Maybe he deserved to get fired, maybe he didn't. The lesson to me that has been reinforced over my career in the tech sector is: don't ever expect a company to value you more than the next quarters earnings reports.
That and always keep learning, because there's going to be some young go hard ready to come in and fuck your shit up.
Seriously, though, as long as you keep up, and avoid being a curmudgeon, you're gonna be fine. The only ones who die in this industry choose to stop swimming.
The work is highly profitable. The skills are present in the local population. Why should anyone want H1Bs in the US at all other than the investors looking for the largest returns for exploiting the poorest people in the world.
Ultimately this whole issue is an issue of exploitation at the behest of the owners of America who don't give a shit about its people. Initially they exploited slaves, then they exploited immigrants, now they want to import not even real immigrants to exploit.
There is a reason Trump's message is resonating with so many people (I'm not a supporter).
Did you/your forefathers immigrate when all citizens had perfect life?
Reality is, they do displace workers, but over the long terms costs go up due to lost customers and revenue and the need to replace those workers with competent unsourced individuals (happening a lot over the last 3-5 years).
This is not speaking to the general H1B individual, only those that places like Tata and IBM have been hiring to "offshore work" and "reduce costs"; and those same companies slowly lose enterprise customers fed up with the lack of quality.
HP was another company that took on contracts providing corporate IT services, outsourced them and then found customers firing them and then insourcing talent.
A Tier 1 migrant in the UK has total freedom over who they can work for. They are not tied to a particular company and as such can leave for a better job without any administration overhead for them. They also have the ability to start their own company without any restrictions. This places them on equal footing with any local job applicants as they cannot be forced to work for lower than the industry going wage.
The lesson is: Be prepared as if you are going to be out of job anytime. That's a typical mistake of US based people. US is not a social country, you are on your own when shit happens, you should better be ready for the worst case scenario at all times.
Your monthly income is not for you to spend monthly. It's for today and future.
Generalize much? You know based on the fact that he "worked in software" that that he had no valid reason to need a "supermarket job"?
I hope no awful life event happens to you, but when things are going great, it's easy to say others shouldn't be struggling. Then something happens. Maybe you get sick. Or a close relative needs financial assistance. Or you get laid off. I'm fortunate enough to enjoy a comfortable living, but I've been in some really shitty situations in the past, and let me tell you- anything can happen to anybody. If you're doing well, be grateful, but don't assume everybody is in the same situation you are.
If I didn't have health insurance and had a major medical problem -- first thing I'd do would be to arrange a plane ticket to a medical tourist country. Extended diagnostics + care + treatment (especially without managed insurance prices) in thr US is ridiculously expensive.
And honestly? I'd be willing to go from 98 percentile to 9X percentile care to trim that.
I think the point is really that most people conflate their NEEDS with their WANTS and end up living hand to mouth because of it. If you are a tech worker in the USA and you don't have extenuating circumstances that eat up large portions of your income (like child support, back taxes, massive student loan debt, etc) and cannot be avoided, then you should be able to limit your monthly expenses to be able to save money. The truth is though, that most people "need" the latest phone, the latest computer, a new car (because apparently no other cars are "reliable"), etc. In my experience just making small changes to your lifestyle can have a massive impact on your ability to save.
I don't think the valley really recovered until 1987-1988. Part of that was because the last of the manufacturing went to Asia. And also because the Japanese were trying to keep the Yen weak and the Reagan administration was trying to keep the dollar strong. This didn't bode well for the tech industry in the Bay Area.
I got my first tech job in 1996 doing QA for a COBOL compiler vendor in San Diego. It paid $15/hour and there were multiple applicants with physics & engineering Ph.Ds and years of experience! The detail which is more sobering the older I get is that the company figured – correctly, I'm sure – that the more experienced applicants were likely to leave as soon as they could find something better, so it didn't matter how willing anyone was to take any job available.
Sure, the market eventually recovered and some people repurposed all of that Cold War tech to make things like carbon-fiber golf clubs and bicycles commonplace but that's hardly going to help the person who went from living the American dream to struggling just to make the next mortgage payment, pay for their kid's braces or college tuition, etc. Even if they did eventually find a job, let alone one which pays comparably, it can take years to recover financially even if nothing else happens.
My family hired an EE to do electrical engineering in ~1972 and he was thrilled to be able to get back to it after doing all sort of random service jobs including "cleaning toilets" (the latter might have been exaggerated to me to motivate working hard to get into college), I learned a whole lot from him.
He said before he got that job he was thinking his retirement would be to a cardboard box.
 Friend pulled my dads application out of a pile of about 500 and stuck it on the top. If you ever want to know what petty corruption is, that's it.
For that matter, certainly nowadays higher oil prices can mean more business for airplane companies as that makes buying more efficient planes more important.
Take marine shipping as a similar case. Recent vessels were desiggned for high-cost fuel and slow sreaming, or so they tell us. But petroleum prices, and bunker fuel, have plummetted.
Hulls last 20+ years.
And shipping overall is down. Problem is demand-side.
Really ? All economic indicators (manufacturing index, employment, ...) seem to indicate otherwise. If problem is indeed demand side, wouldn't you see a serious crash right about now ?
Look up shipping indices. Baltic Dry Index, etc. All massively down since mid-2015.
Asset price inflation isn't economic growth.
And a strengthening labour market would see rising wages. They're rather curiously not. For some decades now.
I've not heard that before - what clue did it give him?
Issued an ultimatum that we would not attend the upcoming Summer Olympics held in Moscow if they did not withdraw. That really showed them!
Grain export embargo, which only hurt us, and is generally considered to be immoral in a non-hot war context, as Reagan pointed out.
Reinstated draft registration, which did not go down well after he'd pardoned Vietnam era draft dodgers on his first day in office.
Reversed course with relations with Pakistan, which he'd previously trashed, and with it supported the Mujahideen fighting the Soviets.
In theory reversed course and started rearming, although due to the budget cycle that pretty much had to be proposals that would only be fulfilled by the next president, which of course didn't turn out to be him (note that Wikipedia's entries on him are silent on this general issue, you have to e.g. go to the B-1 bomber page to learn of his canceling it, and how difficult a decision he said it was).
* All the companies than need any engineering based work done can take their pick of the best.
* But remember their normal recruitment channels are still open and feeding potential employees through. They may prefer to hire fresh talent rather than a 50 year old.
* And other engineering companies will be affected. If your aircraft company lays off 30% of its employees then it probably does so because it has less orders on its books. Therefore the smaller companies making parts for the aerospace industry have less orders and will be firing rather than hiring.
* Even worse large job losses tend to be correlated with a generalised or sector wide downturn. So car companies and ship companies and bridge companies may also be in a situation where there is less demand and be firing rather than hiring.
* The local economies of the places where the engineers were fired from will be affected. Skilled workers tend to support several service workers and when the skilled workers are laid off the service sectors are affected (you don't go out to a restaurant or get your house done up if you've just lost your job).
* If people move away from towns/cities due to lost work then the property prices tend to fall. A family with a mortgage may be (or feel that they are) better off holding onto their home and accepting much lower pay than accepting they have lost several $100,000 on the re-sale price of their home.
IBM was one of the few American companies that had no layoffs during the depression in the 30's.
Inventories built up. No sales. And he was almost fired.
Once the recovery started every company and govt in the world wanted a computer and the rest is history.
Also, things are a bit different today: IBM is largely a services company, which doesn't lend itself well to inventory building. Also, they have struggled on the merit of their offerings, not the economical climate, for a very long time. Doubling down right now is not obvisouly going to end well.
Disclaimer: this doesn't mean I'm better at the job search. I'm definitely not, and I'd be in the exact same position, of working bad jobs or mooching because I can't land anything between grocery store cashier and engineer. And a big part of the problem is thinking that e.g. someone capable of doing all the math involved in engineering "can't possibly" do the work of an accountant.
If the economy is down then companies don't hire many accountants, actuaries or analysts for the same reasons as they don't hire as many engineers. They also cut down on sales, management and most white collar jobs (and blue collar). So the hypothetical engineer is competing with experienced people for too few of these jobs as well. Similarly many companies prefer to hire recent graduates in these roles for the same reasons as with engineers.
Many middle class jobs also have a qualification based barrier to entry (e.g. from your list accountants and actuaries in the UK+) that makes a career change difficult in good times let alone bad.
+ the training for both of these is usually on the job but why would you hire an ex-engineer you need to train in a job market where excellent skilled hires and fresh young graduates are plentiful.
Those were dark days, man.
Software engineers outside the valley, especially in the late 90s and early 2000's don't make ludicrous amounts of money. Even if you live frugally and save up, being suddenly laid off will lead you to burning through savings very quickly. It's not like retiring, you don't get the time to prepare.
Lastly, lack of empathy is not a virtue.
would i have made the same decision? no, i wouldn't have worked at the OSDL and would have preferred to burn out at another dotcom, but it did teach me how to live very frugally, and how to set money aside for rainy days.
now i try to keep at least a year's worth of living expenses, preferably 2-3, just to make sure i can survive the next one.
But even so in a big downturn you may find all your industry contacts are in the same boat as you are. I had a lot of friends in the web industry all out of work 2001-2004. And in a fast changing field 18 months out of work is bad news because your experience rapidly becomes obsolete.
You don't need to pay me Elop level money to destroy something like Nokia - I would happily do it for 100K per year. I may not do it as well, and could probably have the unfortunate success story here and there. But I am capable - just give me a chance.
X and Y are arbitrary
The PR version: http://today.tamu.edu/2015/10/15/ceo-effect-on-firm-performa...
But there could be an element of truth to it, which might warrant further research. If CEOs really do have a much more limited influence than they are given credit (or blame) for, then incentives perhaps ought to be adjusted, not just in the interest of fairness but also in the interest of finding better ways to actually improve performance.
Regardless of the firm's performance, it's a difficult role to fill -- especially for a large, multi national conglomerate.
Just because Pharaoh decides to build a pyramid, doesn't mean it will happen, however hard they think it, without an army of people doing the actual work.
Also, after the fact, sure, you got a pyramid, but what might have happened if those people were doing something else? It is easy (and in leaders' interests) to take credit for non-negative changes, but it seems difficult to determine if there is any relationship between these changes and the actions of the leader (rather than some other effect), let alone establishing causality.
note: apologies for off-topic rant
September 2012 IBM stock 205.5
September 2013 IBM stock 192.75
September 2014 IBM stock 190
September 2015 IBM stock 145
March 2015 IBM stock 140
If the CEO pay logic even remotely applied this woman would never be employed by anyone again. I'd rather hire a pyromaniac that did 100 million dollar in fire damage to his last employer : it'd be far, far cheaper.
Since she led IBM the stock has lost 11% of it's value every year, but it's not an average : the loss has accelerated over time. For her fifth year she's on track to have IBM stock lose 37% of it's value (trendline Sep 2015 to today, then see where that trendline is on Sep 2016. Where will it be ? 92 dollars). In absolute value, IBM shareholders have lost 62.4 billion dollars, about 1/3 of the total market cap.
If you're right, and the CEO is responsible for this ... Just wondering: I'm not the CEO. Suppose I do something that loses my company 46% of it's total stock price, damage sufficient assets to cause 60 billion dollars in damage. What will happen to me ? 16 million dollars extra pay ? Or something else ...
As for the content of what you've said, if it's true, then it's quite terrifying! But it hardly seems unusual .
I haven't even said the worst of my analysis. If I make an NPV calculation assuming the 5-year average interest rates will be 1%, IBM is currently far overvalued, essentially 100%, mostly because of too much debt compared to assets. In a firesale, IBM wouldn't fetch half it's market cap.
You can tell by the short interest in IBM that I'm not the only one who thinks so.
In fact, that's the only real quality I would ascribe to Ms. Rometty : investors in IBM should be panicking, and they're not. Since she's the main point of contact between the board and the company, she probably should get some credit for that. But in a way it's the worst kind of compliment : she has been able to push something that's either a lie or mindless optimism on a lot of investors.
"Why would you attribute an increase in sales or profits solely to the leader?"
If you meant something similar, then fine, but if not, then do you really believe that the pharaohs would have been able to build their pyramids without their work force? As for whether we could build one now, I think you might say that we just have different gods .
But just to really dogfood it, Watson should drive itself to work, too, not just hang out in server room :)
Technology jobs are very highly specialised. And I'm not just speaking of computer tech.
I'm old enough to have seen several generations of obsoleted "gold tickets". Nuclear Engineering, future destroyed March 28, 1979. Freeway engineers, the freeway protests of the 1960s/1970s. Big Three auto manufacturers, dream destroyed with the first oil embargo, and sudden onslaught of more fuel efficient, less expensive, and better quality imports from Japan and Germany. Petroleum engineers, dream destroyed as the oil market collapsed in the 1980s. Aerospace engineers, dream destroyed with the fall of the Soviet Union and redundancies in the military-industrial complex throughout NATO powers.
Travel agents, newspaper journalists, and Perl hackers are only more recent victims of the same levels of specialisation.
It's not that these people are dumb, many were brilliant. But they're also laden with a tremendous amount of arcane knowledge, that, unfortunately, gets in the way of learning new skills.
It's been painfully obvious for a long time that, individual success stories notwithstanding, retraining and "reskilling" typically does very little to alleviate this.
Yes, future generations get trained into new skills, some of which may still be germaine 4-8 years after they've completed schooling. But my observation is that job and skill cycles are iterating faster.
So that's a part of it.
Yes, there are other dimensions. Obligations, family ties, social ties, fears, the fact that the most mobile do jump ship first, and more.
But really, it's quite crushing. You may not understand it now, but you almost certainly will, eventually.
If you have n years of AS3 experience (n=7? Or what happened between 2012 and now?) and find yourself unable to compete with people with the same n years of iOS experience, I humbly submit that something else is wrong. Never mind that AS3 is a dialect of ECMAScript, which I hear is still used in a few remote pockets of the web, that hard things about programming isn't about the language and the framework, it's managing complexity. I struggle to see how retraining to iOS is going to take more than a few weeks of systematic reading and practising (possibly taken on your own time), and little more than a few months on the job to be on par with people who have several years of experience.
But more important is all the stuff that isn't about programming at all: Being good at organising your work, communicating well, testing, making sure you understand the entirety requirements as they are intended and that your delivery fully satisfies the requirement etc etc. Someone with n years of programming experience should master those things, and these count very heavily when picking people for lead roles.
Anyway, bottom line: the difficulty of switching from AS3 to iOS doesn't map to the difficulty of switching from nuclear engineering to environmental engineering.
This also reminds me of a back-rationalisation I've seen for Linux adopting the penguin as mascot -- not the Australian zoo killer penguin story.
Antarctic penguins, when deciding where and when to enter the water mill about on the edge of the ice. The problem is that the first one in is taking a significant risk -- leopard seals, which eat penguins, may be lurking.
But once the brave pioneer takes the plunge (or rather more likely, is pushed, jostled, or slips in), the rest of the flock follows. There's safety in numbers ... and fish to eat.
I see parallels with techies choosing skillsets.
The core concepts of every language are the same.
If you acquired a certain amount of experience, switching is just looking for best practices in your new language. Of course it will take some time to ramp up but within a month you are somewhat productive within 3 months no one will see the difference.
Its all about problem solving.
I see 4 ways to mitigate this:
1 - Live somewhere that has many companies or be prepared to move.
2 - Keep in contact periodically with everyone who respects your work. (Don't make the "Hey it's been 5 years" call one where you're asking for a favor)
3 - Always keep learning.
4 - Communicate in your customer's language. If you are strictly an ActionScript expert, you are very narrowly pegged if you haven't learned iOS on the side. But if the buyers of technology view you as "A mobile expert who makes brands come alive across many devices" then you can survive technology switches.
4.5 - Help others before you need help.
In the grand scheme it's still better to be a laid off technology worker than a laid off steelworker. I still feel their pain though - it sucks to lose your job, especially if family is involved.
Link in a sec....
Benjamin Chintz came up with the theory. Edward Glaeser is the lecturer.
Could as well be Haskell or ... honestly, I'm not keeping track so much any more.
> To Mr. Stephenson, it should be an easy choice for most workers: Learn new skills or find your career choices are very limited.
“There is a need to retool yourself, and you should not expect to stop,” he said in a recent interview at AT&T’s Dallas headquarters. People who do not spend five to 10 hours a week in online learning, he added, “will obsolete themselves with the technology.”...
By 2020, Mr. Stephenson hopes AT&T will be well into its transformation into a computing company that manages all sorts of digital things: phones, satellite television and huge volumes of data, all sorted through software managed in the cloud.
That can’t happen unless at least some of his work force is retrained to deal with the technology. It’s not a young group:
The average tenure at AT&T is 12 years, or 22 years if you don’t count the people working in call centers. And many employees don’t have experience writing open-source software or casually analyzing terabytes of customer data."
But the bottom-up reality is that people coming into work at AT&T pushing open source, cloud, or data science agendas are perceived as threats, and are managed out.
I really really do hope that it works out though; my rational mind believes it otherwise.
I would argue that computer tech is kind of an exception.
I can see a Nuclear or Aerospace Engineer having trouble adapting his knowledge and skills to other professions, since that knowledge is deeply tied to the domain, but a Perl (or C++/Java or whatever) hacker should't really have too many problems in transitioning to another language.
That they would find difficulties in finding a new job because dumb HR recruiters see 10 years of Perl experience in the resume as opposed to the "10 years of Swift" (sic) they are looking for is another matter...
Yes, there's a fair bit of specific domain knowledge, but it's also built on top of a bunch of common foundations: physics, calculus, chemistry, differential equations.
And the tools in much of technical work have been converging for years -- technical and scientific computing require rudiments of programming (Fortran, still, or more modern languages), source code management, project management, and a heavy helping of sociological people understanding (look up Charles Perrow's books). That can transfer, at least in theory.
Whether or not it does, of course, and whether or not firms, organisations, or government sector are interested in hiring is a whole 'nother question.
I'm reminded of a video on the old Soviet rocket motors with boosted performance (the fuel pump turbine exhaust was vented into the rocket combustion chamber rather than offboard, for another 10% or so gain in thrust) -- though attempted use resulted in an explosion only a few seconds after takeoff and loss of the mission.
In the video, however, several former Soviet rocket scientists talk about their experience after the Soviet space program was shut down. Rocket scientists, literally, with no place to turn for employment. That's where you start thinking about inefficiencies in usefully allocating talent. Neither the Soviet nor American economic systems seem to have a particularly good answer for that. Though in the US, Wall Street seems to have a capacity for sponging up some of the potential. I don't find that particularly useful.
The Egyptians built pyramids. I wonder if that wasn't in part a large skills-retention and problem-solving exercise.
I don't use the term "brilliant" for anyone who can't learn outside their narrow specialty.
Definitely such short sightedness and stubbornness can be associated with brilliance.
1. The opportunity costs for switching away are high. I suspect this comes into play in many areas -- say, emigrants to a new country who never develop a high functioning level of language skill (something I'll add applies just as much to English speakers abroad as those moving to English-speaking countries, if not more). And yes, there absolutely are exceptions, often many.
You're highly effective in using one language. You operate functionally at the level of a young child in another. Cross training to the new language is a massive investment of effort. Adult minds lose plasticity present in children, so the task is inherently harder. Plus you've got to do everything else necessary to keep going. It's a Red Queen's race.
Shifting tracks requires a very real sacrifice both in increased effort and reduced reward. It can be short-term satisficing to continue stretching out the lucrative current skill so long as possible. Situational awareness of that dead end may not dawn until late in the game as well.
2. Some skills are synergetic -- knowing one thing makes learning another easier. And yes, I see this all the time, particularly in metaphorical spaces. Thinking is I strongly suspect very much a matter of analogs, and collecting and applying appropriate analogs helps.
But ingrained knowledge is ... quite different. Changing handedness, or quitting habitual behavior (drugs, smoking, alcohol, gambling) is exceptionally difficult.
YouTube's "Smarter Every Day" has a great segement on learning to ride a backwards-engineered bicycle headset. Using gearing, the response of handlebars and wheels is reversed. It's all but impossible to ride this bike if you know how to ride a regular one, though you can learn, with sufficient time.
But: learning to ride the backwards bike makes riding a normal bike impossible. Until you've learned to context-switch between the two.
Fascinating bit of applied psychology.
The worse when you realise everything that's up-and-coming is recapitulating all the mistakes you recognised from the last time.
So you learn on your own time. But since you're doing tutorials and what not, and your time isn't infinite, when you actually apply for a job with this new skill your potential employer is going to wonder why he should pay you expert wages for a skill with which you still have effectively no professional experience.
Solution: don't want to work for them anyway.
But generally, I see it as an advantage.
Up-and-coming tech frequently has a flood of talent. Dying: companies with vested systems (say, Cobol, or Solaris) are catching the tail-end of the curve. The truly good programmers have gotten out, or switched skills, or transferred to management.
Hopping on a sinking ship usually doesn't last long.
(Nothing against Perl. It's just a seriously fading language at this point.)
Although they should have had warning because a worse crash of aerospace happened in the early '70s, see my earlier response: https://news.ycombinator.com/edit?id=11222148
But I think this is partially their fault as well
A Nuclear plant engineer, while specialized in some element of that plant (and there are many elements, in civil, mechanical, chemical engineering) has knowledge that's applicable in a lot of different situations
Were the Automobile engineers content of designing more of the same poorly constructed vehicles? While the ICE is old technology I can't imagine the things that could come out of it if they really invested in rethinking it (also other parts like the drivetrain)
> But they're also laden with a tremendous amount of arcane knowledge, that, unfortunately, gets in the way of learning new skills.
That's true. But I think it's also a matter of attitude
You know, I can be the best specialist in some technology, let's say: installing Oracle, or even better, let's say I'm a top notch Golang programmer today
Tomorrow Golang won't exist, or won't be relevant. I am SURE of this
> But really, it's quite crushing. You may not understand it now, but you almost certainly will, eventually.
Yeah, I agree
Should've seen the writing on the wall when it fell.
It's really, really easy to think you're one of God's Chosen (or Allahs, or Jehovas, or Buddha's, or ...) when you're at the top of the world, you've got a multi-trillion-dollar wind in your sails, you went to the best schools, and you make titanium and airaluminium dance on the wind and all that.
1980s aerospace engineers weren't the first to take that tumble. They won't be the last.
Fortunately nobody posting on Hacker News threads like these are relatively new engineers who think they're God's gift!
There's a good documentary about this period called Falling Down, by the way.
Sounds like 1300 jobs paying 46K, double the local average, over the course of 6 years.
From a "paying taxes to buy higher salaries" point of view this is 1300 * (0.5 * 46K) * 6 ~= $180M. Sounds like a positive NPV transaction. But... How much of the increase does the city and state actually capture in Taxes? Let's call it 15% between city, state, local and sales. (This is very fuzzy math) Then you get 180M * 0.15 ~= 27M.
In the end it sounds like the city and state of Dubuque did a wealth transfer from taxpayers to a subset of local employees, many of whom are now jobless and will need to go back to $23K jobs or move.
These types of arrangements frequently end poorly. If the local market won't bear a certain wage rate, it's hard for one-off tax rebates to fix things. You need to go deeper - change the entire tax regime, improve the education system, etc.
Cringely  opines on this too.
And if that means the next Dubuque company needs to be offering million dollar salaries to engineers to get commit themselves out there - since there would be no other opportunities and you would be stuck, so you better have a massive nest egg after five years - then so be it.
Can't blame someone for taking that risk.
My family is local, and as I get older that's more and more important. If I have to leave town it's going to have a big impact on my happiness. So much so, in fact, that I may take a huge pay cut and work at, I dunno, Starbucks or something so I can stay local.
I like living in cities, but I can understand it's not everyone's cup of tea, particularly if you or your upstairs neighbors have kids. And all my friends with kids say the secret to happiness is having local grandparents. Or an au pair.
Further, if you live in an economically depressed area, there's no guarantee you can easily or quickly sell your home. Family in CT a little over 2 hours outside of nyc had a house on the market for 8 months before it sold.
There's a boatload of reckless spending on developers and engineers right now. It's only a matter of time before financiers start pushing for headcount reductions.
This was a quick read, pretty illuminating to see how well the "family" at Starbucks treated a downsized mid-level exec and helped him.
Kids are mobile. Mortgages can be covered by tenants or by selling the property (usually).
I only have kid (singular) and lack a mortgage, but I'd definitely move my family to a place with more opportunity if the well ran dry where we're at now. I wouldn't even hesitate or think twice about it. The temporary pain of transition is going to be a lot easier than the long-tail of fruitless toiling and economic decay.
I was a spoiled kid, I admit, but I remember that back when I was 9 or 10 and my parents asked me if I'd be ok with us moving 4 or 5 blocks down the street, in a better area, my answer was a loud "no way!", because that meant losing my play-mates and God knows what else. We ended up not moving. I know it's anecdotal, but looking at what Hollywood is feeding us (with the latest example being the excellent animation "Inside Out") I get the feeling that is actually hard for kids being "mobile". Parents ignore that at their own risk.
Otherwise my family would just burn through all our money and assets to pay for eating ice cream three meals a day. And we'd end up diabetic, broke, and probably soon dead once we exhausted our resources.
When you're dealing with difficult economic realities that include supporting your family and paying your mortgage, do you deal with them by thinking like a kid? What would be the point of that?
It's important to have the necessary empathy to make the disruption as minimal as possible, but also to have the maturity and forsight to make the decision to move out of whatever soon-to-be ghost town you're living in. Or so I would think.
You're 22, straight out of college, you take a job at IBM in Poughkeepsie, NY because it was a great fit for you and you liked the area. You raise a family there, get friends there, establish a lot of roots over 10+ years. Now IBM is "transforming", what are you going to do? There are no other companies in the area
You're lucky if this is going to be less than 2.5 hours each way.
I live 38 miles north of the city; Poughkeepsie is 73.5. It takes me about an hour and 45 minutes door-to-door to get to work at 22nd street. 10-15 minutes to the train station, probably about 5 minutes of waiting [because if you miss one train, you have to wait 20-30 minutes or so for another depending on the time of morning], 60 minutes on the train, then about another 25 minutes of walking (or alternatively 5 minutes to get to the subway, 2-5 minutes to wait for it, then 5 minutes on the subway, and another 5 minutes of walking).
- pets like dogs/cats always tend to raise happiness levels
- daily long commutes to work tend to make people more unhappy (and of course it helps if you have the time for yourself and are nto constantly stuck at traffic jam)
At least the trains have internet (or at least Amtrak does). If you can spin "they have wifi so they'll be part of my work day" into your job and work a virtually eight hour day including the commute as part of your time, that could be doable. If you have to commute on top of a normal eight hours, that's a non-starter.
However, given the new severance only being 1 month's salary leaves them with less incentive to wait. Of course, the really good ones have already left anyway (money isn't the prime motivation there), but the folks remaining there, especially the ones who will have to pick up the slack (more work, same pay) will have much less incentive then previously.
I used to work there, and I can say that it's a lot like an abusive marriage: IBM is really, really good at convincing one that the IT job market is a tough place (!), that one got really lucky getting a job with IBM, and that one could never find another job anywhere else (!), and that $70,000 is a great salary for a world-class technical talent (!!!).
The sad thing is that there are so many smart, good people there, absolutely wasted in their positions. IBM could be an amazing, powerful company if it actually knew how to release the energy of its employees.
Purely anecdotal, but what I've heard is that chip jobs at IBM (and at Intel FWIW) are very narrow and silo-ed.
Good for the company in two ways:
1) employee gets really good at that particular job
2) IBM internal tools and procedures are different than general practice. Other companies that are looking for X don't want to hire an employee who has only done Y, even though X and Y aren't too different, and even though any smart person can quickly pick up X. Consequently, employee can't easily go elsewhere.
Heck, if they didn't lay off people, they'd still have punch-card machine cleaners and even cheese slicer designers (they used to sell those way back in the day).
You may be right, but a good sign for whom, exactly? For the people who lost their jobs? For shareholders? For fans of IBM the company?
Sure, yes, I agree that IBM probably has to shed people in order to stay competitive. However, it's not the fault of the people who are being affected by this, as by and large they were not responsible for IBM's decision to get more and more into support and services.
(an aside: it's not clear those are the people being affected, I'm just responding to the parent comment)
Instead, I would say a better discussion is: why is it that when IBM made a bet that did not play out, that they have cut people's severance benefits signifcantly? Why is it that we treat this as a necessary evil, instead of something to be disappointed about? Why are we not holding IBM up to be responsible for the well-being of their workers?
I'm not arguing that this isn't something that IBM should have done. I am arguing that we shouldn't talk about layoffs as a "good sign", and I think we should try to keep in mind the lives of the people affected.
For IBM. For shareholders. For people who are not laid off and still work there.
> it's not the fault of the people who are being affected by this, as by and large they were not responsible for IBM's decision to get more and more into support and services.
Is it surprising that IBM is not a flat organization / meritocracy where regular employees get to vote on corporate strategy. Yes it is not their fault. So what should IBM do? They can provide severance packages, extra benefits maybe. Try to re-train some people perhaps. But can't keep everyone till retirement just to provide jobs (That is what Uncle Sam does).
> Why is it that when IBM made a bet that did not play out, that they have cut people's severance benefits signifcantly?
But it did play out. Services was bringing a huge amount of money during late 90s early to mid 2000s. It just doesn't anymore
> Why are we not holding IBM up to be responsible for the well-being of their workers?
We are posting on HN right. This startup land. Every 9 out of 10 startups will die. Are you holding them just as responsible? Or is there some implicit assumption that if you work for IBM then you'll be good till retirement.
> I am arguing that we shouldn't talk about layoffs as a "good sign",
I still argue it is a good sign. It is good for some parties (I enumerated a few above) and it really sucks for those getting laid off. No denying that. Hopefully they could have extra time, severance packages and so on to help.
How about this, what would you do if you ran IBM and you ended up with 50000 employees trained to do something that just doesn't bring profit anymore?
Apparently, if you are IBM, you fire them and hire H1Bs
this should not be regarded as a baseline truth nor a desirable transitional state. it is a bad idea that we must not succumb to.
companies are multi-faceted entities with many different stakeholders. the workers are a 100% necessary stakeholder and the company cannot operate without them.
What's noxious is the whole idea of "stakeholders", as if working somewhere gives you some kind of ownership. If you want to own your job you need to be self employed.
If I hire someone to cut my grass is he now a "stakeholder" who needs to be consulted when I sell my house?
a company is an organization of humans. a house is an object.
You purchase a service from the lawn care vendor. You are their customer. You are not the employer of the guy who mows the lawn. That guy is either self-employed or he might be the employee of a lawncare company.
Oh, THANK YOU for the scraps of information you're about to impart.
>a company is an organization of humans.
No it isn't. A company (or corporation) is a legal fiction in which the owners are pooling resources to make money. It may do nothing and have no full-time employees. It may own other companies who do nothing and have no full-time employees.
The "organization of humans" isn't the company. Those people are employees who work for the company. I know it's in fashion for CEOs to say "we are the company", but that's a polite fiction you tell people to motivate them. If you have any doubt this is true, watch what happens when the company doesn't need them any more.
>You purchase a service from the lawn care vendor. You are their customer. You are not the employer of the guy who mows the lawn. That guy is either self-employed or he might be the employee of a lawncare company.
While that's true from a legal perspective, it's a meaningless distinction. I'm paying the guy to do a job. If I stop paying him to do a job, it has an impact on his life. In leftist parlance that makes him a "stakeholder", by which they mean he ought to have some input into the decisions I make as the owner.
> No it isn't. A company (or corporation) is a legal fiction in which the owners are pooling resources to make money.
A company is a generic term in English for any (particularly business) organization. It includes things that do not have distinct legal identity from the persons comprising the organization.
A corporation is specifically a particular form of company, distinguished by distinct legal personhood and other particular legal treatments.
AI is already doing the same thing for many white collar jobs.
The company of the future will indeed operate without workers.
What do you mean? There are massive layoffs, a falling share price and lots of bad press. What other "repercussions" should there be? Should the government come in and shut the place down? Should it force IBM to keep all employees?
Again, what sort of "repercussions" should a company have when they make bad business decisions? The shareholders and employees have suffered, that's the punishment.
But they are not the same group of employees though ;-) that's the point.
> The discussion we're having here is because there seem to be no repercussions to their failure.
Ok and how should we punishing all the failed startups though? Who is holding them responsible for their failure?
> it's because they failed to train them
We should try. But in general this is like the idea of "Why don't we just retrain all the coal miners to write web apps?" The reality is that you can't retrain everyone.
Some of the programming stuff seems easy to programmers for example, because well, we forgot the time when we didn't know it yet. But it is not something you can take a few night classes and read a book or two and get to writing back-end services.
> They can provide severance packages, extra benefits maybe. Try to re-train some people perhaps. But can't keep everyone till retirement just to provide jobs (That is what Uncle Sam does).
Right, but they cut their severance packages. So clearly they're trying to contain costs. So yes, that's also a good sign for IBM the corporation, less good for their employees.
> Services was bringing a huge amount of money during late 90s early to mid 2000s. It just doesn't anymore
Now we have to step into the realm of the possible. Would it have been possible for IBM to look at their services backlog and contract timeframes, churn/retention rates and a few years ago say, "Shit, these contracts don't work out from an economic perspective, and maybe we should start to attrition out these deals because they're not going to work out long term?"
Maybe someone did (in fact, I'm almost certain someone did somewhere). But I'd also bet that some execs somewhere decided to keep going, keep signing money-losing contracts, that everyone started to live a lie so that they can get promoted, keep their bonuses, etc.
And now that they've now decided it was a mistake- the company doesn't pay the price (reduced severance), it's the workers who do.
> We are posting on HN right. This startup land. Every 9 out of 10 startups will die. Are you holding them just as responsible? Or is there some implicit assumption that if you work for IBM then you'll be good till retirement.
So, I've had to lay people off at a startup. It's terrible. We went out of our way to take care of them, including offering long severance packages, and cutting salaries and bonuses at an exec level to mitigate the layoffs. It sucks, but that was our obligation.
And I do hold startups somewhat responsible, but its also a different scenario - early stage startups are a known risk.
The big point I want to highlight is that I believe employers have an obligation to look after their employees, and when as a corporation they made a bet that didnt' work out, or had a profitable business that is no longer profitable, the ethical obligation is on them to look after those employees.
> How about this, what would you do if you ran IBM and you ended up with 50000 employees trained to do something that just doesn't bring profit anymore?
Treat them with dignity. Pay them a lot of money based on their time of service. Recognize that we should see this as a failure as an organization. Never refer to it as a "good thing"
EDIT: I also would have tried to "get out in front of it" - 50,000 people's jobs don't become redundant overnight other than through wishful thinking on leadership's part.
You are probably right about that.
> the company doesn't pay the price (reduced severance), it's the workers who do.
Well it did didn't it? You mean shareholders? The stock went down for a few years in a row.
> or had a profitable business that is no longer profitable, the ethical obligation is on them to look after those employees.
> How about this, what would you do if you ran IBM and you ended up with 50000 employees trained to do something that just doesn't bring profit anymore?
Because it was "looking after them" for a while perhaps? The age of large service consultancies maybe over. But they still have those people getting IBM salaries. Those are not Facebook salaries probably but they are not puny either. At some point it would have to start laying people off. And it was laying them off and also hiring new ones. That is why it looked flat. But now it probably hired enough new people and stopped. While is still has to lay off others.
> Treat them with dignity. Pay them a lot of money based on their time of service.
I agree with that. Hopefully they do. I don't know if they will.
> Never refer to it as a "good thing"
The "good thing" for not for the employees, it is for the companies and for those that work there, for shareholders. That is a lot of parties for which it is a benefit.
Managers shouldn't sit down with those getting laid of and say "I have good news". That is not what I trying to say.
Everything you said was good, but this was what I liked the most.
Management lives in the la-la land of denial for years and years. And then BOOM! Like a bolt out of the blue.
That's management failure, they should have seen it coming, and reacted to it, years ago. It's one of the most important aspects of their job.
A much more balanced system would be something like, for each executive:
- Your base pay is $51 million.
- If you FAIL at your task, YOU OWE THE COMPANY $50 million.
- If you succeed, you receive an extra $20 million. If you choose to split $15 million of this reward with employees in terms of stock however, your portion of the stock will be doubled.
That would put some skin in the game. And if a failing executive is forking over most of his millions back to the company, they could probably avoid quite a few layoffs. And if the executive doesn’t fail and has a direct incentive to share success with employees, the workers would be even more loyal to the cause.
No sane person would take a CEO job with that type of compensation clause. While the CEO bears responsibility, the world doesn't make it easy.
1. Today's stock market doesn't reward long-term disruptive thinking that isn't guaranteed to be a sure bet. Heck, and there are no sure bets anyway. The stock market rewards profits here and now that also extrapolate to good future profit trends. Why screw up a good thing to grab something unproven? That's why BlackBerry's stock was so high as the iPhone was coming out. CEOs are indirectly pressured to not take risks. If they do and they fail, they deserve to pay a huge penalty? Exactly what could Blockbuster have done with all of its investments into real estate and retail employees to win against the Internet? There is no scenario where they could have won without decimating everything the company used to do.
2. Black swan events are extremely unpredictable precisely because * nobody* sees them coming. If I ran an ice harvesting business, how could I have predicted the invention of freon? Once I learned about freon, how should I have responded with all of my investments made into labour and equipment for sawing ice out of frozen lakes? There aren't many situations where a win is easy if an entire industry gets destroyed because of some black swan event.
3. All of the above goes double when the new CEO is supposed to lead a turnaround. They negotiate their parachutes first so that they can focus 100% of their energy on saving the company instead of worrying about themselves. It's why on airplanes they explain to you to put your own oxygen mask on first and then help others. You can't help others if you yourself are in trouble. Not to mention, turnarounds are not fun. They're also paid for stress and the need to make often uncomfortable decisions where they must play the villain.
Wait, what? $51M salary, if I fail I give back $50M? I pocket at least $1M risk-free. Sign me up. That's more than most people make total throughout their entire lives.
Besides that, the issue is that these decisions aren't made in a vacuum, and the rewards are too short-term to make it really viable. The CEO will consider the offer and compare it to other opportunities out there. Free agents always have options if they're that good. It happens in sports, and it happens in business. So you have candidates comparing options, and those options drive up the price. If the price is driven up because options exist, any sane person would be a fool to not take the best price if the opportunity also fits right. "Sorry, your offer is the best offer, but I'm going to turn it down because this other company wants me to give back 98% of my salary if I fail. That's more my cup of tea." I don't deny there can be non-monetary factors that may be more important than money in these decisions. But I'm talking about an all-else-equal decision. Especially when it's a turnaround situation. Nobody wants a turnaround job unless they enjoy pain. The money is to compensate for that pain. Nortel had a really tough time finding its last couple of CEOs. In Canada, it was known as the CEO job that nobody wanted. How do you attract someone for that kind of job unless you guarantee them nice money?
Finally, the market does reward for the short-term. When IBM made the big switch to go all-in into services with the purchase of PwC Consulting, mass global hiring for labour-intensive work, and so on, they opened up a huge profit tap. Palmisano was hugely rewarded for growing this decade-long windfall. He parachuted into retirement with a very nice package. Never mind that the strategy worked for only a decade and created a big mess of financial misallocation that his successor would need to clean up. Should he have been able to predict that IT was changing and that this huge IT services workforce that he had hired would turn into a huge albatross that Rometty would need to slay in order to ensure IBM remains a relevant company? Maybe. Is it fair that Rometty is left dealing with the albatross while Palmisano is happily and richly retired? Yeah, Rometty was part of executing that services strategy as a senior executive before she became CEO (in fact, she was apparently the one responsible for integrating the PwC acquisition), but the question stands. Under the proposed scheme, why is Palmisano rewarded and Rometty not? Rometty is dealing with the fallout of a changing industry overshadowing what made perfect sense to Palmisano at the time. They were hit by technological trends that they didn't predict well.
Compensation is a complex subject, especially at the executive level.
And really, I think saving 10 jobs or 5 jobs is still fine, if that were the number.
No single person can be so good at a job that it warrants sending hundreds more out the door. Any company that thinks this should try an experiment: fire the executive, ask any employee at all in the company to take over the job for 1/20th the salary and see if the outcome is measurably worse.
Now granted it's not if you fail at your task you owe a company money but you don't get it, the owe a company money could happen it's usually common in some countries (UK for example) where the CEO gets a "loan" for X amount which is spread out over some years, it's again not usually to put skin in the game but to lock a CEO to the company, the CEO change at Sage about a year ago had a loan component to it.
At the very least, you'd have to make the expected value of their compensation greater than it is today. So if they succeed they get an extra $60 million but if they fail they lose $50 million (with a baseline of $51 million). Then you would incentivize risk-taking CEOs.
Of course, that's not actually far off from what we have today: CEOs receive a majority of the compensation in stock, which does have risk. Maybe it would make sense to set the strike prices much more aggressively instead though.
If I was granted 100k shares at $10/share, even if market values it higher, it costs me something to excercise them up front, right?
The economy, so everybody. You're asking the wrong question, it isn't "Why is it a good sign that IBM has begun layoffs?" The question is "Why is it a good sign that IBM, a poor performer that is popularly believed to have misallocated resources, has begun layoffs?" It isn't a choice between IBM doing great, or doing layoffs; it is a choice between IBM continuing to do poorly and eventually imploding spectacularly, or doing layoffs. Of course layoffs don't mean a certain turn around for them, but the consequences for inaction are pretty certain.
As far as the fate of the individual employees: in the long run the vast majority will be better off. Either IBM didn't efficiently translate those employee's skills to profit, or there is inadequate demand for the skills and the employees have been shielded from that harsh reality. In the case of inefficiency (the most common case): if another company can derive more profit from the same skill - then they can also pay more. In the case of obsolete skills: unless IBM can, with a certainty, provide employment until the employee dies - they are assisting the employee in a game of retirement savings Russian roulette.
So that is the economics 101 explanation, but I've found it to be true. I've been through this twice, and in both cases I've come out the other side much better off.
So, are the worker bees accountable for the success of a company, or are they merely anonymous cogs? HN seems to like it both ways; when some executive or manager gets acclaim, we're quick to point that it's the regular employees doing the "real work" in the company. But when it goes south, we question what part they played in the thing, and point the blame elsewhere.
It isn't merely incompetent management that are responsible. And there's also a lot of bad luck involved. A plan was implemented, it didn't work; should the 10's of thousands of remaining workers suffer?
>Why is it that we treat this as a necessary evil, instead of something to be disappointed about?
For IBM. It's good when you consider the alternative where a great company is slowly destroyed and everyone loses their jobs.
Like so many other big corps, IBM did some questionable things because of bad management and got into avoidable trouble.
Now the innocent employees - the ones who didn't get a chance to steer the ship - are being thrown into the ocean.
In a sane world, those employees would sue the board for some of its decisions. Those decisions may have been good for the short term interests of the shareholders, but clearly they weren't good for the long term interests of the company, or of patient shareholders who took the long view.
Bad management is a plague in tech. We've seen a long succession of big corps make the most incredibly surreal, bizarre, dysfunctional decisions, and then show wide-eyed "Who? Us?" surprise when layoffs become necessary because the corps crash into the rocks.
The usual justification that "shareholders win" is bullshit. They don't. No one does, except sometimes - in the short term only - the bad management itself.
How does that even work? I understand if there is discrimination, or they didn't get paid for their work but sue them for betting on services for such a long time? Yeah, I don't see how that works. Moreover, didn't most of those employees make the same bet by getting hired to provide consulting services.
Besides, employees are not the owners of the company (unless they are also major share holders). Shareholders can potentially sue, no doubt. But not sure about employees.
When you are covered by a collective bargaining agreement and contract, it happens all of the time. In my city, when the administration introduced unsafe conditions and unpopular schedule changes the firefighters union picketed the home of the mayor and fire chief, and successfully sued.
A friend worked for a manufacturing company where the Union sued over chronic and egregious mismanagement. Unfortunately, the management wanted the company to fail and dragged things out until bankruptcy.
Unions are all about tenure. When the shit hits the fan, the young people lose. Pay scale is generally based on tenure as well.
If you are an independent software vendor who gets roped into part of an IBM deal, the first thing you should do is get them out of the loop and make contact with the real technical staff at the customer. Beats the hell out of playing telephone.
This is all financial engineering and next year---I predict---their revenue will be down again, but they will show still more profit.
Buffet buying IBM goes completely against his philosophy buying tech so he'll sugar coat it not to look completely stupid.
Any large technology company has to be.
> It's that it's grinding down into irrelevance
Maybe? Who knows. They hung for 100 some years. As an entity they've done some things right for that to happen.
I'm curious, not accusatory.
Otherwise, it's just a very speculative assumption, repeated by many, that firing people must be good. Management must be acting in the company's best interests - they couldn't be biased or selfish or just making a mistake - and employees are generally a burden and a commodity.
I'd like to repost something maceo posted last year, that I saved:
Human labor is not a commodity.
This was the common sense amongst all working people for most of the 20th century. Samuel Gompers, maybe the most conservative labor leader of his time, said "You cannot weigh the human soul on the same scales as piece of pork." And working people, along with the management class for the most part, understood this to be an undeniable truth. In fact, this piece of common sense was enshrined into US law with the Clayton Act of 1914, which stated "The labor of a human being is not a commodity or article of commerce." But in the last 20 years, as capital has gained the firm upper hand, the common sense understanding has shifted towards the idea that labor is in fact a commodity.
The ideas behind the so-called "on-demand workforce" further solidify the notion that labor is a commodity. After all, you can order an uber ride just as easily as you can order vitamins online.
It's so pervasive that even I, someone born into a union family and a firm believer in the idea of worker solidarity, have to force myself to believe that labor is not a commodity. Why? The business class treated labor as expendable in 1915, just as they do in 2015. Why did working people understand this truth in 1915 but not today? I don't know.
I read a recently released sociology book earlier this year (going crazy looking for the title/author, can't find it), that posits millennials are far more likely than any recent generation to blame themselves for the problems they face. It's part of the reason that the self-help industry is bigger business than it's ever been. It's not always your fault. Our modern economy is built on rotten ideas like labor = commodity. If we want to do something about inequality, it's time that we subject fundamentally unjust ideas like these to a serious critique.
My cynical view (as another 'born into a union family' etc etc) is that, back then, enraged human souls could take out their anger on the material interests and personal safety of capital owners. A factory would burn, stock would get ruined, people would get physically threatened. That empowered workers and did a lot in making owners understand that humans are not tools that you can just put down when not needed.
Nowadays what you gonna do, burn a few laptops? Smash a few desks? Big deal. The owner or CEO responsible for directives is probably in another continent, essential business interests are in datacentres across the world. Unless you are an uber-skilled security professional, you simply have no significant recourse. You could lynch the redundancy managers sent to deal with you (as they are starting to do in France), but the owners will just hire a few more.
What this means is that, behind all our philosophy about Sharing Economies, Clouds and so on, the new model of work is really the Mechanical Turk: machine-mediated work distribution across an atomized workforce. Until we stop loving the machine, we will not stop this trend.
This is generationally very hard, because we have grown with these machines and we've seen them shape our world and our professions - how can we not like them? There is still so much to do, so many opportunities... We are going through an industrial revolution the likes of which had not been seen since the early 1800s, and we know those were not easy years for the common folk. It will take a few more generations to stabilize and get to grip with new social realities; it will take people who were born after machines stopped being novel, people who can consciously refuse and refute the model pushed upon them by networks, computers and centralized capital. It will probably not be millennials, but maybe their kids will be desperate enough to start considering real changes.
That's what it could mean, if this were some other company. You're right in saying that sometimes layoffs are an unpleasant but necessary part of some larger plan to refocus and turn the company around. But this is IBM we're talking about: there is no plan. There's not the slightest shred of evidence that there's a real mission underway to make them relevant again, a la "the new Microsoft". It's just an endless cycle of layoffs and stock buybacks until the whole thing winds up and just goes poof in a handful of dust. It'll take a while because IBM is still huge, but 2025 is my estimated date for when it's no more.
I would believe if you this was some newish 10-20 year old company. But they've been around for 100+ years. Some of it was luck, definitely, but I don't think it hung around on sheer luck for 100 years without a plan.
"Hope I die before I get old."