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1997-12-02 12:26:36


Cory Hamasaki on the Great Turnaround: Geeks Over Managers


Cory Hamasaki is a funny guy. He is also a rebellious sort. He understands what managers did to the mainframe programmers, 1985-95. They squeezed the old geeks. Now, the revenge of the old geeks is at hand.

Problem: only until late 1999. Then it's the revenge of the dead geeks.

Taken from Cory Hamasaki's DC Y2K Weather Report # 45. "November 30, 1997 -- 761 days to go."

* * * * * * * *

In 1995, I began running my mouth, bugging everyone about 'the century end' problem. I called it that because I hadn't heard de Jager, Widmar, Yourdon, Capers, didn't see any information on the Internet or the press. I was concerned because I saw five mainframes fall over on December 1, 1979 trying to perform packed decimal arithmetic on '000197AF'.

In 1995, I was certain that 'the century end' problem would be a huge opportunity for over-the-hill, big iron, gear-heads. An opportunity of a lifetime, a chance to make up for the dark years of 1985-1995.

In 1995, mainframers, systems programmers, wizards who come to work in flowing capes and pointed hats with stars and comets, were still being right-sized. Three pals, code-grunts with advanced technical degrees, decades of experience, crankers who came in early, worked late into the night, were laughed at by the horn-hairs. He doesn't take two hour lunches at local bistros-must not be a team player, he avoids our weekly meetings and won't laugh at our amusing stories. He's not one of us.

10, 15, 20, 25, 30 years experience but only 8 years on PC's, C, and SQL and he gets HOW MUCH? That's 40% more than we'd have to pay a kid-coder, a young, eager, nubie who might take a little longer but hey, we bill by the hour and by the job category. A nubie means more profit so we can sit around and stuff more donuts in our mouths.

In internal accounting, the billing algorithms burden the players on a percentage but the final reconciliation is done in dollars. This means that the more highly paid people pay a larger percentage of their billing for office amenities and cost the contract more. This slight-of-mind, which few managers understand, causes them to complain endlessly about the cost of senior people... darn it, all these old foggers are killing my budget.

Bzzzzt, no; reality disconnect. It's not the difference of 80K and 60K salary that causes the problem. Your internal accounting systems mark up each salary by 300% for insurance, leave, management overhead, office space, administrative support. While some expenses are proportional to salary, some, such as office space are constant, and some, management and training, are inversely proportional.

Since management is dealing with burdened labor rates, they see the 80K as 240K and the 60K as 180K and think, ooooh, if I 'can the butt' of a geezer, I'll have 240-180 = sixty thousand more bucks for me.

Management has been rightsizing since the eighties... rightsize... how clueless, it's dumbing down. The companies have gone clueless, dumbed down until they are unable to think their way out of a paper bag.

In 1995, the work had to start or there would be no chance of fixing the mission critical systems. I was sure that enough other people saw that and the work would start. It didn't.

In 1996, I was sure that the work would start. It didn't. I did see some interest in awareness and in talking about the problem. Good sign, maybe it'll start in 1997, that'd be two years too late but maybe some systems would be fixed.

Some work started in 1997 but it only caused programmer salaries to go up about 50%. Journeyman COBOL wage slaves who were struggling to get 50K now easily get 75K. COBOL experts who used to earn 60K, waltz into 90K jobs. Assembly language pro's with down-to-the-bare-metal expertise used to fight for 60/hour, in 1997, I've heard from several who are getting 100/hour.

There's lots more headroom, 1998 will be terrific.

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