Saturday, October 3, 2009

Looking for an IT job these days

One aspect is that IT looks less and less like engineering, and becoming one of those things that "anyone could do with practice" from something that "requires special education"; this, at least, is normal, and had to be expected: driving a car was once considered a professional skill, and still is, for some types of cars.

I would also say that the profession is changing, and the change is definitely to the worse -- then again, one may ask for whom. Maybe the current state of the economy is making it look even worse than it need be, but the signs were there long before. It sounds obvious, and makes me look spoiled, I suppose, if I say that just having some IT skills no longer means one is going to have a job. And having a lot of good skills and experience no longer means one would necessarily have a good job. Of course, this is something that would be obvious in any other profession.

My recent experience was that some of the positions that one would expect to be advertised by big companies -- e.g. team lead or lead developer -- is instead advertised by a third party that is obviously trying to lower the rate, so as to stay competitive; and they are leaving all pretence of competing on quality. The team one is supposed to lead is off-shore more often than not, and the recruiter's English is sometimes incompatible with mine -- a foretaste of what the communications are going to be once on the job. So they are replacing an in-house development team with a bunch of overseas guys lead by an underpaid lead (who is probably supposed to code for his whole team). Looking at the rates they offer for the team lead, one shudders to think what they pay to the off-shore developers -- and one could imagine the quality of the code that is going to be produced. The only thing that keeps me from being sarcastic when talking to these people is that they would not even understand. Then again, everyone is making his living.

Another type of company one sees more and more is "outsourced recruiting"; looking at their web sites, one gets the impression that they are supposed to work with their candidates. The reality is that most of them send you to the client for an interview just having spoken to you over the phone, in a way that hardly speaks for their understanding of the essence of the job in question. All the while their web site is telling they spend a lot of time selecting their candidates, and how their method of doing that is so special and different. I could be dramatically underestimating these people, but the fact is that, out of all the agencies I have dealt with for the last couple of years, only three or four are really doing what their web sites claim they should -- pre-selecting their candidates, and really meeting their candidates. The majority seem to be using what appears to be their special relationships with the client's managers to try and find someone quickly, and get paid for it ahead of others. Those people would often talk to you in seriously broken English for 10-15 minutes before sending you to a client; in  3 cases these were operating out of a different city or from the States when recruiting for a position located in Toronto. Others would offer you a contract with them, and send you to work on another contract with their client, and pocket the difference in rate. Their web site pretends they are doing something; in reality, they are taking about ten dollars an hour from your contract fee for a small one time service of having read your CV; and most of them don't even sound or act like they actually understand or even read it, they just rely on the keyword search.

Morale of the story: one needs to be special and have special skills to stay competitive. Otherwise one is a commodity, and the price of this commodity is declining fast. That's IT in the age of Wal-Mart: they know they can replace you, fast. And they would let go of you even faster, never mind the "people are our greatest asset" airs. Also, making a lot of fuss about how they should spend more time and money on code quality would not cut it ; these people want replaceable resources and standard tools, and have more glossy booklets from Microsoft than they would care to read, convincing them the money should go to the company supplying the tooling, not to the developers, who are -- or should be kept -- cheap. So, bidding for positions, one should either emphasize the ability to use expensive tools (typical Microsoft), or the ability to define and support a reliable process with free tools -- the latter being progressively more difficult to sell, because all managers care about are appearances, and glossy paper. And the sad reality is that, in the age of cheap computer power, it works in simple cases. So one can't even blame the manager -- they just have different priorities.

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