Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board

The Future Of Work (and FAEs)

Read a little article in Business Week magazine:

Now I'm going to go off on a tangent, as I often do.

In his article, Peter Coy says that one type of job that's "safe" is one that works closely with customers.  Some people will think, "Bah, look at all the tech support jobs shipped over to India."

The problem is those jobs support Joe Schmoe Consumer.  They're small fry customers with simplistic needs.  But there's a type of "customer support" that's far more lucrative.  One name for it is Field Applications Engineer.  They don't work in the Tech Support department, but rather they work in Sales, and they support big fish customers.

Just this past week, our main vendor sent over a high powered delegation.  A 3rd party manufacturer's rep vice-president, our vendor's west coast sales manager, and two Field Appllication Engineers (FAEs).

Think of FAEs as tech support people on steroids.  They're very smart and know their business inside and out.  More importantly, they know the customer's business inside and out.

The senior FAE was fielding questions as fast as we could throw them at him.  His Gung Fu was great.  If he didn't know the answer, he had his boss look it up while he was talking, or he knew the exact person at his company that could get us the answer.

Of course there are crappy FAEs who work for crappy companies, but this guy was top notch, and so is his company.  He drives a Porche while I drive a Sentra.  He makes money up the yin-yang, and the bastard is younger than me! 

But most average people can't do his job, and that's the point.  If you go through life being average at your job, don't expect to hold that job for life.  And most people are average because they didn't pick a job based on their natural talents and passions (easier said than done).  You know you're average if you don't think beyond your immediate responsibilities, beyond the minimal requirements to get by.  And even if you're top notch, if you work for an average company, you'll become average.

Of course some people don't want their job to be their life, and that's totally cool too.  As long as you know what you want, and realize that going down one path will exclude you from other options.  But that's not so bad, because life's full of many options, if you know how to live life.  I'll never drive a Porche, that that's fine by me.

Hmm I better stop now before I go off on further tangents.  Read the article, it's nice.

Monday, March 15, 2004

Two points:

1. For some time, there's been a smug belief by many that, even though offshoring of IT jobs was bad, at least it wouldn't affect them. Increasingly it's becoming obvious that's not the case. Accountants, lawyers, medical jobs and writing are being offshored.

2. If the point of the story is that managers are safe, well, hello. We've known that from the get-go. Offshoring is all about management screwing the community.

3. If the point of quoting the article is to suggest that offshoring only happens to those who deserve it, then that's not borne out by the facts, or just either. Offshoring reduces incomes for every one.

Monday, March 15, 2004

OK. Three.

Monday, March 15, 2004

"Offshoring reduces incomes for every one."

Objection! Your Honor, the statement assumes facts not in evidence.

How about a little supporting documentation before we jump right to that conclusion?

Perry Mason
Monday, March 15, 2004


Nice response to VP's post!

The only sentence of yours that I didn't care for was the last one, "Offshoring reduces incomes for every one". If this was true then nobody would be sending work offshore.

VP wrote, "But most average people can't do his job, and that's the point."

I didn't read the article, but I am not sure I agree with you. How do you know that "most average people" can't do his job? Maybe this person has received a ton of training and support throughout his career? Perhaps the FAE that you met had one of those days where everything simply clicked for him?

Even if I believed what you wrote, the reality is there is a finite amount of decent paying FAE type of jobs (i.e. work closely with customers) available out there. This is where words such as "underemployment" come into play.

One Programmer's Opinion
Monday, March 15, 2004

"Offshoring reduces incomes for every one."

Not for the people 'Offshore' who get the jobs.

John Eikenberry
Monday, March 15, 2004

One Programmer's Opinion,

Thanks for sharing your opinions and questions.

"I didn't read the article, but I am not sure I agree with you. How do you know that "most average people" can't do his job? Maybe this person has received a ton of training and support throughout his career?"

He definately received a ton of training.  Even the 3rd party rep received training from the vendor.  The vendor is top notch (but not perfect), and that's why it's important to work for a good company (yes the problem is finding them).

If I'm reading you correctly, you're saying that people who are labeled as "average" are just victims of bad companies, and I totally agree with that.  But, it's up to them to find a better company or risk staying average.

"Perhaps the FAE that you met had one of those days where everything simply clicked for him?"

True true.  He might have taken some Speed before the presentation, that would explain the high pay ;_)  But seriously, I see what you're getting at.

What made him top notch wasn't his knowledge.  Companies have a lot of internal gurus who know a lot more, but they never meet customers, and there's a reason for that.  They don't have exceptional verbal skills and the ability to think on their feet while taking heat from an angry customer.  A FAE worth his or her salt isn't the ultimate source of information, but a conduit of timely and useful information.  It also helps to have good looks and a charming personality.

Of course you have average FAEs who aren't that good, but they get paid a lot for working crazy hours and traveling a lot.  Basically they're pimping themselves out.

I agree our country has a problem.  Most of the population is getting left behind.  Corporations are seeing more profits but no jobs are being created.  We could be headed for bad times, who knows.  Then again, the world's getting over populated and we're fucking up our planet.  We're racking up a bill and some day Mother Nature's gonna come collecting and humanity will have some hard lessons to learn.  At that point, it might not matter what the job situation is.  Whoops, going off on a tangent again :_)

Anyways, people will get all sorts of things out of that article, and I'm glad they're voicing their opinions of what they saw into it.  For me, what I liked about the article is that it gave advice on how to reduce the risk of being offshored (though you can never be bulletproof).  There are many things that are out of my control, but there are a few things that I can do something about.

Monday, March 15, 2004

One note.  His driving of a Porche may not have to do with his money as much as his priorties.

Oren Miller
Monday, March 15, 2004

Very true Oren.  You've got a good point.

I think it's silly, those people who put themselves into debt to own a Porche, just to appear rich.  I like owning a POS car, so that I can scrape a Porche that tries to cut me off.

Monday, March 15, 2004

I don't have a Porsche, but I know a few people that do.  All I have to do is go visit them and they're likely to let me sit in it.  This gives me most of the pleasure of owning one without any of the cost.

Oh, and if you think that driving it at Xodd miles an hour is a pleasure I'm missing out on you haven't tried finding a piece of road in this fair Isle to do that recently.

Simon Lucy
Monday, March 15, 2004

I like this part of the article:

> New research by economists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University concludes that the key factor is whether a job can be "routinized," or broken down into repeatable steps that vary little from day to day. Such a job is easier to replace with a clever piece of software or to hand over to a lower-paid worker outside the U.S. By comparison, the jobs that will pay well in the future will be ones that are hard to reduce to a recipe. These attractive jobs -- from factory floor management to sales to teaching to the professions -- require flexibility, creativity, and lifelong learning.

I think it is obvious that developing software is one of those 'routinized' jobs that can easily be "broken  down into repeatable steps that vary little from day to day". Why programmers ever thought that their simple jobs wouldn't be suceptible to mechanization is beyond me. Most programmers have a very low IQ anyway and so such concepts are beyond their ability to understand.

Now what I do, that's entirely different. I create value. Unliek programming, my job requires flexibility, creativity nad lifelong learning.

Used to climb poles, now I am a high paid manager
Monday, March 15, 2004


I couldn't agree more. Computer programming is so routinized its not ever worth doing. Now they have got clever software that automatically writes the code for you, doing all the tricky bits just by pressing a button. And they used to pay big bucks for these skills? No longer! Even a monkey could do half this stuff with one arm tied to his tail.

Daniel MacGyver
Monday, March 15, 2004

Also see the sample chapter of the new book by Levy himself

His book will be published this Coming June 2004

He is talking about automation, pattern, what kind of job that human should do in the future.

Richard Sunarto
Monday, March 15, 2004

VP, just a word of caution about deifying your allegedly successful sales engineer.

The "qualities" you attribute to him are essentially ones of manipulation rather than productive work.

Monday, March 15, 2004

Thanks for the link Richard.  It reminds me of a nice conversation I had with this rather old retired fellah in a Borders Bookstore cafe last year. 

He used to be a sales manager that sold some sort of commodity parts, I can't remember.  Anyways, he said the best thing he did when he started at an entry level position, was to figure out how to make his job obsolete.

It was a tech support type gig.  He realized most customers had the same kind of questions.  So he collected the most common questions and the solutions for them into a book.  After that, they could service more customers with fewer people.  Unfortunately people got laid off, but he got promoted.

Whatever job you do, you should always think about how to make it obsolete.  Either by coming up with new processes, or automate it with software.  This frees you from doing the mudane stuff, while you concentrate on the more interesting things. 

Of course they could get rid of you, which would suck, but if a company is dumb enough to let go of their best thinkers, then perhaps you're the one who's better off.

Monday, March 15, 2004

Unamed One,

True, those same skills are a form of manipulation.  A part of sales is showing your best side, while hiding your flaws. 

It's very rare that you see a sales person who will recommend a competitor's product, if they truely think it'll be better for your purposes.  Or to see a company be honest about flaws in their products, while their competitors hides theirs. 

But sometimes customers are superficial and short sighted.  I've bought products based on how pretty the packaging was or how much clevage the sales girl had, without doing a lot of research.  It's possible an overly honest company with a good product can lose out to a more dubious competitor.

But don't we all deceive?  Acting on your best behavior when you interview for a job?  Smiling at coworker you hate, but who you need to work with to acheive a goal?

Manipulation is an important skill in any society.  It gets things done.  Of course it can be used for good or bad.  Just like a doctor can use their intimate knowledge of the human body to heal or harm.  What's that quote from Babylon 5?  Something along the lines of  "We practice enlightened self interest."

It's easy, but dangerous, to label something as "good" or "evil."  So I suppose buying a Porche that you can't afford, being fake, might make sense if you're a sales person trying to impress customers.  Of course it's idiotic if you base your self esteem on a car.

*shrug*  What do you think?

Monday, March 15, 2004

VP, yes, it's a bit of a shrug question. It is true that behaviour generally involves presenting our best side. Witness the repeated requests for interview advice here.

However I personally think there's a difference between that and actively deceiving people where there's significant money or outcomes at stake. I personally do not ever do that.

That is why I would never work at an outsourcer type firm ( and I'm not talking about the Indian ones here.)

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

"Wally, you've got to see this!" 
"What is it?"
"I think this vendor is telling the truth!"
"No way!"

I make a lot of the choices of what we buy, so I deal with a lot of salesmen, sales teams.  I don't expect them to tell me "here are all the flaws in our product" up front, but I do expect them to be honest about where their product would fit (or not) in to our environment.  I expect them to emphasize the good points of their products, but not to go overboard.  For my part, I try to avoid testing them or putting them on the spot, although I do tend to collect odd bits of trivia I sometimes use on them, e.g. asking the Sprint salesman where the company name comes from.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

The person that wrote that one should always try and make one's job obsolete is right on the money. That is the essence of progress.

Most people do not like change though, and moan when someone else makes their job obsolete.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004


Great idea, borrowing a friend's Porche.  You get the best of both worlds.

Such generous friends!  I personally couldn't drive someone else's expensive car.  I'd feel too paranoid about wrecking it.

So what's the problem with the roads in Great Britain (I'm assuming)?  Not enough straight aways?  Not enough curves?


That sounds like a good philosophy for customer-sales interaction.  Yeah I can't stand when they push their good points as the cure to all of life's ills.  It makes sense for them not to blast you with all their flaws, but you're right, they should bring up their flaws when they realize it might be significant to your situation.  Thanks for sharing.

Okay, that Sprint trivia thing is starting to piss me off.  Can't find it on Google easily (but I suppose that's the point).  Ah, just found it, after changing my search terms:

That must be good for throwing the sales people off balance ;_)


Yeah, that's my frustration with my current workplace.  Everyone's smart, everyone works hard, but they don't work smart.  They're stuck in their ways, but I suppose that's human nature.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

The problem, these days, are far too many cameras.

Simon Lucy
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Tapiwa, you like spouting platitudes, that's for sure. Moving away from glib management textbooks, please tell me how it benefits anyone to really make their job obsolete.

Not some dickhead "management consultant" whose job is making his current job obsolete because he moves from company to company and charges a fortune for it, but a real person who actually does something useful and has a family to feed. How does it benefit him or her to put himself out of work?

There is a good reason people don't like change. It is because imposed change is usually to benefit someone else, generally dickhead management consultants.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

We never say, 'Who's gonna get this?'
We always say, 'The right people will get this.'
-- Joel Hodgson, MST3K

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

> please tell me how it benefits anyone to really make their job obsolete

I was the first programmer at a startup. When the boss hired more programmers, I trained them as my peers to be able do the job that I was doing (so that the business wouldn't depend on me). In that way I was consciously (and conscientiously) trying to make myself, if not my job, expendable.

As it happened, as the new hires evolved to "my level" I was learning new things ... and so I became the "Chief" programmer (the architect, and so on).

I was also the last programmer employed there, to train our replacements when our jobs were off-shored: which was an extra few months of pay for me, and good karma on my resume.

When not a FTE I have worked and do work as a contractor: in which the aim is to finish the project successfully. Finishing a project ends your contract; contrast this with not finishing a contract, which might end your career.

Christopher Wells
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Left mgmt consultancy a little while ago. Making one's job obsolete means for lack of a better expression continually adding value.

My post was overly simplistic true, but I was alluding to was the fact that one should always try and automate repetitive tasks. You would be amazed how many people are employed to say generate reports by hand, from raw data, when a template coupled with smart DBMS design can automate the task.

Entire swathes of jobs categories have disappeared because technology made them redundant. Any schools out there still teaching shorthand? Self typing and dictaphones got rid of the typing pools.

I would rather be at the front, continually pushing myself into new and more interesting stuff, then to be doing grunt work day in and day out, AND worrying about how some newfangled technology will replace me.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Thanks for contributing, Christopher.  I'm glad to see your employer laid you off last, and was wise enough to recognize the value your attitude brought to the company..

Sure there are plenty of idiot companies that will lay off their best people first, but good riddence.  One advantage of being laid off in the first round is you usually get a better severance package.

Heh, it took me a while to realize FTE = Full Time Employee.


Thanks for taking the time to elaborate, Tapiwa. 

I totally agree with you.  Change happens whether you want it to or not.  Either you ride that change, by helping create it, or you just become a victim of it. 


On a related tangent:

Some people's idea of job security is to make it impossible for anyone else to pick up their work, and sure, that will help them keep their current job.  In some situations, it might be the right thing to do.

But job security can be a form of career suicide, in this fast paced world.  There's a good chance that your job's going to become obsolete, and so will you.

A nice thing about making your job obsolete is it frees you up to persue more interesting things.  I've lost many opportunities to jump onto a fun project because no one else could do the work I was doing.  Do you know who got the fun projects?  The freakin new person straight out of college.  And while they're learning new skills, my skills are stagnating by doing the same ol' crap.


Yes, yes.  There are exceptions to any piece of advice, or point of view.  If you're too lazy to think for yourself; if you lack imagination such that you can only take things literally; if you're so anal that you don't value anything that's universally applicable; then have a fun time bitching and moaning while you get left behind.

Of course if all you want to do is warn other about situations where a piece of advice is bad, by all means, please share and help the community out.

And a few whiners here and there can stir up a good conversation.  I suppose even they serve a purpose.


"The best way to predict the future, is to create it."  - Peter Drucker

Wednesday, March 17, 2004


anything that's _not_ universally applicable

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Tend to agree with Tapiwa.

The guy who makes his job obsolete is normally making somebody else's job obsolete as well and it's that guy who gets the chop. Even if it's not true you are more likely to get moved or hired to make another job obsolete.

Please tell me how many guys who wrote compilers have spent the last forty years panhandling.

Stephen Jones
Thursday, March 18, 2004

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home