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Selection and the current market

A lot of talk these days is on how the downturn in our industry if nothing else will at least contribute to weeding out the chaff from amongst the crop. The underlying theory seems to be that as the economic climate worsens, the pressure being build up on organizations will make the weakest ones collapse and in the end there will be only the best left standing.

Yet, when I look out across these supposedly Darwinian battlefields there seems to be none of this fine-tuned selectionist weeding going on. Within companies, it is not the best that are being shown the door. It's the ones that just happen to be on the bench (for consultancy shops) or working on a project that gets "rationalized" (for in house development) at the precise time the ax swings round that get booted. For startup companies it is the same thing. The most foolish shops that just secured a round of funding before the collapse are swimming, while sensible setups got dropped from forced accelerated takeoff like sacks of surplus ballast.
In some industries, like telecoms, it is even worse. Zombies returning comfortably debt-free from chapter 11 will have a ball killing of the laboring "survivors" that did not go bust.

This is not selection at work. It’s a crap shoot. Pure random wipeout. For any selection at all, we will have to wait for the upswing.

Just me (Sir to you)
Monday, December 16, 2002

"A lot of talk these days is on how the downturn in our industry if nothing else will at least contribute to weeding out the chaff from amongst the crop."

- getting a job is a lot more difficult, since one is competing with people with experience, etc (i will spare the details!)

"Within companies, it is not the best that are being shown the door. It's the ones that just happen to be on the bench (for consultancy shops) or working on a project that gets "rationalized" (for in house development) at the precise time the ax swings round that get booted."

- very true, this is purely luck, happening to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. nothing can be done abt this!

Prakash S
Monday, December 16, 2002

life's a bitch. get creative. there isn't much one individual can do about the general state of the IT industry. there will be no "upswing," you might want to start thinking about what you'd really like to do with your life. (I don't believe anyone when they say "visual basic programming" is what they really wanted to be when they grew up.)

Monday, December 16, 2002

Some big companies aren't able to "lay off" based on performance. For example, I worked at a very large company where lay offs were dictated by whether or not your job description changed by 51% or more. Of course, it owuld be possible to define a job such that you could lay off under-performers but certainly many got through.

Monday, December 16, 2002

It's all a load of crap designed to keep us "in our place" and glad for whatever crappy treatment "they" dole out. I've been saying from the beginning this "tech downturn" is just a trick to lower all our salaries and benefits. I've seen meetings where "how to keep the techs scared for thier jobs so they'll work longer hours for free" was discussed.

Troy King
Monday, December 16, 2002

Surely this is not an Either/Or situation.  The tech downturn will weed out a lot of the chaff, but there are also a lot of lucky people who keep their jobs out of pure fortune.

Troy King:  Calling the tech downturn a "trick" seems to me to require a conspiracy of incredible proportions.

Brent P. Newhall
Monday, December 16, 2002

The problem is that some peolpe are able to get by with putting a data control on a VB form, linking it to a grid and a DB and populating it. This is enough to qualify them as 'developers', the fact that many, many unemployed experienced developers can do this plus much, much more doesn't cut it. I have just started a new contract with a large insurance company, my job is to review the architecture/issues of a long-delayed project and make recomendations with a view to either shutting the project down or ramping it up. Yesterday I met a developer who has been working on the project for 12 months, in a team of 5. She has never used version control, and did not know what 'Check out/in' meant. Why she has a job is beyond me, but that's exactly the point you raise here. Yesterday was my first day, and I haven't met the other developers yet, but given 20% of the team don't know how to use VSS (it's installed and works an all development PC's) I'm not holding out much hope. I have no idea how they are doing test releases and performing version control.

I think the problem is the hiring process, the whole industry is a mess, the pimps have no idea, many companies outsource, a lot of QA process's are going by the wayside.

I've been looking for work before this job for about 2 months, yesterday I found out that somebody I had trained in C++ at my previous job, who was a VB programmer, got a C++ job that I had applied for at an hourly rate of $95, way beyond his ability/experience.
He did this on the back of 3 months C++ help that I had given him and was in every way a beginner. I'm not annoyed that he got the job over me, what highlights the problem is that I didn't even get an interview, even though I applied to an agent for the job, his resume got put forward and mine didn't, even though I am an experienced developer with 5 years C++ and he has only 3 months.
He has already called me for help, that's how I found out about it.
This is also a problem, many agents are inexperienced and add no value, so if the right resume's don't get forward what hope has the company of hiring quality?

It's a mess, full stop.

Monday, December 16, 2002

"He has already called me for help"

Alberto, this is interesting. What do you plan to do?

Sarain H.
Monday, December 16, 2002

I pointed him in the direction of some reference material and some code snippets that might do the trick, I'm happy to help as long as it doesn't get too much.

I told him I would write some of the 'hard' bits for him if he got stuck at the same hourly rate that he charges, I may regret this.

Sour grapes are bad for the soul.

Monday, December 16, 2002

Darwinian-style selection is never perfect, for two reasons:

1) What is being selected for is not raw talent, but, ability to get and retain a job. Quite frequently, esp. in large corporations, the politics are far more important than the talent, sadly enough.

2) Natural selection doesn't guarantee that the best always win. Just that they will tend to win. Like a tennis tournament -- it's possible that an overall weaker player will win through luck, but overall you expect better players to last longer.

Or, to put it another way, do you think there's a higher percentage of compentent programmers among the employed or the unemployed? The fact that there are employed incompetents, and unemployed compentents doesn't mean that there's not a selection pressure (even if mild) for quality.

Matt Christensen
Monday, December 16, 2002

"Alberto, this is interesting. What do you plan to do? "

Sarain, there was a thread about this, somewhere in this forum.

Prakash S
Tuesday, December 17, 2002


No seriously? About dealing with to what extent to help someone who you trained who got your job?

Now Steve McConnell has a great article on his web site about EXACTLY this scenario which in some other part of his site he mentions htat the guy who didn't get the contract and was being called up for assistence was him (in the article itself he is elusive about the identities but he nails it down elsewhere).

I am vaguely certain it was even the exact same VB/C++ scenario too! The 'twist' to the whole thing was that Steve was one of the main developers on the original project and he gave the highest bid. They tossed his bid as an 'outlier' and accepted the second lowest which they then whittled down to be the same as the lowest. Then, the people who got hte bid called him up and asked if he knew where they could find 3 C++ programmers that could start on Monday. He told them honestly that he did not know the answer to that.

In the end, the project cost far more for the low bidder to do than the high bidder had bid and took far longer. He made the point that it's reasonable to wonder if the developer who did version 1 might actually know something about how much version 2 would cost to develop.

Anyway, as I recall, he didn't help them out - for moral reasons I believe that those who make their bed should lie in it. Nothing to do with sour grapes.

Are you sure you aren't thinking about that article? I don't recall a thread here on the subject but i've been wrong about something or another just about every day since the day I was born so this could be one of those times!

Sarain H.
Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Alberto wrote, "...This is also a problem, many agents are inexperienced and add no value, so if the right resume's don't get forward what hope has the company of hiring quality?"

Yes, there are many recruiters out there that are very inexperienced, however, imo the reason many of them tend to interview and hire the less experienced job candiate is because they can get a higher margin of profit by selling him/her to a client instead of you.  Of course, in this instance this doesn't appear to be the case.

one programmer's opinion
Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Sarain, interesting.

I am pretty sure that there was some discussion about it. do not remember the topic or it spawned of in a sub topic!

Prakash S
Tuesday, December 17, 2002

The McConnell article was about outsourcing. I don't know if the scenario he mentioned was based on personal experience.

Stephen Jones
Tuesday, December 17, 2002


In the article its all in the third person. But when i read it I was on a rampage, reading every article on his site. I found another article, perhaps it was an earlier magazine column he wrote(?), in which he told the same story but the person involved was him. I assume that when he fleshed it out into a bigger article, he wanted to avoid looking like he was just trying to make himself out to be a hero and concentrate on the general situation.

Sarain H.
Tuesday, December 17, 2002

I agree with Just Me,

Good products have been dying off. Revolutionary stuff that would have really made a difference in the industry. What makes a company work or not is the ability to market and sell its product. If it can't do that it is doomed no matter how good the product is. Additionally, I think the industry was infected with the Enron Disease. Top Execs that are just out for themselves at the company's expense or just plain incompetent.

David Hickerson
Tuesday, December 17, 2002

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