Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board




What coders can learn from $200/hr plumbers

In my town, all electrical and plumbing work must be done with city liscenced workers.  (Or be faced with steep fines)  I recently replaced all the appliances in my kitchen.  The stove and dishwasher had to be disconnected before delivery, and reconnected after delivery.  (The plumber made 2 visits)  My bill is $475.

There is a supply of unliscenced people who would have done the work for less than 50% of this.  However, the one's with a city liscence know they have a oligolpoly on this niche, and clearly exploit it, knowing their clients can't opt for the cheaper labor.

How is this relevent to programming?  I think that's clear.  I've been saying it for almost 2 years on this site.  When you lament the labor market, know that you are operating in a sector that has NO formal degree requirement, NO certification requirement.  Hence, has NO barrier to entry (except one's that firms themselves place on their potiential hires), and of course the killer, sometimes, NO need to be physically present. 

For everything these niche plumbers have done right to protect themselves, it highlights exactly why IT was always a dead-end career that will ultimately pay fast-food wages.  (Back in 2000, I used to use the $60k nurse/cop/teacher/plumber, but my long term salary prospects for those fields are better, in my estimation)

Bella
Saturday, October 18, 2003

Don't quite understand the 'Back in 2000' part.
Are you saying that those fields are dead-end, albeit better than programming?


Saturday, October 18, 2003

I don't think you can liscence something as common as computer knowledge.  Everyone has the ability to own and use a computer.  They are readily available for purchase.  On the contrary is someone who lives in an apartment going to go out and buy their own tools and do their own plumbing?  I don't think so.  Is someone who owns their own house going to do their own plumbing?  Most people wouldn't.  Same with electrical and mechanical (car) work.  These trades require > physical tools < to be purchased whereas one only a needs a computer to learn programming.  The other trades also require you to have a place to go to perform the work.  You don't need that with a computer, you simply sit down and code.

Knowledge of programming is readily available and practicable at the same time.  That is the key, that you can practice programming easily.  You can't simply practice being an electrician or a plumber at home.  You're not going to say, "Ok let's tear out the sewer system today and put it back in.  It'll be good practice.".  That would be a huge time and money investment.

With such ready availability of hardware, software, knowledge and the ability to practice what would a liscence mean any more than a MSCE certificate now?

There are no local codes to follow when programming.  There are accepted best practices, but that is a given with any trade.

If you're concerned about salary, then you need to find a way to limit the ability to practice coding on a computer.  Computers are simply too common to have to have require a liscence.  No city is going to make a "Coding code" to follow.

In other words, what a ridiculuous idea and only to protect your interest in your salary.

-------------------------------

"Headline news: Today the government signed into law Bill number 156 that states all manufacture of computers will cease and the internet will be shut down.  This Bill will protect the knowledge of all current programmers so their salaries can grow. (Brought to you by Lobbying for Stagnation.)

I
Saturday, October 18, 2003

Said 'I'...  Everyone has the ability to own and use a computer.  They are readily available for purchase.  On the contrary is someone who lives in an apartment going to go out and buy their own tools and do their own plumbing?  I don't think so.

Why not?

A computer is a tool, and rather expensive when you think about it.

Plumbing and electrical work is not all that difficult.  Of course, leaking pipes and sparking power sockets is a worry.  A few screwdrivers, wirecutters and like will let you do most of the work.

In New Zealand, you are allowed to perform electrical work in your house, provided the work is later inspected by an electrician.  Generally, neat = good job.

Australian is headed the opposite way.  In the state of Queensland, on electricians are allowed to work on mains power.  While you may thing that only an electrician can install new power points, it extends to your local TV repair person, who is not an electrican, and therefore cannot replace the blown fuse in your dead VCR.

Whether the householder is all to replace light bulb remains to be seen.

Like Bella, I object to paying excessive rates ($200 per hour) for something I am capable of doing.

AJS
Saturday, October 18, 2003

There is a very real difference between plumbing or electrical work and computers.

If I am an electrician and I mess up, I can kill myself (which probably means a lawsuit against someone, considering the US now). If I mess something up, it could start a fire later and kill the whole family that lives there.

If I'm writing software, tha absolute worst case is someone loses a day's data since the morning's backup. Sure, not everyone backs things up, but at least you *can*. You can't backup that house: when it's ashes, it's *gone*. You don't even have the option.

Software will never be that critical. There are very, very few situations where code warrants the kind of care to develop it perfectly the first time, but the rest of the field has no such obligations.

Mike Swieton
Saturday, October 18, 2003

No, I meant that back in 2000 when any coder with 2 arms was making $20k/month as a consultant, I said long term IT salaries were headed towards "skilled middle class" careers such as nurse/cop/teacher/plumber.  However, I say it will go lower than those, b/c they have higher barriers to entry and certification.  Supply/demand. 

> I don't think you can liscence something as common as computer knowledge.  Everyone has the ability to own and use a computer. 

Well, the've licenced something as common as turning a screwdriver.  And everyone has the ability to own and use a screwdriver.  And they are readily available for purchase.


I disagree with your argument.  People invest in tools to learn a trade, just as people invest in books, PC's, and hardware to learn programming/networking.  Ever hear of Dell?  You ever walk into a bookstore back in the bubble?  Aisle after aisle of tech books.

>With such ready availability of hardware, software, knowledge and the ability to practice what would a liscence mean any more than a MSCE certificate now?

You miss the point entirely.  It's not about the SKILL, it's about LIMITING WHO IS ALLOWED TO PERFORM the service.  You think I couldn't insall my stove?  It literally is one shut off valve, and one nut to turn.  30 seconds.  You think a daylaborer couldn't insall my stove for $20/hr? 

There are few jobs where it is ILLEGAL to perform network admin. work without having a MSCE.  Therefore, as you said, an MSCE is a "soft" certification used for screening.  That's all.

Bella
Saturday, October 18, 2003

I don't think Bella is advocating licensing so much as saying we are screwed w/o it.  Sort of like the Titanic with a hole in the hull.  Bella is advocating taking the life raft instead of trying to plug the hole. 

As far as the trades go, I bought all the tools I needed to rehab a house (including plumbing, electrical, & carpentry)  for much less than the cost of a computer.  And I bought tools that I didn't need since it was more of a money-making hobby than just buying the bare necessities.


Saturday, October 18, 2003

"Software will never be that critical"

Wow.  You don't work where I work.


Saturday, October 18, 2003

> If I'm writing software, tha absolute worst case is someone loses a day's data since the morning's backup.

Tell that to someone who has a hole in their chest from an x-ray machine with bad software on it, that overexposed the patient by a factor of 1000x (true stories)

Bella
Saturday, October 18, 2003

Bella, your original post and follow up make a really, really good point. This topic is a gem and should be reposted in any form worth reading at least once a month on all programmer boards.

And almost all programmers don't get it at all, don't understand in the least why they're commoditized and being treated like interchangable parts. 

The major point is, probably 80% of the population could comprehend and perform basic plumbing services to the level of the median of most plumbers. Yet plumbers "eat steak". While senior level programming and system administration, accessible to only a tiny proportion of the population (probably well under 15%) are coveted, hard to land jobs with exorbitantly choosy hiring parties.

Turn things around, though. Most of this has to do with the attitudes of the workers toward the work and their view of their role in the work.

Plumbing is a filthy, dirty job. The consumer usually needs plumbing service immediately if not sooner when a breakdown occurs. The competition to get into it is therefore generally not really that intense. It can be lucrative but it's also a case of "it's always been there, it always will be".

Whereas: programming is a low tier "rock star" type calling. No, really. Much of programming is an ego trip. Everyone wants to invent their own standards and libraries they make everyone else use, be the first, be k3wl and l33t, develop ground up software from scratch. I've worked in organizations where the role of "programming" was an elite plum. If there's a hallmark of programmer thinking, it's elevation of the self to college professorial academic demi-Godhood pomposity.

One job dirty, disgusting, "blue collar", also protected by legislation. Other job clean, safe, and relatively prestigious and sought.

You figure it out. (Well, the "you" was figurative, I actually meant others.)

Another thing about plumbing that makes me "think": the parts and tools are almost all CHEAP. The argument being put forth in many quarters is that cheap computer memory, discs, and hardware  and declining profit margins on PC HW equate to cheap wages for performing work with them. NO. I posit that there is no real correlation.

The only positive correlation between wages in any circumstance and the work performed is - how badly does the consumer need the work done, and how much do they have to shop to find someone to do the work at an attractive price? In one case - plumbers - grungy, unappeaking work. The other - programming - you have some buttholes literally throwing themselves at employers with the attitude that they're "paid to play" (that attitude alone has always frosted me - it demeans programming to video game status.)

Anyway, nice job, Bella.

Bored Bystander
Saturday, October 18, 2003

Over-zealous licencing is always bad news.

You end up with situations where only union members can replace paper in office printers (true - USA), or needing different union members to turn off, unplug, move, plug back in, and then turn it back on.

Seriously, wiring up your house is not rocket science.  Not that much of a step up from making network cables.  Wiring up a factory (415v, 3 phase, serious amps) is a different matter.

Again, New Zealand has it right.  You do the work, the electrician inspects and does the final work to connect it to the grid.  Minimal legislation, minimum cost.

AJS
Saturday, October 18, 2003

Ok, on licensing... I will posit that the ONLY thing standing in the way of licensing the various activities of IT is: clear definitions of tasks, quality, and deliverables.

As long as the basic definition of what is a "program" or what "quality work" comprise is shifting, this field will elude any gesture to quantify it.

Every couple of years, the basic notion of what is a "program" is changed due to technological shifts.  Same with networks. And, quality - how is it measured and delivered?

So, I will go out on a limb and say that we don't have any way to license IT activities - yet - because we can't capture the occupation in words.

So, to find optimal deals for our labor, we each need to find a customer need that is clear, urgent, and accompanied by willingness to pay.

It is and shall be for a long time the "Wild West".

Bored Bystander
Saturday, October 18, 2003

Just saw Bored's comments - Plumbing is a filthy, dirty job

I have a friend who is a plumber.  One day someone asked him if plumbing was a hard job.  His response?

"Naw, dead easy, poofters job. A bit smelly though."

AJS
Saturday, October 18, 2003

>> "You miss the point entirely.  It's not about the SKILL, it's about LIMITING WHO IS ALLOWED TO PERFORM the service."

Wrong.  How do you determine who to limit in a field with extreme diversity.  You have to have some sort of measure.  This is impossible with something like computer software.  I've heard this argument many times.  We have to limit who is allowed to program computers.  It must be done or the industry will go to hell.  Knowledge is too widespread and easily attainable.  There is also too much diversity to make it happen.  So what database are you liscenced to program?  MySQL, SQL Server, Oracle, Access etc etc... It's simply not practical.  How would you develop a liscencening system?  It would be a huge mess.

I
Saturday, October 18, 2003

I'll agree with you if you can spell out a liscencening system that works.  I have yet to see this happen.

I
Saturday, October 18, 2003

> The only positive correlation between wages in any circumstance and the work performed is - how badly does the consumer need the work done, and how much do they have to shop to find someone to do the work at an attractive price?

Bored, I think you're looking for the word "demand" 
(As in supply/demand  (Couldn't resist ! ;-)) 

I agre with Bored's comments on "glamorous white collar" also.  Everyone and their grandmother now goes to college (and then some).  So, everyone wants a glamorous white collar job.  Aspiring lawyers, MBA's, stock brokers, etc.  A dime a dozen.  Who aspires to show their "plumber's crack"?  FEW, except those who may get in on a family business, or have a close friend doing well.   

Umm, I think I'm looking for the word "supply"  ;-)))

Bella
Saturday, October 18, 2003

BTW: This always ends up being a round-robin argument.  The fact is that plumbers and electricians fields are mostly stagnant.  Ever watch This Old House?  When was the last time they had an electrician on there that showed you some new tricks or a plumber with a new kind of pipe? Probably not very often.

I agree liscencening would help the current glut situation ( and the attitudes that go along with it ), but the computer field has not seen it's end and may never ( or at least not for a very long time ).  It'll keep evolving and advancing.

I
Saturday, October 18, 2003

>  It's simply not practical.  How would you develop a liscencening system?  It would be a huge mess.

Bella's 3 Simple Steps To Licensing of a Profession:
1) Require formal education (BA/BS/MS)
2) Administer a test.  People who pass are issued a "license".
3) Anyone who publicly uses that skill without license goes to jail for 10 years.

Optional:  Have a programmer uniform.  Replete w/ shiny badge and a pointy blue hat.  Maybe even issue a gun.  Anyone not wearing the uniform is clearly not a programmer.  But, perhaps who can allow some people to do "citizen's programming", in extreme emergencies.

Any questions?    Look at my 3 steps, then think doctor, lawyer, nurse, cop, real estate agent, etc.  Practial? Maybe not. 

Bella
Saturday, October 18, 2003

For the record, I am NOT advicating licensing.  I HATE beauracracy.  I am a firm advocate of free market, lazzei faire, & supply/demand. 

I am just STATING one FUNDAMENTAL difference b/c certified/unionize fields and IT (zero barrier to entry).  Infer what you will. 

Bella
Saturday, October 18, 2003

Even if a plumber makes $200 an hour, they usually only make one call a day. so they make $200 a day. most plumbers are lucky to make $50K a year.  if you yearn for the lavish , secure lifestyle of a pipefitter, perhaps you could just start pretending there is a programmers union, and see how it goes?

First, go purchase a utility van, and have a signpainter paint "SPLOSKY AND SONS COMPUTER PROGRAMMING" on it. Underneath, make sure the painter puts "licensed and bonded, local 212" and perhaps your phone number and e-mail address. Then, consider moving to the south side of town, and leaving your van parked in the yard in front of your house, in case any hiring managers happen to be driving through the neighborhood (the local free weekly says there is a good authentic rib place down there, so you never know.) Purchase a few shirts that have your first name embroidered in an oval over the left breast pocket. Put your name in the phone book, and start waiting for people to call you when their sql queries don't work.  After you have made your call for the day, enjoy spending that $200 you made down at the Sports Shack on jalepeno poppers and tequila shooters. You are now living the dream life, with the job security, social status, and wealth you deserve.

rz
Saturday, October 18, 2003

So you want to create barriers to entry in IT?

How about:

1.) Wipe out all high school, technical and community college IT programs.
2.) Destroy the Internet.
3.) Destroy every PC and Macintosh ever made.
4.) Bring back the IBM 360.
5.) Destroy all computer languages and databases except COBOL and SAM, ISAM, KSAM and VSAM techniques.
6.) Make it illegal to even talk about computers in public.

or you could just roll back time 20 - 30 yrs.


Saturday, October 18, 2003

A lot of people see licencing, rightly, as a potential threat to their freedom.

But it's actually a help for our freedom - it gives us the freedom to set prices and demand salaries appropriate to the hours, skills and continuous training we must do.

It reduces competition, which is something every other intelligent occupation does.

By the way, for this reason, business will never approve it. There is at least a decade of serious fighting before this might get anywhere.

It needs to start with those stupid CS educators who teach their students it's cool to give away their work ( open source), to be a team player and do good documentation( make yourself replaceable.) Other occupations are much smarter than this.

Training to be a plumber
Saturday, October 18, 2003

NoName, 20 and 30 years ago there were actually barriers to entry because programmers generally needed access to expensive mainframes in order to learn or develop expertise. As a result, programmers earned a lot of money. More than their managers in some cases.

Training to be a plumber
Saturday, October 18, 2003

Sidenote: the phenomenon of chronic white collar underemployment should indicate that there are simply too darn many people competing for white collar jobs. And personal ego of the parents dictates most kids' choice of career. College is the primo middle class entitlement. We've had this legacy of universal college and universal white collar employment thinking since the mid 1960s, when college wasn't so universal and it truly was unique to attend college. Times change.

I also am an elitist of sorts. I think that white collar underemployment and labor oversupply can be directly attributed to everyone believing that they "should" be white collar. Not everyone is cut out to be a programmer and would fit better in another field, but so many who are not really adept "try".

Bored Bystander
Saturday, October 18, 2003

Training to be a plumber:

Are you really advocating not being a team player and making yourself irreplacable? I think your chances in the job market are limited, then....

Every relevant piece of software today is a team project. People with a primadonna attitude have a negative impact on that effort. We really don't need cowboy coders any more.

"But it's actually a help for our freedom - it gives us the freedom to set prices and demand salaries appropriate to the hours, skills and continuous training we must do."

Have you *ever* actually checked how a union works? There's *no* freedom whatsoever to set your own prices. Payment is not skill, but seniority based. It's a world I don't want to live in.

"It reduces competition, which is something every other intelligent occupation does."

Only if you're greedy. I'd rather see improvement that comes with competition. No chance to just sit on your behind and still not get fired just because you're in the union long enough.

I'm not saying we shouldn't be *organized* - but unions are not the right way to go.

By the way: Let's do a quick count. How many of the "We need a union" guys and girls here are actually members of any kind of organization in the CS field? ACM? IEEE? Anything?

Groby
Saturday, October 18, 2003

"You can't backup that house: when it's ashes, it's *gone*"

Actually in the UK you can't get a mortgage without insurance to rebuild the house should the worst happen.


Saturday, October 18, 2003

> Have you *ever* actually checked how a union works? There's *no* freedom whatsoever to set your own prices.

Not ONE union worker complains about this, however, b/c they wouldn't get anywhere NEAR their wage in the open market.  Power in numbers (and other muscle tactics.)  Union dues are the best money you can spend.

Bella
Saturday, October 18, 2003

rz,

$50k a year to work a few hours a day?  I'll take it in a heartbeat.  Do yourself a favor, and learn to calculate "wages per hour."  Someone who makes $50k  year working 4 hours a day makes more than the sucker who makes $80k a year, working 12 hours a day.  Thankfully, simpletons like you keep the wheels of white collar slavery humming along.

Bella
Saturday, October 18, 2003

"Not ONE union worker complains about this, however, b/c they wouldn't get anywhere NEAR their wage in the open market."

Maybe that is due to the fact that the skill differences in unionized jobs are not as big as in the programming field?

"Power in numbers (and other muscle tactics.)  Union dues are the best money you can spend."

Really? I haven't made that experience. See, besides my programming, I also have a carreer in dancing. And the well-paying jobs are *always* the non-union jobs. 

It's only well-spent if we organize to establish standards, and then let the individual work within those standards.

Groby
Saturday, October 18, 2003

"However, I say it will go lower than those, b/c they have higher barriers to entry and certification.  Supply/demand. "

Oh, please.  Teachers/nurses/etc do not have higher barriers to entry than programmers.  That's just preposterous.

Just because there's some legislative boondoggle in place does not make a "higher barrier to entry."  Frankly, anyone can get a teaching certificate or a plumber's license.  These are not, by any stretch, insurmountable obstacles.

A good example of a profession with a barrier to entry is the medical profession.  Not only is there a legislative boondoggle in place, but to actually make it through the training and the internships requires real intelligence, and ultimately, skill.

In short,  paper requirements are just that:  paper.  Most reasonably intelligent people can get college degrees.  Not everyone can be a doctor.

Likewise, for all its lack of bureaucracy, IT still has the barrier to entry that not everyone can do it.  That is really the ONLY barrier that matters.

I will grant that, in the preceding decade, it was certainly possible for many pretenders to find their way into IT positions, but the end result was just that the field was bloated beyond proportion.  If you want to stake out the position that IT, as an industry, has grown too fast, I won't argue, there.

But providing real value to real customers in this field is not something everyone can do, and IT is particularly remarkable for how few people _can_ do that.

Frankly, the death of IT as a field of work is greatly exaggerated.  I am not so given to self-flagellation, that I would say my profession is on the order of burger-flippers. 

smkr45
Saturday, October 18, 2003

I don't knoiw where Bella lives but if its inhabitants are prepared to let themselves be so royally screwed tnen so be it. In most places I know the politicos that made such crass regulations would be the ones on the dole queue.

I hardly can imagine the corporate customers that employ most programmers standing for it.

The regulations hardly seem practical, anyway. I can understand it being possible, and even maybe advisable, to enforce a licensed electrician's sognature before connecting up a new property to the grid, but how on earth are you going to check up on repairs. And as for checking up whose under the kitchen sink!

And I also doubt Bella's main point that artificial barriers to entry are the real cause of high wages. To the best of my knowledge theire is no such thing as a licensed plumber in the UK and the cost of plumbers there is sky-high. In Sri Lanka you don't even need an architect to design your house (most people don't send in plans anyway) and the electiricity company will connect to pretty well anything, but the price of elelctricians is still trople that of a skilled mason, double that of a skilled carpenter, and well ahead in cash terms, though not in the overall package. to a good middle-class salary.

Now, plumbers' or electricians' salaries are not high everywhere. Here in Saudi  I have no problem getting a good plumber for $5 an hour, and I don't recall the hourly rate in Spain being more than two thirds what you could charge for a private tuition class. I suspect the prices are over the top in the UK, and it seems in the US, because people only ever use the plumber, or electrician two or three times in their lifetime, and the job only ever takes an hour or two. The cost of buying the tools, and spending a few hours with the DIY video just in case, are not really worth it.

Incidentally Bella, if you are talking US dollars, the average teacher's salary is in the region of $42,000, not the $60,000 you quote.

Finally programmers setting up a guild to artificially keep up prices is a joke. After all, in how many fields can you send the work into another labour jurisdiction at two-thirds the speed of light?

And, of course, a good half of those in high level positions in IT, whetner programmers or sysadmins, do not have a degree in a computer related field anyway. They sure aren't going to be lobbying to llose their jobs.

Stephen Jones
Saturday, October 18, 2003

bella, have you ever worked a blue collar job in your life?

I said most plumbers are LUCKY to make $50K a year. yeah, you might make $200 one day. and the next day you don't work at all. and you have to drive your ass to wherever the pipe broke, thereby killing an entire day for one pipe. there is a reason plumbers aren't driving around in e-class mercedes on weekends, hanging out with puff daddy. it is because they don't make that much money.

if you don't believe this, perhaps you should try going through the 3 year process it takes to go from apprentice, where you make $11 an hour, to "journeyman" where you normally make about 45 an hour, but i guess where you live, you make $200 an hour.  when you are living large in your blinged out ford econoline van with "BELLA'S SEPTIC" on the side, supermodels in the back, cristal and caviar waiting for you at home,  please come back to the internet and make fun of me, for being so silly to stay in my non-union six-figured white collar slave job.

rz
Saturday, October 18, 2003

License? Well, if a guy gets a test on how to setup a win2k box, is he also certified to audit c code going into gsm systems for security issues?

There are so many things, take a system administrator, you'd have to know at least a fair bit about, unix (linux, aix, hpux, solaris, freebsd?), win2k, cisco, foundry,  oracle, apache, mysql? postgresql? postfix? sendmail? qmail? . Are you going to test all of those things? Oh, they also need to code, maybe in shell, c , python , perl. It's not too uncommon to have good system administrators who can do all of those things.

Testing metrics aren't realistic.

fw
Saturday, October 18, 2003

>> "NoName, 20 and 30 years ago there were actually barriers to entry because programmers generally needed access to expensive mainframes in order to learn or develop expertise. As a result, programmers earned a lot of money. More than their managers in some cases."

I can see why you are training to be a plumber.  Plumbers don't require a great deal of reading comprehension.  Next time I'll spell it out in plain English for you.


Saturday, October 18, 2003

>> "Not everyone is cut out to be a programmer and would fit better in another field, but so many who are not really adept "try"."

The problem is you can't define "programmer" to match every single programmer on the face of the earth.  Another problem is that you can't give a test to say, yup your a good programmer or nope you need to go elsewhere.  So what else is there to do, but try.

If a 9 year old kid code in VB at home on his parents computer and then aspires to be a programmer when he grows up because he thinks it's cool.  What's going to stop him from trying to be a programmer? Nothing.

I think education about real world programming is what we need here.  We need apprecteniceships.  Not internships.  We need accountability.  Until this happens nothing will change.

100 days have made me older
Saturday, October 18, 2003

I used to do apartment/house make-ready services. 

In my city, there's not a plumber out there that doesn't charge to/from travel to pick up his parts.  At a significant markup from his buddy the pipe-dealer.

Good post, Bella.  You'll get no arguments from me.

Jim
Saturday, October 18, 2003

Seems like you want to create an inefficient marketplace so you can make more money. Commodity pogrammers make commodity wages. If you are doing something other than database or system maintenance you might get more. In the 60s and 70s stockbrokers made 6 figures a year just taking orders and calling an exchange to fill them. Nowadays, stockbrokers are either automated or have moved to a less efficient market with barriers to entry.

Tom Vu
Saturday, October 18, 2003

Database and system maintenance often pay quite well because the market is limited; you can't outsource the jobs.

some commodities are worth more than others.

Stephen Jones
Saturday, October 18, 2003

Guys.

You can't offshore plumbing.

www.MarkTAW.com
Saturday, October 18, 2003

Writing software will never and should never be licensed.  Why not?  Because writing software is an act of speech.

People who say software is not speech focus on its functional aspects - the fact that it's a sequence of steps in a process to be performed, and that process does something.

However, software also has a very strong communicative aspect.  In general, the existence of a strong communicative aspect should alone indicate that it's speech.  There's further precedent though, for something that can be considered speech that has both communicative and functional aspects: A musical score.

In fact, standard musical notation as a "language" is pretty far up the Turing ladder.  It's not Turing-complete, but it would not surprise me if Turing-complete notations for music exist.

So quite simply, any attempt to license the development of software is a form of prior restraint on free speech.

Chris Hanson
Saturday, October 18, 2003

AJS,

I found your comments regarding New Zealand and Australia electrical regulations fascinating, particularly the possibility that it may now be illegal to change a light bulb in your own home.

Where I live it's like New Zealand -- you're allowed to do whatever you want yourself with no restrictions. However, if you want the electrical company to hook up to your new home you've built yourself, they require (as a private company) that you have an electrician inspect and sign off on it. For plumbing, there are no rules.

Sounds like chaos, but amazingly, houses are well built around here and you never hear about electrical fires burning anything down.

I used to have a bunch of Australian friends. They swore that the US was becoming a police state and thank god they were australians where people are still free and the fact there is no bill of rights protecting their right to bear arms and so forth was irrelevant -- because of the freedom loving nature of australian culture, they would never live under tyranny.

Now, guns have been banned and confiscated, Australians are required to have a national ID number (the tax file number), and you are not even allowed to change your own light bulbs without fear of being imprisoned.

From freedom to tyranny only took about 7 years altogether. Not a person complained, everyone willingly gave up their freedoms for safety. Kind of sad. I hope New Zealand doesn't go the same way.

Dennis Atkins
Saturday, October 18, 2003

If you want to put it like that, accountants shouldn't be licensed because accounting is nothing but "speech" -- telling people about the profit/loss and assets/liabilities of a company.

Software and accounting go beyond mere speech when they are done as a paid service for another person or business.  You are and should be free to do your own accounting or write your own software as you please, but it is a different matter when somebody else is paying you to do it.  Governments establish licensing not to protect the jobs of the workers in a particular field, but to protect the recipients of the work that they do.

T. Norman
Saturday, October 18, 2003

Well, I think accounting is licensed in order to protect the public as a whole, especially investors.  I'm not so sure that software in general has an analogy to, say, a CPA.  If my web browser crashes, it's not really a huge public liability.

So I still think it's speech, although there are some instances where licensing is applicable.

smkr45
Saturday, October 18, 2003

Except creative accounting is a big no no, while creative programming is a good thing.

On some level programming is fulfilling a need, but almost by definition not working within well defined systems - i.e. creating something that's the same as it is everywhere else, and has to conform to certain standards, again because the end result is known.

www.MarkTAW.com
Saturday, October 18, 2003

what about the guys that write the accounting software?

Jim
Saturday, October 18, 2003

The products of accounting are not copyrightable, nor are they cerative works. The products of coding are both copyrightable and creative works. The free speech argument is valid.

Dennis Atkins
Saturday, October 18, 2003

Thank you Dennis!

As far as accounting software, it would be like ledger paper or an accounting textbook or a calculator, or pen. The software would have to produce correct results (I don't know if there's any legislation around this that would require it to do exactly what it says it will do correctly), but is a creative work just like the textbook.

www.MarkTAW.com
Saturday, October 18, 2003

So accountants are licensed to protect the public,
but the software they use to produce the results doesn't have to meet any regulations.  So the guy using the results from his bookkeeping software may be commiting tax fraud.

Interesting.

Jim
Saturday, October 18, 2003

Oh.  I'm not participating in you free speech argument, fyi.

Jim
Saturday, October 18, 2003

Again, to the few people who are concerned that "licencing" would restrict your freedom, relax. You would be one of the licenced ones.

Licencing is not really about defiining competence; it's about excluding people who haven't invested the same education or experience as you. Society benefits because problems will be addressed by a known basic level of competence. We benefit by getting paid more.

To the people who rabbit on about being a team player, wake up. What do you think team player is all about? It's about making you replaceable. Programmers have a right to look after our own interests; to be greedy. It's not actually being greedy, it's ensuring we're not taken advantage of.

Union members have higher average incomes than non-union members, across the board. Doctors, accountants, they're all effectively union members, however it's dressed up.

To the person who said I don't have good job prospects, you're right. I started my own business years ago so I can conduct business fairly. 

Training to be a plumber
Saturday, October 18, 2003

As to free speech, give me a break. Who do you think beneifts from that sort of approach? It's not you buddy.

Training to be a plumber
Saturday, October 18, 2003

> Teachers/nurses/etc do not have higher barriers to entry than programmers.  ... Just because there's some legislative boondoggle in place does not make a "higher barrier to entry."  Frankly, anyone can get a teaching certificate or a plumber's license. 

This is the point. Anyone can do what's required to become "licenced" but, once they have, no-one else can come along and do the job for $5 an hour. It's a system that is part of a properly working society.

For teachers, it means schools can't save money by using $5 per day casuals for three days and teachers for two days a week, or making teachers work till 10 pm providing tutorial assistance to pupils.

Training to be a plumber
Saturday, October 18, 2003

Sure a plummer may make $200/hr for a few hours a day, but what plummer can form a start-up with a couple of mates and end up being the largest company in history (Microsoft), or having the highest IPO in history (Netscape)?

What electrician makes so much money in a few short years that they spend the rest of their life learning to fly (Philip Greenspun), or writing new languages and driving his fancy cars (Paul Graham)?

When was a u-bend of a length of electical cable declared the man of the year in Time magazine? The PC was declared man of the year by Time in 1982.

This thread just inspired me to put thoughts down in a new post http://discuss.fogcreek.com/joelonsoftware/default.asp?cmd=show&ixPost=78835&ixReplies=0

Matthew Lock
Saturday, October 18, 2003

Australia has 240 V AC in domestic appliances, which is enough to kill, start fires and maim, including by secondary effects such as when a shock victim falls off a roof.

When amateurs play with their wiring, they have been known to not bother about the housing earth, connect the wrong wire of the appliance plug to earth or install the wrong size fuze, not understanding that the fuse is intended to be a preferential sacrifice that stops fires.

People have been killed from the above. So I'm quite pleased that wiring is undertaken by licenced electricians.
Also, it's wrong to say we can't change our own light bulbs.

echidna
Saturday, October 18, 2003

Matthew, we're comparing licencing and non-licencing here, not software and plumbing. Licencing doesn't stop anyone becoming Bill Gates.


Saturday, October 18, 2003

It would have stopped Bill Gates, he had no qualifications in computing when he started having dropped out of Havard.

Matthew Lock
Saturday, October 18, 2003

"You are and should be free to do your own accounting or write your own software as you please, but it is a different matter when somebody else is paying you to do it. "

This tired argument again by some defensive, obsolete relics looking for some artificial protection of their domain.

Let me give you a better answer for the above quotation: People-- you know: customers-- should be free to evaluate and hire _whoever_they_want_ to develop software for them. If they decide that mega-lo-corp, which itself insists on only phds with 20 years of .NET experience and every certification around, is the best vendor to do their work at $400/hour, then so be it. If on the other hand they decide that Johnny Drop-Out Basement Programming is the best decision, then that's there perogative. Where public safety is an issue I want to see inspections and process standards REGARDLESS of whether you call yourself a super bonafide pro-certified software cranker, or you're a total hack -- the risks are largely the same, and the checks need to be the same.

Dennis Forbes
Saturday, October 18, 2003

"So accountants are licensed to protect the public,
but the software they use to produce the results doesn't have to meet any regulations.  So the guy using the results from his bookkeeping software may be commiting tax fraud."

I'm not sure I follow?

Someone who just generates reports from software is not an accountant.  They're a data entry person.  An accountant, particularly a CPA, is an auditor who has a duty to review thoroughly financial reports.

If the software generates the wrong results, it's still his obligation to find them.

Now, he may miss some, but that wouldn't constitute negligence.  Simply generating a report and handing it off, well...

smkr45
Sunday, October 19, 2003

"Let me give you a better answer for the above quotation: People-- you know: customers-- should be free to evaluate and hire _whoever_they_want_ to develop software for them."

Maybe customers should be able to hire who they want, just as I am free to hire any fool I want to do surgery on me.  But the people who offer to do surgery aren't free and shouldn't be free to offer it to offer it to anyone without first meeting certain standards.

Customers are not good at distinguishing the scum from the substance -- especially before they have spent their money.  If you didn't need law school or a bar exam before you could call yourself a lawyer and represent people in court, the public would have a really difficult time determining who really knows what they say they know.  So that core evaluation task is entrusted to the law schools and bar associations, who are much more capable of evaluating competence.

T. Norman
Sunday, October 19, 2003

The biggest problem preventing software licensing from getting anywhere is that people mistakenly believe it must focus on specific languages and technologies, and because those languages and technologies change so fast it would be impossible to develop a useful licensing program.

But that is neither practical nor necessary.  A software developer licensing program can still be useful and practical if it focuses on a set of fundamental concepts of software development, which do not change that often.  For example: relational databases, object-oriented programming, software configuration management, graphics programming, common data structures and algorithms.  You can still test the specifics, but that should be more along the lines of projects in the developer's platforms and tools of choice which implement the required concepts, with the developer expected to present and defend their work.

Of course, some will say "I don't need <insert concept here> to do my job!"  That may be true today, but you don't know what the heck you will need on the job 3 years from now.  Or even 3 months from now, should you get laid off.  If the public could have confidence that all software developers had a fairly broad set of fundamentals, they would not be so uptight about requiring specific experience in specific languages and technologies.

Even if every single developer isn't licensed, it would still be useful to have rules that require any given software product, or at least software products of certain categories like accounting or medical software, to be signed off by one or more licensed software developers.  That would prevent many of the common bad practices in software that are forced upon developers by PHBs.  A licensed developer would refuse to sign off on shipping knowingly crappy software just to meet a date, because they would not want to jeopardize their license, and they could be instrumental in ensuring that certain basic processes take place, like having software tested by someone other than the original developer before releasing it and using version control (you'd be surprised how many organizations still don't use version control, and allow code to go straight from a developer's desktop to production without anybody else testing or reviewing it).  PHBs would have less power to force developers into crappy practices, because even if they fire a licensed developer who won't allow the crap to continue, the next licensed developer still won't sign off on the crap.

T. Norman
Sunday, October 19, 2003

>If I'm writing software, tha absolute worst case is someone loses a day's data since the morning's backup. Sure, not everyone backs things up, but at least you *can*. You can't backup that house: when it's ashes, it's *gone*. You don't even have the option.


You can cause a hell of a lot more damage than that.

Li-fan Chen
Sunday, October 19, 2003

How about:

"When Software has to meet certain specifications for reliability, safety, accountability, truthfulness, etc. then Software Engineers should be licenced."

I.e. There are no regulations surrounding software, so why should there be regulations surrounding the people who make it?

So it's not the programmers who need regulation, it's the programs, and then the programmers will have to be regulated.

Also:

What Bella is talking about is unionizing, not regulating.

I suspect though that programmers will never unionize.

1. they're solitary to begin within.
2. everyone else sucks, why should my salary reflect their incompetence?
3. working conditions aren't that bad, so why unionize?
4. unions imply factory conditions, imply that while this is skilled labor, you're welding doors onto cars (uh, well i hope you don't weld doors on to cars becaues they'd never open), not designing them.
5. the labor pool is so big relative to the job pool that even a small percentage who haven't unionized might suck up all the jobs.
6. etc.

www.MarkTAW.com
Sunday, October 19, 2003

i've been meaning to start a topic titled 'protectionism' here for months. this seems to be a good discussion on some of the issues.

lawyers, doctors, plumbers. all have methods (guilds, laws) to protect themselves. for simple things like plumbers that works well, since the guild can also ensure quality pretty well.

for doctors, lawyers, computer people, i'm not so sure protectionism is really good for those who are not proected. (read: society as a whole).

stagnation is the main thing to be feared. i grew up in philadelphia. everything is protected. work on your own roof and the roofing union will beat you up or take your ladder while you're still up there. the costs of putting on a convention there is many multiples higher both in dollars and the time it takes to get anything done.

attitudes like that are prevalent, and the city is dying because of it--no one wants to do anything in that sort of evironment.  so the trade is high wages today for a collapsed economy tomorrow.

the question is how to find the right balance.

mb
Sunday, October 19, 2003

"If you didn't need law school or a bar exam before you could call yourself a lawyer and represent people in court, the public would have a really difficult time determining who really knows what they say they know.  So that core evaluation task is entrusted to the law schools and bar associations, who are much more capable of evaluating competence."

The surgeon analogy is a tired and prosterous one so I'm not going to go there. Even where software developers are developing software that potentially puts the public at risk, it is the process around the _software_ that is the safety measure -- code audits, code process standards, etc --  not the guildedship of its authors magically making it perfect.

Regarding lawyers, the reality is that the requirements for the various credentials has nothing to do with protecting the public (or at most very little), but rather represents protectionism at its finest -- ensuring the livelihood and extremely high income for what often is nothing more than a trivial rote repeater of facts.

Personally I believe that anyone should be able to represent people in a court of law : Someone who understands the laws and has a problem solving mind. This does not preclude associations forming with stringent requirements, or educational degrees and certificates from being created, and the public (which is usually business, by the way) could select from Lawyer & Lawyer Partners, with all Lawyer Guild lawyers, or some self-trained legal buff who did some pro-bono small claims work for a while and has since blazed a path of success in civil work (more likely you'd hire a firm on its reputation, and that firm does everything to maintain a good reputation).

I don't buy your claims that the public needs to be protecting from making its own decisions. This is classic protectionist posturing.

Dennis Forbes
Sunday, October 19, 2003

>"Even where software developers are developing software that potentially puts the public at risk, it is the process around the _software_ that is the safety measure -- code audits, code process standards, etc --  not the guildedship of its authors magically making it perfect."

True, but it's the lack of that "guildedship" that allows management to circumvent those processes in order to make a date, make a quick buck, etc. The PHB says, Skip the code reviews, it has to be released next week.  Without a collective body behind them, the programmers have little power to resist the PHB's insane orders.

Note that I don't have any problem with someone choosing any fool to do surgery, represent them in court, design their house, etc.  The restrctions should be on those who offer the for-pay services to the public, claiming they are capable of performing X and Y without any recognized proof of such capability, and without any fear of losing their qualifications if their conduct violates a standard.  Punish the person offering the service, not the one who uses the service.

Should there be lower levels of licensing in some cases, like there is the dental hygenist and nurse practitioner?  Sure.  I wouldn't have a problem with a "registered legal technician" handling certain types of cases. But without professional standards serving as formal barriers to entry and upholding the conduct of the practitioners, the public will eventually erect their own de facto barriers to entry which will often be misguided, and will be harder to surmount than the formalized barriers.

If anybody could call themselves a doctor and perform surgery, after being burned by numerous quacks the public will become extremely reluctant to visit a doctor, and hospitals extremely reluctant to hire any, such that new doctors coming onto the scene would face a high level of distrust which would force most of them out of the field before long.  We are experiencing that right now in software, where they have been burned by so many crappy programmers that they insist on extreme and misguided requirements like ten years of Java, and new programmers go through hell to get a job, if they ever actually get one.

T. Norman
Sunday, October 19, 2003

Echidna: > Australia has 240 V AC in domestic appliances, which is enough to kill, start fires and maim, including by secondary effects such as when a shock victim falls off a roof.

If you do the research, you find that few 'amateurs' actually get killed.  The majority of victims are tradesmen.  Good eh?  Anyway, all voltages are dangerous.  Given half a chance, 12v will kill you.  Read up on the olden days when 100v DC was used.  Far more dangerous than 240v AC.

Here's the problem in Australia: http://home.clear.net.nz/pages/joecolquitt/sc0103.html

In short, if the lead on your hairdrier breaks, you can't replace it.  Neither can the local repair shop, unless they are a licenced electrician (very unlikely).  Got a hobby making lamps?  Kiss it good bye.

The alternate to licencing is simply taxing the components unless you're a tradesman.  This already happens anyway.

Anyone from the UK remember the days of having to attach the plug to the TV you'd just brought home?

AJS
Sunday, October 19, 2003

>"If you do the research, you find that few 'amateurs' actually get killed.  The majority of victims are tradesmen."

Yes, but the amateurs generally attempt it very infrequently, sometimes just once in a lifetime, while the tradesmen do it every day, year after year. If they do it 1000 times as often it's not surprising that they would have a greater number of accidents.  Not to mention that the amateurs will tend to hire a tradesman to do the more risky work, only trying do-it-yourself with the easier stuff.

NoName
Sunday, October 19, 2003

It is ironic we discuss about creating barriers to entry in IT market when a good chunk of today’s code is open source (i.e. free as in beer) and whatever jobs are remaining are moving slowly and inexorably towards cheaper markets.

What is left there to protect?

coresi
Sunday, October 19, 2003

Noname;

Your comments are perfectly valid, and I agree.  Fun with statistics.  Doesn't change the facts.

For example, I recently repaired my microwave (the most lethal device in your house) for $1.  I also repaired 2 lamps and a drill.  In Queensland Australia, what I did was illegal.  No point taking it to the local repair shop, he's not allow to touch it either, as it is a mains device.  Your average electrician may not familiar with the habits of microwaves, and will probably end up dead.

So, I either fix it myself, or throw it out.

As I said before, I know my limits.  I'll wire up my house, but not the local factory machine shop.

By the way, the 'can't replace light bulbs' comment was joke (I hope!).

AJS
Sunday, October 19, 2003

I still have appliances I have to put a plug on to when I buy them.

And looking around the appliances in my house with the plugs attached, neither the kettle, microwave, chip frier ior iron have an earth pin, so I'm not alone in my belief that earth wires cause more accidents than they stop.

The reason you get few amateurs electrcuted is that it requires real dedication to electocute yourself with 240Volts or less. Electircal fires are another story, but I suspect most of them are caused by overloading sockets with extension leads.

The really ridiculous thing is that all these electrical appliances the Aussies won't let you repair on your own are put together willy-nilly with llittle regard for color coding in Chinese sweat shops  by landless peasants , most of whom don't even have electricity in their home.

Stephen Jones
Sunday, October 19, 2003

> If they do it 1000 times as often it's not surprising that they would have a greater number of accidents

Just like that asinine statistic about traffic accidents occuring within 5 minutes of home.  That's b/c you drive within 5 minutes of home EVERY time you get in your car. 

Bella
Sunday, October 19, 2003

Lots to comment on:
  -- Yes. software can kill you.  Consider fly-by-wire and the infamous radiological examples.  However, plumbers have the opportunity to kill more unrelated people (Septic into water line contaminates city well for example)
  -- Plumbers are licensed through apprentice programs in the US.  They are uniion members, but they become skilled through doing and approval from "experienced" candidates.
  -- As someone posted, anyone can be a programmer as their is no barrier to entry.  The barrier to entry for plumbers is seven year commitment, of near slave labor, to become a "plumber."  So it is more than it is "stinky" work.  Most other professional work (Accountants, teachers, at el.) have certification requirements.

However, we have chosen a profession where not only is the barrier zero, but it can be done anywhere (as someone mentioned.)  This put a disparity between what I need to make in order to live and what someone else does.  A plumber lives in their community.  So, $200 in downtown NY everyone expects to pay.  But not in Podunk, Montana.  They are lookng at $75/hour.  Saudi Arabia $5/hour.  Now what happens when the person from Saudi Arabia can do the job without leaving his $5/hour middle income environment?  Yep, bye bye plumbers.

LiquidPlumber
Sunday, October 19, 2003

It is always amusing listening to programmers say that there is no barrier to entry to their own profession. Isn't this the same thing to admitting that anyone can do your job?

h1-b
Sunday, October 19, 2003

The guy who does it for $5 an hour isn't Saudi. In fact I don;t think there are any Saudi plumbers.

It's causing a problem now since the Saudis need the jobs the Indians and Bangledeshis are doing, but still want the prices they pay the Bangladeshis.

The general point is right to some extent. Plumbers are going to charge a premium in London or New York (they've got to pay a premium for their tools and van parking for a start).

But sysadmins and programmers still earn more than plumbers and electricians nearly everywheire in the world they don't create an artifical shortage of the latter, and the main reason is that it is a damm sight harder to reach competence in IT than it is in plumbing or electrical work.

Stephen Jones
Sunday, October 19, 2003

Of course while it's a damn sight harder to become competent in IT than plumbing it is a damn sight more interesting and pleasant doing so, which explains the shortage of plumbers in some places.

Stephen Jones
Sunday, October 19, 2003

"It is always amusing listening to programmers say that there is no barrier to entry to their own profession. Isn't this the same thing to admitting that anyone can do your job?"

In reality only a very, very small percentage of the population is capable of effectively doing software development (just as only a small percentage are capable of doing a lot of jobs), and they must couple that with an absolutely tremendous information load to be equipped to actually be an effective part of the software development process - it is one of the HIGHEST barrier to entry professions. Having said that, the big "threat" to software develop that inspires threads like this is:

-A lot of software developers should have been punted out of the profession early on (I feel the same way about many teachers, doctors, lawyers, etc, however because of their barriers to entry which effectively becomes a protection racket, once you're in, you're in for life). Now that the money is flowing quite so easily you'll see a lot of these people beating the drums of protectionism.

-India has some one billion people, and a very very small percentage of one billion people is still quite a few people. Couple that with the fact that India has a fairly advanced educational system - more advanced that the economic status of the nation. Because of this mismatch, there are professional services one can have done in India at lower prices. Having said that, Indians aren't quite keen on being a third world nation forever, and already many there are capitalizing on the demand and raising prices.

-IT became oversized. With the Y2K problem, and then the .COM/ecommerce explosion, many firms loaded up their IT shops with massive bloat (see the first point). A "correction" was absolutely inevitable - When you're in the business of making widgets, but 40% of your overhead budget goes to the guys who run the database to track your widgets, something is amiss.

Dennis Forbes
Sunday, October 19, 2003

the saudi problem exists here in the US too.

no one wants to work for $3/day. but they insist on buying stuff made-in-china at walmart because it's cheaper.

mb
Sunday, October 19, 2003

mb, your comment reminds me on an old pos...

OLD NAVY clothes (at least some) are MADE IN INDIA.  Why do Americans love them?    Old Navy clothes are a bargain.    I wanted to see if any people against H1's & offshoring wear Old Navy.  That would be comedy. 
Bella, Thursday, July 18, 2002

Bella
Sunday, October 19, 2003

I buy all my dress shirts from India, normally Indian Van Heusen, but sometimes Emerald. They are all made in the same factory, Madurai Textiles.

The reason is not that the quality is so good. They make the shirts to the same quality the English did fifty years ago.

I can't say there's much else manufactured in India I'd recommend though (the agricultural produce is another matter; the fresh fruit is something heavenly - and of course the cooking can be great as long as you avoid meat).

Stephen Jones
Sunday, October 19, 2003

mb.. yes I can see it now: Programmer Teamsters.

"If we catch you programming without a license, we'll break your... uh... server. And... uh... won't host your shareware... and uh... won't link to your site... yeah."

www.MarkTAW.com
Sunday, October 19, 2003

>"It is always amusing listening to programmers say that there is no barrier to entry to their own profession. Isn't this the same thing to admitting that anyone can do your job?"

No.  It means anyone can *pretend* that they can do our job.  And those doing the hiring aren't good at weeding out the pretenders.

T. Norman
Sunday, October 19, 2003

So the well pump was on its last legs. I get a recommendation from a local who insists this guy is the most honest plumber around and is ' a fine churchgoing gentleman". The plumber comes out from his shop which is exactly 2.3 miles away and looks at it and says, "Yep you need a new pump. Come to the shop and pick one out and we'll install it." So I go down there. There are several models with plastic things with a 1 yr warranty and one with stainless steel thingy with a 5 year warranty. While I'm there he tells be that the plastic ones are made by a company that "used to be a good one till they got bought out by the sticking jews". THis disturbed me and I asked why he would say that and I got to listen to his protocols of the elders of zion/white aryan crap that is extremely common to hear from Baptists in this area, which he didn't hestitate telling me about. At this point, I was thinking I should go elsewhere but I live in a small town and this guy is the only plumber within 15 miles and the liklihood is that any other plumber would also be a Baptist who believes in the Protocols and pines for the days of the Third Reich when 'folks of mixed blood didn't breed like animals'.

He won't give me a written estimate but the pump is $700 as he insists that the labor and all won't run more than $360 (2 hrs work at $180/hr) since the job is straightforward.

So two guys show up who identify themselves as his apprentice and his apprentice's friend. They look at the well and then say they forgot the special wrench and they got to go home to get it. Turns out they live 45 miles away so it's a long wait. They come back and mess around for a while and then one asks if it is OK to pick up his daughter from school. I say sure so he's gone for several hours and then calls and says he was delayed and will come back tommorow. The next day they return. The one guy does the work and his friend merely observes and does nothing. They take a lunch break and take the pump back 'to test it'. They return several hours later. When asked about the pump the lead guy says "yeah it was no good".

They finally get it working. I log all their actual work and the totals are as follows:

Apprentice: 2 hrs work
Friend: 0 hrs work

Knowing what's involved, there is NO doubt in my mind that I could pull a pump, exchange it, and put it back in about 1 hr at the most. But the 2 hrs seems ok.

I get the bill a week later:

pump: $1200 (turns out the price he quoted was wrong, sorry)
warranty: none, it's refurbished
rope: $200
tape: $45
wire: $102
grease: $8
couplings: $32
solder and glue: $16
labor: 2 workers, 16 hrs each, 32 hrs total x $180 = $5760
travel: 360 miles at $.50/mile = $180
grand total: $7723

So I refuse to pay and he sues me. I go to see all three lawyers it town and all three tell me they can't handle it because he has a retainer with them. It goes to court. It's pointed out that I gave them permission to go get their daughter and so I have to pay for that time as well as all travel time for the 45 mile round trip from their house in the adjacent county. The judge orders me to pay. I refuse. A lien is placed on my house. It cost me another $1000 in legal fees to get the lien removed, in addition to paying the bill in full.

That's how it works folks.

And it's why you should NEVER hire a member of any union. Do it all yourself.

anonymous rural resident of the deep south
Sunday, October 19, 2003

I've heard similar horror stories with the non-union/unlicensed contractors that work in the towns where licensing or union membership is not required.

Union or not, do it yourself if you can.  You have a much greater interest in seeing that the job is done right.

T. Norman
Sunday, October 19, 2003

No argument there. Normally I would say that you should get recommendations. My main shock has been to find that in this area recommendations are of no value unless you, the person doing the work, and the person doing the recommending all go to the exact same church. Many people have said good things to me about this plumber and have stories of how he did a wonderful job and charged a fair price. All these folks are Baptists. Since I wasn't a Baptist I was 'fair game' for a shafting. My bad. Lesson learned. Trust no one. Not meaning to disparage Baptists here, the same applies for other groups, religious, and otherwise, where insiders expect fair service and respect and outsiders are taken to the cleaners.

Not just here, but other places I've lived, there are LOUSY teachers. If you try to do anything about it, you find out how protectionists the teachers unions are. Incompetant, mean and even dangerous teachers are impossible to get rid of. The only solution is to pull your kids out of school and put them in a private school or homeschool or tutor them.

Ever a victim of medical malpractice or a police beating? That's when you find out about the 'code of silence'. Good luck getting rid of a dishonest cop or a incompetant doctor.

One point I am making is that if there is licensing and unions for programmers, we'll see the same thing. Incompetance will rule the profession. Protectionism will abound. Productivity will decline. Recommendations will be worthless. The only solution will be to outsource all development to China where unions are illegal. Unionizing programming WILL destroy the profession. It will be the gasp. None of these proposals address the fact that development is being done overseas cheaper.

rural resident
Sunday, October 19, 2003

anonymous rural resident of the deep south, you sound like a good reason for having unions. If the job is so simple, do it yourself.


Sunday, October 19, 2003

Mathew Lock, I disagree that a system of licencing would have stopped, for example, Bill Gates.

First, just about everyone wrongly presumes licencing is the same as having a degree in CS. It's not. It should be about demonstrated capability earned by several years experience. I actually wouldn't see a degree as being suitable evidence at all. So Bill G would certainly be able to become licenced.

Second, back then there was no licencing type of requirement, so Bill G didn't waste time on irrelevancies. If, these days, there was, then Bill G would do what he needed to comply with the requirements. It would not be hard for him.

We have good doctors because doctors know their investment in several years education won't be undercut by someone with a band-aid certificate.

Training to be a plumber
Sunday, October 19, 2003

in general, doctors are good. but notice the 'code of silence' above. i amaquainted someone who was injured by a doctor. (they did surgery when none was needed, thus making the condition significantly worse). the person went to see a known good doctor, who would say that the surgery may have been the wrong choice, but good luck getting any testiomony in court, or any sort of discipline at all. even though others have been hurt by the same doc in the same way. (the doctor makes money doing the surgery.)

mb
Sunday, October 19, 2003

oh yeah one more thing: many people prefer to discuss their health issues the random clerk in the health-food store, because many doctors don't listen to their patients. scarily enough, that's sometimes the right choice.

mb
Sunday, October 19, 2003

"Incompetance will rule the profession."

Just like now! :)

Sum Dum Gai
Sunday, October 19, 2003

In my original post, I was simply identifying the type of profession you'd IDEALLY want to be in.  For the record, I don't think certification/unionization can save programming.  Run, don't walk.    (And yes, certification/unionization or not, the quality of the average LOC will plummet in the next 20 years.  Keep hardcopies of EVERTHING)

Bella
Sunday, October 19, 2003

> And it's why you should NEVER hire a member of any union.

And that's why you should NEVER live in the deep South !

Bella
Sunday, October 19, 2003

I don't ever want to lose the right to negotiate as an individual with any other indivdual or legal entity for any exchange of goods or services on mutually agreeable terms. There are enough restriction on this already.

No union could be qualified to represent me. Licensing is a decision I want to make based on ROI, not legal compulsion. And I don't want my clients to pay excessively high rates because of some extortion scheme that I've joined.

fool for python
Monday, October 20, 2003

> First, just about everyone wrongly presumes licencing is the > same as having a degree in CS. It's not. It should be about > demonstrated capability earned by several years
> experience. I actually wouldn't see a degree as being
> suitable evidence at all. So Bill G would certainly be able to
> become licenced.

But Bill G had no experience to speak of when he started Microsoft, just some coding at school and a bit of summer work. So he would not have been able to be licensed according to your rules.

All who think that licensing would help the cause of programmers should have a read of this by one of the authors of Peopleware: http://www.systemsguild.com/GuildSite/TDM/certification.html

Matthew Lock
Monday, October 20, 2003

Matthew, I actually agree with your point on this, and with De Marco. There's a subtle point at work here.

Usually when people talk about licencing, they're actually bashing programmers. "Everyone's dumb except me, etc, etc." Or "It's not that I can't work the toaster properly; I'll just blame the programmers." That's not where I'm coming from at all. I frankly couldn't care less whether licencing improves quality.

Where I'm coming from is that it's a standard way that other occupations protect themselves against competition. Everyone does it. It does deliver some benefits to society, and that's why it continues.

Sadly, this is all academic, because programmers are too brainwashed in their education programmes to ever stand up for themselves. The result, which we're seeing, is a steady dumbing down of programming, and a resulting decline in incomes, business aside.

Training to be a plumber
Monday, October 20, 2003

That article's main point falls flat on its face, because most corporations are notoriously bad at knowing which programmers are good and which aren't.

But they do touch on one important reason why so many programmers are afraid of any industry-wide certification or licensing: the de-certification.  The numerous pretenders would not be able to meet the certification standards.

T. Norman
Monday, October 20, 2003

Think about the mechanics of how a license could work for coders?

How would we decide who gets the license? It would have to be by qualifications such as a university degree or a diploma.
It couldn't be by work experience alone, as how would you get to do any development in the first place without a license?

Who would set the languages allowed to be used and not used? Would c++ be allowed and perl be frounded upon?

Would you need a license to buy a compiler? What about open source compilers?

Would there be 2 versions of Excel, one for coders with VBA included and one for everyone else with VBA removed?

The more you think about it the stupider it sounds.

Matthew Lock
Monday, October 20, 2003

>"How would we decide who gets the license? It would have to be by qualifications such as a university degree or a diploma."

No. It could be a series of exams and projects, it doesn't have to be a degree.  A CS degree or work experience might just exempt you from some of the requirements, but not replace it.

>"It couldn't be by work experience alone, as how would you get to do any development in the first place without a license?"

The lowest level of certification should not need work experience.

>"Who would set the languages allowed to be used and not used? Would c++ be allowed and perl be frounded upon?

Would you need a license to buy a compiler? What about open source compilers?"

A certification program that focuses on specific languages would become useless very quickly.  To be practical, the system would have to be geared more towards using projects to evaluate practical competency ... you choose the language(s) from a long list of approved languages, and ensure the choice of language and functionality of your project will demonstrate a practical knowledge of the required concepts.  You'd also defend your project in front of a board to ensure that you really did it.

Ensure those who are certified have a strong grasp of a set of fundamental concepts and the ability to practically implement them, then you just have to trust that they will be able to pick up new languages as they come. 

Languages change very often, but most of them are the same old concepts wrapped in a new syntactic sugar.  When people have difficulty with a new language, it is usually because the important concepts associated with the new language are not familiar.  Good C++ programmers will easily jump to C# or Java, but some C programmers struggle with Java or C++ because they don't understand object-oriented concepts.  Or Java programmers struggle with C because they haven't done true pointer manipulation before.

T. Norman
Monday, October 20, 2003

Also, it would be important to include a code of conduct -- perhaps even more important than evaluating technical competencies.  With a code of conduct, PHBs would not be able to so easily force programmers into certain low-quality and unethical practices, because even if they fired you for not going along they wouldn't be able to hire another person who would agree to the crap.

T. Norman
Monday, October 20, 2003

> you choose the language(s) from a long list of approved languages

Now this is exactly why licensing would hurt innovation. It would be incredibly hard to for an individual to develop new languages, submit them to a board for approval, pay the approval fees, make the required changes.

And who's to say that one language is approved and one isn't?

How would you choose who would be on a board of language choosers?

Matthew Lock
Monday, October 20, 2003

It's the board that would need to be proactively seeking out languages for adding to the list, not people always having to submit them for approval.

And it would be more of a pre-approval list than an exclusionary list ... if you can use your obscure or self-written language to demonstrate the concepts they are looking for, like pointer manipulation or inheritance, yours not being on the list shouldn't automatically exclude your project.

How to choose who selects the languages?  By any of the same ways decision-making boards are chosen in existing professional associations.

T. Norman
Monday, October 20, 2003

In addition, your specific language not being on the list should not be a real obstacle, because you should be able to pick up a new language as necessary.  As long as open source languages with open source compilers that run on open source operating systems are available on the list so that cost isn't an issue, that should be enough.

If learning a new language is such a problem, then you aren't the flexible programmer who can learn new languages when needed.  It is that flexibility which makes a developer have a prosperous and durable career, and if it were demonstrated by more programmers it would reduce the urge for employers to insist on applicants having experience with a laundry list of specific languages.

T. Norman
Monday, October 20, 2003

DeMarco is full of sh*t.

He's obviously never studied how professional engineers are licensed.  Hint:  Professional engineers determine who can be a professional engineer.  NOT companies.

Jeesh.

Jim
Monday, October 20, 2003

Here in Canada, you are allowed to work on your own house - plumbing, electrical, whatever, as a basic home owner's right.  You do not need to hire anyone.  I am pretty sure that this is also true in many parts of the States, if not all of them.  What you are not allowed to do is pay someone who is not certified. Given the potential liability of Joe Random hanging out his shingle and proclaiming himself an expert, botching the job and the homeowner not knowing any better, I'm not convinced that this is a big inconvenience.

Having rewired our house (electrical, networking, phone and cable), rewired my parent's house (electrical) replaced our kitchen (right down to and including the floor), and added a new sink (including vent pipe) - all since Easter, and only working on weekends, I think I'm qualified to say that if you take the time to read the regulations and you either have some experience using the tools or access to a mentor (and if all else fails, there's always Home Depot), there's no reason you can't do everything yourself. Since it is your home, you are likely going to be more motivated to pay attention to the details and do a better job.

As someone else pointed out, if your electrician screws up, you can lose your house.  A plumber that screws up can also do significant (smelly) damage.  There is much less damage you can do if you botch most programming tasks.  Furthermore, programming assignments that are dangerous to screw up already have higher barriers to entry - requires additional training, security clearances, high recommendations, conforming to regulations etc.  For example, if you write software for the airline industry and it is used as the sole source of calculating flight related information (eg weight and balance reports) - the software has to be approved by Transport Canada in a regulatory process that can take months.  If you want to make a change to the software, these also need to be approved.  In some cases, you do in fact need to belong to a union, because the "dangerous" programs usually intersect other regulated fields.

So I'd tend to disagree that the barrier to entry is the primary difference between coders and plumbers.  After all, it wasn't so long ago that many coders brought in the same kind of money (and some still do).  I think it's more a question of supply and demand.  If you had the same ratio of plumbers as you do coders, the state of the plumbing industry would not be particularly healthy.  I think regulation is unlikely to help in this respect.

What would help would be to start a massive education campaign that reassures people that it is okay to aspire to working in the service industry or doing blue collar type work. And large enough pay-cuts in the computer industry such that only the truly motivated and talented remain. ;)

Phibian
Monday, October 20, 2003

Everyone can have a pen and paper. There is no licence needed to write a best-selling novel. So why isn't everyone a best-selling novelist?

Surely they should be... unless there's something more than access to a writing tool to being a novelist, and something else between a novelist and a best-selling novelist.

Katie Lucas
Monday, October 20, 2003

Phibian, one of the big problems when amateurs wire their own houses is that everything can work fine until there's an unusual condition.

The toaster works fine, until it gets dropped and develops an internal short that makes the external surface live. With a correctly wired house, set of cables, and toaster, a human touching that toaster will be protected from electrocution by the fuse failing in microseconds due to the current surge.

With amateur wiring, that's often the first they know of their mistake. Also, it poses a significant risk for electrical tradesmen when they have to work on such properties.

echidna
Monday, October 20, 2003

echidna -
it's the product which needs to be tested. not the producer.
out here the local gov't has building inspectors which approve the work you do. someone above said where they are, an electrician signs off on it.

note that if you mak this impossible, people will still do their own work, but it won't be inspected at all. of course if it fails they may become liable.

mb
Monday, October 20, 2003

Not the least convinced by the toaster argument.

Not putting in a single trip switch, is not the kind of mistake an amateur is likely to make, and the current surge is going to blow a fuse somewhere. You're talking about compartmentalizing the power cut rather than electocution, and the plug would probably have a fuse anyway.

You're more likely to get the scenario of the user using sliver paper to bridge a broken fuse instead of finding the fault, and having the wiring done by a certified electrician isn't going to change that.

And artificially increasing the cost of renovating wiring is likely to result in people leaving dodgy installations in well past their replacement date - hardly a public safety feature.

Stephen Jones
Monday, October 20, 2003

mb and Stephen, I suspect you don't understand the complexities of wiring. Wiring systems, in Australia anyway, need to include a path to earth - the actual earth.

In the event of an abnormal situation developing in an appliance, such that live power is presented to the external surfaces that a human might touch, that new circuit goes to earth, resulting in a massive current surge that blows the fuse and prevents electrocution.

The path to earth depends on accurate connections in every segment of the wiring, including the house, the cords and plug and the appliance. It is easy to mix them up, and many amateurs do when they do their own wiring.

echidna
Monday, October 20, 2003

ah, you mean hot grounds and such? there are simple tools you can buy (and I guarnatee the inspector has them) which you plug into the socket. it has 3 lights. if two green lights come on (hot-ground, hot-neutral), the circuit is wired right. if something else happens, it's wrong, and the pattern tells you what's wrong.

also note that hot-to-ground through the body won't really injure most people unless you have a bad heart (and maybe older people). i've done that plenty of times. i've also electrocuted myself to the point where all my muscles contracted and I couldn't let go, and have the scar to prove it. that was holding an electronic device with the cover removed, trying to fix something. stupid. but neither the fuse in the device nor the circuit breaker went off.

mb
Monday, October 20, 2003

I'll second the comment about proper use of tools to check your work (an electrician's equivalent to the Joel test, perhaps?).  A copy of the electrical code, adhered to religiously, also goes a long way.  Now, if you are the kind of amateur that ignores the electrical code and doesn't bother to test your circuits - sure, you can screw stuff up big time (and I'd rather not have you working on any software I have to use either thanks!).  Hopefully, if you aren't the sort that has "pride of ownership" and that can pay attention to details, you'll know enough to hire a professional. 

I still think that you should be allowed to work on your own house, since after all, we let rank amateurs bring up kids without a license - an activity whereby screwups are not reversable...

But I digress.  My point was that because you actually own the house, you tend to pay more attention to what you are doing.  Certainly, the problem of poorly done wiring (let's not limit this possibility to amateurs - there are competent amateurs and terrible professionals, and this is not limited to electricians as we all know) is a big problem, but this is why many provinces/states have an electrical inspection process.

Here in Ontario, all electrical work without exception is supposed to be inspected by the Electrical Safety Authority (ESA) no matter who does the work.  Under some circumstances (new home construction, service entrance changes) the Hydro company forces the inspection.  The vast majority of other electrical work goes uninspected (arguably voiding your insurance policies btw).  Electricians apparently tag on the inspection cost as an optional "extra" cost.  Most consumers (predictably) opt not to be inspected to save the cost.  Furthermore, the resulting work often does not pass inspections due to sloppy errors.  We were super paranoid about our inspection because the ESA told us that most electricians fail the inspection on the first pass.  What does that tell you?  (We had no trouble with our inspection btw, our inspector said that our wiring was the neatest he'd seen in his career, and the most closely conforming to code for a retro-fit). A very quick look on the 'net shows that at least Minnesota has an entity similar to the ESA.

Anyway, personally, I'd go for required inspections over licensing any day, although I have no problem with requiring those entering professions such as electrician to actually pass a test and have a proven track record of skillfulness...  The only real beef I have with the system here is that "experience" is often substituted for "prove your skill", and although these can be the same, they aren't always.

Phibian
Monday, October 20, 2003

> Knowledge of programming is readily available and practicable at the same time.  That is the key, that you can practice programming easily. 

But I am convinced that less that 1/4 of the population can understand even simple boolean logic.  I have sat through a philosophy classe which teach introductory logic. 

A few CS majors to the class because it was such a blow off, but I was amazed how many of the non-CS majors struggled with the very basics.  It blew my mind.

I've have also tutored CS 101.  It is amazing that most will never understand a simple "if" statement.  You might as well give up and study something else.

christopher baus (tahoe, nv)
Monday, October 20, 2003

The analogy doesn't fit, mostly because theres a lot less variation in plumbing and other service related tasks compared to software.  If I paid the very best plumber in the world to fix my sink, it would get fixed.  It may take a couple hours, and maybe he's really nice too.  Now, if I pay a really crappy plumber, maybe it takes him 3 times as long to get it done, and it will leak next year.  The same can't be said for software.  People on this boad are making upwards of 100 dollars an hour, and I know programmers making 20 dollars an hour.  Why the discretion? Becaues good programmers can put out code in upwards of 10x faster hten bad programmers.  And the code can be 10x better.  You don't have that in other professions.  It very well may be that in a couple years, VB programmers cost 15 bucks an hour.  But companies will still pay 200 or 300 dollars a man hour for the very best, because they produce a vastly superior product. 

Vince
Monday, October 20, 2003

The NBA players have a union, and the highest paid players make nearly 100 times the lowest-paid players.  So do Hollywood actors, and their richest make 1000x the average actor.

Union != Teamsters. Other unions can make and have made their own rules, and don't have to follow what certain other unions have done.

T. Norman
Monday, October 20, 2003

$200- an hour is not enought for a qualified  plumber ,gas fitter. drainlayer

ron weston
Friday, May 14, 2004

Please HELP !! We just had a $48,000.00 addition completed on our home and it's just a mess.  It may be the WORST "rip off" we've ever experienced.  Our home is in the Los Angeles county area and we stupidly used an unliscenced contractor, one highly referred to us by somebody who had been considered a family friend for years.  I would really appreciate it if any one could tell me how to file a complaint.
Iv'e  talked to the woman who had work done immediately prior to our project and she would like to be in on the complaint , due to the fact that she is still paying to repair the work that was completed on her home by him. This "contractor's" construction practices were totally unsafe :  we had our ceiling collapse, barely missing all of our children, after he tore the roof off and took no precautions against weather (it rained, alot!).  He would leave hot electrical wires (live) exposed and not return for days.  A huge pile of debris accumilated (of course) and that is understandible, however my problem is I would find discarded sawzall blades strewn about my yard along with tackstrips nails, beer cans, sharp pieces of metal and hog wire, holes dug in the yard filled with paint, stucco, drywall mud and acoustic material that were left uncovered, and remnants of whatever their lunch had been.  The job site (our backyard)  became a dangerous environment for our children to play.  My husband was forced to clean their mess, on several occasions after long hours at his job, to reduce the chances of accidents or injuries.  This project has been an uncomfortable experience for my entire family; we have power outages from questionable wiring practices,  he plumbed my new bath to the old unused septic system, the finish work is embarassing;  I could go on and on and will if necessary.
                My husband and I realize that having the work done by an unliscenced contractor was a mistake;  however, we entered into an agreement on good faith and honor with this man, paid all money, in full, when asked and feel completely taken advantage of.  My husband and I wondered if there was someone who could help us and the other "ripped off" homeowner report this man, we would honestly appreciate it.  I know we may sound spiteful, and we apologize, but we would just like to try to prevent the disappointment and anguish we feel from happening to other possible clients of his.  The opinion we have is that our unliscenced contractor should not be building additions, or any project for that matter, and is dangerous in homes where children are.  Please Help

Leah Kim Wood
Monday, June 28, 2004

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home