back to article Sysadmin trained his offshore replacements, sat back, watched ex-employer's world burn

Why look at the calendar – it's Friday! Which can mean only one thing, namely the return of On-Call, your weekly instalment of tech support drama from El Reg's dear readers. This week, "Luke" tells us of the time he was able to wallow in schadenfreude after being laid off in favour of outsourced tech support. Luke's story …

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  1. defiler Silver badge

    Not in IT...

    ...but my wife's team at a construction company (no names) had to train their replacements before getting the boot. Then most of the replacements left because another big company opened up offices nearby. Then the company pretty-much fell apart. Like share-price-halved-in-the-next-year sort of fell apart.

    The fun of losing institutional knowledge.

    1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

      Re: Not in IT...

      In such cases one wonders what would happen if the affected workforce simply downed computers and briefed an HR lawyer to look into the legality of the whole thing. If a function is being outsourced it is still needed.

      Perhaps the company fell apart because of management incompetence pure and simple.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Not in IT...

        "In such cases one wonders what would happen if the affected workforce simply downed computers and briefed an HR lawyer to look into the legality of the whole thing. If a function is being outsourced it is still needed."

        Same thing happened to a friend who worked in HR for a large, multinational company - they were all issued with redundancy notices, and then made to train their replacements, who were located in a cheaper part of the world.

      2. pɹɐʍoɔ snoɯʎuouɐ

        Re: Not in IT...

        "briefed an HR lawyer to look into the legality of the whole thing"

        The little slime balls in HR usually worm a line into the employment contract about training new staff and how you are compelled to..

        1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
          Trollface

          Re: Not in IT...

          But usually nowhere does it say that they need to be trained competently, correctly or completely.

          Or to be taught all the little tricks and secrets like the precise locations that the machines need to be struck for percussive maintenance to make things better rather than worse...

          1. Giovani Tapini

            Re: Not in IT...

            Call it what you like, Corporate knowledge, institutional experience it is invaluable when wrangling multiple services to work together.

            Once you have outsourced your knowledge you are both unable to hold the supplier to account (because you have no idea what they should be doing), and unable to replace suppliers as the existing supplier then has to hand over, to a competitor(which they will either refuse or make extraordinarily expensive. Outsource capacity not capability!

            Many firms rely on at least some home-brewed IT services to be competitive or some unique capability to stand out. Any more than none, will require some embedded wrangler experience and is outsourced at the peril of the corporate boss that thinks its a good idea.

            In my experience outsourcing has generally not been a net cost saving once you tot it up. It only provides buffers against volatile demand or fills in hard-to-find specific skills.

            1. tfb Silver badge

              Re: Not in IT...

              I think the mistake is that companies often don't understand what they do, and end up outsourcing everything that makes them interesting. If your business is part of what people call 'the service industry' and if the date is after about 1990 then there's a very higj chance that what your business is about is shuffling data around on computers. If you outsource that then there's not much left of your company but a shell which will live on for a while until people realise that it no longer serves any purpose.

            2. Wensleydale Cheese Silver badge

              Re: Not in IT...

              "In my experience outsourcing has generally not been a net cost saving once you tot it up. It only provides buffers against volatile demand or fills in hard-to-find specific skills."

              Or in some case, completely fails to find those hard-to-find specific skills.

              I heard of one case where a particular outsourcing company couldn't find anyone out of a staff of 100,000 who had the necessary skills for a "legacy" product.

              1. ROC

                Re: Not in IT... Legacy Skills

                "Legacy skills/software" has increasingly come to mean that it is older than the young techies who are taking the jobs away from the older ones who grew old with the skill/software. It will only get worse...

          2. phuzz Silver badge

            Re: Not in IT...

            But usually nowhere does it say that they need to be trained competently, correctly or completely.

            No, but as happened to a friend of mine last year, they will be pretty explicit that your redundancy pay (almost twelve months in his case), does depend on you training your replacements well.

            So you can half-arse it, and have to scramble for a new job because you have no other money, or you can do it properly, then sit on your bum for a year before scrambling for a job...

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Not in IT...

              You can do it partially properly (I speak from experience), just miss out some minor key details here and there....

              Nothing too much, but, in such a way as to affect the companies bottom line savings from outsourcing.

              ....also, you can only train some folks well, I remember this Indian guy I had to train (as a customer of mine rather than a future employee), really nice guy, used to be quite knowledgable - but as India call centres and outsourced IT departments are treated the same (i.e. all written procedures and no chance for them to actually use their brains).

              The guy could not understand the concept of a linked library only put in one location once on each system deployment and then for each version of the application a symlink to the library in the application home directory....

              He kept wanting to copy the lib directly each time and couldnt understand why he didnt have permissions to do so (it was root owned and after initial box install, they didnt get root).

              So, theres only so much you can do too.....

              1. FIA

                Re: Not in IT...

                The guy could not understand the concept of a linked library only put in one location once on each system deployment and then for each version of the application a symlink to the library in the application home directory....

                Okay, I'm probably missing the subtle reason for this, but surely you could just configure the linker to look in that location?

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: Not in IT...

                  The application I was supporting at the time was a bespoke finance app that didnt use a linker in that sort of way - particularly when there was more than one version of the application running on the same physical system - it was written in a language that needs a licence per physical deployment, so in essence this was a fudge allowing more than one installation of the application to run per application server.

                2. Adam 1 Silver badge

                  Re: Not in IT...

                  > surely you could just configure the linker to look in that location

                  Why yes you could, however that isn't the problem being solved by a library. A linker is a compile time process. It's the thing that grabs all the compiled objects and bundles them into an executable or library.

                  A library is something that allows you to load a library at runtime. As long as the interfaces are compatible, it means you can upgrade or replace one component without touching anything else. Symlinks allow you to install side by side versions of the same library without "DLL hell". (Different applications on a given system may require different versions of the same libraries to function. This often happens when you have a legacy application linked to an older version of a third party library together with a newer version which uses some bells and whistles not available in the old version.)

              2. Wensleydale Cheese Silver badge

                Re: Not in IT...

                "I remember this Indian guy I had to train (as a customer of mine rather than a future employee), really nice guy, used to be quite knowledgable - but as India call centres and outsourced IT departments are treated the same (i.e. all written procedures and no chance for them to actually use their brains)."

                A problem I've come across with training up the bright guys is that they are likely to get promoted to management or recruited by someone else, and therefore don't stay on the job you trained them for.

              3. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge

                Re: Not in IT...

                @AC "(i.e. all written procedures and no chance for them to actually use their brains)."

                I saw exactly that, we trained our guys in Bangalore to follow the script, procedures drummed into them,... except of course the script could never accommodate all eventualities, so when they ran out of options, they just gave up. It didn't help with the security and compliance work, the policy was created in the USA, the parts that could be automated scripted into TSCM in the UK, and then the 'Gap Check' document, that detailed parts that could not be automated (creating a list of checks we had to perform manually on each server), created in Poland. By someone who wasn't that technical, reading a technical document, not written in their first language. So we got such howlers as statements which provided context to the questions in the section, being turned into questions themselves. So howlers like 'The following section only applies to servers which do not come under <insert name of regulation, like FDA, etc> regulation' having 'is this the case?' added, and being added to the manual checklist. Our offshore counterparts would earnestly try to answer these howlers, instead of engaging with the security team, and pointing out the questions were idiotic, and weren't really questions in the first place.

                1. AK565

                  Re: Not in IT...

                  Having worked in a large bureaucracy in a position that required fluency in several languages, I can see how those howlers could cause serious problems. However, the admins to whom one must explain this are usually monolingual English speakers who have no knowledge of language interplay and no knowledge of the topic of the document in question.

                  There's no hope of getting through. One must work around them.

            2. Terje

              Re: Not in IT...

              So how are they to prove that you deliberately didn't train them well? being a good teacher is usually not something that is required for most jobs... and completely, so they want to retain you as a consultant training the replacement for eternity? In my optinion most of those clauses should be easily torn apart by even a half decent lawyer.

            3. Wzrd1

              Re: Not in IT...

              "No, but as happened to a friend of mine last year, they will be pretty explicit that your redundancy pay (almost twelve months in his case), does depend on you training your replacements well."

              Well, there is well, as in a reasonable person would consider it well and properly, which would require competence in the first place and absent that, it's a lost cause.

            4. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Not in IT...

              No, but as happened to a friend of mine last year, they will be pretty explicit that your redundancy pay (almost twelve months in his case), does depend on you training your replacements well.

              BS, I was lauded by the manglement at the other company, however, my manglement considered I was not up-to-scratch and halved my redundancy pay.

            5. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              How to train your replacement

              "But usually nowhere does it say that they need to be trained competently, correctly or completely."

              Exactly. Train your replacement to cookbook normal operations, load them down with the boilerplate documentation and the company standard practice manuals, the more the better. Carefully document what you give them or discuss with them. Go for volume, avoid content. Show your boss with how much you are doing to get your replacement to speed. But never, ever, mention any esoteric corner cases or hidden hacks, anything that lurks in the technical debt.

              You have documented best efforts to train to avoid the inevitable train wreck, your redundancy pay is secure.

          3. EarthDog

            Re: Not in IT...

            And/or make big assumptions on their skill and training levels. "He was hired to run Oracle so I assumed he knew the difference between SYS, SYSTEM, SYSOPER, and sysdba, ".

          4. Lilolefrostback

            Re: Not in IT...

            Nothing in my CV indicates that I am a (competent) trainer. I can do a decent handover to a similarly qualified person. But I am not competent to train someone several steps below me to do my job, although, if need be, I'll do my best.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Not in IT...

          And most HR departments pretend they care for the employees but they don't. They are their for the company and that's it.

          1. herman Silver badge

            Re: Not in IT...

            I think it is obvious that when a Personnel Office gets renamed to Human Remains office, that things will be going down hill.

            1. EarthDog

              Re: Not in IT...

              That's "Residual Human Resources"

            2. Mark 65 Silver badge

              Re: Not in IT...

              I think it is obvious that when a Personnel Office gets renamed to Human Remains office, that things will be going down hill.

              In the words of Dirt Harry "Personnel? Personnel's for ass-holes."

          2. pop_corn

            Re: Not in IT...

            > "And most HR departments pretend they care for the employees but they don't. They are their for the company and that's it."

            The hint's in the name. When "Personnel" departments became "Human Resources" departments, humans just became resources to exploit.

            1. pɹɐʍoɔ snoɯʎuouɐ

              Re: Not in IT...

              "When "Personnel" departments became "Human Resources" departments, humans just became resources to exploit."

              as said in a previous post, my wife was a HR manager, she was at the company before they changed from personnel to HR... The change involved not much more than new name on the door and a pay rise...

          3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Not in IT...

            "And most HR departments pretend they care for the employees but they don't. They are their for the company and that's it."

            During and in the aftermath of a merger/takeover, it's my experience that the rationalisation which follows to cut staff and merge departments always seems to result in a number of job adverts for additional HR staff.

            I think I may be in the wrong profession for job security.

            1. David Roberts Silver badge
              Windows

              Re: Not in IT...

              "During and in the aftermath of a merger/takeover, it's my experience that the rationalisation which follows to cut staff and merge departments always seems to result in a number of job adverts for additional HR staff."

              I must speak out in support of one HR department at {cough}. They were pretty good anyway, and when a redundancy exercise was looming they discreetly mentioned this to people about to resign. Two reasons at least; it helped them meet their targets for volunteers, and they had also worked out that they were due for the chop once they had "right sized" the work force.

              Still, not like the good old days when you had a local Personnel unit who knew you and went that extra mile for you if you made a point of always being nice to them. Getting massive travel and subsistence claims processed swiftly made life a lot easier.

          4. Trollslayer Silver badge
            Flame

            Re: Not in IT...

            HR means humans as resources.

            Think of The Matrix, organic batteries.

            1. earl grey Silver badge
              Trollface

              Re: Not in IT...

              Think of The Matrix, organic batteries.

              Think of The Matrix, organic batteries, and soylent green. .

          5. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Not in IT...

            "And most HR departments pretend and that's it." TFTFY

          6. Mark 65 Silver badge

            Re: Not in IT...

            And most HR departments pretend they care for the employees but they don't. They are their for the company and that's it.

            HR are there to see that you are disciplined and fired/made redundant legally. They are absolutely not there for your benefit. Ever.

        3. macjules Silver badge

          Re: Not in IT...

          Totally agree. My contract has a specific about 'training you or your staff members' replacement(s) as or when required".

        4. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

          Re: Not in IT...

          The little slime balls in HR usually worm a line into the employment contract about training new staff and how you are compelled to..

          In my time I've known a few HR bods who were complete oxygen thieves but because they knew the nitty gritty of employment law, it was virtually impossible for management to get rid of them.

          1. pɹɐʍoɔ snoɯʎuouɐ

            Re: Not in IT...

            The little slime balls in HR usually worm a line into the employment contract about training new staff and how you are compelled to..

            In my time I've known a few HR bods who were complete oxygen thieves but because they knew the nitty gritty of employment law, it was virtually impossible for management to get rid of them.

            ironically, my wife was a HR manager... her last job was to close down a factory, make most of the staff redundant and move the remainder of the staff to another site... Staff that she made redundant included her brother. The last person to be let go was herself, including writing her own redundancy package.

            Like you said, they know the employment laws inside out and they make it their job to keep up with the latest changes in law, She never lost a case when anyone claimed wrongful dismissal and knew how to get rid of "problematic" employees...

        5. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Not in IT...

          It says that you need to train them to carry out the tasks but not that you have to train them on what to do when the process doesn't work. Nor can it say that you have to train them to have the underlying skills and experience. I can train a person to follow a list of instructions but unless you have hired a person with my level of knowledge and experience they will never be more then remote hands..

          Saying that your redundancy payment relies on you doing the training needs to have a set of conditions under which success will be measured. If they were to try and specify "the transition will be successful and nothing will go wrong" then they would get laughed out of court ;)

        6. MachDiamond Silver badge

          Re: Not in IT...

          "The little slime balls in HR usually worm a line into the employment contract about training new staff and how you are compelled to..

          Well, if you see the pink slips being handed out and you suspect you will be asked to train your replacement, maybe you should put in notice. If you can stay on good terms with a supervisor that will be remaining, you may be able to pick up some "consulting" work. If the redundancy payments are needed to keep the mortgage paid, learn to teach in a monotone voice and in sentences that are as dry as the Sahara. If the replacements are in another country, use as much jargon as possible. Perhaps you will be asked back in short order if the replacements mess up really bad.

      3. Wzrd1

        Re: Not in IT...

        "...one wonders what would happen if the affected workforce simply downed computers..."

        In the US, that would result, regardless of notification, in a lengthy prison sentence.

        In the US, throwing one's wooden shoes into the works is illegal.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Not in IT...

        When the nice chaps arrived on ICTs to replace us I wrote to my MP. I received a standard letter back assuring me all was in order and it was just friendly competition paying my replacements £10k a year.

        Apparently they too helped the share price downwards with a long (days) system outage.

    2. JimboSmith Silver badge

      Re: Not in IT...

      I used to do a regulatory function as part of a job I had. I had to report items (and I'm being deliberately vague because I might identify myself) to a certain external body every month. One day I was told that I was about to become surplus to requirements and at risk of redundancy. And low it came to pass that I was made redundant. Suddenly they realised that I did a specialised job as part of my work and was asked to help. Could I train a senior manager and a cocky kid who had just graduated from university (in Classics) ? Not wanting to make waves I agreed to do two sessions of training for them. This was far less than they needed but I explained how to map and merge two sets of data from two different pieces of software/databases and generate the report. All you had to do then was chase the missing data which the report highlighted as not being there.

      A month after I left I had a call from the university grad now panicking and much less cocky. She couldn't understand anything she'd written in notes taken in the training. I said she should talk to the manager but he couldn't remember anything apparently. I said I would charge to do more training or to come in and fix it at which point they were less interested. I believe they were fined far more than the cost of hiring me back for a day. They then hired a firm to produce an automated software method of doing this. That took a long time to iron out all the bugs and I understand more fines were issued. Turns out the manager had only been there to check that I was actually doing the training.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Not in IT...

        A month after I left I had a call from the university grad now panicking and much less cocky. She couldn't understand anything she'd written in notes taken in the training. I said she should talk to the manager but he couldn't remember anything apparently. I said I would charge to do more training or to come in and fix it at which point they were less interested.

        A couple months after being fired from a job, the owner called me up asking some various technical questions on some issue. I gave intentionally vague and noncommital answers, then sent them a bill for my time. While they never paid it, I had made my point, they never called me again.

        1. RancidOrange

          Re: Not in IT...

          You should have agreed a consultancy fee before agreeing to answer any questions.

    3. SVV Silver badge

      Re: Not in IT...

      "Call it what you like, Corporate knowledge, institutional experience it is invaluable"

      Indeed, you thought you had just reduced a\ wage bill, but you actually threw away valuable capital that you have invested a lot of money in (that knowledge and experience)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Not in IT...

        Indeed, you thought you had just reduced a\ wage bill, but you actually threw away valuable capital that you have invested a lot of money in (that knowledge and experience)

        Classic quote comes to mind, something like "Cost of everything and value of nothing!"

        1. FuzzyWuzzys Silver badge

          Re: Not in IT...

          Classic quote comes to mind, something like "Cost of everything and value of nothing!"

          My personal favourite was told to me by a Swiss colleague, "We must save money, and it must be done at any cost!". Sums up every IT cost cutting venture I've ever had to be involved in!

      2. AlbertH

        Re: Not in IT...

        Indeed, you thought you had just reduced a\ wage bill, but you actually threw away valuable capital that you have invested a lot of money in (that knowledge and experience)

        This is exactly what a Big Broadcasting Concern that I used to work for found out when they tried to outsource their engineering functions. The "make do and mend" that had gone on for years simply couldn't be supported by the new sub-contractors, and suddenly everything - equipment, software, spares, consumables - cost several times their previous prices, because the "support" that was now being provided was mostly inept. The sub-contractors tried to hire many of us ex-engineering types, but we'd moved on to better things.

        Fast forward twelve years.... I received a plea from someone very high up in the Concern, begging for some support on a "consultancy" basis. I've told them that I'll turn up - from my semi-retirement next to the Mediterranean Sea - for nothing less than £3600 per 8-hour day ( I like the look of the hourly rate - it's roughly what I was paid per week before the redundancy! ).

        I start work in a couple of weeks' time!

        1. EarthDog

          Re: Not in IT...

          Hooray for the good guys!

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