Working Up

Working Up in Project Management, Systems Engineering, Technology, and Writing

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Visa, Immigration, Jobs, Salaries

June 22nd, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Yes, immigration fuels the economy. I love it when skilled persons enter the US. The current situation, however, isn’t so lovely.

The H-1B visa battle continues.

Let’s step back to my naive childhood. America wants skilled persons to come here and improve much of this nation in many ways. We grant entrance to the skilled and productive. We discourage those who take, but don’t give.

Enough childhood naivete. Let’s move into adulthood and our current situation, which is obfuscated by content-free screams from the many political factions.

Companies are bringing in talent from abroad (good), but paying them half salaries (bad). There is a shortage of skilled talent that works for half wages. There has always been a shortage of skilled talent that works for half wages.

Some persons are happy to live in America at what most Americans consider a low standard of living. I understand that as I have lived most of my adult life at a standard of living that is below my income.

The trouble with these half salaries is that skilled Americans are unemployed. Free markets? Sure. Servitude? I think we outlawed that a while back.

Much of the tech talent being imported into America today is a post-post-post modern version of tenant farming. We’ll bring you to America—a country club by the standard of most of the world—and you’ll work for us for five years or so at half pay. That half pay is how you pay us back for plane tickets and graft. Okay?

This is becoming ugly.

→ No CommentsTags: America · Immigration · Jobs · Work

Agile and the Kitchen

June 19th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

In which I consider what happens in a kitchen and ask, “what was it those guys with the manifesto invented?”

For years, my wife has managed kitchens in all-volunteer organizations. For years before that, my wife’s mother did the same. Consider the situation:

  • There is unprepared food
  • There is an end-state—prepared food
  • Some volunteers walk in with mixed and largely unknown skills

The person in charge (PIC) gives a task to each volunteer and observes. When a volunteer nears completion of a task, the PIC tells them of the next task. The “next task” depends on what the PIC has learned about the volunteer’s skills and how fast the volunteer is learning.

Some volunteers leave after a task or two. Some volunteers appear at some point during the preparation of the food.

As the food preparation progresses, the nature of the tasks changes. The PIC works through the tasks with the volunteers

This all sounds like agile software development. The PIC is the SCRUM master (in one set of agile terms). The volunteers are the team members. There is a start state and an end state. One meal is one sprint. There is a backlog of features. And so on it goes.

Really, so we have to have a certified SCRUM master or someone to be the PIC? This backlog or kanban or something is all new? Learning while working is also something new?

Hmmm, seems like a lot of people have been preparing a lot of meals for a long time, and none of them went to an Agile conference or anything.

So I have to ask again,

“what was it those guys with the manifesto invented?”

→ No CommentsTags: Adapting · Adults · Agility · Learning · Observation

Artificial Intelligence and Other Misused Terms

June 15th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

I realize that my plea won’t do any good, but could we please use the right terms in describing “artificial intelligence?”

Everybody is doing artificial intelligence (AI) these days. Really? Consider…

  1. Artificial intelligence
  2. Deep Learning
  3. Machine Learning
  4. Neural Networks
  5. Pattern Recognition

The vast majority of what people call AI today is really #5—pattern recognition. People have studied and applied pattern recognition for decades. There is nothing new here. Feed a million photos into a system of equations, adjust the coefficients, and viola, you can recognize a flower and a cat. Of course it’s a bit more difficult than that, but really, that is what we are doing.

Tell me when deep learning can solve,

“It is May 2, 2017, what should and could I do?”

Answer: Mothers Day is coming (that’s the first answer). Now create something wonderful, i.e., consider your mother’s life, as you know it, and do something delightful.

That answers considers the entirety of your mother’s life—as you know it, the entirety of your life—as you remember it, and what you and your mother consider delightful. You can’t adjust the coefficients to create something delightful.

That delight is intelligent.

Of course this little blog post won’t change anything. The marketers will continue to holler AI-this and AI-that and all that wonderful stuff so please buy our processors and software APIs and our people (yes, we even sell people here). And the coefficients will adjust and we’ll expand the order of magnitude of the coefficients again and recognize patterns in super-duper-ultra-really-big-high definition video and allow a novice to back an 18 wheeler into a tight spot. Oh, wait, someone solved that problem decades ago, but everyone forgot to look it up (true statement, not fake news).

And please call me when an algorithm can create delight. I really do want to see that in my lifetime.

→ No CommentsTags: Computing · Learning · Technology

Analysis of Questions about Analysis

June 12th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

For 30 years persons have asked me questions about analysis. I continue to give the wrong answer.

“How are your analysis skills?”

I remember the question as if was asked this morning. I was coming out of grad school and trying to find a job. It was 1986 (yikes, that long ago). I had no answer. What in the world did the guy mean by that?

A little background. I was working on my PhD with research in artificial intelligence and computer vision, i.e., teach a computer to analyze an image. Hence, I was working in meta-analysis or the analysis of analysis.

My problem was that I didn’t understand the question and didn’t give the meta-analysis reply I should have. Instead, I gave the wrong answer.

Today, I hover around data scientists and data analysis and all the new words we have made up in the last ten years that describe the same things we have been doing for the last few centuries.

“Can you pivot tables in SQL, R, and Excel so that we can wrangle the data?”

My answer, “Huh, uh, no, but five minutes Googling and I can.” ooops, that is still the wrong answer. Perhaps I should talk about meta-analysis this time or the next time.

It is a shame, but I am still giving the wrong answer to these questions about analysis.

→ No CommentsTags: Analysis · Questions

Recruiting: Write-Only Memory

June 8th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

There are no qualified applicants available! Jobs are left empty! Really?

This links to yet another article where employers complain that there are no qualified applicants available. There are many reasons why jobs go unfilled while the qualified remain unemployed. This post is about one of the reasons:

The recruiting departments of some companies use write-only memory.

The unemployed look online, find job descriptions, and apply to them. The trouble is, the recruiting system uses write-only memory, i.e., no one is able to read the job application.

Or so it seems. I know I am being silly. Still, countless times I have met people with jobs who complain that they need people (like me) to come to work with them. They are shocked to learn that I have applied to all the job openings they have. No one ever told them. So, they enter information into their recruiting system that forces people to see and call. No one sees; no one calls. A shame, they are using write-only memory as well.

I don’t work in a recruiting department. I don’t know what type of systems they use. I don’t know why persons are unable to see applications. Surely they are not using write-only memory. Surely something else is in the way. Perhaps one day I will learn what that monstrous something is.

→ No CommentsTags: Jobs · Problems

Sexual Harassment: Surprised?

June 5th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Stories of sexual harassment in the technology industry are rampant. Why is anyone surprised?

This will be short and bitter.

Stories of sexual harassment in the technology industry are rampant. I won’t put links here to representative reports. There are too many from which to choose, and I find them disgusting.

Brogrammers. Boys club. Reverse harassment—all disgusting.

I find these to be logical but immoral outcomes of where we have been heading since the 1960s. Is anyone allowed to use the word “immoral” any longer?

You grab another person in a place you shouldn’t, you get the back of your hand slapped with a ruler. Never heard of that punishment? Never experienced it? If you had (like me in first grade, thank you Miss Campbell), you would take greater care where your hand wanders.

You say something about another person you shouldn’t, you get your mouth washed out with soap. Again, never heard of that punishment? Never experienced it? If you had (like me in first grade, thank you again Miss Campbell), you would take greater care with what comes out of your mouth.

I am sorry many of today’s “tech leaders” didn’t have Miss Campbell in first grade. That is a great shame. Thank, or blame, the revolutionaries of the 1960s.

→ No CommentsTags: Adults · Failure

The Plan versus the Idea

June 1st, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Often “plans” are merely “ideas.” Ideas suffice if they are small enough.

We have a lot of plans where I work and recreate. The trouble is, I can’t ever seem to find them. No one can produce an artifact that records the plan. Truth is, the plan is in the mind of a person.

I refer to a thing in the mind of a person as an idea. Perhaps “idea” isn’t the best term for this, but let’s go with that for now. The idea is real in the mind of the person. They know it well and can recite it at a moment’s notice.

Hence, the plan is recorded somewhere, somehow so that others can see it. The idea is in the mind of a person.

There is no problem with an idea. The person is here. The person carries the idea. The person passionately executes the idea. Fruition! Ideas as great. In my experience, they are great as long as one or two persons can carry the entire idea in their brains. Once the idea is too big for two brains, we should have a plan.

  • What are all the steps to building an airport?
  • What are all the concepts in a word processor?
  • How does a specific search engine work?

I don’t know of any two persons who can make these ideas. They require plans. Hence, I return to my opening summary:

Ideas suffice if they are small enough. Once they are large, we should have a plan.

→ No CommentsTags: Analysis · Clarity · Communication · Ideas · Planning

We are Requesting…

May 29th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Yet another group of needless words and the search for the actual verb.

I recently read something and felt my skin crawl at the same time. Something was amiss. Sigh, go back, read it again.

We are requesting that you give blah blah blah.

Okay, what’s wrong? This is another version of the search for the actual verb. In the line above “requesting” appears to be the verb, but that means that “We” is using a passive voice, adding needless words, and causing my skin to crawl.

Let’s try this:

Would you please give blah blah blah

I know who is talking, the person who sent me the message. Now I can see the actual verb: “give.” I tossed in the “please” just to be polite. Note, it wasn’t in the first skin-crawl-inducing line. Also note that this version is shorter. I could provide the text that came in place of the blah blah blah, but they also had extra words that were hiding the actual verb and the first part had enough skin crawling for one blog post.

Edit onwards.

→ No CommentsTags: Brevity · Clarity · Writing

The Gig Economy, Odd Jobs with a Cool Name

May 25th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Nothing new under the sun. The gig economy meandors, and some persons get by.

I’ve been mulling this post for a while. As a coincidence, The New Yorker is running a long piece on it. When I was in high school, way back in the last century, in rural Louisiana, I knew persons who lived on the gig economy. They, however, didn’t have such a cool name for their lifestyle. They, instead, worked “odd jobs.” They painted houses, mowed lawns (wasn’t called “landscaping”), fixed plumbing, fixed washers and dryers, installed garage doors, and so on.

They didn’t advertise and weren’t part of TaskRabbit or Amazon Turk or something else. They got jobs by what we used to call “word of mouth.” “Mabel had John fix her back porch. Give him a call about your busted screen door.”

The men who worked odd jobs didn’t have any “paid days off,” what we call today “benefits.” They didn’t have health insurance. They went to the doctor, the doctor gave them a reasonable bill, i.e., a bill the doctor knew they could and would pay, and they paid it. Retirement came when their kids were “out on their own.” (I realize I am using a lot of phrases in quotes in this post, but I came to realize that we don’t use these phrases anymore.)

Career? No, not really. A life? Yes, they made a life of it.

On a recent walk across rural America, I found that the odd job, er, uh, the gig economy, is still alive, and maybe reasonably well. Walk slowly through rural America and see “lawns gardening income taxes plumbing tanning salon” all on one sign, and the people who live in the house behind the sign actually do all those things well at prices that the community can afford.

Hence, there is nothing new under the sun. Those who live on odd jobs still exist. I find one of the troubles with those who gig odd jobs (GOJ, let’s start a new acronym) today have $100,000 in college debt. Someone told them that a master’s in art history with an emphasis on English literature of the early 20th century would bring a good job. Too bad.

→ No CommentsTags: Agility · Work

Important Nonsense

May 22nd, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

When an otherwise rational person starts speaking nonsense—pay attention as something important is happening.

People tell me how important a topic is to them by how they speak to me. Rational, logical, focused—nope. Not those adjectives.

I am writing about important topics. When something is important, something burns inside. The heart quickens, the blood pressure rises, everything constricts, and usually nonsense comes from the mouth of the otherwise rational person.

Now it is time for me to pay close attention. The nonsense is a signal that this topic carries high importance for the other person. I must ignore the urge to chuckle and walk away. I must focus and find what it is that is burning inside the other person.

Oh, perhaps I should drop all the “must” language. After all, how important is the other person to me? Hmm, that’s a good question. How important is the other person to me?

All this noticing and filtering and focusing requires effort on my part. If I am managing endeavors and leading persons, that is my job.

→ No CommentsTags: Breathe · Communication · Consulting · People