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Ask Slashdot: How Many Employees Does Microsoft Really Need?

ErichTheRed All large orgs are like this (272 comments)

I work for a medium-large organization (a few thousand people worldwide, nothing like a Microsoft or IBM.) Both very small and very large organizations have problems. Small businesses are usually run by a tyrannical owner and their family, and all others are treated like "the help". Large organizations develop their own political infrastructure, and yes, they collect a lot of unnecessary employees. I'm not sure which is the bigger problem.

When things get too big, there are some people who get very good at either (a) hiding out and not doing a whole lot, or (b) taking advantage of the size of the organization and slowly building empires around themselves. I'm on a very small (way too small for the amount of actual, real customer work we do) product engineering team and am sometimes amazed at how easily some other groups within our company can just ask for and receive more headcount. Good politicians do very well in large organizations. In addition, there are simply a lot of jobs that involve processes that could be automated, but for whatever reason they're not. How many large-company employees do you know that simply take an input stack of work, perform some sort of transaction on it, and pass it on to the next person in the chain? A lot of this is probably holdover from when companies actually did have thousands of people manually processing paper and requests.

Also, in large organizations with long-term employees, it's very easy for the employees to get wrapped up in the organizational procedures themselves. I have a lot of friends who work for the state university system and in local governments, and they tell me all sorts of stories about people throwing fits over the number of sick days they have banked, etc. just because it's a very important part of their work culture. There's a lot of bureaucracy just for the sake of it, and long-term employees use "the system" to maximum advantage. The problem is that it distracts from the actual work that needs to be done.

I'm not really sure we _should_ get rid of every single inefficient position, for one simple reason...these office jobs keep a huge chunk of middle class with reasonable skills and medium levels of education employed. Take those out everywhere and suddenly millions of people start defaulting on their debts and the economy collapses. In that case, either (a) the economy reorganizes around a Star Trek The Next Generation model, or (b) we start seeing some really bad stuff happening in the near future. Losing manufacturing was bad -- imagine what happens when millions more have nowhere to go and nothing to do.

That said, try to get a bug fixed or feature added in Windows or Office...it's not easy and I think I know part of the reason. :-)

about two weeks ago
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The Billionaire Mathematician

ErichTheRed Persistence or raw intelligence (96 comments)

" Dr. Simons is quick to say this his persistence, more than his intelligence, is key to his success"

That's a very interesting thought. I'm very interested in science, engineering, etc. but seem to lack the innate math ability to do anything beyond a bachelors degree. I probably would have been a lot happier as a researcher, but by the end of doing a BS in chemistry, I was pretty burned out. What's interesting about that statement and made me think is this -- if we were able to pull in more people who aren't "good at school" but still have something useful to contribute, there could be a lot of talent picked up. Success in early education still hinges on the ability to do well on timed tests that check your ability to remember key facts. Therefore, it favors people who can get the material down quickly and have a photographic memory. And it all builds -- early diagnostic tests in elementary school start identifying people's strengths and determining where they should focus, the SATs and other entrance exams determine to some extent what further education you are able to pursue, and exams in undergrad college courses determine whether you stay in the education game or not. For people who don't do well on tests, this can really discourage any further study, even through there's much less emphasis on this kind of learning/testing cycle in graduate studies. It's an interesting thought now that a lot of "knowledge work" is even disappearing and we have to find something for everyone to do. Identifying talent without equating talent to memory ability is a challenge for the current system. I'm not saying everyone can be a Ph.D researcher, I'm just saying that I think we miss a lot of people who could be good at this stuff along the way.

One of the things that has always struck me about math education is that so little applied math is taught. Now that I don't have the pressure to perform on exams anymore, sometimes I go back and try to figure out some of the math concepts that I never fully understood. Pairing the procedural stuff with a real world example makes it so much easier to understand, and makes it less of a procedure. Simons is a good example of taking something highly theoretical (basic math research) and applying it to something practical (being one of the first hedge funds to do HFT/heavy data analysis.) Unfortunately, it's very difficult to teach applied math to a class of 30 students, some of whom don't care, so a lot of people miss out on this. But it's kind of like chemistry...you have to have a good early education experience to make the jump from chemistry being a jumble of elements, equations, etc. to a set of rules describing how materials interact. People who don't get that exposure in their first chemistry classes aren't likely to continue.

He's right though -- people who work hard and are persistent do get ahead. Not always, and life isn't fair sometimes, but that tends to be true everywhere. Yes, some people just get lucky, and we only hear about those examples in media. But for normals, how well you do is definitely linked with how much effort you put in.

about three weeks ago
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The Bursting Social Media Advertising Bubble

ErichTheRed Who is actually influenced by ads?? (254 comments)

I honestly don't understand the effectiveness of advertising, but that's just because I ignore most of it, and of the stuff that gets put in front of me, none of it influences a single purchase decision I make. I would much rather see a product for myself or rely on a non-sponsored recommendation from an acquaintance.

It boggles my mind that there are humans that are controllable enough to fall for the "Oooo, here's an ad!" --> "Let's click on it!" --> "Psychologically engaging content designed to sell me something" --> "Let's buy that!" chain of events. It must work, otherwise there wouldn't be a whole science behind advertising / consumer psychology, but I don't get it.

It seems to me that if you have a good product, it will sell itself and all you need to do is get a few people to try and recommend it to their friends. If you can do that, then you're just wasting money on traditional ads. Everybody knows Rice Krispies exist, and some people find them tasty. Why does Kellogg's have to tell the world over and over again that they exist?

Oh well, I'm not looking forward to the 40+% drop in stock market values that's coming with the next bubble pop, but I guess that's the way the new new economy goes.

about a month ago
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Chinese-Built Cars Are Coming To the US Next Year

ErichTheRed I guess China is Japan 2.0? (431 comments)

Growing up in the mid-late 80s, I vaguely remember the US having a total freak-out session about the Japanese taking over. I was a kid, but I've also been told that things like MBA programs did anything they could to jump on the Japan bandwagon, training people in Japanese management techniques, manufacturing processes, etc. People were absolutely convinced that there was some magic that the Japanese people and economy had that absolutely had to be emulated. Even before the 80s, having the Japanese car companies come in and encroach on the Big Three's turf was a huge mind-shift.

I wonder if China is going to succeed where Japan failed sometimes, but I also know we've been down this road. There's no real secret to their success in manufacturing:
- They have a huge population, and most of them are not averse to factory work. (We've taught 2 or 3 generations now in the US that manufacturing is a dead end job.)
- A strong, authoritarian central government in China has control over the people and key industries, and can make instant decisions to bolster growth with zero debate. They can also crush dissent -- can you imagine how much easier life would be in the US without the president having to fight Congress over everything?
- As we've seen, environmental laws aren't enforced the way they are here. Even the most laissez-faire among us can recognize that China has pollution problems.

The one thing I see that's different from the 80s is that people in general in the US aren't as well off as they were. Even back then, there were still a few industries that provided lifetime employment at good wages. Same thing goes for retirement -- pensions were still available to some people, so they didn't have to be paranoid about retirement. Now, everyone needs cheaper and cheaper stuff. China is the home of cheap manufacturing and will continue to be for quite some time. Until people feel more confident and can spend actual income rather than incurring more debt, convincing people to pay more for a higher-quality product is going to be a tough sell. And that's where I think China might have an opening -- what Japan did for high end manufacturing in the 70s/80s, China is doing to the low end to some extent.

I own a European made Volvo (I think it was made in Belgium.) It's almost 10 years old and has 120K miles on it. The engine will run forever, and the car is fine except for the things you would expect to start wearing out around the 10 year mark (belts, bearings, engine mounts, etc.) Volvos are (were?) designed for extremely long service life, kind of like Toyota Land Cruisers. It'll be interesting to see if the new owners keep the quality the same.

One thing's for sure - the next 10 years will be very interesting. I come from the Rust Belt, and being a Rust Belt 80s kid was no fun. Now the god of almighty free market efficiency is coming for the last decent manufacturing jobs. Even more worrisome is the loss of white collar employment, you know, the stuff we studied for so we didn't have to work in a factory. Unless the economy does a complete shift of some kind, we're going to have to get used to extremely high sustained levels of unemployment.

about a month and a half ago
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Priceline To Buy OpenTable For $2.6 Billion

ErichTheRed Bubble bubble... (43 comments)

The last dotcom bubble left us with huge amounts of equipment, dark fiber and Aeron chairs. I wonder what we're going to get out of this one?

It's a shame to see it happening again, but I guess I'll just sit back and watch like I did last time. I still wonder why I don't jump in and make my millions at the right time during these bubbles, but whatever....

Uber, Lyft, WhatsApp, Twitter and now OpenTable are going to be the next pets.com, boo.com and webvan.com.

about a month and a half ago
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With the Surface Pro, Microsoft Is Trying To Recreate the PC Market

ErichTheRed It actually looks good (379 comments)

I have the original Surface Pro, and all the complaints about lousy keyboard covers and the fact that it's not enough of a PC to be a laptop replacement are justified. But, if they bring back more desktop functionality in the next Windows update, this could work for them. 8.1 Update brought back just enough desktop (removing the absolute requirement for the Charms bar, etc.) and if they bring back the Start menu plus a few other tweaks, they might have an audience.

I think everyone just went "OMG iPad, OMG Android tablets" a couple years ago, and went too far over to the "everything's a tablet" camp. Tablets are great for media consumers but really awful for content creation, and that includes any sort of Office for Touch coming out. They do replace the PC for many people, but not all. I still think there is a place for workstations and laptops -- maybe not so much desktop PCs anymore, but I can't see using Excel beyond the simplest uses on a tablet. A laptop that can be docked to a huge monitor, keyboard and mouse can these days be a desktop replacement -- not so much a tablet yet.

This new Surface Pro looks like it's poised to take over the "executive laptop" range like the ThinkPad X series or similar -- small screen, weight optimized, with just enough features to make it usable. I'm actually glad they're not chasing the consumer market by making a Surface Mini, etc. The reality is that Windows will probably be mainly a business OS as the home PC market erodes, so I think they're right to target this market. I also happen to think that there is a lot of life left in the content-creation device market, despite what Gartner, etc. think. Those devices just might not all run Windows, but I don't know if Chrome OS, etc. are the answer either.

The big factors for me are the bigger screen (Surface Pro 3 is just at the low end for usability for me -- I prefer 15" or 14" laptops.) and the keyboard. I really hope they got the keyboard right -- I continue to buy ThinkPads just for the keyboard and TrackPoint. I guess the problem is that they can't just roll out a 14" tablet with a folding keyboard and have a differentiated device.

about 2 months ago
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Ask Slashdot: Minimum Programming Competence In Order To Get a Job?

ErichTheRed Thoughts from the IT side of the house... (466 comments)

Yes, I know development is different from IT, but I think we have some of the same issues. I'm finally in a position where I can hire someone to help me with some of the backlog of work, and I'm having a very difficult time doing so. Everyone in my network is either working and doesn't want to leave their current job, and I've only gotten a couple of vague "Well, I know this guy who's been unemployed for a year..." kind of suggestions.

So, going through the usual recruiter garbage dump, I've come to the conclusion that everyone good is employed. I'm also starting to see stuff similar to what was going on in the late 90s -- people graduating programmer bootcamps with no experience, paper certs, etc. I hope the bubble doesn't pop as hard as it did in 2000 -- that was no fun for anyone involved.

I'm looking for a systems engineer, someone who can build out a customer environment in a lab, replicate problems, simulate software rollouts, etc. _and_ document their work and be presentable in front of customers. The only people I've seen so far are in-house IT administrators who can't even spell key items on their resumes correctly. I know grammar isn't a strong suit for some, but it's your resume -- if you can't be bothered to have someone proofread it, you're not going to be able to write clear customer communications. We're willing to train people who look like they have at least the potential to be good at this job, but I haven't even seen that yet. Of the very few whose resumes looked promising, some have been OK, but others are total disasters and I'm not looking for rockstar talent. When someone who has supposedly been s systems engineer for 10 years can't walk through a troubleshooting scenario with me, or articulate at least where they would start looking, that's bad.

For someone in IT or software development, I would say the absolute minimum qualification is good communication skills and excellent troubleshooting skills. You're getting paid to solve problems and communicate these solutions to people who are paying the bill. You need technical skills, of course, but people who lack the ability to write a clear email or document their work kill productivity. There are fewer and fewer positions available for ultra-low-level kernel development, real-time development or other specialties where the communications requirement could be relaxed. Lots of development at least at the business logic and UI level consists of gluing various libraries together, which means that integration skills are also very important.

about 3 months ago
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An MIT Dean's Defense of the Humanities

ErichTheRed I think he's right (264 comments)

Disclaimer: I'm a STEM graduate (chemistry) and have been out of school for about 15 years.

The company I work for is essentially an IT services and consulting firm. Since IT and software development is not a profession like engineering or medicine, educational backgrounds differ wildly from person to person. One of the extremely rare traits that is great for our new hires to have is the critical thinking/troubleshooting/organization skills that STEM education provides, combined with a good grasp of communications skills that the humanities provide. While an English or fine arts major may not have the technical background to do some of the work we do, it's sure nice to find a STEM graduate who can write in complete sentences and document their work well.

One of the other things that a well-rounded education does for you is that it makes you a more interesting person. I've had the opportunity to work with lots of people over the years. Those who are 100% tech-focused and those who are 100% "fluff"-focused aren't very pleasant to deal with. Somewhere in the middle of these extremes (further towards the technical in my field) can make a very knowledgeable co-worker who is also plugged into daily life and can talk intelligently about other subjects. People who are all the way over to the techie side do very good technical work, but you certainly wouldn't put them in front of a customer and won't get good documentation of their excellent work.

I'm really not trying for self-promotion here, but I do feel that one of the reasons I haven't been unemployed for a very long time is because I'm flexible enough and have a good enough personality that employers don't feel like they're forced to keep me around just for my knowledge.

When I was in school, bashing my brain finishing my science education, I do remember looking at the humanities, psychology and communications majors and thinking they couldn't possibly amount to anything. Looking back, I'm glad a well-rounded education was forced on me in the form of required general education classes. Allowing someone to get through schooling without at least some attempt at exploring the other side (and this cuts both ways...) means they get the equivalent of a DeVry or ITT Technical Institute education.

about 3 months ago
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"Smart" Gun Seller Gets the Wrong Kind of Online Attention

ErichTheRed Fun fun fun... (1374 comments)

My personal opinion is that the second amendment is dated and no one should be allowed to personally own a gun. BUT, I'm aware that there's a huge collection of libertarians, rednecks, whatever who feel they need one. So changing the Constitution is out of the question. Anyone trying that will get the rednecks at their doorstep just like this person did. Either the South and most of the West will secede again, or they'll try to take over.

The problem with the US is that we're way bigger than we were in 1789, and have 300+ million we need to keep happy. We also have little need for an unorganized militia, although the more survivalist among us might disagree on that one. The reality is that gun use is very different in urban areas than it is in cities. In the country, people go shootin' at some food. In cities, they're used primarily in crimes and by the mentally ill to wreak havoc. This is why mayors ban handguns -- not because they think it'll do anything, but because they can't be seen as contributing to the problem.

Anecdotal example about differing opinons -- someone I know who grew up in an urban area moved out to a rural location. Over the years I've known him, he's gone full-on libertarian and is constantly railing against gun control. I have no idea what changed, but I guess it's the differing way guns are viewed. Country = useful tools, city = aids to criminal activity.

I've never had the desire to own a gun, nor do I see the appeal. However, like I said, I realize we're stuck with this state of affairs. It does not make the gun lobby look good in the public eye when someone attempting to make gun ownership safer is threatened by a bunch of kooks. I don't see the anti-gun movement making death threats on gun owners. Even if the people making these threats are only a small sample of the pro-gun group, they sure make a bad impression.

about 3 months ago
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Ask Slashdot: Intelligently Moving From IT Into Management?

ErichTheRed Always have a way to go back (125 comments)

I'll agree with almost everyone else on here -- never leave yourself in a position where one person can wreck everything if they decide they're having a bad day. Look at the Terry Childs incident. You can debate the reasons why he did what he did, but the facts of the case are clear. He set things up such that he was the only one who could bring back router configs should they reboot by not storing them in NVRAM. Since he was allowed to do this, his refusal to hand over the console passwords one day essentially made it so that he controlled everything. They key here is not to stand over the new guy, but to make sure there is always a way to take back access should you need to. I'm desperately working to document a set of systems I inherited because I realized the other day that the operations groups who were supposed to know everything about running them didn't. And since I'm in the engineering side of our highly segmented IT organization, my primary focus shouldn't be day to day admin work.

I'd like to think the days of cowboy IT admins are coming to an end, but I'm not so sure. In fact, with everything moving to the cloud, the guys who control the cloud vendor account have tons more power. I'm sure people here could tell plenty of stories of people getting fired, then VPNing in through their "doomsday" back door account and wiping out servers and backups. Just keep the keys and make sure you take them all away when someone leaves. Another story from my previous experience -- no company names because it would scare people to know this happened. But, basically, the "network guy" of a startup that grew super huge in the space of 5 years disagreed with the new CIO and started getting pissy about various things. So much so that the CIO brought in network contractors to start trying to rein the guy in. When the guy refused to work with them, he was fired. Only after that was it discovered that there was absolutely zero written documentation. It took months of very careful probing and the cooperation of the guy's underlings to get the network equipment manageable again.

If you're truly leaving IT behind for pure management, good luck. I just inherited a sorta-lead role in addition to all the other work I need to do, and it really is a different skill set. Humans are way less predictable than computers.

Also, for the sanity of those below you, please do not implement ITIL as a top-down mandate. ITIL is so horribly complex system that vendors like Remedy, CA, BMC, etc. will try to sell you as a prepackaged solution to all your IT problems. The reality is, unless you start cutting out parts of the processes you don't need, IT will become a nightmare world of useless busywork. We're at the point where we have to think about changes in terms of "how much work will this take to get pushed through?" rather than whether it's a good idea.

about 3 months ago
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Yahoo To Produce Sci-Fi Streaming Sitcom

ErichTheRed Bubble anyone?? (121 comments)

In 1999, it was all about eyeballs, clicks and e-commerce. In 2010 it was all about cloud and mobile. Now it's all about tablets and eyeballs again with the entertainment angle. I know interest rates are low and stocks are an attractive investment now, but some of the stuff pumping up this current bubble is even less well thought out than pets.com and the like back in '99 and 2000. You would think some people would learn from the last 20 years.

I see how Netflix et al can be a very useful service for entertainment junkies. With two young kids and a very demanding job, I don't get much time to watch movies and TV anymore unless you count Disney stuff. What I don't see is every single company trying to go out and do what Netflix did with their original content creation. It's kind of like Morgan Stanley going into the chocolate business to compete with Hershey simply because their investors told them it was a good idea.

Oh well, I'll just sit back and watch this bubble pop too, and hopefully I'll still be employed in my boring old-school IT job. :-) Oh, look over there, it's a shiny cloud!!!

about 3 months ago
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HP Server Killer Firmware Update On the Loose

ErichTheRed Ouch, not good, but not surprising either (100 comments)

This is one of the first rules of administering servers -- unless it's an absolute necessity, let someone else find these firmware bugs.

This is especially true now that firmware controls so much in modern hardware. I've had business PCs that have gone through more than 10 EFI revisions in their 18 month lifecycle, and all the release notes show that they fix surprisingly low level things.

The unfortunate trend is that these firmware bugs are more and more prevalent. It seems like manufacturers are skimping on QA and testing. I'm not surprised that HP is affected -- their maintenance applications and documentation look like it's now written by an offshore team. So, I wouldn't be surprised if the EEs and SEs sitting in Houston have to write specs and have their offshore counterparts hack up the firmware changes. Worse, since they're getting the NICs from Broadcom, it's engineers --> offshore team --> Broadcom --> Broadcom's offshore team, making it even more likely that confusion will be introduced.

about 3 months ago
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Master of Analytics Program Admission Rates Falling To Single Digits

ErichTheRed Bubble inflating too fast? (74 comments)

Is it possible that we're just near the top of the Big Data bubble and that educational institutions haven't been able to bring specialized programs online fast enough?

It's starting to feel a little bit like 1999 again, just with different buzzwords:
- Social
- Big Data / Hadoop
- Cloud
- Internet of Things

In 1999, it was all just Web 1.0 and eyeballs. How far we've come :)

about 3 months ago
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Tech People Making $100k a Year On the Rise, Again

ErichTheRed Contractors skew that number... (193 comments)

If you look at the percentages, contractors are much higher than FTEs. They also have much higher costs and less stable working conditions, which the higher rate compensates for. Given the...uneven...quality of contractors I've seen who are nevertheless well compensated, I've often considered jumping into that lifestyle. After all, if idiot hustlers can bill $150+ an hour on a project and tank it, imagine what someone who knows what they're doing can do! Having a family really does make you stop and think about that though.

Advantages to contracting:
- Never the same job twice
- Absolutely every cent you spend on anything is a deductible business expense, so you pay much less in taxes
- Flexibility

Disadvantages:
- Constantly moving, never getting a chance to see something all the way through
- You're a one man/one woman sales force
- Future work never guaranteed

about 3 months ago
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GitHub Founder Resigns Following Harassment Investigation

ErichTheRed Re:Maybe this will wake some people up (182 comments)

I kinda wonder if some men in this profession, growing up with almost no women around in school and later in work, develop poor attitudes about women largely because there just aren't any around.

I think that's part of it, though I'd be hesitant to paint everyone with the stereotypical "mom's basement" brush. I've met some people like this, and they really live up to the stereotype, but this is becoming less and less of a reality these days. Feel free to provide counterexamples. :-)

Every time someone says we should encourage a more diverse workforce, 200x more people say there's no need. I think women are partially self-selecting not to be involved with this culture. Even if it were just perception, I'd hate to think that my potential colleagues' only experience with women is through various forms of adult entertainment. Couple that with insane hours at most workplaces and you don't exactly have an inviting atmosphere. We shouldn't mandate diversity, but I do think the entire profession could stand to grow up a little. I work in a niche professional services firm doing various consultingy things, and we have a reasonably diverse workforce. But, we also have a pretty good work/life balance and everyone behaves themselves for the most part. So, I think there is at least a correlation.

The other thing to consider is that the nerd factor is only part of the equation. Startups and some established SV firms have the...I hate this word, but I'll use it...brogrammer culture. Software development is increasingly more about gluing various libraries that someone else wrote together, and that's doubly true for web apps. So in situations like this, you're not getting the hardcore nerds -- you're getting the people who might have gravitated towards sales and PR jobs doing development.

about 3 months ago
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GitHub Founder Resigns Following Harassment Investigation

ErichTheRed Maybe this will wake some people up (182 comments)

Has anyone stopped to consider that maybe one of the reason tech workers get a bad rap is because of little kids like this? When people are put in charge of an environment like this, and they don't have the self-control to handle themselves, no one will grow up and every non-techie will point out the out of control nerd farm.

One of the things that does bother me about our chosen profession is the...lack of professionalism. I'm not saying everyone has to live in a PC world with no expression of opinion, etc. But, you would think that by one's 20s (and beyond in some cases!) one would have enough self-control to realize what sexual harassment is. I'm sure there are all sorts of mitigating circumstances that will be cited, etc. but I've just never had the urge to harass female colleagues. Usually, I'm too busy doing work at work to even think about it. I'm a guy, and I probably wouldn't want to work somewhere like GitHub, or be a Linux kernel developer, etc. In my opinion, it's not unreasonable to say that an office shouldn't be run like a strip club. I see a lot of posts accusing people of being overly PC and how they should be allowed to harass whoever they want without restrictions. I'm betting that most people are referring to the "sexual harassment training" that HR in large organizations has to give. It's silly, yes. But you know why we have it? Because some people are morons when it comes to personal behaviour.

I would be all for the IEEE, ACM or some other organization lobbying for all software and systems engineers to be lumped into the main body of the engineering profession. People could be licensed and responsible for their work, there would at least be a code of ethics on paper, etc. And, training would be formalized so that people would at least have a grounding in the fundamentals. PEs have to at least pass an exam that demonstrates they were paying attention in their college classes.

about 3 months ago
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Women Increasingly Freezing Their Eggs To Pursue Their Careers

ErichTheRed Good luck to them (342 comments)

As a parent who got a late start due to some biological issues, all I can say is "Good luck." Even with frozen eggs, it's very hard getting and staying pregnant. My wife and I are only in our late 30s, and it took a huge amount of medical intervention to get our two kiddies here.

Plus, the other thing to consider is that having kids is definitely a young man's game. I'm doing all right, but having a 3 year old and 1 year old is extremely tiring, as I'm sure it is to a 25 year old, but that just goes up as you get older and have more responsibility at work, etc. Free time doesn't exist anymore, and I'm not going to get that back for a very long time if I keep doing this right.

I guess I kind of understand why people wait. If my wife and I had kids when we were 24/25, we would probably be broke now and in perpetual debt. Having kids later allows you to save a little bit, build up a cushion and actually be able to provide them a decent life without taking out 4 mortgages and 20 credit cards. The problem is that waiting too long to find a mate (i.e. being unattached into your late 30s) puts you in a disadvantaged pool of single people. Lots of single women I talk to who haven't found anyone yet say the quality really drops off -- and they cite immaturity of the man as the reason. Past the mid 30s, you either get the permanent single guys hopping from one club to another on the weekend or the unmarryable.

about 3 months ago
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Detroit: America's Next Tech Boomtown

ErichTheRed Re:It could happen (336 comments)

I've had different experiences. I worked at 2 places that threatened to relocate to the South, one to Atlanta, and one to Orlando. The first one was just a corporate fiat, as in "those NY guys are too expensive, close the office and move it all down here." The second was an active IDA poach by Florida. Both wound up not working...the first was because, as you said, the company would lose too many of their knowledge workers and they weren't confident they could find new ones. When they started bleeding people, they realized they might want to rethink it. The second was basically just called off because the company got a sweetheart deal from New York.

My experience has been that companies will try to move their less skilled work or work that is considered non-core (like IT) to cheaper locations first. If the target location gives them a good enough deal, they'll just move the whole company. This is probably just short-sighted MBA stuff...executives are largely shielded from whatever environment the lower infrastructure investment produces. Their kids will go to private schools, they'll live in the best areas, etc. so they don't see any of the problems and they also see a quick win. Even if you get to keep your salary and relocate, you'll either be up for a layoff right away or never have your salary increased by much again, until your compensation matches the local market. So, you have to take that into consideration; either you love the area you're moving to and make a decision to stay, or you'll have to pull up stakes again and move back.

When even the real estate agents running a relocation tour mention that your kids will need to go to private school to get an equivalent education to where you're coming from, you know you're going to be in for an interesting experience.

about 3 months ago
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Ask Slashdot: What Tech Products Were Built To Last?

ErichTheRed IBM Model M Keyboard (702 comments)

Typing this on a Unicomp model based on the original design. Awesome keyboard, but it lacks the heavy steel backplate of the original.

Please buy a keyboard from this company so they keep making them. :-) http://www.pckeyboard.com/

Generally, any computer equipment before the mid 90s was made quite well, simply because it was so expensive at the time. It also tended to be heavily over-engineered. Some Compaq ProLiants from that era are 100 pounds because they're just solid metal all the way through.

about 3 months ago
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Detroit: America's Next Tech Boomtown

ErichTheRed It could happen (336 comments)

I'm a Rust Belt kid, so seeing northern cities on something of a comeback trajectory is a good thing to me. The problem is image -- you have to find techies who are willing to put up with a very messed up local economy and deal with winter. I'm from Buffalo, and winters there are very long and cold. The obvious benefit is that the cost of living is much lower than California or similar. I couldn't believe last time I was in CA to visit a friend that they had just paid almost a million dollars for a 3-bedroom house with no property. I don't care how good the weather is, that's absolutely nuts, and I live in the NYC metro area, so I know about high real estate prices.

I think it's all cyclical. Right now where I am, everyone is moving to North Carolina (Why??) People cite a much lower cost of living. That's true -- you can sell your Long Island house and buy (literally) a mansion on several acres in NC. The only problem is that Charlotte, RTP, etc. are still cities and real estate that's close to jobs is going to be more. Your mansion is going to be 25 miles' drive from anywhere. Atlanta has a similar issue -- people deal with multi-hour commutes so they can live in a massive house inside a gated community in the middle of nowhere. Side note - a friend of mine who moved there for a job refers to Cary, NC as an acronym -- Containment Area for Relocated Yankees.

Personally, I love winter and would have no desire to move somewhere like Florida, Texas, or Arizona. Right now, those are the cheapest places business-wise, so jobs move there. But the northern states can play the game too. New York just gave some new businesses a 10 year tax holiday if they locate in certain parts of the state. All the state economic development agencies engage in this kind of poaching. The only problem is that the South is better at it because they don't fund schools and local governments to the same extent. If Michigan and Detroit are serious about this, and can afford it, then the businesses will move back. Executives don't care because they would either stay put or be happy just about anywhere. To them, it's not all that hard to pick up and move.

Low real estate prices, compact metro areas that mean short commute times, etc. are advantages that these states and cities can use. We'll see if it pans out.

about 3 months ago

Submissions

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Apple buys iFixit, declares repairable devices "antiquated".

ErichTheRed ErichTheRed writes  |  about 4 months ago

ErichTheRed (39327) writes "Apparently, Apple is buying iFixit. iFixit is (was?) a website that posted teardown photos of gadgets and offered repair advice. According to the website: "Apple is working hard to make devices last long enough to be upgraded or irrelevant, making repairability an antiquated notion." It's all clear now — I can't replace the batteries, hard drives or RAM in new Macs because I'm expected to throw them in the landfill every 2 years!

It made it to CNN, so it has to be true, right?"

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"Clean up Github" -- A backlash against stereotypical nerd culture?

ErichTheRed ErichTheRed writes  |  about 4 months ago

ErichTheRed (39327) writes "The story on Monday about Julie Ann Horvath quitting GitHub because of harassment ties in nicely with this. A group called Ethical Code is starting a "Clean Up GitHub" campaign to request people to pull offensive comments out of their code. This brings up a very interesting question...is it still considered too PC to expect people to be somewhat professional in their public code submissions, or is this a sign that the industry might be "growing up" a little? I'd like to hope it's the latter...."
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Microsoft Retiring the TechNet Subscription

ErichTheRed ErichTheRed writes  |  1 year,28 days

ErichTheRed (39327) writes "One of the nicest perks that Microsoft offered is being retired. Microsoft has reasonably-priced "TechNet Subscriptions" which give you low-cost full access to download fully functional evaluation software. The idea is that IT people could use a product in their lab for learning or simulation purposes without having to shell out thousands for an MSDN subscription. These are being retired as of August 31st. Apparently they're trying to shift "casual" evaluation of software onto their Virtual Labs and other online offerings. If you want full evals of software, you're going to need to buy an MSDN Subscription. I know lots of people abuse their TechNet privileges, but it's a real shame that I won't just be able to pull down the latest software to replicate a customer problem, which is part of what I do on a daily basis. I guess you can mark this one as "From the one-bad-pirate-ruins-the-whole-bunch department...""
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Ex-Employee Busted for Tampering with ERP System

ErichTheRed ErichTheRed writes  |  about a year ago

ErichTheRed (39327) writes "Here's yet another example of why it's very important to make sure IT employees' access is terminated when they are. According to the NYTimes article, a former employee of this company allegedly accessed the ERP system after he was terminated and had a little "fun". As an IT professional myself, I can't ever see a situation that would warrant something like this. Unfortunately for all of us, some people do and continue to give us a really bad reputation in the executive suite."
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Change the ThinkPad and it will Die

ErichTheRed ErichTheRed writes  |  about a year and a half ago

ErichTheRed (39327) writes "Here's an interesting editorial piece about the ThinkPad over at CNN. The basic gist of it is what many ThinkPad devotees have been saying since Lenovo started tweaking the classic IBM design to make the ThinkPad more like a MacBook, Sony or other high-end consumer device. I'm a big fan of these bulletproof, decidedly unsexy business notebooks, and would be unhappy if Lenovo decided to sacrifice build quality for coolness. tl;dr: You can have my 1992 clicky IBM ThinkPad keyboard when you pull it from my cold dead hands. :-)"
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IBM Sells POS Busiiness to Toshiba

ErichTheRed ErichTheRed writes  |  more than 2 years ago

ErichTheRed (39327) writes "Yet another move by IBM out of end-user hardware — Toshiba will be buying IBM's retail point-of-sale systems business for $850M. I'm not an MBA, but is it REALLY a good idea for a company defined by good (and in this case high-margin) hardware to sell it off in favor of nebulous consulting stuff?? Is there really no money in hardware anymore? I doubt they'll ever sell their Power systems or mainframes off, but you never know!"
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Learning Programming in a Post-BASIC World

ErichTheRed ErichTheRed writes  |  more than 3 years ago

ErichTheRed (39327) writes "This Computerworld piece actually got me thinking — it basically says that there are few good "starter languages" to get students interested in programming. I remember hacking away at BASIC incessantly when I was a kid, and it taught me a lot about logic and computers in general. Has the level of abstraction in computer systems reached a point where beginners can't just code something quick without a huge amount of back-story? I find this to be the case now; scripting languages are good, but limited in what you can do...and GUI creation requires students to be familiar with a lot of concepts (event handling, etc.) that aren't intuitive for beginners. What would you show a beginner first — JavaScript? Python? How do you get the instant gratification we oldies got when sitting down in front of the early-80s home computers?"
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America's tech decline: A reading guide

ErichTheRed ErichTheRed writes  |  more than 3 years ago

ErichTheRed (39327) writes "Computerworld has put together an interesting collection of links to various sources detailing the decline of US R&D/innovation in technology. The cross section of sources is interesting — everything from government to private industry. It's interesting to see that some people are actually concerned about this...even though all the US does is argue internally while rewarding the behaviour that hastens the decline."
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