The dark side of tech
July 22, 2017 12:03 PM   Subscribe

Having been in software for 35 years now, I'm seeing changes in the industry that are negatively impacting it as a career choice for young people. What are the industry trends affecting workers?

Many see the recent emphasis on getting women into tech as a wonderful development but I'm starting to think it goes along with the general devaluation of tech workers as interchangeable widgets (pink collar jobs anyone?).

In my own experience I have seen a push to contractual offshore workers at half the salaries who are given no training in our product yet are expected to just "pick it up" or have a seasoned engineer just "give a quick explanation of the requirements" so they can complete the task. In my own company there is a huge disconnect between management and engineering as to what is going to help us do our work in a quality way.

I'm interested in reading more about technology corporate trends. Why open office plans? Do companies really ignore the utter dysfunction of this environment in favor of saving money? Why is "discretionary time off" being lauded as a great perk? What other trends are coming down the pike that will be sold as great things but are really methods of devaluing workers?

A year ago I enjoyed reading My Year in Startup Hell , and just yesterday there was Abuses Hide in the Silence of Nondisparagement Agreements.

What musings are out there that would inform and warn me?
posted by scorpia22 to Technology (12 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Discretionary time off is a great perk for employers because it means employees don't accrue vacation time that has to be paid out when they leave. If you happen to work at a place that discourages actually taking much time off, people are unlikely to take any more than the 2-3 weeks they'd normally be getting at most, but then you don't owe them anything for accruing leave and you get to attract people by saying "unlimited vacation!" (I have worked at places where everyone from the CEO down *does* actually take 4-6 weeks of time off a year and that's a pretty great atmosphere, but at other companies that had it, really, no one took more than a week off at a time or more than 2-3 weeks a year because they felt pressured not to be seen to be too lazy)

I think a good thing to do is to find and follow radical tech people on Twitter. @ericajoy, @swu, and @pinboard are a few of my favorites. Pay attention to who they retweet regularly and follow them too. That's a great way to find good things to read, to get thinking about things outside your sphere, and learn about a lot of ways the industry is dysfunctional in ways a lot of us in it don't realize.
posted by olinerd at 12:16 PM on July 22, 2017 [4 favorites]

The "recent" emphasis on getting women into tech isn't even slightly recent. There have been programs to goose the pipeline for at least the last 15 years (i.e., since I started paying attention - certainly there were outreach things before then too) and nobody has ever cared what happens to those women after they get their first software job (i.e. once you're out of the "pipeline" it doesn't matter to anyone how long you last and it never has). What's new is that tech is the only white-collar-ish field that seems to actually be growing anymore that doesn't require an advanced degree or lengthy, expensive certification, so women are actually listening.

I expect talk about requiring an advanced degree or lengthy, expensive certification for some jobs to "keep out the riffraff" and "ensure software engineering culture fit" to start any minute now. This would be a big cultural shift for software, but I think it's coming. Right now there are still plenty of jobs for everyone but as we start to automate more and more of the jobs away or push commodity functionality down to the cloud provider the people who have any power are going to start circling the wagons.

I'm surprised by what you say about offshoring, because in my segment of the profession that was a trend in the late 90s and early 2000s but was largely abandoned because the cost savings weren't worth the headaches of language and cultural barriers and dealing with time zones. For customer service and tech support, sure, but on the dev side? And at this point, good developers aren't *that* cheap no matter where they are.

If you want to read some creepy thinkpieces look into tech companies offering egg freezing and every more generous fertility benefits to female employees as a perk.
posted by potrzebie at 1:41 PM on July 22, 2017 [4 favorites]

There are a LOT of H1B shenanigans. On the low end you have consulting companies paying people peanuts and mistreating them. On the high end you have jobs posted that require an MS in CS pretty much just so that they can justify doing H1B sponsorship for those candidates. Schools try to cash in on this and recruit heavily in China and India, but some (even very reputable) schools have a poor track record of getting those students into actual US jobs, and some of the programs don't even meet the requirements to count as an advanced degree under the H1B rules. Meanwhile every company promises to give H1B candidates sponsorship for a green card, but it can take 10 years or longer -- and you have kids of the H1B holders (born abroad) in a kind of international limbo where they don't know what country they'll be able to stay in. It's a really awful situation for everyone involved.
posted by miyabo at 1:46 PM on July 22, 2017 [9 favorites]

There are also a lot of poorly run companies where management still hasn't gotten the memo about the ROI of off-shoring. Don't underestimate management's desire to reinvent the wheel and learn the same lessons over again.

After reading the articles mentioned in the original post, it feels like we're headed for another dotcom crash because start-ups still haven't figured out that success means a viable revenue stream. I notice Hubspot, for example, has no clients of note on their website and are extremely vague about what they actually DO for their clients.
posted by Autumnheart at 6:09 PM on July 22, 2017

At some companies I've worked at, off shoring has evolved to finding "mid cost" locations. The idea being that these places have a well educated and capable workforce but also a lower cost of living and thus wages. Some European countries for example or less techie parts of the US. To me it still seems a false economy - the locations tend to have good freedom of movement so the decent devs move to the high wages places instead, and you still have the overhead of additional management and remote communications.
posted by JonB at 12:23 AM on July 23, 2017

Some other trends gone wrong:

Agile methodologies like scrum being used as management tools. Lots of ceremonies and long planning sessions, and trying to measure productivity of teams by counting story points delivered.

Devops being used as a way to reduce costs - pushing the responsibilities of skilled infrastructure, security and operations teams onto the devs.

Code test coverage tools and metrics being used as proof of quality with management set targets. Much pride then in having 90% coverage when the tests may just assertTrue(true)!
posted by JonB at 12:33 AM on July 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

In general I like what DHH has to say. What I especially liked was 37Signal's first book "Getting real".
posted by wolfr at 4:27 AM on July 23, 2017

Outsourcing is considerably less of an issue than it was -- low-value off-shoring is much better recognized as a dead end, and the cost savings of high-value off-shoring are much less than they were. The best companies are globalizing not to save money but to be closer to and more relevant to global customers, and to access the best talent everywhere (especially when emigrating to the US isn't as universally attractive as it once was).
posted by MattD at 10:16 AM on July 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you're amenable to more twitter suggestions, along with Pinboard I'd suggest @ekp (Ellen Pao) for issues around VC capital and general access, @sarahmei for tech education, hiring, and management issues, and @anildash for tech and politics.
posted by postcommunism at 12:29 PM on July 23, 2017

It's about social dysfunction in tech rather than specific industry trends, but you might also like this 2015 thread on the blue: Leaning Out.
posted by postcommunism at 1:02 PM on July 23, 2017

Disrupted is a look inside Hubspot, mentioned by Autumnheart, above. Worth a read.
posted by craven_morhead at 9:53 AM on July 24, 2017

Response by poster: Thanks all for the twitter and other reading suggestions. FYI, the link I posted, My Year in Startup Hell, is a Salon article about the Hubspot expose Disrupted.
posted by scorpia22 at 7:50 AM on July 25, 2017

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