Pencils Down

This weblog is about my experiences in software development

Browsing Posts tagged Business Practice

Would you work where the programmers had to pass a personality test?

  • Yes (50%, 2 Votes)
  • No (50%, 2 Votes)
  • Have to be a lot of money (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Could I see the people that passed? (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 4

Guess this is a little to close to the PC line for people to express their opinion.  Too bad.

Met someone that works at a cloud software company. The company promise is that your infrastructure xxxx problems are handled by us in the cloud. Nice premise.

Reality is they are hobbling together a bunch of non-scalable apps written in a variety of languages together as a solution. The various pieces are re-developed (daily) into Java so that some kind of architecture can be established.

Yes, the original silo solutions are still being developed in their native language.

Yes, the amalgamating team has a daily run around to see what happened and ‘fix’ it.

Yes, there is an architect overseeing the lot and trying to herd these various individual teams into the same direction. (What’s that old joke about trying to herd a bunch of somethings?)

And, did I mention they are scattered across Europe so not in the same time zone or language.

Sign me up!

Historically companies have laid off contractors before employees.  The idea was that they cost the most.

Under Obamacare I think things are reversed: employees cost more than contractors.  Several firms had already announced layoffs if Obama got re-elected.  They have already determined that the differential pay for a contractor is LESS than the total, benefit laden cost of an employee under Obamacare.

Imagine you are an employee of a larger, older firm.  Even worse, imagine you work for one of the companies that pre-announced layoffs if Obama got re-elected.  What do you do?

I think we may see a resurgence of agencies that hire these laid off employees and place them back in their old companies as contractors.  As I remember, that was really not such a nice place to be when it happened several years ago.

Interesting times.  I wonder how it will really play out?

It’s so painful to watch the hoopla about this.  People are actually happy that one company is sucking 15 billion dollars of risk capital, that would likely be earmarked for technical investment, out of the market.  I believe that tech start-ups are one of the most important aspects of livelihood and growth in America.  To cheer on as the money supply for these ventures is cut is astounding.

I know it’s over 10 years ago that the same thing happened: early, promising companies did an IPO with very little accounting for things like earnings or prices.  It took several years before the country got back on it’s feet.

Hope I am wrong.

A set of upperclassmen from Michigan accepted the challenge to break into the proposed Internet voting system that would be in use in Washington D.C.  Kind of a nice idea: there are so many residents that are living abroad.

You can read the report at Attacking the Washington D.C. Internet Voting System.

When I read the report I was at first amused at the bad practices in place.  Later it started to bother me.  Got shivers from bad memories of the plans for SOPA.  I really don’t understand though:  if you are doing something of a technical nature that you really don’t have any expertise in why not hire some people who know what they are doing?

So we have:

  • I am sure there was enough slushy funding available to get good people to develop a secure system.  They obviously did not do that.
  • Use really bad practices.  At this point I guess nobody was paying attention anymore?
  • Throw down the gauntlet to people who know better that they couldn’t possibly break in!
  • Not even pay attention to the process and notice that someone did break in.

Reminds me of some parents bragging about how great a <pick you sport> little Johnny is.  When you see him actually play you are saddened by their ignorance and embarrassed to watch anymore.

I have a long term client that wants to rework their web site.  We tried a designer I had worked with, but they weren’t happy with the result.  Probably too much part-time and indirect contact to convey their needs to the designer.

So, they hired a designer on their own.  After selection I talked with the guy to make sure it wouldn’t just be a PSD as the output: he agreed.  Once the design was agreed upon he didn’t just give me the PSD, he gave me a bunch of PNG files that he cut from the PSD.  How nice.

Now we are going into week two of the process trying to get HTML and CSS out of him.  I don’t think he has ever done this before.  He is good at coming up with nice pictures with the right color schemes and fonts and the like, probably an art background.  He is just lost coming up with the parts of the design you need to actually develop a web site – HTML, CSS and Javascript for any widgets/special effects in the design (there are a few).

Maybe I am expecting too much?  Every other designer I have worked with has produced the initial HTML… layouts.  Maybe I have  just been lucky?

Project Ending

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The project manager for our project is leaving. She is a contractor. The project is complete so they are closing her contract. From 50,000 feet it makes sense. Kind of an accountants dream – have people on board just for the time you need them then they go away. She had been here a little over a year.

I have seen this happen many times. The “worst” was a 20 year systems engineer at a big DOD contractor was allowed to retire early otherwise his pension would have decreased kind of per day he stayed on. Again, quite the accountant’s ideal – nice little annuity math that can be produced in a spreadsheet instantly.

My first inclination is that, no, they won’t really do that. How can the company recapture the knowledge that is sitting in these people’s brains? All the big and little nuances about how the company runs, works, operates, gets things done. Gone in the time it takes to sign the closing NDA. I don’t think reading about reincarnation lately has made me feel better about the loss.

Afterwards started to think like the Sherlock Holme’s approach (quite mangled): “After eliminating the possibilities, whatever is left must be true”. I think this means the companies have a kind of planned obsolescence to their business model. They WANT to re-evaluate, start again, rethink, redevelop.

Seems like a gutsy plan. Who am I to argue? The current company just celebrated 150 years. The DOD contractor has been around about 50 years. Just seems inhuman(e).


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I got dragged along to see Black Swan.  It was better than I expected.  The main character is obsessed with having a perfect performance.   That got me thinking.  How often have you tried to produce a perfect solution?  Not a solution that works, or meets budget or time schedule, but a solution that is perfect?

I heard a speech by the chairman of Kyoto Ceramic where a student asked about being the best in their industry.  The person looked confused once the question was translated.  After some discussion the translator finally came back with “Kyoto is not interested in being the best, they want to be perfect”.  

Imagine having that as the goal for your company, product, service, software.   What would you do different?  Why aren’t you doing those things now?

Fear and Hesitation

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I have been in the unlucky position of looking for a new position in the current environment.  I had thought from past experience that early January would be a fruitful time to look.  Also, given the financial turnaround that most firms have experienced in the last two years I had expected some reasonableness on the job front.

Instead I see an environment full of fear and hesitation:

  • Companies have avoided doing lots of work for some time that has to be done or they may go out of business
  • New product development deadlines are approaching that must be done or vc’s, funding sources, etc… will pull out leaving the entity at risk of surviving

Given the pressures to get something done there is a constant stringing along of candidates for budgeted work.  First contact a week out.  Initial meetings scheduled in another week.  Decision time possibly in another week.

I think these projects are funded.  So, money is not the issue – they will try to bargain, but that is the norm for everything.

There are candidates available to do the work with the skill set.  So, a dearth of prospects is not the issue.  I know job postings are getting swamped.

There is a definite timetable for producing the product, feature.  Hiring managers have the experience to know how long the pieces will take.

There are specs on what has to be done.  There isn’t much vagueness involved.  Gone are the days of napkin idea products.

There was a quote from the lead singer of the Fine Young Cannibals (yes I am that old and yes I really liked the band’s music) to the effect not making a decision is making a decision.  In other words the companies that are delaying projects are effectively deciding to go out of business.

It’s not rational, but fear isn’t rational.  It’s emotional.  I think mixing emotions with business is a disaster.

The book The Mythical Man Month was first published in 1975.  I think I read it some time in the 1980’s.  As I remember it was not a very big book.  The concept was pretty simple – adding people to a project is less and less useful as a project progresses.

But, how many of you have been on projects where the exact opposite occurs?  As deadlines are pushed the tendency for all layers of management is to push more bodies onto the scene.  Even worse there have been times where some of the people added on don’t even have the skill set needed so that you would not have hired them way back months ago even if you had the chance.

The most extreme for me has been where interested parties start throwing out technical jargon they read or heard about somewhere.  On a big project we had a problem with software performance.  I was surprised by someone who had no idea how the application worked suggested switching to Oracle as a database server, that will fix everything.  What random nerve firings connected for that suggestion?

What has your experience been?