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IT Talent Shortage: Ugly Truths
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hho927
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hho927,
User Rank: Ninja
11/10/2014 | 6:56:18 PM
Re: MS layoffs
I see your point but I stand by my statement because every year MS whines about visas(H1B). They need to import more tech workers.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
11/10/2014 | 6:43:46 PM
Re: MS layoffs
@hho927,

I see where you're coming from, and actually think we probably agree more than we disagree-- perhaps not about Microsoft in particular, but about the objectionable ways in which layoffs are often conducted. My point isn't that Microsoft is beyond criticism for its layoffs; as I mentioned, we could easily question the dissolution of individual teams, the termination of individual workers, or why the layoffs needed to be so large. But it's one thing to denounce the concept of layoffs as a matter of principle, and another to more granularly investigate how a specific layoff was executed and how that process should be judged. It's also one thing to focus on a company, just because it happens to be a recent or convenient example, and another thing to focus on the social, legal and economic structures that emboldened that company to behave the way it has.

It's definitely true that the reduced head count benefits Microsoft's bottom line, at least in the short term, though I'd question whether the stock rally (which began before the layoffs were announced) can be solely attributed to Microsoft's reduction effort, as opposed to investor enthusiasm for the Ballmer-to-Nadella change. Believe me, I sympathize with the idea that "cost cutting" is often inordinately - and often inappropriately - shouldered by workers, and I'd venture that I'm farther to the left on employer-employee relations than most people out there. I agree with your implication that when employers cut resources or people, they sometimes do so for the wrong reasons (e.g. I've seen how the quarterly bonus cycle corrupts decision-making across the mid-to-senior management level). I also think employers sometimes cut jobs or resources prematurely, abandoing assets that might be expensive in the short-term but that still add lots of value over the long-term.

That said, I'm still hesitant to say we have enough insight into Microsoft's decision-making to simply assume the company, by virtue of executing such a large layoff, is some kind of poster child for making workers feel fungible, especially since the Nokia acquisition and leadership change injected a ton of variables into the company's decision-making process. The how and why are important too, not just the what and who of the situation. Some layoffs are a way for bosses to save their own tails after making a mistake, some layoffs are a way for investors and senior execs to financially benefit at workers' expense, and some layoffs are a way for a company that's become too unwieldy to restore (or at least try to restore) a culture of focus and agility. Perhaps Microsoft's layoffs fall into one of these first two, more ignominious categories-- but then again, perhaps it's the third. Most likely, given its scale, Microsoft's layoffs include aspects of all three layoff types I've just identified, as well as others that I haven't. None of these points are meant to diminish the very intimate and material ways Microsoft's layoffs have made some workers' lives more difficult-- and if Microsoft didn't offer generous packages to  departing employees, the company certainly deserves criticism. But again, that's an issue of how and why the job cuts were enacted, not of the fact that the job cuts happened in the first place.

It's tough to defend when a company's leadership messes up, lays off a bunch of people to correct the balance sheet, and then continues to reign, as if they'd never made a mistake. I think many people would prefer to see the leaders fall on their swords in this situation, rather than making the workers suffer-- and with a few qualifications, I'd agree with that perspective. But in Microsoft's case, much of the previous leadership actually has been removed (though it's hard to say any of them were punished for poor decisions, since they were all very well compensated by the time they left). Again, this doesn't we should absolve the company of any wrongdoing, but it does distinguish this situation from other layoffs to which we might draw comparisons. Just as it's easy to be outraged with Microsoft for eliminating so many workers, it's equally easy to argue that Microsoft made a responsible decision, at least according to the way "responsible" is defined under the company's fiduciary duties and the concept of business ethics with which MBA students are indoctrinated in graduate schools. It's also possible (though not necessarily easy, at least in an empirical sense) to argue the layoffs will pave the path for company growth, and thus a greater number of jobs in the future-- though I'll grant you that companies frequently and deceptively champion this line of thinking, even though promised "trickle down" benefits sometimes fail to materialize. To be clear, I'm not saying Microsoft was responsible or ethical in an absolute sense, or even according to what I'd personally consider ethical. Rather, I'm talking about the layoffs according to the definitions that prevail on Wall Street and in the corporate world, and that much of the rest of our culture has become complicit in tacitly supporting. From this point of view, it makes less sense to single out Microsoft for scorn than to question the trajectory and ethics of our economic system.

Put another way, I'm not sure that focusing on Microsoft isn't a bit like focusing on a single, burning tree while the rest of the forest is reduced to ash. Some companies and industries are like children-- they'll misbehave until they're taught to behave otherwise. But is that a problem with the kids, or with the rules those kids have been taught? Companies and industries sometimes deserve condemnation, but their actions are often symptoms of deeper, more systemic problems-- and if we could agree on the problems, we could do more to define ethical employer relations, and to hold companies accountable when they treat workers like insects. I'd argue that incongruences among the ways we think about jobs, the ways we elect policy makers, and the ways we choose which products to buy are more important (at least in a macro, societal sense)  than the policies of any single company, such as Microsoft. So again, I don't mean to absolve Microsoft of the guilt it should feel for putting people out of work; rather, I mean to question why we should single out Microsoft as some kind of exemplar of workplace malfeasance when we have only a partial vantage into Microsoft's goals for the reduction, and when root issues (i.e. if we're concerned about job security, why have we allowed workers' legal protections to be diminished by certain political forces? Which protections should be reinstated, and which would overly impede companies from growing? How are a businesses' rights alike and different than those of a person? How is the tax code promoting or discouraging job growth? What is the optimal use of contract workers? etc.) are so much more relevant to cultural outcomes.
hho927
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hho927,
User Rank: Ninja
11/10/2014 | 1:18:41 PM
Re: You cannot ignore the root cause
For us, the entry levels are 'script kiddies' (such as add more fields into db tables, query tables, web scripts, e-commerce, etc). These are outsourced.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
11/10/2014 | 1:06:46 PM
Re: You cannot ignore the root cause
Outsourcing happens at most levels of IT but your point about entry-level is well-taken. The more entry-level IT jobs that get outsourced or filled by H-1B slots, the fewer US IT pros that will be available in the midlevel experience ranks. What's the entry-level hiring outlook at your companies, readers?
hho927
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hho927,
User Rank: Ninja
11/10/2014 | 12:55:34 PM
MS layoffs
@Michael. They lay off people worked @ microsoft. You can say only a few percent but a few percent of over 15 thousands is more than 1 thousands. Look at their profit reports. It went up because 'cost cutting'. Everytime I see 'cost cutting', it almost always at worker expense (cut salary, cut people, etc)
hho927
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hho927,
User Rank: Ninja
11/10/2014 | 12:51:29 PM
Re: You cannot ignore the root cause
Actually, they outsource the entry levels. And import the senior levels. Entry level jobs here are hard to find. So there is a shortage in senior levels.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
11/10/2014 | 11:22:47 AM
Re: You cannot ignore the root cause
H-1B isn't ignored here, and it's a complex subject in itself. There is no question H-1B plays a role in the talent market dynamics.
TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
11/9/2014 | 11:01:54 AM
Re: IT Talent: Ugly "Realities"
Great thoughts Michael. Let me clarify my "Lexus and luxury boat" comment though. I'm not railing against mgmt making more money than others. My point is if you ask a customer what he would really want in product/service, they would say "fast, perfect and free". That won't support an IT person or a CEO, that is all I meant. No customer really cares whether a CEO exists anymore than the cost of IT it takes to support a company, that is all I meant. We are all in same boat on that.

And while I did my best to put that short sighted CEO in his place, a terrific CEO/leader his worth his weight in gold to the overall company. I had such a leader at my first 13 year job and another now. When the sub prime crash happened, like all businesses it clobbered us also. And that unusual, we sell products to other businesses in so many different markets that the normal ups/downs of economy don't affect us much. But we are shipping 50% of normal monthly volume. Instead of doing short sighted layoffs and losing good people we would need again, our CEO put us all, including himself, on 4 days pay/work for 8 months until things came back. Talk about building morale, brought us all even closer together.

I don't see that clown I was responding to doing that, he represents everything that is wrong with business. Our CEO knows exactly what I bring to the business, that appreciation goes a long way. I'm sure there are many others, just not enough to change the core issue this article is about. Most see IT the same as janitorial service.

 
bbuff
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bbuff,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/8/2014 | 7:12:49 AM
You cannot ignore the root cause
As any IT person would do, I did a root cause analysis of the reason for the way IT people are treated.  It all comes down to one thing.  The H-1B. I don't understand why you keep this out of the article.   If we get rid of the H-1B, companies will start hiring and treating employees better.  With the situation now, companies have no incentive to hire and train when they can get a disposable, prepackaged H-1B with 6 months of training in the skill de jure.

The other interesting fact is that companies will not train experienced people in new skills.  They would rather hire a H-1B and train them in the new skill since they have a lock on them for several years.  The H-1B employee cannot leave and is held in servitude at a low salary.  So all those people who blame experienced IT people for not learning the latest skills please STFU.  Experienced IT folks are very capable of mastering new skills but are never given the opportunity.                                                                                                            

Get rid of the H-1B and you will have companies hiring even English majors to do IT work.  They will train them and treat them well.  Offshoring of IT work will reduce considerably since the means of communication will be eliminated.  There will be a large number of higher paying jobs created in the US and the disparity between the 1% and the rest will reduce.  The US tax base will increase and the deficit will fall.  Am I the only idiot that sees this?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
11/8/2014 | 5:19:35 AM
Re: It's all about profit
"MSFT is just an example. MSFT stock price is going up that keeps lots of rich people,shareholders happy but not the people MS are laying off. The main reason is to get the stock price out of doldrum. Share price goes up at worker expense."

I'm not sure I agree, largely because I don't think the public has enough insight into the situation to make that sort of accusation. I'd be curious to know the rationale for some of the layoffs, such as those in the Silicon Valley research division, whose dismantling I found particularly unfortunate. But the majority of the Microsoft layoffs involve the acquisition of all those Nokia employees, many of whom has skills that duplicated those of people already on Microsoft's payroll. We can make arguments that Microsoft should have found ways to leverage this talent with new roles, or that it could have retrained people, etc. But that's different than the argument you're making-- which seems to be that Microsoft laid them off so it could outsource the work to someone cheaper. While I've certainly seen some outrageous instances of outsourced labor in Silicon Valley, I'm not sure we can say that Microsoft's layoffs belong in the same category. Nadella didn't necessarily want to buy Nokia-- but he had to deal with the acquisition once he took the top job. Unless we want to argue layoffs are wrong a prior (which is a hard thing to argue), I don't think we can conclusively say that Nadella's decision was irresponsible or corrupt. A lower headcount sometimes helps a business to run better, and if a business runs better, sometimes it benefits many employees, not just the C-level execs who get big bonuses. Microsoft deserves to be questioned for laying off so many people—but I'm not sure, without additional evidence, that we can say he acted unethically. Like I said, he could have found a use for all that talent, and perhaps he'll end up losing in the long run because he failed to utilize the new employees—but that's a different criticism than the one you've suggested. Maybe he needed to shed payroll to get a bonus—but we have no way of knowing if such thinking was at the forefront of his motives. For what it's worth, Microsoft pays its employees very well, which doesn't necessarily mean it isn't engaged in any objectionable labor practices. But it is a reason why Microsoft (at least under its current leadership) isn't the first company I think of when I think about the most offensive purveyors of corporate greed.
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