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The Dead Sea Effect In the IT Workplace 396

Posted by kdawson
from the cream-evaporates-to-mix-a-metaphor dept.
Alien54 notes a blog posting by old hand Bruce F. Webster on the current state of affairs in hiring in IT, focusing on what he calls the Dead Sea Effect. "Many large IT shops... work like the Dead Sea. New hires are brought in as management deems it necessary. Their qualifications... will tend to vary quite a bit, depending upon current needs, employee departure, the personnel budget, and the general hiring ability of those doing the hiring. All things being equal, the general competency of the IT department should have roughly the same distribution as the incoming hires. Instead, what happens is that the more talented and effective IT engineers are the ones most likely to leave -- to evaporate, if you will. They are the ones least likely to put up with the frequent stupidities and workplace problems that plague large organizations; they are also the ones most likely to have other opportunities that they can readily move to. What tends to remain behind is the 'residue' -- the least talented and effective IT engineers."
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The Dead Sea Effect In the IT Workplace

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  • by gelfling (6534) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @12:37AM (#23051726) Homepage Journal
    When employers all threaten everyone with the same outsourcing when/if the salary budget gets too high then none of us are better off. No one leaves and instead of a Dead Sea you have an algae pond that clogs and festers.
    • by timmarhy (659436) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @12:48AM (#23051786)
      i'm not afraid of outsourcing, never have been. the only ones that quiver in fear are the incompetent ones who are easy to replace with a $5/hr from banglore.
      • by Gr8Apes (679165) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @01:19AM (#23051926)
        I'd have to agree. Finding another job isn't really that hard, the hardest part about it is finding the pay to coincide with the right people and boss, right type of work, with the right perks, like no travel.

        Adding all that in makes for a pretty restrictive job search, but even then it's not so hard.
        • by Antique Geekmeister (740220) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @03:04AM (#23052362)
          And I've got to disagree with both of you. Finding another job that leaves weekends free for your hobbies, or has good medical insurance for my friends who need CPAP machines to sleep well, or that are one block from their house they just paid for, or don't involve a 3-hour daily commute that drains your will and creativity, or where you've mastered the intricacies of the company's proprietary software build system, or where you've built a community of friends that you support and who appreciate your work, all matter, or where you really think the company is saving lives, can all be quite difficult.

          Not every job has all or even most of those factors. But they can affect your willingness to put up with dross in the workplace.
      • by moderatorrater (1095745) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @01:24AM (#23051956)

        the only ones that quiver in fear are the incompetent ones who are easy to replace with a $5/hr from banglore
        Or those who bosses believe they can be. Or have companies that bring in consultants who can be. Or who get bought out by a cost-saving firm who replace the executives with someone who believes they can be.

        But, for the most part, yeah, you're right. The benefits of having programmers in the same time zone who speak the same language who you can go and talk to face to face outweighs the possible benefits.
        • by cp.tar (871488) <cp.tar.bz2@gmail.com> on Sunday April 13, 2008 @05:04AM (#23052762) Journal

          the only ones that quiver in fear are the incompetent ones who are easy to replace with a $5/hr from banglore
          Or those who bosses believe they can be. Or have companies that bring in consultants who can be. Or who get bought out by a cost-saving firm who replace the executives with someone who believes they can be.

          Well, then you just leave, and return from time to time to offer your services as an expert consultant. Because you know they'll need them.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by phantomfive (622387)

          Or those who bosses believe they can be. Or have companies that bring in consultants who can be. Or who get bought out by a cost-saving firm who replace the executives with someone who believes they can be.
          As soon as this happens, it is an indication that you don't want to be working at the company anymore. Bosses like that are miserable to work for, and employees who prefer not to be miserable at work will leave as soon as possible.
      • by TheSkyIsPurple (901118) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @01:37AM (#23052018)
        The thing that worries me in companies like mine, is the new management is hot on outsourcing, and have no real idea what we do.
        We've seen a large chunk of our work go out, quality and timing suffer, and they're pushing to do it more because the costs are down, and of course there's going to be a blip during a change.

        Our skill has nothing to do with it... it's the 6 levels of management between us and the "deciders"
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward
          Then they'll kill the reputation that people like you have built up. So you go work for their competitors (or set up shop to be their competitors) because in three or less years they won't be getting work anymore regardless.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Maxo-Texas (864189)
          Costs are down...

          Catastrophic failures are up. Staff productivity is way down.

          Combination of SOX, offshoring & out-hosting of our hardware.

          When things do fail- there is an increasingly small staff (last time one guy worked 48 hours straight to save the company (multi-billion dollar co)). If he had told them to shine on each day after putting in a 10 hour day, the company would have lost millions. And yet... they are still probably considering continuing to outsource to the people who could do nothing
        • by call-me-kenneth (1249496) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @07:54AM (#23053368)
          In the medium / long term, it's OK. Those of us old enough to remember the distant days of the early 90s will remember "downsizing" "rightsizing" and "flatter pyramids" - a whole chunk of a business cycle consumed by the fashionable idea that greater efficiency could be gained by sweeping away multiple layers of middle management, supposedly improving communications between the shop floor and boardroom, as well as saving lots of salary costs. No doubt the same thing will happen again, but this time it looks like the recession is going to be a lot bigger and longer-lasting. (One of many unexpected consequences of the hollowing-out process was an acceleration of the growing gulf between the ratio of a small number of very rich senior management and a huge army of poorly paid drones, with a much smaller middle class.) How much further can this process go before we find ourselves living in Bladerunner?
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Matey-O (518004)
          The problem within _our_ management is cronyism. One or two crappy managers gets their job here (state Gov't) and pulls in their friends. They squeak through the time until they're certified than then they effectively can't be fired. (6 months to a year)

          We have the shell of a management group who's brilliant idea was to fire everyone and let them compete for their jobs. It's happened in the private sector, within our State Personnel rules, it's illegal.

          End result: They lost, the figurehead was replaced,

      • by hobo sapiens (893427) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @01:44AM (#23052056) Journal
        You are assuming the people who make the decisions are aware of or care about your competency. Often those decisions are made far up the management chain. Those in your management chain who are aware of your competency are often powerless. I am convinced that's how corporations work by design: layers of abstraction so that nobody in particular is responsible for anything, and everything is done by the big machine.

        I work at a very large company, and have for a relatively long time by today's standards. I have seen it happen time and again. People who are very good at what they do are sometimes just working on the "wrong" project. Often it's projects, not people, who get offshored or outsourced.

        Yes, I know I said I have been at my job for a while, but don't be so quick to judge. Some of us have a very cozy niche where we are given a lot of creative latitude, work with a great team, and get to do a lot of self-initiated stuff. As soon as that changes, I am SO done with this place. Or maybe I am being crazy, but the summary made me feel a little defensive.
        • by timmarhy (659436) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @02:10AM (#23052162)
          "Those in your management chain who are aware of your competency are often powerless"

          thats not a problem with outsourcing, that's a problem with your management. people keep confusing the 2. outsourcing is just another tool for a poor manager to make the wrong decision to use.

          • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 13, 2008 @05:30AM (#23052854)
            Yes, ultimately bad management is the issue, but outsourcing and layoffs are some of the few things good lower management can't screen you from. A good manager has a large bag of tricks they can and will dig into to shield their groups. But outsourcing is one of those decisions that's made in secrete on high, and often your manager finds out the same day you do.

            I'm in the same boat as the grand parent. For the last 8 years I've been employed by one of the top 50 in the fortune 500. I'd say there is a lot of truth to the article.

            So why have I stayed for 8 years? Because for the first 7 I had a very good manager. She shielded us from a lot of the corporate bullshit. Because of this she was able to hold together a group of fairly skilled people. I enjoyed working with them, and that's why I stayed so many years even with the ever increasing corporate stupidity. But, last year she pissed off someone higher on the corporate ladder (fighting for us). Our team was disbanded, and she was tricked into leading a group that had already been selected for outsourcing.

            I should have quit then. But, one of my former teammates convinced me to join his team on another application (he's just a team lead, not true management). I've been regretting that decision ever since. The distribution of skills in the new application follows that described in the article, and there is little shielding from the corporate bullshit. I've spent a large part of the last 6 months trying to push through a small tool that took around a week to write. In my previous group, it would have been a small side project that would have been handled outside of the usual process (it's just a small tool to aid the test team). I've held on as long as I have because my old teammate is a good friend, and he was convinced he could change things.

            But, there have been rumors flying around for a week that upper management is looking to replace our application (actually longer, but there's been more substance lately). And now I have a meeting request on my calendar from our manager with a subject so vague there can't be any doubt about it's purpose. That's it, I'm out. I have my resume open in another window, time to get back to work.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Chrisje (471362)
          Yeah, I can second that motion, although I work for a vendor/manufacturer. I've been here 12 years and managed to get fired exactly once due to off-shoring (to Bangalore, as a matter of fact). However, since I know the right "stuff" and people, I managed to retain my position in spite of this and lately even get a more interesting one. The trick is not to take stuff like that personal.

          But in general, I can't honestly say the summary is true. Because I've seen examples of talent moving on and dregs staying b
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by hazem (472289)
        I'm sure there were many employees in the American textile industry who said exactly the same thing. Unfortunately for them, all but the tiniest fraction of the entire industry is now located somewhere not in the US.

        To make it worse, while it can be argued that outsourcing IT abroad is not as cheap is it appears on paper, there is still downward pressure on wages/salaries because you have more local people pursuing a decreasing number of jobs.

        In an analogy, it's like having a bunch of farmers, so some grea
      • by blind biker (1066130) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @06:06AM (#23053008) Journal
        The firings that happened in the 50.000-employee company I used to work, were random with regards to talent or usefulness: both deadwood and excellent employees, were fired. They outsourced our jobs to China, in spite of the rumours that most of the people at the site that already worked for us, were woefully incompetent and we ended up fixing their mistakes and wasting just as much time with that, as if we did the development ourselves.

        It doesn't matter how good you are, you'll be outsourced. And you know why? Because this whole outsourcing is just a big scam. It's NOT about making things better; it's about managers PRETENDING they are doing something to justify their salaries, and an opportunity to get bonuses.
        • Yes, mod parent to +5.

          "It's NOT about making things better..."

          It's about non-technical managers outsourcing so that they can say that technical things are no longer part of their responsibility. It's about avoidance of responsibility, and has nothing to do with improving anything or cutting costs.

          The manager who outsources can blame someone else when projects fail. If things get really bad, the manager just goes to another company.
          • by SageMusings (463344) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @11:43PM (#23059152) Journal
            It's also fundamentally about being able to use, leverage, and dispose of a labor force at will without worrying about U.S. labor laws. That is the single biggest attraction to outsourcing. The costs are rising and the quality has always been marginal. The only real remaining benefit is the ability to treat workers poorly with impunity.

            Any arguments to the effect of "You have to stay relevant" or "The beset have nothing to worry about" mean nothing against the ability to say "Hey, let's just fire this crew and hire some cheaper guys tomorrow" with ZERO backlash.

            The company I work for outsources some of its coding and I can assure you it is not about quality or speed.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 13, 2008 @11:23AM (#23054344)
        You should be. I spent the better part of the past 9 years developing the IT department from a 1 person shop (me) to a 37 person team spread around the globe. We managed to bypass the HR department to do our hiring (in other words, we hired based on actual ability rather than some standard that HR used to filter resumes before we got them) getting the people with the skills that we needed to build the strongest team possible. And we spent a good portion of our time developing relationships within the company that helped us make sure that we were doing the right things at the right times for our end users.

        During that time period, I managed (and managed is just another word for led - we were all hands on) and trained 3 different teams in our IT group - server engineering, network engineering and one of our coding groups. I also worked two full time jobs for over a year in the company, starting a new division from scratch with only two other people to help. When the facilities department was gutted, I picked up the slack, spending nights going through facilities contracts with another IT director to save the company millions of dollars. All the while having the highest retention rate of any department in the company (we didn't have anybody leave the department for over 4 years).

        But then management starting making even more brilliant decisions than usual. First they decided that with all the free time that IT had (first clue they were in fantasy land - they didn't even know were the IT offices were to have this discussion), we should be made into billable staff and start doing work for outside customers as well as our normal jobs. Then the company changed direction from commercial clients to government and started acquisitions. Which meant that we needed the person leading the IT department to come from a government contractor so the made the lead IT person from our first acquisitions (3 person IT department, 65 employees total) our CIO. That decision was rapidly followed by divesting the commercial entities. At this point I was among the longest serving employees in the company.

        And then it happened. The last commercial division was sold, even though I was corporate I was included in the sale along with my senior server engineer and a senior support person. The new owners decided that outsourcing everything (and I mean everything - engineering, support, end user interaction, etc) to a datacenter was the way to go. For the 6 months that I worked for the new company I was basically tasked with how to migrate 400 people to a new network/domain/phone system. During that time I only dealt with consultants, never actually meeting my boss. Heck, I didn't even know who my boss was. As soon as I said something about what a mess the consultants were making to the head of IT of the acquiring company, I was terminated for failure to produce results (ie - I was termed because they didn't listen to me and continued to futz around with their $250/hr consultants who, for some reason, were unwilling to hurry up the transition). That was in November of last year.

        Since then I've been unable to find equivalent work. I've now got my own startup going, but am still not making money. It's ugly out there for qualified people demanding a salary right now. Sure, I could pickup entry level positions somewhere, but those positions really don't pay the bills when you have a family with two very young children, housing prices that are so overinflated that people are burning them down so they don't have to pay their mortgages and gas prices that make it an extremely expensive proposition to commute any distance to work.

        And I'm not looking for jobs in one of the "slow" markets, I'm in Seattle.

        Don't be too cocky - I was and have now ended up at the bottom of the barrel believing that anything could happen to anyone.
      • by Travoltus (110240) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @01:40PM (#23055144) Journal
        Inexperienced people (aka those new to the industry) stand to suffer the most from the $5/bangalore competition.

        Inexperience looks a lot like incompetence to employers - trust me, I am one, I talk to my peers all the time. I hire a considerable number of newbs and train them up, these other guys only want people with double digit years of experience to go along with the laundry list of skills (which my newb-hires also have).

        The problem is, inexperienced people are the ones who become experienced people.

        Offshoring is killing our ability to grow any highly competent workforce by eliminating all the entry level jobs - the jobs for newb hires that have all the appearance of incompetence due to their lack of experience.
  • It shows up in layers, bottom up - the new folks layer in on top, the older tenured employees at the bottom. It's very difficult to improve your lot if you're seen as an expert; it's not so much that you're seen as less intelligent, just more embedded - nobody wants to disturb a working ecosystem by promoting what are seen as essential roles. The result is that the experts sort of decant, and end up on the top layer somewhere else.
    • Re:Laminated talent (Score:4, Interesting)

      by karnal (22275) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @12:55AM (#23051822)
      Actually, the problem I'm witnessing personally at work is that when one gets promoted within the same department, it isn't as clean of a break from the old job responsibilities as you might think. If the people who are doing your old job don't step up - and you're still in the same general area (even if your title/job duties change) - the old stuff comes with you, and it's your responsibility to make sure others grasp your job.

      Granted, I am not complaining, as sometimes there's really no other way to do this. However, my personal grumble is that the others don't truly seem like they have the time - or the initiative - to step up as I did......

      But they still complain about not being promoted. I can lead a horse to water with the best of them, though...
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by SuperQ (431) *
        That's why a lot of places have a backwards attitude to promotion. You shouldn't get promoted to do something new. You should get promoted because of what you're doing now.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        Many expanding companies see this as training your replacement. If you can do that then you're good for management because you're already kind of doing it.
    • Re:Laminated talent (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Eagle7 (111475) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @03:02AM (#23052356) Homepage
      That is why one of the keys to being promoted is never allow yourself to become indispensable in your current job. As another reply stated, always be training your replacement. Its common advice from hundreds of "career help" books, and it makes sense precisely because of what you described.
  • by Mastadex (576985) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @12:40AM (#23051740)
    This just in, smart people find dumb people dumb. Film at 11.
  • well (Score:4, Insightful)

    by gadzook33 (740455) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @12:44AM (#23051768)
    Not that I completely disagree...but these people do go somewhere. If you start with the assumption that the distribution of the talent is uniform across the marketplace, then the migration of talent from one shop to the next obviously doesn't change that.
    • Good point. It isn't like the talented employees leave the industry because they decided to pursue careers in real estate. They have more options and will move on to jobs that pay according to their skill set.
    • Re:well (Score:5, Insightful)

      by moderatorrater (1095745) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @01:46AM (#23052062)

      If you start with the assumption that the distribution of the talent is uniform across the marketplace, then the migration of talent from one shop to the next obviously doesn't change that.
      That's like saying that if you start with the assumption that the distribution of matter in the universe is uniform, then movements won't change that. But that's not the case. Some shops start with more talented programmers and make an environment where good programmers want to work. Other shops work their programmers like mules and give them a hostile environment that makes them cover their asses instead of working effectively. These processes build on each other until the distribution is more definitely uneven.

      In addition, the companies with the best programmers will tend to do better in the marketplace, meaning they can afford to treat the good ones better and fire the bad ones. They can also be pickier about picking up new programmers and will have to hire people less often because they have a core of talent that they tend to expand instead of constantly replacing workers that get fed up. Talent tends to clump just like matter in space, leaving a vacuum where it's hard to find the talent that they need.
    • by LKM (227954) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @05:46AM (#23052914) Homepage
      Perhaps they go and start their own shop? It's something I see in the Mac business. Lots of people leaving larger (thinks Apple) or even semi-large (think Omni Group) companies to start their own software companies. It's easy for us developers to do so, since one developer can produce a full, finished, sellable product within a reasonable timespan (like half a year) with minimal outside help (some graphics design, some translation, probably some money and law stuff).

      As a developer, if you can put away enough money to survive half a year, you can start your own company with minimum risk.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Cid Highwind (9258)
        Talent flows the other way in Mac-land too. Sometimes a startup develops a neat product and gets bought (Coverflow) or has their best programmers hired away (Delicious Library) by Apple.
  • by timmarhy (659436) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @12:50AM (#23051796)
    Smart people with better options leave. wow who would have thought that would happen. next on slashdot, all about how water is wet.
    • by Frosty Piss (770223) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @01:06AM (#23051874)

      Smart people with better options leave. wow who would have thought that would happen. next on slashdot, all about how water is wet.
      IT people with elitist attitude who think they are indispensable? Not anymore...
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by rootofevil (188401)
        treat me as if (or even better remind me) im dispensible, and ill certainly hold the same view of my position in your company as you hold of me as an employee.

        i know thats how i feel about my current job - and how everyone up the foodchain from me feels with the exception of my immediate superior, and have basically since the first month or two.
    • by Angst Badger (8636) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @01:25AM (#23051958)
      It's worse than that -- the effect being described is pretty much universal across professions, not just IT. Large organizations are by their very nature bureaucratic and only become more top-heavy and inefficient over time. It's that process that makes them vulnerable to the smaller challengers that eventually eat their lunch. It's called the business cycle, and if the original poster is only now noticing it, it just means he's never taken an economics course or, more likely, lived long enough to see the 25- to 30-year cycle that most industries run through.

      I'm not even sure it's a problem, per se. I've made a long career out of working for startups and small to medium sized companies. Either they fold, as is the case with the majority of startups, or they prosper and end up growing and eventually being bought by larger companies. Either way, when the bureaucracy becomes stifling, I collect my letters of recommendation and move somewhere more lively. Unless you work in oil or heavy industry, there's always a wave to ride, and I wouldn't trade it for the world. The pay is generally lower than what you'd get being a placeholder at a large company, but on the other hand, I've never had trouble paying the bills, either. Money isn't everything.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        It's called the 'Peter Principle', to quote from Wikipedia: "in a hierarchy members are promoted so long as they work competently." When you reach your level of incompetence, you stop there.

        The principle is also known in more colorful terms as "shit floats". Gifted managers find ways to keep staff at their level of *competence*, but it can get very difficult when managers no longer actually know their staff or become involved in turf wars rather than trying to accomplish the work. And it applies to managers
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by twms2h (473383)

        Either way, when the bureaucracy becomes stifling, I collect my letters of recommendation and move somewhere more lively. Unless you work in oil or heavy industry, there's always a wave to ride, and I wouldn't trade it for the world. The pay is generally lower than what you'd get being a placeholder at a large company, but on the other hand, I've never had trouble paying the bills, either. Money isn't everything.

        I have been doing the same for quite a few years, but while money isn't everything and an int

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Grishnakh (216268)
          I have to agree with this. I have 10 years experience so far, both at small and large companies. I prefer the large ones, only because the work is steadier (despite all the layoffs), the pay and benefits MUCH better, and the amount of work generally less. It's rather demotivating at times, because of all the stupid corporate politics and decisions by upper management, and the total lack of importance of my work (projects generally get canned a lot), but the pay and 8-hour workdays more than make up for i
  • Like Slashdot (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Hao Wu (652581) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @12:51AM (#23051800) Homepage
    The real nerds are busy doing math and science somewhere, while the fake ones come here to talk about video games.
  • ACS is sort of like a long term contracting company that provides entire IT teams to hospitals. I worked at one for another contractor for a short time. Most of the people were crazy dumbfucks. And guess what, the hospital fired ALL OF THEM (well they kept like 2) and replaced them with IBM people cuz they sucked so bad. Other places with permanent, directly hired IT crews just wish they could do that I bet lol.
  • it's really simple (Score:4, Insightful)

    by nitelord (824762) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @12:58AM (#23051842)
    This tends to happen when companies don't focus on keeping their best talent, and don't regularly get rid of those who have no desire or ability to learn or do their job better. There are two types of employees - the guys who love their job and would spend time at home (for free) to learn more.. and those who show up, do their job, go home and don't give a shit. Your company is only as good as the people who work for it.
    • by ZorinLynx (31751) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @01:49AM (#23052072) Homepage
      What about those of us who love our jobs and love to excel in them, but don't want to make work our entire life?

      I really hate it when companies put employees down for not making work their entire life. I love my job, but when I get home I want to relax, enjoy my hobbies, go out with friends and have fun doing things that aren't work. It's part of living a healthy lifestyle.

      People who love their job so much they do it even at home and do nothing but their job usually end up burning out within a decade or so. I've seen it happen.

      It's all about balance. You don't want to wake up one day and realize "I put the last 15 years of my life into this company, but hardly any time into *myself*... I have no life outside work!"
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by dvice_null (981029)
        > What about those of us who love our jobs and love to excel in them, but don't want to make work our entire life?

        They are called average.

        Programming is my life. I work as a programmer because that is an easy way to pay the bills. If I had enough money I would probably stop working, but I wouldn't stop programming.
      • by Morgaine (4316) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @04:29AM (#23052648)
        What about those of us who love our jobs and love to excel in them, but don't want to make work our entire life?

        That suggests to me that you've chosen a job that you don't *really* love, since you see a clean break between going to work as a necessary chore and returning home to enjoy life. That's not uncommon: it's called 9-to-5'ism, and it's the bane of company life because it creates shoddy, uncommitted workforces full of people whose main concern is leaving the office.

        If you truly love something, then you *DO* want to make it your entire life --- it's part of the human makeup, to seek to maximize what you enjoy and to minimize what you don't enjoy. If you truly loved your job then you would give it unlimited attention, and multiplex it with other things that you love (eg. sleep, eating, family) as best you can, flexibly. That means sitting at the job's bedside for 48h non-stop when there is trouble, just as you would sit at a beloved's bedside non-stop when they are in trouble. No 9-to-5'ism, no treating the job as second best.

        From your description, it seems that you don't place your job in the same category as your home life. This contradicts your statement that you really love your job, and it casts a doubt on your claim that you love to excel in it, since your level of committment to it is limited. You may "love to excel in it" as you say, but only on your own terms, as a secondary, less-loved interest. It's still 9-to-5'ism, and it really isn't in the same league as working in a job that you truly love.

        Incidentally, the tell-tale sign of really "loving your job" is continuing to do it when you get back home after office hours are over, without getting paid, when there are no other issues of higher priority to attend to. It's part of our natural desire to maximize those things we love. If you don't do that, on principle, then you're actually deluding yourself about loving your job.
        • by LainTouko (926420) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @05:42AM (#23052898)
          So there's no room in your philosophy for being able to love more than one thing.
        • by toriver (11308) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @06:53AM (#23053164)
          But if what you "love" doing at home benefits your employer without you getting paid for it, you are just really being a company lap dog, a wage slave that does not realize he is a slave. You "love your job" in the same sense a dog loves his owner. And as many employees eventually discover, that love is one-way only: You employer does not love you in return.

          But if you really love your craft instead of "the job" where you practice it, and seek out new technologies and live "the bleeding edge", growing your skills, do you not risk harming your employer in the end? For instance by introducing unproven tech in a project because "it's cool and new"? Or by effectively sabotaging teamwork because your dedication to the craft grows into an arrogance.

          to seek to maximize what you enjoy and to minimize what you don't enjoy.
          What if they enjoy other things in addition to work? Exclusive focus ("commitment" in your terminology) on one thing to the exclusion of all others can be a sign of a mental disorder - perhaps a mild form of autism which some claim is prevalent in the IT industry...

          It is possible to have more than one interest in life. So it seems the complement to your dismissal of "9-to-5'ism" is "socially-inept'ism"...
        • by yuna49 (905461) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @08:09AM (#23053420)
          Just curious, but do you have kids? If so, which do you love more, your job or your kids?

          For many of us, a profession, no matter how interesting or worthwhile, simply can't demand the same amount of "love" as our families. Of course, you can devote yourself to your job and let "the little woman" (and it's almost always a woman in these situations) be in charge of the family. You and your children will both have reasons to regret that decision in a decade or two.

          "9-to-5-ism" as you put it represents a healthy acknowledgement of the fact that humans have many different needs besides fulfilling employment. And, often, people who love their jobs as you describe end up being exploited by their employers.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by jedidiah (1196)
            Quite so.

            Even if you are obsessed about your profession, it doesn't necessarily mean
            that you want to do it for your corporate overlords 24/7. You may also want
            to persue your own chosen projects in your field in your downtime.

            Eventhough my "day job" is in my chosen profession, it still remains quite
            distinct and separate from my chosen profession.
        • by sesshomaru (173381) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @11:28AM (#23054378) Journal
          You are confusing "job" with "hobby." Programming is fun. People will write thousands of lines of code, for free, because it is fun. Not just in open source projects, but in things that no one will ever see. It's a fun hobby.

          Programming as a job? Is fun... part of the time. Oh, there are probably even rare jobs where it is fun most of the time. If you have such a job, cling to it like a life raft, because you will understand how lucky you are when you change to your next job. (The last time I had a job like that? Well, let's just say a sock puppet had a Superbowl commercial. [wikipedia.org] Those were great times to be in IT.)

          At most IT jobs, the fun will be less than 40% of the job, sometimes considerably less. The parts that aren't fun? Those parts still need to get done, even though they aren't fun. This is the reason why programming and related IT work are compensated better than actual fun jobs. It's hard work to get the credentials you need to do IT work, and then the actual job is hard work. Oh, and if it isn't hard work, if it is really just fun and diversion as many of my colleagues have asserted on Slashdot over the years? Well, then the fact that you are putting in all those hours is no credit to you. Give up what I like to call "IT machismo." Since doing IT is like having an orgasm for you every minute of the day, why should we be impressed by the hours you are putting in? That's the paradox of these kinds of assertions.

          Really, what we are supposed to gather from these kinds of assertions is this, "My faith in the IT gods is far greater than yours. I'm willing to take vows of silence, poverty, hardship and chastity (especially chastity!) because my love for the IT gods is so great. However, despite my love of my devotions, you should also understand that they are a hardship. My disgust with you is because of the fact that your faith is so small, that you are unwilling to take up the IT cross joyfully."

          Believe it or not, other professional jobs are just as much fun as IT. For example, there's a reason why there are TV shows and video games about lawyers. It's because we all know that there are fun aspects of being a lawyer. Ever hired a lawyer? They expect to be compensated for the hours they work, and they don't work for the hours they aren't compensated for. Oh they may be dedicated, and they may live for the job, but for most of them that doesn't extend to uncompensated work.

          Now, to be realistic, in the modern IT workplace, a certain amount of your time is expected to be uncompensated, mandatory unpaid overtime. This is simple reality. Also, if you grumble about this mandatory unpaid overtime, you are branded a "9 to 5er." (Which is some sort of evil beast to management and the parent, sort of like a basilisk.) The best way to look at it is that an unknown amount of mandatory unpaid overtime is part of what you are expected to do in order to get the compensation package when you get hired for an IT job. Hopefully, you have an idea of what that's going to be before you take the job. In other words, hopefully you don't sign on thinking the unpaid overtime is only going to be during crunch time, only to find out that crunch time is "every day, including weekends and holidays." [livejournal.com]

          I know going into any IT job that if I don't put in some unpaid overtime, I'll probably be made to feel uncomfortable. So, I try to remember that when I have to, like this evening when I'm doing my mandatory unpaid overtime, and not grumble. I'll do the job, but what I'm doing isn't "fun." It's work... and that's why we call it work and not fun.

          This is an economic problem that extends to large parts of the economy, not just IT. Ask a Wal-Mart worker. At least we are currently still making more than them, poor bastards.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Ilan Volow (539597)
        More importantly, there's no Physical Law Of The Universe stating that just because you gave up your home life you'll be spared from layoffs or outsourcing.

        If you put everything into your job and you lose it, your sacrifice will be meaningless. You will have missed babies' first steps, kindergarten plays, and sunday afternoon strolls and you won't really have anything to show for it.

  • not just IT (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tick-tock-atona (1145909) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @12:58AM (#23051844)
    This is certainly not restricted to the IT industry.
    In my experience working in a large petroleum company I have seen the exact same thing - high turnover of good engineers, with a few competent people who stay on dotted around the organisation, but also a lot of dead weight.

    However this is not news. This is just what HR battles every day in large orgainisations - balancing pay, benefits, career advancement etc. against turnover rates, to try to make staying on more attractive. Which is hard because the grass is always greener...
  • Story is wrong (Score:5, Insightful)

    by zappepcs (820751) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @01:01AM (#23051856) Journal
    I don't want to bust this guy's bubble, but let me give it a try anyway. The problem that he describes is part 'peter principle' http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Principle [wikipedia.org] and part of the culture of bad leadership that infests (at least western cultures) big business.

    The trouble is not what you think. Modern western businesses are generally run like the military, at least in form if not function. This puts too much control in the hands of those who are not proven fit to lead. The problem of good people moving on is prevalent in ALL industries, including the all volunteer military, forklift drivers, plumbers, restaurant managers... on and on and on. It has nothing to do with IT other than its affect on IT.

    Bad leadership is the problem, and it spills out of corporate offices like stink from a blocked sewer pipe of grand proportions.

    Hiring decisions are effected via budget restraints and leadership decisions between what amounts to two basic waring factions within the company: The IT shop and the HR group.

    When you start to think of modern corporate businesses like armies you can see how things go wrong. It only takes one bad lieutenant to totally fuckup the battlefield. With field promotions, that Lt. gets to a spot that s/he doesn't belong and it becomes more short term pain to replace them than to let them carry on fucking things up.
    Bad leadership chooses to avoid short term pain. If sports teams were run the same way they would never win anything (sorry NY).

    The problem is bad leadership. end. of. story.

    With good leadership, all the other problems can be mitigated or removed.
    • Re:Story is wrong (Score:4, Insightful)

      by swillden (191260) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Sunday April 13, 2008 @02:10AM (#23052158) Homepage Journal

      It only takes one bad lieutenant to totally fuckup the battlefield. With field promotions, that Lt. gets to a spot that s/he doesn't belong and it becomes more short term pain to replace them than to let them carry on fucking things up.

      In combat, that tends not to be a problem for very long because the incompetent leaders die, either by doing stupid things that get themselves killed, or by doing stupid things that could potentially get their troops killed, resulting in a "friendly fire" incident.

      Hmmm... how can we apply the notion of "beneficial friendly fire" to corporate America?

    • With good leadership, all the other problems can be mitigated or removed.
      Or better yet, avoided altogether.
    • by mkcmkc (197982) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @02:13AM (#23052170)
      The Peter Principle is great, and if you liked it you should also check out The Dilbert Principle (and the entire corpus of Dilbert strips) and The Systems Bible.

      The Dead Sea effect is not really wrong, but I believe it's swamped by larger effects:

      1. In general, few organizations can recognize competence in computer personnel and very few care about it.
      2. If you do twice as much work (by any relevant measure), you will get at most 5% more pay than if you hadn't.
      3. The measures most highly prized by the organization are attendance (a la Woody Allen), "being a team player", and (perhaps) dress.
      4. Talented employees eventually figure all of this out and look for sinecures. That is, they look for situations that are pleasant and have sufficient compensations (monetary or otherwise), and once they find one, they tend to burrow in. (Note that this tends to offset the Dead Sea effect.)
      5. Technical excellence is only possible on hobby projects or perhaps in a minor eddy of a larger project (e.g., "the 100 million dollar messaging system I worked on was an abject failure, but I implemented a really nice regular expression library").
      6. If this seems upsetting, take a deep breath and go hug your girl, your kid, your dog, or your teddy bear. In 100 years it won't bother you much at all.
    • Re:Story is wrong (Score:5, Insightful)

      by tom's a-cold (253195) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @03:30AM (#23052460) Homepage

      The problem is bad leadership. end. of. story.
      Not.quite.end.of.story.

      This bad leadership has root causes. Incentives to sociopathic management behavior are intrinsic to the capitalist system. In the short term this psychopathic exploitation pays off. Anything with negative effects that manifest after the next quarter's numbers doesn't matter. By that time the perrpetrators have been rewarded and have moved on. Don't assume that better efficiency can fix an inherently corrupt, dysfunctional system. Making the trains run on time has been tried before. Good thing the Allies came along to blow up the tracks.

  • by pongo000 (97357) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @01:18AM (#23051918)
    ...at least from what I've seen in the several IT jobs I've had in as many years: What I've found is that I am often hired into an environment where the "old guard" aren't exactly technically proficient, but they remain thanks to their collective knowledge of the domain. Which isn't exactly a bad thing: All things considered, domain knowledge often trumps technical proficiency when it comes down to getting the job done.

    Still, it's quite frustrating to join a group with a collective level of technical knowledge below one's own. Groups such as this are often resistant to suggestions from the new guy, and it's been my experience that it's the new hires that end up leaving.
  • I was an IT manager for about 5 years at a K-12 and I can tell you that's exactly how it works for both the IT departments and the teachers at K-12's.

    Copyright Reform! [copyrightreform.us]
  • Ouch (Score:2, Funny)

    by Canosoup (1153521)
    Thanks for insulting my only means of feeding my children, you insensitive clod!
  • by The Famous Druid (89404) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @01:42AM (#23052050)
    It's not just "evaporation" at work in those places, there's also a filter that actively excludes "fresh water" from the lake.

    Consider the position of the talentless drone who's achieved a position of junior management by virtue of being the longest-serving talentless drone in the room when the previous manager left.

    Is this PHB-in-training going to hire the best and brightest?

    No way, s/he doesn't want underlings making him/her look bad, so s/he'll be careful to only hire other talentless drones.

    There's an additional benefit (for the PHB) here, as it requires 2 or 3 talentless drones to do the work on one talented geek, and a managers prestige and remuneration are proportional to the number of people s/he manages.

    So only "brackish water" ever flows into the lake, evaporation then acts to make it even worse.
  • by AMerlin (1272110) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @01:53AM (#23052092)
    Something else is happening in the Dead Sea. Those who are left behind have an easy time assuming that they are the right ones to inherit the kingdom and will be looking for more like themselves. This may be very appropriate for a time and place so they may not be just 'residue' but it bodes poorly for flexibility. This culture builds until it is the only acceptable culture and the "way we have been and will always be". There is a building self-fulfilling prophecy that can blind a company to other options and stifle the ability to adapt to changing situations. This is fine if the market is on the upswing, but deadly where there is a "self-correction".
  • How large is large? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by owlstead (636356) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @02:23AM (#23052214)
    My company manages all that without being large (~300 persons). Are we sure we aren't talking about every company where the CEO doesn't know all the people working for the company? I can talk to the CEO on first name bases, most of us can and may do that, but he wouldn't necessarily know what's going on and how frustrating the working space can get.
  • CEO perspective (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PietjeJantje (917584) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @06:25AM (#23053074)
    (I'm not a CEO)

    "I don't care about individual talent, that's crazy. Programmers are like plumbers. I run a company with 1000 plumbers. There's a turnover and a general skill level, I won't bother beyond that. Of course every plumber thinks he's a star plumber, which is funny, considering how replaceable they are. Let them scream, let them whine, let them hate the management, let them move on. They are just another commodity. The numbers are fine. Now please excuse me while I collect a huge bonus."

    I think it's a bit naive and too easy to think that companies fail to hang on to star programmers because of bad management. The management doesn't care by design, as a professional choice.
  • by gabrieltss (64078) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @09:19AM (#23053706)
    "There are two types of employees - the guys who love their job and would spend time at home (for free) to learn more.. and those who show up, do their job, go home and don't give a shit. Your company is only as good as the people who work for it."

    You don't take into account that people should have lives outside of work. Especially if they have families. It sounds like to me you don't have a life. If you think that the only dedicated employees are ones who eat/sleep/breath their job at the company then you must not have a life. People need to have a balance in life. I found that out way late in my career. I spent so much of my time early on in my career eating/sleeping/breathing "the job" I missed out on my sons first 6 - 7 years of his life. I'm sorry but if beign someone who comes in puts in 9 hours a day (extra at night and on weekends as necessary) does his job and does it well then goes home to spend time with his family is considered a "sub standard" employee then the whole industry needs to take a giant brain dump! I spent 80% of my time outside of work finishing up a college degree (at the expense of spending time with my family) for about three years. Now, I take time to volunteer as a boy scout leader in my sons scout troop, I volunteer in the community and spend time with my family outside of work. I'm donig more than just a job now, I'm being part of the COMMUNITY, not sone loner living in it. A job is just that a job. You go in do your -job-, the company pays you. Just like the barter system. Yes I do love my job, I've been a "geek" my whole life. Before I had a family I spent 24/7 in front of a computer. When I met my wife she called my computer "my mistress". I just had to find my balance. You just have to remember the majority of companies out there don't give a shit about you, your just a body, a number to them. They have NO loyalty to you these days so why should we show loyalty to them? I got sick of showing loyalty to a company only for them to shit all over me. Now I look out for myself, because no one else will.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sheldon (2322)
      There is a difference between bringing your job home, and loving your job.

      When I think of eating/sleeping/breathing "the job", I think of spending 70 hours a week doing stuff work related.

      But I think where the author is coming from is spending some of your free time reading blogs, journals, experimenting with technology at home. I know guys at work who are programmers who don't even have a home computer, or internet connections.
  • by bfwebster (90513) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @10:27AM (#23054024) Homepage
    Thanks for all the great comments, though I suspect many of you didn't ready anything more than the brief extract posted here at Slashdot. :-) Because certain themes keep coming up again and again, I thought I'd address them in a single post (I also posted this over at my website).

    Here's a response to the main themes that I see coming up there.

    The Dead Sea effect isn't unique to IT. True enough, though I could say the same thing about just about any project management issue regarding IT. What is unusual about IT (shared with other engineering disciplines) is the degree to which individual talent and other factors affect productivity and quality [brucefwebster.com]. And what is unique about IT (as opposed to, say, civil / mechanical / chemical engineers, architects, etc.) is that there is no standard (state-run) professional certification, so there is no assurance of minimum education and competency.

    This is obvious/common sense/trivial. So are most of the problems in IT. Fred Brooks [amazon.com] and Jerry Weinberg [amazon.com] pretty much nailed down all the essential issues in IT project and personnel management more than 30 years ago; yet, amazingly, the problems haven't all gone away! There is a profound lack of professional and institutional memory in IT; almost everyone who writes about IT project/personnel management [bfwa.com] (myself included) is looking for new ways to cast or explain the core issues in a touching hope that maybe this time someone will actually listen and fix them.

    The Dead Sea effect is just the Peter Principal (or a corollary thereof). No, it isn't. The Peter Principal [wikipedia.org] is that a given person rises to her/his level of incompetence (I'm actually old enough to remember when 'the Peter Principal' first came out). This has nothing to do with promotion within the IT organization; it has to do with self-selected removal from that IT organization, not due to a lack of promotion or opportunity, but just because there are greener pastures elsewhere.

    Not all IT shops are like this . I would certainly hope so. In fact, there are IT organizations where just the opposite occurs; the quality of the IT engineers is quite high, and engineers who are mediocre or disruptive either don't get hired or don't last long if they are. I worked in one such IT group (Pages Software [brucefwebster.com]) for five years. During that time, we had only one voluntary departure (the network admin); we had two others who were dismissed due to problems, and a few others who were (painfully) cut in downsizing.

    Not everyone 'left behind' is incompetent . Again, this syndrome doesn't apply to all IT groups, and it doesn't apply to the same extent to all IT groups. Turnover in IT personnel is common (though it can be reduced by intelligent management), and just because good engineers have left a given IT group doesn't mean that the rest are, in fact, residue. What I'm talking about here is a very real syndrome, typically found in large corporations and government organizations, but it's certainly not universal.

    The IT hiring process is broken. Amen. Not only is the IT hiring process broken in many organizations, the entire approach to IT is often broken. It is rife with empire-building, 'heroic' project management, and an 'interchangeable code monkeys' mindset. As mentioned in the comments
  • by dwarfking (95773) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @01:25PM (#23055040) Homepage
    has also caused much of this. I had this very personal experience myself.

    I was the senior architect and manager at a major Fortune 30 company ($50b in size) that hired in a new CEO who had been one of the Jack Welch proteges. As with nearly everyone of his sycophants, this new CEO brought both the Six Sigma and HR ranking methods with him.

    During review time our managers had to rank everyone from 1 to 5 and were suggested(not formally written as required, as HR liked to point out) to have 10%-1,5 20%-2,4 40%-3's within your group.

    Now my team had been composed of the strongest developers and architects from the various other units, specifically to provide guidance to the entire organization and be available in a matrix model to assist any project team that needed it.

    So review time comes around, all my team were high performers, all had through out the year been involved in fixing critical issues, helping projects get back on track, etc and I had given them all 4 & 5 (3 was shows up a does their job satisfactorily).

    HR told me I had to change some ratings, though they always insisted there was no required distribution, I was pressured to change them. I refused, pointing out that when compared to the organization as a whole, these were the most senior, most productive people we had.

    My VP over ruled me, changed the ratings herself so that I had 1-1 (performance plan required), 1-2, 1-4, 1-5 and 3-3's. They also re-organized and took the team away from me. The excuse was that our bar was higher than everyone else, so we had to be ranked against that.

    Within 6 months, all but 2 of us were gone. We all took different jobs elsewhere that didn't have this garbage.

    The HR ranking model had been pioneered at GE manufacturing plants which employed union workers. In order to be able to get rid of true dead weight in a way the union leaders would agree with, they came up with this ranking model. Classify a bad seed a 1 and you can get rid of them.

    The big problem with this is after the first year or two, the dead weight is gone, and the process is now cutting out good people. The other problem was the good people would stick with a particular team where they knew they would come out on top instead of offering to move around so they came out at the top of the curve.

Whenever a system becomes completely defined, some damn fool discovers something which either abolishes the system or expands it beyond recognition.

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