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Getting IT Talent In Government Will Take Culture Change, Says Google Engineer

Soulskill posted about a month ago | from the optimizing-for-the-wrong-thing dept.

Government 166

dcblogs writes: Mikey Dickerson, a site reliability engineer at Google, who was appointed Monday by the White House as the deputy federal CIO, will lead efforts to improve U.S. Websites. Dickerson, who worked on the Healthcare.gov rescue last year, said that one issue the government needs to fix is its culture. In describing his experience on the Healthcare.gov effort, he said the workplace was "not one that is optimized to get good work out of engineers." It was a shirt-and-tie environment, and while Dickerson said cultural issues may sound superficial, they are still real. "You don't have to think that the engineers are the creative snowflakes and rock stars that they think they are, you don't have to agree with any of that," Dickerson said in a recent conference presentation posted online. "I'm just telling you that's how they think of themselves, and if you want access to more of them, finding a way to deal with that helps a lot." Engineers want to make a difference, Dickerson said, and he has collected the names of more than 140 engineers who would be willing to take unpaid leave from their jobs to work on a meaningful project.

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what a douche (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47659159)

No exactly Google doesn't believe in genius's. They believe in production line coders. What a load of rubbish. Gov IT is they way it is. Because they agree with this douche.

Re: what a douche (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47659217)

"Finding a way to deal"...how do you feel coders? Does being labled a delicate "snowflake" make you even want to bother with reading the rest of what he has to day? And who are these masochists that would work for nothing? Let me guess...
  yep he is a douche.

Re: what a douche (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47659445)

That's great. I wouldn't call him a douche, at least a douche serves a purpose. Exactly who the fuck thinks of themselves a creative snowflake or a rockstar? It sure as fuck isn't any engineer worth their chops that I've known. It's usually some middle-managing do-nothing gladhanding their way to the top on the backs of good designers, engineers and architects that they label "creative snowflakes" and "rockstars" (usually preceded by the word "my").

Would anybody want a handful of these so-called "rock stars" on their team? Imagine a thousand people who all think they're the best at what they do, all working on the same project. Each one unique and just a certain that their way of doing things is the best and only way!

Re: what a douche (0)

tlambert (566799) | about a month ago | (#47659779)

I've known "rock star" coders. If you don't want someone like Vint Cerf or W. Richard Stevens or Kirk McKusick or Eric Allman or Mike Karels or Dennis Ritchie or Sam Leffler on your team, then you are a freaking idiot.

And if you haven't heard it before, then you've probably never done a startup in Silicon Valley: Talent attracts talent.

Re: what a douche (4, Interesting)

davester666 (731373) | about a month ago | (#47660563)

I believe the primary obstacle is that the gov't [particularly the federal gov't] loathes actually hiring people. they want to outsource everything, because of the mantra "private industry steals the best". and then to make sure only the crappiest companies bid on the project, make everyone submit hundreds of pages of mostly useless paperwork, and then pick the lowest bidder, regardless of ability to actually perform the work. Then, when the lowest bidder fails, award the contract to a close friend's company, and whatever price they suggest, because "it has to get done by yesterday".

Re: what a douche (1)

CBravo (35450) | about a month ago | (#47660697)

That is because they can't manage it properly. Only to be replaced by a problem that needs to be managed even better.

Re: what a douche (1)

nightsky30 (3348843) | about a month ago | (#47661557)

I believe the primary obstacle is that the gov't [particularly the federal gov't] loathes actually hiring people. they want to outsource everything, because of the mantra "private industry steals the best". and then to make sure only the crappiest companies bid on the project, make everyone submit hundreds of pages of mostly useless paperwork, and then pick the lowest bidder, regardless of ability to actually perform the work. Then, when the lowest bidder fails, award the contract to a close friend's company, and whatever price they suggest, because "it has to get done by yesterday".

THIS! This IS exactly what happens, and the laws, processes, and people that are in place are so broken it is impossible to get anything meaningful accomplished. It's ALL WASTED. The Time, Money, and Talent are spent on chasing down paperwork that was submitted properly 2 months ago that one bottle-necked individual couldn't bother to take 5 seconds to sign because they had to take a 2 week long vacation with nobody as an alternate point of contact or delegate of responsibility. Now you have to resubmit all that paperwork AGAIN because since the first submission the form has changed. They added a box to account for pink slippers instead of "light red" slippers, but that's only after not being told by anyone the form changed. If you're lucky, you might get that stuff in before you run into other issues that prevent even more actual work, but somehow create even greater paperwork. Often you end up putting in a year and a half effort into getting granted extensions for 6 months.

Re: what a douche (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47660993)

lol you're a retard

Re: what a douche (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47660387)

The precious snowflakes aren't the good engineers; they're the ones that HR schedules to interview. Oh my god are there a lot of them.

Re: what a douche (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47661603)

That's great. I wouldn't call him a douche, at least a douche serves a purpose. Exactly who the fuck thinks of themselves a creative snowflake or a rockstar? It sure as fuck isn't any engineer worth their chops that I've known. It's usually some middle-managing do-nothing gladhanding their way to the top on the backs of good designers, engineers and architects that they label "creative snowflakes" and "rockstars" (usually preceded by the word "my").

Would anybody want a handful of these so-called "rock stars" on their team? Imagine a thousand people who all think they're the best at what they do, all working on the same project. Each one unique and just a certain that their way of doing things is the best and only way!

You don't get it. This is how other non-IT people view *you*. You're post exemplifies what he is trying to communicate.

Maybe the Prez (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47659173)

Maybe the Prez could take some time off from his busy vacation schedule and work on some meaningful projects as well.

Re:Maybe the Prez (2)

Dzimas (547818) | about a month ago | (#47659311)

Here's a photo taken today of the President at Martha's Vineyard. It's not exactly a job you can walk away from: http://bit.ly/1oJyAfo [bit.ly]

Re:Maybe the Prez (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47659367)

Jeez, you'd think that the President of the US would have a staff member who coukld order his pizzas for him.

Re:Maybe the Prez (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47659749)

wipe the jizz off your chin please.

Re:Maybe the Prez (0)

DigiShaman (671371) | about a month ago | (#47660009)

I wish he would take a permanent vacation away from the office. This way he can't do anymore harm to the nation.

Re:Maybe the Prez (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47659331)

Maybe the Prez could take some time off from his busy vacation schedule and work on some meaningful projects as well.

Nah, he's too busy backpedaling on his earlier taking credit for removing all US troops from Iraq and calling ISIS "the jayvee". Now it's all Maliki's fault.

Great how that reset with Russia worked out, too.

And NOW we find out, "Don't do stupid shit" is really nothing more than an empty soundbite.

Yay HOPENCHANGE!!!

Re:Maybe the Prez (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47659473)

Yeah, he should go help ex-Prez Bush clear some of that brush that took up most of his 8 years in the WH!

I think he should spend the rest of his presidency building a time machine to stop God from telling Bush Jr to invade Iraq.

Re:Maybe the Prez (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47659539)

And you lose.

Sorry, but any time a statement is made about the current president being evil/lazy/bad or whatever, if you bring up Bush at this point, you lose. Yes, Bush was a terrible president, that doesn't justify it for Obama.

Re:Maybe the Prez (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47659969)

we need a mod to Godwin's law about the obama cum-lappers who "blame Bush". It's getting really lame...

It's more than the tie (4, Insightful)

MpVpRb (1423381) | about a month ago | (#47659185)

It's the rules, the bureaucracy and the paperwork

Re:It's more than the tie (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47659207)

Don't forget arbitrary crap that doesn't make any logical sense.

Re:It's more than the tie (4, Insightful)

geekd (14774) | about a month ago | (#47659215)

Exactly. If a workplace has "must wear tie" rule, then I assume they have a whole bunch of other stupid rules.

Re:It's more than the tie (2)

Gr8Apes (679165) | about a month ago | (#47659833)

ties are essentially convenient nooses for someone to grab.

Re:It's more than the tie (5, Informative)

sg_oneill (159032) | about a month ago | (#47660181)

Its more than just the ties. I work in a government science department that does really amazing and meaningful work tracking animal populations, building climate and weather models to assist firefighters and policy makers (protip: We're in trouble, regardless of what the crusading economists seem to think ) , and coordinating a vast network of parks and wildlife reserves. This is *really* enjoyable work and 1000 times more rewarding than "Yet another corporate intranet for 'sell-cyanide-to-kids-dot-com".

But hand in hand with that is an insane bureacracy. Recently I was asked to make some changes to software to throttle back satelite data rates from remote weather stations in the australian outback from every 2 minutes to every 15 minutes. The satelite data was insanely expensive and the modelling isn't fine tuned enough to warrant data points every 2 minutes (This is for predicting fire behavior during fire-season bushfires) even if we wanted it to be. So we set up the changes and tested it, and waited for the new firmware to be pushed out to the new sites. But no, its a government, anything "simple" is suspicious, so instead it must go through user acceptance testing , a layer of consultants , various committees and of course the various sub-departments must engage in their customary fight over who pays for it. It was 2 hours work and it will save $10K a month easily. But six months later its STILL not even at user acceptance testing whilst the beancounters fight over budget.

Its amazingly demoralizing.

Re:It's more than the tie (3)

Maxo-Texas (864189) | about a month ago | (#47660529)

Just so you know... SOX increased publicly head corporation projects from 1 day to 47 days at one company i worked at so the issue isn't isolated to government.

Basically- even a one *character* change had to be brought to the CEO's awareness.

So the programmer told their lead who told their manager who told their director who told their senior director who told the vps, cio, who told the ceo.

The end result wasn't that the ceo actually knew-- he basically signed off on the fact that everyone below him had discussed it and said it was going to be okay.

It was supposed to reduce risk but in my experience- the rate and duration of outages and bugs didn't really change.

When the ceo or a vp really wanted a project done quickly, various procedures and standards were set aside and it was bum rushed in.

Combine that with a testing environment that was 5% the capacity of production with outdated, non-representative test data and you had a lot of production issues that were not caught in test.

Re:It's more than the tie (2)

Skylinux (942824) | about a month ago | (#47661109)

so the issue isn't isolated to government.

True but these people in government are directly responsible for wasting the taxpayers money. Their incompetence costs any of us dearly.

I recently quit my cushy government job because I don't want to be part of the problem anymore. These people are so stuck in their ways that they are not interested in saving money or improving things.
"This is how we have been doing things for years, so this is how we keep on sailing."

I have had a few government jobs in the USA and Germany and the one thing I noticed is that the same lazy people hold the same positions. Only the name of the country changes.....

Re:It's more than the tie (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47660273)

> Exactly. If a workplace has "must wear tie" rule, then I assume they have a whole bunch of other stupid rules.

When I worked at a big, big defense contractor, the government oversight people (who were themselves contractors, but that's another story) were smart enough to require that any technical questions they had for my employer were answered by someone not wearing a suit. I mean they joked about it in meetings, but it was funny because it was true.

Re:It's more than the tie (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47659259)

Don't forget Politics and protection of turf. Air Force doesn't want to reuse what the Army built, Navy has their own ideas, and somebody is always trying to mystify a product or solution to essentially perform a hostile takeover by getting a competing products funding.

Working as intended (1)

s.petry (762400) | about a month ago | (#47659715)

There is a reason for a separation of powers and a separation of technologies in the Military. In order for the Army and Air Force to work together, they do not need complete and full access to each others information and systems. They only need enough information shared to get the job done.

The same reasoning is true with how the Federal Government was defined, with separate branches and separate powers. This separation is to protect from a single power having the ability to take over Government.

Where you may not see the connection is that full control over all military could result in a coup, so rules are in place to prevent that. Including restricting the President from having total control.

Re:Working as intended (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47660277)

> Where you may not see the connection is that full control over all military could result in a coup

Well, that and monoculture problems for weapons systems - even going back before they were computerized. Different tools for different jobs.

Re:It's more than the tie (3, Informative)

Tailhook (98486) | about a month ago | (#47659319)

It's the rules, the bureaucracy and the paperwork

Don't forget the corruption.

As we've learned from multiple agencies that flaunt records keeping laws by deliberately employing systems that are incapable of meeting statutory requirements, the motives of these people are criminal. As an IT person you `will' or `will not' based on their perogatives, legal or otherwise. If they want a twenty year old email system maintained because an upgrade would mean their traffic is recoverable after six months, you're going to find yourself maintaining an ancient POS and ignored (at best) anytime you point it out.

If they want a massive, possibly illegally obtained or misused database analyzed for extra scrutiny of political opponents you get to help them abuse power. And you'll keep your mouth shut about it too, or they'll put you and your stapler in the basement [washingtonpost.com] .

Re:It's more than the tie (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47659887)

How is this informative? It's just a basic rant based on no substantiating evidence.

Yes, it is an appealing rant, but where is the information?

Re:It's more than the tie (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47660283)

> It's just a basic rant based on no substantiating evidence.

I completely agree.

Furthermore, it is a direct contradiction of hanlon's razor:
Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

If you are going to go up against hanlon's razor you need more than just a fox-news quality rant.

“We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behaviour.”
-- Stephen M.R. Covey

Re:It's more than the tie (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47660035)

And the take-away from all this is DON'T WORK FOR THE GOVERNMENT. Stay in the public sector unless you enjoy making deals with the devil.

Re:It's more than the tie (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47659423)

Everything that happens in the Federal Government is due to an act of Congress. Do I need to say more?

Re:It's more than the tie (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47659995)

Well, true except for all the un-elected bureaucratic agency rule-making like Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, SEC, NLRB, CFPB and the EPA. Other than that stuff that happens in the Federal Government you don't need to say more. Now go back and tell your politically appointed boss whose dick you suck or ass you kiss you tried to troll on /. and failed like the douchelord asshat you are...

Re:It's more than the tie (4, Informative)

ksheff (2406) | about a month ago | (#47659503)

and in some cases it's the salary. I had a .gov job during and after college. The pay was much lower than private sector jobs available at the time. However, they had interesting problems, I got to use real Unix workstations at a time when Linux hadn't reached a 1.0 release yet, and it was close to home.

Also, it is worth noting that the bulk of the employees at this and other civilian govt installations are contractors. The actual government employees were usually managers or interns. When the contracts for the facility were awarded to a different company, the workers were let go by the old contractor and then hired by the new contractor. Same job, usually the same pay, just a different company name on the check and different benefits package. Usually only the main contractor management changed. It wasn't hard to find someone who had worked at the place 15+ years who also had been employed by 3-4 different contractors over that time span.

The attitude towards work can be different too. Ever hear the phrase "it's good enough for Government work"? A good friend and mentor at the facility had once mentioned to me: "We both grew up on farms, so we know that this is a slack job....any office job with A/C is when you think about it...but we work our asses off compared to those in Reston". I would not be out of the ordinary for me to work late into the night or on weekends to find bugs, experiment with new things, wrap of projects, etc.....the sort of things that most software developers do, especially if they're not married. I would have gotten in trouble if I did that at the offices in VA.

The dress code wasn't too bad really. It was just the "business casual" standard that lots of places. The only times I remember having to wear a tie was when the bigwigs and/or some Congress-critters from DC was going to visit or when on travel. However, that was a stark difference between what passed as "ok" in Silicon Valley. In 1990 or so, another guy and I had to visit Pixar's offices in San Rafael to discuss some software of theirs that we were using. The lead engineer was to meet us at the office and we stood around in the parking lot for a while waiting for him (the building lobby wasn't open yet). We saw what appeared to be a homeless guy walking around in the parking lot in a daze. He stopped, looked at us, and asked who we were waiting for. We said the engineer's name and he replied..."oh, that's me...come on inside". There was only one or two developers per office and they had beaded curtains for doorways. Very different than our 70's era govt office decor. :D

Re:It's more than the tie (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47659623)

If you're using Linux you're still not getting a real Unix workstation. But don't let that shit keep you up at night, fucktard.

Re:It's more than the tie (2)

s.petry (762400) | about a month ago | (#47659851)

Let me guess... Reading and Comprehension are not your forte right? "When Linux was not even 1.0 yet" refers to a time frame. Many of us that have been in the business a while use that as a reference and will fully admit it's not an accurate measurement. I started working with SunOS when version 4.0 came out, and was still supporting it when I left the DOD in 2010. I can remember the versions of software I was supporting (HP-UX 8.x, IRIX 3.x, AIX 2.x) easier than I can remember all of the dates they came out.

You can Google/Wiki search the dates these things were released just as easily as I can. If you care to find it, the data is there.

Re:It's more than the tie (2)

Whorhay (1319089) | about a month ago | (#47659911)

The salary even really depends on where you are at and how many jobs you've had. For me going from my first contract gig to GS was a very large pay increase. The pay raises were also significantly better and bonuses actually existed. Benefits were also all around better, and the vacation and sick time was impossibly better. Where I live as the sole bread winner in the family I bring in 50% more than the median household income. Of course I have friends who live in other parts of the country and I'd have to be 3 grades higher to come close to what they earn. Which is better really depends on what you want and where you decide to live.

Re: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47659867)

Mediocrity helps to keep governments stable. Why ruin a good thing?

Re: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47660117)

"The soft bigotry of low expectations" for the win!

Re:It's more than the tie (1)

Daemonik (171801) | about a month ago | (#47661137)

The difference between corporations and the government, is that the government has 319,000,000 middle managers. Everyone has their own ideas of what is or isn't fair, how much value a project has and how it should be done. So we end up with layer after layer of bureaucracy and paperwork and second guessing.

Creative snowflakes and rock stars...? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47659203)

I dunno, doesn't fit the engineers I know. Maybe he's been at Google too long...

Engineers do dress well (5, Insightful)

Todd Knarr (15451) | about a month ago | (#47659221)

I'd note that most software engineers aren't philosophically opposed to dressing well, or to reasonable dress codes. They're mostly opposed to stupid dress codes that make them uncomfortable while working for no good reason. Reasonable dress for a meeting with outside customers is different from that for a group of engineers banging out a solution to a code problem, and what's reasonable when you've hauled someone in on their day off to deal with an emergency isn't the same as what they'd wear during a normal workday. Management tends to lose sight of all this because they've got much different jobs from the engineers and the dress norms for them are going to be different from those for engineers because the routine situations are going to be different.

Engineers do dress well (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47659315)

That really has nothing to do with it..

The problem becomes you have politicians and others in government that shoot for a website like Healthcare.com but those morons are not tech savvy, and they refuse to give the money out that's needed to make sure the site is built right the first time, add a complete lack of keeping up-to-date with the times, again because its costs money.

The one thing I didn't see or read over Dickersons speech/comments was the lack of security surrounding the governments websites! "Fixing" the culture really isn't going to do you a whole a a lot of good when you have debouched security. And the employees themselves have no motivation to do a good job their just there to more or less collect a pay check, that's not all of them, but this is government and it seems 80% of their employees are village-idiots to begin with.

Re:Engineers do dress well (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47659863)

Are you joking? They refuse to give out the money? Estimates range from 70 million to 634 million for the web site. "Reasonable" estimates seem to be in the 150 million dollar range.

You really think you can't build a "website like Healthcare.gov" on that sort of budget? If you don't think so, you have no business earning a salary in tech.

Re:Engineers do dress well (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47659355)

I'd note that most software engineers aren't philosophically opposed to dressing well, or to reasonable dress codes. They're mostly opposed to stupid dress codes that make them uncomfortable while working for no good reason. Reasonable dress for a meeting with outside customers is different from that for a group of engineers banging out a solution to a code problem, and what's reasonable when you've hauled someone in on their day off to deal with an emergency isn't the same as what they'd wear during a normal workday. Management tends to lose sight of all this because they've got much different jobs from the engineers and the dress norms for them are going to be different from those for engineers because the routine situations are going to be different.

I'd point out that in the case of web applications for the government, engineers have very little reason to ever meet customers. In that case, the minor arguments for even a business casual dress code fade away.

Government has to think about why IT people might work for them. Higher pay? Not going to happen--government will never match private sector stock gifts. If I'd stayed another six months at Amazon, I would have received stock worth $100,000 if sold at the right time (and still worth $75,000+ if sold today). Taken out to a year, my compensation would have been roughly $280,000. Government isn't matching that.

Better benefits? My benefits were good. I doubt that the government is offering better. The pension perhaps, but what happens when the government goes bankrupt? Hey, it happened in Detroit. The federal government's debt has increased every year since 1958 (this includes the debt owed to Social Security and Medicare). My 401k might be smaller, but it's money under my control. Amazon could go under tomorrow and I'd have everything but the portion in Amazon stock (which I could sell but it's been outperforming the rest of my portfolio).

The only thing that the government has going for it is the possibility of doing good. How well is that going to stack up against lower pay, unreasonable dress code requirements, and exceptionally clueless bosses (neither Obama nor almost any member of Congress has a clue about what is involved in software development)?

Re:Engineers do dress well (2, Interesting)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | about a month ago | (#47659409)

The only thing that the government has going for it is the possibility of doing good.

Agreed. And the NSA, CIA, DHS, and President are doing their best to eliminate that reason.

Plus, having worked for the DoD for a number of years, I must add that working for Congress is like working for a schizophrenic two year old who has a temper tantrum in between each bowl movement.

Re:Engineers do dress well (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47659673)

a schizophrenic two year old who has a temper tantrum in between each bowl movement.
 
So it'd be like working with Linus Torvalds?

Re:Engineers do dress well (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47659713)

So it'd be like working with Linus Torvalds?

Actually, no. Linus has given us Linux and git. Whereas Congress has given us debt slavery, corruption, economic stagnation and Forever War.

Re:Engineers do dress well (1)

tlambert (566799) | about a month ago | (#47659809)

So it'd be like working with Linus Torvalds?

Actually, no. Linus has given us Linux and git. Whereas Congress has given us debt slavery, corruption, economic stagnation and Forever War.

I suppose we'll have to take the bad with the good.

Re:Engineers do dress well (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47660179)

What's a bowl movement? Is that like two girls and one cup?

Re:Engineers do dress well (2)

s.petry (762400) | about a month ago | (#47659885)

The pension perhaps, but what happens when the government goes bankrupt?

If the Government goes bankrupt you won't have a pension, money becomes toilet paper. A bit of history can be found here [wikipedia.org] and there are many other historical references to find (I picked an easy target).

Precious metals, gems, art, etc.. can survive a Federal bankruptcy but your saved cash won't. Even if it's in a "guaranteed" savings, what happens is due to massive inflation your hundred grand may purchase a loaf of bread (historically accurate by the way).

The only people that would benefit in the case of the US Government going bankrupt are the global bankers who would seize all assets of every person living in said USA both foreign and domestic.

Re:Engineers do dress well (3, Insightful)

jxander (2605655) | about a month ago | (#47659475)

I think you're definitely on the right track: It's much less an opposition to dressing nicely. Rather, engineers tend to oppose things for which the only rationale is "because that's just the way we do it."

Professional business attire is acceptable when dealing with clients/customers. Makes logical sense. No opposition.
Suit and tie, to sit in a cube and churn through code all day ... makes no sense. So you'll get push back.

Anecdotally, I've noticed that this tends to be more common back east. DC to Boston, random working stiffs rocking the jacket and tie every day for no adequate reason. I worked for Intuit out in San Diego for a few years though, and engineers would quite often come to work in flip flops and board shorts (we were 10-15 min from the beach, so a long lunch of surfing was fairly common). You might be khakis and a polo shirt for important meetings. Maybe.

... when they want to (1)

oneiros27 (46144) | about a month ago | (#47660137)

... and I've known some who just didn't want to.

Personally, when I worked at a university, I kept a shirt and tie hanging in my cubicle for when I had meetings. As I never wore jeans in, when given 5 min warning, I was prepared.

Unfortunately, one day, I was dealing with server problems with our team lead, and my (new) manager came in and insisted we had to go to a meeting. I said I needed to grab my shirt & tie, but he insisted we were already late.

It seems that the executive director (3 levels above my boss) had decided that we were going to have an 'introduce the different groups within the IT department to each other', and the chairs were set up as rings of concentric circles ... and all of the free chairs were in the middle ... so I'm wearing a t-shirt that says "some people are alive simply because it's illegal to kill them".

Then they started cracking down on the dress code. Of course, the memo from the executive director on this "interpretation of the dress code" included no logos, so the staff shirts were actually not compliant with his interpretation. It also said "shirt with a collar", without qualifying "dress collar" (so therefore, my crew-necked t-shirt was compliant). They also insisted on 'no large text', without defining a specific letter height. (I hung up my White Zombie "More Human than Human" shirt to show that the "some people..." shirt had medium-sized letters.)

I was later fired ... it had to go before the unemployment office as they claimed I quit , but refused to make a formal statement (where I could've then sued for libel ... of course, I likely also had a case for "constructive dismissal" anyway, as my project manager had been told to harrass me 'til I quit)

But ... as my job was all about problem solving, I found a number of ways to comply with the wording of the 'interpretation' of the dress code:

  • took the sleaves off of dress shirts. (not a good luck for me, as I'm rather hairy)
  • added 'A COLLAR' with an embroidery machine
  • borrowed a steel gorget from a friend in the SCA (along with the rest of the platemail)
  • bought a number of 'club shirts' (effectively, hawaiian shirts w/ comic book characters on 'em)
  • wore the same shirt [amazon.com] for almost 5 weeks straight (2 weeks, 1 day gap, then almost 3 weeks without washing it, only febreeze)
  • obnoxious ties ... but that was a problem when crawling around the machine room (I was also a sysadmin)

If I had it to do all over again ... I'd have tried to find a priest's collar. Or a dickie. I mean, hell, I worked in a locked room -- it's not like anyone saw me except for when I went to meetings, lunch, or the bathroom.

So instead, I work at NASA ... about the only government agency (unless you're at HQ) that prefers you to *not* wear a tie (I was threatened with bodily harm by a small, 60+ year old woman if I continued wearing one to work). Unfortunately, a while back my employer got bought out by a military contractor, and they started pushing down dress codes on us ... so I've been trying to get a definition of exactly what a "graphical t-shirt" is. My co-workers all just ignore it, but I'm doing my best to point out what a pointless, stupid rule it is w/ ASCII art and stylized text.

Re:... when they want to (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47660189)

Are you familiar with the phrase "choose your battles"?

Re:... when they want to (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47660849)

He seems to be choosing ones he actually likes fighting. I might do the same myself if we had any dress code at all. Haven't tried swimwear yet, but anything else seems to be ok. What's more fun that showing the obvious stupidity of too stricktly defined dress code, when said dress code is utterly useless anyway. After about 10 years of age everyone should be allowed to dress themselves, before that mommy is needed. If corporate tries to act like a mommy you better expect the workers will act like kids.

Re:... when they want to (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47660281)

so I'm wearing a t-shirt that says "some people are alive simply because it's illegal to kill them".

I think I've pinpointed your problem. Had this been a plain tee, you'd still have your ordinary dress code.

No culture change is needed (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47659223)

but a salary change.

I work for government (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47659235)

I have long hair, a beard, wear t-shirt and shorts to work, come and go as I please (for the most part), etc. Of course I make 2/3 of what corporate sysadmins make. But considering I get more than a month of vacation, it's an adequate tradeoff for all the perks. Government has IT talent, although not in the IRS' desktop support division.

Re:I work for government (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47659799)

I get 6 weeks and I'm not even a proper admin! LOLzzz!!! Private sector, muthafucka!

Re:I work for government (1)

Tablizer (95088) | about a month ago | (#47660061)

Government has IT talent, although not in the IRS' desktop support division.

To be fair, long-term archiving is not the job of desktop computers. A true archive system costs money, i.e. tax money. There was a push around the time at issue to shrink gov't cost. Now they are bitching about not having sufficient equipment. You cannot have it both ways.

Summary misplaces emphasis on one point (4, Informative)

MattskEE (925706) | about a month ago | (#47659241)

Actually Mikey gives four reasons for the healthcare.gov problems, but the summary just focuses on the last one, probably because it sounds funny:

The original points (as summed up by me in a few words) were (1) Fragmentation of implementation, (2) Lack of monitoring of system, (3) Lack of experience by the companies building it, and (4) workplace culture clash.

Re:Summary misplaces emphasis on one point (2)

Daemonik (171801) | about a month ago | (#47661163)

Don't forget: Absolutely no support from a hostile Congress to the basic existence of the project.

I have to ask.... (1)

bobbied (2522392) | about a month ago | (#47659243)

Which culture?

Are we talking in macro terms, as in our overall culture, the culture of the United States?

OR

The again macro culture of government workers? Where performance doesn't matter all that much and you are at the mercy of a rarely talented middle management layer that swallows 90% of the work force?

OR

The culture of the average IT worker used to working from the basement in Mom's house?

Good luck on changing any of them..

Need to cut down on contractors and subcontractors (4, Insightful)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about a month ago | (#47659257)

Need to cut down on the contractors and subcontractors in GOV IT.

They add lot's of over head and can make it hard to get work done as people need to work though layers and layers of contractors and subcontractors to get info from one team to an other team.

Re:Need to cut down on contractors and subcontract (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47659433)

Why do you think they are there? Some of it is simple graft, but plenty is because the government can't actually hire people to do the job at the rates they're paying.

Re:Need to cut down on contractors and subcontract (3, Informative)

ksheff (2406) | about a month ago | (#47659535)

Well, in many cases if you got rid of contractors, all that would be left would be managers and interns. Depending on the location, the pay may not be great as a contractor, but it's probably a little better than the equivalent position if you were a govt employee. On the other hand, it's easier for the contract company/govt managers to fire you than it would if the person was a govt employee.

Re:Need to cut down on contractors and subcontract (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47660301)

> Well, in many cases if you got rid of contractors, all that would be left would be managers and interns.

Duh. That's his point - hire developers as permanent employees. The whole outsourcing of government work (not just IT, but all departments) since Clinton left office has just been a hand-over of cash to the owners of contracting companies. Once they get entrenched the contractors are just as permanent as regular employees because they've got institutional knowledge but now with the additional costs of contractor management. You get the worst of both worlds - low-paid employees but high costs.

Re:Need to cut down on contractors and subcontract (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47659753)

Not to pick in the government worker, but:

They add lot's of over head

Say you got an an L-O-T,
followed by apostrophe-S -
now, what does that mean?
You would not use "lot's" in this case,
as a plural -
it's a possessive.
What's a possessive?
Well, it's the adding of an apostrophe-S to a
word to show possession or ownership.

Re:Need to cut down on contractors and subcontract (1)

cheekyboy (598084) | about a month ago | (#47660099)

Why don't you just tell slashdot to do the spelling check for you. Chrome does hi-light errors though.

Re:Need to cut down on contractors and subcontract (1)

hsmith (818216) | about a month ago | (#47660081)

Yes, great solution. Seeing as agencies take a year+ to hire a new gov hire, it will really help to get things rolling. Instead of a contractor that can be brought in that day and fired at an instant.

simple! all it takes is... (4, Interesting)

supernova87a (532540) | about a month ago | (#47659265)

Sure, no problem!

All you have to do to create the environment for IT talent to want to work in government is to get rid of a culture of more importance on process than outcome, a culture of not getting fired even if you don't do any useful work, and power and advancement based more on perception and political maneuvering in front of people who don't know talent when they see it, instead of results. Oh, and constant interference by politicians who can't be bothered to appreciate what your work required, but are happy to use it as a tool for their own means.

I'm sure all that will be easy!

Re:simple! all it takes is... (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47659567)

Nice. I can see you have about zero useful experience in working for government. Good move with the stereotypes and right-wing propaganda though. I'm surprised you didn't mention unions in there somewhere. You missed that one on the checklist.

The whole process over outcome thing is probably your closest point. That happens because if you DON'T do that and anything news-worthy happens then you and everybody anywhere near you will be roasted in the media for being secretive and not "accountable" (whatever that means to people who don't understand what you do anyway). The public wants lots of records so they can come in and find the waste and abuse that they just KNOW all these un-elected people are committing every second of every day (when it's actually the elected ones that they put in office who are the problem.)

Oh, and while you're worried about outcomes, how about this: we need a public that stops demanding 100% success at absolutely everything. See, in actual government jobs for the most part innovation is hard because it doesn't carry any rewards but carries loads of potential badness. Some states have passed laws to provide financial and non-financial rewards for people who do useful things, but any time anybody actually gives one out it gets blasted in the media, so for the most part nobody bothers. On the other hand, if you try something innovative and it doesn't work you'll hear all about THAT too, complete with a hyperactive accounting of how much money you spent doing it, so once again the people are getting exactly what they demand. Maybe they don't know they're demanding it, but that's what they're doing. I'm not talking about healthcare.gov type failures, which were mostly private sector at it's best as usual because outsourcing, I'm just talking about regular "hey, I have an idea of something we should try" kind of stuff. If that "something" doesn't come with an almost 100% success guarantee you're going to have trouble because the price of failure in government is actually pretty high for most un-elected types and the reward for success is nonexistent.

So yeah, culture has to change. Specifically, the culture of the public who demands the impossible. In the private sector your every last move isn't subject to some public inquiry and guess what? Sometimes you try stuff that doesn't work and it's OK because others of those things are out of the park successes.

Re:simple! all it takes is... (1)

k6mfw (1182893) | about a month ago | (#47659645)

failure in government is actually pretty high for most un-elected types and the reward for success is nonexistent.

kind of like those who sit in ATC rooms and make sure the airliners don't collide?

Re:simple! all it takes is... (1)

Nethead (1563) | about a month ago | (#47660865)

That too. and the NRC or folks that design Interstate bridges. But I think he might be talking about local gov. I know in my area there is a local radio wingbat [kiroradio.com] that loves to rake any minor mistake that the local governments make over his personal coal BBQ just to flame the outrage (the outrage, I say!) of underpaid professionals working in a very aggravating environment for not getting everything exactly right each time. FSM knows we don't in the commercial world.

73 de w7com

Nope. (1)

sshir (623215) | about a month ago | (#47659279)

Moron does not know what's he talking about. There are plenty of places in government where proper geeks work. Examples: NSA and NIH. All what it takes is the ability of the agency in question to pay market rates, e.g. "title 42" and such (both big Ns can do that).

Re:Nope. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47659291)

In addition to being a "proper" geek, maybe they also might want to hire some people with morals.

Re:Nope. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47661567)

Ok. Whose morals? Yours? Or some elses?

Show me an official one-size-fits-all handbook of morals and I'll direct you to the fictional section of the bookstore where such a handbook allegedly exists.

Cry me a fucking river with your sanctimonious morality crusade!

Try paying them..... (1)

who_stole_my_kidneys (1956012) | about a month ago | (#47659285)

In my experience the pay rate was well under what private companies pay, and for some one who is worth their salt they would jump at a private company that is going to pay them 30% more + stocks and better medical benefits. Hiring some one for a position takes 2-3 times as long to process paperwork, and if they have not been offered another position with a private company, the laugh at the offered salary.

Typical PHB speak (1)

nyet (19118) | about a month ago | (#47659341)

You don't have to be intelligent/reasonable to control intelligent/reasonable people, you just have to convince them that you are. You can go on being a clueless dipshit in all other respects.

IT or Engineers? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47659387)

They're not the same thing.

Strip out the insulting language... (4, Insightful)

Karmashock (2415832) | about a month ago | (#47659389)

... And process this literally. What he is suggesting is that engineers need to have more control over projects and feel that their contributions make a difference.

The insulting language I believe was put in to get the arrogant incompetent government drones to pay attention to it. See, we can do insulting too.

But strip out the insulting back and forth and see the literal message. He's suggesting that engineers be given some control and leeway to manage projects. He's also suggesting that those projects will be more successful if the engineers are allowed to control the direction of them to some extent.

Now, who here disagrees that that would be a bad idea? It is precisely the lack of that that makes those sorts of jobs intolerable. You're often dealing with a badly designed system that wants to be upgraded into an even more badly designed system and you're being judged on how well this badly designed system works.

On top of that, the system whether well or poorly designed isn't doing anything interesting or often even useful.

So yeah, I think the stuffed shirts have every reason to express their needs in a vague sense. Because they don't actually know what they want specifically. But the actual implementation and specific design should be handled by the engineers with a great deal of flexibility.

Re:Strip out the insulting language... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47659471)

Now, who here disagrees that that would be a bad idea?

Define "bad idea."

Our minders are clearly opposed to deploying systems from which they can't purge inconvenient information in case they get investigated. To them, a well designed system that secures data in a difficult-to-purge form is a "bad idea."

See the problem?

Re:Strip out the insulting language... (1)

Karmashock (2415832) | about a month ago | (#47659831)

If your goal is to just scapegoat the tech department every time you want to do something illegal then its not in the interest of any competent professional programmer or IT admin to deal with you.

The best you can get are low wage contractors from india or other assorted flunkies that will doubtless cock up anything complicated and deliver consistent failure. at inflated prices.

So really in your example it just sounds like the people making choices need to be given fewer or perhaps no responsibilities.

How much was done in-house? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47659525)

The thing is, the government does things by contracting out, not in-house, and because of reasons of fiscal economy, must go with cheaper bidders. And even when they put it in their contracts that they get the lowest price, they get despised for such contracts being enforced.

Let's face it, there's too many people in the Corporate World who think cheating the government and taxpayers is the way to go.

There's a reason bureaucracy has become a dirty word. Because those who shape the way we think want us to believe that way.

Re:How much was done in-house? (1)

Stumbles (602007) | about a month ago | (#47659589)

Bureaucracy is a dirty word, the more there is the less efficient. It has been discussed endlessly citing many examples from businesses and government. Though I do agree there are those and it is not limited to the corporate world that think cheating the taxpayers is the way to go.

Binder of Engineers (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47659571)

"You don't have to think that the engineers are [...] creative snowflakes [... but] that's how they think of themselves."

and

"Dickerson [...] has collected the names of more than 140 engineers."

Are the names in a binder?

Re:Binder of Engineers (1)

Tablizer (95088) | about a month ago | (#47660065)

I have a binder full of Mitt jokes.

Not creative rock stars? (4, Interesting)

Karl Cocknozzle (514413) | about a month ago | (#47659739)

Can you do what they can do? No? So then, how about a nice plate of shut the fuck up, then?

Government doesn't get good techies because they don't pay enough, have a lousy working environment, and don't have ANY of the perks of the private sector that techies prize, like working from home (HA!) flex-time, or flex-spending accounts. Workplaces are static (you can fight for the "best office" after 10-15 years of seniority, but will toil in an ill-lit cube farm until the,) schedules are inflexible, and benefits are one-size fits all.

I saw an advertisement for my job (basically to the letter) working for a "state" organization here... The Teachers retirement fund (it's a pension fund for the teacher's union, operated by the state under state employment rules.) What I make is irrelevant, but suffice it to say, their "max" was 40% less than I make today, and just over 50% less than what "the market will bear."

That's your ballgame.

Re:Not creative rock stars? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47661083)

don't have ANY of the perks of the private sector that techies prize, like working from home (HA!) flex-time, or flex-spending accounts.

(1) They do have work-from home. Didn't you read the story from yesterday about all the patent examiners working from home?

(2) Flex-time is not a benefit, it is a way to screw over employees. Combining sick-leave with vacation they've reduced the total number of days off. Government jobs have much more generous vacation and sick-leave policies. Llike all the days in your flex-time balance are still less than the typical number of vacation-only days in the public sector.

(3) Flex-spending accounts - yet another way to screw over employees. Government healthcare coverage is some of the best out there, you don't need a flex-spending account because you have very little out-of-pocket expenses in the first place.

Re:Not creative rock stars? (2)

trout007 (975317) | about a month ago | (#47661541)

I work for the federal government.

I have all of the benefits you mentioned.

I telework over VPN so I can access all of the internal servers.
I get a flexible schedule and FSA.

I also can actually get paid OT. At my salary it's just straight time but still that's better than many in the private sector.

The big downside is congresses messing up the projects every year or so. This is not helpful when 3 months of a year are spent on budget fights when projects should be budgeted for 10 years.

My experience: that stuff is done by contractors (1)

walterbyrd (182728) | about a month ago | (#47660521)

I was working, in IT, for the federal government until about a year ago.

From what I saw: any special project, like that website, is going to be done by contractors, not staff employees.

IMO: there is a lot of corrupt politics involved in getting those contracts.

Re:My experience: that stuff is done by contractor (1)

ruir (2709173) | about a month ago | (#47660883)

Dont care about others doing some projects. If they fuck up, there is already someone to blame.

not the clothes (3, Insightful)

Goldsmith (561202) | about a month ago | (#47660587)

I've worked for the government in a scientific job, with a lot of IT folks. It was probably the most relaxed atmosphere I've worked in. No expectation to dress better than business casual. No expectation to work overtime. No expectation to really get anything done.

It's that last one that's really the killer. If you're not focused on getting projects done, first and foremost, then you're not going to attract good people.

A good engineer isn't necessary when the jobs at a government office survive only by making the right political and budgetary statements at precisely the right times. With very few exceptions, technical success or failure just doesn't have much influence on your career in the government.

Lastly, 140 engineers will make no difference. The federal government is huge. The office I worked in was a backwater, nearly forgotten location. We had a staff of 5000 people, about half of them engineers and scientists. There are thousands of engineers in the government right now who would love to work on meaningful projects. It's not a lack of talent or manpower that keeps those projects from happening.

I've worked in a shirt/tie straightjacket... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47660729)

I've worked in a shirt/tie straightjacket workplace. Remember the movie 'Office Space' where they use a cubicle as a storage locker? That was there too. And I had a boss dumber than a sack of bricks. And very little development work was going on. And after I left they tried to hire me back.

Perpetual cycle (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47660787)

30 years ago the A student graduates went into private industry and the B students went into government.

What has evolved is that the B students hire companies that employ the A students for consulting and doing any real work.

If any project fails the B students always have a scapegoat in the companies they hire.

Cost overruns and failed projects do nothing to harm the B students careers. And the bigger a mess any project turns into the more money the companies employing the A students make.

Problems in government (1)

ruir (2709173) | about a month ago | (#47660911)

Are the slacking of the old timers, the dick measuring contests, and the senseless games of power. You got to live with that, and you enjoy the perks.

Better to get rid of the "government" (1)

mike555 (2843511) | about a month ago | (#47661417)

So it is better and easier to get rid of the "government" altogether :) Who needs it? Do you?
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