May the source be with you, but remember the KISS principle ;-)
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(slightly skeptical) Educational society promoting "Back to basics" movement against IT overcomplexity and  bastardization of classic Unix

Softpanorama Bulletin
Vol 24, No. 01 (January, 2012)

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Social Problems in Enterprise Unix Administration

"Bureaucracy is the death of any achievement."

-Albert Einstei

There is not a more honesty-enforcing device in modern life than a compiler and the attendant run-time system, nor a greater intellectual joy than the art and science that can be created with it. But IT departments are generally managed by people who failed programming.

C Wright Mills standard of leadership - "men without lively imagination are needed to execute policies without imagination devised by an elite without imagination"

Here are my notes/reflection of sysadmin problem in strange (and typically pretty toxic) IT departments of large corporations:


Pros: Good technology, some competent people. Benefits good but getting worse. Work from home program helpful to employees (and doubtless abused by many).

Cons: People protecting their turf, incompetent middle managers, horde of non-technical yes men calling the shots. Zero opportunities for career and professional growth inside if you're unhappy with where you are in the organization -- expect friends and buddies to get hired in your place. Also expect such friends and buddies to get re-hired promptly in case they are laid off. Extremely incompetent managers not encouraged to ask tough questions or indeed any questions at all, since they don't have a clue about the product.

Summary: "Best place to work if you're an incompetent ass-kisser"

- Write-up about Sun Microsystems environment by Member of Technical Staff in Santa Clara, CA: (Past Employee - 2006)

Unix system administration is an interesting and complex craft. The key question for any job: is your work demands use of your technical skills, creativity and judgment. If it doesn't, then you're in absurd world of Dilbertized cubicle farms. Or worse, in the middle of outsourcing/offshoring campaign. The answer for system administration is yes, it can be a good occupation for capable, creative people, but with caveats ;-).

Unix system administration has potential of utilizing creativity, judgment and tech skills, but they don't materialize automatically. Many sysadmin feel overworked, underappreciated and underpaid. In large firms widespread feeling is that IT bosses are either incompetent or cheating those who are in the trenches or both. Users are also pretty resentful and generally passionately hate corporate IT. Excesses of IT bureaucracy stimulates rise of Shadow IT which is essences is an attempt to create alternative IT solutions using own non-supported software products (often open source) and "stealth" support personnel.

Stories about bureaucratization horrors are widespread and that generally suggest the aging of most IT organizations. Often such stories depict remarkable exercises in absurdity that look like taken directly from the pages of famous The Good Soldier Švejk stories about military bureaucracy (which BTW is probably a better book for treatment of sysadmin abuse then Alice in Wonderland ;-) Much depends on particular work climate. Still it is fair to say that over the last ten years things have got a lot worse for the IT "worker bees". Among typical problems:

In worst case you will feel like a mercenary who is fighting in a bloody, dirty, exhausting conflict he does not understand, with commanding officers who have little or no brains, on behalf of a country to which he has no loyalty. If you are just out of the university one of the most important parts of your adaptation to such an environment is not learning technical staff (you will be surprised how little some long time members of staff know), it is adapting to the situation and finding your niche without losing your dignity and making too many compromises. Adapting to the situation when many of the people in IT managerial positions (I refuse to call them "managers") are clueless, empire-building, turf-protecting bureaucrats interested mainly in self-promotion and self-protection, regardless of the consequences to their subordinates. Reading books like Peter Principle helps a little, but reality is much more dangerous and people can be much more evil. Without Conscience might help too, but it's too simplistic. One of the real problems we have in IT departments is that they turns intelligent adults who graduated from the universities with pretty high score and were genially interested in programming and IT into morons. Here are a couple of insightful comments from Why I left Google - JW on Tech - Site Home - MSDN Blogs

Ian Smith

Isn't it inevitable that Google will end up like Microsoft. A brain-dead dinosaur employing sycophantic middle class bores, who are simply working towards a safe haven of retirement. ...


This was exactly how I felt that Google has become under Larry Page. I was surprised that the community wasn't discussing more about this . It is becoming more like any other company. Google was supposed to be the ideal shining beacon in the tech world. With Google becoming just another corporate company, I think the tech landscape will become more like that of the network carriers. Neither of the them are good but people adjust to what is available,

In view of unending stream of more and more complex systems that sysadmin needs to manage we need to to promote KISS principle. Design is measured not by quantity, but by quality. That's were Unix traditions come into play, but recently they were distorted by competition with Microsoft, which in a way is "The king of software overcomplexity", the company which stripped IBM from this title (although IBM still desperately fights for the title as we can see in Tivoli, WebSphere, Lotus Notes and several other products ;-).

Fight against overcomplexity is related to fight against overload. There is an optimal amount of time and effort spend on the job. And that optimum is different from maximum :-). Killing yourself for some stupid project that in ten years will be in the dustbin of history (even if it does enjoy initial success) is probably not the optimum form of self-sacrifice, even if you inclined to such a destiny. This is the point that is difficult to understand when you are young and enthusiastic so it might be more easily explained in the form of humor; for that purpose we created Softpanorama IT Slackers Society with its own manifest and Ten Commandments. The key point here is that excessive zeal is more dangerous and self-destructive then you might think...

Kafkaesque absurdities of IT workplace


Vonbek777 wrote:

That night I dreamed a surreal Dilbert type revolution where oppressed cubical workers everywhere rose up and pitched workstations out windows, torched the server rooms, danced on the backup tapes in the streets, and bowled mid-level managers strapped to fake leather office chairs into vending machines and stacks of office water bottles, the big ones.

Perhaps you should seek professional help :-)


JP wrote:

Perhaps you should seek professional help.

Are you suggesting that isn't a normal fantasy for frustrated IT people everywhere?

Advance Report- Real Annualized GDP Grew at 3.2% in Q4

The absurdities of Dilbertized cubicle farms are well known, but any write-up is nothing in comparison with your actual experience of joining and working in such an organization. Students entering large firms should be aware that in such an environment system administrators are usually expected to fit the organization as a cog, not as a craftsman. Too detailed requirements of "experience" in particular non-essential or obscure tools in resume is just one facet of this "cog" approach as if a person who graduated from the college cannot master them quickly enough. Here is a humorous take on a typical situation:

I've been asked to compile some Dilbert advice for new IT graduates who have no idea what's awaiting them in the IT world. I'm talking about practical advice. Here are some of the ones that come to mind.

The whole mentality is pretty much feudal with separate lords (aka managers) guarding their kingdoms (and number of serfs, aka staff positions) and God forbid you to make some proposal that cross the line. Usually there are way too many shallow PowerPoint B.S artists who rose up the ranks far above their level of competence. But there is a silver lining in any dark cloud: often you can get along pretty well doing very little useful (or at all) as long as you fall inline. That creates plenty of opportunities for self-education as well as to contribute to open source (preferably under pseudonym). In this sense large organizations are superior work environment that small firms when each person contribution is critical to normal functioning of the infrastructure and you need to run like crazy just to stay on the same place.

Organization induced idiocy is another term that explains a lot of what is happening on IT floors of large companies. As organization grows and matures changes in behavior similar to aging in humans became more and more pronounced. One is risk aversion and it starts at the very top. Size makes the IT datacenters rigid and innovations hostile. Quantity turns into quality. Larger IT organizations also are more susceptible to "strong ruler" trap. I think this is a situation somewhat similar to totalitarian states dynamics. The society is simply captured until the crash of the regime occurs. Dictators can be very efficient at the beginning and solve problems quicker and more comprehensively then any democratic states, but the problems always arise as the regime ages.

Bureaucracies often trivialize important matters (e.g., those affecting the reliability of network or servers or other "life and death" issues), and grossly exaggerate the importance of trivial matters (e.g., PowerPoint presentations to management). Sane people can and do behave insanely in their bureaucratic roles. That is a special term for this, something like "acquired stupidity". As authors of Peter Principle suggested the most detailed analysis are performed for orders around $1-10K. Projects around $1 million which typically introduce new large software or hardware system into environment often are extremely superficial with most decision-making at the top and solutions are often are granted without any detailed technical analysis at all. In many instances such books as Peter Principle are simply too true to be funny. There's hardly anything in them that didn't sound exactly like real IT environment to me. And a typical reaction to the various absurd incidents of bureaucratic inertia, institutional insanity, and blatant higher-up incompetence depicted in the book was a simple shrug. All-in-all life in IT can be as repetitive, irritating, absurd as in Catch-22, and bad things happen for no rhyme or reason. The only thing that is absent is the danger of death.

In the large enterprise workspace every sysadmin has periodically to deal with absurd mission statements, objectives and benchmark standards, working towards pre-agreed goals of teamwork (which often means the necessary of being a the conformist). It's important to understand that what they require is surface obedience and if you are comfortable with this mask, you have substantial degree of freedom. So that atmosphere would not necessary be bad for and drive the creative, intelligent, free-spirited guys out. It just required diplomatic skills and ability to deflect the mot absurd requirements. Because paradoxically excessive regimentation is often accompanies by complete loss of understanding of what those who are in the trenches are actually doing. If so, the situation represents a huge opportunity.

All those campaigns for 99.9% uptime, increased "customer satisfaction" and, especially, "increase shareholder value" whatever it means (the latter usually means brainless cost cutting and utter destruction of quality and/or safety to please investment banks and get bonuses for the top brass) should be approached as bad weather. It will change, probably soon. Such campaigns tend to self-destruct and results of resulting destruction quietly swiped under the carpet. Still side effects linger for quite a long time and the most important side effect that more and more rank and file staffers realize that management is incompetent and care only about themselves.

Due to those limitations you can often see that amazing group of talented people can perform poorly. When the leaders are all incompetent, you just wanted out. Demoralization kicks in and from that point things are going downhill...

Performance Reviews

Performance review is a special case of company trying to pressure people into conformance which needs a separate discussion. First of it is important to understand that performance reviews are not about your performance. It's more about your contribution to your boss performance and you being perceived as a conformist ("a good team player" in corporate jargon). It is also example of raw and almost unchecked power projected by the manager: a powerful way to keep employees in check. If your manager wants to say that you are bad performer, he/she can do it. That makes performance reviews pretty Kafkaesque experience, especially for new sysadmins.

"[Kafkaesque] would be an existentialist state of ever-elusive freedom while existing under immitigable control...anything suggestive of Kafka, especially his nightmarish style of narration, in which characters lack a clear course of action, the ability to see beyond immediate events, and the possibility of escape."

In reality performance reviews serve as a powerful tool to kill employee morale: people who know that they will not receive a reward for completing a task or for doing that task successfully simply do not perform as well as those who expect no reward at all. Also humiliating nature of performance reviews leaves scars that are slow to heal. There are couple of things that can make performance reviews less distasteful:

Performance reviews are often structured according some internal company document which probably is close to published junk, for example Harvard Business School recommendation, and if you can get hold of those guidelines you pretty much can simulate what they want from you with minimal hassle. If you don't you can but a generic book. They are often $0.01 on Amazon which is their real price :-). Usage of bureaucratic jargon and obfuscation is the rule of the game. Try to learn the necessary bureaucratic jargon ;-). For example "team players" usually means a person who sucks to his boss and often is used to crush any resistance to stupid projects or outsourcing initiatives. All-in-all the performance review is not a review, but a verdict read to you by the judge. The key is to try to minimize psychological damage and first of all damage to self-esteem

To fight them you better study literature. For a start look at

For some additional information see Mini-Microsoft- FAQ on reviews, promotions, job changes, and ...

Conflict and Politics in IT Environment

Like any politics office politics is about struggle for power. It is attempt to create alliances that help you to survive and prosper in the company and as such it is a parallel path distinct from purely technocratic activities. And it requires different abilities. Played reasonably well (and that first of all means "not too much zeal" ;-) it can help you to survive and even advance career wise. The problem with IT politics is that they are usually highly territorial, and as such petty, gossipy, sociopathic and stifling for any real creativity.

You may not like it but please avoid criticizing such a behavior. all this water cooler discussion create an informal power network that somewhat compensates utter powerlessness of staff in large corporations and if you need at least stay neutral if you want to benefit form it. You need to take into account its existence: many valuable initiatives proposed by new members of IT staff are killed simply because they are not liked by power brokers in informal alliances. Just like in politics. decision-making can get plagued by indecisiveness, gridlock, incompetence and compromises between power brokers that really are not helpful for anyone. Attempts for power grab are not uncommon:

BrokenHalo: Re:Too many cooks...

... Back in the '90s, I worked at one outfit (an insurance company) where the vice-CEO demanded superuser privileges despite having no knowledge of system administration or any other computing background. He just wanted to act as overlord as to what staff had access to on their signons. I was very tempted to tell him to get f*ked, phrased in more professional terms...

My immediate boss was (wisely) more inclined to a diplomatic approach, however, so he persuaded me to install a dummy shell for him that was enough to convince him that he had what he wanted, without granting him any kind of command line access, or ability to change system configuration.

In a typical large corporate IT environment, there is a strict hierarchy in which managers and the top sysadmin earn much more than those at the bottom. In order to rise in this hierarchy one needs to be considered successful. Along with technical skills, social connections and people skills also are necessary and sometimes more important. Still often for an internal promotion you often need putting in years of appreciated by management (but not necessary useful ;-) effort for which you get good performance reviews. No wonder that many sysadmin prefer to jump the ship in order to get a promotion. You usually get the necessary qualification for higher position in other firm after two to three years on the job. Remember that changing companies too often slows your growth as a lot of effort need to be spend adapting to a new environment. That's an overhead that slows your growth.

At some point the next step may be joining management ranks. An important factor to understand that usually it's not easy to get back to system administration, even if one wants to: the loss of qualifications for the person promoted to the management is occurring really fast. This way IT is a natural environment for generating PHBs and they are much less benign then in Dilbert cartoons.

Sometimes despite general attitude toward initiatives there can be some similarities between the way small or medium datacenters and large datacenters operated when a big contract is in play. In such cases even a relatively junior person might have an influence on the bottom line of IT far beyond what the title suggests. You will be surprised to know how superficial evaluations of the most expensive parts of large corporate IT infrastructure: storage, databases and enterprise management software are in large companies. PHBs often are clueless as for real technical merits of the product and if they do not have personal preference some lower ranking person can easily determine the final result of the bidding. Higher ranks of IT departments are often staffed with people dumped from other parts of organization and more often than now such people are notoriously poor managers.

But cases when lower ranked person has real influence of an choice of the system that datacenter will run are rare. The reality is that managers often do not need your advice and a typical manager as an individual makes more money – and hence acquires higher status – the more complex and more expensive product the company acquires. Often decisions to acquire the particular product are made at the top level of IT management and your opinion, even if you express one, will never influence the decision making (that's how many IBM products lend in large corporations). Please understand that sometimes complex, obscure product will make your position more secure. Be ready that as individual administrator you can experience some conflict of interests, especially acute if you prefer simpler more open products and participate in open source movement.

"Penny Wise Pound Stupid" Syndrome

The other problem is that most IT departments those days are pinching pennies. I've worked for quite a few IT departments that were "penny wise and pound foolish" even before the current economic crisis. The first thing they achieve is killing employee moral by micromanaging.

It is important to understand that there is a big difference between being cheap and being frugal. Example of frugal is learning to cook good meals at home and eating at restaurants only on special occasions. An example of being cheap is eating out twice every weekend and stiffing the waiter on every occasion. IT now is a shrinking business and that shows not only is spectrum of cheapness-frugality decisions (with prevalence of the former) but also in a types of bosses that you will encounter, types which previously used to be found in department stores ;-). The utter short-sightedness in such IT departments, both public and private can be quite breathtaking for a newcomer. For example they can buy $20K Itanium server to run HP-UX when $5K Intel server with Linux or Solaris would be twice faster and 4 times cheaper and refuse to send you to a 4K training in the name of frugality. But this not frugal, that's simply cheap. No matter how cynical you get, it's impossible to keep up with stupidity of such examples. Extreme, stupid, self-defeating cheapness can also be a distinct behavioral characteristic for some IT managers especially those without good tech background and who very slowly grow in their ranks in the company. For this type of people any type of waste is painful and any type of thrift and efficiency is pleasurable – regardless of rational cost/benefit analysis. There are also many managers who ideologically enjoy the flexing of power for its own sake (basically, bullies) that use frugality just as an excuse to exercise power. IT in it's core should be driven by engineering and that means an open, flat, non-hierarchical kind of place with opportunities for training. If they don't provide that try to do it yourself and prepare to leave. At the end of the day, it is the ability to move to other company or the ability to successfully start a competitive company that constitutes a decisive test whether or not you are mistreated in the current environment. Remember that after 3-4 years you value is usually higher at the new company, then in old one, especially if you paid sufficient attention to raising your qualification. Leaving company that provides "stupidly cheap" environment is a small revenge, but it is still a revenge for mistreatment. Here is one interesting comment:

I used to work for a company tried to have it both ways on this issue.

They wanted to be cheap with the money, but they wanted you to be generous with your time.

Capitalism is a two way street. If companies want to be cheap with money, they can't expect to have their cake and eat it too. That only generates resentment from employees. It's counterproductive to lecture people on values like hard work and loyalty, while you forget the virtue of generosity.

Some "stupidly cheap" companies provide ample opportunities for self-training. I think that good IT department can't afford to not spend money on things that really matters, like good desktops/laptops, medical insurance, tools and training, but it's OK if they avoid spending money on things that don't matter, such as discounted tickets, club memberships, reserved packing spaces, internet feed at home and so on. If they do that, great; but in those non-essential matters if they don't, that's OK.

Just don't react too emotionally on some incidents in which your advice is ignored, decision that was made looks to you completely stupid and /or you feed that your contributions are ignored. This issue is related to millennium old philosophical issue: What is justice? It would be nice if everyone (and especially you ;-) is compensated a fair share of the value he/she creates. The problem is that such environment in impossible to create and maintain. There is always a lot of subjectivity in measuring somebody's contribution in IT. That means that the idea to reward top performers with a bigger slice in practice, rarely work out that way. For the same reason "performance evaluations" in IT are usually a disaster. One reason is that few bosses can/want objectively evaluate qualification of their staff. What should matters for you is the general climate.

Also you need to develop the ability to see the consequences of decisions in a long run. That's a real crucial ability for survival in modern IT. Please understand that often the adoption of the system that looks to you stupid and expensive proves to be not so stupid/expensive in a long run due to factors that you don't understand at the time of evaluation. And if this "stupid and expensive" system is an industry standard it provides you a valuable opportunity for training. Long term consequences is really critical framework of judging decision and future is unpredictable by definition. After all the useful life of IT systems is usually a decade of less and all of us are like the artists who create complex paintings on the beach sand. The next big wave and all is gone. In such cases your current fight, say, to promote particular (and definitely better) software package might be not that essential if in two years this area is outsourced.

The importance of keeping focus on self-education

I think the most realistic way to preserver sanity in a large corporate IT environment is relentless work on improving you technical qualification. Please don't think that after graduation from the university you should stop study. That's the biggest mistake you can make. Unix is a very interesting Os, the OS that actually has a philosophy behind it. Simplifying we can say that Unix favor rapid prototyping and pipes as component structuring mechanism. Learning it and how to apply it in one of the important tasks for each Unix sysadmin. I mention some features of it in my (generally negative) 2004 review of Peter Salus book A Quarter Century of UNIX (Addison-Wesley, 1994)

In my humble opinion Salus lucks real understanding of the technical and social dynamics of Unix development, understanding that can be found, say, in chapter "Twenty Years of Berkeley Unix from AT&T-Owned to Freely Redistributable" in the book "Open Sources: Voices from the Open Source Revolution (O'Reilly, 1999)" (available online). The extended version of this chapter will be published in the second edition of "The Design and Implementation of the 4.4BSD Operating System (Unix and Open Systems Series)" which I highly recommend (I read a preprint at Usenix.)

In any case Kirk McKusick is a real insider, not a former Usenix bureaucrat like Salus. Salus was definitely close to the center of the events; but it is unclear to what extent he understood the events he was close to.

Unix history is a very interesting example how interests of military (DAPRA) shape modern technical projects (not always to the detriment of technical quality, quite opposite in case of Unix) and how DAPRA investment in Unix created completely unforeseen side effect: BSD Unix that later became the first free/open Unix ever (Net2 tape and then Free/Open/NetBSD distributions). Another interesting side of Unix history is that AT&T brass never understood what a jewel they have in hands.

Salus's Usenix position prevented him from touching many bitter conflicts that litter the first 25 years of Unix, including personal conflicts. The reader should be advised that the book represents "official" version of history, and that Salus is, in essence, a court historian, a person whose main task is to put gloss on the events, he is writing about. As far as I understand, Salus never strays from this very safe position.

Actually Unix created a new style of computing, a new way of thinking of how to attack a problem with a computer. This style was essentially the first successful component model in programming. As Frederick P. Brooks Jr (another computer pioneer who early recognized the importance of pipes) noted, the creators of Unix "...attacked the accidental difficulties that result from using individual programs together, by providing integrated libraries, unified file formats, and pipes and filters.". As a non-programmer, in no way Salus is in the position to touch this important side of Unix. The book contains standard and trivial praise for pipes, without understanding of full scope and limitations of this component programming model...

An interesting reading on the topic will be contrasting The Unix Hater's Handbook (available online) and Don Libes Life With Unix. Both books explore Unix history and its philosophy from different angles. Here is a good summary of principles that constitute Unix philosophy from Wikipedia:

McIlroy: A Quarter Century of Unix

Doug McIlroy, the inventor of Unix pipes and one of the founders of the Unix tradition, summarized the philosophy as follows:[1]

This is the Unix philosophy: Write programs that do one thing and do it well. Write programs to work together. Write programs to handle text streams, because that is a universal interface.

This is usually abridged to "Write programs that do one thing and do it well".

Pike: Notes on Programming in C

Rob Pike offers the following five maxims of complexity in programming in Notes on Programming in C,[2] though they can be easily viewed as points of a Unix philosophy:[citation needed]

  1. You cannot tell where a program is going to spend its time. Bottlenecks occur in surprising places, so do not try to second guess and put in a speed hack until you've proven that's where the bottleneck is.
  2. Measure. Do not tune for speed until your performance analysis tool tells you which part of the code overwhelms the rest.
  3. Fancy algorithms tend to run more slowly on small data sets than simple algorithms. They tend to have a large constant factor in O(n) analysis, and n is usually small. So don't get fancy unless Rule 2 indicates that n is big enough.
  4. Simplify your algorithms and data structures wherever it makes sense because fancy algorithms are more difficult to implement without defects. The data structures in most programs can be built from array lists, linked lists, hash tables, and binary trees.
  5. Data dominates. If you have chosen the right data structures and organized things well, the algorithms will almost always be self-evident. Data structures, not algorithms, are central to programming.

Pike's rules 1 and 2 restate Donald Knuth's[3] famous maxim "Premature optimization is the root of all evil." Ken Thompson rephrased Pike's rules 3 and 4 as "When in doubt, use brute force." Rules 3 and 4 are instances of the design philosophy KISS. Rule 5 was previously stated by Fred Brooks in The Mythical Man-Month. Jon Bentley's Programming Pearls also has a chapter on the same design principle. Rule 5 is often shortened to "write stupid code that uses smart data", and is an instance of the guideline "If your data structures are good enough, the algorithm to manipulate them should be trivial."

Mike Gancarz: The UNIX Philosophy

In 1994 Mike Gancarz (a member of the team that designed the X Window System), drew on his own experience with Unix, as well as discussions with fellow programmers and people in other fields who depended on Unix, to produce The UNIX Philosophy which sums it up in 9 paramount precepts:

  1. Small is beautiful.
  2. Make each program do one thing well.
  3. Build a prototype as soon as possible.
  4. Choose portability over efficiency.
  5. Store data in flat text files.
  6. Use software leverage to your advantage.
  7. Use shell scripts to increase leverage and portability.
  8. Avoid captive user interfaces.
  9. Make every program a filter.

The 10 lesser tenets are not universally agreed upon as part of the Unix philosophy and, in some cases, are hotly debated such as Monolithic Kernels vs. Microkernels:

  1. Allow the user to tailor the environment.
  2. Make operating system kernels small and lightweight.
  3. Use lowercase and keep it short.
  4. Save trees.
  5. Silence is golden.
  6. Think parallel.
  7. The sum of the parts is greater than the whole.
  8. Look for the 90-percent solution.
  9. Worse is better.
  10. Think hierarchically.

Worse is better

Main article: Worse is better

Richard P. Gabriel suggests that a key advantage of Unix was that it embodied a design philosophy he termed "worse is better", in which simplicity of both the interface and the implementation are more important than any other attribute of the system-including correctness, consistency and completeness. Gabriel argues that this design style has key evolutionary advantages, though he questions the quality of some results.

Some issues are also covered in Solaris vs Linux

As for raising your qualification, Malcolm Gladwell, the author of the book Outliers suggested an interesting hypothesis that 10,000 hours of study/experience as a young man/woman is a prerequisite for getting to the high level in almost any field. Roughly speaking that's just 1K day 10 hours a day or approximately three year. While you can take this with a grain of salt, I would agree with the thesis that opportunity and persistence in IT matters as much as high IQ(or even more). We can disagree about numbers (I think for sysadmin job his estimate is too low estimate and 20,000-30,000 hours are required to achieve high level of qualification) we agree about the principle. And this is far from being some a new idea as proverb "practice makes perfect" suggests.

But there is important thing about Gladwell view. He suggests that the most successful people put first ten thousand of hours in a relatively young age, resulting in early head start. That's why long hours, including working summer hours in school, fanatic dedication are really important. That's what I tried for many years communicate to my students: if you want to be at the top (and not everybody wants that) you need work long, long hours to get a head start so that after university you can get better position. The weakness of such recommendation is that IT includes substantial social component and this component is not easily teachable, but can make or brake person career similarly to presence of absence of programming abilities.

In "Outliers," Gladwell shows how individuals who relentlessly work on improving their skills from young age, even if they have a humble start rise to prominence in their respective careers. There are also important external factors involved and the top achieved depends of arriving on the scene at the right time and on the ability to leverage relationships. As for timing it does not depends on you and here you need to be lucky like Bill Gates was. Also not everybody can leverage relationships (especially if born in a distant country and in family of modest means). Still relentless work in mastering the craft pays and the saying "practice makes perfect" is very true in programming and system administration. I often saw how students less able then top in the class achieved more due to being really fanatical in self-education after graduation. In this sense having real interest in programming or system administration helps.

In a normal career, that level of commitment usually lead to achieving really high level of qualification in six-ten years, but in some high intensity environments like game programming that "path to the top" can be crammed into 3–5 years. Unfortunately this is not the case for Unix system administration. Unless you are a former programmer, getting to the mature level required quite a lot of work that can't be compressed in less then, say, 7-10 years. The problem is that with time Unixes become way more complex then they were in early 1990th and the services that they are running, for example LAMP stack, also became complex. Virtualization also added complexity. With liberal access to vendor training (say four courses a year or more) it can be done faster, but still it's a lot of work that requires a lot of time.

In any case, there is a lot of deep elegance in Unix, and a talented sysadmin like any talented craftsman is able to expose this hidden beauty of the masterful manipulation with complex symbolic objects to the amazed observers. That part of sysadmin craft is often called the art of command line Also you need to improvise on the job to get things done, create your own tools; you can't go just "by manual". Unfortunately sometimes such an improvisation might have an unexpected side effect ;-). Feelings after, say, wiping /etc directory of an important production server in the middle of the day can be quite intense...

Unix system administration are one of the last few truly multifunctional specializations in IT. It involves a lot of problem solving. My feeling is that programmers that were in the early day kings of IT, became too narrow specialized and system administration remains one of the few truly "encyclopedic" occupations. Java programmers, for example, seldom know Perl, bash, Sendmail, bind and apache. But good system administrators usually knows a lot about those areas in additional to substantial skills in programming (many Unix utilities were written by people who were employed as sysadmins, not as programmers).

In any case if you want to work as a system administrator, you need to know how to do installing a server, add and extend filesystem and so on. Entry level knowledge of shell is also required. On the second level you need to know scripting more in depth with at least shell (bash) and Perl under the belt. As Java became modern Cobol, some knowledge of Java is also required. In additional databases became such an essential part of business datacenter that their knowledge is necessary even if database administrators exist in the organization. Bu first and foremost sysadmin needs to know how to troubleshoot the problems if something goes wrong.

Watching how a Unix guru performs routine sysadmin tasks using command line tools often can teach you a lot more that you learned in particular shell programming class (including mine ;-). Sometimes it's like watching professional piano player performing some classical piece. The current trend of downsizing of IT means that many "old school" system administrators with unmatched skills of command line usage are vanishing from IT and with them some important class of knowledge disappears. Please note that those people have a unique experience as they grow with the growth of Unix, often from the very humble beginnings on DEC machines. Some came to Unix administration from mainframes, as Unix was the OS that by-and-large replaced mainframes in datacenters in 90th. Knowing history is always important and that's how this generation acquired a unique perspective. If you know such a person try to learn from him/her as this type of knowledge is rather difficult to acquire on your own.

The danger of psychopaths in IT workplace

On the surface, IT is an agreeable, non-confrontational place where sociability and networking are crucial. But under this surface there are often mean or sociopathic bosses absurd requirements and tight schedules and unpaid overtime. While elements of creativity are still present in modern sysadmin work, it is now much less craft and more a "regular job" - with all its unfairness and compromises.

That's why many sysadmins consider the profession to be quite stressful. Commonly cited sources of stress include having to deal with difficult users, difficult coworkers. But the main danger is psychopathic bosses -- the type of people who advance really well in a typical large corporate IT environment. Add to this stupidly designed, overly complex and often useless or harmful products that were bought by clueless PHBs out of plain vanilla stupidity or due to bribing by small perks like golf trips or couple of conferences in a really nice places. The responsibility for supporting brain damaged products with the parody on customer service instead of real tech support is probably far from what typical graduate thought about the workplace at the university.

Psychopathic managers came in several different flavors, each of which is richly represented in IT workplace. The classic types are:

In such cases, which are more typical then most people outside of IT assume, the important thing is to learn to tread the fine line between self-interested cooperation and psychological surrender. Another important point is to strive to achieve mastery of the sysadmin craft, which in turn gives you a degree of freedom and an alternative self-worth scale, the scale that is not a subject to the whims of office politics.

Craftsman has inherent pride in this ability "to fix things", not just shuffle emails and call vendor tech support. In this sense as long as sysadmin can at least partially be craftsman and exercise its own creativity, he/she is less susceptible to the depression inherent in the "office slave" positions and labor alienation syndrome of modem organizations. The absurdities and injustices of the modern office are not immediately obvious but that does not mean that they are less demeaning, especially for talented young people out of college. But in a way modern colleges prepares people well for such things, especially for office hypocrisy ;-).

Heavy doze of mismanagement leads to the alienating of system administrators, who start to hate their job (some times with strong negative passion, see Bastard Operator From Hell )

Outsourcing: the Sword of Damocles over sysadmin head

During weekends and holidays it's refreshing to not have to worry about your job. Unless you work in IT. Along with being on call, all the "server room monkeys" do suffer from anxiety about their jobs being outsourced. Outsourcing remains fashionable and like Sword of Damocles hangs over any sysadmin head.

The level at which Unix sysadmin jobs were targeted by outsourcing is still pretty low, much less then programming jobs. But "the value of the sword is not that it fall, but rather, that it hangs" and threat of outsourcing is a powerful way to keep sysadmins in check in large companies. But prerequisites for outsourcing are in place: high speed connections to India, East Asia and Eastern Europe make corporate brass eager to consider saving money on sysadmin jobs.

A powerful countervailing fact is that IT is already downsized and often total cost of IT including salaries is less the 1% of total expenses for a particular organization. So gains are small and risks are high. In an way this is another penny wide pound foolish approach. See The incredible disappearing sysadmin.

Another countervailing factor is that outsourcing sysadmin jobs is more difficult and problems prone path then most PHBs (and not only PHBs) assume. See

Outsourcing and the reduction of the absolute numbers of workers due to more automation in Unix administration has powerful negative side effects that weakens organization as a whole. Technology is not neutral or independent of who controls it and in way IT is the nerve system of the company. Do you really want to outsource your nerve system?

Still, while degradation of quality sysadmin work environment is less and more slow then say degradation of corporate programming jobs it is still pretty visible. Conflicts are common and can be pretty nasty (see for example typical management speak in Learn to resolve and avoid work conflicts ).

Still, there will always be demand for good Unix sysadmins. You can only do so much from 3000 miles away. Try coordinating something really complex with somebody in another country. The effects of destruction of loyalty to the company are also huge. If one is paid $15 an hour for a job that is paid $30 an hour elsewhere (the U.S. systems administrators make an average of $29 per hour.) why should one stay with the current company after acquiring (often at large expense) the necessary skills.

And absence of loyalty cost company money, sometimes much more than can be saved by outsourcing. I know several example when people who are about to be outsourced just avoided to provide their opinion about the particular (expensive) system and as a result company bought and deployed an expensive lemon which later took several years and several million dollars to replace. Sometimes such decision bring the company on the edge of disaster.

"New Normal"

The classic idea of increasing productivity was that the labor that is freed up due to increased productivity will be used to produce new goods and services thereby increasing the quantity and variety of the nation's output. In a dynamic, growing economy, even though there's a delay before the new jobs appear (and hence a need to help workers through the transition), the new jobs are supposed to be even better than the old ones.

But as IT workers look forward, the fear is that that won't be the case. Sysadmins who have lost jobs face an uncertain future where, if they can get new jobs at all, they are unlikely be paid that well as in the past jobs or have the same level of benefits as the jobs they lost. New hires do not appear to have the same opportunities that those who were hired in, say 90th used to have, particularly sysadmins with just bachelor degree. In a way bachelor degree became more like high school diploma in 1990th.

While previously workers could be assured that rising productivity would translate into better jobs, the last several decades of stagnant wages have undermined that promise. The brass still can pick up productivity-enhancing ideas from the rank and file workers, but reward only themselves with higher pay and perks as profits rise. That situation is often called "new normal" for IT. The current theme seems to be:

"We are going to work you to death, and if you don't like it leave, there are ten people standing outside the gate waiting for your job."

That remind me a quote from the famous novel Jungle by Upton Sinclair "But I'm glad I'm not a pig!".

Overload and Stress

The idea of "incredibly shrinking IT" works until it don't. Then scapegoats are found, punished and new round starts. As a result of downsizing and a recession, on-the-job stress is at all time high for many jobs including sysadmin jobs.

One of the recent tricks which became possible with the wide availability of smart phones and cheap laptops is saving money by keeping sysadmin in salaried position on call 24x7. There is some rational in that, if calls are reasonably rare, but when sysadmin became weekend tech support teams that's not fun. If such cases try to get ssh on your smarphone and/or wide area internet card for you laptop.

Stress from work induce some bad habits such as smoking, excessive consumption of caffeine, etc. Even without acquired bad habits, chronic work stress effects are similar to those experienced by people who are smoking and not exercising. If someone feels like he/she is under constant pressure, you body reacts. your natural defenses are constantly on high alert. Stress hormones such as cortisone, are injected into bloodstream and such defensive reactions have a wear-and-tear effect. For example a high-pressure job doubles your risk of a heart attack. Even working in a noisy office can cause stress hormones to rise to unhealthy levels.

Often sysadmins are putting in long hours, taking work home and giving up much-needed vacation time. Many of sysadmins feel so busy, that they either don't eat lunch or eat it at their desks. Many sysadmins belong to high achiever types, who think they can handle difficulties on their own. They often don't ask for help until their stress snowballs and turns physical - in the form of headaches, sleep disorders or heartburn.

What is really bad is that eventually chronic stress strips away your ability to enjoy time off: people who juggle large workloads and feel overly responsible are easily becoming "chained to the desk" and unable to enjoy typical recreational activities when they're out of the office.

For some people just the fact that they can be called produces a lot of anxiety and effects their well-being. That's especially true if you do not know the system all that well and vendor support is limited to 16 x 5. The key here is that ability to say "No" and also offset time on call during weekends and holidays by late coming to work, extended lunches or days off. The problem is that this often is not considered politically correct. Still that' the right thing to do. To minimize social pressure simple email like "Was working Sunday 8am-1pm, will be at work Mn after lunch" is probably the best.

The other way of diminishing stress is spending sufficient time to learn the ropes. Do it at your work time. Remember that if you are called Sunday morning and vendor support is only 24x5 you better know your staff really well.

Also periodically check that server hardware is under warranty yourself. Don't rely on your boss. Set up server and systems monitoring so that you know when things are going wrong early. Mon is far from being perfect, but is free and simple to set up so it might be a good start. Create baseline of a working system configuration management and use version control. Subversion or similar version control systems are preferable, but it looks for you as an overkill at least make backup of the configuration files before you make any (and I mean any) change.

Actually making backups is what distinguish seasoned sysadmin from a novice. The former on their own experience understand the important of good, checked backups as reflected in this parody:

unknown source (well originally Paul McCartney :-)

All those backups seemed a waste of pay.
Now my database has gone away.
Oh I believe in yesterday.

Use any problem as a training ground. Perform "post-mortem" analyses and create plan of actions for the next occurrence. That can help to relieve the stress if such situation happens again. And usually it will.

A lot of anxiety and stress can be self-inflicted, especially for novices. Many disasters happen because of sysadmin errors or blunders. Study experience of others. A good start might be Sysadmin Horror Stories

If possible, try to negotiate that before you start supporting a new systems they provide vendor training. Negotiate SAL if you can, but at least know them and discuss with your boss as if they are unrealistic you implicitly increase your level of stress.

Overload is a related problem. See Overload for more details.

But the key is still getting personal knowledge of all the infrastructure. In some type of problems occur on regular but pretty sparse intervals, create fire drills for yourself to keep your knowledge current. inside out, take good backups, test your backups and have a DR plan with SLAs for each system and agree it with your business so that people can't turn around in an emergency and demand that you fix *their* system right now because they suddenly decided it was important.

Excessive diversity of environment is detrimental here. Try to limit the number of OSes you support to two so that you can concentrate on leaning them in depth. If you need to support more then three OSes that's a bad situation and you might want to think how to move yourself in better environment.

Try to relieve stress with exercise, not with alcohol or pot. Humor is a powerful tool for leveling stress and anxiety too. See

You will not be young forever

The number of programming and sysadmin jobs in the United States is stagnant or declining. Consolidation rules and outsourcing adds insult to injury. Many of the newly jobless sysadmins do have savings and severance, but others do not. Some have been living beyond their means and must face a frightening new financial reality. So many of the newly unemployed were fortunate to live "the dream": they had nice homes, cars and clothes, ate at expensive restaurants and went on vacation at least once a year. They spoiled their children with computers and iPods. But with unemployment so high, these people often struggle to find a similar job, or any job - especially if they are over 50. The harsh reality is that when companies do hire sysadmins, they often choose to forgo the value of age and experience in favor of younger, cheaper neophytes. As a result, the jobless may find themselves unable to pay their mortgages and fear losing home. They may need to downsize to a degree that is almost paralyzing.

You need to prepare for such an emergency and have a sizable "survival fund" which covers at least two years of "downsized" living. Unemployment can last more then a year in the current conditions and I know histories of pretty capable sysadmins who were out of work for more then two years. For example after Bear Sterns collapse. If the emergency funds run out you can still use your 401K for some time without penalty. Return to school is also an option. At least you can get those scholarship funds.

All too often, as financial resources dwindle, family life and other relationships suffer, too - which can lead to isolation, depression and even suicidal thoughts. In this sense it is important to preserve a resemblance of usual life style and preserve the habit get out of home in the morning, if only going to the library.

It is also important to pay additional attention to maintaining healthy lifestyle, including exercise. Paradoxically many unemployed sysadmin pursue more unhealthy lifestyle then when their were employed, stating most of the time at home and spending all their day on computer. Please remember that unemployed are usually more susceptible for various health conditions. But here comes the next problem: The unemployed have often lost their health coverage as well as their jobs. It's important to get minimal (hospital and emergencies) coverage early on before six month since you previous health coverage ended. the cost is not outrageous and in many states is less then $200 per month. Some state such as NY and NJ subside such an insurance and you can get it for slightly more then $100.

Personal Life

Gifted people often have problems finding and keeping friends, they usually suffer from envy and jealousy toward colleagues who are more talented or less talented, but more successful professionally. And vice versa, they can despise those who are less talented or less trained. Attitude toward "losers" and associated folklore is part of the latter.

People with exaggerated self-worth and narcissists (which is actually a type of sociopaths) typically secure a sense of superiority in the face of another person's ability by using contempt to minimize the other person. In short, in many sysadmins there is a built-in competition drive and you should view all those "vanity fair" things philosophically or they can definitely poison your life. Bertrand Russell said envy was one of the most potent causes of unhappiness.

There are additional problems in marriage due to high pressures from work which is nothing new and is common to many other specialties. People usually add "sysadmin wives" to the long list of suffering spouses who deal with a spouse with a high-demand profession. So it's important to remember that a genuine interest in the profession is good but obsession with it is not.


Resistance is productive

It is not easy to preserve sanity in the crazy environment. But fighting for the ideas you consider valuable definitely helps. It would be nice to get rid of some "evil corporate gnomes" but they are replaceable and readily availble commodities. So cool down as for revenge. I do not have ready made recipes but recently I came across an interesting comment in Calculated Risk blog:

Stephane Hessel. 93 years old. Just published a short book in France. Cry Out! It's sold 600,000 copies in two months. His publisher has ordered another 200,000 printed.

Hessel, Jewish. Escaped a Nazi concentration camp in WWII and joined DeGaulle. Worked in French resistance.

The thesis of his book? Some quotes:

Just as he "cried out" against Nazism in the 1940s, he said, young people today should "cry out against the complicity between politicians and economic and financial powers" and "defend our democratic rights acquired over two centuries".

Dr. Nikolai Bezroukov

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"I appreciate Woody Allen's humor because one of my safety valves is an appreciation for life's absurdities. His message is that life isn't a funeral march to the grave. It's a polka."

-- Dennis Kusinich

[Nov 22, 2012] Ten Habits of Incompetent Managers by Fast Company Staff|

See also Empty Suits (Aggressive Incompetent Managers)
October 23, 2007 | Fast Company

So what hallmarks of incompetence have I learned to identify?

[Nov 22, 2012] Local TV station's anchors quit on-air after evening news broadcast By Vignesh Ramachandran

"There was a constant disrespecting and belittling of staff and we both felt there was a lack of knowledge from ownership and upper management in running a newsroom to the extent that I was not allowed to structure and direct them professionally,". I guess those two never worked in IT departments this this is a standard established practice;-)

Anyone who has been fed up with salary, management or other issues that have made a job unbearable has surely dreamed of a "take-this-job-and-shove-it" moment. For most, though, news of the moment likely wouldn't make it outside the workplace walls.

That wasn't the case for a TV news anchor duo in Bangor, Maine, who quit their jobs in front of thousands of viewers at the end of Tuesday evening's newscast.

Follow @NBCNewsUSIn what was reportedly inspired by a conflict with upper management, co-anchors Cindy Michaels and Tony Consiglio announced to viewers that it would be their last show, the Bangor Daily News reported.

The news anchors shared more than 12 years of experience working for WVII and sister station WFVX, according to the Daily News.

"Some recent developments have come to our attention ... and departing together is the best alternative we can take," Consiglio told viewers.

"We wanted to be able to say a thoughtful, heartfelt good-bye to our viewers and to the many communities we served over the years," Michaels told NBC News in an email Wednesday. "We scripted something to keep from getting off-course and emotional."

Michaels, 46, and Consiglio, 28, didn't tell anyone of their decision before the newscast, according to the Bangor Daily News. The newspaper reported the journalists were frustrated over the last four years with the way they were told to do their jobs. In her signoff, Michaels claimed the two were "the longest running news team in Bangor," with six years at the desk.

"There was a constant disrespecting and belittling of staff and we both felt there was a lack of knowledge from ownership and upper management in running a newsroom to the extent that I was not allowed to structure and direct them professionally,"

Michaels, who also served as the station's news director, told the Bangor Daily News. Her co-anchor, Consiglio, also served as executive producer for the station.

"There was a regular undoing of decisions made by me, the news director," Michaels told NBC News, citing that politically-charged stories were sometimes not treated with an unbiased approach.

Michaels' public LinkedIn profile indicates she has worked at the station since October 2006. Consiglio, who was first a sports anchor and reporter before moving over to the news anchor role, has worked at the station since April 2006, according to his public LinkedIn profile.

Mike Palmer, the station's vice president and general manager, told the Bangor Daily News the incident was "unfortunate, but not unexpected." Palmer denied claims that upper management was involved in daily news production.

But a 2006 New York Times' story indicates that may not be true. Following a broadcast segment about the showing of Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth," Palmer wrote to his staff that they should refrain from reporting on global warming until Bar Harbor is underwater.

He explained: "a) we do local news, b) the issue evolved from hard science into hard politics and c) despite what you may have heard from the mainstream media, this science is far from conclusive."

According to the Times' report, Palmer likened global to "global warming stories in the same category as 'the killer African bee scare' from the 1970s or, more recently, the Y2K scare when everyone's computer was going to self-destruct."

As of Wednesday morning, WVII's employment page listed no open job opportunities, but the Bangor Daily News reported Palmer posted online job opening ads Tuesday night.

The anchors are moving on: Michaels told viewers she will pursue freelance writing, while Consiglio said he'll continue his career "in another capacity."

See the video of the co-anchors final sign-off on the Bangor Daily News website.

Ask Slashdot How Did You Become a Linux Professional - Slashdot

Just another tool in the box...

August 26, 2012

I've spent 1/2 my 25+ year career as a "Unix" (you know what I mean) system administrator and the other 1/2 as a Unix system programmer, sometimes application programmer, all with a little (sigh) DOS/Windows thrown in. I've worked on just about every flavor of Unix running on PC class to Cray-2 hardware, usually several at any one time. For most of that time, there were no books on the topics, just man pages and the compiler. Linux is just another tool in my toolbox.

It seems almost universal that every prospective employer only sees the "other" half of my experience - We want a sysadmin, but you're a programmer. We want a programmer, but you're a sysadmin. I simply tell them I do both and I do both well. Resume and references speak for themselves.

I got my first jobs at my university doing LISP research and working in the CS office. First real job because employer liked my school experience (did more than just took classes). It was small company and I did both system programming/admin (on 8 different versions of Unix). Second job, I bumped into professor from school and got job as both Unix system admin/programmer at NASA Langley (super computing network) and another contractor as sysadmin (100+ Sun/SGI workstations); then The New York Times for a few years as Unix sysadmin; now defense contractor (can't say who) for 11 years, because of friend from very first job. Now I work on primarily Solaris, Linux and (sigh, still) Windows systems as a system/application programmer - in about 10 different programming languages - and sysadmin when needed.

All in all, you learn what you need to know and what interests you - sometimes the weirder the better. You never know where it will lead.

There is one definitive: I hate Windows, especially Windows 7 - or as I call it "Windows for Dummies".

CAIMLAS (41445) writes:
it's a bag of tricks (Score:2)
'Linux professional,' I mean anyone in a paid IT position who uses or administers Linux systems on a daily basis.

Being a "Linux Professional" (or as people tend to more often call me, "Linux Guru", damn them) is more about a broad and deep level of experience than it is about 'knowing linux'. For instance, you're going to know the inner workings of how many protocols work; you're going to know how to build your own Linux distro (more or less), and you're going to know how hardware behaves properly. There are many 'professionals' who don't know this, but if you're specializing you've got to know pretty much everything.

Think: RHCE or similar.

Over the past five years, I've developed an affection for Linux, and use it every day as a freelance IT consultant. I've built a breadth of somewhat intermediate skills, using several distros for everything from everyday desktop use, to building servers from scratch, to performing data recovery. I'm interested in taking my skills to the next level - and making a career out of it - but I'm not sure how best to appeal to prospective employers, or even what to specialize in

You'll become a generalist unless you become a "Postfix Administrator" or something like that. That's the most likely first step. You will pick up your specialty over the years, largely depending on which type of systems you're working on.

(I refuse to believe the only option is 'sysadmin,' though I'm certainly not opposed to that).

That's not the only option, but it's the main and first one you'll have to master. Being an architect or systems specialist (mail, dns, filesystems, whatever) is the next step up. It takes a while to get there, and usually requires either a specialized company dealing exclusively with something in that domain, a very large corporation, or contracting.

Specifically, I'm interested in what practical steps I can take to build meaningful skills that an employer can verify, and will find valuable.

This is sorta "LOL". You assume that your employer cares more than anything other than a stable work history and/or specifically applicable experience to what you will be doing on a day in and out basis. It is a rare IT manager who cares more about this, even. Being highly skilled and capable, in a field where your skillset is in demand, is entirely different than being employable doing said work.

So, what do you do, and how did you get there? How did you conquer the catch-22 of needing experience to get the position that gives you the experience to get the position?

You know the right people, or you luck out and get a job in the field right after school. Part of lucking out is knowing the right people.

Every single IT job I've gotten has either been due to the employer being desperate because they have someone vacating a crucial position or expansive growth they can't manage, or through a friend. I've also not gotten jobs through friends, after failing interviews (not enough experience in such-and-such technology or the snap-judgement IT Director not liking me, or any number of other things.)

Did you get certified, devour books and manpages, apprentice under an expert, some combination of the above, or something else entirely?"

Everyone is different in this regard. I personally got a 4 year degree and spent many, many long hours devouring man pages, chatting on technical IRC, experimenting/pushing my envelope, and reading in general. That's the easy part. The hardest part of all of it is breaking into a linux-oriented job, IMO. If you're not in the right market, you've got to get yourself to that market before any of your experience even matters. Knowing the right people is, IMO, key. Personally, it took approximately 5 years of constant trying, experimentation with what works, etc. to get my first 'linux' job - and that was primarily a FreeBSD job, at that. Now I'm working primarily with AIX (just several years later). There is no golden bullet, here, and you will probably find it almost impossible to find your 'ideal' job. (Mine would be doing systems engineering/administration/management in an academic/scientific setting. I've done it for a year so far, and would love to get back to doing it again.)

[Aug 15, 2012] 9 Reasons Why Application Developers Think Their Manager Is Clueless

Business Technology Leadership

"My manager is clueless." These are words you don't want to hear if you want to earn the respect of your application development professionals. So how do you avoid being a clueless manager? Steer clear of these behaviors:

1. The manager is a control nut. If you want to be a Controller then get a job in the accounting department. Okay, so maybe you are not a certifiable control nut. Maybe it is just a strategy you are employing because your direct reports can't get the job done. If this is the case, then control is not the solution. Have the courage to replace those managers that aren't strong. Control won't work in the long run anyway.

2. The manager is aloof. Stop thinking about your golf game. You may have a great team-strong individual managers and team chemistry-but your leadership is still necessary to keep things on course (not the golf course). Besides, no matter how much you practice, your golf game will still be mediocre, but you can be at the top of your game as manager if you work at it.

3. The manager gulps vendor Kool-Aid. Did you know that there are more than 34,750 registered lobbyists in Washington, D.C., for just 435 representatives and 100 senators? That's 64 lobbyists for each congressperson. I wonder how many vendor account managers there are per manager. You are smart enough to know that vendors are trying to sell you and you won't be fooled wholesale. Yeah right. Their influence can eat away at you without you even realizing it. Be even more skeptical than you are now. Just say no.

4. The manager is a technical dinosaur. Unless you are running for president of the United States, experience does matter. Technology has changed since you were writing RPG on the mainframe umpteen years ago. And for you younger guys who made your bones writing VB or Java Web apps, make sure you know why there is so much buzz about Ruby on Rails and multicore programming. Your ability to talk tech will go a long way to earning the respect of application development professionals.

5. The manager thinks changes can happen overnight. Sorry to have to break this to you: You are not a wizard and your magic wand doesn't work.

6. The manager doesn't know the difference between resources and talent. The fastest way to lose respect is to put clueless managers in charge. Clueless managers equal clueless managers. Can you ever imagine Doc Rivers, coach of the 2008 world champion Boston Celtics, talking about player resources like they were interchangeable? "I need two guard resources." "I need a center resource." No. Talent and teamwork make winning teams. Talent matters. Don't pay lip-service to talent. Find a way to locate and use the talent in your organization. You will only be as good as the team you assemble.

7. The manager collaborates to death. Whether it is the character flaw of being indecisive or some middle-school notion of democracy, you are in charge. Collaboration is critical, but you also need to make the right decision at the right time. Collaborate like Captain Kirk. "Spock?" "Bones?" He gets opinions from his experts but there is never any question about who will make the final decision. And, if you never watched Star Trek then you shouldn't even be a manager.

The real reason managers are clueless (Score:1)

by roster238 (969495) on Tuesday July 01, @08:33PM (#24024329) The reason why managers are normally clueless is that you have to be competent to recognize incompetence. The folks who normally select senior IT managers are business people who have no understanding of technology whatsoever. The are in fact "technically" incompetent. They choose the person who scares them least.

They want the person with whom that can communicate without being bogged down with any complexities or difficult concepts. They will stay far away from the most knowledgeable and experienced people in favor of someone who laughs and jokes with them about the big game, a television show, or anything else they can understand. They will reject someone with the capability to understand a system from the ground up as not seeing the "big picture". This is why senior IT managers are often unsure that they are getting the bang for the buck that an IT department should bring to the table. It's because they pick the least qualified person to lead based on their personality rather than ability.

On the positive side the senior IT manager who wants to keep his job will find a few key people who really know what they doing and throw money at them to ensure that they don't leave. They are the folks who really run the department by proxy.

[Aug 11, 2012] Unknown link, unknown author... (to be corrected)

See also Classification of Corporate Psychopaths and, especially, Micromanagers

When you first got out of school you probably thought, "Gee, I'm going to have a nice, quiet, low-stress desk job and just enjoy the good life, programming my heart out. Hah!!" Then you land your first programming job and find it's not the picture you had in mind. You find yourself in a team of individuals, each with his or her own idiosyncrasies and personality disorders. So you might ask yourself, "Did I sign up for my dream job, or a stint in the mental institution?" Before you high tail it out of there, please consider the following words of wisdom: All programming jobs come with a strange mix of people, so find ways to cope and survive in the milieu you fell into. Consider it just as much a part of your job to successfully interact with your cohorts as it is to write a well designed piece of software. In the end, both tasks are equally important.

If you never coded on a team before, you may ask yourself, "What sort of challenges might I run into in day-to-day encounters with programmers?" Here are a few:

The Control Freak

That special someone on your team exhibiting this quality will stand out like a sore thumb. He will want to do his task and yours. You can never do it right no matter how hard you try. Go ahead and start's already wrong to the control freak. And whatever you do, don't argue with him, because he has a certain way of doing things...his way (and by the way, it's the only way!). An extreme control freak will eventually take everyone's tasks and assigns them to himself.

Dealing with the Control Freak

I struggle with a good answer to this problem. If a control freak is really good at what he does, then he may be the best one to control the project. But you don't want him to do all the tasks. Convince the control freak that you can take some of the stress out of his life by doing a piece of work that will make his life easier.

Warning: Trying to convince the Control Freak of anything might not have any affect whatsoever.

Another solution may be to talk to the control freak's manager (assuming the control freak is not the manager), and to explain the situation delicately. Let him know that you need the tasks to be more evenly divided so the project can be done efficiently. Keep in mind that a good manager never lets a control freak get out of hand, but often the control freak is stronger than the manager and too vital a player to piss off. Again, a tough situation.

The Secret Coder

The secret coder is actually another kind of control freak that codes in his own world oblivious to the life and fauna around him. As far as the secret coder is concerned, there is no team. In fact there is no office, only some conjured-up world of coding where the secret coder and computer live happily. Occasionally, someone steps into the secret coder's world through a source control management system, or some annoying interruption such as a team meeting (but that's okay, because the secret coder can code in his head during the meeting). The danger of the secret coder is that he is trapped in the cocoon of his own world, so that ultimately, his piece of the system may not coexist in the rest of the team's world.

Dealing with the Secret Coder

Try periodically to bring the secret coder back to earth. Make it a habit to talk to the secret coder about the whole pie and insist that he learns how his piece of code fits into the system.

The Perfectionist

You may think that the perfectionist is like the control freak, but not exactly. The perfectionist is critical of his own code in such a way that he can always make it better. Better, better, better. The end result...the perfectionist never gets anything done. He just continues to improve the code to a point that it's so optimal, so efficient, so streamlined, and so...late.

Dealing with the Perfectionist.

Convince the project manager to put the perfectionist on a schedule. The perfectionist needs to hit deadlines, and if he doesn't hit them, he should be forced to give the piece of code to someone else.

The Politician

Sometimes (and hopefully rarely), you get someone on the team who contributes little in the form of technical input but knows how to work the corporate system. He can BS their way through any project but doesn't get anything tangible done. Yes, he can "talk the talk" but he mostly does a lot of dancing around.

Dealing with the Politician

Ask the manager to assign him a task and a deadline. Warning: If he doesn't complete the scheduled task, cut him loose. He can destroy a project.

The Soldier

The soldier codes what he is ordered to code, but that's it. He doesn't go beyond what his is asked to do. The soldier is an asset to the team because he accomplishes specific finite tasks, but it can be frustrating when he doesn't embrace additional necessary tasks.

Dealing with the Soldier

Encourage the soldier to join you on leading a project. This forces him to consider the entire project instead of just his narrow task. He will be surprised about what he can accomplish once he starts thinking for himself.


Many of you reading this column may be thinking, "Yeah, I know people like that, but your advice is useless. I've tried everything, but the control freak is too impossible, the secret coder is in another universe, the perfectionist is too anal, the politician is too connected, the soldier is too stubborn. Nothing (and I mean nothing) is going to change these people."

Yes, this is all true, but then you have to ask yourself, "Who else do I have to work with?" Sometimes, the only solution to these problems is to channel the individual programmer's personality to a part of the project in which they perform best. Perhaps the control freak would be better off managing a project rather than touching any code. Perhaps the politician should be the one dealing with outside groups to smooth communications between the control freak and other players. Maybe the perfectionist, soldier, and secret coder can get together to accomplish tasks set out by the control freak. Don't lose hope! Many programming projects have been accomplished in spite of the impediments of multiple personalities. Even if you run to these personality obstacles every day, consider it part of your responsibility to work with them, and to help them channel their weirdness into getting the project done.

[Aug 11, 2012] Jargon busters


The obscenity that's corporate jargon is my pet hate. So imagine the response to Hewlett-Packard chief Mark Hurd's spin on the company's decision to lay off 14,500 workers, or one in 10 of its employees. ''The majority of the head-count reductions will be achieved trough involuntary actions," he said in a New York Times report. It was bad enough that sacking someone morphed into ''downsizing'' and ''rightsizing''. Now they're calling it ''involuntary action''.

With his terrific anti-jargon book now hitting the American market, Paul Keating's former speech writer Don Watson has a web site asking people to send in weasel words.

[Aug 10, 2012] Business Has Killed IT With Overspecialization by Charlie Schluting

April 7, 2010 | Enterprise Networking Planet

What happened to the old "sysadmin" of just a few years ago? We've split what used to be the sysadmin into application teams, server teams, storage teams, and network teams. There were often at least a few people, the holders of knowledge, who knew how everything worked, and I mean everything. Every application, every piece of network gear, and how every server was configured -- these people could save a business in times of disaster.

Now look at what we've done. Knowledge is so decentralized we must invent new roles to act as liaisons between all the IT groups. Architects now hold much of the high-level "how it works" knowledge, but without knowing how any one piece actually does work. In organizations with more than a few hundred IT staff and developers, it becomes nearly impossible for one person to do and know everything. This movement toward specializing in individual areas seems almost natural. That, however, does not provide a free ticket for people to turn a blind eye.


You know the story: Company installs new application, nobody understands it yet, so an expert is hired. Often, the person with a certification in using the new application only really knows how to run that application. Perhaps they aren't interested in learning anything else, because their skill is in high demand right now. And besides, everything else in the infrastructure is run by people who specialize in those elements. Everything is taken care of.

Except, how do these teams communicate when changes need to take place? Are the storage administrators teaching the Windows administrators about storage multipathing; or worse logging in and setting it up because it's faster for the storage gurus to do it themselves? A fundamental level of knowledge is often lacking, which makes it very difficult for teams to brainstorm about new ways evolve IT services. The business environment has made it OK for IT staffers to specialize and only learn one thing.

If you hire someone certified in the application, operating system, or network vendor you use, that is precisely what you get. Certifications may be a nice filter to quickly identify who has direct knowledge in the area you're hiring for, but often they indicate specialization or compensation for lack of experience.

Resource Competition

Does your IT department function as a unit? Even 20-person IT shops have turf wars, so the answer is very likely, "no." As teams are split into more and more distinct operating units, grouping occurs. One IT budget gets split between all these groups. Often each group will have a manager who pitches his needs to upper management in hopes they will realize how important the team is.

The "us vs. them" mentality manifests itself at all levels, and it's reinforced by management having to define each team's worth in the form of a budget. One strategy is to illustrate a doomsday scenario. If you paint a bleak enough picture, you may get more funding. Only if you are careful enough to illustrate the failings are due to lack of capital resources, not management or people. A manager of another group may explain that they are not receiving the correct level of service, so they need to duplicate the efforts of another group and just implement something themselves. On and on, the arguments continue.

Most often, I've seen competition between server groups result in horribly inefficient uses of hardware. For example, what happens in your organization when one team needs more server hardware? Assume that another team has five unused servers sitting in a blade chassis. Does the answer change? No, it does not. Even in test environments, sharing doesn't often happen between IT groups.

With virtualization, some aspects of resource competition get better and some remain the same. When first implemented, most groups will be running their own type of virtualization for their platform. The next step, I've most often seen, is for test servers to get virtualized. If a new group is formed to manage the virtualization infrastructure, virtual machines can be allocated to various application and server teams from a central pool and everyone is now sharing. Or, they begin sharing and then demand their own physical hardware to be isolated from others' resource hungry utilization. This is nonetheless a step in the right direction. Auto migration and guaranteed resource policies can go a long way toward making shared infrastructure, even between competing groups, a viable option.


The most damaging side effect of splitting into too many distinct IT groups is the reinforcement of an "us versus them" mentality. Aside from the notion that specialization creates a lack of knowledge, blamestorming is what this article is really about. When a project is delayed, it is all too easy to blame another group. The SAN people didn't allocate storage on time, so another team was delayed. That is the timeline of the project, so all work halted until that hiccup was restored. Having someone else to blame when things get delayed makes it all too easy to simply stop working for a while.

More related to the initial points at the beginning of this article, perhaps, is the blamestorm that happens after a system outage.

Say an ERP system becomes unresponsive a few times throughout the day. The application team says it's just slowing down, and they don't know why. The network team says everything is fine. The server team says the application is "blocking on IO," which means it's a SAN issue. The SAN team say there is nothing wrong, and other applications on the same devices are fine. You've ran through nearly every team, but without an answer still. The SAN people don't have access to the application servers to help diagnose the problem. The server team doesn't even know how the application runs.

See the problem? Specialized teams are distinct and by nature adversarial. Specialized staffers often relegate themselves into a niche knowing that as long as they continue working at large enough companies, "someone else" will take care of all the other pieces.

I unfortunately don't have an answer to this problem. Maybe rotating employees between departments will help. They gain knowledge and also get to know other people, which should lessen the propensity to view them as outsiders

[Aug 08, 2012] MC MCSE Corporate Speak Dictionary for programmers.

Even if you are in a technical position, you may still find yourself dealing with sales people and other corporate types. You may also discover that they speak a different language and use an arsenal of corny phrases that might just give you the hives. This article is a glossary of our 35 favorite terms and phrases.

[Aug 08, 2012] Why We Hate HR

In a knowledge economy, companies with the best talent win. And finding, nurturing, and developing that talent should be one of the most important tasks in a corporation. So why does human resources do such a bad job -- and how can we fix it?

From: Issue 97 | August 2005 | Page 40 | By: Keith H. Hammonds | Illustrations by: Gary Baseman

Because let's face it: After close to 20 years of hopeful rhetoric about becoming "strategic partners" with a "seat at the table" where the business decisions that matter are made, most human-resources professionals aren't nearly there. They have no seat, and the table is locked inside a conference room to which they have no key. HR people are, for most practical purposes, neither strategic nor leaders.

I don't care for Las Vegas. And if it's not clear already, I don't like HR, either, which is why I'm here. The human-resources trade long ago proved itself, at best, a necessary evil -- and at worst, a dark bureaucratic force that blindly enforces nonsensical rules, resists creativity, and impedes constructive change. HR is the corporate function with the greatest potential -- the key driver, in theory, of business performance -- and also the one that most consistently underdelivers. And I am here to find out why.

Why are annual performance appraisals so time-consuming -- and so routinely useless? Why is HR so often a henchman for the chief financial officer, finding ever-more ingenious ways to cut benefits and hack at payroll? Why do its communications -- when we can understand them at all -- so often flout reality? Why are so many people processes duplicative and wasteful, creating a forest of paperwork for every minor transaction? And why does HR insist on sameness as a proxy for equity?

It's no wonder that we hate HR. In a 2005 survey by consultancy Hay Group, just 40% of employees commended their companies for retaining high-quality workers. Just 41% agreed that performance evaluations were fair. Only 58% rated their job training as favorable. Most said they had few opportunities for advancement -- and that they didn't know, in any case, what was required to move up. Most telling, only about half of workers below the manager level believed their companies took a genuine interest in their well-being.

None of this is explained immediately in Vegas. These HR folks, from employers across the nation, are neither evil courtiers nor thoughtless automatons. They are mostly smart, engaging people who seem genuinely interested in doing their jobs better. They speak convincingly about employee development and cultural transformation. And, over drinks, they spin some pretty funny yarns of employee weirdness. (Like the one about the guy who threatened to sue his wife's company for "enabling" her affair with a coworker. Then there was the mentally disabled worker and the hooker -- well, no, never mind. . . .)

But then the facade cracks. It happens at an afternoon presentation called "From Technicians to Consultants: How to Transform Your HR Staff into Strategic Business Partners." The speaker, Julie Muckler, is senior vice president of human resources at Wells Fargo Home Mortgage. She is an enthusiastic woman with a broad smile and 20 years of experience at companies such as Johnson & Johnson and General Tire. She has degrees in consumer economics and human resources and organizational development.

And I have no idea what she's talking about. There is mention of "internal action learning" and "being more planful in my approach." PowerPoint slides outline Wells Fargo Home Mortgage's initiatives in performance management, organization design, and horizontal-solutions teams. Muckler describes leveraging internal resources and involving external resources -- and she leaves her audience dazed. That evening, even the human-resources pros confide they didn't understand much of it, either.

This, friends, is the trouble with HR. In a knowledge economy, companies that have the best talent win. We all know that. Human resources execs should be making the most of our, well, human resources -- finding the best hires, nurturing the stars, fostering a productive work environment -- just as IT runs the computers and finance minds the capital. HR should be joined to business strategy at the hip.

Instead, most HR organizations have ghettoized themselves literally to the brink of obsolescence. They are competent at the administrivia of pay, benefits, and retirement, but companies increasingly are farming those functions out to contractors who can handle such routine tasks at lower expense. What's left is the more important strategic role of raising the reputational and intellectual capital of the company -- but HR is, it turns out, uniquely unsuited for that.

Here's why.

1. HR people aren't the sharpest tacks in the box. We'll be blunt: If you are an ambitious young thing newly graduated from a top college or B-school with your eye on a rewarding career in business, your first instinct is not to join the human-resources dance. (At the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business, which arguably boasts the nation's top faculty for organizational issues, just 1.2% of 2004 grads did so.) Says a management professor at one leading school: "The best and the brightest don't go into HR."

Who does? Intelligent people, sometimes -- but not businesspeople. "HR doesn't tend to hire a lot of independent thinkers or people who stand up as moral compasses," says Garold L. Markle, a longtime human-resources executive at Exxon and Shell Offshore who now runs his own consultancy. Some are exiles from the corporate mainstream: They've fared poorly in meatier roles -- but not poorly enough to be fired. For them, and for their employers, HR represents a relatively low-risk parking spot.

Others enter the field by choice and with the best of intentions, but for the wrong reasons. They like working with people, and they want to be helpful -- noble motives that thoroughly tick off some HR thinkers. "When people have come to me and said, 'I want to work with people,' I say, 'Good, go be a social worker,' " says Arnold Kanarick, who has headed human resources at the Limited and, until recently, at Bear Stearns. "HR isn't about being a do-gooder. It's about how do you get the best and brightest people and raise the value of the firm."

The really scary news is that the gulf between capabilities and job requirements appears to be widening. As business and legal demands on the function intensify, staffers' educational qualifications haven't kept pace. In fact, according to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), a considerably smaller proportion of HR professionals today have some education beyond a bachelor's degree than in 1990.

And here's one more slice of telling SHRM data: When HR professionals were asked about the worth of various academic courses toward a "successful career in HR," 83% said that classes in interpersonal communications skills had "extremely high value." Employment law and business ethics followed, at 71% and 66%, respectively. Where was change management? At 35%. Strategic management? 32%. Finance? Um, that was just 2%.

The truth? Most human-resources managers aren't particularly interested in, or equipped for, doing business. And in a business, that's sort of a problem. As guardians of a company's talent, HR has to understand how people serve corporate objectives. Instead, "business acumen is the single biggest factor that HR professionals in the U.S. lack today," says Anthony J. Rucci, executive vice president at Cardinal Health Inc., a big health-care supply distributor.

Rucci is consistently mentioned by academics, consultants, and other HR leaders as an executive who actually does know business. At Baxter International, he ran both HR and corporate strategy. Before that, at Sears, he led a study of results at 800 stores over five years to assess the connection between employee commitment, customer loyalty, and profitability.

As far as Rucci is concerned, there are three questions that any decent HR person in the world should be able to answer. First, who is your company's core customer? "Have you talked to one lately? Do you know what challenges they face?" Second, who is the competition? "What do they do well and not well?" And most important, who are we? "What is a realistic assessment of what we do well and not so well vis a vis the customer and the competition?"

Does your HR pro know the answers?

2. HR pursues efficiency in lieu of value. Why? Because it's easier -- and easier to measure. Dave Ulrich, a professor at the University of Michigan, recalls meeting with the chairman and top HR people from a big bank. "The training person said that 80% of employees have done at least 40 hours in classes. The chairman said, 'Congratulations.' I said, 'You're talking about the activities you're doing. The question is, What are you delivering?' "

That sort of stuff drives Ulrich nuts. Over 20 years, he has become the HR trade's best-known guru (see "The Once and Future Consultant," page 48) and a leading proponent of the push to take on more-strategic roles within corporations. But human-resources managers, he acknowledges, typically undermine that effort by investing more importance in activities than in outcomes. "You're only effective if you add value," Ulrich says. "That means you're not measured by what you do but by what you deliver." By that, he refers not just to the value delivered to employees and line managers, but the benefits that accrue to investors and customers, as well.

So here's a true story: A talented young marketing exec accepts a job offer with Time Warner out of business school. She interviews for openings in several departments -- then is told by HR that only one is interested in her. In fact, she learns later, they all had been. She had been railroaded into the job, under the supervision of a widely reviled manager, because no one inside the company would take it.

You make the call: Did HR do its job? On the one hand, it filled the empty slot. "It did what was organizationally expedient," says the woman now. "Getting someone who wouldn't kick and scream about this role probably made sense to them. But I just felt angry." She left Time Warner after just a year. (A Time Warner spokesperson declined to comment on the incident.)

Part of the problem is that Time Warner's metrics likely will never catch the real cost of its HR department's action. Human resources can readily provide the number of people it hired, the percentage of performance evaluations completed, and the extent to which employees are satisfied or not with their benefits. But only rarely does it link any of those metrics to business performance.

John W. Boudreau, a professor at the University of Southern California's Center for Effective Organizations, likens the failing to shortcomings of the finance function before DuPont figured out how to calculate return on investment in 1912. In HR, he says, "we don't have anywhere near that kind of logical sophistication in the way of people or talent. So the decisions that get made about that resource are far less sophisticated, reliable, and consistent."

Cardinal Health's Rucci is trying to fix that. Cardinal regularly asks its employees 12 questions designed to measure engagement. Among them: Do they understand the company's strategy? Do they see the connection between that and their jobs? Are they proud to tell people where they work? Rucci correlates the results to those of a survey of 2,000 customers, as well as monthly sales data and brand-awareness scores.

"So I don't know if our HR processes are having an impact" per se, Rucci says. "But I know absolutely that employee-engagement scores have an impact on our business," accounting for between 1% and 10% of earnings, depending on the business and the employee's role. "Cardinal may not anytime soon get invited by the Conference Board to explain our world-class best practices in any area of HR -- and I couldn't care less. The real question is, Is the business effective and successful?"

3. HR isn't working for you. Want to know why you go through that asinine performance appraisal every year, really? Markle, who admits to having administered countless numbers of them over the years, is pleased to confirm your suspicions. Companies, he says "are doing it to protect themselves against their own employees," he says. "They put a piece of paper between you and employees, so if you ever have a confrontation, you can go to the file and say, 'Here, I've documented this problem.' "

There's a good reason for this defensive stance, of course. In the last two generations, government has created an immense thicket of labor regulations. Equal Employment Opportunity; Fair Labor Standards; Occupational Safety and Health; Family and Medical Leave; and the ever-popular ERISA. These are complex, serious issues requiring technical expertise, and HR has to apply reasonable caution.

But "it's easy to get sucked down into that," says Mark Royal, a senior consultant with Hay Group. "There's a tension created by HR's role as protector of corporate assets -- making sure it doesn't run afoul of the rules. That puts you in the position of saying no a lot, of playing the bad cop. You have to step out of that, see the broad possibilities, and take a more open-minded approach. You need to understand where the exceptions to broad policies can be made."

Typically, HR people can't, or won't. Instead, they pursue standardization and uniformity in the face of a workforce that is heterogeneous and complex. A manager at a large capital leasing company complains that corporate HR is trying to eliminate most vice-president titles there -- even though veeps are a dime a dozen in the finance industry. Why? Because in the company's commercial business, vice president is a rank reserved for the top officers. In its drive for bureaucratic "fairness," HR is actually threatening the reputation, and so the effectiveness, of the company's finance professionals.

The urge for one-size-fits-all, says one professor who studies the field, "is partly about compliance, but mostly because it's just easier." Bureaucrats everywhere abhor exceptions -- not just because they open up the company to charges of bias but because they require more than rote solutions. They're time-consuming and expensive to manage. Make one exception, HR fears, and the floodgates will open.

There's a contradiction here, of course: Making exceptions should be exactly what human resources does, all the time -- not because it's nice for employees, but because it drives the business. Employers keep their best people by acknowledging and rewarding their distinctive performance, not by treating them the same as everyone else. "If I'm running a business, I can tell you who's really helping to drive the business forward," says Dennis Ackley, an employee communication consultant. "HR should have the same view. We should send the message that we value our high-performing employees and we're focused on rewarding and retaining them."

Instead, human-resources departments benchmark salaries, function by function and job by job, against industry standards, keeping pay -- even that of the stars -- within a narrow band determined by competitors. They bounce performance appraisals back to managers who rate their employees too highly, unwilling to acknowledge accomplishments that would merit much more than the 4% companywide increase.

Human resources, in other words, forfeits long-term value for short-term cost efficiency. A simple test: Who does your company's vice president of human resources report to? If it's the CFO -- and chances are good it is -- then HR is headed in the wrong direction. "That's a model that cannot work," says one top HR exec who has been there. "A financial person is concerned with taking money out of the organization. HR should be concerned with putting investments in."

4. The corner office doesn't get HR (and vice versa). I'm at another rockin' party: a few dozen midlevel human-resources managers at a hotel restaurant in Mahwah, New Jersey. It is not glam in any way. (I've got to get a better travel agent.) But it is telling, in a hopeful way. Hunter Douglas, a $2.1 billion manufacturer of window coverings, has brought its HR staff here from across the United States to celebrate their accomplishments.

The company's top brass is on hand. Marvin B. Hopkins, president and CEO of North American operations, lays on the praise: "I feel fantastic about your achievements," he says. "Our business is about people. Hiring, training, and empathizing with employees is extremely important. When someone is fired or leaves, we've failed in some way. People have to feel they have a place at the company, a sense of ownership."

So, yeah, it's corporate-speak in a drab exurban office park. But you know what? The human-resources managers from Tupelo and Dallas are totally pumped up. They've been flown into headquarters, they've had their picture taken with the boss, and they're seeing Mamma Mia on Broadway that afternoon on the company's dime.

Can your HR department say it has the ear of top management? Probably not. "Sometimes," says Ulrich, "line managers just have this legacy of HR in their minds, and they can't get rid of it. I felt really badly for one HR guy. The chairman wanted someone to plan company picnics and manage the union, and every time this guy tried to be strategic, he got shot down."

Say what? Execs don't think HR matters? What about all that happy talk about employees being their most important asset? Well, that turns out to have been a small misunderstanding. In the 1990s, a group of British academics examined the relationship between what companies (among them, the UK units of Hewlett-Packard and Citibank) said about their human assets and how they actually behaved. The results were, perhaps, inevitable.

In their rhetoric, human-resources organizations embraced the language of a "soft" approach, speaking of training, development, and commitment. But "the underlying principle was invariably restricted to the improvements of bottom-line performance," the authors wrote in the resulting book, Strategic Human Resource Management (Oxford University Press, 1999). "Even if the rhetoric of HRM is soft, the reality is almost always 'hard,' with the interests of the organization prevailing over those of the individual."

In the best of worlds, says London Business School professor Lynda Gratton, one of the study's authors, "the reality should be some combination of hard and soft." That's what's going on at Hunter Douglas. Human resources can address the needs of employees because it has proven its business mettle -- and vice versa. Betty Lou Smith, the company's vice president of corporate HR, began investigating the connection between employee turnover and product quality. Divisions with the highest turnover rates, she found, were also those with damaged-goods rates of 5% or higher. And extraordinarily, 70% of employees were leaving the company within six months of being hired.

Smith's staffers learned that new employees were leaving for a variety of reasons: They didn't feel respected, they didn't have input in decisions, but mostly, they felt a lack of connection when they were first hired. "We gave them a 10-minute orientation, then they were out on the floor," Smith says. She addressed the weakness by creating a mentoring program that matched new hires with experienced workers. The latter were suspicious at first, but eventually, the mentor positions (with spiffy shirts and caps) came to be seen as prestigious. The six-month turnover rate dropped dramatically, to 16%. Attendance and productivity -- and the damaged-goods rate -- improved.

"We don't wait to hear from top management," Smith says. "You can't just sit in the corner and look at benefits. We have to know what the issues in our business are. HR has to step up and assume responsibility, not wait for management to knock on our door."

But most HR people do.

Hunter Douglas gives us a glimmer of hope -- of the possibility that HR can be done right. And surely, even within ineffective human-resources organizations, there are great individual HR managers -- trustworthy, caring people with their ears to the ground, who are sensitive to cultural nuance yet also understand the business and how people fit in. Professionals who move voluntarily into HR from line positions can prove especially adroit, bringing a profit-and-loss sensibility and strong management skills.

At Yahoo, Libby Sartain, chief people officer, is building a group that may prove to be the truly effective human-resources department that employees and executives imagine. In this, Sartain enjoys two advantages. First, she arrived with a reputation as a creative maverick, won in her 13 years running HR at Southwest Airlines. And second, she had license from the top to do whatever it took to create a world-class organization.

Sartain doesn't just have a "seat at the table" at Yahoo; she actually helped build the table, instituting a weekly operations meeting that she coordinates with COO Dan Rosensweig. Talent is always at the top of the agenda -- and at the end of each meeting, the executive team mulls individual development decisions on key staffers.

That meeting, Sartain says, "sends a strong message to everyone at Yahoo that we can't do anything without HR." It also signals to HR staffers that they're responsible for more than shuffling papers and getting in the way. "We view human resources as the caretaker of the largest investment of the company," Sartain says. "If you're not nurturing that investment and watching it grow, you're not doing your job."

Yahoo, say some experts and peers at other organizations, is among a few companies -- among them Cardinal Health, Procter & Gamble, Pitney Bowes, Goldman Sachs, and General Electric -- that truly are bringing human resources into the realm of business strategy. But they are indeed the few. USC professor Edward E. Lawler III says that last year HR professionals reported spending 23% of their time "being a strategic business partner" -- no more than they reported in 1995. And line managers, he found, said HR is far less involved in strategy than HR thinks it is. "Despite great huffing and puffing about strategy," Lawler says, "there's still a long way to go." (Indeed. When I asked one midlevel HR person exactly how she was involved in business strategy for her division, she excitedly described organizing a monthly lunch for her vice president with employees.)

What's driving the strategy disconnect? London Business School's Gratton spends a lot of time training human-resources professionals to create more impact. She sees two problems: Many HR people, she says, bring strong technical expertise to the party but no "point of view about the future and how organizations are going to change." And second, "it's very difficult to align HR strategy to business strategy, because business strategy changes very fast, and it's hard to fiddle around with a compensation strategy or benefits to keep up." More than simply understanding strategy, Gratton says, truly effective executives "need to be operating out of a set of principles and personal values." And few actually do.

In the meantime, economic natural selection is, in a way, taking care of the problem for us. Some 94% of large employers surveyed this year by Hewitt Associates reported they were outsourcing at least one human-resources activity. By 2008, according to the survey, many plan to expand outsourcing to include activities such as learning and development, payroll, recruiting, health and welfare, and global mobility.

Which is to say, they will farm out pretty much everything HR does. The happy rhetoric from the HR world says this is all for the best: Outsourcing the administrative minutiae, after all, would allow human-resources professionals to focus on more important stuff that's central to the business. You know, being strategic partners.

The problem, if you're an HR person, is this: The tasks companies are outsourcing -- the administrivia -- tend to be what you're good at. And what's left isn't exactly your strong suit. Human resources is crippled by what Jay Jamrog, executive director of the Human Resource Institute, calls "educated incapacity: You're smart, and you know the way you're working today isn't going to hold 10 years from now. But you can't move to that level. You're stuck."

That's where human resources is today. Stuck. "This is a unique organization in the company," says USC's Boudreau. "It discovers things about the business through the lens of people and talent. That's an opportunity for competitive advantage." In most companies, that opportunity is utterly wasted.

And that's why I don't like HR.

Keith H. Hammonds is Fast Company's deputy editor.

[Jun 01, 2012] Tech managers aren't doing a good job developing IT talent survey

A majority of IT professionals judge their current managers as graders (61%) versus teachers (26%), but it's more important to create a nurturing workplace than a pass/fail department, Silver said.

"There will always be a need for some grading, but the emphasis should be on teaching. Tech professionals do their best work when it's a safe environment to try new solutions, explore alternatives and fail," Silver said. "Over time, wisdom gained equals fewer mistakes, cutting quickly to the best solution and increasing production. That's a pretty good payback."

If tech employees don't feel valued, they're going to jump ship. Turnover has fallen below average for 41 months in a row, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, but tech managers can't count on a struggling economy and tight job market to keep their departments staffed. Good talent will flee, Silver says.

"Frankly, companies haven't felt the repercussions of subpar workplaces in the last three years. But, the gap between the importance of the employee-manager relationship and the way it's developing is unacceptable. Both sides need to remember this is a lasting connection and one worth the effort."

Darth Vader

Tech managers always look to their vendor for guidance as to what to do with their tech people. Vendors, after all, compete with similar skills in techs since they build and sometimes even use the products and tools the client tech managers deal with on daily basis.

When vendors like IBM have been treating their tech skills asset like dirt and call them "resources", it is a surprise that the client managers of those same skills don't do the same thing?

Until the hypocrisy of calling tech people vital but treating them like "human resources" ends we will continue to have this management problem. If and when the economy turns around. the new rising young generation of cynical and self-centered tech employees which these management practices have created will come to roost to American business.

[Apr 28, 2012] Lessons from Sheryl Sandberg Stop Working More Than 40 Hours a Week

You may think you're getting more accomplished by working longer hours. You're probably wrong.

There's been a flurry of recent coverage praising Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, for leaving the office every day at 5:30 p.m. to be with her kids. Apparently she's been doing this for years, but only recently "came out of the closet," as it were.

What's insane is that Sandberg felt the need to hide the fact, since there's a century of research establishing the undeniable fact that working more than 40 hours per week actually decreases productivity.

In the early 1900s, Ford Motor ran dozens of tests to discover the optimum work hours for worker productivity. They discovered that the "sweet spot" is 40 hours a week–and that, while adding another 20 hours provides a minor increase in productivity, that increase only lasts for three to four weeks, and then turns negative.

Anyone who's spent time in a corporate environment knows that what was true of factory workers a hundred years ago is true of office workers today. People who put in a solid 40 hours a week get more done than those who regularly work 60 or more hours.

The workaholics (and their profoundly misguided management) may think they're accomplishing more than the less fanatical worker, but in every case that I've personally observed, the long hours result in work that must be scrapped or redone.

Accounting for Burnout What's more, people who consistently work long work weeks get burned out and inevitably start having personal problems that get in the way of getting things done.

I remember a guy in one company I worked for who used the number of divorces in his group as a measure of its productivity. Believe it or not, his top management reportedly considered this a valid metric. What's ironic (but not surprising) is that the group itself accomplished next to nothing.

In fact, now that I think about it, that's probably why he had to trot out such an absurd (and, let's face it, evil) metric.

Proponents of long work weeks often point to the even longer average work weeks in countries like Thailand, Korea, and Pakistan–with the implication that the longer work weeks are creating a competitive advantage.

Europe's Ban on 50-Hour Weeks.

However, the facts don't bear this out. In six of the top 10 most competitive countries in the world (Sweden, Finland, Germany, Netherlands, Denmark, and the United Kingdom), it's illegal to demand more than a 48-hour work week. You simply don't see the 50-, 60-, and 70-hour work weeks that have become de rigeur in some parts of the U.S. business world.

If U.S. managers were smart, they'd end this "if you don't come in on Saturday, don't bother coming to work on Sunday" idiocy. If you want employees (salaried or hourly) to get the most done–in the shortest amount of time and on a consistent basis–40 hours a week is just about right.

In other words, nobody should be apologizing for leaving at work at a reasonable hour like 5:30 p.m. In fact, people should be apologizing if they're working too long each week–because it's probably making the team less effective overall.

[Apr 02, 2012] Why I left Google

JW on Tech

Whittaker, who joined Google in 2009 and left last month, described a corporate culture clearly divided into two eras: "Before Google+," and "After."

"After" is pretty terrible, in his view.

Google (GOOG, Fortune 500) once gave its engineers the time and resources to be creative. That experimental approach yielded several home-run hits like Chrome and Gmail. But Google fell behind in one key area: competing with Facebook.

That turned into corporate priority No. 1 when Larry Page took over as the company's CEO. "Social" became Google's battle cry, and anything that didn't support Google+ was viewed as a distraction.

"Suddenly, 20% meant half-assed," wrote Whittaker, referring to Google's famous policy of letting employees spend a fifth of their time on projects other than their core job. "The trappings of entrepreneurship were dismantled."

Whittaker is not the first ex-Googler to express that line of criticism. Several high-level employees have left after complaining that the "start-up spirit" of Google has been replaced by a more mature but staid culture focused on the bottom line.

The interesting thing about Whittaker's take is that it was posted not on his personal blog, but on an official blog of Microsoft (MSFT, Fortune 500), Google's arch nemesis.

Spokesmen from Microsoft and Google declined to comment.

The battle between Microsoft and Google has heated up recently, as the Federal Trade Commission and the European Commission begin to investigate Google for potential antitrust violations. Microsoft, with its Bing search engine, has doubled its share of the search market since its June 2010 founding, but has been unsuccessful at taking market share away from Google.

Microsoft is increasingly willing to call out Google for what it sees as illicit behavior. A year ago, the software company released a long list of gripes about Google's monopolistic actions, and last month it said Google was violating Internet Explorer users' privacy.

Despite his misgivings about what Google cast aside to make Google+ a reality, Whittaker thinks that the social network was worth a shot. If it had worked -- if Google had dramatically changed the social Web for the better -- it would have been a heroic gamble.

But it didn't. It's too early to write Google+ off, but the site is developing a reputation as a ghost town. Google says 90 million people have signed up, but analysts and anecdotal evidence show that fairly few have turned into heavy users.

"Google was the rich kid who, after having discovered he wasn't invited to the party, built his own party in retaliation," Whittaker wrote. "The fact that no one came to Google's party became the elephant in the room." To top of page

Ian Smith:

Isn't it inevitable that Google will end up like Microsoft. A brain-dead dinosaur employing sycophantic middle class bores, who are simply working towards a safe haven of retirement. In the end Google will be passed by. It's not a design-led innovator like Apple: it's a boring, grey utilitarian, Soviet-like beast. Google Apps are cheap - but very nasty - Gmail is a terrible UI - and great designers will never work for this anti-design/pro-algorithms empire.


I have to be honest with you. All of Google's products are TERRIBLE except for Gmail, and even that is inferior to Outlook on the web now.

I used Google Apps for years, and Google just doesn't listen to customers. The engineers that ran the company needed some corporate intervention. I just think Larry Page tried to turn Google into a different company, rather than just focusing the great ideas into actually great products.


It seems the tech titans all have this pendulum thing going on. Google appears to be beginning its swing in the "evil" direction. Apple seems like they're nearing the peak of "evil". And Microsoft seems like they're back in the middle, trying to swing up to the "good" side. So, if you look at it from that perspective, Microsoft is the obvious choice.

Good luck!


The stark truth in this insightful piece is the stuff you have not written..

Atleast you had a choice in leaving google. But we as users don't.

I have years of email in Gmail and docs and youtube etc. I can't switch.

"Creepy" is not the word that comes to mind when Ads for Sauna, online textbooks, etc suddenly begin to track you, no matter which website you visit.

You know you have lost when this happens..


A fascinating insight, I think this reflects what a lot of people are seeing of Google from the outside. It seems everybody but Page can see that Google+ is - whilst technically brilliant - totally superfluous; your daughter is on the money. Also apparent from the outside is the desperation that surrounds Google+ - Page needs to face facts, hold his hands up and walk away from Social before they loose more staff like you, more users and all the magic that made Google so great.

Best of luck with your new career at Microsoft, I hope they foster and encourage you as the Google of old did.

Raymond Traylor:

I understand Facebook is a threat to Google search but beating Facebook at their core competency was doomed to fail. Just like Bing to Google. I was so disappointed in Google following Facebook's evil ways of wanting to know everything about me I've stopped using their services one at a time, starting with Android.

I am willing to pay for a lot of Google's free service to avoid advertising and harvesting my private data.


You claim old Google empowered intelligent people to be innovative, with the belief their creations would prove viable in the marketplace. You then go on to name Gmail and Chrome as the accomplishments of that endeavour. Are you ****** serious? Re-branding web based email is no more innovative than purchasing users for your social networking site, like Facebook did. Same for Chrome, or would you argue Google acquiring VOIP companies to then provide a mediocre service called Google Voice was also innovative? When you arrived at Google it had already turned the internet into a giant spamsense depository with the majority of screen real estate consumed by Google's ads. The downhill spiral did not begin with Google+, but it may end there. On a lighter note, you are now free. Launch a start-up and fill the gaping hole which will be left by the fall of the former giant.


Great post. Appreciate the insights the warning about what happens when bottom-up entrepreneurship loses out to top-down corporate dictums.

Re: sharing, while I agree sharing isn't broken (heck, it worked when all we had was email), it certainly needs more improvement. I can't stand Facebook. Hate the UI, don't care for the culture. Twitter is too noisy and, also, the UI sucks. I'm one of those who actually thinks Google+ got 21st century BBSing right.

But if that's at the cost of everything else that made Google great, then it's a high price to pay.

BTW, you can say a lot of these same things about similar moves Microsoft has made over the years, where the top brass decided they knew better, and screwed over developers and their investments in mountains of code.

So, whether it happens in an HR context or a customer context, it still sucks as a practice.


I have made a concerted effort to move away from Google products after their recent March 1st privacy policy change. I must say the Bing is working just fine for me. Gmail will be a bit tougher but I am making strides. Now I just need to dump my Android phone and I will be "creepy-free" ... for the time being.

Phil Ashman:

The ability to actually consume shared content in an efficient and productive manner is still as broken as ever. They never addressed the issue in Buzz and still haven't with G+ despite people ranting at them for this functionality forever.

Funny that I should read your post today as I wrote the following comment on another persons post a couple days back over Vic's recent interview where someone brought up the lack of a G+ API:

"But if it were a social network.......then they are doing a pretty piss poor job of managing the G+ interface and productive consumption of the stream. It would be nice if there was at least an API so some 3rd party clients could assist with the filtering of the noise, but in reality the issue is in the distribution of the stream. What really burns me is that it wouldn't be that hard for them to create something like subscribable circles.

Unfortunately the reality is that they just don't care about whether the G+ stream is productive for you at the moment as their primary concern isn't for you to productively share and discuss your interests with the world, but to simply provide a way for you to tell Google what you like so they can target you with advertising. As a result, the social part of Google+ really isn't anything to shout about at the moment."

You've just confirmed my fear about how the company's focus has changed.

Alice Wonder:

Thanks for this. I love many of the things Google has done. Summer of code, WebM, Google Earth, free web fonts, etc.

I really was disappointed with Google+. I waited for an invite, and when I finally got one, I started to use it. Then the google main search page started to include google+ notifications, and the JS crashed my browser. Repeatedly. I had to clear my cache and delete my cookies just so google wouln't know it was me and crash search with a notification. They fixed that issue quickly but I did not understand why they would risk their flagship product (search) to promote google plus. The search page really should be a simple form.

And google plus not allowing aliases? Do I want a company that is tracking everything I do centrally to have my real name with that tracking? No. Hence I do not use google+ anymore, and am switching to a different search engine and doing as little as I can with google.

I really don't like to dislike google because of all they have done that was cool, it is really sad for me to see this happening.

Mike Whitehead

Sounds like Google have stopped focusing on what problem they're solving and moving onto trying to influence consumer behaviour - always a much more difficult trick to pull off. Great article - well done for sharing in such a humble and ethical manner. Best of luck for the future.

jmacdonald 14 Mar 2012 4:07 AM great write-up

personally i think that google and facebook have misread the sociological trend against the toleration of adverts, to such an extent that if indeed google are following the 'facebook know everything and we do too' route, i suspect both companies may enter into issues as the advertising CPMs fall and we're left with us wretched consumers who find ways around experiences that we don't want

more on this stuff here:

and here:

for anyone that cares about that kinda angle

Mahboob Ihsan:

Google products are useful but probably they could have done more to improve the GUI, Standardization and Usability. You can continue to earn business in short term enjoying your strategic advantage as long as you don't have competitors. But as soon as you have just one competitor offering quality products at same cost, your strategic advantage is gone and you have to compete through technology, cost and quality. Google has been spreading its business wings to so many areas, probably with the single point focus of short term business gains. Google should have learnt from Apple that your every new offering should be better (in user's eye) than the previous one.

Victor Ramirez:

Thanks for the thoughtful blog post. Anybody who has objectively observed Google's behavior and activity over the past few years has known that Google is going in this direction. I think that people have to recognize that Google, while very technically smart, is an advertising company first and foremost. Their motto says the right things about being good and organizing the world's information, but we all know what Google is honestly interested in. The thing that Google is searching for, more than almost anything else, is about getting more data about people so they can get people better ads they'll be more likely to click on so they make more money. Right now, Google is facing what might be considered an existential threat from Facebook because they are the company that is best able to get social data right now. Facebook is getting so much social data that odds are that they're long-term vision is to some point seriously competing in search using this social data that they have. Between Facebook's huge user-base and momentum amongst businesses (just look at how many Super Bowl ads featured Facebook pages being promoted for instance, look at the sheer number of companies listed at that do nothing other than promote Facebook business pages, and look at the biggest factor out there - the fact that Facebook's IPO is set to dominate 2012) I think that Facebook has the first legitimate shot of creating a combination of quality results and user experience to actually challenge Google's dominance, and that's pretty exciting to watch. The fact that Google is working on Google+ so much and making that such a centerpiece of their efforts only goes to illustrate how critical this all is and how seriously they take this challenge from Facebook into their core business. I think Facebook eventually enters the search market and really disrupts it and it will be interesting to see how Google eventually acts from a position of weakness.

Keith Watanabe:

they're just like any company that gets big. you end up losing visibility into things, believe that you require the middle management layer to coordinate, then start getting into the battlegrounds of turf wars because the people hired have hidden agendas and start bringing in their army of yes men to take control as they attempt to climb up the corporate ladder. however, the large war chest accumulated and the dominance in a market make such a company believe in their own invulnerability. but that's when you're the most vulnerable because you get sloppy, forget to stop and see the small things that slip through the cracks, forget your roots and lose your way and soul. humility is really your only constant savior.

btw, more than likely Facebook will become the same way. And any other companies who grow big. People tend to forget about the days they were struggling and start focusing on why they are so great. You lose that hunger, that desire to do better because you don't have to worry about eating pinches of salt on a few nibbles of rice. This is how civilization just is. If you want to move beyond that, humans need to change this structure of massive growth -> vanity -> decadence -> back to poverty.


This perceived shift of focus happens at every company when you go from being an idealistic student to becoming an adult that has to pay the bills. When you reach such a large scale with so much at stake, it is easy to stop innovating. It is easy to get a mix of people who don't share the same vision when you have to hire on a lot of staff. Stock prices put an emphasis on perpetual monetization. Let's keep in mind that Facebook only recently IPO'd and in the debate for personal privacy, all the players are potentially "evil" and none of them are being held to account by any public policy.

The shutdown of Google Labs was a sad day. Later the shutdown of Google Health I thought was also sad as it was an example of a free service already in existence, akin to what Ontario has wasted over $1 billion on for E-Health. Surely these closures are a sign that the intellectual capital in the founders has been exhausted. They took their core competencies to the maximum level quickly, which means all the organic growth in those areas is mostly already realized.

There needs to be some torch passing or greater empowerment in the lower ranks when things like this happen. Take a look at RIM. Take a look at many other workplaces. It isn't an isolated incident. There are constantly pressures between where you think your business should go, where investors tell you to go, and where the industry itself is actually headed. This guy is apparently very troubled that his name is attached to G+ development and he is trying to distance himself from his own failure. Probably the absence of Google Labs puts a particular emphasis on the failure of G+ as one of the only new service projects to be delivered recently.

After so much time any company realizes that new ideas can only really come with new people or from outside influences. As an attempt to grow their business services via advertising, the idea that they needed to compete with Facebook to continue to grow wasn't entirely wrong. It was just poorly executed, too late, and at the expense of potentially focusing their efforts on doing something else under Google Labs that would have been more known as from them (Android was an acquisition, not organically grown internally). There is no revolution yet, because Facebook and Google have not replaced any of each others services with a better alternative

The complaints in the final paragraph of the blog regarding privacy are all complaints about how much Google wants to be Facebook. Thing is that Google+ just like all the aforementioned services are opt-in services with a clear ToS declared when you do so, even if you already have a Google account for other services. The transparency of their privacy policy is on par if not better than most other competing service providers. The only time it draws criticism is when some changes have been made to say that if you use multiple services, they may have access to the same pool of information internally. It's a contract and it was forced to be acknowledged when it changed. When advertising does happen it is much more obvious to me that it is advertising via a Google service, than when Facebook decides to tell me who likes what. Not to give either the green light here; but the evolution is one of integrating your network into the suggestions, and again, it isn't isolated to any one agency.

One way to raise and enforce objections to potential mishandling of information is to develop a blanket minimum-requirement on privacy policy to apply to all businesses, regarding the handling of customer information. We are blind if we think Google+ and Facebook are the only businesses using data in these ways. This blanket minimum requirement could be voluntarily adopted via 3rd party certification, or it could be government enforced; but the point is that someone other than the business itself would formulate it, and it must be openly available to debate and public scrutiny/revision. It is a sort of "User License Agreement" for information about us. If James Whittaker left to partake in something along these lines, it sure would make his blog entry more credible, unless Microsoft is focused so much more greatly on innovation than the profit motive.

It is also important for customers and the general public not to get locked into any kind of brand loyalty. One problem is Facebook is a closed proprietary system with no way to forward or export the data contained within it to any comparable system. Google is a mish-mash of some open and some closed systems. In order for us as customers to be able to voice our opinions in a way that such service providers would hear, we must be provided alternatives and service portability.

As an example of changing service providers, there has been an exodus of business customers away from using Google Maps as they began charging money to businesses that want to use the data to develop on top of it. I think that this is just the reality of a situation when you have operating costs for a service that you need to recoup; but there is a royalty-free alternative like Open Street Map (which Apple has recently ripped off by using Open Street Map data without attribution).

Google won't see the same meteoric growth ever again. It probably is a less fun place for a social media development staffer to work at from 2010 to present, than it was from 2004 - 2010 (but I'm betting still preferable to FoxConn or anything anywhere near Balmer).

Linda R. Tindall :

Thank you for your honest comments Mr. Whittaker. And yes, Google is not like it was before..

It is Scary, Google may destroy anyone online business overnight!

Google penalize webmasters if they don't like a Website for any reason. They can put out anyone they want out of business. How does Google judge a webmaster's?

Google's business isn't anymore the search engine. Google's business is selling and displaying ads.

GOOGLE becomes now the Big Brother of the WWW. I think it is scary that Google has so much power. Just by making changes, they can ruin people's lives.

[Apr 02, 2012] Why I left Google - JW on Tech - Site Home - MSDN Blogs by James Whittaker

... ... ...

It wasn't an easy decision to leave Google. During my time there I became fairly passionate about the company. I keynoted four Google Developer Day events, two Google Test Automation Conferences and was a prolific contributor to the Google testing blog. Recruiters often asked me to help sell high priority candidates on the company. No one had to ask me twice to promote Google and no one was more surprised than me when I could no longer do so. In fact, my last three months working for Google was a whirlwind of desperation, trying in vain to get my passion back.

The Google I was passionate about was a technology company that empowered its employees to innovate. The Google I left was an advertising company with a single corporate-mandated focus.

Technically I suppose Google has always been an advertising company, but for the better part of the last three years, it didn't feel like one. Google was an ad company only in the sense that a good TV show is an ad company: having great content attracts advertisers.

Under Eric Schmidt ads were always in the background. Google was run like an innovation factory, empowering employees to be entrepreneurial through founder's awards, peer bonuses and 20% time. Our advertising revenue gave us the headroom to think, innovate and create. Forums like App Engine, Google Labs and open source served as staging grounds for our inventions. The fact that all this was paid for by a cash machine stuffed full of advertising loot was lost on most of us. Maybe the engineers who actually worked on ads felt it, but the rest of us were convinced that Google was a technology company first and foremost; a company that hired smart people and placed a big bet on their ability to innovate.

From this innovation machine came strategically important products like Gmail and Chrome, products that were the result of entrepreneurship at the lowest levels of the company. Of course, such runaway innovative spirit creates some duds, and Google has had their share of those, but Google has always known how to fail fast and learn from it.

In such an environment you don't have to be part of some executive's inner circle to succeed. You don't have to get lucky and land on a sexy project to have a great career. Anyone with ideas or the skills to contribute could get involved. I had any number of opportunities to leave Google during this period, but it was hard to imagine a better place to work.

But that was then, as the saying goes, and this is now.

It turns out that there was one place where the Google innovation machine faltered and that one place mattered a lot: competing with Facebook. Informal efforts produced a couple of antisocial dogs in Wave and Buzz. Orkut never caught on outside Brazil. Like the proverbial hare confident enough in its lead to risk a brief nap, Google awoke from its social dreaming to find its front runner status in ads threatened.

Google could still put ads in front of more people than Facebook, but Facebook knows so much more about those people. Advertisers and publishers cherish this kind of personal information, so much so that they are willing to put the Facebook brand before their own. Exhibit A:, a company with the power and clout of Nike putting their own brand after Facebook's? No company has ever done that for Google and Google took it personally.

Larry Page himself assumed command to right this wrong. Social became state-owned, a corporate mandate called Google+. It was an ominous name invoking the feeling that Google alone wasn't enough. Search had to be social. Android had to be social. You Tube, once joyous in their independence, had to be … well, you get the point. Even worse was that innovation had to be social. Ideas that failed to put Google+ at the center of the universe were a distraction.

Suddenly, 20% meant half-assed. Google Labs was shut down. App Engine fees were raised. APIs that had been free for years were deprecated or provided for a fee. As the trappings of entrepreneurship were dismantled, derisive talk of the "old Google" and its feeble attempts at competing with Facebook surfaced to justify a "new Google" that promised "more wood behind fewer arrows."

The days of old Google hiring smart people and empowering them to invent the future was gone. The new Google knew beyond doubt what the future should look like. Employees had gotten it wrong and corporate intervention would set it right again.

Officially, Google declared that "sharing is broken on the web" and nothing but the full force of our collective minds around Google+ could fix it. You have to admire a company willing to sacrifice sacred cows and rally its talent behind a threat to its business. Had Google been right, the effort would have been heroic and clearly many of us wanted to be part of that outcome. I bought into it. I worked on Google+ as a development director and shipped a bunch of code. But the world never changed; sharing never changed. It's arguable that we made Facebook better, but all I had to show for it was higher review scores.

As it turned out, sharing was not broken. Sharing was working fine and dandy, Google just wasn't part of it. People were sharing all around us and seemed quite happy. A user exodus from Facebook never materialized. I couldn't even get my own teenage daughter to look at Google+ twice, "social isn't a product," she told me after I gave her a demo, "social is people and the people are on Facebook."

Google was the rich kid who, after having discovered he wasn't invited to the party, built his own party in retaliation. The fact that no one came to Google's party became the elephant in the room.

[Mar 22, 2012] Check Your Attitude at the Door - No, You're Not Crazy

"...common sense is dead in the corporate world..."

My department must hold the record for the company's fastest revolving door. In less than a year, we've been re-orged three times. I've had four different managers, and every new person who comes in wants to 'mark his territory.' Meanwhile, none of these people know as much about my area as I do, so their guidance is useless. Plus, I'm changing direction so much I never get anything done. What is it they say-same sh*t different day? If I have to be 'rah rah' at yet another welcome lunch, I think I'm going to explode.

Robert, 27, Oregon

If you're reading this chapter because you're struggling with someone's attitude problem at work, you're not alone, and your hostility is probably justified. I've spoken to dozens of twenty-somethings, and most have spent their fair share of time banging their heads against the wall and regretting the day they signed their offer letters.

As much as I feel your pain, I don't believe it does much good to complain, because unless you're going to grad school or can successfully start your own business, you're in the corporate world to stay. We all have to deal with business-world insanity whether we love our jobs or not, so we might as well take the necessary steps to overcome the challenges. However, because this chapter is about your emotional well-being, we need to start by recognizing the things about work that drive us nuts. Most of these points will probably sound familiar, so read on and be comforted. Warning: Do not hang this list in your cube!

Top 10 Annoying Things About the Corporate World

  1. Corporate Déjà Vu. It seems as though it's a requirement in corporate business that you spend huge amounts of time reporting the same information in a dozen different formats, attending status meetings where conversation from the week before is repeated word for word, and putting out the same fires, because your department doesn't learn from its mistakes.
  2. Invoking Syndrome. The invoking syndrome occurs when colleagues try to persuade you to do what they want by name-dropping someone higher up. Whether the executive manager was actually involved or not, invoking him is a manipulative tactic used to get you to bend to your colleagues' wishes (for example, "Really? Well, I spoke to the CEO last night, and he told me we have to do the event this way.")
  3. Egomania. When certain people reach a high level in a company, they think that they are better than everyone else and that they are entitled to be treated like a god. Regardless of the issue, they believe they are always right and that they can't possibly learn anything from someone lower on the chain.
  4. Hierarchies. In the corporate world, all men are not created equal, and sometimes you can actually get in trouble just by talking to someone higher up without going through the proper channels. Unless you happen to know the right people, you're invisible.
  5. Denigration. In some companies, it's an unspoken rule that the younger you are, the less respect you receive. Many senior managers are quick to call you on the carpet for situations that may or may not be your fault, but they say nothing when you've done superior work.
  6. Bureaucracy. How many departments does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Corporate business has a lengthy approval process for everything, and companies delight in changing those processes constantly so that you're never sure which 10 departments you need to consult before a decision can be made.
  7. Hypocrisy. Don't you just love the way some companies tout values such as quality, entrepreneurship, innovation, and integrity, when they would be perfectly happy if their employees just kept quiet and never strayed from their designated roles? If you've ever acted on your company's values and gotten burned for it, you are probably a victim of naked ambition (when doing what's best for the company leaves you out in the cold).
  8. Micromanagement. Twenty-somethings thrive on independence, yet some managers will bear down on you with critical eyes at every minuscule stage of a project. Gotta sneeze? Better make sure your manager knows about it.
  9. Uncommon Sense. I've read that common sense is dead in the corporate world. The author almost sounded proud of this. People might make a joke of it, but this dearth of logical thought in corporate business is kind of sad. It's also frustrating when the obviously correct way to do something is staring everyone right in the face, and no one sees it.
  10. Nonsensical Change. Every now and then, companies will decide to throw their departments up in the air and see where all the pieces land. Yes, it's the corporate reorganization (aka the dreaded re-org). Despite the fact that it results in mass confusion, greatly decreased productivity, and low employee morale, companies continue to do it year after year.

[Mar 11, 2012] Educational films

Think your boss is a horror? Some of these film honchos probably make him or her look like Mother Teresa.

[Dec 02, 2011] The Other One Percent: Corporate Psychopaths and the Global Financial Crisis

Anyone who has ever worked in a large corporation has seen the empty suits that seem to inexplicably rise to positions of power. They talk a great game, possessing extraordinary verbal acuity, and often with an amazing ability to rise quickly without significant accomplishments to positions of great personal power, and often using it ruthlessly once it is achieved. Their ruthless obsession with power and its visible rewards rises above the general level of narcissism and sycophancy that often plagues large organizations, especially those with an established franchise where performance is not as much of an issue as collecting their rents. And anyone who has been on the inside of the national political process knows this is certainly nothing exclusive to the corporate world.
Dec 02, 2011 | Jesse's Café Américain

Anyone who has ever worked in a large corporation has seen the empty suits that seem to inexplicably rise to positions of power. They talk a great game, possessing extraordinary verbal acuity, and often with an amazing ability to rise quickly without significant accomplishments to positions of great personal power, and often using it ruthlessly once it is achieved.

Their ruthless obsession with power and its visible rewards rises above the general level of narcissism and sycophancy that often plagues large organizations, especially those with an established franchise where performance is not as much of an issue as collecting their rents.

And anyone who has been on the inside of the national political process knows this is certainly nothing exclusive to the corporate world.

Here is a paper recently published in the Journal of Business Ethics that hypothesizes along these lines. It is only a preliminary paper, lacking in full scholarship and a cycle of peer review.

But it raises a very important subject. Organizational theories such as the efficient markets hypothesis that assume rational behavior on the part of market participants tends to fall apart in the presence of the irrational and selfish short term focus of a significant minority of people who seek power, much less the top one percent of the psychologically ruthless.

Indeed, not only was previously unheard of behavior allowed, it became quite fashionable and desired in certain sections of American management where ruthless pursuit of profits at any cost was highly prized and rewarded. And if caught, well, only the little people must pay for their transgressions. The glass ceiling becomes a floor above which the ordinary rules do not apply.

If you wish to determine the character of a generation or a people, look to their heroes, leaders, and role models.

This is nothing new, but a lesson from history that has been unlearned. The entire system of checks and balances, of rule of law, of transparency in government, of accountability and personal honor, is based on the premise that one cannot always count on people to be naturally good and self-effacing. And further, that at times it seems that a relatively small group of corrupt people can rise to power, and harm the very fabric of a society.

'When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.'

Edmund Burke

'And remember, where you have a concentration of power in a few hands, all too frequently men with the mentality of gangsters get control. History has proven that.'

Lord Acton

These things tend to go in cycles. It will be interesting to see how this line of analysis progresses. I am sure we all have a few candidates we would like to submit for testing. No one is perfect or even perfectly average. But systems that assume as much are more dangerous than standing armies, since like finds like, and dishonesty and fraud can become epidemic in an organization and a corporate culture, finally undermining the very law and principle of stewardship itself.
'Our government...teaches the whole people by its example. If the government becomes the lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy.'

Louis D. Brandeis

MF Global, and the reaction to it thus far, is one of the better examples of shocking behaviour that lately seems to be tolerated, ignored, and all too often met with weak excuses and lame promises to do better next time, while continuing on as before.
"These corporate collapses have gathered pace in recent years, especially in the western world, and have culminated in the Global Financial Crisis that we are now in.

In watching these events unfold it often appears that the senior directors involved walk away with a clean conscience and huge amounts of money. Further, they seem to be unaffected by the corporate collapses they have created. They present themselves as glibly unbothered by the chaos around them, unconcerned about those who have lost their jobs, savings, and investments, and as lacking any regrets about what they have done.

They cheerfully lie about their involvement in events are very persuasive in blaming others for what has happened and have no doubts about their own continued worth and value. They are happy to walk away from the economic disaster that they have managed to bring about, with huge payoffs and with new roles advising governments how to prevent such economic disasters.

Many of these people display several of the characteristics of psychopaths and some of them are undoubtedly true psychopaths. Psychopaths are the 1% of people who have no conscience or empathy and who do not care for anyone other than themselves.

Some psychopaths are violent and end up in jail, others forge careers in corporations. The latter group who forge successful corporate careers is called Corporate Psychopaths...

Psychologists have argued that Corporate Psychopaths within organizations may be singled out for rapid promotion because of their polish, charm, and cool decisiveness. Expert commentators on the rise of Corporate Psychopaths within modern corporations have also hypothesized that they are more likely to be found at the top of current organisations than at the bottom.

Further, that if this is the case, then this phenomenon will have dire consequences for the organisations concerned and for the societies in which those organisations are based. Since this prediction of dire consequences was made the Global Financial Crisis has come about.

Research by Babiak and Hare in the USA, Board and Fritzon in the UK and in Australia has shown that psychopaths are indeed to be found at greater levels of incidence at senior levels of organisations than they are at junior levels (Boddy et al., 2010a). There is also some evidence that they may tend to join some types of organisations rather than others and that, for example, large financial organisations may be attractive to them because of the potential rewards on offer in these organizations."

Clive R. Boddy, The Corporate Psychopaths Theory of the Global Financial Crisis, Journal of Business Ethics, 2011

[Oct 12, 2011] AOL Creates Fully Automated Data Center

October 11, 2011 | Slashdot

miller60 writes with an except from a Data Center Knowledge article: "AOL has begun operations at a new data center that will be completely unmanned, with all monitoring and management being handled remotely. The new 'lights out' facility is part of a broader updating of AOL infrastructure that leverages virtualization and modular design to quickly deploy and manage server capacity. 'These changes have not been easy,' AOL's Mike Manos writes in a blog post about the new facility. 'It's always culturally tough being open to fundamentally changing business as usual.'" Mike Manos's weblog post provides a look into AOL's internal infrastructure. It's easy to forget that AOL had to tackle scaling to tens of thousands of servers over a decade before the term Cloud was even coined.

johnlcallaway (165670)

Wow ... we were doing this 10 years ago before virtual systems were commonplace, 'computers on a card' where just coming out. Data center was 90 miles away.

All monitoring and managing was done remotely. The only time we ever went to physical data center was if a physical piece of hardware had to be swapped out. Multiple IP addresses were configured per server so any single server one one tier could act as a fail over for another one on the same tier.

We used firewalls to automate failovers, hardware failures were too infrequent to spend money on other methods.

We could rebuild Sun servers in 10 minutes from saved images. All software updates were scripted and automated. A separate maintenance network was maintained. Logins were not allowed except on the maintenance network, and all ports where shutdown except for ssh.

A remote serial interface provided hard-console access to each machine if the networks to a system wasn't available.


virtual systems were commonplace in the 1960s. But finally these bus-oriented microcomputers, and PC wintel type "servers" have gotten into it. Young 'uns.......


Eh, machines of that era required constant manual supervision, and uptime was measured in hours, not months or years. That doesn't negate the fact that many new tech fads are poor reimplementations of technology that died for very good reasons.


And other new tech fads are good reimplementations of ideas that didn't pan out in the past but are now feasible due to advances in technology. You really can't generalize without looking at specifics - "somebody tried that a long time ago and it wasn't worth it" doesn't necessarily prove anything.


"somebody tried that a long time ago and it wasn't worth it" doesn't necessarily prove anything.

Unless there is some change in technology or technique, past failures are a good indicator of continued inability.


The tradeoff between centralized and decentralized computing is a perfect example of a situation where the technology is constantly evolving at a rapid pace. Whether it's better to have a mainframe, a cluster, a distributed cluster (cloud), or fully decentralized (peer-to-peer) varies from application to application and from year-to-year. None of those options can be ruled in or out by making generalizations from the year 2000, let alone the 1960's.


Two points

[Jul 09, 2011] The Pathology of Elite Organizations

July 8, 2011 | naked capitalism

Up the Ante:

The NYT,

"Its ethos can be best summed up with the phrase "You are lucky to be here." "

A large part of me suspects that phrase became the dark humor lesson of 9/11 at the Times. That part of me still wonders why one of the liners was not diverted at the last minute to inadvertently slam into NYT's HQ.

[Jul 01, 2011] Alpha male e-mail fencing

Some things just speak for themselves. Below you see an edited chain of e-mails that just reek of testosterone.

The actors are VP1, VP2 and VP3 (plus the usual cc: audience). Guess which one is me.

The subject concerns all three, but they head up different divisions. Note the use of cc: and the time. In real life everyone could see the e-mail history.

From: VP1
To: Team of VP1
cc: VP2;VP3
Subject: Something that concerns us
Time: 11:20 pm

Team, I just want to inform you that we now have the funding to go ahead with XYZ. Please go ahead and execute as planned.


Replies VP2 in a seemingly innocent tone:

From: VP2
To: VP1
cc: Team of VP1;VP3
Subject: Re: Something that concerns us
Time: 11.30 pm


Can you please share the details as you progress.


Enters VP3:

From: VP3
To: VP1
cc: Team of VP1;Team of VP2; CEO, CTO, CFO, CMO
Subject: Re: Something that concerns us
Time: 11.45 pm


I don't approve of this. How come I was not informed. It's the wrong approach and is basically a waste of money. It's not planned properly and I ask you to stop all further activities!!!

VP3 (From my Blackberry)

Replies VP1 patiently:

From: VP1
To: VP3
cc: VP2
Subject: Re: Something that concerns us
Time: 12 pm


I'm surprised to hear that you haven't heard of this. It was in the plan document that we reviewed two months ago and which you approved.

We're just executing that plan.

If you have further questions don't hesitate to call me.


Replies VP3 going for the kill:

From: VP3
To: VP1
cc: Team of VP1;Team of VP2; CEO, CTO, CFO, CMO
Subject: Re: Something that concerns us
Time: 12.15 pm

it's not your call to decide on this. I have said that I don't approve and that's it. Stop further actions immediately.

Interacts VP2, making a reference to his earlier reply (50 minutes ago!), insinuating that VP1 hasn't delivered to his promise. And re-invents himself as a a player in the approval chain.

From: VP2
To: VP1, VP3
cc: Team of VP1;Team of VP2; CEO, CTO, CFO, CMO
Subject: Re: Something that concerns us
Time: 12.17 pm

I haven't received the details I asked for yet. Please send so I can have an informed view. I'm not going to approve until I know more.


So now VP1 is caught in a snag. The other two VPs who approved a plan just two months ago are now aiming for his throat.

It continues for another couple of hours and it gets a lot nastier. I leave it up to you to do the analysis of the hidden agendas.

This is not an atypical event in my daily routine.

So who am I? Well, I'm not VP1.

Dealing with Your Incompetent Boss - Amy Gallo - Best Practices - Harvard Business Review

Think twice before ratting anyone out
When you're working for someone who isn't getting the job done, it can be tempting to go to your boss's boss or another leader in the organization. First consider the consequences. "Hierarchy is alive and well. And this person has more power than you do. If you're going to expose them, you need to understand the political current in your organization," warns McKee. People at the top of an organization may feel threatened if they see someone trying to take down their peer and may be unwilling to help. Useem agrees. "It's hazardous to speak up in a very pragmatic sense. If it becomes known that it was you, who's going to be the first to go?" he says. So if you do decide to formally complain, he advises doing it carefully. Test the waters with someone you trust before going to HR or a superior.

Both McKee and Useem emphasize that there are times when you are obligated to speak up. "In extreme circumstances, if the boss is involved in malfeasance, you have a duty to act," says Useem. In these cases, you need to go to HR and report what you have observed. Be ready to share evidence.

Take care of yourself
Working for an incompetent boss can be bad for your health. "There is a lot of research on the negative psychological effects," says McKee. She suggests creating psychological boundaries that protect you from the emotional damage. We have a tendency to point to a bad boss and say, "He is ruining my life." But, this ignores the fact that you have agency in the situation: you can decide whether to stay or not. "Once you become a victim, you cease to become a leader," she says. Focus on what makes you happy about your job, not miserable. "We can come to work every day and pay attention to this horrible boss or we can choose to pay attention to the people we are happy to see every day or the work we enjoy. We can choose which emotions we lean into," says McKee.

Of course, if you aren't able to do that, you shouldn't suffer indefinitely. Consider looking for a transfer to a new boss or a new employer.

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