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Where can I DO Something?

By gauntlet in Technology
Wed Oct 25, 2000 at 12:04:13 PM EST
Tags: Technology (all tags)

My employer is in the process of implementing a third-party software solution for critical operational needs. The software has particular features which meets requirements being set by a parent government beaurocracy. It is missing, however, a number of features that already exist in our current, built-in-house application.

The question came up, "Why don't we just change what we have." The answer, to my amazement, was, "We did. But because we are internal, we were given no support from the upper management."

On another occasion, I asked our IT head whether or not it was true that IT Consultants capitalize on a systemic lack of organizational self-confidence. He, the person responsible for hiring IT Consultants, said "Yes."

Does it have to be this way?

Now, I am in the unfortunate position of having only had 2 kinds of jobs. I have worked for technology firms, and I have worked for government agencies. In my experience, they are on opposite ends of a technological self-reliance spectrum. Technology firms are sort of like one big huge IT department. I have seen computer retail operations where the software being used to power their cashiers and web site was developed by the guy that carries people's computers to their car. They either loath or simply do not consider outsourcing IT requirements.

On the other end of the spectrum is a government agency, where the idea of "Cover Your Ass" is so inherent to everything that they do that while they may train you on all sorts of new technologies they will never implement them. And if they do implement them, they will be implemented by an ouside source. You, as an IT professional on staff, are simply a liason between the computer systems and the consultants that actually run the place. This has left me personally in the position where they only way I feel I can do anything truly innovative is to do it without permission.

Here's an interesting question: At some point, my organization decided to design the original application in-house. They wouldn't consider the same thing now. Is this demonstrative of a shift of business practices in general, or is it a function of the age of an organization?

Either way, why does it happen? And is it a good thing? If not, what can be done?

And most (selfishly) of all, how can I ensure that the next job I get will afford me some authority to solve problems with the skills that I have, and the skills I can learn?


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How Technologically Self-Reliant is your firm
o We ARE the technology. No need to outsource. 44%
o Consultant? I don't need no steenking consultant! 11%
o Occasionally, we need outside help. 21%
o Consultants are given permanent cubicles/desks in my office. 16%
o Does anyone here actually work FOR this company? Anyone? 6%

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Where can I DO Something? | 10 comments (10 topical, editorial, 0 hidden)
Both Sides (3.00 / 6) (#1)
by Ratnik on Wed Oct 25, 2000 at 11:35:09 AM EST

Having worked for both sides of the coin, I saw no difference in how they worked. Some department wants an application to solve a particular problem. The IT department is too busy, overworked, etc. The department then implements the application in-house using whatever resources they have handy. The person(s) who developed the application move on and then the application is no longer supported as IT refuses to support it, as they did not develop it.

This makes my brain hurt (3.50 / 4) (#2)
by pi on Wed Oct 25, 2000 at 11:44:45 AM EST

The situation that you find yourself in is one I hope I never do. I've always harbored dreams of retaining a job that mirrors my hobbies, and so far I have been lucky. Being a middleman betwixt an outsourcing agent and the home team sounds like zero fun, and I can see why you raise the question: "does it have to be this way?"

I am relatively new to the working world, and really don't know enough to attempt a serious answer. I'd like to think that you could just jump ship and sign on for a better deal, but I know that that scenario is not always realistic. But, the very presence of a "third-party" indicates development is taking place somewhere. Why not get in with these cats?

As for why it happens, I suppose you've nailed it. Lack of confidence, the assumption that "third-party" code is somehow more stable, more reliable than in-house craft. And is it a good thing? I don't know. That's a very situational situation :).

Hmm. The only useful thing I can offer is this: go hack away on some open source project to vent your coding frustrations. I hear the the HURD needs some devoted developers :)

-- "egad, a base tone denotes a bad age!" - tmbg
Time & Money more than confidence in 3rd party (4.00 / 1) (#4)
by retinaburn on Wed Oct 25, 2000 at 12:24:23 PM EST

I am interning at Big Blue for a year and we are currently developing a suite of products, and modifying some existing code.
We use alot of 3rd-party software as well as other IBM products and the main reason as near as I can tell is time and money. Some our source we inherited so its over 4-5 years old and ugly, very ugly. Why do we not re-write it ?
Money, IBM already invested 4 years and numerous people-hours to get it this far. To dump this for some custom-code, even if it took <3 months to write would be unacceptable in upper managements view.

Time is another matter. It is (theoretically) far faster to grab a box of the shelf and use it (even with some minor-medium tinkering) than to develop your own application.
So I imagine often that it is more of time &/or money that prohibits a company from developing the desired application rather than confidence.

I think that we are a young species that often fucks with things we don't know how to unfuck. -- Tycho

[ Parent ]
But do the benefits outweigh the costs? (4.00 / 1) (#5)
by gauntlet on Wed Oct 25, 2000 at 12:31:36 PM EST

It is (theoretically) far faster to grab a box of (sic) the shelf and use it (even with some minor-medium tinkering) than to develop your own application. So I imagine often that it is more of time &/or money that prohibits a company from developing the desired application rather than confidence.
That's all well and good, but what if it isn't possible to tinker? Or what if no amount of tinkering is going to give you what you actually need, or what the users want? Isn't it reasonable to argue that the added cost in doing it properly yourself is outweighed by the advantage of simply doing it properly?

Into Canadian Politics?
[ Parent ]

Reasonable to argue ..Yes (3.00 / 1) (#6)
by retinaburn on Wed Oct 25, 2000 at 01:42:29 PM EST

Isn't it reasonable to argue that the added cost in doing it properly yourself is outweighed by the advantage of simply doing it properly?

Sure it's reasonable to argue, but the added cost to develop, maintain, and document a medium to large application would force many companies to purchase out of the box and make do with what they can get.

Granted if there is some necessary functionality that is unavailable through any means short of developing it internally, or if you have programmers that are under utilized it may in be cheaper, but to transfer programmers from other projects to develop something that you can buy....I haven't seen it happen to often in my short time here. What about you ?

I think that we are a young species that often fucks with things we don't know how to unfuck. -- Tycho

[ Parent ]
Staid blue (3.00 / 1) (#8)
by Swing on Wed Oct 25, 2000 at 04:54:20 PM EST

Well, you know that the best way in IBM to do something intelligent, historically was to beg forgiveness rather than ask permission... All the interesting action has been at the top & bottom, with a rather dull middle. As an intern, you probably have a great opportunity to shake things up, after all being an intern carries no risk as far as your life goes. In retrospect.

[ Parent ]
Consultants. Companies as children. (4.00 / 3) (#3)
by porovaara on Wed Oct 25, 2000 at 12:08:43 PM EST

First things first... hiring consultants to do any software design is in my opinion a pretty horrible idea. You never get exactly what you want and you *never* get it when you want. I've worked many places that have used groups of contractors, both outside and semi-perm inside the company. Invariably it leads to a situation with lots of yelling because of wrong features, bad code, and huge delays.

But it has to happen... and the younger the company is with regards to software/computer issues the more it will happen.

Companies, especially here in the US, have grown into something more than a machine. In many cases they have grown to become something more than the sum of their parts. Almost, one could argue, a living thing. As such companies need to learn to grow and evolve. Making mistakes is a large part of growing up for any animal. Companies make many mistakes... they make too many, they die out. They make just a few and they make squeek by.

Learning the mistake of too much outsourcing is a very common mistake among companies today, because lets face it, all this stuff is still REALLY new to most people. Sure you and all your 20 something and 30 something friends are comfortable with technology and making smart tech decisions. But how many of you are directly responsible for the major operations where you work? Besides internet startups how many CEOs, CFOs, CTOs are there under the age of 40 or 50? How many of them have had real, solid tech experience... not many. So as that part of the animal who has to make those decisions... they are going to suggest wrong things until they learn.

What can you do? I wish I knew of a miracle answer because I don't... but here is what I'm trying to do where I work. Because it is a relatively new company (right at 5 years) and there are people here who do care; I'm pushing the idea of a technological compliance board. Basically people who volunteer for this board get more work. Lots. But this work is suggesting technological directions and technologies the company should strive for. It would also be there to help put the stops on bad expensive ideas before they get started... to help explain that hiring 2 fulltime programmers for a project is often less than the cost of outsourcing it... to help explain why WhizBanAppServer3.2 for 15k a license is a really bad idea... to explain why you don't need 40gb of storage on every machine... why every desktop doesn't need to be the latest and greatest... and to help promote cheaper, smarter software. Will it work? I dunno. But my hope is that it will and eventually other companies will wake up to this and my next job can be nothing but technogical compliance.

A boy can dream can't he?

Kinda happened to me (4.33 / 3) (#7)
by DesiredUsername on Wed Oct 25, 2000 at 02:14:52 PM EST

When I started at my last job we did all our own stuff--programming, hardware, etc. As time went on and we go bigger, we started out-sourcing. Every time I (by that time the Programming Team Leader) was told "We'll have Company X do that" I always thought to myself "What am I? Chopped liver?" Then I left for another small company.

Outsourcing is a self-fulfilling prophecy: Assume your people can't do the job and eventually they WON'T be able to the job. Whether that's a bad thing depends on your outlook.

Play 囲碁
The reasons this happens are too many to list (4.00 / 2) (#9)
by Rasputin on Thu Oct 26, 2000 at 01:15:46 PM EST

I spent some time working for the Canadian Gov't and I noticed the same things. One of the projects I worked on was large, underfunded and over-scoped, but we actually pulled it off. Unfortunately, we did too good a job, because we actually managed to provide a functioning alternative to a much larger project down the hall (which we felt was a stupid project, doomed to failure because it was an off the shelf solution to a unique problem;) being mostly done by consultants. The end result was our project was cancelled because the boys running the other project had a lot more money (and careers) at stake. Interestingly, 3 years later they still don't have it working correctly.

Rather than ramble on about all my bad experiences with this type of thing, the summary is that after watching all of your custom solutions get tanked in favour of out-sourced solutions, eventually you give up and out-source everything. The reasons custom solutions get flushed are too many to list, but include things like support, fear, policy, pressure from above, etc. This can be either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on the specific circumstances. I have no idea what can be done to fix this, or even if it can be fixed.

As to finding a new job that will let you do what you want to do, that's why you need to be interviewing a prospective employer while they interview you. Ask questions (and not just how much does it pay :), pay attention to the types of questions you are asked, try to spend some time talking to and observing some of your potential co-workers. Remember, as a technology professional, your skills are in high demand. If they are unwilling or unable to satisfy you that you will be happy working there, you probably won't be happy working there.

Even if you win the rat race, you're still a rat.
I feel your pain, really (none / 0) (#10)
by gregholmes on Fri Nov 03, 2000 at 06:18:30 AM EST

My company just concluded it wouldn't do something web related because it would cost $300,000 from a vendor.

I got the something running at my desk, in less than a week, doing more than required. Does it need testing, a real server, etc.? Sure. That's why we have all us IT guys hanging around. Like we wouldn't be testing, tweaking, etc. the vendor's product?

Like the other posters, I don't know a solution. It is almost comical the deafening silence that has greeted the in-house solution I came up with. I probably just should have put on a suit and pretended I was a vendor, sold it for only $100,000, and quit!

Where can I DO Something? | 10 comments (10 topical, 0 editorial, 0 hidden)
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