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back to article Is the IT industry short on Cobolers? This could be your lucky day

Let's make one thing clear: your previous jobs are not the reason why you were hired. You were hired for having skills that bosses need. People are employed because they are needed to do things that must be done, not because they can do something that is merely desired. It’s not all bad news. The current Big Data hype means …

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Is the industry short on Cobolers

FPA cobblers...

Couldn't work out where they fitted into IT

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Unhappy

Cobol

From the very beginning of my coding career I kept meaning to learn COBOL, but I always found myself falling asleep somewhere between the words "IDENTIFICATION DIVISION." and "ENVIRONMENT DIVISION.".

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Re: Cobol

My COBOL book is on an unreachable shelf, at this moment, but isn't the IDENTIFICATION DIVISION the short one?

I seem to remember using the same template, with all the long words already filled out and spell checked, for almost every program and usually someone (the database guy) had already filled out the records with all the fields, and you just had to extract/print the indicators.

Oh the fun of each processor having its own machine representation of numbers.

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I fell foul of the keywork matching

When I posted my CV to a recruitment service, I mentioned that I'd done a small amount of ASP as part of my university course, among the other things on the course. It wasn't listed in my actual skills or previous jobs.

I then proceeded to be swamped with job offers looking for experienced ASP.net developers... Makes me wonder why companies bother with some recruitment agencies, as any i'd applied to would have thrown it away the moment a human actually looked at the cv. Nevermind they were all way outside of the area I'd said I was prepared to travel to.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I fell foul of the keywork matching

I know what you mean.

I had a single line about my degree project that contained the phrase "... stored in an Ingres database ...". All my skills and previous jobs listed many programming languages, systems/network admin/architect etc. Pretty much everything apart from any work or skills on a database. One of the recruitment agencies constantly sent me details of jobs as a DBA.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I fell foul of the keywork matching

That's nothing.

I saw a job at Vector Resourcing, based 400 yards from my house, for which I had a decade at least in all the skills, and they never rang me about it, or rang me back when I left a message.

But every two months they ring me with jobs requiring a move to Outer Mongolia. Every time they ring, I tell them I can't because I have a family, and despite announcing "I'll record it on the system," they never do.

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Observation

>>You're hired for the skills you now have that they need.<<

You're hired for the skills you now have that they think they need.

FTFY

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Observation

You're hired for the skills they think you have that they think they need.

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I do disagree partially on the Delphi thing

Sure Delphi (as in Borland Delphi or whatever that company is called righ now) is kinda death, however modern implementations like Lazarus/Freepascal do have their place. Someone who knows Pascal and Assembler and ten moved to C might write considerably better code since they know to some extend what they are doing. And seriously, there currently isn't much choice when you want to have easy to deploy portable GUI software.

For an example I wrote a little program you can download here:

http://www.gigahertz-solutions.de/de/Downloads.html

It's just a binary file in a zip file. You extract it and run it. No framework to install, no virtual machine, just the software itself. (You need the 32 bit compatibility extensions on 64bit Linux)

COBOL will probably continue to be undead even much longer since the alternative JAVA is dying right now. There is no other widely supported high level programming language that is suitable for such business applications. Think about it, C doesn't have a simple way to deal with precise 20 digit numbers.

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Aren't most CVs full of cobblers?

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Anonymous Coward

In Northampton, yes.

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Pirate

If you are any good, you're hired as much for who you know, not just what you know (or more accurately, who knows you).

Nepotism lives, or at least extended nepotism amongst former managers and colleagues.

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Unless there's something new and different, nothing will change .....

.... and such austere measures fuel and justify revolution and crypto-anarchy?

It will be interesting to find out in a short while, [for it will only take a short while] how that works outs regarding Jo Johnson, the PM's new head hunting? wonk in the policy unit of the Conservative Party.

Stellar rocket or damp squib? Place your bets, ladies and gentlemen, please.

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Seriously

SQL is a plan C??

Tell that to my bank manager, I'm doing very nicely on plan C and expect to keep doing so for the foreseeable future.

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Anonymous Coward

C#/.NET contractors are the lowest paid in the industry. Has a lot to do with tech schools in 'emerging' nations spewing them out by the pallet load.

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Anonymous Coward

"C#/.NET contractors are the lowest paid in the industry. Has a lot to do with tech schools in 'emerging' nations spewing them out by the pallet load."

Yes, and like the offshore guys they are SHIT. Really! These guys could not write code to save their fricking lives. Here's a massive object with a whole load of functions. We know we aren't supposed to have those so let's try to hide it by having one function that does (completely) different things depending on the value of one of its arguments: an argument which effectively means "the function I'm asking for". Now let's call it recursively. FFS!

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Anonymous Coward

Then you need a tighter design, early code reviews and a test driven approach.

If they are getting things wrong, either you hired the wrong people or did not explain yourself.

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Dominic

I'm a bit put out with the repeated assumptions that we all have mortgages.

Please jazz up the next article with s/what pays your mortgage/what pays for your charlie and hookers/g

Thanks in advance.

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Re: Dominic

I apologise for the lack of hookers and class A drugs in my article, your request has been noted.

Dominic

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Unhappy

Re: Dominic

This should make your next article hilarious.

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No mention of IMS

Moving from IMS to CICS was more open heart surgery with a brain transplant thrown in. CICS is the devils work.

Anyway, I know plenty of people that are mainframers in the age group of 35 - 50 but unfortunately their jobs can be done offshore much cheaper so no one is going to be hiring them anytime soon unless the whole offshoring industry collapses in a heap.

I would love a job back in a COBOL/DB2/IMS or CICS support role but i think the time I have spent away 4 years ish and my age of 40+ will mean that there really is no way back into IT unless there is another round of year 2000 type work.

I can write all sorts of complex SQL but I cant find a role that needs it solely. I must be looking in the wrong place.

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Re: No mention of IMS

You must be looking in the wrong place. If you can write all sorts of complex SQL then there are plenty of jobs out there. Start looking for BI jobs, learn to write reports and do some cubes and you're laughing all the way to the bank.

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Unhappy

I read a book about CICS.

200 pages in I finally understood why it exists.

COBOL and CICS are to IT what Phobos and Deimos are to Mars.

Fear & Panic.

On a slightly lighter note. No comments on using these CV collecting job sites like monster. I'd guess the multiple CV plan works best with specific job agencies instead.

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COBOL outsourcing

There are outsourced COBOL jobs, but COBOL programmers in e.g. Russia are still mostly men after 45 (think vodka, cirrhosis, heart problems, strokes, road accidents etc), so the skills shortage is inevitable...

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I rewrite my CV for EVERY job application.

(Great article BTW as usual. Just the right level of cynicism / reality)

Doesn't everyone do this?

It needs to match the keywords that are in the job spec. Simple as that.

So, if they say they want "Ubuntu 12.10" it's not good enough to simply say "Debian" as the keyword matching will not realize they are similar enough. I TAKE OUT anything that's not relevant, but basically it's the same CV every time highlighting the skills that the company are looking for.

This takes me around 2 minutes extra per application, instead of about 30 seconds, but increases my hit rate enormously.

Of course, I'm not suggesting you add stuff into your CV that you don't have! Simply that the CV would be far too long (like this post) if you added every variant of every skill they might be looking for.

If it says "ESXi" on the spec, then put "ESXi" on your CV, not "VMWare". Human Remains might not know that they are the same thing.

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Re: I rewrite my CV for EVERY job application.

Thank you kind sir.

In a later article I will be handling the torments your CV suffers between you and the hiring manager and to be fair to HR they are generalists, they handle network security and security guards, salesmen, C++ developers, network architects and the sort that do buildings and of course other HRs. No one is smart enough to have a grasp of the buzzwords across even a relatively small firm.

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No offence, Dominic, but ...

... isn't this sort of keyword matching recruitment part of the problem?

Maybe if recruiters (not just the agents, but the employers themselves) used people who actually had some technical nouse to decide who gets to do what, we would solve not only the recruitment problem but the software crisis, where we are drowning in absolute rubbish.

But I never submit my CV to recruiting agents, simply because I have never found one that can apply the simple filter of never asking me to do a job whose salary is less than my current one.

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Re: No offence, Dominic, but ...

I suspect it's becuase if you have enough technical nouse to be a good recruiter, you have enough technical nouse to get a better job.

I've never met a recruiter who is genuinely interested in either the client's business or the candidate's career. Like every other sales person (and that's what they are), they're only interested in their end-of-month commission cheque.

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Re: No offence, Dominic, but ...

John, I am a City headhunter and writer for the Reg, I think it is fair to say no one you know is harder to offend, but thank you for the courtesy.

The problem we have in the IT part of the recruitment game is that the fees are far higher than the service is worth but not enough to pay for what clients want.

I can personally interview most sorts of developers, several types of security people, DBAs and project managers because I've done these things myself and here's why I don't recruit for your company and why almost no IT recruitment works the way you'd like, or indeed the way any rational person would like.

A recruiter may personally get 25-30% of the fee for hiring you which is (say) 12%, so roughly he gets 0.25* 0.12 = 3% (ish) of what you get per year, could be 4%, could be 2%, but that sort of number, some firms have quite complex remuneration structures.

So to make the same money as you, he needs to place one person like you about every week.

These are round numbers of course.

Placing a candidate requires one to read a number of CVs, that varies a lot, but to read them properly even after they've been filtered is a couple of hours work.

When I interview people that rarely takes less than an hour, I'm quite gentle (contrary to popular belief) and I don't claim to be 100% accurate, but only to seriously reduce the number of people who simply don't fit.

On top of that is meeting clients, dealing with queries etc, how many do you think I can get though per week with a proper interview first ?

Then because many HRs see recruiting as a commodity process the CV will be put in with 20-50 others, now since I've filtered, the chances of my candidate winning is rather better, but you still have to reckon on (say) 1 in 4 or 1 in 5 (or 1 in 10) actually getting hired.

None of this is your fault, indeed it is not clear whose fault exactly it is, HRs are incentivised to reduce the apparent cost of hiring and if the best candidate happens to come from a firm who carpet bombed with every candidate who has used SQL, then the manager has no rational alternative but to hire them.

They'd like to spend less time on interviews, they'd like better people, or more accurately they want people who fit their requirements better but their time is not costed for.

There exist clients and types of work where clients will pay for filtering, but they are a minority and this is never ever going to change.

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Re: No offence, Dominic, but ...

"So to make the same money as you, he needs to place one person like you about every week."

Your maths assumes a 12% placement fee (in my experience, it's more like 25% - 30%) and also assumes zero base salary. Are you really saying that if a recuiter makes no placements in a calendar month, they get zero pay?

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Re: No offence, Dominic, but ...

Graham, it varies a lot, if a firm is doing a lot of business with an IT recruiter it will get a steep discount, we don't do the 11-12% stuff for that very reason, it simply is not worth it. That end of the game is the preserve of the carpet bombers, they pile them high and sell them (you) cheap. That's not to say they are bad people, even if some readers here are rude about them, they are paid to execute a simple procedure.

When you're at the supermarket you might be quite annoyed if the check out girl started advising you on the nutritional content of your basket and you'd definitely be unhappy if your bill was twice as big as result.

As for paying pimps...

Long ago I did some mathematical finance for a very large recruitment firm.

I got a call from an agent, he wanted to buy me lunch with his boss, assuming this was therefore a decent job I turned up to see another half dozen of them. I tried to work out what job could justify a whole team of recruiters. I was of course being stupid and getting drunk at their expense (rather good Rioja if you must know).

They read my CV and believed it and there are various bits which imply that I can both do the maths and the C++/Excel for hard finance, the sort that breaks economies, the code I was writing at that point now part manages the national debt, so they reckoned I was the man to explain their pay to them.

Some agents are indeed on "eat what you kill" pay structures, amongst some of them it is a virility sign because it shows that you don't have any fear that you won't sell.

Otherwise it is quite complex, I do shit like this http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Y_R3Y4jkp_IC&pg=PA825#v=onepage&q&f=false, scroll down to the part where Mike, Paul and I named Xena (sensitivity to skew in exotic derivatives), so when I say complex, I mean it..

There are many activities in pimping, getting new clients, keeping them happy, dealing with wayward contractors, interviewing and trying to make sense of the formless hell that is HR at Deutsche Bank. Be clear you do not do business with Deutsche Bank HR, you endure it.

For instance a common structure is that if you get a new client, you get a rake off from any people sold to that firm which typically decays with time. This leads to a philosophical question on what entity the client is. For instance IBM Labs at Hursely are logically part of IBM Corp, not IBM UK, if I place someone at a little startup and Facebook buys them, do I now have dibs on the whole firm ?

Also there is the issue that there exist non linear costs, especially with contractors and do they get paid for extensions, if so how much ? That's a harsh issue, if you don't then they will try to get the contractors to move against the interests of their firm and client, trust me on this I've been a contractor, seen it done.

At masters level I studied the economics of agency theory, do read up on ET, it is beautifully cynical, modelling the difference between what you pay people to do and what their incentives cause them to really do. I gave this as the Christmas Lecture at the London Quant Group last year, I hear there's a bootleg video.

The short version is that the structured pay of any agent or manager should be as close to the goals of the firm.

This big recruitment firm had achieved this, it was almost beautiful.

By "almost beautiful" I mean in the programming sense, when I had to read the source code of Windows memory management including the PWND structures (that's *P*WND, not *H*WND) I could see how it covered a wide range of possibilities in the least lines of code, but it was far too many to actually make sense.

So this very large recruitment firm had hired some talented accountants (they had the CVs f thousands of course) to exactly capture the profitability of every thing the agents might do.

You might be cynical about the intelligence level of the average recruiter, but trust me this was hard to actually understand, (the wine helped, or at least I felt that it did).

" I can't do this" I said, I need a spreadsheet... but of course they had Excel in front of me before I finished the sentence. After some thinking (and coffee and some rather nice Paul A Young chocolates), I gave them four numbers, you get X% for this, Y% for that.

That was of course a gross over simplification, but I'm also a nearly professional writer and knowing your audience is critical to delivering stuff The Reg will pay for, and they were really very happy.

Bastards never got me a job though.

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Re: No offence, Dominic, but ...

"When you're at the supermarket you might be quite annoyed if the check out girl started advising you on the nutritional content of your basket and you'd definitely be unhappy if your bill was twice as big as result."

Yes, I would, but that's because your analogy is flawed. The checkout girl is there soley to collect money, not offer advice. I'd be just as annoyed if the person in the recruitment firm's accounts department started commenting on the person I'd recruited and offered staff development advice when they sent the invoice.

I'm not in any way trying to be negative about the intelligence levels of recruitment consultants - my point was that if you have someone who has enough domain knowledge to make a really good recruitment consultant, they have enough domain knowledge to get a better paid (and probably more fulfulling) job elsewhere, within the domain itself, and that's why you don't get "expert" recruitment consultants.

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Dibol anyone? Powerhouse?

Interesting and useful article. Maybe it's time to reinstate some fossil skills on my CV. Then again, if I do that I might have to use them, and in most cases I was glad to leave them behind.

The worst part of programming is trying to understand old code written by a somebody for whom a good program is one that makes it to the end statement (which is usually in the same module as the start, 25,000 lines later). Any fossil job is going to involve a lot of that, and until the wolf comes scratching at my door I'd rather not.

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Terminator

CV generator

So agents and employers rely on keyword search. Who can blame them, given that a day spent reading CVs is probably a day we'd all prefer to miss?

I see a requirement emerging here. I'm seriously thinking of writing a CV generator. I'll paste in the keywords from the job listing, and it will construct a CV from paragraphs that emphasise my experience with these skills, drawn from a database of everything I've ever done. I already do this manually in covering letters, which I suspect nobody ever reads.

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Re: CV generator

I actually started doing this before I got my current job, then started again recently (before getting a job offer for the company I am moving to this month).

I started with a real CV (long form, not the Resume that most people mean when they say CV). I then tagged each bullet point with keywords. These would then provide a score, and the top scoring bullet points would be listed. Just before it was finished I got this job, so I didn't need it any more.

This was all because I had been told my CV was too long. I started tailoring my resume for every job, which was getting laborious (not to mention boring).

The only problem with this, as a system, is that many jobs come through agencies. They will (mostly) put one copy of your resume on file and use that for everything. Most do not appreciate that some people have such a wide ranging skill set that a single resume cannot cover it. What they need to do is allow you to give them a long-form CV which can be searched against. They can then either ask you for a resume for job X, or even generate it themselves from your CV.

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Unhappy

Curses, foiled again! (apparently)

Damn. I have Cobol, RPGII, 360 Assembler and so on in my repertoire. Or rather, I had Cobol....

Haven't used any of 'em for 30 years or so, so I'd be at best a little rusty...

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Happy

Yeh yeh yeh - I know, we all know.

The trouble with exams is that we answered questions that were not asked.

The answers were right but the questions, and the questioners, were wrong!

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Anonymous Coward

VBA = RIP....?

"If you meet me and I ask “how’s your VBA ?”, know now that I’m politely saying that your career is holed below the waterline."

You don't work in Investment Banking my friend.... VBA is still necessary and in fact lucrative on Trading Desks & Hedge Funds to keep legacy spreadsheets going that nobody can be bothered to change! These guys are all about making money not spending resources keeping up with the latest Office release cycle!

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Re: VBA = RIP....?

I don't know which bit of "Quant headhunter" confused you, but I'm *that* Dominic Connor, the one whose VBA code is in damned near every investment bank on the planet, whose lectures on VBA (and C++) are part of a course given by people like Paul Wilmott and Nassim Taleb, who VBA code is used by the Treasury as part of managing the national debt and who was director of the team that build the system that handles 40% of the UK Gilt market. I've had VBA as part of my work since 1995 in banks dear.

To put my advice into a simpler form that you might understand, I agree that Excel drives banks, that may be good or bad, but it keeps open a door for people whose careers have gone a bit flaky. You can get to being better than the average VBA guy in 3 months or less from scratch if you work at it, the equivalent figures in (say), C++ is measured in years as is Java, maybe you can get to the 25% of applicants in SQL from scratch in less than a year but you'd have to be smarter than me.

Excel/VBA is used in banks from HR working out holiday entitlement to volatility modelling for exotic derivatives, did the grown ups ever tell you about them ?

So if you find that your skills aren't in demand and there's no obvious upgrade or work coming your way, go learn VBA.

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Anonymous Coward

No COBOL shortage. No COBOL jobs!

It's just more hype from MicroFocus. As an ex-COBOLer (finance sector) I have a look now and again to try and get away from this Windows wank.

Nothing.

This article is just like every other one that exclaims you can earn £80k doing JavaScript or something equally batty.

It has no grounding in reality. Reality is having to put up with no pay raise (or even take a cut) and unpaid overtime.

Please stop running crap like this El Reg.

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Re: No COBOL shortage. No COBOL jobs!

I'm just a bit amused that you think this is by or for Micro Focus, this piece is about managing the skills you have to get a job when those skills aren't so fashionable.

I talk of pay rises elesewhere, but I put it to you that "putting up" with any shit, be it no pay rise, evangelical boss, boring work or toxic coffee in the machine is what you have to do when your other options are worse, I tried to help some Reg readers get more and maybe better choices.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: No COBOL shortage. No COBOL jobs!

I don't think this piece is by MF, just hype that there are COBOL jobs.

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WTF?

Typical "rc" bollox

I've never obtained a job using a "consultant". They are just salespeople, full of hype and buzzwords and low on action. When I hire staff, I gets lots of head hunter companies calling and I tell them to sod off! I suggest they get the prospective candidate to send in a CV directly. I'm also very good at spotting CVs written by professional writing services; these go straight into the bin.

The article is full of this typical hype and poor use of language.

"... that when you say your last job was fiveyears where you used..." WTF does that mean?

"...toxic symmetry..." WTF?

"Talking about re-architecting is a high risk strategy..." WTF!!I assume this means replacing one system, with another is fraught with problems.

After 35 years in the game, the legacy furrow has served me well and I predict it will do so for the remaining 10 years of my career. I've never had a problem getting work, always using a mix of the old and the new.

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Re: Typical "rc" bollox

I'm not a "consultant", I'm a headhunter, different breed of cow entirely.

Yes I sell, you don't, well good for you.

I've had John Cleese call me a dickhead on camera at the 3rd Secret Policeman's Ball, the Director of the Royal Institution Baroness Greenfield, the famous neuroscientist publicly refer to me an "autistic Daily Mail reader", one of my tutors once asked me if I wouldn't be happier doing something I was good at and I worked for many years in a firm of Bond Brokers who took pride in the quality of their insults, trust me when I say you telling me to "sod off" isn't even in the top 99% of the insults I experience.

Yes, I use colourful language, it's called having a large vocabulary dear,, I write for a hugely popular web site (43 million hits, 7 million readers per month) called "The Register", how long has it taken you to notice that lots of the writers here use colourful language ?

Anyway I'm quite proud of "toxic symmetry" you will see it in my articles again at some point , as will millions of other people who like my stuff.

I'm sorry that you've had no formal education in software engineering and I heop that you won't be too patronised by a City headhunter gently pointing out that "re-architecting" and "replacing" are fundamentally different activities. If you would like, I can get you the names of some books on software that might help ?

Actually I wrote my first code in 1974, so please don't don't tell me that I'm supposed to be impressed by your 35 years ?

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Question

When I say I want a permanent job doing Java-type stuff in Edinburgh; why do I constantly get calls for contract work doing C# in London?

Oh wait, I remember why; they are morons!

A waste of my time, their time and the client's money.

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Re: Question

Actually, it's an interesting problem, if you have a spare year.

Given two post codes, deliver the travel time between them and cut off at (say) an hour each way.

The code will need to into account whether you drive and whether job requires hours that you can't use public transport.

Off you go, same time next May ?

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Re: Question

Err...no. How about they switch on their brains.

Areas considered: Edinburgh.

Is London in Edinburgh? Is Edinburgh in London?

No.

And that's before we get to the skillset.

As for travel distance...a satnav map would seem to help here. Long/Lat of target post code. Long/lat of start postcode. Distance between? Fudge that by adding, what, 10%? Assume an average travel speed of...40mph? Bingo, bango, bongo; there's yer time. (Note: you will need to gather some better data on distance fudge-factor and average speed).

Is it accurate? No, but it's a damned sight better than annoying me for about jobs I don't want to do in places I don't want to live.

When Joe Miggins of Boggins Recruitment calls me up about some wholly unsavoury job, I simply assume that they (and their company) are a bunch of buzz-word bingo bottom feeders. I don't think I've been wrong yet.

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Re: Question

Another thought on distance. If the likes out AutoTrader and give me a radius of a postcode, why can't recruitment sites filter on same? Actually I know the answer to that, because I asked someone when they wanted me as a DBA in Southampton.

"Oh" they said "I didn't look at the regions, I just did a keyword search."

So even if the sites did offer it, the recruitards wouldn't use it!

Fucking morons. End of.

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Re: Question

Having had one of these "job" things that seem so popular these days, I know that simple distance is not enough, the longest contract I ever had was a hundred miles from my home, also some contractors like to travel.

The word you are looking for is isochrones

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