Archive for March, 2011

Crazy Dream

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

I just remembered that earlier I dreamed that the owner of the law firm that was my company’s main client scheduled a meeting with me to discuss whether it would be viable to have me take back over their IT support, as he’d become unhappy with the company that replaced me.

That’d never happen. He’d more likely go with yet another outfit, but the one he has is such a local and relatively major one, I’m not sure who that might be. I get the impression that they’ve been made to expand their infrastructure and relicense their software more vigorously than they were used to, and were not thrilled at having to make a remotely major expenditure more frequently than their traditional ten years.

That’s how it appeared. They made a really huge IT expenditure circa 1995-1997, had issues, landed with us in 1998 to pick up the pieces, stopped spending money after 1998. In 2006 they had no choice but to start spending money again, being already years out of date, and compensating by overspending on duct tape and baling wire. In 2007 they spent comparably to what they had in that initial burst, and that involved my replacement with a larger IT services firm. I long assumed that it would take someone else to sell them, since they wouldn’t upgrade as needed at my behest, but then were unhappy things took so much effort. Ironically, they spent like there was no tomorrow, then went onto a more or less fixed price contract that was for approximately the amount they averaged paying me, but that their big burst of spending had made possible to handle inexpensively.

What a racket! Get the customer to spend the money needed to make the fixed price support contract profitable. Plus have fine print so some of the worst possible incidents that could get out of control are not under the fixed price. Why didn’t I think of that! I mean, besides that the client would never have agreed to spend, say, 150 grand on new stuff if I’d proposed it. But then the client also turned down the opportunity for a fixed monthly rate, too, then provoked situations where the charge for the month could swing dramatically.

Get a Job

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

Mining my endless bookmarks under the “blog this” category, here is one from last year, always relevant, Get a Job, Any Job from one of the first bloggers I ever read, Joanne Jacobs.

I wish that back in 1988 I’d had a firmer grip on what good advice this was, and a better idea of how to make the most of whatever I could get. And that despite actually having a more career-minded degree thn some, in accounting, but crippled by not wanting to join the guild. That is, become a CPA.

After my experiences, and simply because I am observant and capable of simple math and extrapolation, I’ve perceived there to be a higher education bubble since long before Glenn Reynolds started touting the topic. I expect higher education, to the extent it exists, to look very different as time, perhaps less than you might expect, goes by, and for practical skills to become more desired. Besides, most of what I learned in college that wasn’t specific to my major field of study should have been covered by the end of high school… or was covered. In my experience with nieces and nephews, they are a year or more ahead overall in school, and are doing what was college work for me as early as sixth or seventh grade, which is a good sign. In my daughter’s case, the kindergarten curriculum corresponds roughly to what used to be first grade, according to her principal, and from my perspective it’s no first grade I recognize. The science part of it alone is amazing. But I digress.

You have to learn how to hold that job, learn what is specific to a company or a field in reality, and then your knowledge and all from schooling can help you take more advantage than you might otherwise. It’s not magic or a guarantee. Sometimes I think you might do as well with self-taught knowledge, or specific classes, rather than a whole degree, depending what level of entrenched credentialism you face when you know the ropes and are ready to conquer new heights.

The topic made me think of this song…

More on the Merger Plus Wireless News Generally

Monday, March 21st, 2011

Fear the merger? Don’t fear the merger? Mileage varies!

Maybe everybody loses and it’s unthinkable, or maybe the industry overall is so vibrant there’s no need to block it (which we all know has no bearing on whether or not it actually gets blocked).

Perhaps the carriers ought to work on the problem of cell reception worsening, focus on service offering innovations that seem cool, or concentrate on technological solutions to the expense and regulatory hurdles associated with building up capacity with traditional methods in the face of NIMBY. All NIMBY were the suburbanites, and ye cell users outraged…

I still don’t like it, despite seeing some business and regulatory logic to it. It ought to be an interesting next several weeks trying to figure out who will be least evil and most useful as I try to work out my own phone decisions.

Yuck! T-Mobile Swallowed By AT&T

Sunday, March 20th, 2011

Subject to regulatory approval, of course.

I have T-Mobile, and have been known to complain, but that has more to do with having a horrible phone over the past two years. An alleged “BlackBerry,” which sensibly is no longer made, on which the screen cracked about a month after I received it, with weak ability to get signal even where it should, now on death’s door, begging to be replaced. Thing is, I am annoyed with Verizon over my home service, and that makes me less inclined to go with them. AT&T is the evil also-ran with the horrible reputation, overloaded with iPhone users, though they seemed to handle the crunch unexpectedly well. The whole phone thing is the subject of an entirely different post I haven’t written yet. This complicates things, even with it being a year until it’s likely to be completed.

The sad thing is, after learning recently about T-Mobile having become the leader in building up their network and jumping ahead of others, and in offering good deals on plans, I sort of predicted that they were a likely takeover target. Better if they and one or more of the smaller players had merged, though. A shame the technology in use is closest to matching that of AT&T.

This article wasn’t too amused with the prospect.

T-Mobile USA has information for customers, which is an excellent move on their part.

Deutsche Telekom, owner of T-Mobile USA, has a press release of interest. They will become the single largest shareholder of AT&T, 8%, on top of getting an infusion of cash. It’s a pretty winning deal from the perspective of the companies involved.

Customers? Depends, but I’m skeptical.

Book Writing Question

Monday, March 14th, 2011

I’ve had a book idea in mind for a few years, but in part due to the Kindle and 99 cent success stories am newly excited about getting around to it. Thing is, while a business book, it’s true and autobiographical. How much need I change the names to protect the, well, sometimes innocent? Including my own, such as using a pen name?

I am most concerned about naming clients, which would not be necessary to the story and lessons it will convey, but also concerned about naming partners, who are also friends, which is one of the lessons to be detailed. Yeah, I think I’ve answered my own question, but still…

Missing the Point

Sunday, March 13th, 2011

I work part time for a pretty large company. I’ve been there almost two and a half years, which is forever in terms of their retention, if hardly the longest in my location. It’s a bit like human mortality, in which infant mortality drags the average down, but if you make it past the early days, you’ll probably last a while.

They have two big concerns: retention and safety. They like people to stay as long as possible, because you get better at the work and can be more effective, more than outweighing the higher pay. On the other hand, the last pay increase you ever get as a part-timer is at the three year mark. Raises a refront-loaded at rapid intervals, then annual, then end. I’m not sure anyone there knows the term, at least at my location, but retention affects institutional knowledge, which has a meta effect on how well operations run.

They also prefer people not to get hurt, which makes sense from both fiscal and humanitarian perspectives. Retention even factors in, as you presumably work more safely as well as efficiently. It costs money. It costs efficiency. It makes life harder for the people who aren’t injured and have to cover the load.

If there have been no injuries in the previous month that required seeing a doctor, we get pizza. Mind you, the shift starts between 2:30 and 4:00 AM, depending on expected volume, largely but not entirely a seasonal thing. There are no pizza places open at 2 in the morning, unless you count a nearby convenience store that happens to offer a limited selection of pizza. So when we get pizza, it is cold, having been picked up by the manager on his way to work late the night before. The pizza is extraordinarily popular, though it works better if we are told the day before we are getting it that day and can eat accordingly in anticipation. If there is one problem, it’s that they get not quite enough of it.

One time, months ago, a day manager was covering and ran to McDonald’s instead, so we each got a double cheeseburger and fries. It was fresh and warm, but it wasn’t pizza, but she was filling in and meant well, and we at least were sitting down for a meeting before work proper started, making it easy to eat. Another problem with McDonald’s, to me, is ketchup. I always put extra ketchup on a burger, since they don’t come with enough, and use it on my fries. There was none.

We have a new manager, and I don’t believe we have had pizza since she started. We knew we’d finally made an injury-free month again, and would be getting pizza soon, but nobody warned us what day. Usually it’s a Wednesday, and they let us know on Tuesday (we work Tuesday through Saturday). Saturday morning we walked in to find bags of McDonald’s waiting for us. The fries were cold and soggy. The burgers were thinking about still being warm. Maybe.. Not sure when the manager got the food, but it clearly was no time close to when we started our shift, even if it wasn’t on her way there at 11 PM or midnight.

Missed the point.

It felt like the manager did it as an obligatory thing she just had to do and didn’t care about. It felt like she went for the option and timing that was convenient for her. It made employees make fun of her behind her back (or in full view, going entirely over her head) even more than usual.

After maybe a year of monthly meetings with a few employees to talk about retention, what makes those who stay do so and what would make people inclined to stay longer, there was a major thing that came of it, company-wide. Benefits for part-time people. Starting this year, if you had worked enough hours – basically a year worth – you could opt into any or all of a reasonably decent medical, dental and vision plan at very low cost as these things go. Later in the year there will be vacation days and holiday pay. That’s a sensible, direct, and surprising thing to have done to encourage retention.

There was also a minor thing.

Apart from it simply being a hard job at crazy hours, sometimes being held or kept by people only because they need something until they find a real job in this economy, or because their other job isn’t a real job either, the biggest reason people choose to leave is abrasive managers. The guy who runs the overall facility used to sometimes come in during our shift and irritate people so much they’d quit. He learned from that and improved dramatically. There is a part time manager who can be similar, but who has also improved. I think highly of her, yet if I’d had the wherewithal to do so, I’d have quit due to her. Nobody wants to say this in the retention meetings. They hovered around it when the meetings were run by the old manager, widely respected and not a retention killer himself. Now that the new manager is even worse than the part-time manager at being imperious, abrasive or otherwise off-putting, and she runs the retention meetings, it really doesn’t get said. The meetings are kind of strained and uncomfortable, not aided by the manager seeming not to have ever run meetings before.

So what has kept coming up, over and over, is coffee.

As in, free or really cheap coffee for the employees as a benefit. Traditional at some companies or in some industries.

Well, they’d tried having a coffeemaker a few years ago, but apparently one employee would steal all the sugar packets or such, and it was a mess. So there was discussion of getting a vending machine for it instead.

And they did. With all kinds of fancified coffee options, all at a dollar a cup. I saw it and thought it seemed too expensive. Apparently so did other people, and I haven’t seen anyone buy any yet. Oops.

Missing the point, they put in a coffee machine at full price, using the water hookup that used to go to a cold and hot water dispenser that allowed people to bring in and make instant cocoa. Appropriately, near the bathrooms, as that’s another factor, at least for me.

You see, coffee is a diuretic.

My wanted-to-quit fight with the part time manager was over going to the bathroom, using my judgment to run in, from close by, while everything had come to a stop for a minute or so. What made me so mad was I’d just been thinking that retention shouldn’t be a problem, because they were treating us increasingly professionally, so we could use our judgment in many situations like that. That’s the real answer to the retention issue: learning to trust your employees (and which ones you can trust, and how far) and treat them with some professionalism.

Yes, we are lucky to be allowed to go to the bathroom at all… and they gave us a coffee machine? That nobody will have time to use… or to relieve themselves from? Which brings it back to the coffee suggestion being half-joking on the part of the employees who kept making it, and the sweet spot for it actually going over being free or very cheap.

The company missed the point of the “benefit” entirely. And in a way the safety pizza is a benefit, too, as well as an incentive unrelated to retention, so it’s a case of missing related points.

Cloud Backup Trends

Monday, March 7th, 2011

Rob May has a great post at the company blog at Backupify on trends driving cloud backup. It sounds right to me, particularly the parts about data portability, it being managerially smart to prepare for black swans, and users being vastly more the problem than permanent data loss by a cloud provider is likely to be.

It has always irritated me when vendors try to “own” your data. It still happens, but I’d love to think it’s on the wane. In my ill-fated business, one of the key elements and benefits of our not-quite-finished document management software (and associated law firm case management, but the package could be used in other environments, or as a generic/personal doc manager) was that you owned your data and your documents. There was no lock-in. There was an easy ability to locate and access documents directly should the software not be available.

Thus I’ve always loved the data portability angle Rob brought to his startup.