MasterPo says: This blog is about topics and issues that are of importance to me. I am not one of the countless blogging lemmings that are tripping over each other scurrying down the hill and off the cliff of blogging oblivion trying to write the greatest blog on the latest topic de'jour. Your comments are welcome.

August 21, 2008

IT: You're Only As Good As Where You Come From

File this under "If I knew then what I know now."

Certain occupations are, more or less, the same everywhere you go. Account follows the same GAAP rules, lawyers have more or less the same laws and regulations, teaching is the same in California as in Vermont, welding uses the same tools, and so on.

But not in IT.

When you work in IT you are seen not as a professional with a set of skills to be applied to the specifics of a particular organization, but rather as snap-shot of the IT environment you came from. To put it another way, while everyone will agree (give lip service to) with the fact that no two organizations/business function the same even in the same industry, if you don't come form the exact same IT environment as they do then you aren't a good fit and probably won't get the job.

So if your old company used software A and the place you are interviewing for uses B, even though they do the same thing, you're not qualified. Never mind that the processes is the same, you don't know the software. Of if your old company used SDLC and your new company uses Use Cases or RUP that's not good enough.

The Devil is in the details. So to an extent I have to concede and understand the point. Concept will only get you so far. At the end of the day you have to be able to produce and that means being able to use the tools on hand, not take days or weeks to learn it.

But that flies squarely in the face of reality.

First, the reality is technology changes all the time. Company IT departments constantly switch from A to B to C technologies. The sign of a truly intelligent person is to be able to take what they know from prior experience and apply it to more quickly learning something new. I just don't see how it is expected you're supposed to have 5 years experience with something that only came out 6 months ago?! Many years ago (I'll be dating myself with this) I went to a job fair in Manhattan. At one company's table I spoke with their HR bimbo. They were looking for someone with 5 years RPG programming experience for the AS/400. I knew RPG so I thought I was a good candidate. She insisted that I tell her about my AS/400 RPG experience. I said "No one really has AS/400 RPG experience. IBM only started shipping the system a couple of months ago!" She insisted, "Well we need someone with 5 years experience." WTF?! I know she wasn't a technology person so I can't get too angry but how did she expect to find someone with 5 years experience on computer system that was less than a year old?!

Second, the reality is that I as an IT grunt don't make the technology policy decisions. I rarely if at all even have a say in them (and that's presuming my say actually holds any weight in the opinion process when price and politics is more a factor!).For example, at a former software vendor I worked the decision was made to go with Galaxy instead of Motif (xWindows) as the GUI front end. Galaxy was cheaper to license and at the time Motif hadn't really established itself as the dominant and preferred technology. So if you were a programmer there you had no choice but to use Galaxy. But now when you try to get a job else where you have experience with a lesser used, lesser accepted technology (Galaxy instead of Motif). In another example I worked several years for a well known direct marketing company. The powers that be decided to go with a 4GL called MANTIS to replace the CICS on the MVS mainframe (at one point I found out that MANTIS was created by a programmer in South Africa who wanted to program BASIC-like on the IBM mainframe!). Not my fault they decided to abandon CICS – the standard for online programming in the IBM mainframe world – for some crappy proprietary language. But since I was no longer programming in CICS no one would talk to me about CICS positions.

"So go buy a book or take a course and stop bitching!" is what I'm sure someone is thinking now.

And you might be right.


Third, many of these technologies are highly proprietary and specialized. There are few if any books about them and even fewer if any courses. Those courses there are tend to be several thousands of dollars for a mere 3-5 day class. That's the kind of stuff a company sends you to, not you pay for on your own (even the basic intro class can be in the 4-figure range!) Further, these technologies usually have to be bought under license from the vendor (can't get it at off the shelf at Best Buy) require significant computer resources to run so it isn't like you can just buy it and put it on your laptop to play with.

Fourth, and I've written about how stupid this is before, if you learn it on your own then you don't have a working reference to confirm you actually have done it. More and more in IT employers want you to give a working professional reference from your jobs to confirm that you actually have done this or that, worked with ABC or XYZ technology etc.

Fifth, even among project level work like project plans, requirements gathering, specification documentation, etc. there are no standards. Every IT department has it's own standards, policies, procedures etc. Yet employers want you to know how they do it. They will ask you to describe how you at your present job go about designing a specification, creating the required documents, getting the project scheduled and so forth. Then they'll say "Well that's not how we do it here." In Heaven's name, how am I supposed to know your internal policies and procedures?!

More and more, IT job hunting is less about the reality of working and more like a fishing expedition. The managers don't really know what they want just looking for someone to come in an WOW them.

Maybe I should try a song&dance number?

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