when recruiters were predicting that companies would need workers in their 50s and 60s to come back, because they wouldn’t be able to keep their legacy mainframe applications going.  That really happened.  What has, is that the mainframe world has condensed into niches, where people seem to need “online reputations” as “experts” in order to keep getting contracts.   Some areas, like MMIS, HIPAA, and Vantage (for life insurance and annuities) might well remain vital as centers of personal expertise.

But there really is a problem.  It’s no longer “acceptable” to live multiple lives online. And who wants to put all his “professional reputation” playing cards in one older technology (even something like DB2) that will someday shrink into a cold, dense cinder like a white dwarf star?

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