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IT Talent Shortage: Ugly Truths
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sandy.schaeffer
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sandy.schaeffer,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/7/2014 | 9:41:46 AM
Disposable Commodities after 30+ years
After 30+ years in the IT industry, I too have recently gone through the "disposable commodity" experience being downsized from a position in higher education I had been in for over 12 years.  The good news is that I found new work, but it was very difficult and left me reflecting on the industry in which I've been employed for so long.  Are we now treating our expertise like an aging desktop PC that cannot run the current programs?  I hope not, because the real issues of managing IT for organizations are far less about the technology itself and more about the people managing the technologies.  Writing a bit of code or upgrading a network infrastructure is trivial compared to providing skilled leadership to the team of individuals doing the ground-level work.

Those of us who have been in the trenches building teams and delivering successful outcomes on time and within budget possess the "soft" skills that only experience can provide. (You know who you are out there.) Unfortunately, I see little evidence that such skills are being treated as an asset or being put to use - at least in the way recruitment and hiring is generally being done.  

Maybe we need a consortium of "old-school" geeks to address this disconnect?   
mpochan156
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mpochan156,
User Rank: Author
11/7/2014 | 9:57:28 AM
more on the IT Talent Shortage; it is a Leadership shortage
"Successful IT people are fierce, smart, generous, proud, and brutally honest."

Agreed. But the very successful ones are great, not just good, leaders too. And they continuously learn. 

As a software entrepreneur with one foot firmly in each camp of 'business' and 'IT', I marveled at the big company internal rants -- IT about the non-tech shallow business people and the business folks about the IT geeks. Our company was wildly successful because we bridged the gap between business needs and IT needs, both in our software and in our leadership. I was a 'hybrid' because I was a saleperson who could truly talk deep technical and I was a software architect and developer who could find the underlying problems the businesspeople needed solved.  And I had the 'people skills' to encourage high-performing teams. 

My business partner and I, both BS Engr and MBA, were no doubt a unique combination. BUT... I can assure you, we are both 'life-long learners'. While growing the company, we studied new sales techniques, managing by goals and objectives, agile development, motivational theory, project management , personlaity preferences and many more topics to continually improve the company and our leadership of our team.

And we didn't let IT and business become separate, warring silos. 

I have seen some executive education programs in "Leadership Development for IT People" and "IT Basics for Non-Technical Managers". They attempt to cross-breed the skills.

In my opinion, more 'life-long learning' programs that develop leadership and people skills AND technology skills combined with a new commitment from the top to listen / understand the business and IT silos instead of just throwing HR at the problems would begin to solve the IT Talent Shortage. 

Yep... pay attention the entrepreneurs that solved it already. 

Ike

 
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
11/7/2014 | 10:10:33 AM
Re: more on the IT Talent Shortage; it is a Leadership shortage
I agree with you that great IT people appreciate great leaders and are life-long learners. They continuously learn not only new technologies, but also how to work with business groups like marketing in new ways.

Fixing talent strategy is not a problem any one part of the business can solve by itself. HR, IT leadership, business leadership, project managers -- everyone must take an honest look at the current pain points and help.
vbierschwale
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vbierschwale,
User Rank: Strategist
11/7/2014 | 10:12:48 AM
Re: more on the IT Talent Shortage; it is a Leadership shortage
So true.

For decades, I made a good living bridging the gap between the IT department and the business side, and as many of us know, it is a giant gap as IT seems to consider themselves to be the keeper of the keys to the kingdom and enforcer of the system even if it hurts production.

For a long time, I have felt that the best way to develop, and maintain a viable IT department is to have one person in your department actively working in each department of the company so that they are intimately familiar with the pain of each department.

This way the developer in each department has valid knowledge that they can contribute to the continuous growth that any viable company needs.

Sadly, I have been unable to find work in IT since 2010 and all of the skills I have learned over 3 decades are wasted as I try to find a way to survive in an era when I can no longer find work doing what I spent my life doing, and the low paying jobs say "We can't hrie you because you won't stay when times get better" which leaves me between the rock and the hard spot.

So I spent my time developing my skills even further by analyzing the LCA data (H-1B Visas), and exposing it to the internet so that the rest of us that are going through this will realize why we are being treated like a disposable commodity.

Perhaps we should do more to Keep America At Work?
sandy.schaeffer
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sandy.schaeffer,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/7/2014 | 10:26:24 AM
Re: more on the IT Talent Shortage; it is a Leadership shortage
Good recommendation about following the entrepreneurs' lead.  

One of the things I've done to rejuvinate my skills is to volunteer as a mentor to a local IT startup incubator in my community.  It probably helped me more than I was able to help the largely <30 folks participating in the program. Not only did it reawaken my creative spirit, it helped me make new connections and feel better about myself in general.

I strongly recommend anyone at the latter stages of a long IT career look for channels to mentor those at the beginning. It's a win-win situation.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
11/7/2014 | 11:13:52 AM
Re: more on the IT Talent Shortage; it is a Leadership shortage
Sandy, that is great advice re mentoring. Not only are you enjoying it and doing some good, but you are meeting like-minded people in your areas of expertise and broadening your network. A win-win. PS Those soft skills of yours are indeed marketable, if you can get past the initial screen. IT needs good communicators and negotiators more than ever. I heard one CIO describe the role recently as "master translator."
sandy.schaeffer
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sandy.schaeffer,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/7/2014 | 12:12:38 PM
Re: more on the IT Talent Shortage; it is a Leadership shortage
Indeed.  After putting the negative emotions behnd, I did some research on repositioning late in a professional career.  What I generally read was to take advantage of unique strengths that come from 'maturity'- such things as perspective, communication skills, mentoring, negotiation, and so forth. Ultimately, that advice worked for me.

I've always been pretty good at networking and was able to leverage my network to find new work. (The job postings route tends to be more of a waste of time in my experience than a source of opportunity.)  In the end, the work I found was: (a) a product of leveraging my network, (b) not posted on any HR page and (c) very dependent on my late-career skills, not my early career skills.  However, it's a contract job with no guarantee of permanence and w/o benefits.  I'm happy however, as the work is great.

In addition to my day-work, I also teach IT courses at the college level and advise my students who are on the front-end of their careers to begin immediately developing networking skills (and not the ones related to Cisco products).  They'll need it someday when they are no longer on the burning edge of marketability and able to jump immediately on the next bandwagon.  

My lament is what I see happening in the CIOs offices all too often - IT is shifting to a low-value, commodity service within the organization with less emphasis on creativity and innovation and more emphasis on just keeping the lights turned on.

Maybe we are better off as lone-wolfs with the flexibility to move on when it gets dull.

 
PedroGonzales
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PedroGonzales,
User Rank: Ninja
11/8/2014 | 12:16:53 AM
Re: more on the IT Talent Shortage; it is a Leadership shortage
I have heard many times as well that it doesn't matter what your skills are, if you have a good network and connections you can find a job very easily.  I really think the system is broken. I have seen many good and talented people having a really tough time gaining employment at this time.  These days being a lone wolf has become the norm.
dwatkins221
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dwatkins221,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/7/2014 | 10:20:50 AM
IT Talent: Ugly "Realities"
What a concept - built quality teams where members of all experience levels can leverage each other to build exceptional products.  I don't know of a CEO or CIO who would not want to do so; however, that's not what the customer is willing to pay for.  They want it cheap, and they want it bad. So, they'll get it cheap and bad or they'll go somewhere else.  Utopia is a great concept and, I'd like to work there too, but alas, that's not reality.

We live in a capitalistic marketplace and despite its drawbacks, t's still the best in the world. Add in the fact that we're competing in a truly global economy, especially the IT industry, and the fact is, we adjust or become irrelevant. 

It's time IT personnel, who were in such demand in the early days of IT, and who have been taking companies to the cleaners demanding salaries which were driven disproportionaly to extreme by supply and demand, learn that being a Prima donna no longer works. 

The new reality is that you must establish your niche then begin training for the next one, because technology will continue to move at the speed of light, and if you spend time crying in your spilt milk, you'll find yourself starving while others pass you by. 

As a CEO is don't lose sleep over finding qualified IT personnel.  There's always someone ready to jump ship for a decent salary, benefits and a new challenge.  Sure, they'll jump again, but there'll be someone behind them that will jump right in to fill the void.  Again - not the answer IT people want to hear, but it's the new reality.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
11/7/2014 | 11:26:10 AM
Re: IT Talent: Ugly "Realities"
@dwatkins while I agree there is no room for prima donnas in IT anymore, I disagree that IT teams that nurture talent can exist only in Utopia. You can run fast with smart people and succeed wildly at business goals -- if your team backs you.   
Steve Naidamast
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Steve Naidamast,
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11/7/2014 | 1:24:01 PM
Re: IT Talent: Ugly "Realities"
"They want it cheap, and they want it bad."

So you are one of the CEOs that perpetuates all this crap.  Good for you! 

After you and your company build enough garbage systems for all those customers that don't give a rat's ass about quality eventually the niche you are working in will fall apart.  Well that doesn't matter as long as you have gotten your paycheck.

Well maybe you should try coming into our trenches and find out exactly what many of us are talking about before you start prattling about how our "prima donna" days are over with; not that I have met many such people in the field outside of the low-quality foreigners CEOs just like to hire for those customers that want everything so "cheap".

That is the problem with you business-types; you have no bloody idea what you are you talking about but you blather on anyway...
hho927
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hho927,
User Rank: Ninja
11/7/2014 | 1:39:09 PM
Re: IT Talent: Ugly "Realities"
Does anybody every told you that you don't have a nice personallity?
TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
11/7/2014 | 1:33:00 PM
Re: IT Talent: Ugly "Realities"
@dwatkins Here is another ugly reality: Customers don't want to pay for your Lexus or luxury boat either. What an ego you have. At least those of us in IT have some technical skill and business process skills. I can count the CEO's I've seen in my 30 years who actually added value on one hand. You are like politicians, when variables in the market and business you have no actual control of happen to come together and generate profit for company, you take credit for it. When those variables go other direction, well it was factors out of my control.

You certainly have no worries. CEO's are like coaches, they can fail and be fired many times but some other company hires them because they have "experience". Compare that to these people who are commenting with a long track record of success who are now locked out of the market for no reason of their own. Just be glad you have a job with no discernable skill that can become obsolete. Must be nice.

And by the way, we aren't all job hoppers. Like @DDURBIN, since 1985 I've worked for one company for 13 years and the one I'm at now for 13. Only reason I ever worked anywhere else is because an accomplished CEO like yourself managed to run the company out of business. I'm in the Key Managers bonus program here, I attend business strategy meetings, and I still write code. Yet I have no doubt I would have just as hard a time getting another job as these other people if I had to try. And you think that is right, just "market forces"?

Go back to reading Forbes or get a clue if you want to post here.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
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11/8/2014 | 4:35:06 AM
Re: IT Talent: Ugly "Realities"
"And you think that is right, just 'market forces'?"

I agree with your sentiment, Terry. I'm often dismayed by the way that phrase is bandied about to cover all manner of sins. Some discussions of "market forces" have merit, of course. But there's a significant difference between the notion of "free market capitalism" that most of us would support and the actual implementation of "free market capitalism" at work in our economy.

It's true that the global economy is more competitive, that people can't be complacent with their skills and need to frequently evolve, etc.-- but there are also a lot of bad actors and emotional actors that mess things up. To pretend these things are "natural forces" in the popular sense of the term is patently disingenuous. This is veering a bit of the IT talent shortage topic, but the continued existence of high frequency trading alone makes me certain that most people who praise "free markets" have no idea how the economy actually works. I defy anyone to explain to me how "dark pools" are anything more than a mechanism for freezing most people out of the market, and for allowing some financial institutions to discretely profit by working against their clients' best interests. Moreover, if you want to fully describe the ways in which the economy is artificially constructed and abstracted from any notion of actual value added, HFT is only one of many places you can look. So often, the notion of "market forces" is applied in the service of either blind faith or political duplicity. Complicated topics demand complicated discussions with many shades of gray, not the sort of "free market" jingoism that seems so popular in certain crowds-- such as the ones that include many of the people who benefit from the current trends.

To redirect to Terry's point, some people like to argue that the Lexuses and luxury boats to which Terry refers are necessary because extraordinary people need to be motivated by extraordinary perks. That's undeniably true to an extent. I personally have no problem with the CEO making many times more money than his or her employees. But there's a breaking point for any model; in some industries, we're at the point where at least some of the perks for CEOs amount to redundant indulgence, which is problematic in and of itself, and only grows more so when the vast majority of people are denied perks of any kind. In other words, any attitude that says "the CEO only cares about his bonus and that's okay" raises a real problem over time. As wealth continues to concentrate among fewer individuals, general employees are forced to become fiercely competitive, and, if the concentration of wealth continues unabated, to finally conclude that because the competitive landscape offers so few opportunities, they have no incentive to continue buying in. I want to tread carefully here-- certainly, today's U.S. economy, however broken in its infrastructure, still supports a degree of upward mobility, particularly for people willing and able to invest in the most-demanded new tech skills. But if you extrapolate the last three decades' worth of economic activity over the next thirty years, what do you think the social and economic attitude will be for CEOs who value their bonuses above all else? Even if you don't project as extremely as, say, Thomas Piketty (who forecasts that inheritance will become the primary way in which wealth is accrued), I think it's hard to conclude that the economic outlook dwatkins describes is viable in the long run.
TerryB
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TerryB,
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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.

 
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
11/10/2014 | 7:20:28 PM
Re: IT Talent: Ugly "Realities"
"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."

That's good to hear, Terry-- it sounds like you're working with someone who doesn't elevate his own interests above those of the company and its employees. And it's important to praise great executives, just as it is to criticize lousy/ overly greedy ones. Polarization, one way or the other, is almost never helpful.

 
Angelfuego
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Angelfuego,
User Rank: Ninja
11/13/2014 | 11:20:27 AM
Re: IT Talent: Ugly "Realities"
@Michael Endler,

Your point is well taken. We need to praise terrific CEOs. We are so quick to criticize lousy CEOs, but I think appreciation of a great CEO should be voiced. Our words have such power and impact that we need to be careful to not just use our words in a negative light. Negativity breeds negativity. Expressing gratitude or extending a compliment can go a long way to boost the morale and to encourage a continuation of great work and treatment. CEOs are human just like we are. We need to lift each other up, when an authentic opportunity presents itself.
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
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11/7/2014 | 6:04:11 PM
Re: IT Talent: Ugly "Realities"
>We live in a capitalistic marketplace and despite its drawbacks, it's still the best in the world.

Certainly if you're an owner of capital; if you're an employee, you might be better off in Denmark, Germany, or some country that worries about the health, welfare, and education of its citizens.
Steve Naidamast
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Steve Naidamast,
User Rank: Strategist
11/7/2014 | 11:13:46 AM
"IT Talent Shortage: Ugly Truths... And They're Quite Real"
After over 40 years in the Infiormation Technology field I couldn't agree more with the criticisms of the field being made by both the article's author and many of the commenters.

Unfortunately, the field never had really good technical management even back in the 1970s when it was becoming commercially viable as a profession.  Tchnical managers have for the most part always been political hacks with few exceptions making the field a brutal, depressing, and frustrating profession to work in.  Now we have added technologies such as the Internet to the mix and managers have only gotten even worse with their narrow focus on deadlines and terribly developed project schedules.

There has never been a major loss of talent in the field merely the lack of desire of many businesses to pay and treat such talent fairly.  The result over the long terms has been a drop in interest by talented people to enter the field while those already engaged with it leave to begin their own technology businesses or pursue other careers.

What is left are low-grade personnel that buisnesses can't use to produce high-quality deliverables.

The last ten years after the Crash of 2008 have been (at least for me) the absolute worst in terms of technical management and I finally gave up to pursue my own business interests a few weeks ago.  So the business community lost another one...

With the recent trends towards technical personnel turning increasingly to freelancing established businesses and even newere ones will be forced to contend with an increasing group of people that want more flexibility, better project work, and have no interest in maintaining the existing and poorly developed business systems that infest most companies today.

All of these factors may force US businesses to change their habits towards IT personnel but I wouldn't count on it with the ingrained cultures of arrogance that permeates them...
DDURBIN1
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DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
11/7/2014 | 11:47:39 AM
Re: "IT Talent Shortage: Ugly Truths... And They're Quite Real"
Same experience here also with 40 years of the exact same treatment.  I'm lucky enough to have found a small business where I can still contribute.  What amazes me is none of the other professions in a business are treated in this manner.  Not engineers, not HR, not Sales, not buyers/purchasing, not accountants, none are treated to the same degree of a necessary evil like IT staff.  Ever see an H-1B visa used for a CEO or CFO?
DDURBIN1
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DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
11/7/2014 | 11:29:22 AM
Disposable and Decrimated
This started about 25 years ago.  Just like an out dated PC, most of the major corporations "disposed" of older IT talent for newer fresher talent as new technology was brought in.  I was an IBM mainframe person but made the transition to mid-range systems which displaced most mainframes, however others were not as lucky.  Mainframe system engineers were displaced by Unix engineers.  Mainframe database administrators were replaced by Oracle administrators.  Across the board the mainframe people were "put to pasture" without ever given a chance to migrate their skills by the organizations that employed them for several decades. 

It's not a leadership issue but one of dollars.   IT education is expensive.  Why train staff when you can just go hire what you need instead off the street (commodity talent).  Corporations don't want to pay the cost to create people with needed skills so there's a talent shortage.  The government allows corporations to raid other countries using the H-1B visa program to solve the shortage issue rather than require some home growing.  With this "grasshopper" mentality there will always be an IT talent shortage and indeed there has for the past 25 years.

Today it's a double whammy as new waves of technology continue to displace existing IT staff while age discrimination is at work if you are over 40.  We just sent the people (grasshoppers) responsible for H-1B and age discrimination back to D.C.  so look for more of the same over the next 25 years.
jries921
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jries921,
User Rank: Ninja
11/7/2014 | 12:59:19 PM
Loyalty up never exceeds loyalty down
Never has and never will.  I consider myself fortunate that I'm still on my second real programming job 22 years after landing my first; but I also think my employer has benefited from keeping his productive employees (especially the technical staff) around long term.

 
hho927
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hho927,
User Rank: Ninja
11/7/2014 | 1:36:40 PM
It's all about profit
CEOs need to show profit to collect bonus. That's all they care. If they can get a foreign worker does the job at 2/3 of the price, they do it in a heart beat.

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.
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.
crush801
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crush801,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/7/2014 | 8:30:34 PM
You get what you pay for
The problem has NEVER been not enough talent.  The problem is companies refusing to pay for what decent talent is worth.  I have interviewed "senior developers" with only 5 years of experience.  They really know code and syntax, but have absolutely no clue about the other 2/3 of the job.  Give me an experienced developer trained in the US or Europe any day and that one head can out-perform 3 heads from a "low cost" area almost every time.  The schools in the low cost areas just aren't trainig software engineers.  They're training coders.  I can teach my wife to code.  I can't teach her to be a software engineer.  There's a huge difference and a lot of hiring managers, just focusing on the bottom line don't understand that.  Give me a team of real, experienced, software engineers and I can kick ass and get software done on time and under budget.  Give me what passes for software engineers these days and I'm going to add at least 50% to my estimates and then cross my fingers.
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?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          
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.
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 | 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 | 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.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
11/10/2014 | 6:58:04 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."

This is definitely a story I hear from friends and acquaintances around Silicon Valley. It's not a huge problem for, say, someone who has a degree in CS or MS&E from Stanford. But for people (even young people) who are trying to switch careers, the problem is quite pronounced. Some Silicon Valley companies talk as though all you need to get a tech job is a bit of gumption and some long hours with Code Academy in order to gain the skills for basic tech jobs. In a sense, these companies are telling the truth, but they're exaggerating the situation in order to score PR points. When these companies outsource so many jobs, where are these Code Academy graduates (at least the domestic ones) supposed to enter the industry? I've heard from several people who basically re-invented themselves by learning a bunch of new skills but who can't get the time of day in Silicon Valley because a) even if they know Java, they might also have a psych or history degree, which seems to be a black mark against their tech credentials, or b) even if their skills are acknowledged, the entry-level jobs for which they're suited simply aren't available.

That said, I know many people who have successfully managed to switch careers into tech, or who have found good jobs, despite the impacts of outsourcing. I've also met people who are amazing engineers who began their careers as foreign employees working on outsourced work, and who earned their spots at big Silicon Valley companies. So it's important not to generalize too much, one way or the other. But outsourcing is definitely a hot button issue, from what I've perceived.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
11/10/2014 | 8:00:33 PM
Re: You cannot ignore the root cause
"Get rid of the H-1B and you will have companies hiring even English majors to do IT work."

Even English majors?!?! Heaven forbid.

I'm joking, but man, as someone who actually has an English degree, I've experienced enormous condescension from some Silicon Valley folks who think that if you majored in the humanities, it must be because you're not smart enough to have majored in a "real" subject. I recognize that bbuff isn't saying this; in fact, he indicated the precise opposite—that an English major, with some employer support, is perfectly capable of handling a more technical job. But since that condescension is out there, I feel obligated to complain about it.

I'm not suggesting companies should hire English, Philosophy and Art students who have no coding skill—but I recently had a conversation with an exec from a pretty big company who actually winced when I told him I have an English degree, almost as though I'd told him I'd just been diagnosed with an illness or something. It's one thing for tech companies to invest more recruitment effort in applicants with technical degrees—that's just smart, since this group of people is, on average, going to produce more qualified employees. But it's another thing - a stupider and more insulting thing - for people to dismiss humanities majors as a general rule.

Where I went to school, for example, an English degree would constitute at most one-third of one's unit requirements, and most of us used our remaining course flexibility to develop at least some rudimentary tech skills. Are these skills enough for these English majors to become engineers after graduation? No, not often-- but the skills are certainly adequate for many of these people to contribute in meaningful ways to technical projects. An attitude that instinctively looks down on people with humanities degrees ignores:

a) that linguistic structures with which serious humanities students are acquainted will actually translate quite nicely into understandings of coding syntax;

b) that linguists and critical theory in general cultivate an understanding of abstraction that can actually be pretty useful for developing a working knowledge of how systems are built and how they interact;

c) that  humanities majors will often have unique insights into end user expectations and needs (not all end users are engineers, after all); 

d) that some of us who majored in the humanities are actually plenty capable with math and science but just happened to find other topics worth studying.

All that complaining side, I have met some tech execs who've told me (without my solicitation, no less) that they'd like to see a more diverse mixture of academic backgrounds working in the tech industry. Earlier this year, for example, Padma Warrior, Cisco's CTO, surprised me with this sort of sentiment; I was chatting with her about tech opportunities for women (an issue she is passionate about) and was surprised when she responded that the tech industry needs not only more female perspectives, but more perspectives from people who didn't necessarily major in tech fields.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
11/11/2014 | 11:50:08 AM
Re: You cannot ignore the root cause
People like Padma get the need for a diverse team with various backgrounds. I am sure she knows many technology experts with a wide range of educational backgrounds. Recruiters on the front lines, however, are rewarded for one thing: quickly matching candidates that are the most likely to meet the hiring manager's needs. They are not rewarded for presenting a great but unusual candidate. This is true in many fields, not just IT. I empathize with the demands on the recruiters, but I am not a fan of this narrow-match style of hiring. Some of the smartest people I know are a lot more than the numbers and buzzwords on their resumes.
TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
11/11/2014 | 1:27:33 PM
Re: You cannot ignore the root cause
When you talk about jobs like mobile UI design, or heck, any UI design, tech skills have very little to do with success. That type of skill is far more artistic or pragmatic than anything technical. One of books I have on my shelf is Franklin Coveys Style Guide for Business and Technical Communcation.

Being an old timer that went thru school when punch cards changed over to green screen time sharing monitors. one of my biggest learning curves when I began writing browser applications was UI styling. What colors go with each other? How should you layout a page to make it intuitive for end user who has no user manual. Mobile/Touch, especially on small screen devices, raises that bar even higher. Nothing in a Comp Sci degree makes you good at that.

So I think I get where these leaders you are talking to are coming from. Being tech like I am, UI design was (is) a very difficult thing to grasp when writing for non tech people. What seems obvious to me is not so obvious to them. So why not put a "them" in the loop if you have a company big enough to afford it? I like the idea, more efficient than organizing user feedback groups all the time.
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)
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 | 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 | 7:02:09 PM
Re: MS layoffs
No doubt, the visa issue is an important hot button topic, and not just for Microsoft.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
11/11/2014 | 11:42:57 AM
Re: MS layoffs
MS has long been one of the loudest voices calling for H-1B program expansion.
Angelfuego
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Angelfuego,
User Rank: Ninja
11/13/2014 | 11:14:17 AM
Re: MS layoffs
You are so on-point. It is a sad truth. It seems like a growing trend in all industries, but especially prevalent in the world of IT.
MPRYCE
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MPRYCE,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/12/2014 | 4:30:26 PM
IT Talent Shortage: Ugly Truths
Hi Laurianne,

You hit the nail right on the head! I hope everyone is taking notes.

-Maurice


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