Employment Skills Discussion

Moved from WhySympathizeWithTheUnemployed on 4thMarch 2004

The rafts of developers that have been laid off recently are mostly unskilled. The skilled developers are still in work. What have you done recently that convinces your manager that your skills are not fungible with those of fresh graduate in Mumbai?

This credits the industry with much more wisdom about intellectual skills than it has ever actually shown. Businesses with the savvy to fire only the bad tech workers would also have failed to pour huge amounts of money down the drain just to keep the investors high on their extended orgy.

Contrary to what you might've read in Wired, there are some high-tech companies that did not drink the dot-com Koolaid, and therefore did not implode along with the rest of the industry. The company I work for, for instance - shameless plug http://www.kldlabs.com. We might not have gotten Aeron chairs and Stairmasters and personal sushi chefs during the boom, but we've all still got our jobs, and a continued, steady growth trend. Slow and steady always wins the race, for a long enough definition of "race".

Your company does "real-time measurement systems", which is about as far from Internet issues as you can be and still do software, and your company is smug about having avoided getting caught up in the Internet frenzy? Like there was any choice? But I bet you anything that there was nonetheless talk amongst the kldlabs executives back then about "how can we cash in on the web?"

Making a virtue of necessity is a good thing, but how much actual credit can a company claim for that necessity?

I once worked for a SCADA company where the CEO decided to try to ride the dot-com boom by offering an online, Java-based version of their EMS product. (I ended up moving before this happened so I can't tell you how it panned out.) You can make most anything computer-related into something internet-related, if you're so inclined. -- francis

It isn't all about the dot com crash. There was 9/11, energy trading, mutual funds and telecom, all of which left good programmers without jobs. In my neck of the woods (Houston, TX) we have an army of programmers laid off by Enron, Dynegy, El Paso and other trading companies. Sure, some of them are unskilled, but most of them are highly skilled. You can't seriously blame them for the situation. -- EricHodges

I'm not blaming the unemployed, just trying to stick to the facts. There are a lot of hot emotions on this topic and it would behoove us all to avoid hyperbole.

As I've written elsewhere, I think what's happening to outsourced tech workers is pretty awful, but it's not any more awful than what happened to, say, auto workers in Detroit 15 years ago. (And where were most programmers when those middle class jobs were disappearing from Detroit? Oh, yeah, they were spouting libertarian platitudes about the wisdom of the market.) The new rules of global capitalism are fairly simple: Innovate or perish. Don't like those rules? Well, accept the fact that you're not the first person who has been affected by this, and then go out and do something about it. -- francis

I wasn't replying to you (I don't think), but to the claims above that the unemployed developers are mostly unskilled and that avoiding the dot-com Kool-Aid somehow insulates companies from recent economic chaos. I agree with you, especially the bit about auto workers. I didn't expect sympathy when I was unemployed. I knew the risks of leaving a company with 16,000 employees to start a new one with 4. (I just did it again, leaving a company with 90,000 employees for one with less than 30). But I have sympathy for folks who were screwed over as a side effect of thievery at CitiBank?, WorldCom?, Enron, Arthur Andersen, et al. These are people who innovated their asses off. There's no way they could have known that their effort would be wasted by a handful of greedy men in suits. -- EricHodges

Hate to be nitpicky, Eric, but yes, the employees at Enron could've known that their retirement savings were going to disappear - by doing their own due diligence instead of trusting the inflated claims of their CEO. Is that too much to ask, that office workers have to be checking up on their own boss instead of simply trusting him at his word? Well, it is a lot, but it seems increasingly necessary today. Please note that I'm not blaming the workers for this. It's fairly clear who created this sort of system, and who benefits from it. I'm simply saying that we live in an increasingly rapacious age, and it's naive to think you might somehow by insulated from it, because you work at a hot dot-com or energy futures trading firm or you list some funny technical acronym on your resume that your project manager needs but doesn't understand.

What's been irking me so much about this conversation is that so much of the tone of conversation from people who've been laid off is "me, me, me" instead of "us, us, us". The systemic changes to labor relations and capital haven't taken place overnight, and they have adversely affected billions of people who never had the chance to be highly paid computer programmers. And now that the problems are hitting programmers, so many refuse to see that their problem is a broad social problem, and to act accordingly. Why is that, exactly? Is that because the dot-com boom made us fat and complacent? Or is it because too many programmers still prefer the company of computers to other human beings? -- francis

First, the employees of Enron had no way to uncover the corruption. The system is opaque. They were actively deceived by the people tasked with providing transparency.

Second, it wasn't just the employees of Enron who were harmed. There are dozens of consultant and contract shops here in Houston that got burned. Some of them did thorough due diligence.

An example is in order. There's a company here in Houston that hires top math PhDs? to come up with algorithms for optimizing resource scheduling. Their big customers were airlines (scheduling seats) and energy traders (scheduling pipelines). 9/11 hit the airline industry hard. It still hasn't recovered. Over the next 2 months Enron went bankrupt and the other energy traders began to tumble. This was all taking place after the dot-com bubble popped.

The job market is complex, interdependent and far from equilibrium. Programmers (like me) who never went near energy trading or airlines must compete with those who did. I knew most of the dot-coms had bogus business plans. I avoided anything that smelled of petroleum for environmental and ethical reasons. Instead I helped create a company that wrote portal development software. It had a decent business plan until the crashes tightened the purse strings of potential customers and scared off investors. Once I was out of work I was submitting resumes along with the thousands of other folks left unemployed by the crashes.

Third, regardless of the tone of folks on this page, regardless of how self centered tech workers may be, I still sympathize with them.

-- EricHodges

A better question may be: Why not sympathize with the unemployed? It doesn't cost you anything, except maybe your feeling of entitlement. There but for the grace of God go I is, for me, a finer sentiment than, Thank God I'm not a no-talent, poor interviewer like those unemployed people. -- JustaProgrammer

[It is an all-too-common AntiPattern for people to assume that a person's circumstances are entirely the result of his/her choices in life - especially people you don't know personally. Many of the examples on this page illustrate the fallacy in this thinking - if such thinkers observe an engineer making six figures and living a somewhat-lavish upper-middle-class lifestyle; they consider him to be an upstanding, responsible, self-made individual. But if they see him a week later - after he has been laid off from his job due to whatever reason - he becomes, in their eyes, an irresponsible deadbeat whose misfortunes are entirely his own doing, and who might still be employed if he hadn't failed in some way.]

[Never underestimate the importance of luck (good and bad) in determining the fate of yourself and your fellow man.]

It's not just individual choices, and it's not just luck. The change in the global economy isn't like a change in the weather. Over the last few decades there has been a consistent effort to make the global marketplace more friendly to the needs of capital and less friendly to the needs of human beings. That's not an accident; it was engineered. -- francis

[More accurately, more friendly to the needs of the human beings who provide the capital, less friendly to those who provide the labor. By de-humanizing "capital", you risk stripping it of its responsibility to its fellow man]

The rafts of developers that have been laid off recently are mostly unskilled

Really? You don't mind if I beg to differ?

You know, I just wasn't prepared for how subjective this topic has turned out to be.

In my (ironic) note on the WhySympathizeWithTheUnemployed page, I (obliquely) made the point that the skilled have been impacted right along with the unskilled.

The thing that I find something of a boggle is that the bias toward "bottom line" thinking (MbaThink?) has corrupted the process to the point where finding a credible way to burn a large part of your skilled staff in favor of cheaper off-shore labor (or other top-tier reward strategies) has become a virtue.

If you're steering a publicly traded company, it's a good thing to kill off the old-timers (who are the most highly paid and who also happen to know the most about the systems) so that, come the quarterly conference call, you can wax lyrical about all the "costs" you've trimmed. Personnel? Employees? No, we don't have those. We have "resources" and "headcount" and "assets."

I've actually had company execs tell me "you need to do more to justify your salary; we can replace you with two new grads for less than we're paying you."

When the "heads" just become more "beans" to count, then skills are less relevant. They really didn't care that I had seven languages in my background. They just wanted more stuff done in less time, using the language du jour. It didn't matter that my designs were more robust, more maintainable. More code, more deliverables, and damn the reliability (but, if it breaks, it's your head).

The managers have no direct way to measure such. If they can't measure it, they don't give you credit for it.

I firmly believe that a company that can appeal to its market and at the same time inspire the loyalty of those who plow the furrows, keep the turnover down, not continually look for ways to "curtail headcount costs," such a company may not show the same dramatic short-term top-tier rewards, but such an outfit will outrun and outlast its shorter-sighted brethren.

-- GarryHamilton

Aaaaaaaaay-men. -- JustaProgrammer

Maybe that is wishful thinking. Even "successful" companies seem to have a slash-and-burn mentality.

Moved discussions to EmploymentAndInvestmentDecisionsDiscussion.

See PrepareForNextCareerNow

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