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back to article Brain surgery? Would sir care for a CHOC-ICE with that?

Another Easter, another long weekend, another splurge of CVs sent into the ether. Englishmen joke about Bank Holidays reliably bringing rain but the other thing you can count on following a public holiday is an exodus of staff seeking pastures new – or rather, pastures less strewn with the rank, metaphoric faeces of their …

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"IT workers are not like Asterix, Obelix and their magic potion-enhanced chums"

You are obviously unaware of the deep relationship between programming skills & coffee.

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Trollface

Erm

Of course, still fun swapping out coffee with the caffine free stuff (Which is why I am a tea drinker)

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Pirate

Re: Erm

It's even more fun swapping it back a couple of weeks afterwards, once everyone has lost their tolerance to caffeine...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Erm

In one of my old jobs we used to have excellent - really excellent coffee on tap 24x7 (minus a little downtime for refilling the beans - it ground them - and cleaning the machine). I always noticed a change in behaviour for the first couple of days of returning from a holiday in myself and most of my fellows. Slightly fidgety and easy to take offense :-) Code reviews were never scheduled within 48 hours of someone returning......

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Skills gap

This doesn't actually mean a skills gap, or a lack of people to hire, but that the skills are currently desired, making the profession a good one to be in. This would be remedied by having a lot more cheaper employees available to do the same task, depressing your wages.

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Stalemate

If there's a European shortage of IT staff, then there's no point in any single European state unilaterally investing in IT training, because the freshly trained staff will immediately disappear off into employment in the non-training states.

It'd need a Europe-wide investment to fix this stalemate.

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Re: Stalemate

I hear this argument from managers all the time. Why should we train staff if they'e going to ask for more money or leave for another company? Why should Europe invest in training if the trained staff then bugger off to America? Why bother training anyone, ever? Why bother getting up in the morning? Why bother breathing?

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Re: Stalemate

"It'd need a Europe-wide investment to fix this stalemate."

Why do you believe that? The professionally mobile are already professionally mobile (Charlie Clark, where are you?) Do you assume that the stay-at-homes who don't have the skills/motivation suddenly become more mobile if you give them the skills?

There is however a more pressing problem with IT training, and that is that the trade and employers persistently bemoan the quality. There's lots of IT training going on now, but round El Reg it is clear that school IT is regarded as nothing more than Office for Dummies, and a BSc in Computer Science is held in the same regard as a sheet of medicated Izal.

Let's put aside grand ideas about pan-European solutions, and consider what exactly should be being done in the UK. What would make a skills difference to tech companies? And to what extent should that be fixed directly by government, or by changes in law (eg indentured and enforceable training contracts, perhaps having the risks underwritten by one of the government skills agencies)?

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Re: Stalemate

What UK and other richer EU countries want, of course, is for the poorer countries to train up IT workers, since then they can get the skills they need without needing to pay so much for them. More mobility for them is better since workers will move from poorer countries to richer ones on their own, for wages that are higher than their home country but lower then the natives'. This is preferable to them than hiring people from abroad themselves, as in this case they usually would have to tack on some expat benefits to the compensation.

Of course there is the possibility of training more IT skills locally. But IT is realtively hard compared to many other things students could study, and many technophile kids just liek to play with tehr stuff and do cool things without worrying about how it works under the hood. Lets face it, in most cases IT / engineering is less glamorous than medicine / law / architecture, less fun than media studies and more difficult than liberal arts. The only way to get more graduates is the promise of higher pay... but since, as above, companies want to capitalise on outsourcing and migration and bringing salaries down, the number of 'local' gradutes in richer EU countries will also decline.

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Re: Stalemate

Why should we train staff if they'e going to ask for more money or leave for another company?

That's the usual attitude, even after you've been promised training "as part of the package" when you accept the job. There's also the misunderstanding amongst management, where they think any programmer can maintain their systems and then refuse to give the existing staff pay rises. The existing staff then go elsewhere taking their intimate knowledge of the systems with them, and the replacements end up bodging the systems to oblivion because management vetoed spending time documenting them ...

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Re: Stalemate

The best thing you can say about the BSc in CompSci is that it is not the MSc in CompSci - that's the 1 year "conversion course for people who studied physics/maths/economics", not the 4 year "I love being a student" course.

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Re: Stalemate

***chough*** RBS Mainframe ***cough***

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Re: Stalemate

So motivated individuals who are prepared to put in the effort and study on their own should be able to write their own ticket.

(stop laughing at the back!)

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Re: Stalemate

Err... I call bull...

There is still qualified staff in quite a few locations. Dunno if it is magic pot or magic potions but that is a statement of the fact. Parts of Eastern Europe - Czech republic, Romania, Bulgaria as well as locations in Western Europe such as Northern Ireland (or Ireland proper for that matter).

We have reached the point where the qualified IT staff in these locations shows Nellie a finger straight away (actually the tradition in Eastern Europe calls for the Antonio Banderas style full arm gesture).

There is qualified IT staff and staff is being trained there (at least compared to the UK). It also _STAYS_ there. The reason why it stays there is that it is actually paid _MORE_ that most "mainland UK" companies are willing to pay their staff. So you cannot make it move. Let's face it, convincing a Czech, Romanian, Bulgarian (or someone from Belfast for that matter) that they have to have their salary decreased by 30% and move to a location with 100% higher cost of life is not a winning proposition.

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JLH

Alistair, that is a damn good article.

I agree re. the stress.

And also re. the brain surgeon analogy - we celebrate people with money making skills, or celebrity, but we leave our best and brightest scientists shockingly underpaid.

Seriously - I looked at jobs recently in two top research labs in the Cambridge area. Rates of pay less than what I get now, so I couldn;t consider them.

Also I have a point - if there IS such an IT skills shortage, why aren;t companies shovelling money at IT types? Why aren't we being offered telephoen number salaries and huge bonuses like bankers?

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Seems like you've answered your own question, when they talk about a skills shortage they mean there's a skills shortage for the salaries that they are willing to pay. If they paid more the problem would fix itself.

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Big Brother

Why aren't we being offered telephoen number salaries and huge bonuses like bankers?

Unfortunately we're just the ones who have to keep things running, and keep managers promises. We only become visible when the brown stuff impacts the whirly thing, at which point talking about a pay rise isn't really opportune.

Normally the only way to be appreciated is posthumously (job-wise) when you either quit in disgust or get punted, which again isn't really the best time for a salary review...

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"They"

Despite the fact that many people desire to be MPs, and there is no shortage of applicants for any vacancy, we're constantly being told that the pay needs to go up, and in fact they should get special extra money so they don't feel the need to fiddle their expenses. Really experienced ones should get special uniforms and get paid just to turn up and sit on red benches, because their experience is so valuable.

If we followed the logic of business management, we'd sack all the most expensive ones (ministers) and outsource the rest to Serco, probably ending up with a House of Commons staffed with Bulgarian and Romanian immigrants. But it would be cost-effective.

Perhaps if we reversed the logic and applied the same methodology to IT and computing that MPs like to apply to themselves, the skills shortage would mysteriously evaporate overnight.

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"all outsourcing is cock"

An accurate generalisation, but there actually are some instances where it can be beneficial:

1. Operations that are too small to maintain all the necessary skills in-house.

2. Where there are genuine economies of scale (sufficient to cover the margin required by the outsourcing supplier).

This is best done in areas that aren't key to your core business - catering and night security staff might be good examples. Of course, the usual reason for outsourcing is:

3. Because management of the existing function is FUBAR and outsourcing will make it "someone else's problem".

To which the only possible response is: "If you can't manage your own staff adequately, what makes you think you can manage staff whose primary role is maximising revenue for the outsourcing company they now work for?"

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "all outsourcing is cock"

"This is best done in areas that aren't key to your core business - catering and night security staff might be good examples"

The only real reasons for outsourcing these two and similar roles is because they are inconvenient to do for most companies. Why organise shift rotas and recruit for high turnover roles when you could simply pay G4S? And why pay a million non-transparent invoices for food deliveries, employ minimum wage catering staff, and endure the whining of dissatisfied canteen customers, when again you could just pay Compass to do it for you?

In the past I've done a number of analyses of cleaning, catering, security and the like for my then employers. In every case it would have been significantly cheaper to do the job in house, and in every case examination of invoices showed the books were being cooked (eg second tier supplier discounts negotiated as pass through to the client that never materialised, outrageous mark up on materials, etc).

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Re: "all outsourcing is cock"

These are traditional cases - but even so are not necessarily better than doing it in-house even if cheaper on a monthly basis.

Who would you rather have on security? Someone who has a permanent job and a pension, sickpay and holiday and the other employees rights, a stake in the company? Or someone having to do two jobs for eighteen hours a day because he's on minimum salary and no job security?

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Re: "there actually are some instances where it can be beneficial"

Agreed. Also, outsourcing and off-shoring seem to be being used interchangeably. They are not always synonymous.

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@Neil

You are, of course, absolutely right. But put that question to any beancounter and they'll only see that the outsourcing option is x% cheaper, which (for them) makes it a no brainer*.

* An old boss of mine used to say: "No brainers are for people with no brains."

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Wot IT shortage?

So why is it then, that every time we advertise a vacancy there are dozens of applicants?

Sure, some of them can't even submit a CV without it containing disqualifyingly egregious style, grammar and spelling errors [like that last phrase ]. And some appear to have just listed whatever buzzwords Google threw up when they searched for the published job description.

However, there are *still* more qualified applicants than can practically be interviewed in any reasonable amount of time (esp. when you have a proper job, with its own deadlines and targets to juggle)

So, I call bullshit on this IT shortage. What there does appear to be is a shortage of talent that is able to understand technical issues their teams need to solve, that has little clue how to organise and marshall its resources and has no idea whatsoever what it they actually want to achieve from their IT departments. Fix those management issues and a lot of the workplace stress would simply evaporate. Hell, they might even be able to hang on to the IT talent - instead of it (us?) forever seeking employers who don't make headless chickens look like Mastermind contestants.

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Re: Wot IT shortage?

My deeply biased interpretation of your scenario is that management want an expert to give them a solution for which they (your boss) can claim credit. What they don't want is someone supplanting them in the eyes of senior management.

That is a lot easier for them if you are in a different time zone.

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Re: Wot IT shortage?

What I was hoping to convey was that any shortfall in the number of staff that management feel they require can easily be mitigated, to some extent at least, by better leadership and a clear vision of what they are wanting to achieve. Which would lead to greater efficiencies: including less techy-time taken up with non-technical issues - ones that are dumped on techies but that don't require their specialist (and we are told: scarce) skills.

Also that given a management layer with better technical skills and organising abilities, there would be less workplace stress, less wasted effort and that everyone would be a lot happier. There is a saying:

There's never time to do it right, but always time to do it again

which seems to summarise the waste and poor leadership that IT (and other technical careers) seem to suffer from.

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Re: Wot IT shortage?

This:

"So, I call bullshit on this IT shortage. What there does appear to be is a shortage of talent that is able to understand technical issues their teams need to solve, that has little clue how to organise and marshall its resources and has no idea whatsoever what it they actually want to achieve from their IT departments. Fix those management issues and a lot of the workplace stress would simply evaporate. Hell, they might even be able to hang on to the IT talent - instead of it (us?) forever seeking employers who don't make headless chickens look like Mastermind contestants."

gets an upvote; BUT -> sometimes the IT talent can be JUST as much of a problem.

The SOLE reason for the constant "IT skills shortage" chant we've been hearing in the western world is to justify "Offshoring" and "Importing foreign talent" in an effort to drive down "costs". Part of this is that IT is considered at "technical" skill with specialization -> sadly -- I've found overspecialization to be the norm. Either that or "Its Not My Job"ism, but since it is considered simple enough to have "basic training" requirements, the thought is "anyone can do that". We as a techie herd might not see that view.

Both management (who need to up their game(s) to comprehend the cats they're herding) and the IT talent themselves (who often need to pull their heads out and observe the bigger picture) are consistently contributing to these issues.

In reality -- baseline IT -- generic stuff -- can be done easily and quickly (thus the concept of put it in the cloud) -- however most front line systems in any company contain far from generic elements and one needs to have a grip on the peculiarities and specifics of those systems. Those systems need to have support that has a deeper and wider view of things than just "app support" "sytems admin" "storage admin" "network admin" (etc etc etc), AND you need to have a team working on it that plays well together, more action than ego.

Furthermore, I've never run into any company (okay - fairly short list) that actually subscribed to "well known standards" for their overall IT deployment. So you need to teach new folks the "ways" (how to get systems on the floor, security scan rules, solution development process and approvals, change management process, etc etc etc )

IT in this day and age in any company of any size also needs to have half a clue about the LAW for chrissake. Your role could be putting you at legal risk, just because you're touching systems that have (various) legal mandates wrapped around the data they handle.

oh darn, I've gone off on a rant.

In any case, IT folks, I mean GOOD IT folks, need to be considered as something other than commodities or cattle. (yes I've met my share of ID ten T admins), but I've met quite a number of incredibly good ones as well.

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Re: Wot IT shortage?

Or you are paying crap / offering crap work - and the people who are currently working at Google / Apple / Microsoft or doing high frequency trading systems at banks didn't queue up to apply ?

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Re: Wot IT shortage?

It depends *what* kind of IT you want... I have been repairing electronics since I was 12, and then computers when they came along, where I can diagnose and resolve in minutes...

But I will retire in only 2 years, my experience is mainly in the education sector, so I find all the jobs are management, or design... and my advisor said employers may frightened off by my packed CV, or just think I would leave them later!!!

I think maybe my appearance may also be the problem.. I look like a 30 year old.. they just dont believe me...

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Pint

A very informative headline.

I was unaware that education and ridicule were similar things.

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Re: A very informative headline.

Ugh. Lots of mandatory "education" that is served these days is far worse than ridicule. An outright insult to a reasonable level of intelligence. Not to mention the time wasted.

/icon: a tall stake of pointless certificates is merrily burning/

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Re: A very informative headline.

It has always been recognised that *experience* is far better than certificates... BUT management is getting stupider, needing the bits of paper!! and then asking for a school leaver with 10 years of experience????

the worst is where the job is specified far too high, and it seems far too simple in the actual job description... :/

A friend went for a job as a SQL DBASE programmer - and all he was doing was typing numbers into excel... when asked, the guys themselves did not know what they were for!!!

So after a couple of months, making up Dbases himself, to relive the boredom, he left...

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Re: A very informative headline.

You appear to have mistaken my point for something serious. That was not intended, hence the pint icon.

Please read the lyrics to Adam Ant's 'Prince Charming'. You may say 'DOH!' when you note the pop culture reference that you missed.

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Re: A very informative headline.

Please read the lyrics to Adam Ant's 'Prince Charming'. You may say 'DOH!' when you note the pop culture reference that you missed.

Adam Ant hasn't been "pop" culture for several decades I'm afraid.

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Pint

Re: A very informative headline.

For the people, who are not well versed in antology (ha!), it is far too easy to commit a heinous crime of missing a cultural reference or two. Having seen far too many cultures coming and going doesn't exactly help either.

But I'd guess there's not much to do. That's one of the subtle hazards of the Wild Wild Web, which has existed since its inception, and probably even before.

Have a pint, good Sir, and an upvote or two.

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Devil

Education

Since the govt. aren't too keen on paying for trained teachers the solution for anyone wanting to get out of IT work is to go to a school and teach the kids "coding" which the politicians are keen on at the moment.

Of course most of the kids won't be interested. The fact that it's compulsory for all and unsuited to most will see to that. And not having learnt about child development, learning, behaviour management etc means you won't know how to resolve this. But hey, instead of a cut throat, uncomprehending manager imposing unrealistic schedules and unreachable targets you'll have a cut throat, uncomprehending headteacher imposing unrealistic schedules and unreachable targets, while sitting in fear of the government inspector.

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Re: Education

Why would the gov pay for it? And when the gov do plough money in they have to interfere because then it looks like they done something. Companies should be given tax breaks to help fund the teaching and have a little input so actual skills can be taught instead of writing off a chunk of students because they dont fit in with academia.

Less school and more education would go a long way.

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Re: Education

"Companies should be given tax breaks to help fund the teaching and have a little input so actual skills can be taught instead of writing off a chunk of students because they dont fit in with academia."

Actual skills like COBOL/VB6/Tcl/CICS, all fine technologies in their day, but not really growing markets? How about reading, writing, and mathematics?

Companies do seem to get tax breaks all the time for all sorts of stuff. I think that apprenticeships are a good thing, but better done at the place of work under company supervision than paid for by the company but handed off to others to manage.

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When IT was new it was hard. People didn't understand it.

That led to lots of so-called experts. To training companies. Consultants. All of whom knew less than they pretended to. And to software vendors who wrapped it all in smoke, mirrors and complexity. It made them look good and justified the ridiculous prices.

Now IT is easy. Like filling in a form. Connecting data sources is as easy as linking in an IP address. You can go outside your company to create end to end networks. Replace sales with ecommerce. Access from anywhere, even see your company's performance on your fridge.

BigIT is dead, rapidly displaced by a matrix of interconnected apps. Flexible, agile and inexpensive.

But nobody told the IT bods. They are still trying to build empires. Hence the moans.

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From my experience it's more IT a few years back got redefined from "can program, write code, debug things and produce something useful" to "can work a computer and knows how to make something bold in Word and make a Powerpoint presentation look all whizzy and animated". Hence the IT degrees either slid down to be social science/media ones (at worst) or the uni's had to spend at least the first year actually teaching people what they should already know (at best).

I can see it with the education my kids are currently getting. They have all sorts of PCs, tablets and other media stuff in the school, and the closest they get to IT is Powerpoint. I do my best to remedy this at home rather than my taxes doing it, but it does sometimes seem like buying a dog and barking myself.

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JLH

Peter, I completely disagree with you.

I, for instance, work in High Performance computing.

I manage and monitor several large systems which run engineering simulations 24 hours a day.

These are housed on premises, in server rooms.

I for one see that the cloud is laready having a major imact on HPC, and will do so in the future.

I don't want to empire build - in fact I would rather NOT have to look after hardware at all - and get on with the interesting stuff. There will ALWAYS be a place for the folks who understand how that data gets in/out to those 'connected apps' you so glibly talk about - when that magic data doesn;t get to your fridge you need someone who can be arsed to learn about IP netowkr, traceroute, packet sniffers and all those other deathly boring things (to normal people I mean).

Its not empire building to want to look afterm diagnose and improve the performance of equipment.

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"When IT was new it was hard. People didn't understand it."

It still is, to do it properly and effectively. Your post reads to me as if you're one of those Silicon Roundabout people who believes the buzzwords of the snake-oil salesmen. Have a word with HMRC and the NHS about how easy it is to meet requirements like scalability,reliability, stability and security using "a matrix of interconnected apps".

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I've seen the results of a system such as you describe. It's not pretty. With the input from some people who know something about IT, it is steadily improving.

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Facepalm

IT is still hard, all engineering is, some bits just seem easier as you get wisdom; however get tired and you remember not to be complacent!

What are you? A consultant in denial?

I met consultants, heard and saw their tripe, and I'm still replacing the crap they left behind with more powerful software which does the job properly and faster!

No, it's not just gluing components or services together, you need to know about the stuff you are using, how to make infrastructure too, so you know what it can do, know that your glue may actually be an application itself, so that you know when what is being asked for is stupid, so that you can suggest something which is practical and will actually work for years with rare quick maintenance tweaks, and not suddenly blow up and take ages to fix the original crap design!

Agile is a much misused word for computer systems, because most of it is hyped BS and a corruption of the Toyota way Lean system, which is a human robot system, which should only be used in limited situations. Software Development is not an assembly line!

Empires were always a bad and fragile management concept (as the USA is now discovering); bad IT will do it to hide their incompetence or for greed, good IT may do it in self-defence from unreasonable users and other empires.

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IT is easy???

It's only easy when the small stuff still works... just you try that when a small wifi driver crashes, and windows refuses to re-install, as it thinks it still works, though you can see otherwise!!

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"Now IT is easy. Like filling in a form. Connecting data sources is as easy as linking in an IP address. You can go outside your company to create end to end networks. Replace sales with ecommerce. Access from anywhere, even see your company's performance on your fridge."

You forgot the "/sarcasm" tag.

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Anonymous Coward

Perfectly sums it up

In the UK, it appears the preferred solution is to outsource everything until it goes tits up – which it does with crushing inevitability, since all outsourcing is cock

Company I work for has long running software. For a while they outsourced the job of adding new features to india. This stopped a few months before I began working here. My first and a half was 'fixing defects' which could be another way of saying 'rewrite everything that was outsourced'

Although some of the naming conventions they used were comical. Stop flag? Nah, "TheFlagOfAbandonment" now that's catchy.

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Re: Perfectly sums it up

>> "TheFlagOfAbandonment"

There's something about this that I find saucily appealing.

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MrT
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Re: Perfectly sums it up

>> "TheFlagOfAbandonment"

Thanks - that made me laugh!

I think we've just seen the birth of a new meme... if there's any way to link in cat pictures or Private Eye's Controversial New Columnist, or a Keep Calm t-shirt then I'm sure it will succeed.

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Anonymous Coward

Same old story

Skills shortage = not enough people with the technical skills -> but who to blame? Still see it where I am, students do the courses, get the debts, get the grades and go for a job. Same old story of "you need two to three years experience in a recognized position before they will consider you". Result, students with the knowledge and no company willing to invest. Most of the courses may come with "work experience" but that is for two to six weeks, if your lucky, and blessed if it is for six months. After that, you still cannot get a job. Amazing how many students will work in McD's or elsewhere during the after-hours just so that they can "volunteer" to work for a company for no rewards of any kind other than a letter at the end that says "Mr/Mrs/Miz X has worked here for 2 years in department xyz and has all required qualifications". Now the jobs are there for the picking. And then people wonder why there is a skills shortage.

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