Saturday, April 21, 2012

Cybersecurity might be the "best" of all the job markets

Today, on CNN, Janet Napolitano of the Department of Homeland Security spoke on CNN and discussed the growing shortage of workers with heavy hands-on skills in cyber-security.

CNN did not have a link for the story yet, but there's a recent story at Nextgov about the difficulty federal agencies have in finding well-enough qualified security professionals, link.

Like many jobs in IT, cyber security would surely be a 24 x 7 career.  But it might be a good way to make a living for an artist, say, who depends on technology heavily to develop his own content, because the skills would be so useful to him or her. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

To customer service departments of service providers: do your jobs!

My last two years in IT I worked in first-level customer service, internally, with a GUI package that we called “Customer Service Workbench”, or CSW.  There was a Powerbuilder GUI, a  java data access layer, and replication to a Unix midtier from legacy systems on a conventional OS390 mainframe.  This was an architecture that was popular with big business in the late 90s and early 00s, but might seem passé today.  Java was being used in production as early as 2000, after just four years of major development by Sun.
Working in customer service meant troubleshooting problems that were constantly novel, and often with systems not that well documented.  Over time, one built up a cheat sheat of solutions to common situations.

At one point, the employer handed out customer service T-shirts and stickers and had a customer service party to stir motivation.  We also got into the issue with "Team Handbook" back in the early 1990s. 

As a user, running websites and blogs and getting into film, the shoe is turned, and I find I have to depend on companies for customer service.   Since the buck stops with me, if I can’t do what I need to do because someone at a provider didn’t do the job, I bear the consequences.  So I know what it’s like to be the customer (internal or external) and be the boss.

Many problems with vendors happen with constantly changing interfaces between companies (below).  But I sometimes find with customer service agents that different people have different scripts for the same problem.  Sometimes, my own experience with customer service work leads me to help them.
Companies often overload their help screens and scripts with details that obscure how to do simple things that may not be apparent to new users.

When I was working in a formal salaried position, I was paid ample “wages” to develop and implement and support relatively few and somewhat arcane applications (the most important for the general public might have been NCOA, National Change of Address).  As an “entrepreneurial” self-publisher, I “produce” a lot more for much less direct compensation but also for recognition and public notice and future income.  I’m dependent on business models from service providers that must get much more “output” from what they pay for their customer service (whether by phone or by help forums and chat). I’m much more on my own in practice.  With interfaces between various companies (cable, power grid, broadcasters, social networking companies like Facebook and Twitter, Google,  Apple, Dell, HP printers,  music software like Sibelius, Microsoft (automatic updates of  and service packs for too many things), shared web hosts like Verio,  telecommunications like Verizon, Amazon), it’s inevitable that some things break and I have to work around them. Right now, Microsoft Expression Web stalls, and I don’t have time to fix if for a while; I work around it in simple FTP, Notepad and HTML (which I know well enough from coding days).  Disruption can be a big deal for someone in my situation. 

Update: April 22:

In the Ballston Common Mall, Arlington VA, the Mall software the propagates ads to billboards went down, and left out its dirty laundry Saturday night:

Monday, April 16, 2012

Washington Post, other media, document that many employers, fields, really need seniors or "past youth" help; A "second act"?

The Washington Post on Sunday, in the Jobs Section, ran a story “Hot Careers for Job Hunters over 50”, which I could not find online.  But the story said that 92% of men 55 to 61 and 79% of women (according to the BLS, using Current Population Survey data published first by Census) work full time.

The article mentioned health care as a particularly promising field.  Can someone over 50 really go to nursing school?  How about getting teacher’s licenses when over 60 (Career Switchers)?

There is a site called “Second Act” with a similar story for workers over 40, link here

After my forced retirement at 58 at the end of 2001, I looked at a little bit of everything, and did not like a lot of what I saw – the regimentation and flaky business models under which a lot of “ordinary people” work their entire lives.  I saw plenty of “buy in” ideas, like cash flow management.  I looked at becoming a TSA screener (that would mean discipline).  This was my time to “pay my dues”. 

On the other hand, many employers find that in some sales fields, only seniors really understand the business needs of customers.  That's particularly true in home improvement, where Home Depot and Lowes find that only much more "senior" people are familiar with the special problems in maintaining older homes.  That is sometimes true in areas like insurance, tax preparation, and financial planning, and elder management. 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Resumes should be succinct, contain no personal stuff; Maryland passes law protecting job applicants' and holders' social media passwords

Business Insider has a long series of resume tips, interview tips, and lists of things not to do when job hunting, and it starts here. The tips are presented in a series of panels that resemble Power Point slides. 

Today, the attitude is “less is more”.  Don’t put hobbies, references, even “objectives”.  Avoid wordiness.  Quantify your accomplishments.  According to the intro of the panels, the average recruiter spends six seconds on a resume before making a “preliminary” decision.

The list goes easy on the recommendations for online reputation.
When I was working with an outplacement company in 2002, more “detail” was considered acceptable. For example, I wrote:

“ Facilitated cross-selling, by installing new life insurance products on legacy systems. I installed these products by modifying and testing Assembler code in CFO and sometimes in (COBOL) VLN legacies, and then by providing interfaces to the salary deduction system. Often the work involved revising batch JCL and procs with considerations for restart, recovery, and generation data groups.

“ Enabled efficient customer service and cross-selling after merger, by implementing legacy replications and gateways to a common GUI customer service workbench. I wrote these replications in COBOLMVS and DYL280, and I wrote a COBOL II CICS gateway to a Vantage-NBU (new business) system, using XPEDITER as a development debugging tool.

“ Enhanced security of an accounts payable system with a new signature approval process. I created a new batch job with COBOL, VSAM and JCL. I also supported a vendor supplied accounts payables system (MSA) and supported 4GL Information Expert (IE) modules, while on one occasion reformatting checks.”

Way too much?  A mouthful of words?  By today’s standards, yes.  Maybe not in 2002.

There’s something else about the “6 seconds”.  I spend maybe three seconds on an email trying to get my attention for publication, before deciding if it’s relevant to what I do.  When someone communicates with me, I take it as like sending a “resume” or maybe a “query letter” to “get published”.  I know the other side, now.  I really don’t have more time, when there are thirty of these a day.

I suspect that the major television producers  (Anderson, Nate, Ellen, Kelly, The View, etc) find the same thing with (scripted) emails from people who want to be on the show. There are just too many of them.

Here’s something else about online reputation. The Maryland legislature just passed a bill forbidding employers from asking for social media passwords, Baltimore Sun story here. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

My history with crude data warehousing; repairing damaged CD's

One of the first calls I had after my end-2001 layoff was for a “data warehousing” contract in downtown Minneapolis at Wells Fargo.  

I was just starting the job search, was still in outplacement, and had no real concept of how picky clients would be at finding matching candidates – a practice which meant it was hard to break into any other area of expertise.

A site that explains the concept is LGI’s, here.

But I had indeed encountered some rather crude experience with the concept.  In 1976, I wrote a “tape save” in COBOL (back on the old Univac 1110) for NBC of the general ledger data. 

Then in the early 1990s, we effectively had a manual data warehouse of all of our salary deduction bills – microfiche.  Rather like the way you used to have to look at newspapers in public libraries.  (It was always hard to remember how to use those machines.) 

The biggest danger in those days is that no one tried to use the data, so if you didn’t force yourself to look at it (and read it back somehow) as a programmer, there was a risk that a “warehouse” could become unusable five years later when someone needed it.  Preventing such a possibility was part of a programmer’s “work habits”.

For Y2K we “warehoused” our tests manually, in cardboard moving boxes, shipped to an iron mountain.
And for a disaster recovery exercise in March 1999, we captured entire cycles of data on GDG’s.  It was all rather a crude exercise.

So I really didn’t have the specialized experience one needed for that 2002 job.

Here’s something else. There is a “WikiHow” on fixing scratched CD’s, which many small businesses use for their own local data retention (since they’re optical, they can’t be harmed by magnetic attacks or accidents).  I find this link amazing. Here it is.

Here's another little tip.  If you have a lot of classical CD sets, make sure you throw away any foam separating the discs.  Over twenty years, the foam can make a mess. 

Wikipedia attribution link for commercial data warehousing diagram. 

Sunday, April 08, 2012

DC Metro I.T. has trouble with signage accuracy

I've noticed on the Washington DC Metro that often the information signs indicate "Train" without a designation, suggesting "no passengers" when actually it is a regularly run train that picks up passengers.  This does seem to indicate a recurring problem in the online information systems on the Metro.  Since cellular Internet is often not available in underground platforms, consumers need reliable information on how the trains are running from the platform signs.  I have not noticed similar problems with automatic signs in the New York City transit.

I've also noticed that in NYC's Penn Station, the train board is still manual, and doesn't seem to operate as a digital screen.

This does seem to be a "quality of work" issue in the DC Metro's information technology. 

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Remember EDS? Perot Systems? Eagles don't flock!

It’s interesting to check up on what happened to old “nemesis” competitor systems and employers.
Remember the truism, “Eagles don’t flock, you have to find them one at a time”.

That used to be a favorite proverb of H. Ross Perot (independent presidential candidate in 1992), when he founded Electronic Data Systems in Dallas, sometime around 1962, basing his sales and technical force on ex military officers.  At one time it was located in Exchange Park near Love Field (at the end of the Oak Lawn neighborhood) of Dallas, TX; then it moved to a “palace” on Forest Lane, and then moved again to Plano. It made its mark by taking over IT departments of companies, especially Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plans. Around 1979-1980, its presence (and takeover of the Texas plan) disrupted the political resolve of the consortium of Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans that had been trying to develop a Combined Medicare Project, since the Texas plan had been one of the original sponsors.  (“They’re going to run to EDS as fast as they’re little legs will take them.)

Around 1968 or so, Datamation published an article “Turnkey to Profits” about EDS, which in those days had become notorious for its militant attitude about employees (since it depended on military officers for people, in those draft-driven days).  EDS was best known for its dress code, which insisted on formal dark suits, white shirts, and coats being kept on at work – because customers “didn’t understand computers”.  I actually saw one of its memos dating to 1972 that my boss at Bradford had kept (when I was working for Bradford in NYC in 1977).  Of course, IBM may have originated the prudish dress code, in the 1950s requiring men to wear over-the-calf stockings and garters.  EDS’s literature was sexist by today’s standards, talking about “men” as professionals.  In 1969, as I started my own first-job search before getting out of the Army (Feb. 1970), I got (out of morbid curiosity) it’s job application form, which had columns for “you” and “your wife” (rebuttable presumption, anyone?) and asked, with bald-face, “How often do you attend church?”

I actually went to an EDS job fair in northern VA in 1989, while at Lewin, at a huge data center facility near Dulles Airport. I recall peeking at the cavernous operations center, and seeing "UCC7" (or was it "CA7"?) on a huge Jumbotron screen. 

Now Dulles is owned by Hewlitt-Packard, and there is actually a small bank called “Eagle Bank”, probably unaware of the way EDS had used the term.  

EDS had a long history of its own, belonging to General Motors for a while, and GM couldn’t get along with Perot.  Then Perot formed his own “Perot Systems”, a smaller but similar consulting company, which now belongs to Dell!

I seem to recall that Perot lived on "Strait Lane" in North Dallas, at least back in the 1980s.  

Turnabout is fair play. 

Second picture: 100 Church St in NYC, 2004, where Bradford Administrative Services (Bradford National Corporation, eventually acquired by McDonnell-Douglas) housed its New York State MMIS contract and operations in the late 1970s.