Thursday, April 30, 2015

News networks do hire interns -- notes from a protest gathering

So I found out yesterday that television news networks hire interns.  I met one for CBS at the site of the rioting (near the CVS store) in Baltimore (related to Freddie Gray) Wednesday afternoon.
I hope they are paid decently.  But what struck me as interesting is the idea that one needs to “intern” to become a journalist.
But Anderson Cooper “paid his dues” as a young man in post-conflict areas in Southeast Asia (he also “interned” at the CIA, according to Wikipedia), and conflict journalism, with all the horrific personal risks today, is one way that happens today.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Abercrombie admits hiring based on physical attractiveness

In I.T. workers don’t have to worry about physical presence or attractiveness.  In fact, in earlier days of my career I noticed how aggressive sales people could look pretty homely and ordinary.  Conformity to convention in business dress could be a convenient cover for “deficiency” anywhere else – in the old “Dress for Success” (John T, Nolloy's notorious book from the 70s) world, you wanted to look middle-aged anyway.
So I had to chuckle at a Washington Post story Saturday, by Jena McGregor, reporting that Abercrombie and Fitch will stop hiring workers based on “body type or physical attractiveness”, link here.  The print and especially online versions of the Post story offered shirtless frontals of young men with sharp abs and zero chest hairs (“thmooth”).  It looked artificial, not natural. 
Abercrombie is making the changes voluntarily, out of need for better revenue.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Age bias in tech -- did this contribute to the Obamacare implementation catastrophe?

“Model View Culture” has an interesting perspective on ageism and tech, “Silicon Valley’s Other Diversity Problem: Age Bias in Tech,” by Grace Wong, link here
She even links to a 2007 Cnet story where a 22-year-old Mark Zuckerberg is quoted as saying “Young people are just smarter”, link here.  Perhaps then Zuckerberg didn’t know employment law very well.

But it’s true, I’ve run into the idea that a lot of skills – like hyperproductivity in coding – are best learned in the teen years, the same way that piano is, or chess, for that matter.
Older techies with largely mainframe skills are baited with “gigs” and W-2 contracts for very specific skills, living out of corporate apartments.  And it is the same kind of maturity in systems implementation – and conception – that older workers offer is what might have prevented the Obamacare (“Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act”) implementation debacle.  And the current legal uncertainty before SCOTUS does not help.
I’ve seen comments on Facebook – that going back to school can give the older professional his mojo back.  In practice, that’s a hard sell in the real market.  There is nothing like real experience with the technology at hand – and getting it from ground up on a project.
That said, contractors, especially in health care systems, badly need to look broadly at the management, people and implementation skills that older professionals offer – even when they are fluent with all the latest coding. 

Update: April 20

Cnet has a story "How to solve Silicon Valley's diversity challenges?  Google has ideas", link here

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

"Fight for 15" rally in Washington draws small evening crowd, calls for solidarity (light on "personal responsibility"), wants $15/hr min wage for everyone

As I noted on the Retirement blog (with respect to home caregivers) I attended the “Fight for 15” rally, which was lightly attended, at the Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington, near the Mall and Tidal Basin.
After I “lost” my career at the end of 2001, my own earnings dropped to $6 per hour plus commissions.  Even as a sub I didn’t make 15.  I saw this as “taking my turn” at low-wage work (Barbara Ehrenreich style);  I hadn’t proved I was worth more “in a free market cultural revolution”. If I could compete personally well enough, I would make more, so I made what I was worth.  "Some people are better than others", or at least that was the cultural value that I grew up with.  So I came to see having to be in a picket as a sign of shame, or personal failure.

The tone of the rally was certainly “collective”.  But, of course, real people have kids, are less than perfect, and don’t prevail in a “winner takes all economy” launched from a dorm room. 


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

New York State goes after retailers for excessive "on call" scheduling demands of low-wage workers; Note the "Fight for 15" tomorrow

Retailers in New York State are under pressure from the state attorney general for their staffing practices and short-term work schedules, requiring low-wage hourly workers to be ready to come to work on short notice.  The Wall Street Journal story from Monday April 13 is here

It would be very difficult for any worker to make personal plans under such conditions.
The problem reminds me of what happens in IT jobs a lot, where people are on-call for production support, often from home.  If someone has a family emergency (more likely with kids), others have ot fill in without pay, in a salaried environment. 

This story comports with the “Fight for 15” strikes and demonstrations by low-wage workers set for tax day, April 15.  It’s possible it could be difficult to use a fast food restaurant tomorrow.

Demonstrations are planned, such as at the MLK memorial in Washington DC (link ).  The “Fight for 15” site is here

Monday, April 13, 2015

Life insurance paid for my lifestyle for 12 years; is it my karma that I should be able to sell it?

A piece in the Sunday Business section of the New York Times, “Risky moves in the game of life insurance,” link here.  (Is that an accidental tribute to the 1983 Tom Cruise movie "Risky Business"?) 
I spent the last twelve years of my mainstream IT career in life insurance and annuities, and a logical question would be, could I go out in sell it?  It had paid for my life, right?  And as I’ve often explained, I’m not a “huckster”.
Yet it seems, from the article, that a lot of the inner world of the life business is rather dry and boring. They talk about “captive reinsurance”.  Although I think that some additional reinsurance products could solve some anti-selection problems in the name of “fairness”, like health insurance for those with pre-existing conditions.
In the middle 2000’s I was contacted a couple times about becoming a “financial planner”.  I had even interviewed one who worked under the American Express Franchise brand.  I can’t see paying someone $800 a year to do this, so I can’t see selling a service you can do for yourself. 
Insurance agents do talk to families about their needs, and in the 1990s made a big deal about carrying laptops.  I sometimes wonder, who could someone who did not “reproduce” really plant himself in someone’s home and pretend he can “take care” of a big family’s finances.
It’s getting easier all the time for consumers to figure out their own needs online, and they need sales people less than in the past (although they may need the help with operations).  This is no longer a good world for “sales culture” (or the “Always be closing” line of the 2002 comedy film “100 Mile Rule”).  We are less social as a people, in terms of how we work together, than we used to be, and that might not be so good. 

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Could I have saved my IT career and have better karma now? Probably so.

After my “career cardiac arrest” at ING-ReliaStar in Minneapolis (at age 58), in the post-9/11 (and post dot-com crash) world of December 2011, I did find that the culture of the “interim” job market was indeed a big shocking. There was a great deal of hucksterism, of companies trying to hire people to knock and doors, phone them and email them (and now, use their social media “friends” and “followers” lists as leads) to sell them things.  Companies seemed oblivious to the idea that people don’t want to be pimped.
Actually, that’s all part of the cultural change that has gone on with the Internet, the “alone together” idea (Sherry Turkle’s book, in the Book review blog Nov. 2, 2011).  In my parents’ era, it was more socially acceptable to use your friends for business. 
I can remember being taken out to lunch by a life insurance agent in Merrifield VA (while it was being redeveloped) in 2007, and wondering, is this the life I was supposed to have, pampering people?  I don’t do that.
Could I have avoided all this by remaining more technically competitive as I grew older?
Consider how the mainframe market behaved back in the good old days, the 70s and early-mid 80s.  Companies did their own in-house systems in COBOL, mainly (but in Assembler and on older platforms like DOS more often than you think).  In time, purchased systems from application vendors became more prominent.  These ranged from Infonational (accounting), which NBC used in the 1970s, to CFO, then VLN and finally Vantage in Life Insurance, to Hogan for banking, and MSA (DB) for accounts payables.  Slowly, the market shifted to these vendors.  Originally, the market wanted basic IBM skills (COBOL, JCL, VSAM, CICS, and database which used to prefer IMS before IDMS and relational DB2 became more important in the 80s).  People who came from non-IBM mainframes (like Univac in my case) had to “get IBM”.  In time, the market tended to want deeper specific experience with these packages, especially in health care (like Medicaid MMIS). 
 Then, the market started to contract in the late 1980s with the wave of hostile takeovers and data center consolidations.  Curiously, after Reagan, defense was getting stronger again, especially in the mini world of Vax/VMS.
In the 1990s, I worked for a smaller life insurance company in Arlington (USLICO, to become ReliaStar and finally ING and Voya).  USLICO had “everything”, up to a point, although most of the IDMS was through VSAM transparency.  So did ReliaStar in Minneapolis.  In the 1990s, the expectations of retrofits for Y2K kept the mainframe market strong.  But the culture became even more specialized.  We used DB2 and Vantage, but tended to use outside consultants to write all “the modules” needing deep technical expertise.  The inhouse people were slowly getting “less technical”.
After Y2K and then 9/11, the market had changed.  Mainframe “gigs” tended to demand much more specialized or concentrated skills and be short term, often involving temporary relocation and living in a corporate apartment on a per diem.  (That doesn’t help “family values.”)  MMIS jobs tended to require five years of MMIS itself.  Had I not left Bradford in NYC and moved to Dallas in 1979, maybe I would have built up the five years and stayed in MMIS even until today (merged with Obamacare, which would give MMIS projects a lot of work).
I probably blew a chance to move into Vantage in the early 1990s, had I not been so preoccupied with what I perceived as an improperly done elevation on an in-house system in 1991.  The details are somewhat interesting, and are mentioned in my DADT-3 book, and I may give more background later on  my DADT notes Wordpress blog.  In the early 1990s, Vantage ran slow, and VLN (from a Texas entrepreneur) was perceived as a legitimate competitor.  But VLN failed as a company, and Vantage took over the race, and by the late 1990s was a powerhouse in mainframe legacy life insurance, annuity, and new business processing, batch and online (CICS), with a choice of DB2 of VSAM databases.  By the late 1990s, Vantage cycles ran efficiently.  After Y2K, the job market specifically for advanced Vantage skills would be strong.  “Vantage rules the world”, at least in life insurance legacy systems. It’s now CSC (link ).

I may have also had an opportunity to learn java programming in 1999, and worked on the mid-tier team, and actually gotten away from Y2K work, had I been more “alert”.  At the time, I was recovering from the hip fracture accident (which actually went very well; the University of 
Minnesota was the best place in the world to treat something like this).  I was very interested in matters related to my book, to the website that put it online, and then to COPA.  I was also seeing early distractions from my mother’s health issues, which by the spring of 1999 were a big-time problem. 
In managing my own websites (at the time, it was “”, mirrored on AOL Hometown) I kept the technology very simple.  I used simple HTML, and found I didn’t even need to bother with Metatags to get it indexed in search engines.  So I didn’t learn the scripting that commercial sites use (and that is becoming more necessary for mobile sites today).  However, at the same time, at work, the effort in 1999 was mounted to code a “mid tier” data access layer in java.  Had I been more alert, I might have gotten myself on that team.  There is a big advantage to learning an OOP language when putting up a new system that you code yourself.  It is very difficult to learn a language maintaining something in retrospect.
Getting real proficiency in OOP coding would have avoided some of the “problems” I wound up with.  That is, being pushed into hucksterism, or into areas that were overly personal in the demands of others (as I found out as a substitute teacher), or having the questionable “karma” of dependency on “inherited wealth” now (after mother’s passing) which could become the target of criminal or political (or a combination of both) expropriation.  My circumstances could have been much healthier and I could be much more knowledgeable about matters like security and moving quickly to newer content-management platforms for my own work.
I did move over to “client-server” in early 2000, winding up in “CSW Support” and on a 2-person team to “fix bugs”, a third tier that became redundant when the layoff came.  But it is difficult to learn Powerbuilder and java fixing work of others (I did take a one week course in each.)  In the intervening years, java (once very popular in retail systems) has become somewhat suspect over security concerns, despite its amazing rise in popularity from 1997 to 2002.
We can also ask, how to kids learn to become “supercoders” like Mark Zuckberberg?  (Remember the line “Kids’ Stuff” in “The Social Network”?)  It seems to be like playing piano, it is much easier to become proficient and quick when you are about 14 than when you are 60.  Lots of kids overseas have become supercoders, but the economies in places like Russia don’t give them legitimate jobs. Instead, Vladimir Putin (was well as the Chinese government) seem to look at their teen hackers as their new soldiers.
Yes, having the skills of a coding prodigy is a good thing in the US, Canada and the West today.  If you’re in college, it can pay your way, avoid debt, and let you start your adult life at 18, on your own.  Of course, the skills in the workplace aren’t quite the same as what academics require.
In the meantime, I’ve noticed that the mainframe job requisitions by email from recruiters in the past two years have become more generic.  That seems to be cause of the demands create by the cavernous complexity of Obamacare.   The Supreme Court this spring could have an unpredictable effect on the future market.