May the source be with you, but remember the KISS principle ;-)
Contents Bulletin Scripting in shell and Perl Network troubleshooting History Humor

Social Problems in Enterprise Unix Administration

News Slightly Skeptical View on Enterprise Unix Administration Recommended Links Over 50 and unemployed Corporate bullshit Fundamental Absurdity of IT Management
Information Overload Shadow IT  Preventing Vendors From Playing The Blame Game Bootlickocracy Managing Managers Expectations KISS Principle
Toxic managers Female Sociopaths The Techniques of a Female Sociopaths The Fiefdom Syndrome Surviving a Bad Performance Review Stoicism
Dictionary of corporate bullshit Dealing with multiple flavors of Unix Number of Servers per Sysadmin IT Outsourcing/Offshoring Slackerism Nicholas Carr's "IT Does not Matter" Fallacy
 Ten Commandments of the IT Slackers Society Tips History Admin Horror Stories Humor Etc

"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 by central IT 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 reviewed extremely superficially with most decision-making at the top. 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:

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 my article 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 14, 2015] Students across U.S. march over debt, free public college

Neoliberal college is not about education. It is about getting wealthy a head start to enforce and strengthen separation between the elite and the rest. Other can only complain... But that e fact is the many large companies invite for interview for open positions only of Ivy Leagues graduates. Other do not need to apply. So it is mostly about "Class A" and "Class B" citizens. Talent and hard work can buy buy a ticket for vertical mobility (see some stories below), but that was true in any society. Actually mobility in the USA is below average, despite MSM non-stop brainwashing of the USA citizens about "the land of opportunities", the "American Dream", etc. And exorbitant salaries of University brass is a norm now. you can't change that without changing the neoliberal system as a whole. they are no longer bound by academic ethics. Like Wall Streeters, want to get the most of the life, no matter by what means (the end justifies the means mentality). They are masters of the universe. Others (aka suckers) can go to hell.
Notable quotes:
"... Dealing with swiftly mounting student loan debt has been a focus of candidates vying for the White House in 2016. Democratic hopeful Bernie Sanders has vowed to make tuition free at public universities and colleges, and has pledged to cut interest rates for student loans. ..."
"... I can see having a low, federally-subsidized interest rate on these loans....which I seem to recall having on some of my loans, but anyone wanting anything for free can take a hike, IMHO. ..."
"... Ever visit a university in a country that has free college education for its' citizens? It's pretty austere. These kids need to think past the clever sound bytes and really consider the effect of what they are asking for. ..."
"... What really needs to be addressed is the skyrocketing cost of college education PERIOD! At the rate it's going up pretty soon only the children of billionaires will be able to afford to go to college. ..."
"... College tuition cannot be allowed to just continue to escalate. ..."
"... If a high school grad can't explain in detail how much cash is needed, and how spending all that cash and time for education is going to provide a positive return on investment, he or she should not be going to college. This should be near the top of things that teens learn in high school. ..."
"... I get really cynical about all graduates claiming they had no idea how much their loans were going to cost them. ..."
"... If you didn't bother to read your loan docs before signing, or research likely monthly payments for your loan, that's your fault! ..."
"... College costs went up far faster than inflation, often because colleges built fancy sports and living facilities...because they figured out these same millennials pick colleges based on those things. ..."
"... The standard tours take students through fancy facilities that have nothing to do with quality of education. Add declining teaching loads that have decreased from 12 class hours to 3 class hours per week for a professor in the past 25 years and the rise in overhead for non-academic administration overhead positions like chief diversity and inclusion officer and you have expensive college. ..."
"... These 'loans' are now almost all, Pell Grant underwritten. Cannot Bankrupt on, co-signers and students can lose their Social Security money if defaulting. 1.5 trillion$ of these loans have been packaged, like Home Loans, derivative. What happens to peoples retirement accounts when their Funds have investments in them, what happens to the Primary Dealers when the derivatives bubble bursts? ..."
"... Where it is free, but only to the select, the performers, most American Students would not qualify in other countries for advanced Ed. ..."
Nov 14, 2015 |

Students held rallies on college campuses across the United States on Thursday to protest ballooning student loan debt for higher education and rally for tuition-free public colleges and a minimum wage hike for campus workers.

The demonstrations, dubbed the Million Student March, were planned just two days after thousands of fast-food workers took to the streets in a nationwide day of action pushing for a $15-an-hour minimum wage and union rights for the industry.

About 50 students from Boston-area colleges gathered at Northeastern University carrying signs that read "Degrees not receipts" and "Is this a school or a corporation?"

"The student debt crisis is awful. Change starts when people demand it in the street. Not in the White House," said Elan Axelbank, 20, a third year student at Northeastern, who said he was a co-founder of the national action.

... ... ...

"I want to graduate without debt," said Ashley Allison, a 22-year-old student at Boston's Bunker Hill Community College, at the Northeastern rally. "Community college has been kind to me, but if I want to go on, I have to take on debt."

Dealing with swiftly mounting student loan debt has been a focus of candidates vying for the White House in 2016. Democratic hopeful Bernie Sanders has vowed to make tuition free at public universities and colleges, and has pledged to cut interest rates for student loans.

... ... ...

Andrew Jackson

Free taxpayer supported public education means more college administrators earning $200,000 or more, more faculty earning $100,000 or more working 8 months a year and more $300 textbooks. Higher education costs are a direct correlation to Federal Student Loans subsiding college bureaucracies, exorbitant salaries for college administrators and faculty.


What fantasy world do these people live in. There is nothing for free and if you borrow tens of thousands of dollars you can't expect later that someone else will pick up your tab. Pucker up bucky, it is your responsibility.

Furthermore, a lot of this money didn't go to education. I have read where people went back to school so they could borrow money to pay their rent, or even their car payments. As for 15 dollars an hour to sling burgers, grow up.


Having been out of college for a few years, I am curious. I went to a State University. Tuition was high, I had to take loans, I drove a cheap 10 yr old vehicle, but it didn't kill me. My total debt was about the price of a decent new car back then.

Today, the average student loan debt after graduation is just under $30,000. Around the price of a new car. And these kids are trying to tell us that this is too much of a burden??? Look around any campus these days, and you will see lots of $30,000 cars in the parking lots.

I can see having a low, federally-subsidized interest rate on these loans....which I seem to recall having on some of my loans, but anyone wanting anything for free can take a hike, IMHO.


Careful what you wish for, kiddies. It's simple math and simple economics (things I learned in school while studying instead of protesting). Every university has a maximum number of students it can support, based on the number and capacity of dorms, classrooms, faculty, etc.

The tuition rates have always closely matched the amount of easily-accessed loans available - the easier the access to loans, the higher tuition is. The simple reason is that the universities raise tuition rates to manage the demand for their limited resources, and can always raise rates when there is more demand than there are openings for incoming students.

Thanks to the windfall from that high tuition, today's universities have student unions, recreation facilities, gyms, pools, and lots of amenities to attract students. Imagine what they will offer when they can't jack up the tuition. Ever visit a university in a country that has "free" college education for its' citizens? It's pretty austere. These kids need to think past the clever sound bytes and really consider the effect of what they are asking for.


Oddly enough, a majority of these students attend colleges who has sport teams sponsored by Nike, Under Armour, Adidas, or Reebok. So, should theses companies atop providing the uniforms and equipment free of charge and donate the money to make more scholarships available? Then the student athletes can purchase their own gear on their own dime. Where one group attains, another must lose. Let this be debated on college campuses and watch the students divide themselves. We will find out what is most important to them.


What really needs to be addressed is the skyrocketing cost of college education PERIOD! At the rate it's going up pretty soon only the children of billionaires will be able to afford to go to college.

Some junk yard dog investigative journalist needs to dig into the rising cost of college education and identify the cause. Once the cause are understood then something can be done to make college more affordable. College tuition cannot be allowed to just continue to escalate.

just sayin'

Seriously how do we let our children out of high school without enough information to decide if going to college is actually a good investment? If a high school grad can't explain in detail how much cash is needed, and how spending all that cash and time for education is going to provide a positive return on investment, he or she should not be going to college. This should be near the top of things that teens learn in high school.


I get really cynical about all graduates claiming they had no idea how much their loans were going to cost them. I mean, they had enough math skills to be accepted, then graduate, from college. If you didn't bother to read your loan docs before signing, or research likely monthly payments for your loan, that's your fault!


College costs went up far faster than inflation, often because colleges built fancy sports and living facilities...because they figured out these same millennials pick colleges based on those things. If you tour colleges, and I toured many in the past few years with my kids, you don't see a classroom or lab unless you ask.

The standard tours take students through fancy facilities that have nothing to do with quality of education. Add declining teaching loads that have decreased from 12 class hours to 3 class hours per week for a professor in the past 25 years and the rise in overhead for non-academic administration overhead positions like "chief diversity and inclusion officer" and you have expensive college.

If students want a cheap education, go to the junior college for general ed classes then transfer to a four-year school. It is not glamorous but it yields a quality education without a fortune in debt.


Getting an education is obviously the biggest scam in history!!!! Look at who controls education. Look at all the Universities presidents last names then you will know what they are. I can't say it here on Yahoo because they will take my comments out for speaking the truth. These presidents make millions of $$$$$ a year off of students and parents who are slaves and work hard to pay those tuitions. Not only that but look at the owners last names of the Loan

50 CAL

Universities are money munching machines with no regard for how the students will repay the loans. Universities annually raise tuition rates(much of which is unnecessary) with no regard of how these young minds full of mush are going to repay the crushing debt, nor do they care. Locally one university just opened a 15 million dollar athletic center, which brings up the question, why did they need this? With that kind of cash to throw around, what wasn't at least some used to keep tuitions affordable?

Mike D

These 'loans' are now almost all, Pell Grant underwritten. Cannot Bankrupt on, co-signers and students can lose their Social Security money if defaulting. 1.5 trillion$ of these loans have been packaged, like Home Loans, derivative.

What happens to peoples retirement accounts when their Funds have investments in them, what happens to the Primary Dealers when the derivatives bubble bursts?

How are these loans to be made 'free' if existing loans bear interest? If the student of 'free education' defaults, doesn't graduate, will he owe money-will his parent, or will the 'free school' simply become a dumping ground for the youth without direction, simply housed in college's dorm rooms?
Lots of questions and two things to keep in mind, the Banks and Teaching institutes love the idea of 'free', the students are believing there might be a free ride.. ignoring schools and Banks don't, won't and never do anything for free.

This is not going to turn out well for consumers. Sure, Household payments of Education may drop, but the Institution of Education cannot keep even its slim success rate it has now. I don't know how educators managed to turn education into a purely self gratifying industry, giving anything to purchasers they wished for that Education loan, but never ever ever, has underwriting by the Central improved the quality of business. Complete underwriting of the important system of education at the Fed level will be a disaster.

There will be almost zero accountability for institutes and students, we will have a more expensive system that turns out the worst grads.

Don't try believing that other countries abilities with free Ed can be duplicated here.. not without serious socialism, a condition where qualifying for Ed advancement is determined by the Central.

Where it is free, but only to the select, the performers, most American Students would not qualify in other countries for advanced Ed. Blanket quals are almost a condition here, American Students are in for a serious surprise. They will not be so able to buy/loan their way to college and have to excel to get into college.

The joke is on the American student.


i was one of seven children- i worked my way through four years of undergrad and three years of grad school with my parents only being able to pay health insurance and car insurance- i worked shelving books, busing tables, delivering pizzas and for the last five years as a parimutuel clerk at dog and horsetracks- i never got to go on spring break, do a semester at sea or take classes in europe- i graduated debt free from public universities- have no sympathy for a bunch of whiny brats who have to drive better cars than their professors and believe they are entitled to special treatment- get a job and quit acting like a bunch of welfare queens who feel they deserve entitlements


My son is in college. Because grandpa saved his money over the years, he volunteered to pay for college costs. We hope to continue the tradition with our grandchildren and carefully save our money as well. We don't live high or purchase new. He will graduate zero dollars in debt.

My son's college roommate comes from a very wealthy family. They own a plane - two houses - dad works on Wall Street - mom is a Doctor. He has to pay for his own education and gets loans for everything. His parents simply don't have the cash to pay for his education.

It's priorities people! If something is worth it, you'll make it happen.

[Nov 09, 2015] For Profit College, Student Loan Default, and the Economic Impact of Student Loans

We should object to "instumentalization" of education: education as a mean to get nicely paid job.
Notable quotes:
"... It's easy to explain, really. According to the Department of Education ( ) you're going to be paying off that loan at minimum payments for 25 years. Assuming your average bachelor's degree is about $30k if you go all-loans ( ) and the average student loan interest rate is a generous 5% ( ), you're going to be paying $175 a month for a sizable chunk of your adult life. ..."
"... Majoring in IT or Computer Science would have a been a great move in the late 1990's; however, if you graduated around 2000, you likely would have found yourself facing a tough job market.. Likewise, majoring in petroleum engineering or petroleum geology would have seemed like a good move a couple of years ago; however, now that oil prices are crashing, it's presumably a much tougher job market. ..."
"... To confuse going to college with vocational education is to commit a major category error. I think bright, ambitious high school graduates– who are looking for upward social mobility– would be far better served by a plumbing or carpentry apprenticeship program. A good plumber can earn enough money to send his or her children to Yale to study Dante, Boccaccio, and Chaucer. ..."
"... A bright working class kid who goes off to New Haven, to study medieval lit, will need tremendous luck to overcome the enormous class prejudice she will face in trying to establish herself as a tenure-track academic. If she really loves medieval literature for its own sake, then to study it deeply will be "worth it" even if she finds herself working as a barista or store-clerk. ..."
"... As a middle-aged doctoral student in the humanities you should not even be thinking much about your loans. Write the most brilliant thesis that you can, get a book or some decent articles published from it– and swim carefully in the shark-infested waters of academia until you reach the beautiful island of tenured full-professorship. If that island turns out to be an ever-receding mirage, sell your soul to our corporate overlords and pay back your loans! Alternatively, tune in, drop out, and use your finely tuned research and rhetorical skills to help us overthrow the kleptocratic regime that oppresses us all!! ..."
"... Genuine education should provide one with profound contentment, grateful for the journey taken, and a deep appreciation of life. ..."
"... Instead many of us are left confused – confusing career training (redundant and excessive, as it turned out, unfortunate for the student, though not necessarily bad for those on the supply side, one must begrudgingly admit – oops, there goes one's serenity) with enlightenment. ..."
"... Remember DINKs? Dual Income No Kids. Dual Debt Bad Job No House No Kids doesn't work well for acronyms. Better for an abbreviated hash tag? ..."
"... I graduated law school with $100k+ in debt inclusive of undergrad. I've never missed a loan payment and my credit score is 830. my income has never reached $100k. my payments started out at over $1000 a month and through aggressive payment and refinancing, I've managed to reduce the payments to $500 a month. I come from a lower middle class background and my parents offered what I call 'negative help' throughout college. ..."
"... my unfortunate situation is unique and I wouldn't wish my debt on anyone. it's basically indentured servitude. it's awful, it's affects my life and health in ways no one should have to live, I have all sorts of stress related illnesses. I'm basically 2 months away from default of everything. my savings is negligible and my net worth is still negative 10 years after graduating. ..."
"... My story is very similar to yours, although I haven't had as much success whittling down my loan balances. But yes, it's made me a socialist as well; makes me wonder how many of us, i.e. ppl radicalized by student loans, are out there. Perhaps the elites' grand plan to make us all debt slaves will eventually backfire in more ways than via the obvious economic issues? ..."
Nov 09, 2015 | naked capitalism

It also never ceases to amaze me the number of anti-educational opinions which flare up when the discussion of student loan default arises. There are always those who will prophesize there is no need to attain a higher level of education as anyone could be something else and be successful and not require a higher level of education. Or they come forth with the explanation on how young 18 year-olds and those already struggling should be able to ascertain the risk of higher debt when the cards are already stacked against them legally. In any case during a poor economy, those with more education appear to be employed at a higher rate than those with less education. The issue for those pursuing an education is the ever increasing burden and danger of student loans and associated interest rates which prevent younger people from moving into the economy successfully after graduation, the failure of the government to support higher education and protect students from for-profit fraud, the increased risk of default and becoming indentured to the government, and the increased cost of an education which has surpassed healthcare in rising costs.

There does not appear to be much movement on the part of Congress to reconcile the issues in favor of students as opposed to the non-profit and for profit institutes.

Ranger Rick, November 9, 2015 at 11:34 am

It's easy to explain, really. According to the Department of Education ( ) you're going to be paying off that loan at minimum payments for 25 years. Assuming your average bachelor's degree is about $30k if you go all-loans ( ) and the average student loan interest rate is a generous 5% ( ), you're going to be paying $175 a month for a sizable chunk of your adult life.

If you're merely hitting the median income of a bachelor's degree after graduation, $55k ( ), and good luck with that in this economy, you're still paying ~31.5% of that in taxes ( ) you're left with $35.5k before any other costs. Out of that, you're going to have to come up with the down payment to buy a house and a car after spending more money than you have left (

Louis, November 9, 2015 at 12:33 pm

The last paragraph sums it up perfectly, especially the predictable counterarguments. Accurately assessing what job in demand several years down the road is very difficult, if not impossible.

Majoring in IT or Computer Science would have a been a great move in the late 1990's; however, if you graduated around 2000, you likely would have found yourself facing a tough job market.. Likewise, majoring in petroleum engineering or petroleum geology would have seemed like a good move a couple of years ago; however, now that oil prices are crashing, it's presumably a much tougher job market.

Do we blame the computer science majors graduating in 2000 or the graduates struggling to break into the energy industry, now that oil prices have dropped, for majoring in "useless" degrees? It's much easier to create a strawman about useless degrees that accept the fact that there is a element of chance in terms of what the job market will look like upon graduation.

The cost of higher education is absurd and there simply aren't enough good jobs to go around-there are people out there who majored in the "right" fields and have found themselves underemployed or unemployed-so I'm not unsympathetic to the plight of many people in my generation.

At the same time, I do believe in personal responsibility-I'm wary of creating a moral hazard if people can discharge loans in bankruptcy. I've been paying off my student loans (grad school) for a couple of years-I kept the level debt below any realistic starting salary-and will eventually have the loans paid off, though it may be a few more years.

I am really conflicted between believing in personal responsibility but also seeing how this generation has gotten screwed. I really don't know what the right answer is.

Ulysses, November 9, 2015 at 1:47 pm

"The cost of higher education is absurd and there simply aren't enough good jobs to go around-there are people out there who majored in the "right" fields and have found themselves underemployed or unemployed-so I'm not unsympathetic to the plight of many people in my generation."

To confuse going to college with vocational education is to commit a major category error. I think bright, ambitious high school graduates– who are looking for upward social mobility– would be far better served by a plumbing or carpentry apprenticeship program. A good plumber can earn enough money to send his or her children to Yale to study Dante, Boccaccio, and Chaucer.

A bright working class kid who goes off to New Haven, to study medieval lit, will need tremendous luck to overcome the enormous class prejudice she will face in trying to establish herself as a tenure-track academic. If she really loves medieval literature for its own sake, then to study it deeply will be "worth it" even if she finds herself working as a barista or store-clerk.

None of this, of course, excuses the outrageously high tuition charges, administrative salaries, etc. at the "top schools." They are indeed institutions that reinforce class boundaries. My point is that strictly career education is best begun at a less expensive community college. After working in the IT field, for example, a talented associate's degree-holder might well find that her employer will subsidize study at an elite school with an excellent computer science program.

My utopian dream would be a society where all sorts of studies are open to everyone– for free. Everyone would have a basic Job or Income guarantee and could study as little, or as much, as they like!

Ulysses, November 9, 2015 at 2:05 pm

As a middle-aged doctoral student in the humanities you should not even be thinking much about your loans. Write the most brilliant thesis that you can, get a book or some decent articles published from it– and swim carefully in the shark-infested waters of academia until you reach the beautiful island of tenured full-professorship.

If that island turns out to be an ever-receding mirage, sell your soul to our corporate overlords and pay back your loans! Alternatively, tune in, drop out, and use your finely tuned research and rhetorical skills to help us overthrow the kleptocratic regime that oppresses us all!!

subgenius, November 9, 2015 at 3:07 pm

…except (in my experience) the corporate overlords want young meat.

I have 2 masters degrees 2 undergraduate degrees and a host of random diplomas – but at 45, I am variously too old, too qualified, or lacking sufficient recent corporate experience in the field to get hired…

Trying to get enough cash to get a contractor licence seems my best chance at anything other than random day work.

MyLessThanPrimeBeef, November 9, 2015 at 3:41 pm

Genuine education should provide one with profound contentment, grateful for the journey taken, and a deep appreciation of life.

Instead many of us are left confused – confusing career training (redundant and excessive, as it turned out, unfortunate for the student, though not necessarily bad for those on the supply side, one must begrudgingly admit – oops, there goes one's serenity) with enlightenment.

"I would spend another 12 soul-nourishing years pursuing those non-profit degrees' vs 'I can't feed my family with those paper certificates.'

jrs, November 9, 2015 at 2:55 pm

I am anti-education as the solution to our economic woes. We need jobs or a guaranteed income. And we need to stop outsourcing the jobs that exist. And we need a much higher minimum wage. And maybe we need work sharing. I am also against using screwdrivers to pound in a nail. But why are you so anti screwdriver anyway?

And I see calls for more and more education used to make it seem ok to pay people without much education less than a living wage. Because they deserve it for being whatever drop outs. And it's not ok.

I don't actually have anything against the professors (except their overall political cowardice in times demanding radicalism!). Now the administrators, yea I can see the bloat and the waste there. But mostly, I have issues with more and more education being preached as the answer to a jobs and wages crisis.

MyLessThanPrimeBeef -> jrs, November 9, 2015 at 3:50 pm

We all should be against Big Educational-Complex and its certificates-producing factory education that does not put the student's health and happiness up there with co-existing peacefully with Nature.

Kris Alman, November 9, 2015 at 11:11 am

Remember DINKs? Dual Income No Kids. Dual Debt Bad Job No House No Kids doesn't work well for acronyms. Better for an abbreviated hash tag?

debitor serf, November 9, 2015 at 7:17 pm

I graduated law school with $100k+ in debt inclusive of undergrad. I've never missed a loan payment and my credit score is 830. my income has never reached $100k. my payments started out at over $1000 a month and through aggressive payment and refinancing, I've managed to reduce the payments to $500 a month. I come from a lower middle class background and my parents offered what I call 'negative help' throughout college.

my unfortunate situation is unique and I wouldn't wish my debt on anyone. it's basically indentured servitude. it's awful, it's affects my life and health in ways no one should have to live, I have all sorts of stress related illnesses. I'm basically 2 months away from default of everything. my savings is negligible and my net worth is still negative 10 years after graduating.

student loans, combined with a rigged system, turned me into a closeted socialist. I am smart, hard working and resourceful. if I can't make it in this world, heck, then who can? few, because the system is rigged!

I have no problems at all taking all the wealth of the oligarchs and redistributing it. people look at me like I'm crazy. confiscate it all I say, and reset the system from scratch. let them try to make their billions in a system where things are fair and not rigged...

Ramoth, November 9, 2015 at 9:23 pm

My story is very similar to yours, although I haven't had as much success whittling down my loan balances. But yes, it's made me a socialist as well; makes me wonder how many of us, i.e. ppl radicalized by student loans, are out there. Perhaps the elites' grand plan to make us all debt slaves will eventually backfire in more ways than via the obvious economic issues?

[Sep 30, 2015] Are American Schools Making Inequality Worse

Sep 30, 2015 | Economist's View

Education is not the only cause of inequality, but it's part of the problem:

Are American schools making inequality worse?, American Educational Research Association: The answer appears to be yes. Schooling plays a surprisingly large role in short-changing the nation's most economically disadvantaged students of critical math skills, according to a study published today in Educational Researcher, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association.

Findings from the study indicate that unequal access to rigorous mathematics content is widening the gap in performance on a prominent international math literacy test between low- and high-income students, not only in the United States but in countries worldwide.

Using data from the 2012..., researchers from Michigan State University and OECD confirmed not only that low-income students are more likely to be exposed to weaker math content in schools, but also that a substantial share of the gap in math performance between economically advantaged and disadvantaged students is related to those curricular inequalities. ...

"Our findings support previous research by showing that affluent students are consistently provided with greater opportunity to learn more rigorous content, and that students who are exposed to higher-level math have a better ability to apply it to addressing real-world situations of contemporary adult life, such as calculating interest, discounts, and estimating the required amount of carpeting for a room," said Schmidt, a University Distinguished Professor of Statistics and Education at Michigan State University. "But now we know just how important content inequality is in contributing to performance gaps between privileged and underprivileged students."

In the United States, over one-third of the social class-related gap in student performance on the math literacy test was associated with unequal access to rigorous content. The other two-thirds was associated directly with students' family and community background. ...

"Because of differences in content exposure for low- and high-income students in this country, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer," said Schmidt. "The belief that schools are the great equalizer, helping students overcome the inequalities of poverty, is a myth."

Burroughs, a senior research associate at Michigan State University, noted that the findings have major implications for school officials, given that content exposure is far more subject to school policies than are broader socioeconomic conditions.

Anonymous -> Anonymous...
do you think schools in China/India have funding on the level you are implicitly arguing for? As Eva Maskovich is showing in NYC - it takes better teachers, not more money.

pgl -> Anonymous...

I live in NYC

"According to Success Academy Charter Schools founder and President Eva Moskowitz".

Ah yes - the charter school crowd. As in Mayor Bloomberg's push for privatizing our public education system. They have a lot of really dishonest ads attacking our new mayor. So you are with these privatization freaks? Go figure!

Anonymous -> kthomas...

I am an Asian immigrant who came to the US to pursue the American dream. My education allowed me to run circles around most students at the university. I ended up with triple major and a post grad degree. So, go ahead. call the rigorous schooling horrifying all you want. It is silly to raise kids in an ultra sheltered environment. The jobs are going to go where qualified highly productive people who want less money are. Then they will have to face reality anyway. We can sit here and argue about it all we want. The truth is that kids in Asia can do the job I started with sitting there better for a fraction of the cost here. And this is a job requiring advanced degrees.

Anonymous -> Anonymous...

And you can add Eastern Europe to Asia. The competition is going to degrade our standard of living as it has whether we like it or not.

DrDick -> Anonymous...

Sorry, but this is pure BS. We are talking about the presence of AP, foreign language, and advanced math classes. Having new textbooks and enough textbooks for all students, class sizes, laboratory equipment for science classes, and building maintenance, among many other very significant differences.

Anonymous -> DrDick...

yes. they spend on things that count. instead of hockey rinks and olympics standard gyms for toddlers.

DrDick -> Anonymous...

None of which are characteristic of public schools. Have you ever even visited reality? Charter schools suck up a much greater share of available public resources and further starve the schools serving the poor and minorities, as happened in Chicago. Unlike you, I believe in fact based decision making.

EMichael -> Tom aka Rusty...

few anecdotes


" The new school year has been marred for many students all over the country by severe budget cuts, shuttered schools, and decimated staff. Philadelphia, where students went back to school Monday, is seeing some of the most extreme effects of these budget cuts.

Nine thousand students will attend 53 different schools today than they did last fall after 24 were closed down. Class sizes have ballooned in many schools, with parents reporting as many as 48 students in one classroom. Meanwhile, the district laid off 3,859 employees over the summer.

A new policy also eliminates guidance counselors from schools with fewer than 600 students, which is about 60 percent of Philadelphia schools. Now one counselor will be responsible for five or six schools at once. Arts and sports programs have also been sacrificed.

Philly's new barebones regime was implemented after Gov. Tom Corbett (R) and the Republican-dominated legislature cut $961 million from the basic education budget, or 12 percent overall. Federal stimulus funds cushioned schools from state cuts for a couple of years, but they are now dwindling.

The district is struggling to fill a $304 million deficit. In order to open schools on time, the state gave an extra $2 million in funding and the city borrowed $50 million. Corbett is also withholding a $45 million state grant until teachers unions agree to concessions of about $133 million in a new labor pact. The district plans to sell 31 shuttered school properties. "

pgl -> Anonymous...

I love how the Aussies do the terminology:

"All Australian private schools receive some commonwealth government funding. So they are technically all "Charter" schools although the term is not used in Australia."

Charter schools are precisely what Milton Friedman recommended. He has the integrity to call this privatization. Anonymous does not. Funded by taxpayers but these schools are for profit entities.

Anonymous - have the courage to admit your agenda next time.

ilsm -> pgl...

Charter schools are like privatized arsenals, all cost cutting, profit and no performance.

US privatized the arsenals starting after WW I when a lot of "qui tammers" got to send arms to the Brits.

How long before the charter industry complex has enough unwarranted influence to ruin education?

djb -> Anonymous...

the charter schools cherry pick the best students and they don't deal with problem kids

this I known, they do poorly especially in new York city

as pgl said it is the fact that schools are fund locally that is the problem

to use a favorite right wing phrase

public education is an "unfunded mandate"

it should be paid for by the federal government

then all the mostly right wing politician could use property tax for divide and conquer politics

and funding can go where it is needed

djb -> djb...

then all the mostly right wing politician could NO LONGER use property tax for divide and conquer politics

DrDick -> pgl...

I think this is the primary issue. The schools in my hometown of 30K, national headquarters for Phillips Petroleum with a major research facility at the time, were excellent and most students went to college. Elsewhere in Oklahoma, students from similar sized towns were barely literate when they graduated. The primary reliance on local funding guarantees perpetuation of inequalities and the failure of the poor. This is exacerbated in larger communities by differential funding and resources allocated to schools within the district. When I lived in Chicago, Lincoln Park High School, in an affluent neighborhood, had world class programs. Meanwhile, schools on the predominately black west side and south side were literally falling apart with peeling lead paint and asbestos insulation falling on the students (along with occasional pieces of the cielings).

[Jun 29, 2015] College Is Wildly Exploitative Why Aren't Students Raising Hell

"..."Colleges have become a way for the ruling class to launder money into supposed non-profits and use endowments to purchase stocks, bonds, and real estate. ""
"...I read things like this and think about Louis Althusser and his ideas about "Ideological State Apparatuses." While in liberal ideology the education is usually considered to be the space where opportunity to improve one's situation is founded, Althusser reached the complete opposite conclusion. For him, universities are the definitive bourgeois institution, the ideological state apparatus of the modern capitalist state par excellance. The real purpose of the university was not to level the playing field of opportunity but to preserve the advantages of the bourgeoisie and their children, allowing the class system to perpetuate/reproduce itself. "
"...Perhaps some students are afraid to protest for fear of being photographed or videographed and having their face and identity given to every prospective employer throughout America. Perhaps those students are afraid of being blackballed throughout the Great American Workplace if they are caught protesting anything on camera."
"...Many of the best students feel enormous pressure to succeed and have some inkling that their job prospects are growing narrower, but they almost universally accept this as the natural order of things. Their outlook: if there are 10 or 100 applicants for every available job, well, by golly, I just have to work that much harder and be the exceptional one who gets the job."
"...In Chapter One of this book entitled "The Iron law of Liberalism and the Era of Total Bureaucratization" Graeber notes that the US has become the most rigidly credentialised society in the world where "
"...Robert Reich, in his book Supercapitalism, explains that in the past 30 years the two industries with the most excessive increases in prices are health care and higher education."
"...Using student loan loot and tax subsidies backed by its $3.5 billion endowment, New York University has created a new administrative class of aristocratic compensation. The school not only continues to hire more administrators – many of whom the professors indict as having no visible value in improving the education for students bankrupting themselves to register for classes – but shamelessly increases the salaries of the academic administrative class. The top 21 administrators earn a combined total of $23,590,794 per year. The NYU portfolio includes many multi-million-dollar mansions and luxury condos, where deans and vice presidents live rent-free."
"...As the managerial class grows, in size and salary, so does the full time faculty registry shrink. Use of part time instructors has soared to stratospheric heights at NYU. Adjunct instructors, despite having a minimum of a master's degree and often having a Ph.D., receive only miserly pay-per-course compensation for their work, and do not receive benefits. Many part-time college instructors must transform their lives into daily marathons, running from one school to the next, barely able to breathe between commutes and courses. Adjunct pay varies from school to school, but the average rate is $2,900 per course."
"...At a basic level, I think the answer is yes, because on balance, college still provides a lot of privatized value to the individual. Being an exploited student with the College Credential Seal of Approval remains relatively much better than being an exploited non student lacking that all important seal. A college degree, for example, is practically a guarantee of avoiding the more unseemly parts of the US "justice" system."
"...My nephew asked me to help him with his college introductory courses in macroeconomics and accounting. I was disappointed to find out what was going on: no lectures by professors, no discussion sessions with teaching assistants; no team projects–just two automated correspondence courses, with automated computer graded problem sets objective tests – either multiple choice, fill in the blank with a number, or fill in the blank with a form answer. This from a public university that is charging tuition for attendance just as though it were really teaching something. All they're really certifying is that the student can perform exercises is correctly reporting what a couple of textbooks said about subjects of marginal relevance to his degree. My nephew understands exactly that this is going on, but still …."
June 26, 2015 | naked capitalism

Yves here. In May, we wrote up and embedded the report on how NYU exploits students and adjuncts in "The Art of the Gouge": NYU as a Model for Predatory Higher Education. This article below uses that study as a point of departure for for its discussion of how higher education has become extractive.

By David Masciotra, the author of Mellencamp: American Troubadour (University Press of Kentucky). He has also written for Salon, the Atlantic and the Los Angeles Review of Books. For more information visit Originally published at Alternet

Higher education wears the cloak of liberalism, but in policy and practice, it can be a corrupt and cutthroat system of power and exploitation. It benefits immensely from right-wing McCarthy wannabes, who in an effort to restrict academic freedom and silence political dissent, depict universities as left-wing indoctrination centers.

But the reality is that while college administrators might affix "down with the man" stickers on their office doors, many prop up a system that is severely unfair to American students and professors, a shocking number of whom struggle to make ends meet. Even the most elementary level of political science instructs that politics is about power. Power, in America, is about money: who has it? Who does not have it? Who is accumulating it? Who is losing it? Where is it going?

Four hundred faculty members at New York University, one of the nation's most expensive schools, recently released a report on how their own place of employment, legally a nonprofit institution, has become a predatory business, hardly any different in ethical practice or economic procedure than a sleazy storefront payday loan operator. Its title succinctly summarizes the new intellectual discipline deans and regents have learned to master: "The Art of The Gouge."

The result of their investigation reads as if Charles Dickens and Franz Kafka collaborated on notes for a novel. Administrators not only continue to raise tuition at staggering rates, but they burden their students with inexplicable fees, high cost burdens and expensive requirements like mandatory study abroad programs. When students question the basis of their charges, much of them hidden during the enrollment and registration phases, they find themselves lost in a tornadic swirl of forms, automated answering services and other bureaucratic debris.

Often the additional fees add up to thousands of dollars, and that comes on top of the already hefty tuition, currently $46,000 per academic year, which is more than double its rate of 2001. Tuition at NYU is higher than most colleges, but a bachelor's degree, nearly anywhere else, still comes with a punitive price tag. According to the College Board, the average cost of tuition and fees for the 2014–2015 school year was $31,231 at private colleges, $9,139 for state residents at public colleges, and $22,958 for out-of-state residents attending public universities.

Robert Reich, in his book Supercapitalism, explains that in the past 30 years the two industries with the most excessive increases in prices are health care and higher education. Lack of affordable health care is a crime, Reich argues, but at least new medicines, medical technologies, surgeries, surgery techs, and specialists can partially account for inflation. Higher education can claim no costly infrastructural or operational developments to defend its sophisticated swindle of American families. It is a high-tech, multifaceted, but old fashioned transfer of wealth from the poor, working- and middle-classes to the rich.

Using student loan loot and tax subsidies backed by its $3.5 billion endowment, New York University has created a new administrative class of aristocratic compensation. The school not only continues to hire more administrators – many of whom the professors indict as having no visible value in improving the education for students bankrupting themselves to register for classes – but shamelessly increases the salaries of the academic administrative class. The top 21 administrators earn a combined total of $23,590,794 per year. The NYU portfolio includes many multi-million-dollar mansions and luxury condos, where deans and vice presidents live rent-free.

Meanwhile, NYU has spent billions, over the past 20 years, on largely unnecessary real estate projects, buying property and renovating buildings throughout New York. The professors' analysis, NYU's US News and World Report Ranking, and student reviews demonstrate that few of these extravagant projects, aimed mostly at pleasing wealthy donors, attracting media attention, and giving administrators opulent quarters, had any impact on overall educational quality.

As the managerial class grows, in size and salary, so does the full time faculty registry shrink. Use of part time instructors has soared to stratospheric heights at NYU. Adjunct instructors, despite having a minimum of a master's degree and often having a Ph.D., receive only miserly pay-per-course compensation for their work, and do not receive benefits. Many part-time college instructors must transform their lives into daily marathons, running from one school to the next, barely able to breathe between commutes and courses. Adjunct pay varies from school to school, but the average rate is $2,900 per course.

Many schools offer rates far below the average, most especially community colleges paying only $1,000 to $1,500. Even at the best paying schools, adjuncts, as part time employees, are rarely eligible for health insurance and other benefits. Many universities place strict limits on how many courses an instructor can teach. According to a recent study, 25 percent of adjuncts receive government assistance.

The actual scandal of "The Art of the Gouge" is that even if NYU is a particularly egregious offender of basic decency and honesty, most of the report's indictments could apply equally to nearly any American university. From 2003-2013, college tuition increased by a crushing 80 percent. That far outpaces all other inflation. The closest competitor was the cost of medical care, which in the same time period, increased by a rate of 49 percent. On average, tuition in America rises eight percent on an annual basis, placing it far outside the moral universe. Most European universities charge only marginal fees for attendance, and many of them are free. Senator Bernie Sanders recently introduced a bill proposing all public universities offer free education. It received little political support, and almost no media coverage.

In order to obtain an education, students accept the paralytic weight of student debt, the only form of debt not dischargeable in bankruptcy. Before a young person can even think about buying a car, house or starting a family, she leaves college with thousands of dollars in debt: an average of $29,400 in 2012. As colleges continue to suck their students dry of every dime, the US government profits at $41.3 billion per year by collecting interest on that debt. Congress recently cut funding for Pell Grants, yet increased the budget for hiring debt collectors to target delinquent student borrowers.

The university, once an incubator of ideas and entrance into opportunity, has mutated into a tabletop model of America's economic architecture, where the top one percent of income earners now owns 40 percent of the wealth.

"The One Percent at State U," an Institute for Policy Studies report, found that at the 25 public universities with the highest paid presidents, student debt and adjunct faculty increased at dramatically higher rates than at the average state university. Marjorie Wood, the study's co-author, explained told the New York Times that extravagant executive pay is the "tip of a very large iceberg, with universities that have top-heavy executive spending also having more adjuncts, more tuition increases and more administrative spending.

Unfortunately, students seem like passive participants in their own liquidation. An American student protest timeline for 2014-'15, compiled by historian Angus Johnston, reveals that most demonstrations and rallies focused on police violence, and sexism. Those issues should inspire vigilance and activism, but only 10 out of 160 protests targeted tuition hikes for attack, and only two of those 10 events took place outside the state of California.

Class consciousness and solidarity actually exist in Chile, where in 2011 a student movement began to organize, making demands for free college. More than mere theater, high school and college students, along with many of their parental allies, engaged the political system and made specific demands for inexpensive education. The Chilean government announced that in March 2016, it will eliminate all tuition from public universities. Chile's victory for participatory democracy, equality of opportunity and social justice should instruct and inspire Americans. Triumph over extortion and embezzlement is possible.

This seems unlikely to happen in a culture, however, where even most poor Americans view themselves, in the words of John Steinbeck, as "temporarily embarrassed millionaires." The political, educational and economic ruling class of America is comfortable selling out its progeny. In the words of one student quoted in "The Art of the Gouge," "they see me as nothing more than $200,000."

washunate June 26, 2015 at 10:07 am

Awesome question in the headline.

At a basic level, I think the answer is yes, because on balance, college still provides a lot of privatized value to the individual. Being an exploited student with the College Credential Seal of Approval remains relatively much better than being an exploited non student lacking that all important seal. A college degree, for example, is practically a guarantee of avoiding the more unseemly parts of the US "justice" system.

But I think this is changing. The pressure is building from the bottom as academia loses credibility as an institution capable of, never mind interested in, serving the public good rather than simply being another profit center for connected workers. It's actually a pretty exciting time. The kiddos are getting pretty fed up, and the authoritarians at the top of the hierarchy are running out of money with which to buy off younger technocratic enablers and thought leaders and other Serious People.

washunate June 26, 2015 at 10:17 am

P.S., the author in this post demonstrates the very answer to the question. He assumes as true, without any need for support, that the very act of possessing a college degree makes one worthy of a better place in society. That mindset is why colleges can prey upon students. They hold a monopoly on access to resources in American society. My bold:

Adjunct instructors, despite having a minimum of a master's degree and often having a Ph.D., receive only miserly pay-per-course compensation for their work, and do not receive benefits.

What does having a masters degree or PhD have to do with the moral claim of all human beings to a life of dignity and purpose?

flora June 26, 2015 at 11:37 am

There are so many more job seekers per job opening now than, say, 20 or thirty years ago that a degree is used to sort out applications. Now a job that formerly listed a high school degree as a requirement may now list a college degree as a requirement, just to cut down on the number of applications.

So, no, a B.A. or B.S. doesn't confer moral worth, but it does open more job doors than a high school diploma, even if the actual work only requires high school level math, reading, science or technology.

Ben June 26, 2015 at 1:11 pm

I agree a phd often makes someone no more useful in society. However the behaviour of the kids is rational *because* employers demand a masters / phd.

Students are then caught in a trap. Employers demand the paper, often from an expensive institution. The credit is abundant thanks to govt backed loans. They are caught in a situation where as a collective it makes no sense to join in, but as an individual if they opt out they get hurt also.

Same deal for housing. It's a mad world my masters.

What can we do about this? The weak link in the chain seems to me to be employers. Why are they hurting themselves by selecting people who want higher pay but may offer little to no extra value? I work as a programmer and I often think " if we could just 'see' the non-graduate diamonds in the rough".

If employers had perfect knowledge of prospective employees *and* if they saw that a degree would make no difference to their performance universities would crumble overnight.

The state will never stop printing money via student loans. If we can fix recruitment then universities are dead.

washunate June 26, 2015 at 2:22 pm

Why are they hurting themselves by selecting people who want higher pay but may offer little to no extra value?

Yeah, I have thought a lot about that particular question of organizational behavior. It does make sense, conceptually, that somebody would disrupt the system and take people based on ability rather than credentials. Yet we are moving in the opposite direction, toward more rigidity in educational requirements for employment.

For my two cents, I think the bulk of the answer lies in how hiring specifically, and management philosophy more generally, works in practice. The people who make decisions are themselves also subject to someone else's decisions. This is true all up and down the hierarchical ladder, from board members and senior executives to the most junior managers and professionals.

It's true that someone without a degree may offer the same (or better) performance to the company. But they do not offer the same performance to the people making decisions, because those individual people also depend upon their own college degrees to sell their own labor services. To hire significant numbers of employees without degrees into important roles is to sabotage their own personal value.

Very few people are willing to be that kind of martyr. And generally speaking, they tend to self-select away from occupations where they can meaningfully influence decision-making processes in large organizations.

Absolutely, individual business owners can call BS on the whole scam. It is a way that individual people can take action against systemic oppression. Hire workers based upon their fit for the job, not their educational credentials or criminal background or skin color or sexual orientation or all of the other tests we have used. But that's not a systemic solution because the incentives created by public policy are overwhelming at large organizations to restrict who is 'qualified' to fill the good jobs (and increasingly, even the crappy jobs).

Laaughingsong June 26, 2015 at 3:03 pm

I am not so sure that this is so. So many jobs are now crapified. When I was made redundant in 2009, I could not find many jobs that fit my level of experience (just experience! I have no college degree), so I applied for anything that fit my skill set, pretty much regardless of level. I was called Overqualified. I have heard that in the past as well, but never more so during that stretch of job hunting. Remember that's with no degree. Maybe younger people don't hear it as much. But I also think life experience has something to do with it, you need to have something to compare it to. How many times did our parents tell us how different things were when they were kids, how much easier? I didn't take that on board, did y'all?

sam s smith June 26, 2015 at 4:03 pm

I blame HR.

tsk June 27, 2015 at 4:42 pm

For various reasons, people seeking work these days, especially younger job applicants, might not possess the habits of mind and behavior that would make them good employees – i.e., punctuality, the willingness to come to work every day (even when something more fun or interesting comes up, or when one has partied hard the night before), the ability to meet deadlines rather than make excuses for not meeting them, the ability to write competently at a basic level, the ability to read instructions, diagrams, charts, or any other sort of necessary background material, the ability to handle basic computation, the ability to FOLLOW instructions rather than deciding that one will pick and choose which rules and instructions to follow and which to ignore, trainability, etc.

Even if a job applicant's degree is in a totally unrelated field, the fact that he or she has managed to complete an undergraduate degree–or, if relevant, a master's or a doctorate – is often accepted by employers as a sign that the applicant has a sense of personal responsibility, a certain amount of diligence and educability, and a certain level of basic competence in reading, writing, and math.

By the same token, employers often assume that an applicant who didn't bother going to college or who couldn't complete a college degree program is probably not someone to be counted on to be a responsible, trainable, competent employee.

Obviously those who don't go to college, or who go but drop out or flunk out, end up disadvantaged when competing for jobs, which might not be fair at all in individual cases, especially now that college has been priced so far out of the range of so many bright, diligent students from among the poor and and working classes, and now even those from the middle class.

Nevertheless, in general an individual's ability to complete a college degree is not an unreasonable stand-in as evidence of that person's suitability for employment.

Roland June 27, 2015 at 5:14 pm

Nicely put, Ben.

Students are first caught in a trap of "credentials inflation" needed to obtain jobs, then caught by inflation in education costs, then stuck with undischargeable debt. And the more of them who get the credentials, the worse the credentials inflation–a spiral.

It's all fuelled by loose credit. The only beneficiaries are a managerial elite who enjoy palatial facilities.

As for the employers, they're not so bad off. Wages are coming down for credentialled employees due to all the competition. There is such a huge stock of degreed applicants that they can afford to ignore anyone who isn't. The credentials don't cost the employer–they're not spending the money, nor are they lending the money.

Modern money makes it possible for the central authorities to keep this racket going all the way up to the point of general systemic collapse. Why should they stop? Who's going to make them stop?

Bobbo June 26, 2015 at 10:19 am

The only reason the universities can get away with it is easy money. When the time comes that students actually need to pay tuition with real money, money they or their parents have actually saved, then college tuition rates will crash back down to earth. Don't blame the universities. This is the natural and inevitable outcome of easy money.

Jim June 26, 2015 at 10:54 am

Yes, college education in the US is a classic example of the effects of subsidies. Eliminate the subsidies and the whole education bubble would rapidly implode.

washunate June 26, 2015 at 11:03 am

I'm very curious if anyone will disagree with that assessment.

An obvious commonality across higher education, healthcare, housing, criminal justice, and national security is that we spend huge quantities of public money yet hold the workers receiving that money to extremely low standards of accountability for what they do with it.

tegnost June 26, 2015 at 11:38 am

Correct, it's not the universities, it's the culture that contains the universities, but the universities are training grounds for the culture so it is the universities just not only the universities… Been remembering the song from my college days "my futures so bright i gotta wear shades". getting rich was the end in itself, and people who didn't make it didn't deserve anything but a whole lot of student debt,creating perverse incentives. And now we all know what the A in type a stands for…at least among those who self identify as such, so yes it is the universities

Chris in Paris June 26, 2015 at 12:07 pm

I don't understand why the ability to accept guaranteed loan money doesn't come with an obligation by the school to cap tuition at a certain percentage over maximum loan amount? Would that be so hard to institute?

Ben June 26, 2015 at 1:53 pm

Student loans are debt issuance. Western states are desperate to issue debt as it's fungible with money and marked down as growth.

Borrow 120K over 3 years and it all gets paid into university coffers and reappears as "profit" now. Let some other president deal with low disposable income due to loan repayments. It's in a different electoral cycle – perfect.

jrd2 June 26, 2015 at 11:50 am

You can try to argue, but it will be hard to refute. If you give mortgages at teaser rates to anybody who can fog a mirror, you get a housing bubble. If you give student loans to any student without regard to the prospects of that student paying back the loan, you get a higher education bubble. Which will include private equity trying to catch as much of this money as they possibly can by investing in for profit educational institutions just barely adequate to benefit from federal student loan funds.

jrs June 26, 2015 at 6:16 pm

A lot of background conditions help. It helps to pump a housing bubble if there's nothing else worth investing in (including saving money at zero interest rates). It helps pump an education bubble if most of the jobs have been outsourced so people are competing more and more for fewer and fewer.

Beans June 26, 2015 at 11:51 am

I don't disagree with the statement that easy money has played the biggest role in jacking up tuition. I do strongly disagree that we shouldn't "blame" the universities. The universities are exactly where we should place the blame. The universities have become job training grounds, and yet continue to droll on and on about the importance of noble things like liberal education, the pursuit of knowledge, the importance of ideas, etc. They cannot have it both ways. Years ago, when tuition rates started escalating faster than inflation, the universities should have been the loudest critics – pointing out the cultural problems that would accompany sending the next generation into the future deeply indebted – namely that all the noble ideas learned at the university would get thrown out the window when financial reality forced recent graduates to chose between noble ideas and survival. If universities truly believed that a liberal education was important; that the pursuit of knowledge benefitted humanity – they should have led the charge to hold down tuition.

washunate June 26, 2015 at 12:47 pm

I took it to mean blame as in what allows the system to function. I heartily agree that highly paid workers at universities bear blame for what they do (and don't do) at a granular level.

It's just that they couldn't do those things without the system handing them gobs of resources, from tax deductability of charitable contributions to ignoring anti-competitive behavior in local real estate ownership to research grants and other direct funding to student loans and other indirect funding.

Jim June 26, 2015 at 3:09 pm

Regarding blaming "highly paid workers at universities" – If a society creates incentives for dysfunctional behavior such a society will have a lot of dysfunction. Eliminate the subsidies and see how quicly the educational bubble pops.

James Levy June 26, 2015 at 2:45 pm

You are ignoring the way that the rich bid up the cost of everything. 2% of the population will pay whatever the top dozen or so schools will charge so that little Billy or Sue can go to Harvard or Stanford. This leads to cost creep as the next tier ratchet up their prices in lock step with those above them, etc. The same dynamic happens with housing, at least around wealthy metropolitan areas.

daniel June 26, 2015 at 12:07 pm

Hi to you two,

A European perspective on this: yep, that's true on an international perspective. I belong to the ugly list of those readers of this blog who do not fully share the liberal values of most of you hear. However, may I say that I can agree on a lot of stuff.

US education and health-care are outrageously costly. Every European citizen moving to the states has a question: will he or she be sick whilst there. Every European parent with kids in higher education is aware that having their kids for one closing year in the US is the more they can afford (except if are a banquier d'affaires…). Is the value of the US education good? No doubt! Is is good value for money, of course not. Is the return on the money ok? It will prove disastrous, except if the USD crashed. The main reason? Easy money. As for any kind of investment. Remember that this is indeed a investment plan…

Check the level of revenues of "public sector" teaching staff on both sides of the ponds. The figure for US professionals in these area are available on the Web. They are indeed much more costly than, say, North-of-Europe counterparts, "public sector" professionals in those area. Is higher education in the Netherlands sub-par when compared to the US? Of course not.

Yep financing education via the Fed (directly or not) is not only insanely costly. Just insane. The only decent solution: set up public institutions staffed with service-minded professionals that did not have to pay an insane sum to build up the curriculum themselves.

Are "public services" less efficient than private ones here in those area, health-care and higher education. Yep, most certainly. But, sure, having the fed indirectly finance the educational system just destroy any competitive savings made in building a competitive market-orientated educational system and is one of the worst way to handle your educational system.

Yep, you can do a worst use of the money, subprime or China buildings… But that's all about it.

US should forget about exceptionnalism and pay attention to what North of Europe is doing in this area. Mind you, I am Southerner (of Europe). But of course I understand that trying to run these services on a federal basis is indeed "mission impossible".

Way to big! Hence the indirect Washington-decided Wall-Street-intermediated Fed-and-deficit-driven financing of higher education. Mind you: we have more and more of this bankers meddling in education in Europe and I do not like what I see.

John Zelnicker June 27, 2015 at 1:36 pm

@washunate – 6/26/15, 11:03 am. I know I'm late to the party, but I disagree. It's not the workers, it's the executives and management generally. Just like Wall Street, many of these top administrators have perfected the art of failing upwards.

IMNSHO everyone needs to stop blaming labor and/or the labor unions. It's not the front line workers, teachers, retail clerks, adjunct instructors, all those people who do the actual work rather than managing other people. Those workers have no bargaining power, and the unions have lost most of theirs, in part due to the horrible labor market, as well as other important reasons.

We have demonized virtually all of the government workers who actually do the work that enables us to even have a government (all levels) and to provide the services we demand, such as public safety, education, and infrastructure. These people are our neighbors, relatives and friends; we owe them better than this.

/end of rant

Roland June 27, 2015 at 5:20 pm

Unionized support staff at Canadian universities have had sub-inflation wage increases for nearly 20 years, while tuition has been rising at triple the rate of inflation.

So obviously one can't blame the unions for rising education costs.

Spring Texan June 28, 2015 at 8:03 am

Thanks for your rant! You said a mouthful. And could not be more correct.

Adam Eran June 26, 2015 at 12:18 pm

Omitted from this account: Federal funding for education has declined 55% since 1972. … Part of the Powell memo's agenda.

It's understandable too; one can hardly blame legislators for punishing the educational establishment given the protests of the '60s and early '70s… After all, they were one reason Nixon and Reagan rose to power. How dare they propose real democracy! Harumph!

To add to students' burden, there's the recent revision of bankruptcy law: student loans can no longer be retired by bankruptcy (Thanks Hillary!)…It'll be interesting to see whether Hillary's vote on that bankruptcy revision becomes a campaign issue.

I also wonder whether employers will start to look for people without degrees as an indication they were intelligent enough to sidestep this extractive scam.

washunate June 26, 2015 at 1:54 pm

I'd be curious what you count as federal funding. Pell grants, for example, have expanded both in terms of the number of recipients and the amount of spending over the past 3 – 4 decades.

More generally, federal support for higher ed comes in a variety of forms. The bankruptcy law you mention is itself a form of federal funding. Tax exemption is another. Tax deductabiliity of contributions is another. So are research grants and exemptions from anti-competitive laws and so forth. There are a range of individual tax credits and deductions. The federal government also does not intervene in a lot of state supports, such as licensing practices in law and medicine that make higher ed gatekeepers to various fiefdoms and allowing universities to take fees for administering (sponsoring) charter schools. The Federal Work-Study program is probably one of the clearest specific examples of a program that offers both largely meaningless busy work and terrible wages.

As far as large employers seeking intelligence, I'm not sure that's an issue in the US? Generally speaking, the point of putting a college credential in a job requirement is precisely to find people participating in the 'scam'. If an employer is genuinely looking for intelligence, they don't have minimum educational requirements.

Laughingsong June 26, 2015 at 3:12 pm

I heard that Congress is cutting those:

different clue June 28, 2015 at 3:06 am

Why would tuition rates come down when students need to pay with "real money, money they or their parents have actually saved. . . " ? Didn't tuition at state universities begin climbing when state governments began boycotting state universities in terms of embargoing former rates of taxpayer support to them? Leaving the state universities to try making up the difference by raising tuition? If people want to limit or reduce the tuition charged to in-state students of state universities, people will have to resume paying former rates of taxes and elect people to state government to re-target those taxes back to state universities the way they used to do before the reductions in state support to state universities.

Jesper June 26, 2015 at 10:29 am

Protest against exploitation and risk being black-listed by exploitative employers -> Only employers left are the ones who actually do want (not pretend to want) ethical people willing to stand up for what they believe in. Not many of those kind of employers around…. What is the benefit? What are the risks?

Tammy June 27, 2015 at 4:35 pm

What is the benefit? What are the risks?
I am not a progressive, yet, there is always risk for solidary progress.

Andrew June 26, 2015 at 10:53 am

The author misrepresents the nature and demands of Chile's student movement.

Over the past few decades, university enrollment rates for Chileans expanded dramatically in part due to the creation of many private universities. In Chile, public universities lead the pack in terms of academic reputation and entrance is determined via competitive exams. As a result, students from poorer households who attended low-quality secondary schools generally need to look at private universities to get a degree. And these are the students to which the newly created colleges catered to.

According to Chilean legislation, universities can only function as non-profit entities. However, many of these new institutions were only nominally non-profit entities (for example, the owners of the university would also set up a real estate company that would rent the facilities to the college at above market prices) and they were very much lacking in quality. After a series of high-profile cases of universities that were open and shut within a few years leaving its students in limbo and debt, anger mounted over for-profit education.

The widespread support of the student movement was due to generalized anger about and education system that is dearly lacking in quality and to the violation of the spirit of the law regulating education. Once the student movement's demands became more specific and morphed from opposing for profit institutions to demanding free tuition for everyone, the widespread support waned quickly.

And while the government announced free tuition in public universities, there is a widespread consensus that this is a pretty terrible idea as it is regressive and involves large fiscal costs. In particular because most of the students that attend public universities come from relatively wealthy households that can afford tuition. The students that need the tuition assistance will not benefit under the new rules.

I personally benefited from the fantastically generous financial aid systems that some private American universities have set up which award grants and scholarships based on financial need only. And I believe that it is desirable for the State to guarantee that any qualified student has access to college regardless of his or her wealth I think that by romanticizing the Chilean student movement the author reveals himself to be either is dishonest or, at best, ignorant.

RanDomino June 27, 2015 at 12:23 pm

The protests also involved extremely large riots.

The Insider June 26, 2015 at 10:57 am

Students aren't protesting because they don't feel the consequences until they graduate.

One thing that struck me when I applied for a student loan a few years back to help me get through my last year of graduate school – the living expense allocation was surprisingly high. Not "student sharing an apartment with five random dudes while eating ramen and riding the bus", but more "living alone in a nice one-bedroom apartment while eating takeout and driving a car". Apocryphal stories of students using their student loans to buy new cars or take extravagant vacations were not impossible to believe.

The living expense portion of student loans is often so generous that students can live relatively well while going to school, which makes it that much easier for them to push to the backs of their minds the consequences that will come from so much debt when they graduate. Consequently, it isn't the students who are complaining – it's the former students. But by the time they are out of school and the university has their money in its pocket, it's too late for them to try and change the system.

lord koos June 26, 2015 at 11:42 am

I'm sure many students are simply happy to be in college… the ugly truth hits later.

optimader June 26, 2015 at 12:39 pm

Sophomore Noell Conley lives there, too. She shows off the hotel-like room she shares with a roommate.

"As you walk in, to the right you see our granite countertops with two sinks, one for each of the residents," she says.

A partial wall separates the beds. Rather than trek down the hall to shower, they share a bathroom with the room next door.

"That's really nice compared to community bathrooms that I lived in last year," Conley says.

To be fair, granite countertops last longer. Tempur-Pedic is a local company - and gave a big discount. The amenities include classrooms and study space that are part of the dorm. Many of the residents are in the university's Honors program. But do student really need Apple TV in the lounges, or a smartphone app that lets them check their laundry status from afar?

"Demand has been very high," says the university's Penny Cox, who is overseeing the construction of several new residence halls on campus. Before Central Hall's debut in August, the average dorm was almost half a century old, she says. That made it harder to recruit.

"If you visit places like Ohio State, Michigan, Alabama," Cox says, "and you compare what we had with what they have available to offer, we were very far behind."

Today colleges are competing for a more discerning consumer. Students grew up with fewer siblings, in larger homes, Cox says. They expect more privacy than previous generations - and more comforts.

"These days we seem to be bringing kids up to expect a lot of material plenty," says Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University and author of the book "Generation Me."

Those students could be in for some disappointment when they graduate, she says.

"When some of these students have all these luxuries and then they get an entry-level job and they can't afford the enormous flat screen and the granite countertops," Twenge says, "then that's going to be a rude awakening."

Some on campus also worry about the divide between students who can afford such luxuries and those who can't. The so-called premium dorms cost about $1,000 more per semester. Freshman Josh Johnson, who grew up in a low-income family and lives in one of the university's 1960s-era buildings, says the traditional dorm is good enough for him.

"I wouldn't pay more just to live in a luxury dorm," he says. "It seems like I could just pay the flat rate and get the dorm I'm in. It's perfectly fine."

In the near future students who want to live on campus won't have a choice. Eventually the university plans to upgrade all of its residence halls.

So I wonder who on average will fair better navigating the post-college lifestyle/job market reality check, Noell or Josh? Personally, I would bet on the Joshes living in the 60's vintage enamel painted ciderblock dorm rooms.

optimader June 26, 2015 at 12:47 pm

Universities responding to the market

Competition for students who have more sophisticated tastes than in past years is creating the perfect environment for schools to try to outdo each other with ever-more posh on-campus housing. Keeping up in the luxury dorm race is increasingly critical to a school's bottom line: A 2006 study published by the Association of Higher Education Facilities Officers found that "poorly maintained or inadequate residential facilities" was the number-one reason students rejected enrolling at institutions.

PHOTO GALLERY: Click Here to See the 10 Schools with Luxury Dorms

Private universities get most of the mentions on lists of schools with great dorms, as recent ratings by the Princeton Review, College Prowler, and Campus Splash make clear. But a few state schools that have invested in brand-new facilities are starting to show up on those reviews, too.

While many schools offer first dibs on the nicest digs to upperclassmen on campus, as the war for student dollars ratchets up even first-year students at public colleges are living in style. Here are 10 on-campus dormitories at state schools that offer students resort-like amenities.

Jerry Denim June 26, 2015 at 4:37 pm

Bingo! They don't get really mad until they're in their early thirties and they are still stuck doing some menial job with no vacation time, no health insurance and a monstrous mountain of debt. Up until that point they're still working hard waiting for their ship to come in and blaming themselves for any lack of success like Steinbeck's 'embarrassed millionaires.' Then one day maybe a decade after they graduate they realize they've been conned but they've got bills to pay and other problems to worry about so they solider on. 18 year-olds are told by their high school guidance councilors, their parents and all of the adults they trust that college while expensive is a good investment and the only way to succeed. Why should they argue? They don't know any better yet.

different clue June 28, 2015 at 3:09 am

Perhaps some students are afraid to protest for fear of being photographed or videographed and having their face and identity given to every prospective employer throughout America. Perhaps those students are afraid of being blackballed throughout the Great American Workplace if they are caught protesting anything on camera.

Today isn't like the sixties when you could drop out in the confidence that you could always drop back in again. Nowadays there are ten limpets for every scar on the rock.

seabos84 June 26, 2015 at 11:16 am

the average is such a worthless number. The Data we need, and which all these parasitic professional managerial types won't provide –
x axis would be family income, by $5000 increments.
y axis would be the median debt level
we could get fancy, and also throw in how many kids are in school in each of those income increments.

BTW – this 55 yr. old troglodyte believes that 1 of the roles (note – I did NOT say "The Role") of education is preparing people to useful to society. 300++ million Americans, 7 billion humans – we ALL need shelter, reliable and safe food, reliable and safe water, sewage disposal, clothing, transportation, education, sick care, power, leisure, … we should ALL have access to family wage jobs and time for BBQs with our various communities several times a year. I know plenty of techno-dweebs here in Seattle who need to learn some of the lessons of 1984, The Prince, and Shakespeare. I know plenty of fuzzies who could be a bit more useful with some rudimentary skills in engineering, or accounting, or finance, or stats, or bio, or chem …
I don't know what the current education system is providing, other than some accidental good things for society at large, and mainly mechanisms for the para$ite cla$$e$ to stay parasites.


Adam Eran June 26, 2015 at 12:22 pm

Mao was perfectly content to promote technical education in the new China. What he deprecated (and fought to suppress) was the typical liberal arts notion of critical thinking. We're witnessing something comparable in the U.S.

This suppression in China led to an increase in Mao's authority (obviously), but kept him delusional. For example, because China relied on Mao's agricultural advice, an estimated 70 million Chinese died during peacetime. But who else was to be relied upon as an authority?

Back the the U.S.S.A. (the United StateS of America): One Australian says of the American system: "You Yanks don't consult the wisdom of democracy; you enable mobs."

Tammy June 27, 2015 at 4:41 pm

Mao was perfectly content to promote technical education in the new China. What he deprecated (and fought to suppress) was the typical liberal arts notion of critical thinking. We're witnessing something comparable in the U.S. We're witnessing something comparable in the U.S.

Mao liked chaos because he believed in continuous revolution. I would argue what we're experiencing is nothing comparable to what China experienced. (I hope I've understood you correctly.)

Ted June 26, 2015 at 11:20 am

I am pretty sure a tradition of protest to affect political change in the US is a rather rare bird. Most people "protest" by changing their behavior. As an example, by questioning the value of the 46,000 local private college tuition as opposed the the 15k and 9k tiered state college options. My daughter is entering the freshman class next year, we opted for the cheaper state option because, in the end, a private school degree adds nothing, unless it is to a high name recognition institution.

I think, like housing, a downstream consequence of "the gouge" is not to question - much less understand - class relations, but to assess the value of the lifetyle choice once you are stuck with the price of paying for that lifestyle in the form of inflated debt repayments. Eventually "the folk" figure it out and encourage cheaper alternatives toward the same goal.

Jim June 26, 2015 at 3:18 pm

There's probably little point in engaging in political protest. Most people maximise their chances of success by focusing on variables over which they have some degree of control. The ability of most people to have much effect on the overall political-economic system is slight and any returns from political activity are highly uncertain.

jrs June 26, 2015 at 9:53 pm

How does anyone even expect to maintain cheap available state options without political activity? By wishful thinking I suppose?

The value of a private school might be graduating sooner, state schools are pretty overcrowded, but that may not at all be worth the debt (I doubt it almost ever is on a purely economic basis).

RabidGandhi June 27, 2015 at 7:57 pm

Maybe if we just elect the right people with cool posters and a hopey changey slogan, they'll take care of everything for us and we won't have to be politically active.

jrs June 26, 2015 at 10:04 pm

Of course refusal to engage politically because the returns to oneself by doing so are small really IS the tragedy of the commons. Thus one might say it's ethical to engage politically in order to avoid it. Some ethical action focuses on overcoming tragedy of the commons dilemmas. Of course the U.S. system being what it is I have a hard time blaming anyone for giving up.

chairman June 26, 2015 at 11:37 am

The middle class, working class and poor have no voice in politics or policy at all, and they don't know what's going on until it's too late. They've been pushed by all their high school staff that college is the only acceptable option - and often it is. What else are they going to do out of high school, work a 30 hour a week minimum wage retail job? The upper middle class and rich, who entirely monopolize the media, don't have any reason to care about skyrocketing college tuition - their parents are paying for it anyway. They'd rather write about the hip and trendy issues of the day, like trigger warnings.

Fool June 26, 2015 at 1:17 pm

To the contrary, they're hardly advised by "their high school staff"; nonetheless, subway ads for Phoenix, Monroe, etc. have a significant influence.

Uncle Bruno June 26, 2015 at 11:58 am

They're too busy working

Fool June 26, 2015 at 1:20 pm

Also Tinder.

collegestudent June 26, 2015 at 12:39 pm

Speaking as one of these college students, I think that a large part of the reason that the vast majority of students are just accepting the tuition rates is because it has become the societal norm. Growing up I can remember people saying "You need to go to college to find a good job." Because a higher education is seen as a necessity for most people, students think of tuition as just another form of taxes, acceptable and inevitable, which we will expect to get a refund on later in life.

Pitchfork June 26, 2015 at 1:03 pm

I teach at a "good" private university. Most of my students don't have a clue as to how they're being exploited. Many of the best students feel enormous pressure to succeed and have some inkling that their job prospects are growing narrower, but they almost universally accept this as the natural order of things. Their outlook: if there are 10 or 100 applicants for every available job, well, by golly, I just have to work that much harder and be the exceptional one who gets the job.

Incoming freshmen were born in the late 90s - they've never known anything but widespread corruption, financial and corporate oligarchy, i-Pads and the Long Recession.

But as other posters note, the moment of realization usually comes after four years of prolonged adolescence, luxury dorm living and excessive debt accumulation.

Tammy June 27, 2015 at 4:49 pm

Most Ph.D.'s don't either. I'd argue there have been times they have attempted to debate that exploitation is a good–for their employer and himself/herself–with linguistic games. Mind numbing… . To be fair, they have a job.

Gottschee June 26, 2015 at 1:34 pm

I have watched the tuition double–double!–at my alma mater in the last eleven years. During this period, administrators have set a goal of increasing enrollment by a third, and from what I hear, they've done so. My question is always this: where is the additional tuition money going? Because as I walk through the campus, I don't really see that many improvements–yes, a new building, but that was supposedly paid for by donations and endowments. I don't see new offices for these high-priced admin people that colleges are hiring, and in fact, what I do see is an increase in the number of part-time faculty and adjuncts. The tenured faculty is not prospering from all this increased revenue, either.

I suspect the tuition is increasing so rapidly simply because the college can get away with it. And that means they are exploiting the students.

While still a student, I once calculated that it cost me $27.00/hour to be in class. (15 weeks x 20 "contact hours" per week =
300 hours/semester, $8000/semester divided by 300 hours = $27.00/hour). A crude calculation, certainly, but a starting point. I did this because I had an instructor who was consistently late to class, and often cancelled class, so much that he wiped out at least $300.00 worth of instruction. I had the gall to ask for a refund of that amount. I'm full of gall. Of course, I was laughed at, not just by the administrators, but also by some students.

Just like medical care, education pricing is "soft," that is, the price is what you are willing to pay. Desirable students get scholarships and stipends, which other students subsidize; similarly, some pre-ACA patients in hospitals were often treated gratis.

Students AND hospital patients alike seem powerless to affect the contract with the provider. Reform will not likely be forthcoming, as students, like patients, are "just passing through."

Martin Finnucane June 26, 2015 at 2:10 pm

Higher education wears the cloak of liberalism, but in policy and practice, it can be a corrupt and cutthroat system of power and exploitation.

I find the "but" in that sentence to be dissonant.

Mark Anderson June 26, 2015 at 3:12 pm

The tuition at most public universities has quadrupled or more over the last 15 to 20 years precisely BECAUSE state government subsidies have been
slashed in the meantime. I was told around 2005 that quadrupled tuition at the University of Minnesota made up for about half of the state money that the legislature had slashed from the university budget over the previous 15 years.

It is on top of that situation that university administrators are building themselves little aristocratic empires, very much modeled on the kingdoms of corporate CEOs
where reducing expenses (cutting faculty) and services to customers (fewer classes, more adjuncts) is seen as the height of responsibility and accountability, perhaps
even the definition of propriety.

Jim June 26, 2015 at 3:23 pm

Everyone should read the introductory chapter to David Graeber's " The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy."

In Chapter One of this book entitled "The Iron law of Liberalism and the Era of Total Bureaucratization" Graeber notes that the US has become the most rigidly credentialised society in the world where

"…in field after field from nurses to art teachers, physical therapists, to foreign policy consultants, careers which used to be considered an art (best learned through doing) now require formal professional training and a certificate of completion."

Graeber, in that same chapter, makes another extremely important point. when he notes that career advancement in may large bureaucratic organizations demands a willingness to play along with the fiction that advancement is based on merit, even though most everyone know that this isn't true.

The structure of modern power in the U.S., in both the merging public and private sectors, is built around the false ideology of a giant credentialized meritorcracy rather than the reality of arbitrary extraction by predatory bureaucratic networks.

armchair June 26, 2015 at 3:27 pm

Anecdote: I was speaking to someone who recently started working at as a law school administrator at my alma mater. Enrollment is actually down at law schools (I believe), because word has spread about the lame legal job market. So, the school administration is watching its pennies, and the new administrator says the administrators aren't getting to go on so many of the all expense paid conferences and junkets that they used to back in the heyday. As I hear this, I am thinking about how many of these awesome conferences in San Diego, New Orleans and New York that I'm paying back. Whatever happened to the metaphorical phrase: "when a pig becomes a hog, it goes to slaughter"?

Another anecdote: I see my undergrad alma mater has demolished the Cold War era dorms on one part of campus and replaced it with tons of slick new student housing.

MaroonBulldog June 26, 2015 at 7:15 pm

No doubt those Cold War era dorms had outlived their planned life. Time for replacement. Hell, they had probably become inhabitable and unsafe.

Meanwhile, has your undergraduate school replaced any of its lecture courses with courses presented same model as on-line traffic school? I have a pending comment below about how my nephew's public university "taught" him introductory courses in accounting and macroeconomics that way. Please be assured that the content of those courses was on a par with best practices in the on-line traffic school industry. It would be hilarious if it weren't so desperately sad.

Roquentin June 26, 2015 at 5:04 pm

I read things like this and think about Louis Althusser and his ideas about "Ideological State Apparatuses." While in liberal ideology the education is usually considered to be the space where opportunity to improve one's situation is founded, Althusser reached the complete opposite conclusion. For him, universities are the definitive bourgeois institution, the ideological state apparatus of the modern capitalist state par excellance. The real purpose of the university was not to level the playing field of opportunity but to preserve the advantages of the bourgeoisie and their children, allowing the class system to perpetuate/reproduce itself.

It certainly would explain a lot. It would explain why trying to send everyone to college won't solve this, because not everyone can have a bourgeois job. Some people actually have to do the work. The whole point of the university as an institution was to act as a sorting/distribution hub for human beings, placing them at certain points within the division of labor. A college degree used to mean more because getting it was like a golden ticket, guaranteeing someone who got it at least a petit-bourgeois lifestyle. The thing is, there are only so many slots in corporate America for this kind of employment. That number is getting smaller too. You could hand every man, woman, and child in America a BS and it wouldn't change this in the slightest.

What has happened instead, for college to preserve its role as the sorting mechanism/preservation of class advantage is what I like to call degree inflation and/or an elite formed within degrees themselves. Now a BS or BA isn't enough, one needs an Master's or PhD to really be distinguished. Now a degree from just any institution won't do, it has to be an Ivy or a Tier 1 school. Until we learn to think realistically about what higher education is as an institution little or nothing will change.

Jim June 26, 2015 at 8:14 pm

Any credential is worthless if everybody has it. All information depends on contrast. It's impossible for everybody to "stand out" from the masses. The more people have college degrees the less value a college degree has.

sid_finster June 26, 2015 at 5:49 pm

When I was half-grown, I heard it said that religion is no longer the opiate of the masses, in that no one believes in God anymore, at least not enough for it to change actual behavior.

Instead, buying on credit is the opiate of the masses.

MaroonBulldog June 26, 2015 at 6:58 pm

My nephew asked me to help him with his college introductory courses in macroeconomics and accounting. I was disappointed to find out what was going on: no lectures by professors, no discussion sessions with teaching assistants; no team projects–just two automated correspondence courses, with automated computer graded problem sets objective tests – either multiple choice, fill in the blank with a number, or fill in the blank with a form answer. This from a public university that is charging tuition for attendance just as though it were really teaching something. All they're really certifying is that the student can perform exercises is correctly reporting what a couple of textbooks said about subjects of marginal relevance to his degree. My nephew understands exactly that this is going on, but still ….

This is how 21st century America treats its young people: it takes people who are poor, in the sense that they have no assets, and makes them poorer, loading them up with student debt, which they incur in order to finance a falsely-so-called course of university study that can't be a good deal, even for the best students among them.

I am not suggesting the correspondence courses have no worth at all. But they do not have the worth that is being charged for them in this bait-and-switch exercise by Ed Business.

MaroonBulldog June 27, 2015 at 1:39 am

After further thought, I'd compare my nephew's two courses to on-line traffic school: Mechanized "learning" – forget it all as soon as the test is over – Critical thinking not required. Except for the kind of "test preparation" critical thinking that teaches one to spot and eliminate the obviously wrong choices in objective answers–that kind of thinking saves time and so is very helpful.

Not only is he paying full tuition to receive this treatment, but his family and mine are paying taxes to support it, too.

Very useful preparation for later life, where we can all expect to attend traffic school a few times. But no preparation for any activity of conceivable use or benefit to any other person.

Spring Texan June 28, 2015 at 8:07 am

Good story. What a horrible rip-off!

P. Fitzsimon June 27, 2015 at 12:26 pm

I read recently that the business establishment viewed the most important contribution of colleges was that they warehoused young people for four years to allow maturing.

Fred Grosso June 27, 2015 at 4:55 pm

Where are the young people in all this? Is anyone going to start organizing to change things? Any ideas? Any interest? Are we going to have some frustrated, emotional person attempt to kill a university president once every ten years? Then education can appeal for support from the government to beef up security. Meanwhile the same old practices will prevail and the rich get richer and the rest of us get screwed.

Come on people step up.

Unorthodoxmarxist June 27, 2015 at 6:22 pm

The reason students accept this has to be the absolutely demobilized political culture of the United States combined with what college represents structurally to students from the middle classes: the only possibility – however remote – of achieving any kind of middle class income.

Really your choices in the United States are, in terms of jobs, to go into the military (and this is really for working class kids, Southern families with a military history and college-educated officer-class material) or to go to college.

The rest, who have no interest in the military, attend college, much like those who wanted to achieve despite of their class background went into the priesthood in the medieval period. There hasn't been a revolt due to the lack of any idea it could function differently and that American families are still somehow willing to pay the exorbitant rates to give their children a piece of paper that still enables them to claim middle class status though fewer and fewer find jobs. $100k in debt seems preferable to no job prospects at all.

Colleges have become a way for the ruling class to launder money into supposed non-profits and use endowments to purchase stocks, bonds, and real estate. College administrators and their lackeys (the extended school bureaucracy) are propping up another part of the financial sector – just take a look at Harvard's $30+ billion endowment, or Yale's $17 billion – these are just the top of a very large heap. They're all deep into the financial sector. Professors and students are simply there as an excuse for the alumni money machine and real estate scams to keep running, but there's less and less of a reason for them to employ professors, and I say this as a PhD with ten years of teaching experience who has seen the market dry up even more than it was when I entered grad school in the early 2000s.

A Real Black Person purple monkey dishwasher June 28, 2015 at 9:13 pm

"Colleges have become a way for the ruling class to launder money into supposed non-profits and use endowments to purchase stocks, bonds, and real estate. "

Unorthodoxmarxist, I thought I was the only person who was coming to that conclusion. I think there's data out there that could support our thesis that college tuition inflation may be affecting real estate prices. After all, justification a college grad gave to someone who was questioning the value of a college degree was that by obtaining a "a degree" and a professional job, an adult could afford to buy a home in major metropolitan hubs. I'm not sure if he was that ignorant, (business majors, despite the math requirement are highly ideological people. They're no where near as objective as they like to portray themselves as) or if he hasn't been in contact with anyone with a degree trying to buy a home in a metropolitan area.

Anyways, if our thesis is true, then if home prices declined in 2009, then college tuition should have declined as well, but it didn't at most trustworthy schools. Prospective students kept lining up to pay more for education that many insiders believe is "getting worse" because of widespread propaganda and a lack of alternatives, especially for "middle class" women.

Pelham June 27, 2015 at 7:04 pm

It's hard to say, but there ought to be a power keg of students here primed to blow. And Bernie Sanders' proposal for free college could be the fuse.

But first he'd have the light the fuse, and maybe he can. He's getting huge audiences and a lot of interest these days. And here's a timely issue. What would happen if Sanders toured colleges and called for an angry, mass and extended student strike across the country to launch on a certain date this fall or next spring to protest these obscene tuitions and maybe call for something else concrete, like a maximum ratio of administrators to faculty for colleges to receive accreditation?

It could ignite not only a long-overdue movement on campuses but also give a big boost to his campaign. He'd have millions of motivated and even furious students on his side as well as a lot of motivated and furious parents of students (my wife and I would be among them) - and these are just the types of people likely to get out and vote in the primaries and general election.

Sanders' consistent message about the middle class is a strong one. But here's a solid, specific but very wide-ranging issue that could bring that message into very sharp relief and really get a broad class of politically engaged people fired up.

I'm not one of those who think Sanders can't win but applaud his candidacy because it will nudge Hillary Clinton. I don't give a fig about Clinton. I think there's a real chance Sanders can win not just the nomination but also the presidency. This country is primed for a sharp political turn. Sanders could well be the right man in the right place and time. And this glaring and ongoing tuition ripoff that EVERYONE agrees on could be the single issue that puts him front-and-center rather than on the sidelines.

Rosario June 28, 2015 at 1:18 am

I finished graduate school about three years ago. During the pre-graduate terms that I paid out of pocket (2005-2009) I saw a near 70 percent increase in tuition (look up KY college tuition 1987-2009 for proof).

Straight bullshit, but remember our school was just following the national (Neoliberal) model.

Though, realize that I was 19-23 years old. Very immature (still immature) and feeling forces beyond my control. I did not protest out of a) fear [?] (I don't know, maybe, just threw that in there) b) the sheepskin be the path to salvation (include social/cultural pressures from parent, etc.).

I was more affected by b). This is the incredible power of our current Capitalist culture. It trains us well. We are always speaking its language, as if a Classic. Appraising its world through its values.

I wished to protest (i.e. Occupy, etc.) but to which master? All of its targets are post modern, all of it, to me, nonsense, and, because of this undead (unable to be destroyed). This coming from a young man, as I said, still immature, though I fear this misdirection, and alienation is affecting us all.

John June 28, 2015 at 10:42 am

NYU can gouge away.

It's filled with Chinese students (spies) who pay full tuition.

[Jul 18, 2013] Microsoft Has 1 Million Servers. So What


"The only thing that's noteworthy about Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's recent disclosure that the company has one million servers in its data centers is that he decided to disclose it - most of the industry giants like to keep that information to themselves, says ITworld's Nancy Gohring.

But jMicrosoft's one million servers what it means ITworldust for fun, Amazon Web Services engineer James Hamilton did the math: One million servers equals 15–30 data centers, a $4.25 billion capital expense, and power consumption of 2.6TWh annually, or the amount of power that would be used by 230,000 homes in the U.S. Whether this is high or low, good or bad is impossible to know without additional metrics."

Anonymous Coward

How much of that information is useful (Score:0)

And how much power is being wasted simply to keep the lights on and the disks spinning? Amazon realized this and started AWS, but they're not off the hook either.


Re:How much of that information is useful (Score:5, Insightful)

I would assume that most of the servers are probably doing web crawls for Bing so they are working most of the time. Now I don't know if MS has heavily optimized their hardware like Google did [] for efficiency.


Re: How much of that information is useful (Score:2)

Looks like Google has just as many servers []. As you said, Google's are optimized.

Anubis IV

Re:How much of that information is useful (Score:2)

They've already said that they'll have 300,000 servers backing the various services for the Xbox One. Having another 700,000 on stuff like Bing, (née Hotmail), and their various stores (music, video, apps, etc.) doesn't seem unreasonable, though it's hard to say if it's a good use of that many, since I have no sense of what's appropriate when we're talking about this sort of scale.


Re:How much of that information is useful (Score:2)

I wonder about this:

One million servers equals ... power consumption of 2.6TWh annually, or the amount of power that would be used by 230,000 homes in the U.S.

So 1 home uses as much power as 4 servers? Are we talking about super high-powered servers, or really low-powered homes?

-- "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."


Re:How much of that information is useful (Score:3)

That's around 30kWh per day. My house is currently consuming 40kWh, but its the middle of winter here and my wife and son probably have the heater on.


Re:How much of that information is useful (Score:2)


2.6E12 Wh / 230,000 = 11M Wh per house.

11 Mwh = 11,000 KWh, and that is about 20 cents per, (actually tiered from 10-30c). Or $2200, or about $183 a month, which is a pretty fair estimate, for my bill.

And, yes, a couple of years ago when I retired a (work related) server I no longer needed, my electric bill did go down by about $35/month - which is also in the ball park for "4-ish servers" = a household worth of electricity.

[Jul 18, 2013] Microsoft's one million servers what it means ITworld

Digging through the transcript of Microsoft's recent Worldwide Partner Conference, a number of people paused at CEO Steve Ballmer's comment that the company now has one million servers. As interesting is that he said that Google has more and Amazon fewer, while other big names like Facebook and Yahoo are in the 100,000 ballpark.

Let's dissect what matters:

--Does Ballmer know how Microsoft compares to his competitors? Probably not. As well-known Amazon Web Services engineer James Hamilton notes, Amazon has never released a server count. Neither has Google, although two years ago a Stanford professor deduced, based on official data about Google's data center energy output, that Google had around 900,000 servers.

--What does the number mean about Microsoft data center efficiency? That's a tough one to answer. Microsoft's IaaS and PaaS services are dwarfed by AWS. Bing is dwarfed by Google. More than 300 million people use, but 100 million more use Gmail.

Then there are Microsoft services, like Office 365 and other hosted enterprise software, that neither AWS or Google offer.

Do all of Microsoft's flagging competitive services, like Azure and Bing, plus its enterprise services, add up to more workloads than AWS has? Or is Microsoft just really inefficient at running its data centers?

These are questions posed by Roger, in the comments after Hamilton's blog post. He suggests we can't compare efficiency based on server numbers: "The numbers they should brag about are ratios – servers per system ops/admin person, annual power consumption per user, servers per user, etc." he wrote.

--Regardless of the comparison, what more does the one million figure tell us about Microsoft's data center? Hamilton does the math for us. He figures that one million servers equals 15 – 30 data centers, a $4.25 billion capital expense, and power consumption of 2.6TWh annually, or the amount of power that would be used by 230,000 homes in the U.S.

Those numbers are all huge, but plausible given Microsoft's size.

--Should we care? Hamilton argues the number isn't useful "mostly because a single data point is open to a lot of misinterpretation by even skilled industry observers."

That said, apparently there's significant interest throughout the industry. Data Center Knowledge said that its page that lists the best information about who has the most servers is one of its most popular.

Take a look, it's very interesting to see the enormous differences in scale. Rackspace, for instance, has just 94,000 servers. In 2011, SoftLayer said it had 100,000. EBay has 54,000 servers, compared to Facebook's "hundreds of thousands."

Ultimately, it's intriguing to find out how many servers Microsoft has, particularly because the giants in the industry are secretive about such data center metrics. But unless we have additional metrics, it's just too hard to draw any meaningful conclusions from the number.

Read more of Nancy Gohring's "To the Cloud" blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Nancy on Twitter at @ngohring and on Google+. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

[Jul 18, 2013] Nine traits of the veteran Unix admin By Paul Venezia

Good point about regular expressions ... and " We generally assume the problem is with whomever is asking the question"
Feb 14, 2012 | Infoworld

Last week I briefly departed from reality, thanks to the inexplicable actions of the CRTC, but this week, I'm off the drugs and back on terra firma -- sort of. Anyway, to celebrate my return to the land of the sane, I thought I'd tick off a few hallmarks of veteran Unix admins, so you have a better chance of spotting these rare, beautiful creatures in the wild. Here is our song.

... ... ...

Veteran Unix admin trait No. 3: We wield regular expressions like weapons
To the uninitiated, even the most innocuous regex looks like the result of nauseous keyboard. To us, however, it's pure poetry. The power represented in the complexity of pcre (Perl Compatible Regular Expressions) cannot be matched by any other known tool. If you need to replace every third character in a 100,000-line file, except when it's followed by the numeral 4, regular expressions aren't just a tool for the job -- they're the only tool for the job. Those that shrink from learning regex do themselves and their colleagues a disservice on a daily basis. In just about every Unix shop of reasonable size, you'll find one or two guys regex savants. These poor folks constantly get string snippets in their email accompanied by plaintive requests for a regex to parse them, usually followed by a promise of a round of drinks that never materializes.

Veteran Unix admin trait No. 4: We're inherently lazy
When given a problem that appears to involve lots of manual, repetitive work, we old-school Unix types will always opt to write code to take care of it. This usually takes less time than the manual option, but not always. Regardless, we'd rather spend those minutes and hours constructing an effort that can be referenced or used later, rather than simply fixing the immediate problem. Usually, this comes back to us in spades when a few years later we encounter a similar problem and can yank a few hundred lines of Perl from a file in our home directory, solve the problem in a matter of minutes, and go back to analyzing other code for possible streamlining. Or playing Angry Birds.

Veteran Unix admin trait No. 5: We prefer elegant solutions
If there are several ways to fix a problem or achieve a goal, we'll opt to spend more time developing a solution that encompasses the actual problem and preventing future issues than simply whipping out a Band-Aid. This is related to the fact that we loathe revisiting a problem we've already marked "solved" in our minds. We figure that if we can eliminate future problems now by thinking a few steps ahead, we'll have less to do down the road. We're usually right.

Veteran Unix admin trait No. 6: We generally assume the problem is with whomever is asking the question
To reach a certain level of Unix enlightenment is to be extremely confident in your foundational knowledge. It also means we never think that a problem exists until we can see it for ourselves. Telling a veteran Unix admin that a file "vanished" will get you a snort of derision. Prove to him that it really happened and he'll dive into the problem tirelessly until a suitable, sensible cause and solution are found. Many think that this is a sign of hubris or arrogance. It definitely is -- but we've earned it.

Veteran Unix admin trait No. 7: We have more in common with medical examiners than doctors
When dealing with a massive problem, we'll spend far more time in the postmortem than the actual problem resolution. Unless the workload allows us absolutely no time to investigate, we need to know the absolute cause of the problem. There is no magic in the work of a hard-core Unix admin; every situation must stem from a logical point and be traceable along the proper lines. In short, there's a reason for everything, and we'll leave no stone unturned until we find it.

To us, it's easy to stop the bleeding by HUPping a process or changing permissions on a file or directory to 777, but that's not the half of it. Why did the process need to be restarted? That shouldn't have been necessary, and we need to know why.

Veteran Unix admin trait No. 8: We know more about Windows than we'll ever let on
Though we may not run Windows on our personal machines or appear to care a whit about Windows servers, we're generally quite capable at diagnosing and fixing Windows problems. This is because we've had to deal with these problems when they bleed over into our territory. However, we do not like to acknowledge this fact, because most times Windows doesn't subscribe to the same deeply logical foundations as Unix, and that bothers us. See traits No. 5 and 6 above.

This story, "Nine traits of the veteran Unix admin," was originally published at Read more of Paul Venezia's The Deep End blog at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

[May 19, 2013] Faced With Overload, a Need to Find Focus by Tony Schwartz

For more than a decade, the most significant ritual in my work life has been to take on the most important task of the day as my first activity, for 90 minutes, without interruption, followed by a renewal break. I do so because mornings are when I have the highest energy and the fewest distractions.

... Far and away the biggest work challenges most of us now face are cognitive overload and difficulty focusing on one thing at a time.

Whenever I singularly devote the first 90 minutes of my day to the most challenging or important task – they're often one and the same - I get a ton accomplished.

Following a deliberate break – even just a few minutes - I feel refreshed and ready to face the rest of the day. When I don't start that way, my day is never quite as good, and I sometimes head home at night wondering what I actually did while I was so busy working.

Performing at a sustainably high level in a world of relentlessly rising complexity requires that we manage not just our time but also our energy – not just how many hours we work, but when we work, on what and how we feel along the way.

Fail to take control of your days - deliberately, consciously and purposefully - and you'll be swept along on a river of urgent but mostly unimportant demands.

It's all too easy to rationalize that we're powerless victims in the face of expectation from others, but doing that is itself a poor use of energy. Far better to focus on what we can influence, even if there are times when it's at the margins.

Small moves, it turns out, can make a significant difference.

When it comes to doing the most important thing first each morning, for example, it's best to make that choice, along with your other top priorities, the night before.

Plainly, there are going to be times that something gets in your way and it's beyond your control. If you can reschedule for later, even 30 minutes, or 45, do that. If you can't, so be it. Tomorrow is another day.

If you're a night owl and you have more energy later in the day, consider scheduling your most important work then. But weigh the risk carefully, because as your day wears on, the number of pulls on your attention will almost surely have increased.

Either way, it's better to work highly focused for short periods of time, with breaks in between, than to be partially focused for long periods of time. Think of it as a sprint, rather than a marathon. You can push yourself to your limits for short periods of time, so long as you have a clear stopping point. And after a rest, you can sprint again.

How you're feeling at any given time profoundly influences how effectively you're capable of working, but most of us pay too little attention to these inner signals.

Fatigue is the most basic drag on productivity, but negative emotions like frustration, irritability and anxiety are equally pernicious. A simple but powerful way to check in with yourself is to intermittently rate the quantity and quality of your energy - say at midmorning, and midafternoon - on a scale from 1 to 10.

If you're a 5 or below on either one, the best thing you can do is take a break.

Even just breathing deeply for as little as one minute – in to a count of three, out to a count of six – can quiet your mind, calm your emotions and clear your bloodstream of the stress hormone cortisol.

Learn to manage your energy more skillfully, and you'll get more done, in less time, at a higher level of focus. You'll feel better - and better about yourself - at the end of the day.

About the Author

Tony Schwartz is the chief executive of the Energy Project and the author, most recently, of "Be Excellent at Anything: The Four Keys to Transforming the Way We Work and Live." Twitter: @tonyschwartz

Anne-Marie Hislop, Chicago

The key is figuring our when we are most productive and focused. Although a morning person, I need early time for my rituals - exercise, shower, coffee, and NYT online (along with pop-ins at other sites). Then, by time I get to work around 8AM I will have my most focused, productive hours.

I also find that standing while I work on my computer, which I do more and more when I can (don't have a way to type extensively while standing) energizes me and helps me focus.

John Lamont, Pennsylvania

Frankly I think the core premise of the article, how to get more "done", needs to be questioned, especially in the context to which it speaks, the corporate environment. We would be far better served if Mr. Schwarz's audience spent that 1st 30 minutes of their day sitting back and thinking about what they do, who it's really for, what are the consequences of what they and their company do, and is it morally and ecologically ethical.

In the grand scheme of things I don't doubt mankind is now better off than it was 2,000 or even 500 years ago, but in our relentless drive to produce, consume and sell we have developed, and continue to develop technologies and complex global social interactions that have a good chance of setting us back to the stone age.

Let's not be in such a hurry getting wherever we think we're going and spend a bit more time pondering about where it is we actually want to be and who we want to be when we get there.

[Mar 27, 2013] Most IT Admins Have Considered Quitting Due To Stress

Mar 27, 2013 | Slashdot

Posted by Soulskill

Orome1 writes

"The number of IT professionals considering leaving their job due to workplace stress has jumped from 69% last year to 73%. One-third of those surveyed cited dealing with managers as their most stressful job requirement, particularly for IT staff in larger organizations. Handling end user support requests, budget squeeze and tight deadlines were also listed as the main causes of workplace stress for IT managers. Although users are not causing IT staff as much stress as they used to, it isn't stopping them from creating moments that make IT admins want to tear their hair out in frustration. Of great concern is the impact that work stress is having on health and relationships. While a total of 80% of participants revealed that their job had negatively impacted their personal life in some way, the survey discovered some significant personal impact: 18% have suffered stress-related health issues due to their work, and 28% have lost sleep due to work."


Re:IT admins are special (Score:5, Insightful)

lots of jobs really suck, and lots of people are stressed to the point of health impacts and have considered quitting. Many of these jobs pay significantly less than IT wages.

Whenever I get stressed out, I remember the jobs I did before/while I was in college, and I'm happy to be where I am. I can't imagine what today's grads do without any work experience at low-wage McJobs. Consider quitting I guess?


Re:IT admins are special (Score:4, Insightful)

Admin is just a step up from help desk, hang out too long and it will begin to suck badly. If you fail to increase your skills (most admins) and your ability to add value, then it will start to suck badly after a number of years--it's boring.

How many servers can you provision or user accounts can you setup before pulling your fucking hair out?

Learn to code, become a professional DBA, or acquire some more skills that makes you valuable, like perhaps getting involved with business intelligence.

Admins are a commodity. Yes, it is easy to hang out and collect a paycheck, but don't whine when your value wanes and people direct you around like a monkey boy.

i kan reed

Re:IT admins are special (Score:5, Insightful)

As an software engineer(and thus not an IT admin), IT admins have it much worse than most middle class office workers. They get shit on over the smallest thing, and are the only IT employees who are expected to deliver within minutes of being asked. I don't think it's a stretch to say their stress levels might be higher than yours.


Re:IT admins are special (Score:5, Interesting)

In terms of certain job expectations they are. These include longer hours and working weekends and during the 3rd shift.

A lot of mundanes don't understand this. They hear that you've got some office job and they don't understand why you would be working those kinds of hours.

Clueless spouses can add to the stress level. Even spouses that are part of the workforce can be ignorant and unsympathetic.


Re:IT admins are special (Score:4, Funny)

No your wife will not understand no matter what your job is. She will undoubtedly have worked more then you did, no matter what.


That is only $48k. That is terrible pay for sysadmin work.


Personally I was supporting Windows, Linux, and Apple... So no, not just windows. I also was not the only one, I worked with admins from a dozen companies from time to time and pay varied from $40k-55k. Those making $55k were in their 50's and had started (often at these companies) during the 70's or at most 80's...


Lying liars and the lies they lie about (Score:5, Informative)

Only 73% have considered quitting? The other 27% are lying to you, probably because they're worried that the survey is being snooped on by the corporate Barracuda firewall.

Spy Handler

Rapid change in IT is the problem (Score:3)

When IT and computer/internet field in general settle down and become mature, things will get better.

Right now there's just too many new technolgies and buzzwords and platforms and architecture and paradigms popping up, and pointy-haired managers and VPs all want to implement this and that and oh by the way make it work with our legacy system and nothing better get lost or you're fired.


Re:Rapid change in IT is the problem (Score:5, Insightful)

It's not a matter of maturity. Many organizations hide behind the disclaimer "we are not an I.T. company", despite having sizable I.T. departments. And despite having this sizable department, which offers mission-critical applications and infrastructure, zero effort is made towards working smarter. Problems are fixed with mandatory overtime, cutting staffing/costs, and "quick-and-dirty" fixes to long standing problems.

I think some companies are starting to understand that their project management methodologies are flawed, but most cannot connect the concepts of "software debt" to decreasing marginal output in their I.T. efforts. An hour of work today is less effective than in the past because you are paying "interest" on your previous bad decisions.

I think that the 27% is reflective of companies that can connect the longevity and cost-effectiveness of I.T. systems to proper project planning, management, and I.T. expertise. Whether or not this is an upper-bound remains to be seen, because a lot of organizations simply don't understand that inventing your own project management ideas dooms you to repeating the same failures that have happened over the last 50 years.


Thats why your #1 priority in an interview is: (Score:5, Insightful)

Picking your boss. If you're not up a creek looking for work, that interview is to let you meet your managers, talk to some workers about the managers.

When I started working it was "If I can just get in the door"

When I was in my 20's it was "What cool things will this job do for me"

Now That i'm in my 30's its "Will I be able to work with these people"


It's about being "Always on" (Score:5, Insightful)

I'm an IT professional and more than once I've thought about quitting, especially when I was doing high-stress consulting. Clients treat you like meat, like "the help." They have no problem waking you up at 5AM with nonsense problems. If you don't answer and do it politely, they call your boss and then your job/livelihood is in jeopardy.

This isn't just a 9-5 thing where, when you leave the office, you're no longer on the hook -- it's always happening. Sometimes, you're at a bar at 10PM and you get an urgent call -- pick it up, and you in your tipsy state are now on the hook to resolve an important issue.

The fear of getting these calls has made me stay home sometimes when I could have been being social, and not travel away on vacation when I knew some action was going on I'd be needed for. It creates a lot of stress to be depended on so much, and now with telecommuting, you're expected to be responsive at all times wherever you are.

It's a lot of stress even in the best setup/most-redundant environments, and the job is not for everyone. And when projects come up that are difficult and highly user-facing, it's hard to avoid this type of a situation.


Re:It's about being "Always on" (Score:2)

How is that different from being... a doctor, a fireman, a nuclear plant operator, a plumber, or an electrical line repairman?

Welcome to the world of essential services. When your job is to keep things working, you don't get to pick your hours cause shit happens.

[Mar 26, 2013] Not your father's IBM - I, Cringely

Another Ex-IBMer says:

April 18, 2012 at 9:28 am

The current level of EPS was reached by a combination of two things: (1) offshoring jobs and (2) killing the pension fund (IBM stopped contributing to its pension fund in 2007 – all subsequent benefit dollars have gone into 401k plans). Lots of other shenanigans too of course, documented well in the book "Retirement Heist: How Companies Plunder and Profit from the Nest Eggs of American Workers" by Ellen Schultz.

Since (2) has already been done, to redouble EPS again to $20 per share will require an even greater rate of US job elimination than we have seen in the past.

They have also done other little things. Yes, retirees can purchase health insurance through IBM, but retirees are placed into their own insurance pool rather than being co-insured with all employees. Result: (much) higher rates. Result of higher rates: retirees cannot afford health insurance ==> retirees die sooner ==> lower pension costs for IBM ==> higher EPS!

[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.

[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.

[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

  • One - If there is redundancy and virtualization, AOL can certainly keep services running while a tech goes in, maybe once a week, and swaps out the failed blades that have already been remotely disabled and their usual services relocated. this is not a problem. Our outfit here has a lights-out facility that sees a tech maybe every few weeks, and other than that a janitor keeps the dust bunnies at bay and makes sure the locks work daily. And yes, they've asked him to flip power switches and tell them what color the lights were. He's gotten used to this. that center doesn't have state-of-the-art stuff in it, either.
  • Two - Didn't AOL run on a mainframe (or more than one) in the 90s? It predated anything useful, even the Web I think. Netscape was being launched in 1998, Berners-Lee was making a NeXT browser in 1990, and AOL for Windows existed in 1991. Mosaic and Lynx were out in 1993. AOL sure didn't need any PC infrastructure, it predated even Trumpet Winsock, I think, and Linux. I don't think I could have surfed the Web in 1991 with a Windows machine, but I could use AOL.

[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.

Microsoft Has 1 Million Servers. So What -

July 18, 2013



Since they do mail hosting (Score:2)

Since they do mail hosting that's probably half right and a large proportion of them are mail servers. It probably works well most of the time, but I've only ever been exposed to that side of their business due to an utterly stupid fuckup that took them a week to resolve because that's how long the trouble ticket queue is - that's how little respect they had for their client with more than twenty thousand email accounts.

I wasn't working for that client of theirs but instead trying to contact someone there while their Microsoft hosted email was down for a week.


Re:How do you calculate space and power... (Score:2)

While running VMs is more flexible, is there too much overhead in the tradeoff? Especially with a million servers and all.

Which does need some consideration. Supposedly, in a perfect virtualized environment you'd see about 2-3% knocked off, in a headless configuration (no preferred guest OS VM installed on top of the host) and with perfect loading. However it's an imperfect world and no matter how you automagically mix and match loads, assuming it's allowed for those guests (think HIPAA, etc.), you're going to see more inefficiency. How much? No one seems to be releasing real numbers that I know of. It's quite literally a billion dollar question for the host providers and perhaps a trillion dollar question for the world.

-- "The most deadly words for an engineer. 'I have an idea.'"


Re:How do you calculate space and power... (Score:3)

Not really. Microsoft's Quincy data center started virtualizing servers and they saved so much electricity that they didn't hit Bonneville Power Association's target energy usage to qualify for the huge discount they normally get.

To make up the difference they opened all the vents in the middle of winter, turned the heaters on full blast, and burned $70,000 in electricity in a week. The renegotiated the next year's contract with the BPA so they haven't had to repeat that particular bit of foolishness.

-- "Think about how stupid the average person is. Now, realise that half of them are dumber than that." - George Carlin

Is the Information Technology Revolution Over

June 4, 2013 | Economist's View

Quick one, then I have to figure out how to get to Toulouse (missed connection, in Paris now ... but should be able to get there ... long day so far):

Is the Information Technology Revolution Over?, by David M. Byrne, Stephen D. Oliner, and Daniel E. Sichel, FRB: Abstract: Given the slowdown in labor productivity growth in the mid-2000s, some have argued that the boost to labor productivity from IT may have run its course. This paper contributes three types of evidence to this debate. First, we show that since 2004, IT has continued to make a significant contribution to labor productivity growth in the United States, though it is no longer providing the boost it did during the productivity resurgence from 1995 to 2004. Second, we present evidence that semiconductor technology, a key ingredient of the IT revolution, has continued to advance at a rapid pace and that the BLS price index for microprocesssors may have substantially understated the rate of decline in prices in recent years. Finally, we develop projections of growth in trend labor productivity in the nonfarm business sector. The baseline projection of about 1¾ percent a year is better than recent history but is still below the long-run average of 2¼ percent. However, we see a reasonable prospect--particularly given the ongoing advance in semiconductors--that the pace of labor productivity growth could rise back up to or exceed the long-run average. While the evidence is far from conclusive, we judge that "No, the IT revolution is not over."


Darryl FKA Ron said...
The pickup reflects ongoing advances in IT and an assumption that those gains and innovations in other sectors spur some improvement in multifactor productivity (MFP) growth outside of the IT sector relative to its tepid pace from 2004 to 2012.5 These developments feed through the economy to provide a modest boost to labor productivity growth.

[Using technology to replace people or make them more productive, generally considered the same thing, is one form of productivity increasing technology integration. Automating accounting functions from producing bills to meter reading or selling your goods on the WWW were examples of the revolution of picking low hanging fruit. Using technology to manage systems in ways that people could not realistically accomplish is another way of increasing productivity. From running power production and distribution, traffic lights, and just in time manufacturing integrated with ERP accounting systems from order entry through to shipping and general ledger were other ways of increasing productivity. The green fields of labor replacement have largely been sewn. The green fields of automated systems management are without end. Economists have a limited lens into operations with metrics that often confuse value and price.]

Darryl FKA Ron said in reply to Darryl FKA Ron...
IOW, the MFP is underpriced because its marginal benefits get absorded by price competition.
squidward said in reply to Darryl FKA Ron...
Economists have a limited lens into operations with metrics that often confuse value and price.

That can be very true when looking at it qualitatively. Google or Amazon could be loading your browser with cookies and data mining your online habits to maximize sales. Their increases in revenue don't help the average consumer much other than consume more. It's not quite the same brave new world we had with the advent of online banking, bill paying and 24 hr shopping with home delivery.

I would have to agree that now marginal increases in productivity due to IT aren't giving the same marginal increases in value to the end consumer.

john personna said...
As I understand it, middle class incomes have fallen as productivity has risen. Doesn't that make a productivity centered view much less interesting to compassionate observers?
reason said in reply to john personna...
Not sure, but it makes redistribution more interesting.
Fred C. Dobbs said...

Yesterday I watched three techs work for two hours to get a laser printer going again that had been working fine Friday, but now was down due to 'network problems', so I would have to say, yeah, it could be over.

Julio said in reply to Fred C. Dobbs...
I watched the same scene twenty years ago, and it was a crappy dot-matrix printer that cost ten times as much.

What does it all mean?

john personna said in reply to Julio...
I suspect that techs stretched out a ticket, then and now.
Fred C. Dobbs said in reply to Fred C. Dobbs...

Such problems, which are infrequent, seem to be invariably network-related. Network support techs
are in short supply so 'everything else' is always tried first, even when that doesn't make much sense.

KJMClark said...

If economists at the FRB are still getting paid to ruminate on whether the IT revolution is over, then the IT revolution is not over. We'll know it's nearly over when we're replacing all but the top level of economists with intelligent software. (The top level will be helping the top-level software developers write the software.) We'll know it's completely over when the politicians decide we've had enough of the experiment of replacing people with machines. Or, rather, when we get the intelligent machines' responses to the politicians saying we're done.

ezra abrams said...

ya know, if u economist ever got outta yr offices, and did some real work...
You would find that the gains yet to be realized from the IT revolution are IMMENSE
People like myself, highly paid and educated PhDs, we can all be dispensed with
or, how about an earpiece that in real time tells a trial lawyer, *while s/he is in court*, what ruling he needs to cite to rebut a just made oral argument...

or CAD software that allows automotive design engineers to shave 10% of the weight of a car in an iteritve fashion (lower the weight of one component; therefore suspension can be less sturdy, in turn you then need less horsepower due to the lower wieght...)

or software that can solve Navier stokes for non laminair flow at high reynolds number

i mean, seriously, the it revolution is over ?
I'm sure they said the same thing about RailRoads and the tansportation revolution in, say 1890

jt said...

Couldn't automation lead to declining gross productivity via underemployment of displaced workers into low productivity jobs (services)? In fact, one could argue that the dual mandate of monetary policy will produce exactly this outcome. Labor income distributions seem to confirm this split in the labor market. The more interesting comparison, is in industry that use a lot of IT, has their productivity improved?

Michael Gamble:

Computer technology with out software is just a paperweight. The technology revolution is stalled but not over. The problem as I see it and it seems to be everywhere is not nearly enough people paying for custom software development done in house.

Every company any bigger than a few employees needs someone on staff who manages software purchases, installation and the creation of custom software to make the bridge between a lot of chimerical software, but no one wants to pay for it.

I don't blame them mind you there has been a lot of over hyping going on by the big players in the industry for years. And looking around you would think your entire business could be run from your phone with all the advertising, technology and hype put in to mobile phones?

Observer said in reply to Michael Gamble...
I used to lead teams that built custom software for internal use. The ROI can be high under the right conditions, but Commercial Off The Shelf is often a better solution. It depends. My off the cuff guess is that custom is hard to justify for a small business, except in very special cases.

Custom software that actually supports business critical processes tends to be quite expensive, with reason.

Another reason to avoid custom software is risk mitigation. A business that relies on software built by one "someone on staff" is running a real risk if/when that someone leaves.

Part of the unwillingness to pay is that people's expectations are influenced by consumer software price points, $0 to a few hundred dollars.

Jerry said...
A secondary inhibiter might be the growing mess in the software patent world. There seems to be an increasing reluctance to make an investment because of the patent toes that might get tweaked.
squidward said in reply to Jerry...

This is very true, the whole tech industry is a mess with antiquated patent law. You have to wonder how many products aren't being brought to market because a smaller company can't afford to get in a heavy weight patent brawl a la Samsung v. Apple.

I'm no expert but I have always wondered why writing code isn't more analogous to copyrighting than inventing and patenting. If we could incentivize more open source we could have more innovation.

Second Best said...

For the US, much of the IT revolution was over after the major carriers killed the internet revolution in its tracks, and it ain't coming back anytime soon.

See 'Captive Audience' by Susan Crawford.

kievite said...

Situation is enterprise datacenters definitely corresponds to definition of stagnation. We see a lot of cost cutting.

Percentage of custom software is small and getting smaller as Observer already noted above. Programmers are disappearing from the enterprise IT departments.

At the same time a new dangerous trend is in place. Some "of-the-shelf" packages on which enterprise depends are problematic with some subsystems close to junk or even harmful (SAP/R3, some IBM products, etc). Moreover there is now a new type of enterprise software vendors who are specializing in selling completely useless or even harmful software on the pure strength of marketing (plus fashion). Vendor which try to capitalize on ignorance of a typical IT management layer.

Like Kolmogorov once said "You can't overestimate the level of ignorance of the audience". That was about different audience, but fully applicable here. So snake oil salesmen in IT are making good money, may be better than honest sailmen.

But the problems with "off-the-shelf" packages are increasing due to their often unwarranted complexity (which serves mainly as barrier of entry for competitors), or just complexity for the sake of complexity.

This and the fact that generally software is a the most complex artifact invented by mankind lead to the level of understanding of existing packages and operating systems that can be called dismal. Even people who "should know" often look like coming from the pages of "The Good Soldier Švejk" or "Catch 22". One Unix group manager in a large company that I used to know for example did not understand the fact that IBM Power servers and Intel servers are based on CPU with two different architectures. When at the meeting I realized that my jaw simply dropped.

People who saw the software evolution from its humble beginning and can understand internals and nature of compromises taken in existing hardware and software are now close to retirement and in the new generation such people are exceedingly rare.

That is true for operating systems such as Linux or Solaris, this is even more true for web-related software such as Apache, MediaWiki, Frontpage, etc. As a result a lot of things are "barely run" and a lot of system are bought just because people have no clue that already bought systems can perform the same functions.

This is also true about Office, especially Excel. One think that I noticed that the level of knowledge of Excel is really dismal across the enterprise. I would agree with "squidward" that for office (but only for office) "I would have to agree that now marginal increases in productivity due to IT aren't giving the same marginal increases in value to the end consumer. ". But that's for office only. Cars, homes, etc are still "terrra incognita".

But while internally everything looks rotten, externally situation looks different: there is unending assault of automation on existing jobs. So JT is on something when he asks the question "The more interesting comparison, is in industry that use a lot of IT, has their productivity improved?" Yes and to the extend that many workforce cuts are permanent and moreover cuts might continue.

As for statement "For the US, much of the IT revolution is over" I doubt it. Computer will continue to eat jobs. The "cutting edge" simply moved elsewhere and one hot area are various robotic systems. Here is one example:

"IBM is using robots based on iRobot Create, a customizable version of the Roomba vacuum cleaner, to measure temperature and humidity in data centers. The robot looks for cold zones (where cold air may be going to waste instead of being directed to the servers) and hotspots (where the air circulation may be breaking down. IBM is putting the robots to commercial use at partners - while EMC is at an early stage on a strikingly similar project."

Both home and datacenter are huge application areas. Even in consumer electronics what we have is still very primitive in comparison with what is possible on the current hardware. That is true for smartphones, tablets and other mass gargets. And it is even more true for home. For example for older people a cutting edge computer technology can probably provide the level of service comparable with the level of service of nursing home. Automated cook who accepts a simple menu and deliver dishes is already feasible automation. Currently the cost will be high but gradually it will drop and quality of service improves.

One interesting area is saving energy. How many people here have home network which integrates thermostat, outdoor and indoor lights, and security system. And probably nobody here has computer automated shades on windows.

Autonomous datacenters with robot service are in my opinion an interesting development which in many cases can serve as "distributed cloud".

Sunny Liu said in reply to kievite...

I agree. That was a wonderfully informative post, and thank you for that. I also don't think it's even close to over not just because of robotics but also because of machine learning. The implications for data mining and big data are enormous, and the research being done in those fields are still yet to be fully utilized.

Right now, machine learning and big data are advancing research in biology, but what about the optimizations possible in pharmaceuticals or manufacturing?


not sure if this qualifies as IT. Not even sure if that is a meaningful distinction, but as a distributor I can't help thinking that 3D printers will have a profound impact on both manufacturing and distribution.

The issue now becomes whether the technology will transform manufacturing more broadly. At the moment, 3D printing is a small part of the economy. The printers are typically slow, and the material they use is expensive and inconsistent. As the industry advances, however, printing on demand could reduce assembly lines, shorten supply chains, and largely erase the need for warehouses for many companies. Cutting back on shipping and eliminating the waste and pollution of traditional manufacturing could be an environmental boon.


The software revolution is over, just the same way the written word revolution ended in 1900.

Tom Shillock:

Does increased labor productivity increase living standards? What if the products are lower quality and either must be disposed of sooner than if they were of higher quality or incur greater lifecycle service costs than if they were of higher quality? If increased productivity degrades the natural environment (air, water, soil, food) are living standards increased? If productivity numbers increase because more people are unemployed or under employed or suffer stagnant or lower wages from globalization has the standard of living increased?

Looking at aggregate data glosses losers and winners. For the last three decades the winners are relatively fewer in number but grabbing a greater share of GDP, while the loser are vastly greater in number and have fewer opportunities to be winners other than through random luck (marriage, inheritance, connections).

Is IT innovation necessarily good or more productive? The increase in semiconductor performance (pick your metric) at a given price, or even lower price, will not increase productivity if you already have all the IT performance you can use. In some cases, it might reduce productivity. E.g., having larger hard drives means more data will be collected (data collects to fill the space available: Shillock's Second Law of Storage). Unless one has efficient methods to keep track of it all then searching for it will reduce productivity. Also, access and seek times have not improved linearly with capacity. Another hit to productivity from IT. This is why the Fed's incorporation of a "hedonic index" for microprocessors into its price index muddies the water (c.f. p. 8)

What if some IT innovation gives a company a competitive edge such as happened in finance? Others are compelled to adopt it ASAP but that does not necessarily make the financial industry more productive. Indeed, it facilitated fraud on a massive scale that caused the Great Recession while leaving insiders vastly wealthier for it. It could be argued that IT innovations have facilitated the increasing and increasingly server financial crises over the past three decades, if only because they create the delusion among users that they know more than they do thereby feeding their hubris.

The Dictatorship of Data

Most of the gains to productivity from IT are in two areas. First, is that large financial and reservation systems. These run on IBM mainframes. The second is the application of smaller computers to manufacturing to run tools. The vast amount of PC level IT probably reduces productivity because most people do not know how to use it. Word processors allow more people to take more time making their emails and interoffice memos grammatically better and with fewer spelling errors. Most people have little clue how to use spreadsheets, even Rinehart and Rogoff were challenged. PowerPoint and similar PC apps are great for enabling the incompetent and ignorant to appear otherwise, which accounts for their popularity. They are the lingua franca of IBM. So far Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. are a great waste of time for the neurotically self-conscious and self-important.

Economics is a literary genre in which contestants focus only on the numbers and usually those they like then use their imaginations to spin stories about the numbers. Audiences then vote on which story they find most pleasing.

Can You Say "Bubble"?

April 30, 2013 by | 18 Comments By James Kwak

Yesterday's Wall Street Journal had an article titled "Foosball over Finance" about how people in finance have been switching to technology startups, for all the predictable reasons: The long hours in finance. "Technology is collaborative. In finance, it's the opposite." "The prospect of 'building something new.'" Jeans. Foosball tables. Or, in the most un-self-conscious, over-engineered, revealing turn of phrase: "The opportunity of my generation did not seem to be in finance."

We have seen this before. Remember That film documented the travails of a banker who left Goldman to start an online company that would revolutionize the delivery of local government services. It failed, but not before burning through tens of millions of dollars of funding. There was a time, right around 1999, when every second-year associate wanted to bail out of Wall Street and work for an Internet company.

The things that differentiate technology from banking are always the same: the hours (they're not quite as bad), the work environment, "building something new," the dress code, and so on. They haven't changed in the last few years. The only thing that changes are the relative prospects of working in the two industries-or, more importantly, perceptions of those relative prospects.

Wall Street has always attracted a particular kind of person: ambitious but unfocused, interested in success more than any achievements in particular, convinced (not entirely without reason) that they can do anything, and motivated by money largely as a signifier of personal distinction. If those people want to work for technology startups, that means two things.

How a Programmer Gets By On $16K-Yr He Moves to Malaysia - Slashdot

Interview With A Digital Migrant Meet John Hunter - Unchartered Waters

John Hunter

"Move to low cost-of-living area of the world, set up shop working remote, work ten hours a week while building a huge nest egg."

Whole books have been published on this model, along with terms like "The Nouveau Rich", people who get to earn wealth while enjoying the easy life.

And yet …

It seems to never actually happen.

Or, at least, it doesn't seem to happen much. Often the people living the "Jimmy Buffett Life" are already millionaires living off interest. Often the person speaking is selling something (perhaps a dream) more than a reality. We can do better.

Then I met John Hunter and learned about his technology business.

John is not independently wealthy. He did not have a big IPO, and does not have have a revenue stream. Nor does he have a best-selling book on, say, how to live cheap.

Instead, he was a practicing programmer and IT program manager who moved from Virginia to Malaysia, on the expectation of taking a year long "sabbatical," and, if he could find a way to make it work, to stay a bit longer.

And Now. John has been in Malaysia for a bit over a year now, with no sign of returning anytime soon.

I thought he was worth talking to, and sharing here.

by Stiletto (12066) writes: on Monday March 18, @06:44PM (#43208399)

It's not causal. Working long hours does not cause you to be highly paid or wealthy. If that were true, all a vegetable picker would have to do is work 120 hours a week and retire in comfort. A CEO does not make 800X what his average staff makes because he works 800 times as long.

Sadly, on average, the most accurate predictor of someone's income is their father's income.

Re:30 hours per week? (Score:5, Insightful)

by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 18, @08:33PM (#43209445)

It does if you count high school and college and grad school. Tell me, how hard do you think those vegetable pickers were working when they were 16? Were they staying late after school to learn Calculus, or were they cutting class to get high with their homies? Working hard and being smart actually matter. Anyone who says otherwise has never tried either working hard or being smart.

They were probably too busy picking vegetables at 16. They probably study when they can. College? Grad School? With fruit pickin' parents? You really are disconnected from the real world down here aren't you.

Funny, most business owners/CEO's I've met are decent with basic algebra but weak when it comes to calculus, trig, etc.

A.) They know people. (usually part of a boys club at an expensive university)
B.) Have rich fathers
C.) Work hard.

Pick any two of the above and it will fit most CEO's... they also have to be willing to make hard choices at the expense of others to further their agenda.... or perform some CYA.

No, it's because what he knows is 800x as valuable. Not all work is equal. That's one of the many flaws in Marx's philosophy.

So Carly Fiorina's contributions were worth more than a seasoned electronics engineer with 25 years of experience? I think not.

A CEO is a corporate face undeserving of being put on a pedestal unless they built the company they are running with their bare hands in the beginning.

Sadly, on average, the most accurate predictor of someone's income is their father's income.

That's because income is dependent on intelligence and hard work. Intelligence is highly heritable and appreciation for hard work is handed down in successful families.

Spoken like a true wannabe aristocrat. The possibility of being intelligent may be inherited, but actual intelligence isn't. Most trust fund babies I've ever met have been pretty useless except for office political gain. Breeding has nothing to do with being fit for the job.

The hard work that's handed down is soaked in the blood of the people who actually worked for it that were desperate enough to allow themselves to be exploited.

Re:30 hours per week? (Score:5, Funny)

by ColdSam (884768) on Monday March 18, @08:55PM (#43209631)

Ok let's test you theory:

Nicely done. Your rigorous analysis sure proved him wrong.

It takes skill, hard work, ruthless ambition and extreme good luck to get rich and stay there.

Is it okay if we use your method on your own theory?

Paris Hilton - nope

George Bush - nope

gordo3000 Re:30 hours per week? (Score:3)

do you have any sources that say the majority of wealth in this country was inherited? A skimming the forbes richest list show quite a few people who didn't get there via just cashing an inheritance and others who did (walton's family, as the obvious top examples).

I've generally found in 3rd world countries the amount that inheritance matters and who you know matters far more than in the US. In fact, I think the US is the most democratic on this (I've traveled quite a bit and lived abroad, but I've never done hard research, so I'm not saying this is research). But that is relative across countries, to speak towards working towards your wealth and inheriting in an absolute manner is a hard research question. here is what I mean:

Most upper income people I know got there by hard work, but that is not saying parents didn't help them a lot and that those advantages can be passed down. I know doctors and lawyers (as two high income profession classes), all worked hard to get there, some had lots of family money getting them through, others didn't. What I have found is that having family money helps make up for lower qualifications, making upper income a sticky level to be at (though this doesn't speak to super rich families where children never need to work). A great example is poor performance in college. Upper income people can afford to have their children stay in college longer, pay more for tuition, or send them abroad for medical school to get them to being a doctor. Lower income people just have to fight it out onshore.

Re:30 hours per week? (Score:4, Interesting)

by SpaceMonkies (2868125) on Monday March 18, @09:19PM (#43209821)

If you can make $15/hr remotely, I'd suggest Montenegro. Find a place near the sea, you got it made. You might have to work at getting a really great broadband deal, but there are some to be had. If you're single, the women there are beautiful and have sexy accents, you've got the sea and off-season the tourists go away and you can really enjoy the good life. You're a short hop from shopping in Italy, skiing in the Alps and you're still not in the EU (yet). Learn to play tuba in a Balkan horn band. Drink lots of coffee and slivovitza. Go out in your backyard and pick fresh figs for breakfast. Even if swimming in crystal-blue seas is not your idea of fun, you can set yourself down in a sidewalk cafe and watch one Mila Jovovic after another walk by. And there's none of the snobbiness of Western Europe.


I know that a lot of janitors/custodial service as well as bus drivers that do that. Some people in retail and "health care"/assisted living places work that much too. White collar workers mostly have it "easier" because their jobs pay far more. 50 hours is a bit low, since many of them work weekends too.



Entrepreneurs never stop working, off hours, weekends, holidays, those are just words, they don't mean anything when you run a business.


... and I can't find a country called Malysia (please note, editors: it's Malaysia).

I know Malaysia well (even though I live in the UK). I first went there in '97 and married a Malaysian-born woman. Some observations: They really like and respect white people. They don't particularly like Chinese people (my wife is half Chinese so I see rampant discrimination against this large minority - about 25% of Malaysia's population - all the time). The weather is great (although sometimes a little too humid).

Kuala Lumpur is a very advanced city that can compare to anything in the West. Broadband speeds are so-so according to my cousin-in-law. There appears to be a demand for good engineers (according to another cousin-in-law, a Chinese who studied IT in England). So, assuming you can get a visa, getting some interesting work shouldn't be too hard. The political situation there is... interesting. But I get the impression that if you don't cause trouble you will be left alone - especially if you are white.


Re:What article (Score:5, Interesting)


I know Malaysia well (even though I live in the UK). I first went there in '97 and married a Malaysian-born woman. Some observations: They really like and respect white people. They don't particularly like Chinese people (my wife is half Chinese so I see rampant discrimination against this large minority - about 25% of Malaysia's population - all the time). The weather is great (although sometimes a little too humid). Kuala Lumpur is a very advanced city that can compare to anything in the West. Broadband speeds are so-so according to my cousin-in-law. There appears to be a demand for good engineers (according to another cousin-in-law, a Chinese who studied IT in England). So, assuming you can get a visa, getting some interesting work shouldn't be too hard. The political situation there is... interesting. But I get the impression that if you don't cause trouble you will be left alone - especially if you are white.


The reason is that after the war or so, the first people to start running businesses and such were Chinese (most likely chased out from Singapore by the Japanese), and they got very rich doing so.

The government exploits the fact that a lot of Malaysians are jealous of the Chinese for being successful (which happens because they worked hard at building businesses and such) , so they put up huge campaigns of national identity and such to encourage hatred of the Chinese. However, they government doesn't really do anything about it (they can't - said Chinese businesses pay a good amount of tax and employ a lot of Malays). So basically the Chinese are demonized for being successful and "exploiting" Malays

If you're white, you're usually a tourist or an investor, so you're treated well to get at your $$$. If you're a Chinese investor with $$$, everyone eyes you like you're going to enslave them.

The government feeds off this sentiment and basically just fans the flames. There's no real democracy (there is voting, but the opposition is usually highly discredited, or even arrested if they have a chance of winning - being a Muslim state, there are plenty of "crimes" that one can accuse the Opposition of).


That closes the loop on what I noticed about the Chinese in Singapore hating the Japanese. I actually witnessed a shop keeper play dumb with a Japanese trying to buy something using Engrish. Old Japanese guy stormed out in frustration. I go to buy something, no problem, he explained the other guy was Japanese.

I don't know if I would choose Malaysia or Singapore though. Both are kind of strict countries if you run afoul of the local powers that be. Fun to visit, not so much on the living there. I'd hit up Belize. Nice locals, cheap and only 1 hour plane ride to Miami if the shit goes down.

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.

Principles to Remember



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.)

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.


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