The Air Force can easily afford to pay Silicon Valley salaries (sure the officers who are being taught to code can be paid less), but if the Air Force is artificially limited by red-tape to offer competitive salaries, wouldn't these software developers choose to leave as soon as they've learned?
The other issue is paying these officers competitive salaries, would have quite the ripple effect. Higher ranking officers would all need to get paid more, or software developers would need inflated ranks, but with some designation where rank did not determine command.
I have zero insight and am just speculating. If anyone has more insight I'd love to hear it.
In reality, the USAF here is competing against the cost of defence contractors. Which it turns out, is pretty easy because they've been charging megabucks for everything for two decades because their only competition has been other defence contractors. Thanks to politics, right or wrong, they've had no capacity to ramp-up on in-house development and submit their own bids to really compete on price.
I really hope we're entering into an age of reality where public organisations (military, government, healthcare in the civilised world, etc) —and more, the people funding them— realise that in-housing development work is so much cheaper than farming it out.
Plus it would take huge amounts of salesman/consultant hours to get through the bidding process, plus each successful bid has to effectively pay for all the costs of other bids that failed for the consultants to be profitable.
There's a balance to be found, and it sounds like some of these skunkworks approaches are starting to get more formalized.
But MVPs aren't always themselves a viable development target... Especially here in a military scenario where the finished product tends to be the MVP. Safe enough and hopefully effective.
Exactly. The airmen that can leave, will leave to defense contractors, not silicon valley.
And if they have transferable skills on exit, all the better for them.
Compared to a pile of consultants, laptops and whiteboards. Software is cheap to make.
The current US Government pay scales are more than enough to match average developer salaries in much of the US. No, they're not going to get super-rich but they could get paid more than enough, help their country and have a stable job that doesn't rely on finding ways to monetise faddy bullshit ideas.
You can pretty much look up how much money anyone in the military makes. Base pay is trivial to look up, and all the other allowances (housing, hazard, etc.) can be looked up.
The same is true in the government, AFAIK.
Well, the American folks anyway. I work with a lot of Europeans, and they don't seem to share the norm.
In the air force / navy / army etc there is only one employee to choose from so this never comes up.
Then I believe it triggered all sorts of problems. Front office base salaries is higher than middle office, no one will take a pay cut so it prevented front to middle office moves which is is an undesirable effect. It is also expensive, they liked having the ability to hire more cheaply. They dropped the grid after a couple of years.
But all the time the numbers were confidential (but when there is a grid it’s a matter of minutes before an accurate table circulates).
It's not a digital wild-west open style though:
1. You have to authenticate using something which identifies you specifically as a citizen.
2. Another caveat is that people who gets looked up will be notified about that, with information about who it was who looked them up. (so it can't be used for direct covert spying)
That said, this system allows for a certain degree of transparency, and makes it easier for journalists, press, researchers etc to dig into issues such as social inequality.
I can see this one being taken to the EU Court of Justice by someone.
This is balancing between privacy and transparency of tax system.
I don’t think the EU privacy legislation applies to this kind of public functions.
Norway will be subject to EFTA court, which is almost de-facto Court of Justice.
Granted, how someone might sue and escalate an case is a different thing altogether.
Keeping the pay secret is kinda puzzling on traditional fields as the salary structure is very rigid on those due to strong unions. Doesn’t apply much in IT though where it is just minimum wage set by unions and you negotiate for (much) more.
Given the choice between a typical developer's life (outside a tech hub or hot spot most programmers aren't compensated much different from any other low social status white collar worker), moral issues aside, I'd take the military job any day.
A person can join the military at 18, retire at 38 and be in a prime position to capitalize on his network as a consultant or "small business owner" contractor, or else just sit back and enjoy his generous pension and health and other benefits. That's a big deal.
$40K is the figure I got from a Navy commander who's been in over 20 years. He and his family are used to approximately triple that level of income. He doesn't feel he can retire.
Lower-ranking people will be used to living on less, but will also have proportionally lower retirement pay. If you're a lower-ranking person and can get significantly higher pay in the private sector, it's not necessarily a dumb choice to go for it.
They cannot leave until their contract is up. They literally cannot leave as soon as they've learned if they still have years in their contract. Additionally, the military dangles a lot of incentives to re-enlist, and people who have spent a lot of time in the military sometimes have trouble adjusting to life outside it. But yes, people will leave. There's always more. You would be surprised how many bright people choose to join the military even though it doesn't make economic sense for them.
I'm on mobile and copy paste isn't working, but enlisted pay grades are publicly available. They are much lower than SV salaries and they are set in stone.
Also, for people who joined the military out of high school, the private sector is frightening.
In my day job, I work with enlisted (not Air Force) and a bunch of ex-military, so I'm pretty familiar with the situation. I have actually been wondering if military retirement drives down wages, because a bunch of guys take pretty low salaries that are only okay because of their retirement check. Great deal for them, and definitely well-earned - it's no cakewalk to earn military retirement, harder than anything almost anyone in the private sector has to do - but I wonder how it works out across the labor market.
I do feel like, outside of the officer corps (who for some reason seem to hold onto it more often), the sense of noble purpose often gets crushed out by the inanity and bureaucracy so many of them have to put up with. IME that's usually why they don't re-enlist.
But anyway this whole ‘you need to pay them the same as civilians’ is nonsense anyway - soldiers are already paid a fraction of what private security get now and it doesn’t seem to be a major problem causing people to leave to do that equivalent job.
People join and stay in the military for great reasons other than pay, such as comradeship, family history, sense of duty, the challenge - appeal to those.
Generally socom operators get paid more due to hazard pay, which is a graded scale based on how likely you are to get maimed for life or killed. I can't speak for anyone but the US Army, but they only allow commissioned officers and warrant officers to fly helicopters. As a UAV pilot, I was in a group of the only enlisted pilots in the entire US Army. We were on the same flight status with the same awful yearly physicals of the helicopter / plane pilots.
I’m too curious not to ask what those encompassed.
Anyways, his best friend hid inside the room behind the gurney you bend over. When the surgeon did the colon check, his buddy came from behind the gurney. As the surgeon put his left hand on the soldier's left shoulder, his buddy put his right hand on his right soldier. This was right before the surgeon put his finger in/out for the colon check. Knowing what was going to happen we heard this big muscle bound guy scream like a 12 year old child and erupt in anger. Somehow by the grace of god he didn't assault the full bird colonel flight surgeon. Once he saw his buddy he realized he'd been had and got really mad but calmed down quickly. The rest of the 2 years he was in our unit that poor guy never lived it down. We were outside the room pretty much all on the ground crying laughing so hard.
Well I have, but that’s when the right decision drowns in politics and red tape, not because of money.
A lot of people would consider me an idiot, but I get a sense of duty and purpose from public service that is worth more to me than money.
Of course it helps that my pay check isn’t exactly bad. So it’s also a choice between good money and better money, I’m not sure how I’d feel if it was a choice between shitty money and great money.
A) Massively outperform compared to your peers.
B) Massively underperform compared to your peers.
You are almost certainly a mediocre programmer.
If you are in the B category, it is usually pretty obvious to _everyone_ and you've probably seen your performance reviews at _multiple_ employers be below average.
If you massively outperform your peers, you probably find your boss at _multiple_ employers going out of his way to retain you. (i.e. Massive salary bumps, bonuses, promotions, etc.)
If neither of these are true, you are almost certainly mediocre.
For instance, I made a really stupid decision for personal reasons to leave a job where I massively outperformed my peers (my boss was really bad at hiring people) and received a 30k raise a couple years before I left. But, realistically, that was the _only_ job I had that kind of outsized performance and it was more to do with my boss's skill at hiring people than my skill as a developer.
At my jobs before and after that one, I've fell safely in the mediocre range. Never been fired, never had a PIP, and generally got "Meets expectations-ish" performance reviews.
At my current job, I underperform my peers but that is largely because I'm their first hire in ~3 years. I have alot of catching up to do as a result, and I've been there ~90 days.
Is it perfect? No.
Do I think the 70% of programmers that probably fit this definition are mediocre? Yeah.
Keep in mind I am calling myself a mediocre programmer.
Facebook's _median_ salary is apparently over $240k...
Everyone hears about these $200k salaries, but most developers aren't making that. The median for the USA is around $100k, it's still a high salary for a job that requires only an undergraduate degree and no certifications, but it's not obscenely high like $240k.
And $240k is very high for a non-management job, and compared to the median income and the minimum wage for the USA is obscenely high. Median household income is ~$60k, and median personal income is ~$30k. Minimum wage in the USA is around $15k.
In my books, 8 times the median income, or 16 times the minimum wage, is obscenely high. That kind of income disparity is not good for society.
But from the perspective of someone struggling to make minimum wage, I'll be it 100% is obscene...
A resonably good developer doing backend in IBM Cloud is getting 150k+ in Dallas.
- Income replacement in an emergency
- Income replacement in retirement
- A down payment on a home
- A home improvement project
- A child’s college expenses less need-based financial aid
All of these are inflated by living in a high-cost high-wage situation such that the larger balance has you merely keeping up in terms of the capabilities your savings buys you.
The extra savings only make a difference if you move somewhere cheap before you draw them down. That’s a great argument for doing a few years in SV in your twenties but less relevant for senior talent.
1. Rental properties
2. Securities - stocks, bonds, derivatives, REITs etc.
3. Investment opportunities not available to others. The $250k-earning employee (sorry, yeah I bumped it up $10k to make this argument) is an accredited investor.
All of the above have compounding benefits over the years. Investing $25k today is better than investing $5k, even if both are 10% of gross income of our example employees. $25k savings allows you to put a down payment on a $125k rental property in a low-cost area every year.
> All of these are inflated by living in a high-cost high-wage situation
The "high-cost" only applies if you insist on living the exact same lifestyle as you would in a low-cost area: large house, boat, large vehicles etc. It's just common sense to limit your spending on overpriced things. In the Bay Area, housing is overpriced.
I guess we should agree to disagree :-). I think you should adapt your lifestyle to the area you live in. Here's an analogy: let's say I love fresh sushi. If I live near the coast and a healthy fishing industry, it'll be good and cheap. If I live in Las Vegas, it can still be had but it'll cost me. Do I keep up my expensive sushi habit in Vegas and complain about the cost-of-living? Or do I just eat less of it and accept that there are benefits to being in Vegas that outweigh the more expensive sushi?
Besides that, no $250k-earning employee is living in a shared apartment with a commute to make ends meet in SF. If they live that way, it's to maximize their savings.
When a majority of that $250k is in Monopoly money (i.e. most of the time), they absolutely are.
I don't think that's how it works.
You can only choose to apply.
i worked on software like this as a contractor for ausDoD. The same shitty companies who were big enough to sue would get awarded contracts over and over again even though nothing they ever delivered was on time, budget or worked. Accenture didnt even have programmers, they were hire buisness grads and give them crash courses on writing software. so whatever was delivered, would need another billion dollar project to replace it. why? its a massive bureaucracy, where everyone is covering everyone elses ass, everyone is fighting for budgets that they will do anything to protect. 90% famine until the last month, when its a feast and all the desicions get made, because if they dont spend it, they loose it.
The reason why this is changing is not because its a light-bulb moment, its because its taken this long for the people up the chain to backed into a corner. Eric Smitch isnt the first person to think of this, his the first person with high enough clout to get it done (on a micro-level).
suffice to say, working in such a environment is toxic for your career in software development. unless u want to work on these secret networks all your life, on the same software, maintaining it, its just a dead end. Want to use that new web tech? Nup. The SoE takes years to update, you still need to support IE8 for the next decade.
Disclosure: I work for Pivotal in R&D.
Somebody once also said that planning is still very useful even if the plan changes later because it helps those involved prepare for and understand the changes better when they do come.
When push comes to shove, if you give people cool tech, unless it's easy to mindlessly pick up and use they won't use it. When I was in, I had boxes and boxes of crap that was on the books that we never used (and didn't know how to use but had to inventory), then the stuff we actually used.
Or does that line of thought only apply when it is everyone's favourite bogeyman Google that is contracted to replace manual work with automated systems? If its not Google, then is it A-Okay to work on military systems?
Both this and the Google project are IT systems that save manual, error-prone, and time-consuming work to enable the US military to more efficiently kill people.
I know I'll get down-voted to hell on this, but please if you're going to try and take the moral high ground at least do so consistently.
shrug I find that the state monopoly on violence to be much more justified than some of the perfectly-legal ways people in the private sector choose to exploit their fellow humans for profit. -- At the very least, we treat the state's exercise of violence as a necessary evil to be minimized.
I found it darkly-humorus that nothing short of actual military contracting could wake up oh-so-progressive googlers to some "are we being evil" introspection.
I want software developers to collectively adopt an ethical standard and stick to it. I really, really do. But the only way I'm able to cope with what I've been witnessing for the last 15 years is to aim scorn at us all for being rationalizing frauds.
I feel that saving money on tanker planning is on a different ethical level from creating drones that can kill people upon facial recognition.
I also believe the applications this team are creating are substantively different in intent to those the Google employees were complaining about.
There are actually a couple of things that are the reason why a lot of people don't think it's too much of a problem (some people do and I work out of an office that does a lot of government work so we hear more of this than others do). The main reason is that there isn't pressure for a pivot to work on a project. If the project makes you feel uncomfortable request to be on something else. Leadership has been very thoughtful in addressing how people feel about working on military and government projects (especially with the new administration).
The other reason is that the applications are pretty different in intent, from what I understand, to what was complained by Google employees. It honestly feels like very standard enterprise issues. We're helping them cut through a lot of the same issues anyone would find at large enterprises.
This would be like Coca Cola announcing it's new chemical weapons division.
Good luck getting anywhere near that level of responsibility from Google execs or managers.
"Why are we still using this VB6 thing after 15 years? We should put out a contract and have it done properly." says some colonel or major who doesn't know better. And so it happens, a contract is awarded and it's a mess. I saw it more from the civilian side. Without strong continuity officers, when the military leadership changed over the direction and intent of things is forgotten.
Additionally, as this article points out, the military is set on Waterfall-styled contracts and projects, given to the lowest bidders. Which is why it becomes a mess once a contract is awarded. Waterfall only works under a few circumstances, and I guarantee your lowest bidder won't satisfy them all (expertise with the implementation technology, expertise in the problem domain, expertise with how the system is actually used, ideally a project that's been done 100x before by the same team).
Endpoint A: These rules are all "red tape" stopping us from getting things done. Let's just get the job done and save lots of money, time, and overhead.
Endpoint B: Our systems are crap; they don't meet specifications - we don't even have specifications so we don't know what's needed; they are unreliable; they don't interoperate; there's no competition for the work, it just goes to incompetent people who have friends in the right places and rip off taxpayers; and military officers know nothing about procurement, bidding, or complex system development. This is ridiculous and unprofessional: We need specifications, competitive bidding, quality requirements, QA, and professional procurement for our $600 billion budget.
The problem isn't the endpoints, it's the pendulum. If this is your organization, you need to get off the pendulum and make expert, intelligent decisions about trade-offs.
EDIT: Some clarifying edits
The first approach may get a grade from A to F, while the second ranges mostly from B- to D-. Predictable semi-crap is often easier to accept than something that might easily be an A, F, and all between. The first's probability curve is mostly flat from A to F, while the second peaks around C-, and thus it's somewhat more predictable, and that's why managers and bureaucrats often prefer it.
Tangentially, that is exactly the military's central management challenge (per my limited understanding): Combat depends on replicating competence in internal teams, under extreme stress and extremely unpredictable situations, and with unpredictable turnover of key personnel, including management (they die). The U.S. military, for example, has to accomplish this across hundreds of thousands of personnel.
Imagine you get a new manager the week before a major project is due, with lots of critical decisions to be made. Now imagine you get a new manager the day that person is supposed to lead you on an assault up an enemy hill, where a less-than-optimal decision might kill you.
anecdotal part goes here.
Being in IT back then was fascinating, the secure comm side systems were Burroughs of the generation just after tube computers went out of style. Complete with paper tape booting or switches and lights. The main system which I was on was a Sperry 1100/70 using cards as the main input from on base customers. Those transitioned into images on a 360k diskette when I was leaving. The system data was mostly stored on tape (autoloading reel) and there were three disk packs including one we joked was kick start (seriously, if you swapped packs and it didn't spin you faced away with your butt on the edge and swift flat to the side hit it with your boot).
It was that diskette that got me into programming. I started with Turbo C and Turbo Pascal settling on the second. The tool we were provided by Sperry would upload the card images one line at a time. On our Sperry branded PCs (same as IBM/XT) it could take longer to upload a deck than to run one through a card reader and the personelle group had the equivalent to three boxes. I ended up digging into the emulator software, the arcane manuals we had, and whooped up something in TP that did it in a tenth of the time. From that point on it was off to the races for my desire to program.
I love the names and vocab that comes out of unofficial military slang.
I do wonder, though: becoming more agile (or agile AF as the case may be) is one thing, but is it healthy for an actual military branch to be moving in the direction of an industry whose unofficial motto is "move fast and break things"? That's one thing when the bad outcome might be that someone gets delivered the wrong thing or gets charged twice and you have to refund them. But broken things have much graver consequences when they involve guns and bombs and airplanes.
At Pivotal we have a different version: "go fast, forever". I believe Facebook updated theirs from "move fast and break things" to "move fast".
> But broken things have much graver consequences when they involve guns and bombs and airplanes.
We aren't to my knowledge participating in weapons systems or flight avionics (and I hope we never get involved in weapons systems).
Our work demonstrates a principle discovered in other industries a while ago: relentless focus on improvement breaks the iron triangle. Fast, affordable, good: pick any three.
But you can't do this by mouthing some slogans, skimming a book and then burping up code as fast as you can type. It takes a genuine and sustained discipline to keep to the core practices: pairing, TDD, CI/CD, IPMs, retrospectives, user-centred design, lean product management, balanced teams etc. But keep to it and the payoff in sustainable pace is remarkable.
My concern is that security is a potential issue, and short term savings could easily be offset by a massive security disaster later.
Enthusiasm isn't enough. I hope there's a standard, professionally tested, security framework being developed by experienced and capable security experts which other projects can rely on, as required.
Doesn't mean that you deliver broken code, it means that you should not be lazy to rewrite old code.
How I got a medal from the Army for writing code (2014): https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7950190
How learning to code kept me sane when I was a diplomat (2014): https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8810589
Disclosure: I work for Pivotal, though in R&D.
“The AF stands for Air Force,” Furtado assured me.'
I wonder where the reporter's scepticism comes from...
If we don't have peace right now, how can we ever have peace? Is eternal war finally there?
Think there was a follow-on project but can't remember the name of it.
Later: Contractors take over costing much more.