Sunday, September 10, 2006


International Brotherhood of Software Developers….
International Brotherhood of Information Workers….
International Union For Geeks…..
International Brotherhood of Computer Workers ….
International Brotherhood of Data Professionals….

A union for folks who work in the IS/IT field, that’s the topic.

I wrote this on Labor Day; the following is from the US Department of Labor,

“Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”

First celebrated in New York City in September of 1882, New York State was the first to make it a State Holiday in 1887, several other states followed, but it took until June of 1894 for it to become a national holiday in the US.

Like most holidays, it too was born of bloodshed. The early days of the labor movement were not only turbulent but complete with suffering and even bloodshed.

Today, we’re shedding jobs more than blood. The new global information infrastructures have turned the world into a marketplace for IS/IT talent, and those of us in this business, in the US, are especially feeling the pinch.

We all felt fairly secure as we watched textile jobs being ‘outsourced’, confident that our skills and abilities would keep us from suffering the same fate. We know now though, that when competing in a global economy, no one, not even highly skilled workers are safe from other, lower cost, competitive markets.

One of the suggestions has been to unionize, to band together and exert pressure on companies to hire ‘onshore’ talent. I have some thoughts about why that hasn’t, and isn’t likely to happen.

First, many, many, corporations are already involved in outsourcing projects. The ‘low cost’ incentive to try is just too high for them not to do so. We can argue all we want about less talented/skilled workers, language and time barriers, communication issues with respect to project specifications and more, it’s pointless though. The stone fact is that companies believe they can accomplish almost as much, for far lower costs, via outsourcing than they can via internal departments.

Second, the average IS/IT worker is far too independent to even want to join a ‘union’. We’ve enjoyed a more than fair wage, a robust job market and built a good career without any union help, thank you very much.

Last, the edge unions once had is gone. The union, as we know it, is a dying concept. Only those jobs which can not be outsourced, moved off shore, can still benefit. Even those jobs, where unions have made huge concessions in an attempt to help a company regain its competitive advantage, financial footing have seen those same companies demand more, and more in the way of concessions (think airlines here folks).

The best thing IS/IT workers could do for themselves today, is to band together and form a ‘service core’. A single organization owned and run by the workers that brokers onshore IS/IT talent to companies. Remove the need for a company to interview a dozen or so candidates for a contract, instead they simply send off the project spec and get it done. (It’s the off-shore model, brought on-shore)

We have a semblance of that today with contract houses, but there’s still the interview process, the recruiting process and getting the worker to the company. In this new model, everything is done off-site except those tasks requiring an on-site, hands on effort like hardware installation/repair.

Personally, I think, that to have a career with longevity, in the IS/IT field today, in the US, something like this needs to emerge. Or, we can simply wait 10, maybe 15 years for the cycle to reverse itself and companies begin to build internal IS/IT groups again.

Let’s face it folks, we live, and work, in a global economy. That trend is not going to reverse itself anytime soon. We need to address that head on, and make some changes to allow ourselves to be competitive, to take back the work that’s headed off shore.

There’s only one way to do that. Be better, faster, and more productive, than everyone else.

I believe strongly, that even if onshore talent was 15, maybe even 25 percent more costly than an off shore source, companies would prefer to work with that group, than with an offshore group.

How do we do that? It’s not going to be easy but it can be done. There would be a need for project managers, lead developers, coders and entry level folks. We’d need a huge, well organized and accessible ‘code base’, in several languages, as well as several development frameworks to build applications around to allow development of features not infrastructure.

Also, and possibly most importantly, we’d need the ability to bring the right mix of top, middle and entry level people together for any project. Blending skill (and therefore pay) levels together to provide a competitive pricing structure. Not simple, not easy, but possible.

So, we’d be building a union of sorts, yes, but not a “union” in the traditional sense. A uniting of skill, talent and people, but not to pressure or force corporations to meet our demands, but instead to provide the best possible mix of people in a way that their competitive advantage would be negatively effected if they chose to ignore it.

Will it happen? I doubt it. There’s no immediate advantage to the individual, it’s not like every IS/IT worker can walk off the job tomorrow and step into this new paradigm. There’s just too much ‘front end’ work to do, and not much in the way of a profit incentive for folks to do so. Let’s face that too, we’re all trying to feed our families, attempting to reinvent IS work in America isn’t going to pay many bills, up front.

I’d sure like to give it a try though… but I’d need a ton of help, folks from all walks of the IS/IT realm, to put a mechanism together, eventually find our first project(s) and bring them in, on time, and on budget. I strongly believe that once a few projects were successfully completed, things would begin to roll forward very, very quickly. We’d need to be prepared for that as well.

We owe a huge debt of gratitude to those original labor organizers; they eventually brought management, and workers, together for a common goal, mutual profitability.

That’s still the goal… mutual profitability... without it there’s no common ground. Workers were seen as expendable resources before the labor movement. Through it, management found a work force (initially) as committed to the company’s success as they were, and became willing to pay a little more for that focused and well trained work force.

Until the IS/IT workers are able to prove their competitive advantage, I don’t see any slowdown in the move to offshore as much of the IS/IT effort as is possible.

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Saturday, September 09, 2006

Tales from the road. . .

I read this today… I’m not sure if you’ll be able to see it, but it’s an interesting read if you can.

It has me thinking about my 2 hours (or more) on the road each day and some of the things I’ve seen just in the past few months.

Take Friday morning for example. I’d been driving, in the same line of cars, for at least ten miles. When I’d slipped into the line it was moving at about 72, maybe 73mph. I noticed a car that had pulled from the line and was coming up very fast on my right. I looked at the dash and saw we were moving at almost 85mph now, and this clown was attempting to pass the entire line and had to be doing close to 95 when he passed me.

About three months ago, I was driving in the ‘slow lane’, moving at a little over 70 (the speed limit on this road is 65),, there’s a semi behind me and a line of cars in front of me… Suddenly this pickup truck passes me on the right, yep he’s on the shoulder… he went by me so fast, I’m guessing he was doing close to 100 that he was out of sight nearly as fast as I realized I was being passed.

This summer, as I’m heading into work, the weather is switching between a light rain to heavy, torrential type, downpours. As I’m approaching one of the really heavy traffic areas I notice there’s been an accident on the other side of the interstate… Someone in an SUV had tried to ‘slip in’ in front of a semi, but, hadn’t quite cleared the front of the big truck… that SUV was wrapped around the front left corner of the semi… and the semi was still on the ‘on ramp’!

Everyday, there’s a driver that makes me wonder, where they could possibly be going at 6:30am and be in that big a hurry! Take those types of chances with not only the lives of others, but, with their own life as well!

I’d like to say that every single one of them has also been yacking on their cell phone, but, only about half are. Most of the cell phone talkers have trouble maintaining a ‘steady speed’… At least once a day, one of these mobile communications obsessed drivers will pass me on the right, pull in front of me and then promptly slow down 5, or more miles an hour, prompting even more folks to attempt a ‘right pass’…

Earlier this week, one nearly rear ended me as traffic came to an abrupt halt… I stopped, and checked the rearview mirror… I could see her closing on my at speed, and was trying to decide to stay put, or pull around the car in front of me and on to the shoulder, when I saw her drop the phone, grab the wheel with both hands and the nose of the car drop as she hit the brakes… she eventually came to a stop, alongside me as she’d pulled on to the shoulder to avoid hitting me.

The cars behind her, were all over the place as well, but, as far as I know, no one hit anyone…

So… what I’d like is you folks to share with me some stupid things you’ve seen on the road… this week, last week, when ever… the worst, the best, anything… I just want some tales of yours… from the road!!

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Monday, September 04, 2006

More Thoughts on Management (Pt #3). . .

I’ve been thinking about management quite a bit lately. I’m not sure why as there’s nothing particularly remarkable going on ‘management-wise’ around me at the moment, but, at least a couple of times a day I find myself thinking about management, and managers.

I’ve been fortunate, or unfortunate depending on your particular viewpoint, to have had several managers over the years.

I watched a show a few nights back where they indicated that in previous generations it was unusual for a man to work for more than two different companies in his career. They went on to say that today, a man can expect to work for, on average, seven different companies in his career.

When they said that, I realized I’d worked for at least seven before I was 35, and there’s been at least a dozen since then. There was one year where I received W-2’s from three different companies, and each job was a pretty good one!

So, as a result of all of this turmoil I’ve certainly seen more than my share of managers.

My first real job was working in a large retail store. This was in the mid-60’s and the company, while having a primarily ‘Auto parts’ theme, also sold a variety of other items, like Sporting goods, house wares, tools, lawn mowers, big ticket electronics like refrigerators, Window Air conditioners, TV’s and stereos. They also sold furniture, kitchen cabinets and roofing materials.

I still remember my first day there.

I arrived for work at about 8:45am as the store opened at 9:15am. When I arrived the manager told another guy and me that he was expecting a truckload of roofing that morning, and that while we were waiting for the truck to go down in the cellar and straighten up the stock that was there and make room for the new shipment.

The truck arrived about 11:00, a full flatbed truck with 20 ton, 40,000 pounds of “roofing”. Rolls of felt and ‘half lap’, as well as a more cans of asphalt roof and driveway coating than I’d ever seen on one place before.

We unloaded that truck, by hand, on to a freight elevator, down the one and a half stories into the basement and then carried it, again by hand to the area where this stuff was stored.

It was a little before 12:30 when we finished, and when we got back into the store, the manager urged us to go directly to lunch and to be back by 1:00 as there was another truck expected at that time.

That truck arrived, and was a full load of kitchen cabinets, another 40,000 pounds, this time into the elevator up to the second floor. This time however, while we unloaded the truck by hand, we had 4 wheeled carts to pull the cabinets to their storage area about half way across the building.

We finished that truck shortly after 2:00, and as it was pulling out, another was pulling into the alley, this one was full of toys for the Christmas holidays (keep in mind this was June!)… Once again, off the truck by hand, up the elevator, only this time the toys were stored in the same room as the freight elevator. That truck took us until 3:30 as I recall, and when we came downstairs, the manager greeted us with a couple of cokes and told us there was another, but smaller truck on its way and to wait there, in the ‘back room’ for it.

When it arrived it was smaller, a 20, maybe 25 foot ‘straight job’, packed floor to ceiling, nose to tail with sleds and toboggans (no, not the hat, the curved wooden things you’d slid down a snow covered hill on). I swear that truck was so tightly packed a butterfly would not have fit.

It was about 5:00 when we finished, the sleds also went upstairs, however this time we used a conveyor belt, Joe and I would trade off one of us unloading the truck and loading the conveyor, and the other unloading the conveyor and stacking the goods. Again this was a hand operation, and the sleds where in pairs as were the toboggans. I remember that last pair felt heavier than anything I’d lifted all day.

The next morning, the manager seemed genuinely surprised to see me, ready and willing to work, he even commented on how he’d thought I would bail on the job.

I didn’t, and I continued to work for that company, and him, throughout high school.

I found out, after observing similar days with other ‘new guys’ that this was all part of his plan. He’d hire folks to start on what would most likely be the toughest work the job would ever require, if they came back, he made a place for them. Most, the vast majority, bailed after that first day.

Years later, when I remarked to him that I thought another ‘new guy’ was going to work out, he responded by saying “A new broom, always sweeps clean.” I didn’t understand the meaning behind that, initially, but it eventually sunk in. He avoided making judgments about a ‘new guy’ until they’d had a chance to settle in a bit, and show their ‘true colors’.

As I think back on that job, over the 4 or 5 years I had it, only one or two guys hung in there. Most stayed a little while, but the manual work was more than they wanted to do. Me, I was just happy to be earning enough money to keep my car repaired and in gas, and to date on Friday and Saturday nights!!

I’m telling you this, because, to this day, I don’t think I’ve ever worked for a better, natural manager.

He also taught me at least one, very valuable, lesson that I continue to utilize to this day, nearly 40 years later.

“Never leave work today, without having a plan for tomorrow.”

Now, I’ve used nearly every excuse myself, and heard the excuses I didn’t use from others, as to why it’s impossible to plan tomorrow, today.

To some degree, all of the excuses make sense. It seems that no matter how hard you plan, something always happens during the day, to derail your plan.

However, that ‘derailment’, and knowing it’s a virtual inevitability, is precisely the reason you need the plan! So, that each and every time you come back from that sidetracking event, you know exactly what you’d intended to do, in the order you’d intended to do it

That way, before anything takes you off plan; you can hit the door running and have a shot at getting some things accomplished, without having to make those decisions first thing in the morning. Instead, you made them yesterday when the sense of urgency of each task was fresh in your mind.

My last activity, every day, is to make a short, prioritized, list of the things I intend to accomplish tomorrow. Often it’s nothing more than a list of things I couldn’t finish today. Some from yesterday’s list, others that were assigned to me during the day. It takes no more than 10-20 minutes, but in the morning, I’m working, productively, about as fast as I can get logged in.

Can you say that? Or are you spending the first 15-45 minutes in the morning ‘getting organized’? Reading email to determine the ‘hot list’ from over night… reacting to that, rather than adjusting your plan to place those things properly on your priority stack?

I have more of these thoughts, and I’ll be sharing them as I can get them written up.

As always, please leave me a note, let me know if I’ve struck a chord, if what I’ve said hits home for you, or is totally off base from your perspective.

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Saturday, September 02, 2006

Employee, Contractor, or Self-Employed…

That folks is the eternal question, for me anyway.

I’ve got about equal experience in all three, and while each has advantages, there are unique drawbacks as well.

As an employee, I almost automatically slip into that ‘comfort zone’ I recently wrote about. Especially as the length of time I’ve been with the company grows. As that first year turns into a second, then a fifth and a tenth or more, I begin to ‘settle in’ and begin to allow myself a shot at believing retirement from “this” job might even be possible.

In my experience however, that just doesn’t seem to be the case, usually. Somewhere along the way, the markets shift, management changes bring on changes in corporate direction, and ultimately some folks are let go in the transition.

I personally think this is about the toughest situation to be in. Out of work after a long time at the same company and finding yourself woefully ill equipped for a job search!

As a contractor, you know the length of the contract. So you, in effect, know the day to expect you’ll be out of work. While for some, this knowledge is more than a little unsettling, to me, it’s far less anxiety producing than that “We’re eliminating your position” speech.

Also, given that you know, with reasonable certainty, you’ll be looking for work again in the near future, you’re far more likely to keep your resume ‘tuned up’, and current with the various job boards. You’ll also reply to emails from headhunters, and in general keep those avenues of communication open, so when the contract ends, you’ll have current names, phone and other contact information readily available.

Being self-employed on the other hand, may be the worst of all possible avenues. While I’ve loved being the owner, the ‘boss’ and having a fairly large say in the direction the company went, I’ve also been at the mercy of the customers.

You’re constantly looking for that next ‘project’, either from existing customers, or attempting to find new ones. The time you spend doing that is rarely productive, in the sense you’re not ‘earning’ while doing that.

Now, instead of one boss, you have several, or in the case of my last venture, several hundred. Each customer with their own agenda, time frames and cost model, which is rarely the same as yours, is. It’s not for the faint of heart folks, if you have trouble budgeting money and building a ‘set aside’ to cover you through the inevitable up, and down, cycles, you’ll find yourself in some very tough financial, and anxiety producing, spots over time.

As I see it there’s no perfect scenario. I have one in my head where I get hired, get paid what I deserve/need, and continue to work (on challenging projects) there, until I decide I’d like to retire. I’m just not so sure it’s not just a fantasy, as opposed to a possible scenario.

Even the possibility of doing what I love until I can retire seems, at times, a fantasy.

I do keep hoping though, that I’ll be able to… I can’t imagine what I’d do, work-wise, if I can’t… I’ve tried just about everything else in the IS/IT field… and frankly, programming, building applications and systems, is what really fires me up.

I do a considerable amount of data ‘mining’, and statistical generation, and I like that, but I need the development aspect to stay enthused.

So, knowing this, I’ve decided to start taking on ‘extra’ projects again. I met with some folks this week about a web project, and from the way things went, it appears I’ll be getting the project. It’s not huge, maybe a week or two in length, but the fellow who brought the project to me, had a number of web clients, and I can see that he might want to have someone like me available to his customers.

I’ll let you all know how the project goes (if, in fact, it materializes). It should be interesting, a mix of Java, PHP, MySQL and CSS. Something I’ve never combined into one project before.

The difference is that this time I don’t intend to go directly to the customer, but, instead to utilize other vendors who already have a relationship with the customer. Leverage that relationship and let them earn some money for bringing me into the customer. Earn from not only the original project, but from everything I (we) ever do with that client.

It’s a new model for me, but I’m hoping it will evolve into something sustainable. At the moment, it seems about the only way I’ll get to do, what I love to do, for as long as I want to do it!!


On a related, but different topic…..

Jaro Winkler revisited. . .

About fifteen or twenty folks a week, stop by here looking for free code in either VB.Net, or Visual FoxPro to implement the Jaro-Winkler algorithm.

I’ve got a small application done that illustrates the string comparator’s actions and the results it returns. I’ve also finished a DLL, in Visual FoxPro that can be used in a .Net application to deploy my POL (Percentage of Likeness) utility.

I intend to place both tools on the new ASP.Net website when I get them finished, but in the interim I’ve been thinking I’d like to make the code more easily available, at least for the JW algorithm.

I want to make the code available for a couple of reasons. First, it’s not “my” code; it’s simply my implementation of someone else’s code. Considering that William Winkler was generous enough to share his code with me, I feel it’s only fair I share my implementation to anyone else who might want it.

If I knew more about Sourceforge, and I’m thinking more and more in that direction, I think I’d like to post it there with an open license.

Does anyone reading this know what the process is to do that?

Along those lines, while I love SourceForge and all of the available open source software, there’s a distinct shortage (in my mind) of available VFP code available there. There’s some, but considering the huge amount of code written in Visual FoxPro, I wonder sometimes why there isn’t more there.

In the middle of my pondering, it struck me that it’s probably for the same reason(s) I’ve never placed any out there.
  1. I’ve always considered my ‘tool kit’ something proprietary to me, my ‘edge’ if you will in the marketplace.
  2. Is my code ‘strong enough’ to hold up under the scrutiny of the open source community?
  3. Does anyone else really want, or have use for, these utilities I consider crucial to my development efforts?
  4. Can I stand the scrutiny of others going over my code and critiquing it?
I’m going to put all of that aside and look into posting some code there.. I guess we’ll see what happens.

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