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Programming IT Technology

The Pragmatic Programmers Interviewed 162

Posted by Hemos
from the position-yourself-as-well dept.
jpkunst writes "An interesting interview at the O'Reilly Network with Andy Hunt and Dave Thomas, authors of The Pragmatic Programmer, who recently started their own publishing company. Many topics are covered. Dave has this to say about outsourcing: 'To get job security, developers need to position themselves as highly effective business-value generators, working with the rest of the company to solve common goals. If you sit in your cube waiting for a spec to be thrown over the wall, then you may be in for a wait -- that spec might be in an envelope on its way to Bangalore'"
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The Pragmatic Programmers Interviewed

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  • outsourcing (Score:1, Interesting)

    is overrated, the only jobs that get outsourced is tech support, because after they sell you the product they don't really care if you get good support or not (and many times you actually get good support from outsourced companies)

    there's so much hype going on, but the fact is that only some 0.01% of all jobs are being outsourced and the chance that you'll loose your job over it are practically nil. you're more likely to loose it by being incompetent (this is pretty common these days.)
    • by Anonymous Coward
      you'll loose your job

      as apposed to tighten it ?
      • by Anonymous Coward
        as apposed to tighten it ?

        As opposed to "opposed"?

    • only some 0.01% of all jobs are being outsourced and the chance that you'll loose your job over it are practically nil

      Are you kidding me? What planet are you from? You wouldn't possibly be talking about USA, right? If you are, might I inquire where you got that stats?
  • I am a sysadmin (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ObviousGuy (578567) <ObviousGuy@hotmail.com> on Saturday June 26, 2004 @01:06PM (#9537766) Homepage Journal
    Let's see him try to send that spec through email. hehehe.

    But seriously. System adminstrators seem to be about the only job you can't send overseas. The real programming jobs are all done in India these days, with planning and scheduling handled to a lesser extent in the U.S. since the collapse of the dot.com boom.

    I don't begrudge the engineers in India, I actually think they are doing a very huge favor for most of us left in the U.S. They are relieving us of the cost of developing simple UIs and basic programmatic functionality while allowing us here at home the ability to spend time designing instead of coding. We can then send our designs overseas to the programmers in Inida for implementation.

    But system administration still can't be outsourced. Programming can be, but sysadmin'ing and program designing (what's the right word??) can't be done by foreigners. It's got to be done right here at home by people whom we trust implicitly.
    • Trust can't be outsourced.

      (applies to sysadmins and more).
    • Are you serious? All the real programming jobs are done in India? Hahahah...you have no fucking clue at all. The only things outsourced are yet-another-web-app that can be done with templates. the REAL innovation is still done at home. So you gotta trust your sysadmin for security but it's ok to outsource the programs which handle the precious data to foreigners? hahahah!

      You really don't know shit. Are you even a real sysadmin? If so I hope you don't work for my company. I successfully sysadmined
    • Re:I am a sysadmin (Score:5, Insightful)

      by sql*kitten (1359) * on Saturday June 26, 2004 @01:54PM (#9538047)
      But system administration still can't be outsourced.

      You think?

      What if the data centre itself moves to India? What if all your desktop users run all their apps via Citrix, with the server farm in India? Sure someone has to physically set up a network in your office, but then all the routers and switches can be remotely administered.

      Unless by "system administration" you mean changing toner cartridges and cleaning sticky mice. Yeah, that can't be outsourced.

      It's got to be done right here at home by people whom we trust implicitly.

      You trust your bank, right? Their call centre is probably in India by now. Very very few jobs can't be outsourced in one way or another.

      Except for management, you might think. Well, you'd be wrong. Managers in the US have this dream where all their work will be done at low cost offshore, and they'll rake in the profits at home. What happens when the offshore companies realize, hey, we know everything we need to about the business now, we've done all the work - why do we need management over in the US to cream off the profits? Already there are Indian companies like Tata and Wipro doing an end-run around US-based consultancies and pitching direct to customers. Won't be long before there are actual Indian investment banks, telco equipment manufacturers, accountancy firms, competing directly with US-based firms who now have no staff of their own.

      The US in particular and the West in general doesn't realize that it's simultaneously educating its competitors and losing the skills needed to compete. In 10 years, all those hollow management-only companies will totally implode.
      • Your explanation of management and what they want sounds a lot like the automation of IT.

        Instead of robots doing repetitive jobs you have Indians doing it. This is only because there are no AI's and robots able to do coding.
      • Re:I am a sysadmin (Score:3, Insightful)

        by garyok (218493)

        The US in particular and the West in general doesn't realize that it's simultaneously educating its competitors and losing the skills needed to compete. In 10 years, all those hollow management-only companies will totally implode.

        Yeah, but those new Indian start-ups will be funded by venture capital from the same people that created the investment banks and had seed money for IT companies, telecos, etc. here in the West. The same people, families, whatever, will be getting richer, the Indians will have

        • Except for the Queen. Prince Andrew did plenty of active service in the Falklands (in the HMS Brazen's helicopter, the Brazen Hussy). She's OK. A bit too rich maybe, but still OK.
      • When your entire data center moves to India, so does your job, buddy. But guess what? You can still get another job as a sysadmin, providing you have a current & transferable Top Secret/Lifestyle/Polygraph security clearance. The big Catch-22 is that if you don't already have the security clearance, you are fscked. It takes 2 plus years these days to get that clearance, and not too many employers want to hire someone for a job (maybe) 2 or 2-1/2 years, meanwhile paying them a living wage for some other
        • IT is tough in Washington. The good news: the problem about security clearance is almost unique to the DC area. My advice to you, sir, is to outsource yourself. Get out of the Potomac/Patapsco swamp basin as soon as you possibly can.

          (Admittedly tough if you have kids though).
    • I'm not too worried about my position being outsourced either. Working defense for almost any country requires that you be a citizen of that country. My main worry is that Kerry will be elected and cancel the oh so cool plane I'm writing code for.

      But I do have to agree that, most programmers in medium to large corporations become paralyzed without a spec, and they shouldn't. Requirements are always late, you have to accept that and get involved in making the requirements, and talking to the decision make
  • highly effective business-value generators, working with the rest of the company to solve common goals

    Be a good drone - that will solve all your problems with the rest of the money herd.

    • You missed the point entirely.
      Valuable programmers don't just sit down and code specs, there are planty of people who are willing to do just that.
      Good programmers are people who can design and solve problems out of their cubicle's boundries.
      • Really?!

        My sarcastical point was rather based on corporate speak. If the book uses that kind of speach pattern it just brainwashes you into business confirmity - and that's not exactly out of the box thinking - or is it?

        In my 16 years of freelancing have a lot of c-speak - which sometimes carries some weight, BUT it never impressed anyone in the long run and it never finished any projects on time.

        And all these nice business books and seminars etc. - they are also no substitute for hard work (on your proj
  • ...developers need to position themselves as
    highly effective business-value generators...
    Were either of these guy's Dilbert's boss in a past life?
    • by mfh (56)
      > Were either of these guy's Dilbert's boss in a past life?

      Either that, or they were neatly combed by Dogbert as interns for a while.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Thanks for many a damn fine hamburgers...and also a software best practices book apparently.
  • by Qbertino (265505) on Saturday June 26, 2004 @01:09PM (#9537785)
    'To get job security, developers need to position themselves as highly effective business-value generators, working with the rest of the company to solve common goals. If you sit in your cube waiting for a spec to be thrown over the wall, then you may be in for a wait -- that spec might be in an envelope on its way to Bangalore'

    The man is so right on. I went freelancer a year ago myself. I have to stick right to the processes and problems in order for my IT stuff to deliver results that count. That's when IT work starts to be fun, actually has a meaning, produces happy customers and - on top of that - brings in the cash. I can only second what he says.
  • Specs (Score:4, Insightful)

    by haystor (102186) on Saturday June 26, 2004 @01:11PM (#9537802)
    Anyone notice that in their efforts to use outsourcing, companies are willing to commit themselves to levels of specifications that are just insane? I'm doing this right now. I'm writing up specifications that are so detailed it would be just as easy to write the code. Of course, if I was writing the code I would be discovering bugs at the same time and problems would be corrected sooner. I figure the number of our analysts is equal to the number of analysts and coders we'd have needed for a similar local project. All the money spent on outsourcing could have just been spent on documentation.

    Outsourcing in my limited (just this 1 project) seems to be a good way for consultants to draw a fat fee while they manage the outsourced project. It is like watching someone buy something expensive but they're happy because they saved 20%. Not posting anon just in case this will get me fired and force me to move on.
    • Re:Specs (Score:4, Insightful)

      by ObviousGuy (578567) <ObviousGuy@hotmail.com> on Saturday June 26, 2004 @01:18PM (#9537844) Homepage Journal
      A couple of things.

      1) If you were as good as you say you are, wouldn't you be able to find problems with the spec at the outset rather than at the implementation level?

      Most serious specifications (which apparently you seem to be working on) get their spec bugs worked out right at the beginning, finding places where the spec simply contradicts itself or leaves gaping holes.

      Implementation-level bugs, with a proper specification, are usually the coder's fault and not a problem with the spec.

      Surely you aren't trying to 'dive into the code' before the specification is complete? But hell, I've known programmers just like that...

      2) Do you think you can do a better job writing "for (int i=0; iMAX_LEN; i++)" better than anyone else? Do you really think that coding is the most important part of program design?

      God help us if we base our economy on such shortsightedness. Frankly, it baffles me that we continue to think that brown people can't code as well or better than us here in the U.S. Fact is, coding is nothing special. Coding is what you get when you feed a set of commands through an interpreter. Sure the interpreter is trained, but it doesn't mean that the message is any better.

      Concetrate on making the message (program) better, and then pass it along to cheap coders. You will do your company a huge favor in cost savings, and you will see your product finished with the least amount of hassles (because the complaints are being made 1,000 miles away).
      • Re:Specs (Score:4, Insightful)

        by haystor (102186) on Saturday June 26, 2004 @01:39PM (#9537950)
        We have higher level of design done. We've got all the patterns nailed down. We're sending specifications to them at the class level.

        You're right. Coding is nothing special. In fact, it's a very small part of doing the job. It's roughly 20% maybe? I won't dispute programmers are roughly the same everywhere but if we hire 3 more analysts because the programmers won't be local, we could have just hired 4-5 local programmers instead.

        The benefits to hiring a local programmer are many. You can start them when you need them. You can have them work on ancillary tasks much easier to fill time (this becomes a problem when you've scheduled offshore resources and you can't deliver tasks for them for whatever reason, you still owe them). The turnaround time for resolving an issue is nearly immediate compared to the day long delay caused by time zones working with India.

        Don't get me wrong. I'm sure there are projects where it's wortwhile. Especially projects that already know everything about the product. I just can't get over the feeling that I'm part of (and beneficiary of) a conspiracy to use offshore work to actually produce *more total revenue* for the consulting firm than the client would be willing to pay for locally. Again, this is why I hate my job.

      • [i]2) Do you think you can do a better job writing "for (int i=0; iMAX_LEN; i++)" better than anyone else? Do you really think that coding is the most important part of program design?[/i]

        That's not the point. The problem is that where it used to take one person to figure out "the code needs to loop from 0 to MAXLEN " and then write it, it now takes 2 people. One to say "the code needs.." who then ships that overseas for someone else to write. Not that he can do it any better than someone else but simpl
      • Re:Specs (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        >1) If you were as good as you say you are,
        >wouldn't you be able to find problems with the
        >spec at the outset rather than at the
        >implementation level?

        If you were as good as you think you are, you would have known the answer (hint: the answer is not "YES"). Why? Because in a lot of cases you can not know that something is inconvenient for the user until you actually start using it (this applies to GUIs, APIs, CLIs, nearly anything). With a LOT of foresight and experience you can foresee many thi
      • Re:Specs (Score:1, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        You my friend are a moron. You clearly have little or no experience in serious software development. Many problems can be found during design and spec time however doing so typically requires that you have a large amount of experience implementing similar systems. This is a luxury most comapnies don't have when creating a new system. And even those that do will not find all of the problems.

        It is very easy to over invest in design. You say 'surely you aren't trying to dive into the code before the desi
      • Surely you aren't trying to 'dive into the code' before the specification is complete? But hell, I've known programmers just like that...

        Now you've lost all your credibility. Have you ever heard of iterative development? Waiting for a spec to be complete before diving into the code is never a good idea, and every professional in the IT industry should know that by now.
      • Re:Specs (Score:3, Insightful)

        by jhoger (519683)
        The mistake you make is thinking that everything that can be coded must go through a long drawn out design phase. For all code that doesn't, which I'd wager is most software that gets created on a daily basis, it is enough to know in broad strokes know what the problem is and get to work producing something that does what you want. That doesn't necessarily mean coding, but it could very well all be done by one good programmer.

        The thought that the waterfall method of hashing a spec and design out for months
      • Re:Specs (Score:3, Interesting)

        by plumby (179557)
        Surely you aren't trying to 'dive into the code' before the specification is complete? But hell, I've known programmers just like that...

        I don't know about haystor's individual case, but in our department, the detailed design currently is the code. I got handed some detailed designs to review the other day, and several of them were literally 15 pages of COBOL code with a few titles between them in a Word document - the idea being very much that we can now ship these "designs" off to India to "code" (i.e.,

    • by ph1ll (587130) <ph1ll1phenry@yah ... minus physicist> on Saturday June 26, 2004 @03:02PM (#9538473)
      I absolutely agree because something similar is happening to me at the moment.

      We hired some chimps from a huge international consultancy. The document they produced is so piss-poor we are on our sixth draft. In the time this has taken (2 months) with two very expensive consultants working full time and two in-house developers checking their work part-time, we have

      • spent a fortune,
      • do not have a document that's of sufficent quality to give the outsource providor
      • and not got a single line of code written.

      The threat of offshoring has been massively over stated. More and more companies are seeing that this process (send the requirement to India) is simply not cost-effective. It may take some time for all PHBs to see this but it will happen. That's business.

      There is (hopefully) a happy ending. The outsource providers tendering for this gig are charging in the region of 700UKP/day (about $1200/day) for a Java programmer with about 3 years experience (I'm not making this up). Most say that they can cut that cost by about a third if we offshored. Well, gee, that's still more expensive than hiring some local contractor with 7 years experience who can sit down and talk to the business people. We're getting "buy-in" from management to save money and not offshore. We'll have a decision soon and it looks good.

      Agile methodologies will be the saviour of the Western programmer.

      • by Anonymous Coward
        i know its very hard to select competent contractors but hiring ppl from the bottom barrel (cheapest) will always bound for failure
    • i'm not worried. my company, which was still very small (~15 people, i was the 4th coder) when i started has never done actual specs. this works as long as all the coders know evrything... now we've got ~50 people and about 15 coders and still no specs. things get worse and worse as people just around to different tasks or are given a new task knowing nothing how the code works (if it works, can't have unit tests w/o specs... they also allot no time for it). it just doesn't scale.

      but it's ok, the CIO told

  • haha (Score:2, Interesting)

    by stroustrup (712004)
    To get job security, developers need to position themselves as highly effective business-value generators, working with the rest of the company to solve common goals.

    In other words, developers must try to become gods.
  • Suckups :P (Score:2, Interesting)

    by XeRXeS-TCN (788834)

    "Andy Hunt and Dave Thomas are The Pragmatic Programmers, two experienced and intelligent software developers with impressive experience, including the authoring of the popular The Pragmatic Programmer and the well-regarded Programming Ruby."

    Wow, they certainly give a complimentary introduction! "Experienced and *intelligent* software developers" seems to be more on the opinion side, rather than a standard background introduction.

    With that said though, it's an interesting enough article, and a few inter

  • fuck value-added (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    My company has cut back on my health benifits, increased my personal contribution toward them, withheld raises and bonuses the last four years, restructured a thousand times until it's hard to know which way is up in our organization (or which organiation we're even in at a moment) and are constantly putting us under the moral-degrading "layoffs may be pending" glass.

    Exactly why should I feel motivated to add value to a company that is taking value away from my employment?
    • Re:fuck value-added (Score:3, Informative)

      by smack.addict (116174)
      You get paid, don't you?

      And I assume you would like to motivate them to continue paying you?

      Or do you think you automatically should be paid for your glowing charm?
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Start up a union in the shop. Get everyone that does the work in your company to agree to strike. It's tough to get someone to train his replacement when everyone in the shop is on strike. They can shut down the whole shop, or listen to your demands. The difficult part is getting the union formed before your bosses find out and sack your ass for trying to ruin their profit margins.

      Only rich people can get any traction in the capitalist world we live in. Unions are the little guy's way of creating a rich pe
    • You want job security? Look at the US Government. Many of the original IT geeks are retiring and the federal workforce is aging.

      Granted, salary doesn't keep up with the private sector, but the Civil Service GS system gives you regular step increases, COLA, and locality adjustments.

      But you're the one who is saying 'fuck value-added', so I'm guessing you're three steps away from being a civil servant anyway...

  • Job security? LOL (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cubicledrone (681598) on Saturday June 26, 2004 @01:27PM (#9537883)
    To get job security, developers need to position themselves as highly effective business-value generators,

    ..and since nobody knows what the (*&%#)@$ that means, it provides every company with an automatic, built-in excuse to fire anyone, anytime, for any reason.

    Business 1
    Employees 0

    working with the rest of the company to solve common goals.

    Goal of the company: fire everyone as quickly as possible to save money so we can afford extra buffalo wings with our catered lunch.

    Goal of the employee: to try and stretch seven weeks of stagnant, inadequate wages to pay for 12 months of rent, since ain't no FUCKING WAY this job is going to last two months.

    Companies and employees no longer have common goals because middle management has put a great deal of thought and effort into making the workplace a toxic, hostile, adversarial environment which makes it much easier to keep the Just-In-Time-Fired(tm) policy generating quarterly revenue savings and bonus checks.

    Working 80 hour weeks for piss-wages in a 19th century management structure is way way WAY past obsolete, and the workplace is a festering sphincter of liars, cheats and misery. Let's talk about fixing it instead of trying to be a "team player." We could start by replacing office politics with something that doesn't actively and constantly diminish good ideas and positive thinking.

    Oh, and yes, I'm bitter.

    I'm also right.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      and since nobody knows what the (*&%#)@$ that means, it provides every company with an automatic, built-in excuse to fire anyone, anytime, for any reason.

      Umm, it means that you need to earn the company more than you cost it.

      • Umm, it means that you need to earn the company more than you cost it.

        Umm, no. It means you get down on your knees and beg for your job on a daily basis.

        And no company will EVER honestly state what an employee "earns" for them.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      You write this message full of vitrol and then dare to complain that office politics diminish positive thinking?

      Go to Europe. They have job security there.

      Here, you are expected to make something for yourself if you have good ideas. Start your own company or go to one that appreciates you.

      Might I ask what kind of job made you bitter like this? Where did you work, what did you do?
      • You write this message full of vitrol and then dare to complain that office politics diminish positive thinking?

        Office politics don't diminish positive thinking. Office politics make positive thinking impossible. There's nothing political about what I wrote. I'm not trying to destroy other people's careers. Like it or not, it's reality for the overwhelming majority of employees in this economy.

        I'm a great positive thinker. Item one for positive thinking: properly explain the problem. The problem
        • by Anonymous Coward
          I just don't pretend that the workplace is a productive place for a career.

          Based on that sentence, I can only assume that you don't know the definition of the words that you are using. Where do you intend to work, if not in the workplace?

        • You have every right to be bitter and angry.

          But that does not mean you are right to jump to conclusions that every workplace experience is like yours.

          There are awful managers and there are great managers. There are horrible places to work and awesome places to work.

          Stop being angry and bitter and start getting smart.

          If office politics are the problem then start learning how office politics work. Learn how to cover your ass, document your work, and acquire friends and allies.

          Good at software engineeri
          • If office politics are the problem then start learning how office politics work.

            I already know how office politics work:

            Day one: New employee is hired and is viewed with some combination of envy and ambivalence by the smiling co-workers in the nearby cubicles.

            Day Four: New employee dares to open their mouth in a meeting, offering a new idea for some problem the current workers haven't been able to solve. Management idiot nods his fat head. Co-workers' envy turns to burning hatred and hostility whi
        • Look, I got laid off from my last job, too, and I think that your reaction to this is absurd.

          "Office politics" is the big problem? That's just another term for people interacting with each other. The only place with no politics is a place with no other people. Everyone has his own agenda in this world, at work and everywhere else, but I don't see any sense in complaining about that. Most people's agendas aren't evil. They're just primarily driven by personal considerations. Isn't yours?

          Business is nothing
          • Business is nothing more than trying to get others to advance your personal agenda by finding ways whereby you can advance theirs.

            Office politics, on the other hand, is nothing more than someone advancing their personal agenda by destroying someone else's career.

            Call it politics or just call it business. So what?

            Because it is wrong, unfair and counter-productive. Businesses spend large amounts of money to hire qualified people. Their co-workers then waste that money by coming up with some horseshit
            • Re:No, no, no (Score:3, Insightful)

              by GCP (122438)
              This is the basic inequity of W-4 employment: All sources of income are temporary. All expenses are contracts. ...
              But a company can walk away from that employee's paycheck any time they feel like it.


              Many, probably most, states in the US have what is called "at will" employment. That means that, with only a few exceptions such as firing based on race, your employer can do exactly what you said: stop your employment and paycheck at any moment for any reason they like.

              The flip side is that, in such states,
              • The flip side is that, in such states, the employees are accorded the same prvilege.

                Which would be fair IF it were as easy to get hired as it is to lose a job. Getting hired now requires 2-4 interviews, credit checks, resumes being crammed into a toilet by the gross, and several hours of unpaid time taking various technical "tests" for each job. Companies are looking for any reason to disqualify a candidate, right up to and including simply not believing what is included in the resume.

                I couldn't rent
                • I suspect that what you call "listening" is merely someone else sharing your attitude

                  No. I call "listening" actually discussing the problem.

                  Okay, then, I hope what I'm doing will qualify as listening. You're not my child, so I'm not going to put much more into this, but I'll take another shot just in case it ends up helping. You may just be really discouraged and really hoping that someone will talk you out of being so discouraged, so for what it's worth:

                  You said something telling here:

                  I know precis
                  • Birds of a feather, and all that. At the risk of seeming flippant here, maybe you need to cultivate some better friends. ;-)

                    So now it's all of us, not just me. Do you see my point? That the (former) employee NEVER gets the benefit of the doubt? First, I'm just a smart-ass know-it-all, so that must be why I get fired.

                    Now, it's several college-educated, intelligent people who have a great deal to offer in several fields. But what's this? None of us can keep a job. So, now it's ALL of our faults. W
                    • I have long since moved on from the cubicles. I no longer care if some blow-dried bean-salad-ordering middle-manager thinks I'm qualified to attend meetings, and I have given up resentment. I am simply stating fact. Educated, intelligent hard working people are no longer welcome in the modern workplace.

                      I'm curious; what are you doing now for an income?

                      Personally, I've found relatively stable employment at a very large tech company. The way the corporation is run, it's very hard to get fired (sorta like
        • Not sure if this will help, but, here goes. My experience about human organizations (not-for-profit, for-profit, small, medium, large, whatever) goes something like this:

          Small organizations: take on the strengths and weaknesses of their leader to an almost pathological degree. If weaknesses outweigh strengths (which is most often the case, especially someone with the force of will and ego to start their own organization), it becomes like living in a dysfunctional family with very difficult parents.

          Ass
      • Go to Europe. They have job security there.
        If only it was true!
    • by Fished (574624) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [yrogihpma]> on Saturday June 26, 2004 @06:43PM (#9539562)
      Oh, and yes, I'm bitter. I'm also right.
      The first is self-evident, the second is quite improbable.

      Look, you sound like a kid I used to know (me) so let me offer you some helpful advice. This whole thing about "business value generation" is why you have a job in the first place, and until you understand it you're going to spend the rest of your life going from one de-.com-posed job to another. The days when companies would keep people around on the theory that they would somehow, someday make the company money are long since gone. On the other hand, if you really, consistently, solve your bosses' (note the plural) problems, you will never lack for work and never get fired.

      I speak from experience. In 1998-2000, I was a consultant (UNIX systems, Networks, perl programmming.) In 2000, I read the tea-leaves, looked at the business cycle (you know, the thing Clinton claimed to have defeated) and came to the conclusion that it would be a good time to work for a major corporation who /might/ keep paying me through the recession. So, I looked at my clients - people who knew and would appreciate my abilities and compensate appropriately - and picked one to go to work at. Had no problem getting a job there, even though I suspect I was the highest salary in my group.

      Unfortunately, the company I chose was WorldCom. I spent two years looking over my shoulder, waiting for the axe to fall, while it hit people all around me. But I also spent that two years fixing the problems that my bosses' wanted fixed -- and making sure that when I had an initiative or something I wanted to do, I explained it to them in terms of /their/ problems, not mine. So, it wasn't "this mail server setup is a huge kludge and I'm sick of messing with it and its obsolete and I want to replace it with something better" but "I'm fixing this mail server now, but we could've prevented this crash with a small investment of hardware and free software, thereby avoiding client downtime." At the end of the day, I was one of the lucky few who kept their jobs.

      Why did I keep my job? Because, in the minds of my management and their management, I was a "highly effective business value generator." The people who lost their jobs didn't necessarily have fewer technical skills than me (although, frankly, a lot of them actually needed to go), and they certainly weren't disliked or unloved. What they didn't know was how to connect their job to the interests of the corporation. (N.B. Don't stab people in the back trying to get noticed. In fact, you should try to make them look good just as hard as you try to make you look good.)

      So learn this lesson and learn it well: despite what 100 years of syndicalism, liberalism, socialism, and -- dare I say it -- labor unions may have led you to expect, your job as an employee is to produce business value that can ultimately be translated into money. The company does not exist for the purpose of caring for its employees or establishing a social safety net - it exists for the purpose of increasing shareholder value. If you can do that - increase shareholder value and make sure your boss knows you do it - you will /always/ land on your feet, even if you do happen to lose your job for a while.

      That's part one of getting rich. Part 2 is "always saved 20% of your gross income in quality stocks." Part 3 is "don't be a jerk. Take care of people and they'll take care of you." Part 4 is, "have fun, whatever you do, because nobody likes a whiner."

      • by cubicledrone (681598) on Saturday June 26, 2004 @07:26PM (#9539755)
        I'm fixing this mail server now, but we could've prevented this crash with a small investment of hardware and free software, thereby avoiding client downtime

        No, you aren't, because a) you don't have the authority b) the person who does have the authority won't approve it and c) the suggestion causes several people to complain that you aren't being a team player because everyone else in the department agrees that management was brilliant for approving the current mail server.

        I've spent a few minutes in the cubicles. I know the basics.

        If you can do that - increase shareholder value and make sure your boss knows you do it - you will /always/ land on your feet, even if you do happen to lose your job for a while.

        I automated a job that saved our company about 2,000 man-hours once. The resulting shitstorm of office politics led to one of the managers screaming hysterically at us in a five-hour process improvement meeting saying that if we ever made the management team look stupid again they would dock our paychecks.

        The controversy continued for four months. The database team decided my idea was good enough to include in the next set of test procedures. The other teams all disagreed. Upper management had to be called in from their golf games. My guess is that half a million dollars was spent in meetings and overtime over those four months.

        It was later explained to me, two of my co-workers and the entire database team (in a very slow, politically-correct voice) by an HR representative (unspoken threat: open your mouth again, and you're fired) that we should write a memo explaining our idea and send it to our immediate supervisor for approval before starting any new work.

        We later found out that the Department Director (a Senior VP) with the unanimous approval of the entire senior management committee and several members of the BOARD OF DIRECTORS SPECIFICALLY ORDERED all of the group managers to ignore all such requests no matter how simple or worthwhile they may be. Those who made more than three suggestions in a month were told, in writing, to stop "wasting time on non-core projects" or re-assigned.

        Two dozen people quit. Five were repeatedly threatened with their jobs, one to the point of having to go on disability for depression. Everyone else just kept quiet. The atmosphere in the office from that point forward was indescribably gloomy.

        That was one of my few successful attempts to really do anything useful at a large company, or "increase shareholder value." I personally saved the company about $100,000. The company spent over half a million $ arguing about it and treating us all like idiots.

        It is just further proof that competent, smart, skilled employees are not welcome in the workplace.
        • by Anonymous Coward
          Not every company is so shit faced. Where I work, suggestions to save time/money are appreciated. I work for a very large bank in IT, and we are appreciated by the business folks that we work for and the upper management actually sees their IT department as an asset. In fact, our business colleges look to us for help to make their grand ideas concrete and implementable.

        • Do yourself a favor: Get a new job.
          Whatever you talk about with another prospective employer, don't talk about your current job. The anger will come out and you'll end up sounding like a loose cannon. It doesn't take much to get rejected from new employment. Just talk about what you can do and what you have done. Keep mum about the management where you work. Keep your eye on the prize and focus on that. I did it. You can too.

          I worked for one of those companies where the walls were coming down and managemen
        • by melted (227442) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @01:24AM (#9540906) Homepage
          I got hired by a large software company to perf/stress test the app that was a mix of windows app and a webapp (very complex DHTML, custom ActiveX controls in some places, can run in online or offline mode, the latter is integrated with Outlook).

          So I was a low level guy, and a new guy on the block to boot. I've done a quick evaluation of available tools and the only thing that could accomplish the task the way I liked it (and the way it made sense) was Mercury Interactive Load Runner. The only problem was - it was $150K for a license, and nobody was going to spend this kind of money on performance.

          So after whining to the management for a while, I sat down and wrote my own replacement for this $150K tool that did all I wanted.

          You know what happened next? You've guessed right, I got attacked by the management, Dev manager in fact (I hope he burns in hell when he dies). And dev manager and product unit manager were pals, so no matter what I did, the Dev manager would have his smalltalk with PUM and bring whatever I was doing to a grinding halt.

          I've done this thing anyway (weekends, overtime) and shipped two versions of this god damn product with it. Dev manager eventually got fired for not being careful enough with his language when talking to customers.

          My career got screwed, though. I only got one promotion on that team despite busting my ass REAL hard and delivering world-class "business value".

          The moral of the story - you either fuck the product and do what the management says, or you fuck the management and yourself and do the right thing. There's no third way out. The way I see it, it's always better to get fired for doing something than for doing nothing.
        • I personally saved the company about $100,000. The company spent over half a million $ arguing about it and treating us all like idiots.[...] It is just further proof that competent, smart, skilled employees are not welcome in the workplace.

          If you were the perfect employee and you were truly competent, smart and skilled, you could have convinced management that you actually saved them $100,000. This is obviously not the case.

          I'm not trying to troll or insult anyone, it's just that I know some brilliant

          • If you were the perfect employee and you were truly competent, smart and skilled, you could have convinced management that you actually saved them $100,000.

            This assumes that management is reasonable, which is not always the case. You have a point in that many geeks lack good communication skills--I'm not exactly a stellar example myself, I have to admit--but there are, unfortunately, people who simply refuse to listen to reasonable arguments. (If not, would Dilbert be nearly as popular as it is now?)

        • Look - you don't get to define "business value". That is defined in broad parameters by your bosses. Now, if your boss is smart, he will encourage you to give your smarts to him. But if your boss is not smart, it is still your job to solve the problems he wants solved. Not the ones you think are neat or easy.

          It is just further proof that competent, smart, skilled employees are not welcome in the workplace.

          Nope. It's proof that it doesn't matter how competent, smart, or skilled you are, nobody wants

      • by GCP (122438)
        I agree with almost all of what you said. Providing value to the customer in ways that the customer (not you) values is a major key to success.

        I will have to say, though, that there are many stochastic inputs to the success function. At one of my previous jobs, I did work that I thought was important for the company, and which was greatly appreciated by many people at the company with no direct ability to reward me, but which senior management showed little interest in.

        One day, a new senior guy showed up
  • generally isn't made on the basis of skill or knowledge but on the basis of how much they want to spend for a certain task.

    All the training in the world will not matter if someone is bangladesh is able to work for what would be starvation wages in your country.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 26, 2004 @01:28PM (#9537890)
    I am a programmer, but my main value to employers is that I spent ten years working in other capacities: management, sales, construction grunt work, you name it. As a result, I usually don't *need* specs from analysts or product managers, because I usually have more business experience than most of them and can figure it out for myself.

    Most of the programmers I've worked with lack this experience, and as a result end up having to be told what to do because they don't understand the full context of the problem they're being asked to solve. They often come up with elegant solutions to the wrong problem...
    • Have to agree with parent. Even experience in other fields of computing (networking, sysadmin, building even) is a big win. I've been in consulting jobs working with other programmers (Indian and American), and the problem with most was their focus only on programming. They just didn't have any other experience to draw from.

    • by Brettt_Maverick (780722) on Saturday June 26, 2004 @04:03PM (#9538800)
      Completely right! Fact is, maybe 5% of professional coding is done in a 'pure' CompSci atmosphere. The other 95% reflects the true nature of computers and software - a tool to get some job done. And there is one metric hell of a lot of jobs.

      Coders in banks need to learn about interest and amortization, coders in nuclear facilities need to learn about half-lives and gamma rays, coders for phone companies need to learn about telephony, coders for mom and pop stores need to know about mom's left-hand arthritus (so avoid F1-F8).

      Not only is it relevant or valuable for coders to understand the context of the business they are in, it's vital. In fact, code-sense should take backseat to business-sense (although informed by coder-logic). Too often a tech solution will be shoehorned in when a practical solution based on knowing the business will do.

      One time I stopped a restaurant manager from uprooting and reconfiguring all of his networked terminals and printers the day before a national holdiay in favour of a solution involving no more than a sideways abacus sitting on the bar. It wasn't a technology problem, it was an information problem. For that day, and that day only, blender drinks were being made at the beer tub, not at the bar. Problem was, orders for blender drinks were printed out at the bar, not the beer tub. The plan was to rejig all the printers and terminals so that the beer tub would have a printer, and then to reconfigure the POS software to route blender drinks to the beer tub. This sounded like a lot of hassle for one day, and knowing the 'stability' of the POS system, it was a recipe for disaster. The beer tub was in clear view of the bar. All the person there needed to know was how many of 3-4 different blender drinks to make. My solution was this: get a colourful child's abacus and mount it horizontally, so the beads slide from left-to-right. Each row represents a different drink (yellow=pina colada, red=strawberry daiquiri, etc). When an order comes up in the bar, the bartender slides the appropriate bead(s) over. The person at the beer tent can see this, and make the drinks. The server collects the drinks and slides the bead back. At any time, the person in the beer tub knows how many of what kind of drinks to make, and nothing had to be rewired or reconfigured or coded. And it worked like a charm.

      Of course, over the years I've come up with a lot of elegant solutions to a lot of wrong problems, but never regretted it once. Usually, a good solution to the wrong problem is about 70% of the solution to the right problem, and even if it's not it invariably ends up being the crucual 30% of some yet unforseen problem. Software's cool that way.

      One problem that comes of being a competent and experienced coder is that managers assume you know everything and assume that they don't have to know anything, rendering them (more) useless.

      The question I always ask myself before starting any coding is: "Is this going to let the user go home early? Or work late?"

  • by Timesprout (579035) on Saturday June 26, 2004 @01:30PM (#9537906)
    Actually thats the role of the Company, thats what its there for, to be in business. Its up to the developers to fulfill the requirements of the specs. I'm not saying developers cant be more pro-active in pushing technology and solutions and helping to pitch for solutions but ultimately the budget and PHB's constain what is and is not possible. I work hard for my clients but I am under no illusion that I am a comodity and despite good working realtionships the rug can be pulled from under me at any time. As I tell most of my clients, if I do my job properly they wont need me after the project anyway.
  • In other words (Score:5, Insightful)

    by melted (227442) on Saturday June 26, 2004 @01:32PM (#9537915) Homepage
    >> position themselves as highly effective business-value
    >> generators

    Yeah, just like our bosses, let's talk about how "highly effective" we are and how much "business value" we generate. Let's do it INSTEAD of work, because that's what management seems to have been doing very successfully for the last decade.

    How about BETTER MANAGEMENT? How about managers who, in fact, know what the fuck they're doing and have come from the very bottom, not straight from some stupid MBA program. Where the heck are you going to get them if all your "very bottom" is in India? Do you seriously think that folks who have no idea how software is built can successfully manage Indian technies? Think again then, "highly effective business value generator".
  • by veritron (637136) on Saturday June 26, 2004 @01:40PM (#9537954)
    It's inspirational to realize that software consultants actually do what they do for money.

    "Don't repeat yourself"

    Durr.

    "Think about the kind of work that can be effectively outsourced (where "effectively" is used in the context of some manager's opinion). Can they ship stuff offshore that can be specified down to some fine level of detail? Yup! Can they send repetitive, rule-based, highly constrained stuff overseas? You bet! The stuff that will stay is the stuff that involves more intuition, and more interaction. To get job security, developers need to position themselves as highly effective business-value generators, working with the rest of the company to solve common goals. If you sit in your cube waiting for a spec to be thrown over the wall, then you may be in for a wait -- that spec might be in an envelope on its way to Bangalore."

    It's fun maintaining code from India. It's also fun to tell your customers and your boss what the program should do. You should try both sometime.

    "Explain how agile processes can reduce risk. Explain how lightweight approaches can earn value faster. And explain how they should outsource the mundane stuff, and leave their talented pool of in-house developers free to work on the next revolutionary change to the company's business."

    These are the same people that advocate nightly builds and all that other crap that just gets in the way. All you have to do to make a software project successful is have at least two people who don't suck at life working on it, and have them delegate the boring work to the people who thought going into computers would make them rich - all consultants do is take common sense and dress it up so it sounds good to management, and in turn, management gives them a shitload of money. I've never heard of a software house suddenly turning around and not sucking because "we hired a consultant, and his strategy was fricking awesome, and suddenly we were making products that like didn't suck, and it was pretty cool." Managers only hire consulants if their teams aren't making the numbers they should, so they can therefore justify the lower productivitivy of their teams by saying that they're "adapting to the new vision/strategy/paradigm," and that's usually enough to buy them a year of suckage until upper management wises up - and knowing upper management, that rarely ever happens.

    Performance really doesn't play an issue in outshoring to India - if your job's so simple a monkey could do it, your job's going to get outsourced, regardless of your performance. You can't really match cost efficiency of someone who lives in a country with 1/10 the per capita income. All you have to do is pray for the language barrier and hope the companies who are employing offshoring all get burned when they need to maintain the code - I think it's a fad, but I've been wrong before.
    • These are the same people that advocate nightly builds and all that other crap that just gets in the way.

      What's wrong with nightly builds?

      They ensure that the code is always compilable and basically working, and give the test team something concrete to actually test. They allow you to see at what point regression was introduced, and fix it quickly. They iron out any problems in your build process, well before it comes time to ship. They can be automated. If you use a documentation generator they ensure th

    • Performance really doesn't play an issue in outshoring to India - if your job's so simple a monkey could do it, your job's going to get outsourced, regardless of your performance. You can't really match cost efficiency of someone who lives in a country with 1/10 the per capita income.

      Perhaps I'm missing your point, but the issue is not that jobs are "so simple a monkey can do it". The problem is that complex jobs requiring lots of education are just as doable by people in India at 1/10th the wage. And
  • by Theovon (109752) on Saturday June 26, 2004 @01:40PM (#9537955)
    It's amazing the things you can get away with when you're one of the top contributing engineers at your company.

    Not to say that what I "get away with" is anything more severe than coming in late a lot, but still...

    Also, when you're a top engineer, you can do stuff like yell at the boss and tell the CEO when you think one of his ideas is stupid or something like that.
  • by natefanaro (304646) <natefanaro@gmail.com> on Saturday June 26, 2004 @01:42PM (#9537969) Homepage Journal
    problematic programmer? I thought maybe they interviewed someone from Microsoft!
  • Absolutely right (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ceswiedler (165311) * <chris@swiedler.org> on Saturday June 26, 2004 @02:29PM (#9538277)
    I work in an IT department of a large company. The reason I'm confident that I can't be outsourced is because I'm not just a programmer. I do design and business analysis as well, meaning that I use technical tools to solve problems for the business. You cannot outsource problem-solving, because it requires communication with and knowledge of the business and its problems.

    Even if 100% of programming were outsourced, application design and specification will always be done on-site. If businesses go this route, then what will happen is a meta-programming specification language will emerge. On-site 'analysts' will produce a 'document' in this specification language, and this will contain around 50% of the complexity of the finished application, which is why it will need to be in a very precise and well-defined language.

    In order to communicate with a computer, you need to be extremely precise and know what you're doing. There's a complexity of information problem, because a computer can be told to do basically anything. I can't type one line and get a complex program. In the same way, I can't just tell a programmer 'write me a database app which does our accounting' either. I have to communicate my knowledge and requirements to the person. Depending on their prior understanding of the problem, that will be anywhere from 25% to 75% of the information in the finished program. You save a little because humans are (variously) intelligent, but really, you have the same problem--communicate the rules and behaviour of the application.

    I like programming computers because it's an interesting way to solve problems. But it's my problem-solving ability which gives value to my company, not my ability to type in C.
    • "Even if 100% of programming were outsourced, application design and specification will always be done on-site."

      Nah. It could be done by consultant who come in, examine the situation, go away to write a spec, and hand the spec over to mgmt who ships it to vietnam.

      See ya.
      • Yes, but the consultant will be on-site. Consulting isn't the same as outsourcing. Consultants get paid big bucks to do exactly what you say (examine the situation and understand the problem), outsourcing is done so you can pay someone off-site to do grunt work for cheap.

        Anyone can lose their job to a consultant. The upside of that is that anyone who's competent can generally go become a consultant. You can't really go 'become' cheap outsourced labor.
    • Like say a language where you declare what functions do rather than specify how they do them? In a very precise and well-defined language? Believe it or not, such languages already exist! In academia we call them "functional programming languages". These exotic beasts significantly reduce the programming burden and they are frequently considered as runnable specifications. I bet if you wrote a memo suggesting that the company look into it, you will be promoted to just doing design and business analysis!

      In
    • "In the same way, I can't just tell a programmer 'write me a database app which does our accounting' either. I have to communicate my knowledge and requirements to the person."

      Er, why not?

      After getting such a request from my manager, I'd confirm that I had the backing to do this project from the other managers that this would effect. I'd then get a list of requirements from all of them. After that, I'd check to see if "the wheel" already exists (It probably does) and check it against the list of requireme
      • And in doing all of that, you'd be doing the work of a business analyst plus the work of a programmer. You could not do what you have suggested as an outsourced programmer in another country who has no direct contact with or knowledge of the business.
        • Interesting. Nothing you say conflicts with my point whatsoever. And my previous post draws upon the paragraph I quoted you from.

          Essentially, my point was "You don't have to have detailed project specs to do something."
  • by bcrowell (177657) on Saturday June 26, 2004 @02:52PM (#9538409) Homepage
    It was interesting to see their response to this question:
    A recent weblog entitled Why Do We Need Publishers? pointed out that print-on-demand (POD) makes small print runs more affordable and more profitable than cultivating a relationship with a professional publisher.

    From the authors' response, it sounds like they actually have a fairly traditional publishing arrangement, where they print books in quantity, and distribute them through O'Reilly. The question is also kind of a non-sequitur, because they say "POD" and "small print runs" in the same breath -- POD was supposed to be a technology for printing copies for individual readers on demand. Printing short press runs isn't a new idea. The whole POD thing was one of those things that really got oversold in the 90's. The fact was that the technology and business aspects never really made sense.

    What is really cool, and really makes sense, and is really practical technologically, is what they're doing by making their book free [rubycentral.com] in digital form but also available in print.

  • by heroine (1220)
    > To get job security, developers need to position
    > themselves as highly effective business-value
    > generators, working with the rest of the company
    > to solve common goals.

    So to live in the US, you need to have a huge ego, tell everyone else they're idiots, and hold up the entire operation so you can be the funnel through which everything must go. If it doesn't go through you, you have to call the person who bypassed you an idiot.

    That seems to be the modus operandi of the guys with the most in
  • Ahhhh....so the maker of thick, juicy hamburgers and frosties didn't die -- he just became a coder. Whew, I was sad for a while there.
  • I've read the interview, but I could not find a single idea about programming...
    well, except the tipical 'metaprogramimg' misconception (pretending 'meta' is something different to 'programming'), but nothing more, did I miss the line?

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