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Hi-tech Work Places no Better than Factories? 801

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the no-shocker-here dept.
Anonymous Coward writes "A tasty bit of truth. Again, a Sociology Professor has found out what we all know. He wistfully comments on the state of geekdom in the modern corporation: "They face the lonely insecurity of the individual entrepreneur in a marketplace and culture that stresses, with macho imagery from war and sports, that they are ultimately alone" and adds that... "For many this may be the shape of work in the 21st century." You want to start a union? I mean how much is your boss making at your expense even if he did start the company long before you joined up?"
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Hi-tech Work Places no Better than Factories?

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  • by torre (620087) on Sunday December 01, 2002 @12:09PM (#4787607)
    I can see it now a geek union which would certainly cater to the the ever important needs and issues of our culture...

    And this great union would add a clause somewhere in the collective agreement with the employer that slashdot is a right that cannot be taken away during work hours! :)

  • by dandelion_wine (625330) on Sunday December 01, 2002 @12:09PM (#4787609) Journal
    With the glut of new workers pursuing that Silicon Valley dream, there'll be plenty of grist for this mill with no need to change any time soon.

    And let's face it. Employers benefit from people's "But I'll be the exception!" mentality the way the government profits from lotteries and the service industry profits from aspiring actors.
  • Dont like it? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Matey-O (518004) <michaeljohnmiller@mSPAMsSPAMnSPAM.com> on Sunday December 01, 2002 @12:12PM (#4787617) Homepage Journal
    mean how much is your boss making at your expense even if he did start the company long before you joined up?
    Having watched my parents be entrepreneurs for 20 odd years, I'd posit: The Boss is ALLOWED to make money at your expense. Why? Because he/she had the balls to start the buisness, maintain the business, and financially SUPPORT the business untill it was viable. (or, like 80% of all new businesses -- go under.) Don't like it? Go start a business, THEN you can comment on how to do or do not like the salary structure.

    • Re:Dont like it? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by BHearsum (325814) on Sunday December 01, 2002 @12:15PM (#4787632) Homepage
      Not everyone has the skills to start a business. Some of us of the skills to be employees. A business needs employees just as much as it needs a boss.
      • Re:Dont like it? (Score:3, Insightful)

        by gaj (1933)
        A business needs employees just as much as it needs a boss.
        The hell it does. A business can exist with just the "boss"; the entrepreneur. An employee can only exist if there is a "boss" to hire him.

        As in all things, it's not the lack of skills. Skills can be learned. Face it: it's the lack of desire. The lack of drive.

        I'm not knocking people who don't have that entrepreneurial drive; I've not started my own company yet (though I've made two abortive attempts). But I'm only worth what an employer is willing to pay. Note that I didn't specify my current employer. I'm free to try to find a better match; someone who values my particular skill set and persona more than my current employer. I'm not interested in doing so right now, because I already found an employer that treats me quite well, thank you very much.

        • Re:Dont like it? (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Malcontent (40834)
          "The hell it does. A business can exist with just the "boss"

          A one person operation is not a business. It's a guy scraping a living. Yes some people (very few) make a living working for and by themsleves but most of them are artists or street musicians. Eventually somebody get hired to answer the phone or keep the books though.
      • by jgalun (8930)
        Not everyone has the skills to be a programmer either. Are you proposing that janitors be paid at the same wage as Unix sysadmins then?
    • Exactly.. you are not employed by your boss to be inovative to yourself, but to him. Very simple.. why else would he hire you..


      If you think you're better off alone, then start your own.

    • Re:Dont like it? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by FauxPasIII (75900) on Sunday December 01, 2002 @12:38PM (#4787737)
      > Go start a business, THEN you can comment on how to do or do not like the salary structure.

      So... only the rich mangement class are allowed to even voice an opinion on pay structure and labor issues ? That sounds... surprisingly like the current U.S. system, actually.
      • Re:Dont like it? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by sql*kitten (1359) on Sunday December 01, 2002 @02:09PM (#4788187)
        the rich mangement class are allowed to even voice an opinion on pay structure and labor issues

        What on earth are you talking about? There is no "management class". You think all the managers in the IT industry went to the same prep schools, joined the same fraternities at college, play golf together at weekends? What rubbish, if anything the "management class" is more diverse than the "programmer class"

        If you're talking about the company owner, then it's up to him/her to set pay structure... and it's up to employees to decide whether or not they want to work there. That's it. The system works remarkably well, and is the basis of all the successful economies in the world. Class War rhetoric is the hallmark of the world's economic basket cases.
    • Re:Dont like it? (Score:3, Informative)

      by __past__ (542467)
      I don't know if "have the balls" to start a business, but guess what - I don't want to start one. I want to write fricken code, not mess around with stupid paperwork, raising funds, lying to customers^W^W^Wmarketing etc.

      I'm happy that there are people who like bothering with the boring stuff, so I don't have to. I just don't think that they are somehow "more important" to a business than the people who actually create the product it sells. The idea of companies magically making tons of money without having any useful product kind of got unpopular scince the dotcom disaster.

      • Re:Dont like it? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by FallLine (12211) <fallline AT operamail DOT com> on Sunday December 01, 2002 @03:34PM (#4788552)
        >I don't know if "have the balls" to start a business, but guess what - I don't want to start one. I want to write fricken code, not mess around with stupid paperwork, raising funds, lying to customers^W^W^Wmarketing etc.


        I'm happy that there are people who like bothering with the boring stuff, so I don't have to. I just don't think that they are somehow "more important" to a business than the people who actually create the product it sells.
        This is exactly why the entreprenuer makes money. Firstly, they take risk, which you do not. That is to say that you probably insist a pay check at or very near your marketable value once every one or two weeks. Unless you take an equity position, your fate is not largely dependent on the company's success (and, of course, if you do take that risk, then you are also going to recieve similar benefits that the entreprenuer does). Entreprenuer only make money, by and large, when and if the company succeeds. Ok, most successful entreprenuers draw a nominal salary, but it's rarely anything close to his or her actual marketable value, especially when you figure in the amount of effort invested and the hours worked. Secondly, as you say, you don't want to do that kind of "boring" work. Well guess what, a lot of people don't want to. This is another reason why they are better compensated for their efforts than you are. Chalk it up to supply and demand.

        The idea of companies magically making tons of money without having any useful product kind of got unpopular scince the dotcom disaster.
        I don't know any successful entreprenuer and, believe me, I know a lot, that believes that their employees are unimportant. Quite to the contrary, most successful entreprenuers have a great deal of respect for their employees and they fully realize just how important they are. Nonetheless, it is often the entreprenuer that is the glue the keeps the entire ship together (not to mention keeping it pointed in the right direction). Talented teams don't just assemble by themselves; they are often brought into and held in place by the entreprenuer. What's more, it is often the entreprenuer that keeps the teams energy focuses on the task at hand, to deliver a product or a service that is of real marketable value. That is to say that the entreprenuer is both the catalyst and the sustaining additive, if you will, without which the company would quick fall apart. While the employees are very essential, they tend to be a lot more interchangable and a lot less critical to the organization as individuals. (Note: this is not to say that there are not exceptions, but that those that view their jobs through such a limited scope are rarely ever that uniquely valuable) That is to say that while entreprenuers tend to share a lot of things in common they are often not interchangable as different industries demand different skill sets and the number of qualified entrenprenuer (or like managers) are in short supply. If starting up a business were easy, or if it were a license to print money, as so many kids on slashdot suggest, then a lot more people would be doing it and the profits that any entreprenuer could make would fall sharply.
    • If the boss doesn't like it, he can get rid of me, and the rest of the workers.

      He's not doing me a favour by letting me work for him. he's hoping to get more than his moneys worth from me. I'm hoping to get the amount I'm worth from him. I'll meet him halfway.
    • Re:Dont like it? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by rindeee (530084) on Sunday December 01, 2002 @03:28PM (#4788535)
      Amen! As a small business owner, I get damned sick of the "us vs. them" mentality. Interestingly, I have never asked my employees to get paid late, or to skip a pay check so that I can get paid. On the other hand, I have done so on numerous occasions for them. Do I whine about it? No, I don't even mention it to them. Why? Becuase I am the one who accepted the risk in the first place, not them. I value my employees a great deal, and take care of them to the best of my ability. When someone has to suffer, you can be sure I will be first in line. Given that I have accepted the risk up front, your darn right I am going to reap the reward (hopefully) down the road. Somehow this concept has been demonized, and now were all supposed to evenly distribute wealth. I pay my employees very well and give them ample opportunity to excel. This is my responsibility...fair compensation. Don't whine and gripe if I do end up selling my business down the road for a truck load of money or if I decide to pay myself more when finances allow. Just remind yourself that it is (or should be) the owner who is the first to sacrifice and that sacrifice is a long term investment to them. If you are in a position that you feel is "unfair" then leave. Sure the market is tight, but there are plenty of jobs for really talented people.

      ER
    • But there should be reasonable terms for this. My employer bills at least $120/hour for me to be onsite, they pay me only 10% of that. My company makes THOUSANDS weekly off my labor and I have to starve some weeks to keep my apartment. My employer has discovered that in this job market they can burn through employees rather than keep us. They recently discovered that it's cheaper to use technicians than the moving company to deliver hundereds of PCs to the sites. Over 80% of my 'high tech' job is now loading and unloading trucks and carting around boxes. The guy throwing televisions onto carts at the sites makes -3 TIMES- what technicians at my company do because his ID says 'Professional Mover' on it and mine says 'PC/Mac Support Specialist'. Don't tell me we shouldn't do something about this, my company RAPES all of us so they can pay the top executives millions.
  • negative, much? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by spacefem (443435) on Sunday December 01, 2002 @12:12PM (#4787621) Homepage
    We're safer, we breath cleaner air. We don't suffer from hearing loss. We're not on our feet all day and we make good money.

    Yeah, life sure is tough.

    If you think a factory is better, go work in a factory! I'll stay in my cubicle and deal with being "lonely and insecure". I'm very thankful for my job and anyone who thinks a career in an office is difficult needs a big reality check. We have it very good, people.
    • Re:negative, much? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Dun Malg (230075) on Sunday December 01, 2002 @12:26PM (#4787684) Homepage
      If you think a factory is better, go work in a factory!

      Say it again, brother. I once worked in a factory that made plastic buckets. You know how handles get put on buckets? It ain't a machine what does it. It's people. People standing at tables and trying to make a quota for minimum wage. Argh. I have a co-worker who once worked in a factory where they made the coily handset cords for telephones. When the "kids" at our workplace complain about their slacker jobs, we like to trot out our factory stories. Doesn't help though. People who haven't worked in factories usually don't appreciate the mind-numbing repetition that goes on in a factory. I'd rather be exploited for $30K a year in a job that requires thinking than be exploited for $9K in a job that encourages brain death.
    • Re:negative, much? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Skjellifetti (561341) on Sunday December 01, 2002 @01:24PM (#4787950) Journal
      This is similar to the complaints made during the early industrial revolution about how hard and terrible factory work was. But the choice then was factory work or farm work. And I'll bet for most people who didn't own their own farm (and likely many who did) factory work won hands down.

      OTOH, factory work is tough and in the early days abusive employers could get away with lots of nasty things we consider illegal and/or immoral today. It took a combination of public outrage, progressive politicians, and organized labor to fix many of the worst ills associated with factory labor conditions.

      Just because code serfdom is a better choice than factory work does not mean that all is well or that conditions cannot or should not be improved.
    • God how I wish I still had my Beyond the Fringe albums. That wonderful Peter Cooke monologue comparing the life of a judge with that of a coal miner...I'd love to quote it correctly, but the line in question concerned that marked lack of falling coal in court rooms, such that judges often commented on it: "Well, no falling coal again today, eh?"

      We've all met computer people with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, but I've met very few who've actually lost fingers due to a computing accident (although I did cut my finger rather badly on some case sheet-metal once -- had to wear a Band-Aid for several days.:))

    • Re:negative, much? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Lethyos (408045) on Sunday December 01, 2002 @01:52PM (#4788108) Journal
      I couldn't agree with you more. Anyone where with a high-school history lesson under her belt will remember a few things about factories back in the day:

      - Employees would frequently lose digits of their hands, whole limbs, or even be killed on the job. As a result, they were simply replaced with someone else with no compensation to the original employee or their family. It's not so far off today.

      - If employees didn't like their conditions, and went on strike, factory owners would often choose to just ignore them, and then bring in Pinkerton guards [tripod.com]. These would then bust up the unions, force employees away at gun-point while the factory brought on cheaper people. Even today, factory workers complaining of insufficient compensation are ignored.

      - Now while some tech jobs require exposure to nasty chemicals (chip manufacturing for example), most certainly do not. People working in factories, even today, are exposed to substances that cause severe birth defects, mental illness, and a plethora of other nasty side-effects.

      So, do you think you geeks really have it so bad on the job? I highly disagree. I have never worked in a factory (and I consider myself fortunate), but from a tiny little research, it's easy to see how much worse it is for people who aren't working in Tech.
  • Not for me (Score:5, Insightful)

    by redfiche (621966) on Sunday December 01, 2002 @12:14PM (#4787627) Journal
    I work in a highly collaborative, challenging environment. I sometimes work long hours, but my time is extremely flexible and I am almost entirely self-directed. The job has it's stresses, but it's the best job I've ever had, and I wouldn't trade it.

    When I talk to the other employees in other departments, I see that the developers have much more security, and much better working conditions, than anyone but the executives.

  • blue vs white (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wirzcat (221710) on Sunday December 01, 2002 @12:19PM (#4787651)
    I work in an IT dept for a really big company. They have some huge factories and employ lots of blue collar union workers. I have never really agreed with all union concepts. But....it sure seems enjoyable that they make more money than me, aren't constantly retraining, aren't chaseing some scam cert, and have a life outside of work.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      At what cost do they receive their compensation? They get paid more, then again they pay union dues for the higher pay. They have two bosses, the company and the union. The union can negotiate and act on their behalf even when it doesn't really benefit them. The non-union employees are probably paid below scale while the union employees are probably well above scale. How many goods and services cost significantly more today because of the inflated cost of goods caused by the inflated wages extorted by the unions? How many companies today have failed or become non-competitive due to union extortion? How many companies have downsized all of their non-union employees just to be able to support the union employees that have a contract. Unions are supposed to be about protecting the employees - ALL OF THE EMPLOYEES. Not just the ones that pay. By focussing on the members they destroy the livelihood of other employees. Additionally they can destroy the fiscal stability of a company by making demands that put the companies in peril. Instead of focusing on how they can work harder to make a company more efficient and stronger and protect jobs that way, they focus on what the companies OWE them and what they are ENTITLED to.

      Unions were a good idea prior to the labor laws that are now on the books. In today's world you have OSHA and other agencies looking out for the safety and health. And don't tell me that they are overworked and can't do their job. Someone at my place of business calls and complains and there out tout-suite and a nice little bulletin gets posted on the company bulletin board.

      The problem we have now is that people get into a company and into a union and they're like ticks. They work poorly and you can't fire them. They get drunk and hurt themselves and you have to put them on disability. Don't hire them and they stand outside your business and menace your customers and other employees. Hire them and they might strike anyway for that "safety" problem you have and oh by the way they want a raise. I see them all the time, every day almost, standing outside some little shop or mall or street corner with their pickets with words so small that you can't read what it's about. At the end of the day it doesn't matter what it's about and if they really wanted you to know what it was about they would get out of their lawn chair and out from under the umbrella and put down the plackard and go out and talk to people and contact the media and write a senator and start a campaign that actually changes something for ALL employees.

      Unions are nothing more than a poorly constructed SOCIALIST system. Which makes it that much funnier because most union people I know are so anti-communist and anti-china but yet they are working under an almost identical regime. See in the real world people work hard to get a raise. The people who don't work hard don't get raises - unless you are in a union. If you work hard and don't get recognition you have choices... the choice to find another employer, the choice to work for yourself, the choice to move.

      It's like the farmers who feel entitled to get the government to pay them to farm in an area and time when it doesn't pay to farm. Well my daddy did it and my grand dad did it and my great grand dad did it, so I'm going to do it and my son is going to do it... If it doesn't work it doesn't work, find another way!

      I'm not envious of any union worker I've ever met. My step father was an autoworker at GM, my father is a teacher, my grandfather worked for Boeing, the guy in the cube next to me worked for Mac... at the end of the day I've not heard one of them praise a union for what it's done for them. My father is facing a pay cut and higher class sizes along with needing to pay for some of his own supplies. The unions are doing crap but threatening a strike if pay raises aren't negotiated. So at some point pay raises will be negotiated and then the schools will "downsize" to pay the teachers they have with the budget they have and class sizes will increase again and more supplies will come out of my fathers pocket. The more out of pocket expenses the more the unions will call for raises and so on and so forth.
      • by Omestes (471991)
        Eh, should the "commie-bastard" excuse be dead and buried now?

        My father was a teamster from when he was 16 until four years ago. The whole time he was making more than twice what the other truckers were making, with better work conditions. Now he is retired, living of his nice pension, while his new wife is getting worried about her 401k dying dramatically.

        One of my close freinds just started to work as a truckdriver, but is he massivly anti-union, pro-capitolism. He now took a job with Swift paying a QUARTER of what my father last made, doing even more work (cross-country v. interstate). His job takes him away from his new family for weeks at a time, and he isn't allowed break (tag-team driving). All for a quarter of the pay.

        I see nothing wrong with unions supporting only those who pay their due. Those who are willing to support the general cause deserve support, those who insult their own class (working) until they need representation deserve nothing.

        Yes, unions are socialist, as is universal health-care, social security, and other things that are generally considered good. Not all things socialist are bad, most is better than the US's social-darwinism policy.

        If you want to protect your rights, join others like you. Thats how our country was founded.

        Also, yes I'm rambleing, unions are more DEMOCRATIC than what you want. Teamsters VOTE for their president, and vote on other things. Teamsters also can ignore strike lines if they really want to.
  • What about academia? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jaalin (562843) on Sunday December 01, 2002 @12:19PM (#4787654) Homepage
    I have never understood why all CS majors want to end up with programming jobs. CS is much more than software engineering, but I know exactly 2 other CS undergrads at my school that want to go into academia. Being a professor is a great job, and doing research in an area that you enjoy (for me, graph theory and combinatorial design theory) is fun and rewarding. And if you love to program, you can always do research into language design, software engineering, etc. Why go to Silicon Valley looking for a job which will drive you insane and burn you out by the time you're thirty when you can have fun doing original research and can't be fired thanks to tenure?
    • by reynolds_john (242657) on Sunday December 01, 2002 @12:42PM (#4787760)
      I believe you are a bit behind the times. My father recently retired from a major university here in Arizona. One of the things on the plate right now is to remove tenure for teachers.
      Increasingly, universities are run as corporations, complete with greed, terrible politics, and lack of interest in their teachers. ASU is a wonderful example of this - there have been articles in the Arizona Republic newspaper about the 'brain drain' hemmoraging from ASU because they just won't pay their teachers even close to what they deserve.
      As for any business, you must eventually understand that the future is already written; we are all to be temp workers. I'm not sure how painful this transition will be, but already there are very few bastions of stable, long-term work. Heck, just look at what our president passed (or should I say "snuck" through) on Friday - ability to hire/fire workers, displace federal workers in place of the private sector, etc. etc.
      A good friend of mine has tried over and over to get a stable IT job - he's been through it now about ten times in the last year. Each time there was a different excuse, and the last few times they've fired and re-hired the next day for someone who was willing to work cheaper! In his words, "Welcome to Corporate America: do what you can, just don't get caught."
  • by Jafafa Hots (580169) on Sunday December 01, 2002 @12:21PM (#4787659) Homepage Journal
    Why pay someone 90% of the proceeds of your labor for the priviledge of working for them? I am self-employed now (as much as I can be, with disabilities) and even if back to 100% health would never go to work for someone else again. A friend is a mechanic, works for a big chain, doing mufflers and brakes. When the company has billed the customers $4000, his cut is about $300. His customers are so loyal to his work that when he left one place and went to another, they followed. So I ask him "Why not just work for yourself, start out on your own?" After all, he manages the day to day operations, knows all the ins and outs of ordering, etc. Answer? NO GUTS. For generations we have all been fed this lie - the American work ethic, that says to go to work for someone ELSE and work HARD, 40, 50, 60 hours a week to get by. Corporations count on us buying into that so they will have a ready source of peons.
    • by Surak (18578) <surak AT mailblocks DOT com> on Sunday December 01, 2002 @12:42PM (#4787756) Homepage Journal
      When the company has billed the customers $4000, his cut is about $300. His customers are so loyal to his work that when he left one place and went to another, they followed. So I ask him "Why not just work for yourself, start out on your own?" After all, he manages the day to day operations, knows all the ins and outs of ordering, etc. Answer? NO GUTS.

      Hmmm..well, the thing is out of the $4000 that was billed, on average, about $2000 is overhead -- rent or mortgage, utilities, marketing and so forth and materials. Then he gets his $300, plus it costs the company an additional $150. That leaves about $1550. Unless your friend reinvests part of that into the company, Uncle Sam gets about 1/3rd of that, or about $520. That leaves $1000. That's *IF* the shop is getting good margins. Most likely, the margins are a lot less than that and the overhead is more like $2500-3000. Meaning that the shop probably makes a whole $200-400 (not much more than your mechanic friend) or so on the whole $4000. Assuming everything's going well of course, and there aren't unforseen costs.

      That $4000 sounds like a lot of money. Trust me, it isn't.

    • For generations we have all been fed this lie - the American work ethic, that says to go to work for someone ELSE and work HARD, 40, 50, 60 hours a week to get by.

      What the hell are you talking about? First of all, the American ideal has never been work hard for someone else and work hard. The American dream (or myth, whatever you want) has always been about striking out on your own. The yeoman farmer, the 49er, the guy who drops out of Harvard to start his own small software business, etc.

      Secondly, I'm getting weary of the idea that working hard is some kind of lie that has been foisted upon us. The fact is, until very recently, people simply had to work long hours to survive. And it wasn't just exploitation by aristocrats or an unfair system - it was an economic fact of life. Production wasn't efficient enough to allow for people to work fewer hours.

      Now, in the past few decades, a few lucky countries have become efficient enough to allow people to work fewer hours (Japan, Europe, America, etc.). But even then, I would not count on it simply being "We're only working hard because of a lie we're being told." Yes, workers in France and Germany work fewer hours at better conditions than American workers do. But on the other hand, France and Germany's economies have been stagnant for the past decade, while America's has been dynamic. And that's not just the bubble - America's GDP growth rate last quarter was much higher than either Germany's or France's, and is predicted to be much higher for next year as well.

      As our production methods get more efficient, we can make our choice between greater production and more hours off. Europe leans towards more hours off. America leans towards greater production. Simple as that.

      Personally, I am comfortable with America's choice, because I think Europe (Britain excluded) is headed toward financial crisis, and will eventually be forced to switch towards a system more like America's anyway. I am also comfortable with America's choice because there are many things we have yet to achieve, that I would like to.

      But indeed, one day we will have robots to do most of our labor for us, and we'll have genetic engineering, clean energy, and all the biotech advances we could ever want, and then I'll be ready to start making the trade for fewer hours. Because at that point our production will have become extremely efficient, and we'll have attained the things I want to see society achieve.

      • And that's not just the bubble - America's GDP growth rate last quarter was much higher than either Germany's or France's, and is predicted to be much higher for next year as well.

        And according to this weeks "Economist Magaizine" your socialist northern neighbor will have 2002/2003 of 3.4/3.2 GDP growth vs. the US of 2.4/2.7.
        So whats your point? It is not as simple as you make it out to be. GDP growth rates are not just based on people working more effiecently (not even close).

        The economist also had an article a few months back dispelling the myth that the US was way more effiecent through the 1990's. It was slightly more effiecient than coutries such as Britian, but not as much as the numbers led you to believe.

  • Bollocks..... (Score:5, Informative)

    by crivens (112213) on Sunday December 01, 2002 @12:23PM (#4787666)
    You don't get your fingers crushed in a high-tech workplace by dodgy machinery, you earn a much better salary, you're not breathing dangerous toxins and you are able to afford a life. I'd rather work in cubicle land than in a 19th century (or even 20th!) factory.
  • by MarvinMouse (323641) on Sunday December 01, 2002 @12:24PM (#4787671) Homepage Journal
    If it does, then I can understand.

    This is the main reason why I want to involved with Research and Development and become a professor. I would rather create new things than (as one of my old bosses put it) "Tell a computer what to do" for the rest of my life.

    In a factory, just like behind a computer programming, you somehow become subordinate to the machine. That is what leads to employee unsatisfaction in my opinion.
  • Mathematics (Score:5, Interesting)

    by div_2n (525075) on Sunday December 01, 2002 @12:24PM (#4787673)
    It all boils down to mathematics. Every employee costs money. Consider the following:

    S = Salary/Hourly Wage
    B = Benefits
    A = Administrative overhead (payroll, etc)
    I = Business insurance cost per person
    R = Revenue from your work
    P = Profit from your work

    P = R - (S + B + A + I)

    Viewing this model you can draw several quick conclusions. First, if you are doing billable work, then the quickest way to get a pay increase is to increase your billable rate.

    Second, no matter how long you work for the company, at any given moment there exists a maximum amount you can be paid before your company loses money.

    It is pretty standard to get paid between 25 and 33 percent of your billable rate. Any less than that probably indicates a boss that is ripping you off royally.
  • Stupid article (Score:5, Informative)

    by johnburton (21870) <johnb@jbmail.com> on Sunday December 01, 2002 @12:25PM (#4787682) Homepage
    The article makes it sound like having to learn new things to keep up is a bad thing. It's what makes the job better than most.
  • Poor geeks ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Etyenne (4915) on Sunday December 01, 2002 @12:25PM (#4787683)
    I did both white-collar and manual labor. When you had been carrying brick 12 hours a day for 6$/hour, you don't complain about being lonely and insecure from your climatized office. I'll take my high-paying, challenging and virtually risk-free tech job anyday, thank you very much. Comparing 21st century techies to 19th factory worker is ridiculous self-pity; the author
  • by inode_buddha (576844) on Sunday December 01, 2002 @12:29PM (#4787696) Journal
    Spacefem wrote that "we have it easy..." and I strongly agree, based on experience. I have worked in factories for most of my adult life (I'm 35 now)
    and I'm here to tell you that it can be quite debilitating. Medically and physically, it becomes quite expensive when your living depends on your good health and you have to take off a week or two for medical problems. In other words, a week or two of no income.

    It's not the Golden Era of manufacturing anymore in my part of the US; $25k gross is considered a decent middle-class income here. If you are fortunate to have any financial reserves, they are probably very slim.

    It's mentally debilitating; there are no fellow geeks, so it tends to get lonely beyond a certain point. (my answer is to do Linux at home). Certainly, there's little of the intellectually stimulating debate that I love. (I majored in English, with a few years each of Philosophy and Art. Now I'm into networking)

    Now for the perspective: I have to wonder how much of this sociologist's observations are specific to the IT industry, or is it all just becoming part of the US corporate ethos? IMHO, business is a very human activity, but the way we go about it certainly isn't sometimes.
  • by DrDeaf (108321) on Sunday December 01, 2002 @12:30PM (#4787697)
    In my experience, the same things are wrong with "Big Labor" as "Big Business" and "Big Government". These common difficulties are rooted in the foibles of human behavior and are spawned by the types that are attracted to the controlling positions.

    There is a chance that a "Geek Guild" would be a good thing. If anyone has a chance, this bunch might... However, anyone remember the old FidoNet power struggles?

    Anyway, it might be wise to check out the experiences of today's Engineers unions (mostly aerospace as far as I know) as well as study the Guilds of Renasaissance times.

    Keep the "Good", avoid the "Bad".

    Cheers!
  • by Genady (27988) <[gary.rogers] [at] [mac.com]> on Sunday December 01, 2002 @12:32PM (#4787705)
    I've said that lower trained IT staff, Helpdesk, Support, even SysAdmins need a union for years. Of course if the industry were unionized that would be the end of the 25 year old engineering manager. Then again is that such a bad thing?

    I think that thing that everyone is scared of is a Union coming in and telling them that they're relegated to Jr. SysAdmin while the mainframe guys are trained and promoted. People are afraid that they won't be allowed to rise to the level of their competance as quickly as they saw people do during the boom years.

    Ultimately any union that is created for IT will be started by IT workers, remember that. It's not like the UAW is going to come in and force their methods of union dirty tricks on the IT industry. Would any of you have a problem with an IT Union that was built by Sage/USENIX, or a like organization? If there actually were an IT union and it had some clout who do you think could be lobbying in Washington against DMCA and the like?

    The problem is we all still have some of that cowboy glint in our eyes. "Yeah I can be a CIO by 30, I know more than the doofus sitting in the executive suite does anyway" Grow up a little bit and see that while not perfect, in the face of a declining IT industry a Union is one thing that can give you some power back, on a large economic sized scale.
    • by Wyatt Earp (1029) on Sunday December 01, 2002 @12:50PM (#4787804)
      After seeing the shenanigans the Teachers Union pull I'll never join a Union.

      Look at the crap the Unions are pulling with United. UAL has been in serious finacial shape since before the attacks, and now that it's in worse shape, the unions are asking for more and more money.

      From what I've seen, all Unions pull dirty tricks. Have you seen a co-worker cry because she's scared to vote against the Union line?

      Oh the Teacher Union wants more money, lets park in the spots the poor IT people park in and make them walk a half mile to and from thier cars, that'll make a point.

      Screw Unions.

  • by Flamesplash (469287) on Sunday December 01, 2002 @12:33PM (#4787713) Homepage Journal
    All I can say is that the individual coder is partially responsible for putting themself in such a position. Research the company, talk to the employees. Don't just jump into a job not knowing what the culture is like.

    Perhaps the problem is that there aren't enough good companies out there along with the dilution of the number of tech workers and the dot bomb is forcing people to take jobs they otherwise would not.

    Long gone are the days of drive up dentists to Yahoo's main offices
  • Get used to it. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by hector13 (628823) on Sunday December 01, 2002 @12:34PM (#4787717)
    software programmers are often cited as living out the dream of modern flexible working, ... able to work on their own initiative and offered stock options in their firms.

    IT people think they have some right to work 4 hours a day and get paid 200k a year. The .com boom is dead, get over it.

    The dot.com downturn has added job insecurity to the list of stresses for the workers in the technology industry.

    Welcome to the real world; job insecurity and other "stresses" are what all other workers have always faced. IT people are no better. In fact, programming has become more of a commodity than most other fields. If you aren't adding any real value, than you shouldn't have a job. Simple as that.

  • Blue and White (Score:4, Insightful)

    by failrate (583914) on Sunday December 01, 2002 @12:34PM (#4787719) Homepage
    I've also spent most of my career working as a janitor, a factory worker (Chain mail gloves, anyone?), carpenter, or a food service worker. I don't care whether an office programming job is isolated or anything like that. I just want one because I love to program. It's a job that I can do. I'm not a mechanic, and I'm a pretty lousy carpenter, but I'm a half-way decent programmer.

    Sign me up for the white collar nightmare.

  • by MatrixCubed (583402) on Sunday December 01, 2002 @12:35PM (#4787723) Homepage
    Sometimes it boils down to the following: in many workplaces you will have employers pushing employees to perform tasks well above and beyond their originally intended workload. The employees do not fuss about it, as they know they can easily be replaced by the saturated glut of equally-trained (or equally-trainable) unemployed or opportunity-seeking individuals.

    It's the classic corporate-machine strategy: increase profit, reduce expenditures. Squeeze whatever productivity from employees that you can; if they balk, replace them ... because they ARE replaceable.

    Three cheers for capitalism...
  • by coldtone (98189) on Sunday December 01, 2002 @12:41PM (#4787749)
    Unions are best suited for workplaces where employees are simply parts in a machine. They don't have very much knowledge that needs to be communicated to a replacement and new people can be brought up to speed in a very short period of time. A factory worker is a good example.

    For people working under these conditions they need some form of group representation, because they have nothing else to bargain with. They can be easily be replaced. Your value as an employee dose not increase the longer you hold the job.

    I.T. (and most other jobs) your value to your employer does increase over time. Also your able to become a specialist in an area. (We can't let Johnny go, he's the only one who knows the AS/400). Having a union in this area is a bad idea for both the Company and the Employee.

    While you would have easier working conditions and possibly more pay you would lose your ability to specialize. Unions don't want people to become more useful (I.E. learn how to do multiple jobs), they want to hire more people. (Which adds to the union's income) But your job would be secure as long as the company exists. Just keep in mind unions have been known to destroy companies. And forget about having a job you enjoy. Dose anyone really want a government job?

    The company loses as well because they are no longer as flexible, and profitable.

    As for your boss making too much money form you. Just keep in mind that you wouldn't have your job without him.
  • by StandardCell (589682) on Sunday December 01, 2002 @12:49PM (#4787794)
    I wasn't a coder (fortunately), but I was a design engineer. The long hours and social isolation made my life very hard, and I was getting dissociated. Being a social person, I had to change something, and that was to get a business degree (MBA in my case). I got it not so I can wave the degree around, but to add a business dimension to my engineering brain, and boy did it help. I'm extremely versatile, I'm working in a business environment where I not only chase down business with the business portion of my skills, I help define new products for customers with my engineering portion of my skills and my heart. And I always remember the engineers and don't sell them short like so many of the idiot sales guys and managers had when I was the design engineer.

    In short, do your best to infiltrate the top ranks now. We may hold a lot of resentment towards PHBs, but with a little tact we can defeat the PHBs like the Mandarin Chinese defeated the Mongols - not by force, but by integrating them into our culture.

    I leave you with this quote:
    "If you hire someone smarter than you are, you prove you are smarter than they are." - R.H. Grant
  • by prisoner-of-enigma (535770) on Sunday December 01, 2002 @12:50PM (#4787801) Homepage
    I used to think an awful lot like the author of this article. I was fed up with how stupid my bosses were, how poorly I was treated and paid, and how wasteful I thought the company was.

    So I started my own business. What an education that was!

    I've found that, as a business owner, I have to work far harder than I ever anticipated in order to keep the company viable. There's a tremendous amount of work going on that employees of a company never see and are rarely aware of, work that has to be done by someone with good management skills. If that work is being done properly then the employees never know about it and they're able to do their jobs.

    I have a great deal of respect now for entrepeneurs who risk a great deal to start a new business. It takes guts, patience, perserverance, and more to do that.

    Any fool can sit around and bitch and moan about how much they hate their company/boss/workplace/insert-bitch-and-moan-noun- here, but how many of those very same people could effectively run a business, turn a profit, and employ someone else? This is not meant to be condescending, but instead a wakeup call to geeks. If you don't like how someone is doing something, go try doing it yourself. You may find that it's much harder than you first supposed.
  • by Lumpy (12016) on Sunday December 01, 2002 @12:51PM (#4787805) Homepage
    I highly doubt that any of you hever spent 10 seconds inside a factory liek a foundry. try running a snag grinder for 8 hours a day lifting and holding against a high speed grinding wheel a 10-50 pound casting... watching that weekly some of workers you eat lunch with go to the hospital and lose fingers, hands feet or a leg due to accidents.. or watch a newly installed snag grinder grinding wheel explode and kill a foreman. Or how about watch a pouring ladel run out (the term used when the molten metal inside finally ate through the ladel and is gushing 3000 degree metal all over the workers and floor) and severly burn 5 people.

    Sorry, but none of you have a clue what it's like in the real world. fortunately I was one of those that did the grunt work whil I attended college full time. so I got to live the live that I never ever would wish on the worst of my enemies. Yes some places in the tech industry suck, with bosses that are basically robbing everyone blind to keep his ferarri detailed... but... you can always work elsewhere (relocate! what the hell are you still doing in your location? if you wont relocate then you're just throwing excuses... or you really dont want a different job.

    There are employers out there that care for the employees and recognize that the employee is what makes his business work and profitable.. anyone that doesn't is of course.... an idiot.
  • by Woogiemonger (628172) on Sunday December 01, 2002 @01:05PM (#4787850)

    I've worked in the whole Bell Labs chain of companies (AT&T, Lucent, AT&T again, Lucent again, Avaya) for 10 years already and as of last August I've been laid off. There are some obvious pros and cons:

    Good points:

    • The money
    • Clean environment
    • Respect of occupation
    • Being encouraged to constantly learn new technologies
    • Career growth potential

    Bad points:

    • Hours can range between 50 to 100 per week
    • There's always pressure to get a product out yesterday
    • Having to learn new things constantly, often outside of work
    • Job insecurity
    • Not nearly enough women

    Let's face it, it's a toss up when you talk about the pros and cons, but ya get a CS/CompEng/IT/IS degree because you're interested in computers, so that really tips the scales. The cons may be significant now, but the fact that I can say the pros and cons balance out even when the economy is so horrible tells us really how good the jobs are when the economy is good.. you can't tell me you had it that bad before the recession, when companies left a dozen job offers on your answering machine every day. I won't believe it. You see blue collar workers working multiple jobs all the time anyway, these days, so while you might say "Money isn't everything," I would disagree when you're talking about the nasty hours.

  • by William.Bertram (626623) on Sunday December 01, 2002 @01:20PM (#4787934)
    How many companies have you seen cut IT staff for financial reasons, realize that the company actually NEEDED the terminated job functions, and then hire contract workers or consultants? I've worked in the IT department for 4 small to large sized corporations, and have seen the above scenario happen 2 times. I've actually had a company recruit me from an existing job, only to downsize me (along with several co-workers) a year later. A good friend of mine was recruited by a company with no IT staff, cleaned up their network and userland, then was promptly "downsized". There are a million horror stories. Some companies seem to now realize that if you continually cycle IT consultants and contract workers through a complex infrastructure, the quality and efficiency of support will drop dramatically, and in most cases the salaries will actually increase.

    Of course the ugly side of forming a union would be that eventually the standard industry qualification for joining would be "MS Union Certification.NET".

    Do we really need a union? How many of our lazy IT buddies are willing to go on strike, and walk a picket line? Is Dilbert really up to "scrub busting"?
  • A Little Perspective (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mwdib (56263) on Sunday December 01, 2002 @01:24PM (#4787951)
    Let's try to remember that unions were formed - despite significant governmental repression - to solve a very real set of problems being experienced by the vast majority of industrial workers. Unionizers were not campaigning for longer coffee breaks or free dental. Early labor organizers were fighting for basic human rights and what we would consider the most fundamental of humane treatment. This was done when government and private agencies (remember Pinkerton?) employed violence, torture and executions to enforce the employer's "rights."

    Certainly unions became something else after the years of struggle ended. They shifted their concerns. Like any other institution, they evolved, and not necessarily in consistently productive directions. Consequently, we tend to emphasize the negative effects of present-day unionism and forget how it came about. This is a common phenomenon -- another quick example: the FDA, designed to make sure you didn't fall over dead when you ate your hamburger, is now derided for being slow and bureaucratic. So, a basic historical principle: you can't understand a mature institution by looking at it's mature behavior.


    That said, let's look at the present discussion.


    Unless and until current employment conditions are perceived as inhumane, unjust and evil by a substantial number of employees, employers will basically have carte blanche within those parameters. Unless conditions become (or are perceived to be) so intolerable, there will be no real attempt to find solutions that better those conditions. It is in the interests of employers to better conditions only if it improves productivity.


    Besides, the solution to the problems of the capitalist triumph -- anarcho-syndicalism -- has already been found. We simply have to wait until the capitalists, unrestricted by a government they own and laws and law enforcement they control, decide to tighten the reins a little too far. Of course, well-educated employers probably won't regard their employees as mere resources, but continue to regard their employees as people.


    Damn. No grounds for revolution.


    Trained as an historian, living as a coder.

  • Steaming Pile (Score:4, Interesting)

    by gregm (61553) on Sunday December 01, 2002 @01:38PM (#4788033)
    This guy needs to get out in the real world. I code 50-70 hours week and get paid for it! I work at home part of the time, which is far and away where I'm the most productive. Occasionally someone's windows box breaks and I get to go drag the task bar back to the bottom of the screen and explain for the umpteenth time that they should reboot the damn thing before calling me and not run kazaa, spinner etc on their dialup (too cheap for DSL) if they want to actually use their connection for doing work too. What he's calling loneliness I call peaceful.

    Granted there's no one locally that I can talk to about my code, share my experiences etc. but at least I'm getting paid for it and there are about a billion forums on the web for me to discuss my coding probs.

    I suppose if I had to work in the factories I could talk to my co-workers about that damn machine acting up or that idiot boss assigning all the good jobs to his/her favorite people while getting stuck with a shit job. Yeah maybe I should give up this lonely ol life and go back to that wonderful fulfilling life in the factories. Think of the wonderful conversations I could have with my co-workers about last night's episode of Survivor or of any of the various sitcoms featuring a balding fat guy with young cute wife ... wow I'm going to run right out and quit tomorrow. Geeks are lonely? Well I'm married with 2 kids and have no one to talk to about work so I guess in some respects I am lonely but in other ways I'm not all. I am constantly afforded the opportunity to discuss last night's "game", but I have little interest in watching professional or college sports so I'm bored our of my mind at Thanksgiving etc. It doesn't matter whether I work in IT or not that's the way I am.

    As far as the boss making more? If they have the ability to market my skills and make buttloads of money then good for them... I don't have the ability to market my skills effectively and really don't want to learn how... I do what I do, I do it well and if someone can keep food on my table while "exploiting" me then more power to them.

    I am a commodity to be bought and sold, as are all employees and employers. When things get to far out of whack and I feel I'm being taken advantage of then I'll re-negotiate or I'll trade my employer in for a new one, that's how the world works. When the boss feels like I'm not making him enough, he'll trade me in on a younger fast model. It's cold and hard but its just good business. If I find that I can't make enough writing code then I'll have to do something else but for now I'm pretty content working long hours and being lonely and I don't need some jackass professor telling me any different. I don't seem to have as many problems dealing with management as many of the posters here maybe it's because I'm old than most coders or maybe it's because I'm an asshole (I've been told that on more than one occasion:) ...either way people need to stand their ground, do what's right and they will win in the long run. We don't need some IT wannabes forming a union to protect us. I don't make 80K per year nor do I expect to... so maybe my expectations aren't realistic, but I'm doing ok.
  • by ancarett (221103) on Sunday December 01, 2002 @01:45PM (#4788070)

    As a union member these past fifteen years (two different unions at two different workplaces), I have to ask: How many of you have even belonged to a union? How many of you have firsthand experience being on a union negotiating committee, walked a picket line or have seen a horrible injustice averted by a grievance? I have, and that has helped me see how I get value from my union. (And, no, I don't hate my employers or have a bad relationship with them -- we're all professionals.)

    Yes, unions can have their bad sides, but so do some employers who take advantage of employees unwilling to rock the boat when their employment rights [dole.gov.ph] are violated.

    So don't dismiss unions out of hand. At least learn a bit more about them [afl-cio.org] first.

  • by Veteran (203989) on Sunday December 01, 2002 @01:58PM (#4788134)
    I have long listened to the argument that a business man deserves the greatest share because he is the one taking the risks.

    OK. Exactly what risks is he taking? Well, if things go wrong he will lose everything he has got and wind up having to work for someone else. It is true that is not a risk his employees take; but only because they are already on the down side of that situation.

    It has been my observation that it is a very difficult task to make money honestly in a business. Because it is very difficult only the very best in a given field are ever able to do so. Most people who are successful at running a business do so by stealing from someone. If they steal from the government they risk prison, if they steal from their customers they risk losing them (1), if they steal from their suppliers they risk being cut off from the material they need to stay in business. About the only remaining avenue is to steal from employees; this seems to be a universally accepted way of doing business. The fact that the vast majority of businesses do steal from employees is the main way that most business stay solvent.

    If stealing from employees were eliminated from business only the very best companies in a given field would remain. The huge numbers of incompetent people who would find themselves unemployed would probably trigger a massive depression.

    Because of this we maintain the fiction that people are paid what they are worth in a free market economy. The truth is that people are paid as little as the businesses figure they can get away with.

    If you were to eliminate the greed angle - so that business owners didn't make substantially more than employees for the same amount of work - very few people would ever start a business; the greatly increased responsibility and pressure of running a business compared to being an employee would ensure that was so.

    (1) Yes I know that Microsoft has been eminently successful in stealing from their customers: $299 for a product that costs them under a dollar to produce qualifies as theft in my book. However people are slowly starting to catch on to them. Oh, by the way please don't give me the corporate line about how much it costs to write Microsoft XXX product in the first place; Microsoft net profits (after every accounting trick in the book to lower them) are in the 40% of gross sales range - it typically costs MS more to advertise a product than it ever cost them to write it. The actual costs of writing software are so low that it is possible to write a major operating system using the programmers' donated spare time. Come to think of it Microsoft steals from the government also; last year they paid not one thin dime if federal corporate income taxes. They also steal from their shareholders, since contrary to federal law they don't distribute any of their massive profits in the form of dividends.

  • by sjbe (173966) on Sunday December 01, 2002 @03:24PM (#4788517)
    At least as far as I can tell. High tech jobs are not much like working in a factory.

    Look, I'm an industrial engineer who specialized in manufacturing systems. I've worked in factories and I spent the last few years doing computer simulations of factories. This meant I have spent a LOT of time in factories as well as a lot of time as a high tech worker doing programming. I have lived in both worlds and let me clue you, high tech jobs are cushy by comparison.

    Yes high tech workers have their problems. Project managment tends to be poor, hours are long, bosses can be clueless. Lots of folks here on slashdot are well aware of the problems and I don't mean to trivialize them. But I do mean to give a dose of reality.

    Working in a factory is in many ways harder. You are on your feet all day, every day, often 6-7 days a week. The work is usually physically tiring, repetitive, and mind numbing not to mention dangerous. (sorry carpal tunnel just doesn't compare to getting run over by a forklift) If someone doesn't show up one day you get to cover for them which means your day just got significantly longer and harder. Even the best plants are not exactly comfortable to be in and are loud, smelly and often dirty. You'll be wearing ear plugs and safety glasses all day long. Any office is plush by comparison.

    If you are skilled labor you might pull down a decent wage, though you will never be rich. If you are unskilled labor, you will make minimum wage or close to it, and you will be stuck with the crappiest, most mind numbing jobs you can imagine. And you can be replaced in a heartbeat with pretty much any monkey off the street unless union rules prevent it.

    Your co-workers will be a mixed bag of intelligence, but generally uneducated past high school. We're talking the same crowds you find at your typical NASCAR or WWF event. Piss someone off at work and you might find your tires slashed. (especially if your are a manager) Never drive a nice car to work if you work in a factory.

    Want to join a union? Let me clue you in about unions. (I'm speaking in generalities here, there are exceptions to everything I'm about to say) They *can* serve a useful purpose but you don't really want to be in one if you can avoid it. Unions are all about rules and they will define job descriptions to the Nth degree. Only certain people are allowed to do certain jobs. Unions will remove much of the flexibility from your job. Want merit based pay increases? Dream on. Unions are about preserving jobs with a relatively high average pay, not promoting individual achievement. You'll get the same pay increase as everyone else no matter how hard you work. And since people know this, they tend to not work very hard. Want a close relationship with managment? Not very likely with a union. You'll often have a shop steward present for every conversation you have with management.

    Anyway, the point is that unions are sometimes necessary to avoid a truly abusive work environment, but frankly very few white collar jobs even come close. If you are a skilled worker with talents that are in demand, I cannot see any logical reason you would want to join a union. It would only hurt you in the long run.

    To get back to my original point, factory jobs and hi-tech jobs just aren't the same. Sure any job can be hard and you can get a pointy-haired boss who will make your life miserable. But I don't think anyone who has actually spent time in a factory could agree with this author.
  • by cartman (18204) on Sunday December 01, 2002 @03:25PM (#4788520)
    I have a couple of points to counteract the vast slew of nonsense that has been posted here.

    First: "It's not fair that the boss makes more money than I do. I work all day long, and he sits around and gets a ferrari."

    The boss does not sit around and do nothing and get a free ferrari. 99% of small businesses fail within 8 years; this implies that the successful small businessman is providing a service that 99% of people who tried were incapable of providing. If running a company were so easy, and a ferrari were guaranteed, then everyone would do it.

    The fact is, small business owners subsidize both employees and consumers. This is a well-known economic fact. They do not intend to do this; they wrongly think that running a business is easier than it is, and they end up bankrupting themselves while paying employees and consumers. It is simply not true that the small business owner is "exploiting" you.

    Another point I should take issue with: "It's not fair that I'm only paid $80k per year. My company is exploiting me and driving down the price of my labor, so that my bosses can greedily increase their profit margins."

    Fact: the average profit margin in large U.S. businesses is 4%. That profit margin is not blown on ferraris; it goes to expanding the business. In short, there is no extra money. Your livelihood is not being stolen and sucked up in greedy profits. In order to increase your salaries, business would have to raise prices, which would make everyone else in this economy poorer. And don't say: "we can just take money away from executives!" Executives do something that you could not do. If being an executive were so easy, companies would fire them and replace them with someone less expensive. Comapnies don't want to blow money on execs any more than on anything else; the only reason execs are paid alot is because they render a service that few others can provide.

    And a final point: "Look at the fruits of evil capitalism. I am only paid $80k per year, and I am forced to work, and my job leads to loneliness, etc. Capitalism has done this!"

    A typical salary before capitalism was ~$800/year. That is what the salary still is in communist China. You are paid 100 times that amount. Capitalism has led to a phenomenal increase in the standard of living; NOTHING ELSE could have done this.

    All of this demonstrates a few basic points:

    1. Slashdotters, and people in general, are radically ignorant of both business and economics.

    2. Their suggested "improvements" would wreck the phenomenal machinery that provides them with a fantastic living. The masses go in search of more food, and the methods they employ are generally to wreck the bakeries.
  • by Adam.Steinbaugh (540388) <good_reverend@@@hotmail...com> on Sunday December 01, 2002 @03:49PM (#4788618) Journal
    So here I go. In July I started working for a very small internet company. When I started working, the other two employees didn't know how to read or write HTML code. One of them was a coked-out chick who designed all her web pages with big pink letters. So I redesigned their entire network of sites, implemented advertising and traffic-flow techniques my boss had never even dreamed of. Overall traffic soared, and sales more than doubled. My boss enjoyed a nice, rented house in prime real estate area, paid his child support, had all the drugs he wanted, and had a ton of money just to throw around. I was making $10/hr, which was later bumped to a $2k/mo salary, but since I worked so much, I was actually making less. I was employed as an "independent contractor", but had to work in the office every day (except Saturdays), did my work under constant supervision, and every day I was told what to do and when to do it. He broke every rule in the book, just so he wouldn't have to pay me overtime or withhold taxes -- I didn't even have a contract. But, apparantely, his "accountant" told him he'd only face a "small fine of $50" for misclassifying me as an independent contractor. Nevermind that his accountant hasn't paid her own taxes in decades and the government doesn't know where (or who) she is. It's unfair to suggest that employers shouldn't make money (even a lot of it) off of their employees. Whether it's fair or not can be determined by the level of honesty and integrity -- are you getting the recognition (financial or otherwise) you deserve? If your efforts aren't worthy of being realized and rewarded, then don't expect to be paid more. If they are worthy of it, demand it, or find a different employer and let the company deal with someone who doesn't understand the job like you do, while you work for their competition. I did -- I'm earning twice as much as I did before AND I'm in negotiations to be made a partner in the company.
  • by zerofoo (262795) on Sunday December 01, 2002 @04:07PM (#4788717)
    Name one industry that has benefited from the introduction of unions. Steel, Education, auto; of these industries would have been better off without unions. Sure the very vocal bottom 20% loves the fact that a union virtually guarantees their pay and job security, but what does that do to the final product?

    Unions only increase costs, decrease productivity, and guarantee that the industry will need a government bail-out or protection in 20-30 years.

    These down times are just what the tech industry needs. The excess capacity of HTML jockeys and MCSEs will go find other jobs flipping burgers where they should have been in the first place if not for the dot com boom.

    -ted
  • by MichaelCrawford (610140) on Sunday December 01, 2002 @04:48PM (#4788895) Homepage Journal
    In which I tell them all to get bent:

    Headhunters and contract brokers are a large part of the problems we have, expecially with older workers not being valued for their experience - they only want the latest buzzword.

    I'm a software consultant, I deal exclusively with the end client, because I feel that brokers don't serve my needs, or (in my honest opinion) the needs of my clients.

    Headhunters are a pestilence on the face of high-tech. Join me in boycotting them.

    What can you do if you're looking for a perm job? Apply directly to the company. Most open positions are never advertised. Just send your cover letter and resume to companies you think you might want to work for, regardless of whether a position is advertised.

    This page [goingware.com] has some tips on job hunting, it's most useful to people from Santa Cruz but the methods are helpful to anyone.

    The "dot.com downturn" has been challenging for me as well as everyone else - but I have continued to work and be able to support myself and my wife throughout it. An I have done so without the help of headhunters.

  • by DonWallace (119294) on Sunday December 01, 2002 @06:27PM (#4789410)
    Many have already sounded off on the non-Dickensian nature of most technology work. The work is generally physically safe, conducted in generally well lighted and air conditioned/heated offices.

    What I want to know is - how old are those posting the anti-union, pro-intelligentsia drivel that is in this thread?

    So many here are missing one basic issue that the BBC article alludes to: IT work itself is ABSOLUTELY NOT RESPECTED by most companies nor managements, and neither are the practitioners. I think that is the underlying problem that is reflected in poorly designed, one dimensional, excessively macho work culture in this field.

    To reflect this assertion, the proportion of top executives in most large companies whose background is engineering or applied sciences is truly insignificant, and the career track in IT and engineering is absolutely non-existent and must be manufactured ad hoc by the individual. This is as truly a young person's game as major league "anything".

    My post is not about wanting anyone to guarantee me a job, nor a plea for anyone to kiss my ass in gratitude for knowing how to code a constructor or a GUI. I simply would like to see some genuine appreciation from the people whose businesses I help. Alas, I find that I am expected to: shut up; code my nuts off; not express any opinion; and conveniently disappear when my piece is done.

    You may feel that you're doing great at 25 or 30. I challenge those beating their chests in shared exultation at the primacy of the uber-geek to say the same things at 40 or 50! At some point real soon now, unless you enter into some sweetheart partnership or start your own company, you're going to see your options shrivel unless you *aggressively* re-make yourself. In my area, I simply see almost nobody over 45 in high tech.

    My background and perspective: I am a self employed IT contractor and have done this for 9+ years. Prior to that I was employed in several jobs for a total of 20+ years of experience in mixed HW and SW applications. I have mainly developed shrink wrap resalable applications for my clients and I have represented myself, so I have not had to contend with any static from a body shop agency.

    My experience, overall, has been that I have pretty much been treated more as a temp or grunt worker along the lines outlined above. Here are some of the wonderful roses and tokens of appreciation thrown to my feet for developing mission critical applications for my client base.

    - Threatened with death/disappearance/lawsuit/other by a startup's paranoid CEO if I were to quit a 1099 contract or reduce my work hours.

    - Bullied continually by another company when working on a fixed cost contract, and treated like I was their janitor and their property - it was a conversion of their flagship vertical product to Windows. I pulled it off in a reasonable time and cost and I was told later that they felt I was 'sleaze'.

    - The president of a long term client took something like four months and much wheedling and begging from me to write a simple stinking letter of reference. This from a guy that claims that he was grossly underpaid and abused when
    he was "just" a programmer... IE: my brother, a corporate controller, says that he dashes off letters like this on demand within 2-3 business days so that he doesn't forget.... and feels that it's his duty when someone does their job well.

    - Another client's owner insists on using me pretty much like a robotic pair of coding arms, reserving all design decisions for himself and treating all developers in his company like code technicians. "Here, put this 'Begin' starting at column 4, and space down two lines, and put a 'writeln()'.." etc.

    - Got shingles (at age 37!) working in a boiler room office coding VB apps while the office's tech writer is constantly over my desk grunting inane questions at the other developer in the office.

    Mostly, I find that flagrant hypocrisy, psychological abuse, ingratitude, and snotty holier-than-thou "I was a coder once but now I'm not a loser like that" attitudes are bestowed on software and engineering types by business owners and managers.

    So why am I still doing this crap, you may ask? The major reason is degree of investment in the industry - at some point, age, cunning and (my) nastiness ;-) have to count for something. Put another way, I am much better at this stuff than anything else I could choose to do. And with age comes the wisdom to see through the pretense of those on the other side of the negotiation fence for what it is.
  • by schussat (33312) on Sunday December 01, 2002 @06:50PM (#4789551) Journal
    So, has anybody actually read the BBC article? The word "union" doesn't even show up there! Yet here on Slashdot, all you have to do is say the word in a summary, and -boom- the people come out of the woodwork. According to the article, the author doesn't speak much about unions, but about the culture of being a high-tech worker in a competetive economy. What does he argue? That tech workers may be relatively isolated from co-workers, that the macho male-ness of IT work turns off potential female applicants, and that maintaining professional relationships is difficult in an industry with such high turnover.

    And here on slashdot, we have macho male techies saying that the article is full of shit, because techies who aren't happy with their jobs can just go elsewhere.

    Explain to me again how the author has missed the boat, because I really don't see it happening here.

    -schussat

  • by tomlord (473109) on Sunday December 01, 2002 @07:00PM (#4789610)
    Isn't it interesting that a comparison to 19th century factories, while obviously exaggerated, isn't completely and utterly ridiculous? After a century of progress, there should be _no_ comparison, yet there is.

    Isn't it interesting that some execs make hundreds or more times their workers? If pay were equal, that'd be (by my envelope) about 10% fewer layoffs. So-called "deadwood" is an asset: pay them to take classes and run drills -- preparedness is value. Pay them to hang around with light hours and make the office more comfortable while they attend to a life outside the office -- aren't these things implied by "conservative values"?

    The party line among execs is that their pay is justified by a "global competitive market" for their skills -- but really, how many of these folks are being actively recruited in any serious way? No -- they are an old boys club. Obscene stock grants and bonuses don't "align their motivations" -- they "isolate them from the rest of us".

    All that said, one of the bigger problems in IT is the substitution of bodies for brains. Too many IT workers don't really know what they're doing -- but have positions of high consequence. I'm not sad to see them go -- I'm sad to see them hired in the first place.

    One common pattern I've noticed is eager, young, generally nice-folks execs and upper managers who fret primarily about the role of the appropriate use of their "authority" -- and that tends to result in arbitrary and counterproductive exercises thereof. Another pattern is HR execs who write COE's (conditions of employment documents) that fill many pages, the gist of which is "we have arbitrary rights over you, you have no claims against us". In other words, from one way of looking at it, our jobs suck because everyone at every level is paranoid, untrusting, and isolated.

    The best high-tech employers I've ever heard of were various coops -- most often, celebrity coops (coops of already famous hackers). We need more of those, and we need efforts to bring everyone up to speed with those, attitude-wise.

    The most satisfied class of employees I've ever seen are non-tenure-track university employees, especially the unionized ones. Their pay sucks. They have no end of gripes. But their benefits are generally good, job security good, hours good, job satisfaction often good, work product often good, and they all live in and _help_to_create_ the best urban environments in the nation and drink plenty of good coffee and enjoy good affordable food.
  • by shaitand (626655) on Sunday December 01, 2002 @07:37PM (#4789791) Journal
    A technical guild that represents the body of technicians. There would be a need to fund this guild but the dues could be so ridiculously low that they don't cloud the issue, possibly a $5 lifetime membership w/donations accepted from there on.

    The guild would set various universal guildlines for technical workers and be international, what is believed to be acceptable wage in the US should be the same elsewhere.

    The guild would address broad issues, after putting up polls to the membership, move and lobby for certain rights and issues that important to the IT industry. Anything could be proposed, everything from wages to free speech and would be put to polls, if a course of action was decided on then suggestions for how to pursue and polls for that would then be raised. (All this could be done within a matter of a few days).

    I'd be happy to do the initial work to get this going, but I can't do it alone. If you'd like to help in some way, have webspace to contribute for a donations, legal assistance, manpower, etc please mail me at wendoy@mcleodusa.net [mailto]

    Depending on resources available I'd to see this also be a place for exchange of ideas and information to help people enter the IT industry, or existing professionals to learn. Howto's and tutorials, platform bias is not really what we need here, I'd like to see windows and linux side by side.
  • by tlambert (566799) on Sunday December 01, 2002 @08:26PM (#4790041)
    Before you go off and form PU - The Programmers Union -- realize that it already exists. It's called "IEEE" and "ACM".

    It does things to "protect" it's members, the same as any union. Things like lobbying against green cards and H1-B visas, to artificially control the size of the available talent pool, and thereby inflate the cost of their labor.

    In general, it's not a bad idea to work to strike some balance between what top management is paid, and what the people "in the trenches" (to strain your metaphor) are paid; in fact, we have punative tax codes to do exactly this, including preventing matching contributions by the company above a certain amount/percentage for 401K and other benefits, to make sure that the people "on top" do not benefit more from the matching than people on the bottom of the pay scale.

    On the other hand, it's unlikely that union tactics will be effective in the "at will" and "right to work" states, like California, where most high technology industry is concentrated -- no accident, that.

    The communications workers union have been trying, unsuccessfully, to unionize IBM technology workers for 20+ years, now, and they have universally failed, due to their inability to prove that there will be any benefit to the workers, whatsoever, other than the union getting to take over administration of one of the larger private pension funds on the planet.

    -- Terry

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