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IT Departments and Startups as Hitech Sweatshops

Can You Say “Bubble”? by James Kwa

April 30, 2013 | The Baseline Scenario
By James Kwak

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal had an article titled “Foosball over Finance” about how people in finance have been switching to technology startups, for all the predictable reasons: The long hours in finance. “Technology is collaborative. In finance, it’s the opposite.” “The prospect of ‘building something new.’” Jeans. Foosball tables. Or, in the most un-self-conscious, over-engineered, revealing turn of phrase: “The opportunity of my generation did not seem to be in finance.”

We have seen this before. Remember Startup.com? That film documented the travails of a banker who left Goldman to start an online company that would revolutionize the delivery of local government services. It failed, but not before burning through tens of millions of dollars of funding. There was a time, right around 1999, when every second-year associate wanted to bail out of Wall Street and work for an Internet company.

The things that differentiate technology from banking are always the same: the hours (they’re not quite as bad), the work environment, “building something new,” the dress code, and so on. They haven’t changed in the last few years. The only thing that changes are the relative prospects of working in the two industries—or, more importantly, perceptions of those relative prospects.

Wall Street has always attracted a particular kind of person: ambitious but unfocused, interested in success more than any achievements in particular, convinced (not entirely without reason) that they can do anything, and motivated by money largely as a signifier of personal distinction. If those people want to work for technology startups, that means two things. First, they think they can amass more of the tokens of success in technology than in finance.

Second—since these are the some of the most conservative, trend-following people that exist—it means they’re buying at the top.

18 Responses to Can You Say “Bubble”?

  1. Anonymous | April 30, 2013 at 12:21 pm |

    What? No one in VC backs non-technical founders. That’s ludicrous. Let them go, most of them are just destroying value in finance anyway…

  2. George Peacock | April 30, 2013 at 12:38 pm |

    Whether tech or other business, it’s great to see the “bright but unfocused” of this generation eschewing law school and finance. The law and finance dangled riches in return for souls. Riches though siphoning, rather than creating. If these people head to tech, I hope it’s because the lure of financial reward (risk-adjusted, course) of Wall Street (and law firms) is now low enough such that they can be productive members of our economy instead of drains. Maybe it’s a bubble and many will fail, but maybe their souls and our pocketbooks will be saved in the process

  3. The Raven | April 30, 2013 at 1:44 pm |

    It is hard for me to believe that hours are better in tech startups than in finance. To succeed in a technology firm you have to know something substantive about the physical or social worlds. That doesn’t sound like most of the too-smart finance graduates I know of.

    Also, as you say, they’re buying at the top. I believe there are still fortunes to be made in tech, but it’s going to be harder—the low-hanging fruit has been picked, and picked over.

  4. Anonymous | April 30, 2013 at 3:31 pm |

    I see this type all the time in the valley… We call them ‘seagull managers’ because they fly in, squawk a lot, poop all over everything, then fly out again before the extent of their technical incompetence can be discerned with certainty.

  5. Edward Ericson Jr. | April 30, 2013 at 5:25 pm |

    BWAAA! Spot on.

    But you need to distinguish between the “tech startups” you’re talking about–that is, vaporware concept farms whose fresh-faced foosball aficionados spend all their time schmoozing Angels and VC wankers–and the “tech startups” that actually start with some actual tech.

  6. Bruce E. Woych | April 30, 2013 at 9:30 pm |

    http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/googles_spymasters_are_now_worried_about_your_secrets_20130429/
    By Robert Scheer
    Google’s Spymasters Are Now Worried About Your Secrets
    Posted on Apr 29, 2013
    “A recent article in The Wall Street Journal by Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, “The Dark Side of the Digital Revolution,” makes for very scary reading. It is not so much because of what he and co-author Jared Cohen, the director of Google Ideas, have to say about how dictators can use new information technology to suppress dissent; we know those guys are evil. What is truly frightening is that the techniques of the totalitarian state are the same ones pioneered by so-called democracies where commercial companies, like Google, have made a hash of the individual’s constitutionally guaranteed right to be secure in his or her private space.

    The dictators, mired in more technologically primitive societies, didn’t develop the fearsome new implements of control of the National Security State. Google and other leaders in this field of massively mined and shared information did. As the authors concede and expand on in their new book: (read more…)
    http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/googles_spymasters_are_now_worried_about_your_secrets_20130429/
    By Robert Scheer

  7. KL Tah | April 30, 2013 at 9:41 pm |

    It’s important to note that the bubble that James is referring to here is a very peculiar sort of bubble, not that of dotcom as a whole.

    The people who venture in to finance in the first place are never very bright to begin with (not in the sense that really matters). They are already a walking bubble so yes, nothing has changed.

    They who are more likely to slay the goose than wait patiently for it to continue laying its golden eggs would carry taint wherever they go. I just hope that the innovators are alert enough to kick them straight back out before they do any damage.

  8. http://borsadocchiaperti.blogspot.it/2013/05/we-are-in-trap.html#.UYDhc7WpV-0

[Oct 19, 2012] Google's Engineers Are Well Paid, Not Just Well Fed -

October 18, 2012 |  Slashdot

"According to a study by the career site Glassdoor, Google tops the list of tech companies in the salaries it pays to software engineers. Google paid its engineers an average base salary of $128,336, with Microsoft coming in second at $123,626. Apple, eBay, and Zynga rounded off the top 5."Anonymous Coward

Re:$128,000?

 writes: on Thursday , @12:38PM (#41694241) I make more than $40k as a software developer, but it wasn't too long ago that I was making right around that amount.

I have an AAS (not a fancy degree, if you didn't already know), my GPA was 2.8, and I assure you that neither of those things has EVER come up in a job interview. I'm also old enough that my transcripts are gone. (Schools only keep them for about 10 years. After that, nobody's looking anyway.)

The factors that kept me from making more are:

So when I did finally land a programming job, it was as a code monkey in a PHP sweatshop. The headhunter wanted a decent payout, so I started at $40k. No raises. Got laid off after a year and a half due to it being a sweatshop and I had outstayed my welcome. (Basically, I wanted more money and they didn't want to give me any more money.)

Next job was a startup. Still $40k. Over 2.5 years, I got a couple of small raises. I topped out at $45k-ish before I got laid off during the early days of the recession.

Next job was through a headhunter again. I asked for $50k, but the employer could only go $40k. After 3 years and a few raises, I'm finally at $50k.

I could probably go to the larger employers in this city and make $70k, but that's really the limit in this area. Nobody in this line of work makes more than about $80k here.

aralin

Not accurate, smaller companies pay more

This survey must be only talking about companies above certain size. Our Sillicon Valley startup has about 50 employees and the average engineering salaries are north of $150,000.

Large companies like Google actually don't have to pay that much, because the hours are more reasonable. I know there are other companies too that pay more than Google in the area.


Re:Not accurate, smaller companies pay more (Score:4, Interesting)
by MisterSquid (231834) writes: on Thursday October 18, @11:16AM (#41693121)
Our Sillicon Valley startup has about 50 employees and the average engineering salaries are north of $150,000.

I suppose there are some start-ups that do pay developers the value of the labor, but my own experience is a bit different in that it was more stereotypical of Silicon-Valley startup compensation packages.

That is, my salary was shamefully low (I was new to the profession), just about unlivable for the Bay Area, and was offset with a very accelerated stock options plan.

MisterSquid

$128,000?

According to an online Cost of Living Comparison Tool  Tool [bestplaces.net], if I wanted to accept a job at Google they'd need to more than double my salary.

I think comparison tools are very inaccurate about what things actually cost and obscure the value of things that are usually summed up with the phrase "quality of life".

I live and work in SF after having come from Athens, OH, and your comparison tool is telling me that if I moved this year I would need need 117% more money [bestplaces.net] than I did in Athens. I actually make about fifty percent more than I did when I lived in Ohio and I have much more money than I did when I lived in Ohio.

More importantly, there are some things no amount of personal compensation could provide: ethnic diversity, world class cuisine, sublime landscape, beautiful weather year round, municipal infrastructure (no boil orders for septically contaminated water), and a dozen other things even 50 years of economic development could not deliver to places like the one I lived in in Ohio.

"Cost" of living is not just about money and direct comparisons based on money equivalence don't capture the whole picture.

ltsmash

Are they really well paid?

I'm not so sure that these engineers are very well paid. Last year, Apple CEO Tim Cook was awarded $378 million in compensation. According to the above survey, the average software engineer at Apple makes $114,413 a year. In order to make the same amount as the CEO, the engineer would have to work 3300 years. So let's ask the question: When would the engineer have had to start working in order to have the same amount of money as the CEO? The engineer's first day of work would be 1300 years before Jesus of Nazareth would be born. And keep in mind this is an engineer. Consider junior level employees. According to an article by the New York Times, a salesman working at an Apple store makes about $11.25 an hour.

He would make the same amount as the CEO in about 16 thousand years —- that would put his first day of work well into the stone age -- if you’re a creationist, his work time would be longer than the age of the universe.

neurovish

That sounds about normal

$128,336 in San Francisco equates to about $65k when cost of living is adjusted to the US average (specifically Raleigh, NC...it was the most average I could think of and is pretty close). I'm sure there is some flexibility in those numbers, but I don't know of anywhere in the bay area that isn't well above the national average.

kye4u

PhD's Google Employs

Considering the number of Phd's and M.S. graduates that Google employs versus Microsoft, it stands to reason that the average salary would be higher. As others have mentioned, when you factor cost of living, hours worked, and the degree employees hold, 128K doesn't go very far. Also in Washington State (where Microsoft is located), there is no state tax

When the median home price in Mountain View is over a million and the cost for a decent 2 bed/bath apartment is 3k/month, your dollar doesn't go to far.

Vince6791

still not bad same as the 1990's

Oh please, even for California that is a lot of money. With taxes taken out you get about $5700 a month, about $66.80 an hour gross $35.62 an hour net. Your telling me you can't find an apartment for $1400 - $2000 anywhere in California. The highest I ever got was $18(working 9-5, actually 7-6, 7-9, 7-12, 6-9, time and half only) an hour gross comes to about $11.63 an hour net, $1860 a month. NY taxes are freaking high. You can get a shitty roach infested single apartment here in ny queens, brooklyn, bronx for $1100-1300 no utilities included, 2 bedroom $1800-$2000 in queens.

Basement apartments are now $900 a month and still rising. Yes, expenses are up, wages and salaries are down.

In the 1990's an engineer with a E.E. got started with $120k a year. These days hard work and experience means shit, but if you have a degree with no experience and not a very hard worker you get paid like a king.

MaWeiTao

Salary Inflation

I think a very important caveat here is that Glassdoor is a job search site. And like every job search site I've ever seen who posts average or median salaries they tend to inflate them. They'll claim the average income for a designer in NYC, for example, is $100k a year. Then you look at the job listings for the same position and you're lucky if they break $70k.

Their entire business model is based on getting people to look for work, so of course they're going to do whatever they can to make you believe everyone is earning more than you are.
 

[Sep 01, 2012] Work-Related Stress

1999

Recently, the commander of Canada's military, Lt.-Gen. Romeo Dallaire, left his work to be treated for post-traumatic stress disorder. He says he didn't lose his ability to cope until two years after the mission to Rwanda, when he became suicidal.

"Sometimes I wish I'd lost a leg," he says on a video produced for counselling of soldiers. "You lose a leg, it's obvious and you've got therapy and all kinds of stuff. You lose your marbles ... very, very difficult to explain, very difficult to gain the support that you need."

This military commander's testimony lends credibility to the crushing effects of post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD, which arises from experiencing one or more extraordinarily horrific and life-threatening events.

By contrast, teachers' stress typically arises gradually over many years, resulting in accumulative stress disorder or ASD-commonly called burn-out or exhaustion. Recently a teacher of 22 years described it this way: "I'm not sleeping through, waking in the night with panic attacks, loss of memory, on edge at home and school, mind racing. Calmed myself with a few drinks in the evening; that made me more edgy, so I quit that. I'm getting more and more distant from my wife and kids, and I'm burnt out of my career. I don't even know who I am anymore."

What major factors contribute to teachers' accumulative stress? Take an idealistic, mission-oriented teacher who tries to meet everybody's needs; place this teacher in a hurried, time-bound, ever-evolving school system that can ask for the best on the one hand, and can erode character and destroy trust on the other; set the school system in communities and among families who question authority; and add the aging process and the family life events that will inevitably occur with that teacher. The result: numbers of teachers experience the extreme effects of accumulative stress on themselves, their work and, eventually, on their families.

As a counsellor with NSTU, I am privileged to meet some of the most dedicated teachers in Nova Scotia. Unfortunately, by the time I meet them in counselling, they are often extremely exhausted, suffering from ASD. This is understandable, for as General Dallaire says, "You lose a leg, it's obvious." ASD creeps up. Teachers lose their energy, their sleep, their desire and capability to care, their identity as a good teacher. They wait and wait, hoping the next weekend, holiday or vacation will fully restore them. Their families and friends share the burden. Sometimes it is only when these teachers notice the effects on their families and friends that they take corrective action.

Without breaching confidentiality, this article gives voice to exhausted, disheartened teachers and the effects of accumulative stress on their families. These teachers offer a message of courage for us all.

As teachers gradually accumulate stress, families can lose teachers to teaching. A husband stands at the back door on August 20 with the family pet beside him. His wife, a teacher, is going to school to set up her classroom. He mutters to the dog, "Say good-bye to her, Skippy. That's the last we'll see of her until next July 1."

Just as family stress goes to school with teachers, so too does work-related stress, and no scalpel exists that could divide the stress created in the two main centres of our lives.

Teachers express stress many ways in families. Consider the following:

"And you can forget about sex till March break," declared one teacher to her chagrined husband. "Too many students, reports and meetings to focus on anything else."

"So Dad, why are you so grouchy when you come home from school?" a 12-year-old daughter asks her father, a teacher of 28 years. "Mom tells me to go to my room and stay out of your way."

Does teaching in today's school affect teachers' home life more than in past years? Many teachers would say, "Yes, definitely." One male high school teacher aptly explains, "I'm overwhelmed with kids' problems. They're dealing with probation, pregnancy, drugs, you name it. The system is designed to burn you out if you're too conscientious in care of the kids. It's stacked against you. You can't do the job the way you know is best for the kids. I know I was a good teacher. I don't know any more if I can even be a decent husband or father."

Teachers commonly describe the burden of guilt and neglect of their own families. "I put more time and effort into my students than into my own children. And when I do spend time with my kids, I'm often correcting their behaviour and trying to control them to live up to my perfectionist standards. Is it possible to just enjoy my own kids?" asks one beleaguered teacher.

The stress on the family can become extreme when sick leave has been used up. One anxious teacher put it this way, "I just don't know how we're going to manage while waiting for the salary continuation decision. And if it doesn't come through, I'm just going to have to go back to the classroom, even if it ruins my health for life. My family depends on my income; I have no choice."

Of course, some of the effect of teachers' work stress on their families is inevitable. As caring persons, teachers take students' needs to heart and may be unaware of the costs of caring. Teachers may minimize the costs of work-related stress on families and glibly accept the cost as "part of the price of doing a good job." For the idealistic teacher, "caring too much" is an oxymoron.

For the exhausted teacher, "caring too much" smacks of reality. And the threat of breakdown of health, or of couple and family relationships, is often the bell that tolls the heavy cost of teachers' accumulative stress. As one teacher observed, "I didn't know my partner meant so much to me till we temporarily separated. It's funny too-the first time in years that I told my kids how much they meant to me was when I was down and out. I'm reunited with my partner now, so I guess this work exhaustion had a silver lining for me with my family."

Teachers daily walk the shoreline of social change, where past ways of thinking and relating meet future ways of doing and being. This presents both danger and opportunity: the danger of losing values of the past, and the opportunity of participating in co-creating the future. Travelling this shoreline throughout a teaching career requires a delicate balance.

Teaching entails a great deal of planning for tomorrow and evaluating yesterday. Hence, for teachers it's a struggle to live "today." While evaluating students' work, teachers are implicitly evaluating themselves, and often coming out feeling they are less than superb. This can induce considerable self-pressure. By comparison, most of the working public undergo only annual performance evaluations.

Since most teachers want to create both healthy families and healthy school environments, how can teachers reduce work-related stress in their homes and foster healthy work-styles in their schools?

First, recognize accumulative stress as a reality. Don't wait for the possible breakdown of health or couple-family relationships to toll your alarm bell. Refuse to live at work. Limit your work time by your energy level and the clock, not by the time demands of the task.

Contribute to healthy work styles among staff. Support time for self-care, setting limits and saying "no" as warranted. Share resources, ideas and mutual appreciation.

Here are four suggestions from teachers recovering from exhaustion.

Teachers often describe the peak of accumulative stress as a breakdown. Later in the healing process, they may describe it as a breakthrough. It's a breakthrough to choose a liveable balance of work and play, family life and school life. It's a breakthrough to the courage to be.

Peter Mullally is a Therapist of Counselling Services at the Nova Scotia Teachers Union.

[April 24, 2002] Is Programming a Dead End Job

April 24, 2002 | Slashdot

Not always true  (Score:4, Insightful)
by kaladorn on Thursday April 25, @03:41PM (#3411001)
(User #514293 Info | http://slashdot.org/)

My boss (our VP and I think CTO) is the developer of utmost Deep Magic. But of course, we're a relatively small company.

But to take the other side of the coin up, I know of developers who made more than their managers (as one of my classmates ascended to management, I know several of the lead developers were making significantly more than he was).

There are two or three GOOD reasons why managers make the big bucks. In theory, they are the RESPONSIBLE ones. The buck stops there. Programmers can often excuse problems as being the result of other people's work, their deadlines, etc. But a manager has no such refuge. That responsibility should be commensurately rewarded.[1]

Also note that some highly paid programmers who make more than their management treat their management like inferiors. I've seen this. At the end of the day, some of the geek community only respect salary or other raw displays of power and authority. Sad but true.

Lastly, good managers are worth their weight in gold and do significantly benefit a project. They coordinate people, resources, and customers. They manage customer expectations, attend to the wellbeing of their managed, and ensure that all required resources are forseen and in place when required.[1].

So even though the comment about programmers not getting paid more than managers has exceptions, there are some good reasons for things to be as they are.

[1] - I know very damn well that the theory often doesn't match practice. For some reason, many companies keep inept management in place, I suspect because the next management level up is equally inept. I've had precisely three fair to okay managers, 1 really great manager, and several of the nightmarishly inept variety. But why companies keep incompetent managers in positions of power despite all the damage this causes is an utterly separate issue from the reasons why managers are paid more than programmers. Valid, but different. 

Cliff said it all (Score:3, Insightful) by Havokmon (rickNO@SPAMhavokmon.com) on Thursday April 25, @02:36PM (#3410478)
(User #89874 Info | http://www.havokmon.com/ | Last Journal: Thursday September 27, @05:18PM) <
People who are in this career for the money or the prestige may not like it after a while, but the people who are in this for something else will tolerate quite a bit before deciding to opt out.

And is exactly why Loki lasted as long as it did..

Re:Cliff said it all by hendridm (Score:1) Thursday April 25, @02:40PM
No way (Score:4, Insightful)
by dciman (kybwilli@indiana.edu) on Thursday April 25, @02:37PM (#3410485)
(User #106457 Info | http://php.indiana.edu/~kybwilli/)

I think that programming is by NO means a dead end. Sure there is a bit of a tough time right now with the economy in its current state. But, we are just now seeing an emergence of whole new computational fields. These mainly being in the life sciences arena. Genomic sequencng projects are quickly overloading scientists with raw data that someone needs to turn into usefull information. The area of developing these tools is vast.

Possibly more important will be people who come up with better algorythms for predicting protein structre and interactions based on sequences. This is an amazing field that has the promise of keeping computre scientists, biologists, and bioinformatics people busy for decades to come. I think the field is ready to make leaps and bounds.... and most definitly not a dead end.

[Aug 03, 2001]  IT staff cracking up under pressure By James Middleton

VNUnet.com

IT managers may well be on the brink of burn-out, according to research which found that many technical staff are being pushed beyond the limits in terms of working hours.

The results found that a quarter of IT managers work a 60-hour week, which represents almost four hours overtime per day. Also, 90 per cent of IT managers typically exceed the 48-hour working week set out by the European Working Time Directive.

Government sector workers are hardest hit, with 100 per cent of respondents working above and beyond the call of duty. Retail was second worst with 93 per cent working overtime, followed closely by the education, finance, manufacturing and hi-tech sectors.

The main reason behind the extra hours was a lack of resources, according to 28 per cent of the respondents. Another 22 per cent said that the pressure of development work accounted for extra time, with 10 per cent highlighting unrealistic deadlines as a major problem. A further 14 per cent said that they were expected to be available for out of hours support calls.

David Godwin, vice president of strategy at Attenda, the internet outsourcing company responsible for the research, said that "UK companies needed to adopt a 24-hour culture if they were to succeed in the internet economy".

But he added that the UK was going about it the wrong way by putting the "responsibility for maintaining a 24-hour presence onto in-house IT departments on top of already heavy workloads".

Almost all IT managers in the south of England, excluding those in London, said they were affected by extra working hours, with the next worst spot being the Midlands. Around 86 per cent of London managers said they were affected, with 75 per cent in Scotland and 71 per cent in the north of England.

Godwin likened the IT manager working day to that of a junior doctor. "While burn-out among IT managers is not a matter of life or death, the potential to cause damage to their companies' online presence is great," he said.

Breakaway Careers Is That Overwork Or Just Enthusiasm  

May 28, 2001  | InformationWeek

What a recent study considers overwork in the U.S. workforce at large may be little more than business-as-usual for the IT professional. Working "12 to 14 hour days and over the weekend is just the status quo for IT," says Russell Clark, director of E-commerce and portals for OAO Technology Solutions Inc., an IT consulting firm with a staff of 2,200, in Greenbelt, Md.

But Clark agrees with the Families and Work Institute survey of 1,003 workers that it's not just the amount of work that determines whether someone feels overworked. Hard work paired with personal control over the work--for example, working to advance in a career, or saving toward college--can give a feeling of satisfaction. Overwork is more likely when people work longer hours for external reasons, such as needing to meet management expectations or because the workload requires that much time.

Or maybe it's boring. IT professionals generally work on a project basis, and for Clark there's a thrill akin to winning a race in reaching project milestones and hitting the big deadlines. "You love it," he says. "but if it's a project you're not interested in, once you get past eight hours, you get upset."

Some say no matter what the job, consistent long hours still add up to overwork. John Drake, author of Downshifting (Berrett-Koehler, 2001), and founder of an HR consulting firm known now as Drake Beam Morin, says IT is probably the worst area for overwork abuse. "IT is a key piece in most companies; long hours and dedication are expected--especially in small startups where it's 'we give you stock, you grow the company, work 12 to 16 hours a day,'" he says.

To avoid employee burnout, Clark rotates the work among his 20 staffers, and encourages a team environment where it's easy to have fun. In a previous job at Disney/ABC Sports, his group created sports games for PCs and PlayStations. Project deadlines coincided with the start of each major league season: baseball was due by April, football by August. "Even if you're not into sports, you'd get into it," he says. "Staying late and on weekends was just fun to us. If I were by myself doing the same work, it would've been no fun."

Longer work hours are becoming the norm, though not by choice. The average American employee works 42 hours a week and would prefer to work just under 35. A recently released InformationWeek Research 2001 Salary Survey finds that on average, IT staffers work 45 hours a week plus 24 hours of on-call time. Managers are working 50 hours a week, and on-call time is up 60% from last year's 15 hours a week to 24 hours.

Beth Devin, senior VP of retail technology, Charles Schwab & Co., says IT systems are partially to blame for the longer on-call hours. More systems are 24-by-7, she says, "more are customer-facing, so they can't go down. Before, you could do lots of background work during hours when the business is closed."

Drake says there's a cost to overwork: It can lead to costly mistakes, resentment, anger, and even workplace violence. His bottom line: Companies will only do something about the problem if they see a payoff. Drake expects the big payoff to be greater retention of good employees and lower recruiting costs.

[May 21, 2000] Taking the Crunch Out of Crunch Time

March 2000

Whether you call it crunch mode, ship mode or "death-march" project management, mandatory overtime is a standard industry practice. When a software development project begins to slip schedule or is faced with near-impossible delivery demands, the formulaic response is to get people to work longer hours. Before long, the project is in constant crisis, keeping people hunched over their keyboards until all hours of the night and during the weekends.

There are many ways to justify mandatory overtime. Sometimes you estimate projects incorrectly and rely on overtime to compensate for bad budgeting or bad planning. Aiming to meet unrealistic delivery dates, you push your people to their limits.

But there are alternatives to mandatory overtime, including choosing to work differently and changing the work to be completed. Understanding what precipitates the downward spiral into constant overtime will help clarify your options.

I'm Sooo Tired …

Looking at his project schedule, a manager we'll call Peter sighed and thought, "We're not going to make it. We're supposed to freeze the code in two weeks, test for another four weeks and then ship. We can't be late on this project or we'll all lose our bonuses. Wait, I know—I'll get everyone to work overtime! We'll bring in dinners, and maybe even breakfasts. We'll do anything, as long as we can ship this product within two months."

Peter's staff hunkered down and heroically completed the project, putting in many hours of overtime, including nights and weekends. When they finished the project, senior management requested another project with a just-maybe-possible release date. This time the project team worked three months of overtime to make the release date. At the end of that project, a couple of people quit, but Peter and the rest of the team stayed on.

During the next year, Peter and his project team staggered from project to project, never quite doing things the way they wanted to, always in crisis mode. By the time they had released two more versions of the product, the entire original project team, including Peter, had quit. Now the company was in trouble. No one on the newly hired staff understood the product, and shortcuts taken by the original project team left the code and internal documentation indecipherable.

Most experienced managers have seen such a project death spiral. Some project managers believe they can achieve impossible deadlines just by getting people to work harder and longer hours. In fact, some management teams never learn how to prevent lurching from project to project. Their unending refrain is: "We're in a crunch. We need to stay focused and keep the pressure on."

Slow Slogging

In reality, mandatory overtime rarely helps an organization complete its projects faster. More frequently, mandatory overtime contributes to staff burnout, turnover and to higher costs in future development.

You may honestly believe that mandated overtime is helping your staff get the work done. More likely, however, you are actually encountering slow progress, as your programmers are creating more defects and much of the work that was done late at night fails to stand up to the critical light of day. If you are considering imposing mandatory overtime, first observe your project, then consider whether there are better solutions for the problem of insufficient time.

Does progress sometimes seem achingly slow, despite the long hours of work? It may be that your developers are exhausted. Over time, with too much overtime, people can get too tired to think well or to do a good job.

Fatigue builds up in many ways. Some begin to lose their social skills, becoming more irritable and difficult to handle. Some lose their problem-solving skills and start creating more problems in their code than they solve. Some people become disgusted and cynically put in their "face-time" without doing much useful work. When such telltale signs of team exhaustion appear, the overtime people are working can be making your project even later. It may be best to give everyone some time off and to return to normal workweeks.

[Aug 25, 2001] Stress hits Swedes in IT jobs - Tech News - CNET.com

Swedes working in information technology, which has gone from boom to bust in the past two years, are off sick more often than people employed in all other sectors except health care, new data showed Friday.

A study made by insurance group Alecta found a skyrocketing frequency of sick leave, especially among highly paid women.

"The IT sector may soon be suffering from as many sick-leave absences as health care," Alecta said in a statement.

Its data covered 620,000 people, or roughly one-seventh of Sweden's labor force.

"We can also see that sick leave has increased most among women. The rise is remarkably high, particularly for well-paid women," Birgitta Rolander, head of Alecta's health and welfare department, said in the statement.

Stress and depression were the most common reasons for Swedes' sick leave in the first half of 2001, while absenteeism due to burn-out had declined compared with January-June 2000, the data showed.

Is This A Dead-end Career

Embedded.com

Become a dentist, CPA, or lawyer and odds are you'll be practicing that profession on a more or less daily basis till the day you retire. That seems less likely for engineers and firmware developers. How many EEs or software folks do you know in their 60s who still work as techies? How many in their 40s?

Though I haven't the statistics to support it, my observations suggest that embedded systems development is a field dominated by young folks -- say, those under 35 or so. Middle age seems to wean folks from their technical inclinations; droves of developers move towards management or even the dark side, marketing and sales.

Is salary compression the culprit? My students, all of 21 and armed with a newly minted BSEE, get entry-level jobs at $50-60k. That's an astonishing sum for someone with no experience. But the entire course of this career will see in general less than a doubling of this number. Pure techies doing no management may top out at only 50 percent above the entry-level figure.

Consider that $70k or $80k is a staggering amount compared to the nation's average mid-$30k average family income -- but even so, it's quickly swallowed by the exigencies of middle-class life. That $50k goes a long way when one is single and living in a little apartment. Life happens fast, though. Orthodontics, college, a house, diapers, and much more consume funds faster than raises compensate. That's not to suggest it's not enough to live on, but surely the new pressures that come with a family make us question the financial wisdom of pursuing this wealth-limited career. Many developers start to wonder if an MBA or JD would forge a better path.

What about respect? My friends think "engineer" means I drive a train. Or that being in the computer business makes me the community's PC tech support center. "Doctor" or "VP Marketing" is something the average Joe understands and respects.

Is tedium a factor? Pushing ones and zeroes around doesn't sound like a lot of work, but getting each and every one of a hundred million perfect is tremendously difficult. I for one reached a point years ago where writing code and drawing schematics paled; much more fun was designing systems, inventing ways to build things, and then leaving implementation details to others. I know many engineers who bailed because of boredom.

External forces intervene, too. Though age discrimination is illegal it's also a constant factor. Many 50-ish engineers will never learn Java, C++, and other new technologies. They become obsolete. Employers see this and react in not-unexpected ways. Other employers look askance at the high older engineer salaries and will consider replacing one old fart with two newbies.

Champion of Angry Programmers

The main issue, according to Matloff, is the hiring practices of many technology companies that both discriminate against older programmers and turn foreign-born programmers, working in the United States on H-1B visas, into indentured servants.

The problem stems from the unwillingness of most HR departments to train their employees, combined with an overemphasis on the latest skills. The result, in Matloff's view, is a situation that's completely unacceptable to everyone concerned. Older programmers are viewed as "obsolete" once they reach 30 years of age, he said. And foreign-born programmers, who are being brought in to replace them, are forced to accept jobs for less than market rate while often working under hostile conditions just to get their green cards.

Matloff sees the companies losing out, because they are overlooking experienced, easily retrainable candidates and often hiring less-qualified ones to save money, hoping to reap the benefits of a compliant workforce in an industry notorious for job-hopping.

Matloff speaks to the NetSlaves on the authority of his extensive research and numerous articles on the IT employment situation. He defends himself against charges of xenophobia by citing a group of Indian programmers who have organized to pursue legal action against alleged abuses.

Like what you hear? Read the book: NetSlaves: True Tales of Working the Web, a beyond-the-hype look at what it's really like to work in the Internet business.

[July 27, 1999] The High Tech Sweatshop

Comments are much more interesting than the story. The latter  is kind of suspect ;-)

Slashdot

Its 4:30 am on a Friday and I just finished the last Mountain Dew. We ran out of coffee hours ago, the remains of it now black sludge at the bottom of the pot. The buildings air conditioning went off sometime the previous night and its up to almost 90 degrees in the server room. The two volunteer hackers on the staff went home after 12 hours, leaving me and the sysadmin… 

This is a normal day for me. 

I‘m a systems engineer in the client services division of a network security software company. Basically what that means is that when networks break, I fix them. 

I am 22 years old, I make a large multiple of the national average salary, and if I cashed in my stock options I could buy a very nice house. I’m also sixty pounds overweight, I sleep an average of four hours a night, and I have several ulcers. I usually spend about 60 hours a week at the office, but I’m on call 24 hours a day seven days a week. If I was honest with myself Id probably say I worked about one hundred hours last week. This is a normal life for someone working in this industry.

We live in a world today that runs on information. And people want all of it now. When was the last time you actually wrote out a personal letter to someone, on paper, in pen? Why bother when E-mail is so much faster and easier? But what goes on behind the scenes when you hit the “send” button? There are thousands of people out there just like me who have titles like “Network engineer” and “Systems administrator”. We keep that information flowing, and we get paid what seems like a lot of money to do it. If you’ve been in the market for a good network admin lately you know what I mean. The market is pushing the salary into the 100k+ plus range for someone with the necessary experience to handle even a relatively small network, never mind what the really large companies like State Farm insurance or Wells Fargo bank have.

I started work on this problem with the sysadmin on Thursday before the close of business, getting things set up, preparing for the changes etc… The company was switching internet service providers that night because the previous one hadn’t provided the level of service they needed. This entailed changing the IP addresses, and DNS configurations of every machine in the building, running three different operating systems, probably two hundred machines all told, then setting up the servers, routers, and switches necessary to get it all running. It’s a big job, but with six people working on it we figured we could get it done before start of business the next day. Normally you would do this kind of thing over a weekend, but the ISP could either do the changeover tonight, or wait till next week, and we needed to be online before Monday. 

Getting back to what happens when you press the send button. You expect the computer to send the message, and that the person it was sent to will receive it. What happens to the message then is an incredibly complex series of storage, sending, routing, switching, redirecting, forwarding and retrieving, that is all over in a fraction of a second, or at most a few minutes. But you don’t care how or why it gets there, only that it does, and this is all you should care about. After all you don’t have to know how your cars engine works in order to drive it right. But someone has to know in case it breaks. And when your email breaks you expect someone to fix it. It doesn’t matter what time it is, or where the message is being sent, you want it to get there now. 

Its now 8 am and the network is still down. We’ve managed to isolate a routing problem and are in the process of fixing it. The ISP gave us the wrong IP addresses and now we have to go back and redo all two hundred machines in the building. The router was crashing and we couldn’t figure out why. Two hours on the phone with the vendors support, and three levels of support engineer later we fix it. People are starting to come in to work and ask why they can’t get their email. The changeover process takes us about three hours and finally everyone has the right IP, but things still aren’t working right. A bunch of people use DHCP for their laptops and the DHCP people cant get out to the net. The CEO of the company is one of those people…

So what do we do? Well we hire people to take care of the network. And we give them benefits and pay like any normal employee. We also give them pagers, cell phones, a direct phone lines to their houses so that any time, any where, we can get them, because the network could go down, and we DEPEND on that network, and those people. This is where things go skew from the normal business model. 

All compensation is basically in exchange for time. The only thing humans have to give is their time. When I pay you a salary it is in exchange for me being able to use your abilities for a certain period of time every year. The assumption is that the more experienced or knowledgeable you are the more your time is worth. This works fine when you are being paid a wage, but salaried employees aren’t. They exist under the polite fiction that all their work can be done in a forty hour period every week, no matter how much work there is. We all know this isn’t the case of course. And when it comes to Systems administrators and network engineers that polite fiction isn’t so polite. In exchange for high salaries and large stock options the company owns you all day and all night, every day and every night. You are “Mission critical”. High salaries become an illusion because when it gets down to it your hourly rate isn’t much better than the assistant manager of the local Pep Boys. 

I finally went home at 1 that afternoon. I couldn’t stay awake any more and if I didn’t leave right then I wouldn’t have been able to drive home. The funny thing is I felt guilty for leaving. Things still weren’t working quite right, and I felt like I should have stayed until they were. Even funnier is that I volunteered for this. The only part of the job that I actually had to do was to change a few IP addresses and configure the firewall, but I thought I’d lend a hand, and I couldn’t do the firewall till everything else was working anyway. My wife hadn’t seen me in two and a half days, and I could barely give her a kiss when I walked through the door and collapsed on my bed. The SysAdmin was fired a few hours after I left. Back to work Monday morning.

sed@netcom.com

like furnace stokers (Score:2, Funny)   (http://durak.org/sean/)

July 26, @06:57AM EDT (#2) (User Info) http://durak.org/sean/ i sometimes liken system and network admin to being a coal stoker in the basement of a big building, just shoveling coal into the furnace 24/7 to keep the business above running. 

punchline of your story is that they fired the (only?) full time system administrator.

personal and professional info on homepage: http://durak.org/sean/

Anonymous Coward

 Amen Brother (Score:1, Insightful) by on Monday July 26, @06:58AM EDT (#3)

Been there. All I can suggest is that you make a serious effort to spend more time playing and less time working. When I left my last job, I had 8 weeks vacation accrued, and a real bad attitude. I took two months off working, and now I limit my work week to 50 hrs on regular weeks, and anytime I work more than that, I take off a day or half day in the following week.  This has really helped me be a lot nicer person overall (and my wife REALLY likes that). I have always met folks in high positions who DO appreciate my effort, and have thus always had stellar reviews and reccomedations for future employment.  Good luck, and stay sane.

[July 15, 1999] Home Sweet Sweatshop

Information overload can be coupled with real overload, that is characteristic of startups

 As one Slashdot reader put it ():

They think that because they work 18 hours a day, neglect their home life, end up divorced, have kids that don't know them, and few real friends, they are "Heros". They gave their all, 110%. Guess what, for that 110%, you will get a watch and maybe a small pention when you retire. You will dye alone, and no one that ever worked with you will care. There is so much more to life than the grind. People who overwork themselves aren't heros, they are idiots...

Another reader stated about WEB-related jobs

I work in "the Industry" and telecommute from home (very small apartment on the 5th floor). I have 10+ people over me and a few below me, and I've never met any of them face to face -- I only know them by e-mail, though I work with them every day for 18+ hours, sleeping on a futon in between. Pay is good, but it's very isolated -- no human contact at all, and I get very tired of staring at the same Netscape, Emacs, and shell windows all day, every day. I go through 150+ ounces of dew and coke every day, and there's nothing directly outside but traffic and other buildings. Time pressure is also fairly high. Everything must always be done "within 24 hours" because that's the way the Web works, I guess. I'm getting fairly tired of working this way.

Another interesting quote:

You know, media companies aren't the only ones. ANY sort of internet startup, and I've worked for MORE than one, has so many unreasonable demands that it's absurd. And in my experience, most of it's the people in charge. I'm working for a startup now. Hating every minute of it. I'm expected to work 80 hour weeks, be on call, do customer tech support (I'm the system administrator), and do seven other people's jobs while I'm at it. Which *NECESSITATES* a 70 hour work week. Every.. freaking.. week! And to add insult to injury, I'm not even paid 1/4th of what I'm worth according to every salary survey out there. And of course, I'm going to be the first one asked to take a pay cut or vacation when the VC runs out. Which I expect to be very soon. The company is a management disaster. Ignorance and blatant lack of record keeping and blatant lack of research has already wasted over $4 *MILLION*. And of course, in typical "let's get ready for that day far FAR away when we make an IPO" fashion, we have a CEO, CFO, CTO, and COO already. Who's combined salaries could buy me *two* RS/6000 SP2 Advanced Switches (which, last check, are over $100k/ea) *AND* a Lexus!

Yet another:

Why DON'T you take your own advice? I've left two companies so far, when the management got absolutely intolerable--when the 'con' list got longer than the 'pro' list.

Two truths I've learned in my first two internet jobs (since '94, when I graduated university):

Burn Rate : How I Survived the Gold Rush Years on the Internet ~ Usually ships in 24 hours

Michael Wolff / Paperback / Published 1999 Our Price: $11.20 ~ You Save: $2.80 (20%) Average Customer Review: 4 out of 5 stars

[Nov. 5, 1999] NetSlaves ~ Usually ships in 2-3 days

Bill Lessard, Steve Baldwin / Hardcover / Published 1999 Our Price: $13.97 ~ You Save: $5.98 (30%) Average Customer Review:

Prudloe Vensigian from Deep Run Mobile Home Park, Maryland , November 1, 1999 5 out of 5 stars These guys are nuts, and that's great! Oh yeah! From reading Netslaves it's easy to tell that these guys have been on the front lines of the new media wars for a long, long time. Not in the Generals' tents, but out where the layoff bullets fly and talented employees are more often rewarded by watching their kiss-ass co-workers get promoted over their heads than by anything else. If you are in, or want to get into, the fast-paced Internet go-go economy, you must read this book. No, you're not the only one who has found (or will find) that the pot of gold at the end of the Internet rainbow has already been emptied by investment bankers and other leeches, and that your share is just big enough to rent a studio apartmen, pay your ISP bills, and buy takeout pan pizzas every few days. I create Web site content for a living, so I live what these guys write, and dammit, I still love my work as much as ever despite the fact that doing the scut work behind the Internet is just as horrid as Steve and Bill say it is. As the late songwriter and newspaper humorist Sylvia Miller put it, "If misery loves company, then you're the one for me. You like to cry into your beer, wine always makes me shed a tear."

Book Reviews NetSlaves

Pretty naive review,  but good discussion
Slashdot

If you read newspapers, books, or follow Net-business coverage on TV, you might well think work on the Net is mostly about the billionaires who found Hotmail or Yahoo or Netscape, or the clean, benefit-laced, campus-like work environments they provide. You'd have no way of knowing the much more pervasive and unnerving reality: for every one of those there's a zillion companies that come into the world still-born, fail miserably, make and sell crummy stuff, and hire countless miserable, exploited, harassed and burned-out programmers, techies, geeks and nerds.

Baldwin and Lessard are combat veterans of the Net, both in terms of writing and personal experience. They are also long-standing Truth Tellers.

In addition to writing about computing for a number of magazines and websites, they also run the guerilla website NetSlaves, a running testimonial to real life for many in the hi-tech workplace.

"NetSlaves" is a terrific extension of the site, one of the few books to come off of a website that really works as a book. Lessard and Baldwin have a powerful story to tell, and they do it with a lot of punch. "NetSlaves" ought to be handed out to every graduate of every tech school, and given to every new employee of every Net company.

Baldwin and Lessard say their grand "pre-alpha" statement about the Nature of Net-Slavery is this:

"Technology has changed, but human nature hasn't. Whether it's the Gold Rush of 1849 or the Web Rush of l999, people are people. More often than not, they're miserable, nasty, selfish creatures, driven by vanity and greed, doing whatever they can to get ahead, even if it means stepping on the person next to them, crushing the weak, and destroying themselves in the process."

The authors don't have a particularly high regard for many forms of Net work, which they lambaste as the New Media Caste System, but they care about Net workers, and the book is curiously affectionate, even loving about them, as well as a hoot to read.

Both concede that one of their purposes in writing "NetSlaves" is to have the book serve as a quasi-historical, quasi-anthropological reflection of a particular moment in the culture.

Although the tone of "NetSlaves" is informal and funny, the point is pretty serious. "NetSlaves" has done what legions of reporters and authors have so far failed to do: paint a truthful picture of about the new nature of work in the techno-centered world.

For all of the media blabber about Net commerce and hi-tech startups, life in this fast lane can be brutal - insane hours, almost no employee-employer loyalty, greed and moral cowardice, help-desk geeks driven mad by enraged customers, back-stabbing, savage pressure, competiveness and the many resultant neuroses from all of the above.

Baldwin and Lessard make no pretense of objectivity. They write with almost ferocious authority and persuasiveness. They describe themselves as "two angry, cranky bastards out for blood" on behalf of their exhausted selves and the countless burnouts, geniuses, thieves, opportunists, workaholics and losers they've encountered along the way.

"NetSlaves" gives us a whole new language for the villains and back-stabbers who make up the hi-tech workplace. Particular venom is reserved for the "Fry Cooks," the "get it done at all costs" project people of the New Media Caste System. (There's also the "Garbagemen," the workers who have to get servers up and running when they crash).

My favorite chapter is about the "Cab Drivers," the haunted and hunted itinerant Web freelancers who design sites, followed closely by "Gold Diggers and Gigolos," a scathing portrait of the ambitious, night-crawling, hard-partying, butt-kissing movers and shakers and wannabees of hi-tech work world.

"Most Web sites are designed by itinerant, restless young people who have given up the constraints of working for one company in particular, in exchange for the self-determination of pursuing their own path. The rationale is that they can earn a higher hourly rate and pick and choose their projects.

"The reality, however," write Lessard and Baldwin, "is that these Cab Drivers have to constantly hustle for work and their passengers, or clients, who are also cash-crunched, are notorious for skipping out on their fares. Added to this is the lack of health benefits that Cab Drivers face - a plight which has forced many to simply neglect themselves." This is a world in which workers are terrified or despondent when forced to take a few weeks off, convinced they'll fall behind forever.

"NetSlaves" succeeds wonderfully in its goal to tell the truth about a particular culture at a critical juncture in time. It is, in fact one of the few telling looks inside the new kinds of workplaces springing up in the hi-tech, global economy. Workers beware.

 

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