Thursday, October 30, 2008

Driving Down The Ole' Punch-Card Trail

Maryland and Virginia are switching back to paper ballots. (see 2 States Plan to Ditch Electronic Machines, Part of a Rapid National Reversal)

I've talked about this before in a different context. We're about 4-5 days out now from the 2008 elections. We have all of this technology surrounding all kinds of important infrastructure -- and yet when it comes to voting we seem to lose all sense of the gravity, complexity and competency needed to make for transparent, trustworthy results.

Sad to say, but as a rabid technologist I must once again say that it's time to have the U.N. monitor our election process. Oh, and toss the electronic voting machines until an open, secure and verifiable framework can be established to right this situation.

The reasons for this are many:

  • The people running the election booths are simply not technologists in their day to day lives (on average) and the process by definition isn't a day to day process. It would be different if this were something done every day by people who understood all of the moving parts.
  • Given the above scenario, it's not all that hard to argue that if there is a flaw in the technology, it wouldn't be all that hard to imagine someone with nebulous intention getting into the system and skewing things -- it wouldn't be all that hard for them to get away with it, given their audience.
  • The technology is flawed and opaque -- it needs to be verifiable and transparent. Having proprietary vendors making something as important as voting machines is completely unacceptable.
  • The process is one of the most important processes we (as Americans participating as democratic citizens) undertake.
  • We've had to many dubious failures in recent history -- if we don't clean this act up people are going to stop believing in the process and the government in general. This is already happening to a great extent -- but the damage, I would wager, is reversible.
It might be something ludicrous, looking at Maryland and Virginia as examples -- one of my co-workers laughed at it, for example -- but a small bit of research will more than open your eyes. I'm not a gloom and doom kind of guy -- I am, however, very willing to look at a flawed system and suggest improvements. Oh, and I'm fairly pragmatic. Punch cards work, they're hard to reverse and they represent a paper trail (visions of me jamming my old WATFIV and WATFOR Fortran programs through a card reader run through my mind -- ahhhh, the terrible old days of IBM mainframe computing and JCL!).

We, as a budding Democracy of 200+ years (yes, that's sarcasm) have to be better than this.

Maryland, Virginia -- kudos for stepping out there for all the right reasons.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

What Would Darwin Do?

He'd read Ron Laneve's blog.

My company (Rosetta) is a crazy fun place to work -- Ron is the reason I'm there. The company is crazy busy too -- we recently started a merger and the work has kept Ron from sharing a lot of thoughts, but I'm sure it won't be that way forever.

Ron's blog is about evolution and talent acquisition. As I get more involved in recruiting, I see that the challenges of growing an organization and keeping it in one piece are formidable -- and that it's an evolution of a third order. Our brains making conscious decisions where trial and error made the original decisions (that's the first order of difference). But the working pieces of the collective "we" that make up Rosetta, or any company for that matter, fit together to solve problems in ways that often just make sense. This is a lot of what evolution does as well -- it's just that the things that end up working together in our realm have metrics and sentient thought to reward the final outcome (and that's a second order of difference from evolution).

To speed things along, we're out for the best and brightest evolutionary components. The conscious choice to pick really good evolutionary material, is, in my opinion, the third order of difference -- it's one the reasons it's tough to work here (you're being compared to some really brilliant people at the end of the day) -- but it's also more than enough to make up for any and all hardships. Smart people laugh their way out of problems that mire others in years of confusion.

Read Ron's blog. He's doing more than cooking up text -- the company is evolving into something new. The view from that dashboard has to be exciting.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Tesla on the Rocks -- but we'll bail out Fanny Mae

Tesla is on the rocks.

Maybe you don't know about the company -- it's goal is to make electric car -- something we kind of need in this day and age. Due to financial problems and marketplace concerns, it's now in trouble and shedding employees.

Correct me if I'm wrong here, but our energy future is more precarious than the funny money and legal issues of the financial system in the United States (and I'd argue, the world as a whole).

How can our government take a passive interest in this while they get all active and socialistic about stuff like the financial market? This is something obvious to me -- find a way to prop this company up for a while -- new things like this are hard to start. They can't easily be reconstituted if the company dies.

They bailed out Chrysler corporation when it was on the rocks. They want to help a bunch of bankers continue their party. Where are they when our energy future and innovation are dying at the same time?

Answer: No where to be found.

This country is supposed to be about freedom, capitalism and innovation -- we're not going to have the freedom until we break free of fossil fuels. We have to back the innovation of Tesla -- the choice is that or watch it die. Talk about money in the bank -- their idea is amazing and the fact that they got as far as they did with as little as they have is amazing to me.

I hope somewhere in the coffers of bail-out cash there's room for Tesla to have a little slack as well.


Thursday, October 16, 2008

Someone commenting on Resumes ...

Agrees with me. Sort of.

The perspective is one of a technology professional lamenting that people can't understand him from his resume. I've recently commented upon this in a talk I did at Ohio Linux Fest -- there's too much technology and complexity for a typical recruiter to sift through when looking for specific qualifications. I'd wager that the issue is only going to get worse by orders of magnitude every couple of years or so. There's so much change in the technological space that keeping up is pretty much worthless.

Enter Linked-in. The issue is that it helps people understand context along with qualifications and experience -- and that makes a huge difference. Is your resume obsolete? Yes and No (My apologies to Rob F. for this reference). You need a resume if you're going on a job interview. You don't necessarily need one to get found on-line (the most important place).


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Deconstructing the current recruiting problem...

I just returned from Ohio Linux Fest (OLF).

My talk this year was aimed at Linux (Free Software) and Open Source types -- and how to manage a career in that context. My brother, for the first time in his life, got to see me doing a public speaking gig. His comment was that most of my talk was universal. I was glad to hear this, as I meant to give, basically, a high level overview of what most people (tech, and he's one of those, just not with Linux), miss, in the context of what their job really is.

Which is to say, it's not just a job -- it's way more than that. Most tech people, however, treat their career and where they're at with it, with all of the thought of what they're wearing that day. If you were at OLF, you would know how funny this truly is -- everyone was wearing jeans and a tee-shirt.

(Oh, except for me -- what do you expect)

Anyway, the problem is that a lot of them wake up one day after 10-20 years and ask questions with answers that all sound a lot like "too late". My talk was meant to do a couple of things:

  1. Wake these people up, and give them a lot of good advice in as short a time as possible.
  2. Get some of them to think about working with me at Rosetta.
The first thing above is truly alt altruistic of me. The second one is very selfish, and I admit it. They both exist in the same reality.

Honestly, the present recruiting problem I'm up against is a first for me. In the past, when I've needed talented people to come work with me it's been pretty easy to find them. Things lately have gone pretty crazy at work and now all of a sudden I'm in a space where I'm looking for more people and it's not all that easy.

And it turns out, I'm not alone. At Ohio Linux Fest this year there were a couple of vendor tables that were purchased by people that were strictly there to do something similar to what I was doing -- they were there looking for talent.

Talent, it seems, is the real new currency. I predict that it won't go down in value anytime soon.

Lots of things are contributing to the problem:

  1. More technological and functional breadth: there's, every day, more stuff being added to the collective unconscious of the typical organization. More technology, sure, but also stuff like ITSM methodology, for example, which isn't a technology, but a functional requirement. As more and more "stuff" gets added, and more organizations attempt to figure out what to do to find people that know how to do this "stuff", the typical recruiter has a harder and harder time finding people that meet the requirements of the moment.
  2. More churn: People are simply bouncing around more. I think this is good, because honestly some people don't belong, for example, in IT these days. It's pretty grueling, and if you're not cut out for it, or not passionate about it, you honestly need to find something else that fits the bill.
  3. The same amount of talent: Let's put this another way -- a general rule is that talented people are born, not made. You can help talented people learn new stuff, but for certain types of work, it's more about finding talented people to train -- a "generic" resource, with no talent at all, is not going to be an item that can be ramped up into the job at hand.
All in all, these things are causing some serious choke points for me (and obviously lots of other people as well).

All in all, the show was awesome. If you haven't made it to Ohio Linux Fest and are into Linux, man are you missing out. The event was pretty eclectic and chock full of good reasons to be there. I learned a lot about new things by listening to buzz and as usual, met a lot of really good people that were great contacts.

I learned that I wasn't alone on the talent acquisition front as well.