Wednesday, June 26, 2013

E-Week: COBOL market is still robust, underestimated

eWeek has a web posting “Application Development: Modernizing COBOL apps: 10 Reasons Why It’s Important”, by Darrell K. Taft, link (with slide show) here
Taft says there are 1.5 to 2 million developers worldwide who code COBOL., with about 5 billion lines of code written a year.  (That’s more than I thought, given the amount of retirement.) The average American exercises a transaction (perhaps even when buying gas) that executes a COBOL coded transaction about 13 times a day.  There are over 200 times as many COBOL transactions as Google searches.  (Not sure what happens if you add in Bing and Yahoo Safe).
Micro Focus COBOL still thrives, and COBOL works in Linux and Unix environments.  It can be integrated with java (although I haven’t seen how this is done).  There is an object-oriented implementation of the language (with extra pre-compilation steps) that also works with .NET. 
The need for COBOL is likely to increase specifically because of reforms in health insurance (setting up the exchanges for Obamacare) and entitlements, as well as state welfare and benefits programs.  State governments are typically a large source of short term _6 month-1 year, often renewed) contract with staffing companies.  Professionals tend to recycle into new contracts in the same area (like MMIS). 

There was a tremendous demand for COBOL before Y2K, which dropped off.  But HIPAA generated a lot of contracts early in the last decade.  

Friday, June 21, 2013

CNN challenges charges that most internships are abusive, reporting many are from teens

CNN New Day is throwing a monkey wrench into the ongoing debate about employment internships, saying that most of them are filled by college freshmen and sophomores, not by seniors, and often earn academic credit.  It says there is still a lot of competition about the under-21 set for internships.

Will the recent court ruling against Fox in an internship case change this?  Probably not, at least it seems from CNN.
The story didn’t seem to be online yet.  Watch for it.  Ross Perlin still has his challengers. 

Update: June 24

Yahoo! Finance has a story on the Court opinions on the legality of unpaid internships, by Camille Olson and Christopher Nelson, here.  

Thursday, June 20, 2013

"Bill" plays working commuter for a day. It's time consuming, and it's not free

From the 1960’s on, corporate employers often tended to move into the suburbs, and eventually exurbs, to where the homes of “families with children” were.  Remember all the talk in the 1970’s about the deaths of employment in the inner cities?

Well, they didn’t die that quickly.  I remember when working in New York City in the 70s, it really was a problem for programmers who didn’t live in the city to keep up – if they had to commute by bus or commuter rail and subway.  The lynchpins of the company tended to live in the City and be able to come in at any time, especially for production abends.

It got better slowly for suburbanites in the 1990s and “work from home” started, first with dumb dial up terminals to take home from work for a conventional phone line.  In a salaried environment , where there is a lot of unpaid overtime – yes, telecommuting helps – unless you work for Yahoo! now – but a long commute is still a big problem for a lot of techies with bigger families who move farther away to find houses they can afford.

Today, I played “commuter”.  I drove to the final station, Broad Run, on the Manassas Line of the Virginia Railway Express (link), parked (finding one legal space), rode the train to Union Station (70 minutes) and back,  I even tripped up by validating one ticket twice, but the conductor gave me a voucher, and then coming back the conductor didn’t even come upstairs in the “quiet” observation car to take it.

The actual 30-mile rail run (each way) is bucolic, with little scenes that look like they were contrived for a model railroad exhibit.  There are some nice little wildlife areas, and some interesting rail yards, even a little coal and quarrying. There was training site for bus and truck drivers (these are "real jobs").

I had never ridden on a commercial (non-Metro) train south of Union Station. The tunnel actually starts just south of the Library of Congress and Capitol South Metro, and runs underneath and slightly around the Capitol to get to Union Station.  Congress has it's own little railroad and subway, which we can talk about later.

There is only one afternoon train inbound on Manassas (none on Fredericksburg).  Amtrak itself has very limited service on these lines. Oddly, outbound, the train stayed on the Left, British style.
When I returned, to leave the commuter parking lot, I had to wait in line a long time on “Piper Lane” (the station is near a small airport) just to get out onto Route 28.   Call it "Traffic Jam". It's never "free.  (At least "28" in Manassas VA is no match for the 405 in LA.., especially where it meets the 101 -- yes - I've driven through both..)

(There was a video here.  Amazon link for purchase of music is here.  Hope the entire video is available there soon there, as on a DVD perhaps, with other material;  I'll advise if this happens..)

And before the exercise, I tried lunch at the Red Robin across the street, when a slip-up in customer service almost made me too late.

It was quite a crazy day, requiring decompression without the Bends.  I could not stand this every day. 

I’ve always lived close to work.  The closest ever was on the Skyway in downtown Minneapolis when I was with ING-ReliaStar.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Woman shaves head in sympathy with sister undergoing chemotherapy, then resigns when asked by boss to wear wig before customers

Although this story is not specifically about I.T., it certainly speaks to a wider issue in the workplace, and also to some personal moral issues concerning “solidarity”.
A woman, Melanie Strandberg, shaved her head in sympathy for her sister who had been undergoing chemotherapy for ovarian cancer.  She worked in a beauty salon in a casino in Spokane, Washington.  She was asked to put on a wig at work, but refused, saying she couldn’t be there for her sister half the time.  She resigned from the job.

Complicating the story is the fact that she had battled cancer earlier herself.
In general, I have never been approachable to make symbolic body sacrifices to make another person’s problem “all right”.  Someone with my background might understand where I am coming from.  On Nov. 8, 2009, I had discussed (on the main “BillBoushka” blog) a “Be Brave a Shave” barbering session at a local neighborhood market in Arlington – although I am totally bald anyway, I did not offer to do it, but did report on it.  I also don’t have the history of closeness with people that siblings sometimes have (I am an only child).
The Quest casino that owns the property says it will investigate.  It may tell the salon to rescind the request, out of popular customer pressure. 
The UK Daily Mail has a story on the incident by Margot Peppers, here

I’m reminded of the old “dress for success’ guidelines of John T.t Molloy.  He wanted anyone at the executive level to look about 40 and have a little gray (with makeup, if he was younger).  That doesn’t compute anymore.  

Wikipedia attribution link for picture from NE Washington state.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Federal judge rules Fox subsidiary violated FSLA with its unpaid interns in making "Black Swan"

A federal judge, William Pauley in New York, has ruled that Fox Searchlight Pictures violated US minimum wage laws by not paying interns.  The Los Angeles Times has the basic story on its “Company Town” page by Daniel Miller, here.

The violations occurred during the making of “Black Swan” (directed by Darren Aronofsy, reviewed on the movies blog, Dec. 3, 2010).
I was a little surprised that Fox would run a separate production support operation for Searchlight, just out of business efficiency concerns.  Warner Brothers (long with New Line)  has dropped having separate production staffs for its more independent films. 
The plaintiffs included Eric Glatt and Andrew Footman, who said they performed menial tasks that should have been paid for. 
Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, there are some criteria that allow some interning. It must not displace a regular employee, and must provide a benefit for the intern (such as academic credit, or training).
George Washington University had a symposium on unpaid internships in 2010, video here.

One company I worked for in the early 1990s  used “interns” from programming schools for tasks like librarian work and checking elevation packages.  I think they were paid something, though.  

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Jaron Lanier's theories on the Internet and middle class jobs: I think he misses some of the point in IT jobs

I read music composer  Jaron Lanier’s critique of the Internet and its effect on an economy that supports the middle class (Tuesday’s posting on my my BillBoushka blog). 

Has the Internet simply destroyed the “professional” jobs in IT and journalism that used to provide incomes to raise families?  Or have new careers come up to replace it.

I think it’s more the latter.  There’s a tremendous need for skills in a lot of specific areas (starting with security), and this isn’t the kind of stuff that gets done by open source or blog postings.  Although, it seems that contribution of code to various open source sites seems to be part of the portfolio many younger iT professionals need.

Furthermore, there is a substantial need for old time business processing.  It sounds as though the old-fashioned “career” in-house in a bank or insurance company as a mainframe  applications (particularly COBOL) programmer may have declined – because it’s so much more efficient to outsource major systems development (particularly to Vantage, which rules the mainframe world).  But critical needs keep coming up.  

Now, it’s to implement the maze of regulatory changes for Obamacare – and companies are wondering where the mainframe programmers of twenty years ago went.  (They should have wondered that ten years ago.)  Later, the need will surely arise with entitlement reform – some sort of quasi-privatization of Social Security is inevitable.

And there are places in the government that just have to modernize – the iRS, for one, and the FAA. 
What does this mean to the “middle class” professional?  You have to he flexible, and pay attention to what is going on. 

But in the mean time, we really need a “national discussion” on the role of social media and online reputation in the job market.  

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

EEOC sues two major employers for racial disparate impact from criminal background checks in hiring and firing

The Washington Post is reporting that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commissin (EEOC) has sued two major companies, BMW and Dollar General, for what it says amount to racial discrimination through disparate impact after the use of criminal background checks.  The front page story by Ylan Q. Mui  is here

The action would raise other questions, though.  It could leave poorly conducted social media checks in place, and these can come out even more discriminatory. 

The EEOC does have compliance rules on criminal background checks. 

How could this affect checks made by landlords for tenants? 

The story and the action has an unpleasant feel to it, something like “class warfare”. 
Criminal background checks would be allowed more freely in some jobs, such as those involving handling money or weapons.   It would be a good question as to how it would affect I.T. employment.  

On CNN, Herman and Fisher said that in these companies, new management tightened the rules, saying no one with any criminal convictions at all could be retained, when former management had allowed more lead time or exceptions.  So people were fired, and most were African-Americans.  

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Old fashioned state social services (including workforce and MMIS) now have trouble finding mainframe talent -- it's moved on

I am indeed seeing more emails about old-fashioned mainframe skills for contract positions in state governments.  They want the old-fashioned COBOL. JCL:, VSAM, CICS, and sometimes various databases (DB2, even IMS  sometimes).  For example. I got an email about a job involving the Wyoming employment services, with a job that could require travel between Cheyenne and Casper.  (I was personally in Cheyenne one Saturday night in August 1994, on a day where I experienced a personal “epiphany”, but that’s another matter.)

The company that sent the email is TSCTI, 22nde Century Technologies, link. It’s ironic to see mainframe jobs in connection with a “22nd Century” trademark where one imagines supporting systems on spacecraft commuting to the Moon or Mars. 
I near my 70th birthday and have migrated so far away from this area (to media business).   I wish the market had been like this ten years ago.  Mainframe is definitely coming back.  Is it because all the older professionals had to move on after the 2001 9/11-recession?  Has everybody gone?  Does anybody under 55 know mainframe real well?  What is really going on?

Obamacare may present real technological challenges in implementation – because the technical skill set to support it has been forgotten.  

A lot of us "moved on" when we couldn't get jobs during the post-Dot-com and post-9/11 recession -- and now when they need us, we're gone, almost literally to other planets.  
Blame Mark Zuckerberg

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Wyoming strip mine, near Gillette;  I passed country like this in May, 1998 on a Memorial Day weekend trip from Minneapolis.   I recall one big mine.    For what it’s worth, a remember corresponding with PSEG when living in New Jersey, and it said western coal would not reduce the need for strip mining in Appalachia.  Oh, how your young adulthood comes back to memory because of one ad.  Also, the countryside near Laramie (SE Wyoming) is where Matthew Shepard was slain in 1998. 

Monday, June 03, 2013

So my Dice resume attracts invitations for distributorships

Why in the world do I get a “sales job” pitch on the Internet based on my Dice (inactive) resume?
The last thing I would want to do is give up my “independence” to pitch someone else’s wares or agenda.  Oh, welcome to the real world of families to support. 
As an “individual contributor” all those years in I.T, I didn’t have to worry about this?
The link on the email didn’t work – a coding problem, but it seems to be “Rtui Cart Advertising”, site here   (no rating from NYWOT or McAfee). 

When you look at the site, it seems to be about retail distributorships – people “own their own businesses” doing this.


After my layoff from ING at the end of 2001, while I was still in Minnesota, I heard a lot about this sort of thing.  There was even an “entrepreneurs fair” at a hotel on 494 in Bloomington MN (near the Mall of America) for this kind of thing.  Phone cards.  Prepaid visa debit cards.    Transportation cards  (which can be vulnerable to fraud).   Stuff poor people buy in convenience stores.  (I don’t know whether there are distributorships for lottery tickets, but it wouldn’t surprise me.)  

Update: June 6

Here we go. I get another email like this based on my "resume" from a retail food distributor.  Why m,e?