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Government Google United States IT

Getting IT Talent In Government Will Take Culture Change, Says Google Engineer 166

Posted by Soulskill
from the optimizing-for-the-wrong-thing dept.
dcblogs writes: Mikey Dickerson, a site reliability engineer at Google, who was appointed Monday by the White House as the deputy federal CIO, will lead efforts to improve U.S. Websites. Dickerson, who worked on the Healthcare.gov rescue last year, said that one issue the government needs to fix is its culture. In describing his experience on the Healthcare.gov effort, he said the workplace was "not one that is optimized to get good work out of engineers." It was a shirt-and-tie environment, and while Dickerson said cultural issues may sound superficial, they are still real. "You don't have to think that the engineers are the creative snowflakes and rock stars that they think they are, you don't have to agree with any of that," Dickerson said in a recent conference presentation posted online. "I'm just telling you that's how they think of themselves, and if you want access to more of them, finding a way to deal with that helps a lot." Engineers want to make a difference, Dickerson said, and he has collected the names of more than 140 engineers who would be willing to take unpaid leave from their jobs to work on a meaningful project.
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Getting IT Talent In Government Will Take Culture Change, Says Google Engineer

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  • by MpVpRb (1423381) on Tuesday August 12, 2014 @07:39PM (#47659185)

    It's the rules, the bureaucracy and the paperwork

    • by geekd (14774) on Tuesday August 12, 2014 @07:43PM (#47659215) Homepage

      Exactly. If a workplace has "must wear tie" rule, then I assume they have a whole bunch of other stupid rules.

      • by Gr8Apes (679165)
        ties are essentially convenient nooses for someone to grab.
      • by sg_oneill (159032) on Tuesday August 12, 2014 @11:27PM (#47660181)

        Its more than just the ties. I work in a government science department that does really amazing and meaningful work tracking animal populations, building climate and weather models to assist firefighters and policy makers (protip: We're in trouble, regardless of what the crusading economists seem to think ) , and coordinating a vast network of parks and wildlife reserves. This is *really* enjoyable work and 1000 times more rewarding than "Yet another corporate intranet for 'sell-cyanide-to-kids-dot-com".

        But hand in hand with that is an insane bureacracy. Recently I was asked to make some changes to software to throttle back satelite data rates from remote weather stations in the australian outback from every 2 minutes to every 15 minutes. The satelite data was insanely expensive and the modelling isn't fine tuned enough to warrant data points every 2 minutes (This is for predicting fire behavior during fire-season bushfires) even if we wanted it to be. So we set up the changes and tested it, and waited for the new firmware to be pushed out to the new sites. But no, its a government, anything "simple" is suspicious, so instead it must go through user acceptance testing , a layer of consultants , various committees and of course the various sub-departments must engage in their customary fight over who pays for it. It was 2 hours work and it will save $10K a month easily. But six months later its STILL not even at user acceptance testing whilst the beancounters fight over budget.

        Its amazingly demoralizing.

        • by Maxo-Texas (864189) on Wednesday August 13, 2014 @01:11AM (#47660529)

          Just so you know... SOX increased publicly head corporation projects from 1 day to 47 days at one company i worked at so the issue isn't isolated to government.

          Basically- even a one *character* change had to be brought to the CEO's awareness.

          So the programmer told their lead who told their manager who told their director who told their senior director who told the vps, cio, who told the ceo.

          The end result wasn't that the ceo actually knew-- he basically signed off on the fact that everyone below him had discussed it and said it was going to be okay.

          It was supposed to reduce risk but in my experience- the rate and duration of outages and bugs didn't really change.

          When the ceo or a vp really wanted a project done quickly, various procedures and standards were set aside and it was bum rushed in.

          Combine that with a testing environment that was 5% the capacity of production with outdated, non-representative test data and you had a lot of production issues that were not caught in test.

          • by Skylinux (942824)

            so the issue isn't isolated to government.

            True but these people in government are directly responsible for wasting the taxpayers money. Their incompetence costs any of us dearly.

            I recently quit my cushy government job because I don't want to be part of the problem anymore. These people are so stuck in their ways that they are not interested in saving money or improving things.
            "This is how we have been doing things for years, so this is how we keep on sailing."

            I have had a few government jobs in the USA and Germany and the one thing I noticed is tha

            • I don't think you realize how much it costs to put a satellite into space. 2 hours of quick coding probably should be validated by a few different eyes.
              • by sg_oneill (159032)

                I don't think you realize how much it costs to put a satellite into space. 2 hours of quick coding probably should be validated by a few different eyes.

                Oh shit we're not talking about satelite firmware lol. Thats waaaay above my paygrade. We're talking about firmware on a little piece of hardware that shits weather measurements out a satelite dish to a satelite. Its expensive because bandwidth is ridiculously expensive for remote serial over satelite type guff.

            • by nbauman (624611)

              so the issue isn't isolated to government.

              True but these people in government are directly responsible for wasting the taxpayers money.

              That's a distinction without a difference. The people in the private sector are wasting the investors / suppliers / customers money.

              For example, when I pay my health insurance bill, I know that in the private health insurance bureaucracy consumes about 30% to 40% of my bill.

              To put it another way, if there are 5 people delivering health care (doctors, nurses, office managers), there's 1 person in the insurance company generating paperwork and 1 person in the doctor's office dealing with insurance company pap

              • by markhb (11721)

                That's a distinction without a difference. The people in the private sector are wasting the investors / suppliers / customers money.

                The difference is that the investors / suppliers / customers have a choice when dealing with a particular private company. We have no real choice regarding paying our taxes (assuming one doesn't want to wind up in a courtroom over it).

                • by nbauman (624611)

                  That's a distinction without a difference. The people in the private sector are wasting the investors / suppliers / customers money.

                  The difference is that the investors / suppliers / customers have a choice when dealing with a particular private company. We have no real choice regarding paying our taxes (assuming one doesn't want to wind up in a courtroom over it).

                  I don't have a choice when I buy health care. It's an oligopoly. I can choose among several different insurance companies, most of whom offer the equivalent unsatisfactory product.

                  I'd like to buy health care with the price, quality and service of the Canadian system, but I can't. The Canadian system costs half as much, the outcomes are just as good, and the wait times are exaggerated.

        • by mwvdlee (775178)

          A startup is a hectic place to be and can be very demanding, but one of the things I enjoy most about startups is that you can get from idea to implementation to testing to production within an hour.

        • by Rich0 (548339)

          At my workplace (a private company) it feels like we're still stuck in a 1970s IT mindset. Everything is waterfall with a veneer of Agile. Then there is all the finger-pointing when it turns out that there was a mistake in the requirements, and if all goes well we deploy a solution to the problems of two years before.

          When you look at successful technologies these days, almost none of them follow a classical requirements methodology. Sure, they involve requirements, but they rarely involve huge documents

          • Actually, many of the most successful products I know of were slapped out in a hurry by 1 or 2 people who just needed to get something running. Often these products will then run in production for years, warts and all. And any attempt to replace them with something cleaner is likely to collapse from Fred Brook's "Second System Effect".

            Of course, Brooks wrote that before there were quite as many faddish ways to screw up management of a project. Although the one he espoused - Chief Programmer Team - has basic

        • by nbauman (624611)

          Humans evolved in small democratic groups.

          With the invention of agriculture, we got a secure, efficient food supply, but we also developed hierarchical societies.

          With the industrial age, factories, research, and financing, our society got really complicated. We have ways of distributing power, feedback mechanisms to control that power, and parasites who exploit that system to gain more power.

          It reminds me of the immune system, where we have very efficient mechanisms to destroy parasites, but we also need in

        • by DarthVain (724186)

          I would agree with both your statements.

          We have fixed 3 applications a year ago, and none of them are yet deployed.

          I would also add that technical compensation is not really valued in government, so unless you are really stoked about doing good civil service, there isn't much incentive except maybe a better than average pension that they might take away before you are anywhere close to retirement anyway. On top of that there is a lack of in house talent because everything is done though over priced consulta

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 12, 2014 @07:53PM (#47659259)

      Don't forget Politics and protection of turf. Air Force doesn't want to reuse what the Army built, Navy has their own ideas, and somebody is always trying to mystify a product or solution to essentially perform a hostile takeover by getting a competing products funding.

      • There is a reason for a separation of powers and a separation of technologies in the Military. In order for the Army and Air Force to work together, they do not need complete and full access to each others information and systems. They only need enough information shared to get the job done.

        The same reasoning is true with how the Federal Government was defined, with separate branches and separate powers. This separation is to protect from a single power having the ability to take over Government.

        Where yo

        • They only need enough information shared to get the job done.

          And that has always been the issue. Where do you draw the line of "enough"? There is no simple solution for this because the information could be too much under one circumstance but is too little in others (and vice versa). The issue involves more than just information, because it also involves people, politics, etc. Yes ideally, we could say and want that, but in practice is very difficult to achieve....

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Tailhook (98486)

      It's the rules, the bureaucracy and the paperwork

      Don't forget the corruption.

      As we've learned from multiple agencies that flaunt records keeping laws by deliberately employing systems that are incapable of meeting statutory requirements, the motives of these people are criminal. As an IT person you `will' or `will not' based on their perogatives, legal or otherwise. If they want a twenty year old email system maintained because an upgrade would mean their traffic is recoverable after six months, you're going to find yourself maintaining an ancient POS a

    • by ksheff (2406) on Tuesday August 12, 2014 @08:41PM (#47659503) Homepage

      and in some cases it's the salary. I had a .gov job during and after college. The pay was much lower than private sector jobs available at the time. However, they had interesting problems, I got to use real Unix workstations at a time when Linux hadn't reached a 1.0 release yet, and it was close to home.

      Also, it is worth noting that the bulk of the employees at this and other civilian govt installations are contractors. The actual government employees were usually managers or interns. When the contracts for the facility were awarded to a different company, the workers were let go by the old contractor and then hired by the new contractor. Same job, usually the same pay, just a different company name on the check and different benefits package. Usually only the main contractor management changed. It wasn't hard to find someone who had worked at the place 15+ years who also had been employed by 3-4 different contractors over that time span.

      The attitude towards work can be different too. Ever hear the phrase "it's good enough for Government work"? A good friend and mentor at the facility had once mentioned to me: "We both grew up on farms, so we know that this is a slack job....any office job with A/C is when you think about it...but we work our asses off compared to those in Reston". I would not be out of the ordinary for me to work late into the night or on weekends to find bugs, experiment with new things, wrap of projects, etc.....the sort of things that most software developers do, especially if they're not married. I would have gotten in trouble if I did that at the offices in VA.

      The dress code wasn't too bad really. It was just the "business casual" standard that lots of places. The only times I remember having to wear a tie was when the bigwigs and/or some Congress-critters from DC was going to visit or when on travel. However, that was a stark difference between what passed as "ok" in Silicon Valley. In 1990 or so, another guy and I had to visit Pixar's offices in San Rafael to discuss some software of theirs that we were using. The lead engineer was to meet us at the office and we stood around in the parking lot for a while waiting for him (the building lobby wasn't open yet). We saw what appeared to be a homeless guy walking around in the parking lot in a daze. He stopped, looked at us, and asked who we were waiting for. We said the engineer's name and he replied..."oh, that's me...come on inside". There was only one or two developers per office and they had beaded curtains for doorways. Very different than our 70's era govt office decor. :D

      • by Whorhay (1319089)

        The salary even really depends on where you are at and how many jobs you've had. For me going from my first contract gig to GS was a very large pay increase. The pay raises were also significantly better and bonuses actually existed. Benefits were also all around better, and the vacation and sick time was impossibly better. Where I live as the sole bread winner in the family I bring in 50% more than the median household income. Of course I have friends who live in other parts of the country and I'd have to

      • For me, the only really good things about a gov't job (in my case, at the state level, not fed) are the hours and holidays. My title entails a 35 hour work week, and OT is not common (though we rotate "on call" every 4 weeks). For those of you working 70 hour weeks, that probably sounds like heaven. And it nice to be able to go home and spend time with my family in my home. We also get vacation, holiday, and sick time in buckets.

        However, the salary for most of us in IT here is definitely below public s
    • by Daemonik (171801)
      The difference between corporations and the government, is that the government has 319,000,000 middle managers. Everyone has their own ideas of what is or isn't fair, how much value a project has and how it should be done. So we end up with layer after layer of bureaucracy and paperwork and second guessing.
    • by gstoddart (321705)

      Yeah, no kidding.

      I worked on a government contract once. Getting anything done required extensive amounts of fighting the process, and sometimes fighting the people -- they had their process, there was nothing in the world which could streamline it, and everybody was so incredibly territorial about their own stuff it was absurd. To the point that an Oracle DBA went in and removed permissions from an Oracle product -- the Oracle product explicitly said "need these permissions", the departmental policies sa

    • It is the fact that when you contract out to consultants for everything, you are left with no one in house that has any experience, and the few that are, are too busy to do anything but trying to keep the lights on. Also the technical positions are not valued the same way as say policy, in terms of salary, so what is the incentive really.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I dunno, doesn't fit the engineers I know. Maybe he's been at Google too long...

  • by Todd Knarr (15451) on Tuesday August 12, 2014 @07:44PM (#47659221) Homepage

    I'd note that most software engineers aren't philosophically opposed to dressing well, or to reasonable dress codes. They're mostly opposed to stupid dress codes that make them uncomfortable while working for no good reason. Reasonable dress for a meeting with outside customers is different from that for a group of engineers banging out a solution to a code problem, and what's reasonable when you've hauled someone in on their day off to deal with an emergency isn't the same as what they'd wear during a normal workday. Management tends to lose sight of all this because they've got much different jobs from the engineers and the dress norms for them are going to be different from those for engineers because the routine situations are going to be different.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      That really has nothing to do with it..

      The problem becomes you have politicians and others in government that shoot for a website like Healthcare.com but those morons are not tech savvy, and they refuse to give the money out that's needed to make sure the site is built right the first time, add a complete lack of keeping up-to-date with the times, again because its costs money.

      The one thing I didn't see or read over Dickersons speech/comments was the lack of security surrounding the governments websites! "F

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I'd note that most software engineers aren't philosophically opposed to dressing well, or to reasonable dress codes. They're mostly opposed to stupid dress codes that make them uncomfortable while working for no good reason. Reasonable dress for a meeting with outside customers is different from that for a group of engineers banging out a solution to a code problem, and what's reasonable when you've hauled someone in on their day off to deal with an emergency isn't the same as what they'd wear during a normal workday. Management tends to lose sight of all this because they've got much different jobs from the engineers and the dress norms for them are going to be different from those for engineers because the routine situations are going to be different.

      I'd point out that in the case of web applications for the government, engineers have very little reason to ever meet customers. In that case, the minor arguments for even a business casual dress code fade away.

      Government has to think about why IT people might work for them. Higher pay? Not going to happen--government will never match private sector stock gifts. If I'd stayed another six months at Amazon, I would have received stock worth $100,000 if sold at the right time (and still worth $75,000+ if s

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by DoofusOfDeath (636671)

        The only thing that the government has going for it is the possibility of doing good.

        Agreed. And the NSA, CIA, DHS, and President are doing their best to eliminate that reason.

        Plus, having worked for the DoD for a number of years, I must add that working for Congress is like working for a schizophrenic two year old who has a temper tantrum in between each bowl movement.

      • by s.petry (762400)

        The pension perhaps, but what happens when the government goes bankrupt?

        If the Government goes bankrupt you won't have a pension, money becomes toilet paper. A bit of history can be found here [wikipedia.org] and there are many other historical references to find (I picked an easy target).

        Precious metals, gems, art, etc.. can survive a Federal bankruptcy but your saved cash won't. Even if it's in a "guaranteed" savings, what happens is due to massive inflation your hundred grand may purchase a loaf of bread (historically accurate by the way).

        The only people that would benefit in the case of

        • Weimar Republic was a special case. Punitive measures put on Germany (reparations) gave the Weimar Republic fewer options than the US would have. The US has the options of the following:

          1. Telling foreign creditors to get stuffed.
          2. Declaring all bond debt null and void.
          3. Declaring SOME bond debt (say, those bonds held by rich people -- not saying I support this, just that it's an option) null and void.
          4. Many other "creative" options I haven't even thought of.

          The Weimar Republic could do none of thi

          • The Weimar Republic also had an interest in advertising problems to the world, particularly with the French occupation of the Rhineland.

          • by s.petry (762400)

            The Weimar Republic was not that different from other countries, but I will give you that it's an extreme example.

            Where you are wrong however, is that the US does not control US money, the Federal Reserve controls their money. The Federal reserve is not a Government agency, not accountable to the Government, and does not give a shit about you or your money as much as they care about "their" money.

            The Federal reserve has "lost" over a trillion dollars and during the 2008 financial crisis somehow saw fit to

            • Of course the Federal Reserve is a government agency. Congress created it. Congress can shut it down if it wants. It's not "accountable" because being accountable means, "politicians can fuck with it". And whoever the current President is would have a strong temptation to force the Federal Reserve to enact an inflationary monetary policy just before an election, because such a policy would cause a temporary increase in economic growth, and the negative effects of the inflation would not be felt until so

    • by jxander (2605655) on Tuesday August 12, 2014 @08:33PM (#47659475)

      I think you're definitely on the right track: It's much less an opposition to dressing nicely. Rather, engineers tend to oppose things for which the only rationale is "because that's just the way we do it."

      Professional business attire is acceptable when dealing with clients/customers. Makes logical sense. No opposition.
      Suit and tie, to sit in a cube and churn through code all day ... makes no sense. So you'll get push back.

      Anecdotally, I've noticed that this tends to be more common back east. DC to Boston, random working stiffs rocking the jacket and tie every day for no adequate reason. I worked for Intuit out in San Diego for a few years though, and engineers would quite often come to work in flip flops and board shorts (we were 10-15 min from the beach, so a long lunch of surfing was fairly common). You might be khakis and a polo shirt for important meetings. Maybe.

    • ... and I've known some who just didn't want to.

      Personally, when I worked at a university, I kept a shirt and tie hanging in my cubicle for when I had meetings. As I never wore jeans in, when given 5 min warning, I was prepared.

      Unfortunately, one day, I was dealing with server problems with our team lead, and my (new) manager came in and insisted we had to go to a meeting. I said I needed to grab my shirt & tie, but he insisted we were already late.

      It seems that the executive director (3 levels above

      • by Anonymous Coward
        Are you familiar with the phrase "choose your battles"?
    • You want stupid dress codes. Come to Florida. The executives wear suits so the building A/C is set for Chicago. Although at least they got rid of the vests.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I have long hair, a beard, wear t-shirt and shorts to work, come and go as I please (for the most part), etc. Of course I make 2/3 of what corporate sysadmins make. But considering I get more than a month of vacation, it's an adequate tradeoff for all the perks. Government has IT talent, although not in the IRS' desktop support division.
    • by Tablizer (95088)

      Government has IT talent, although not in the IRS' desktop support division.

      To be fair, long-term archiving is not the job of desktop computers. A true archive system costs money, i.e. tax money. There was a push around the time at issue to shrink gov't cost. Now they are bitching about not having sufficient equipment. You cannot have it both ways.

  • by MattskEE (925706) on Tuesday August 12, 2014 @07:47PM (#47659241)

    Actually Mikey gives four reasons for the healthcare.gov problems, but the summary just focuses on the last one, probably because it sounds funny:

    The original points (as summed up by me in a few words) were (1) Fragmentation of implementation, (2) Lack of monitoring of system, (3) Lack of experience by the companies building it, and (4) workplace culture clash.

    • by Daemonik (171801)
      Don't forget: Absolutely no support from a hostile Congress to the basic existence of the project.
      • Well, technically there was a ton of support from Congress, considering Congress passed the actual law in the first place, and therefore provided funding for the entire thing.

        It's more like there was one part of congress very much in favor of Obamacare, and one part very much against, and the in-favor group carried the day.

    • It was also a really big project (arguably one of the problems). For a project of that size, it was unusually successful, in that what was delivered could be modified to actually work. There are a surprising number of big projects that just fail, leaving nothing useful.

  • Which culture?

    Are we talking in macro terms, as in our overall culture, the culture of the United States?

    OR

    The again macro culture of government workers? Where performance doesn't matter all that much and you are at the mercy of a rarely talented middle management layer that swallows 90% of the work force?

    OR

    The culture of the average IT worker used to working from the basement in Mom's house?

    Good luck on changing any of them..

  • by Joe_Dragon (2206452) on Tuesday August 12, 2014 @07:53PM (#47659257)

    Need to cut down on the contractors and subcontractors in GOV IT.

    They add lot's of over head and can make it hard to get work done as people need to work though layers and layers of contractors and subcontractors to get info from one team to an other team.

    • by ksheff (2406) on Tuesday August 12, 2014 @08:47PM (#47659535) Homepage
      Well, in many cases if you got rid of contractors, all that would be left would be managers and interns. Depending on the location, the pay may not be great as a contractor, but it's probably a little better than the equivalent position if you were a govt employee. On the other hand, it's easier for the contract company/govt managers to fire you than it would if the person was a govt employee.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        > Well, in many cases if you got rid of contractors, all that would be left would be managers and interns.

        Duh. That's his point - hire developers as permanent employees. The whole outsourcing of government work (not just IT, but all departments) since Clinton left office has just been a hand-over of cash to the owners of contracting companies. Once they get entrenched the contractors are just as permanent as regular employees because they've got institutional knowledge but now with the additional cost

    • by hsmith (818216)
      Yes, great solution. Seeing as agencies take a year+ to hire a new gov hire, it will really help to get things rolling. Instead of a contractor that can be brought in that day and fired at an instant.
    • by gmhowell (26755)

      Must vary by situation. In the two agencies in which I've contracted, the bottleneck wasn't contractors, it was the federal management. Layers upon layers upon ungodly layers of ignorant, micromanaging Federal 'management'.

  • by supernova87a (532540) <[moc.liamtoh] [ta] [1relpek]> on Tuesday August 12, 2014 @07:54PM (#47659265)
    Sure, no problem!

    All you have to do to create the environment for IT talent to want to work in government is to get rid of a culture of more importance on process than outcome, a culture of not getting fired even if you don't do any useful work, and power and advancement based more on perception and political maneuvering in front of people who don't know talent when they see it, instead of results. Oh, and constant interference by politicians who can't be bothered to appreciate what your work required, but are happy to use it as a tool for their own means.

    I'm sure all that will be easy!
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 12, 2014 @08:52PM (#47659567)

      Nice. I can see you have about zero useful experience in working for government. Good move with the stereotypes and right-wing propaganda though. I'm surprised you didn't mention unions in there somewhere. You missed that one on the checklist.

      The whole process over outcome thing is probably your closest point. That happens because if you DON'T do that and anything news-worthy happens then you and everybody anywhere near you will be roasted in the media for being secretive and not "accountable" (whatever that means to people who don't understand what you do anyway). The public wants lots of records so they can come in and find the waste and abuse that they just KNOW all these un-elected people are committing every second of every day (when it's actually the elected ones that they put in office who are the problem.)

      Oh, and while you're worried about outcomes, how about this: we need a public that stops demanding 100% success at absolutely everything. See, in actual government jobs for the most part innovation is hard because it doesn't carry any rewards but carries loads of potential badness. Some states have passed laws to provide financial and non-financial rewards for people who do useful things, but any time anybody actually gives one out it gets blasted in the media, so for the most part nobody bothers. On the other hand, if you try something innovative and it doesn't work you'll hear all about THAT too, complete with a hyperactive accounting of how much money you spent doing it, so once again the people are getting exactly what they demand. Maybe they don't know they're demanding it, but that's what they're doing. I'm not talking about healthcare.gov type failures, which were mostly private sector at it's best as usual because outsourcing, I'm just talking about regular "hey, I have an idea of something we should try" kind of stuff. If that "something" doesn't come with an almost 100% success guarantee you're going to have trouble because the price of failure in government is actually pretty high for most un-elected types and the reward for success is nonexistent.

      So yeah, culture has to change. Specifically, the culture of the public who demands the impossible. In the private sector your every last move isn't subject to some public inquiry and guess what? Sometimes you try stuff that doesn't work and it's OK because others of those things are out of the park successes.

      • by k6mfw (1182893)

        failure in government is actually pretty high for most un-elected types and the reward for success is nonexistent.

        kind of like those who sit in ATC rooms and make sure the airliners don't collide?

        • by Nethead (1563)

          That too. and the NRC or folks that design Interstate bridges. But I think he might be talking about local gov. I know in my area there is a local radio wingbat [kiroradio.com] that loves to rake any minor mistake that the local governments make over his personal coal BBQ just to flame the outrage (the outrage, I say!) of underpaid professionals working in a very aggravating environment for not getting everything exactly right each time. FSM knows we don't in the commercial world.

          73 de w7com

  • by sshir (623215)
    Moron does not know what's he talking about. There are plenty of places in government where proper geeks work. Examples: NSA and NIH. All what it takes is the ability of the agency in question to pay market rates, e.g. "title 42" and such (both big Ns can do that).
  • In my experience the pay rate was well under what private companies pay, and for some one who is worth their salt they would jump at a private company that is going to pay them 30% more + stocks and better medical benefits. Hiring some one for a position takes 2-3 times as long to process paperwork, and if they have not been offered another position with a private company, the laugh at the offered salary.
  • You don't have to be intelligent/reasonable to control intelligent/reasonable people, you just have to convince them that you are. You can go on being a clueless dipshit in all other respects.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    They're not the same thing.

  • by Karmashock (2415832) on Tuesday August 12, 2014 @08:15PM (#47659389)

    ... And process this literally. What he is suggesting is that engineers need to have more control over projects and feel that their contributions make a difference.

    The insulting language I believe was put in to get the arrogant incompetent government drones to pay attention to it. See, we can do insulting too.

    But strip out the insulting back and forth and see the literal message. He's suggesting that engineers be given some control and leeway to manage projects. He's also suggesting that those projects will be more successful if the engineers are allowed to control the direction of them to some extent.

    Now, who here disagrees that that would be a bad idea? It is precisely the lack of that that makes those sorts of jobs intolerable. You're often dealing with a badly designed system that wants to be upgraded into an even more badly designed system and you're being judged on how well this badly designed system works.

    On top of that, the system whether well or poorly designed isn't doing anything interesting or often even useful.

    So yeah, I think the stuffed shirts have every reason to express their needs in a vague sense. Because they don't actually know what they want specifically. But the actual implementation and specific design should be handled by the engineers with a great deal of flexibility.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    "You don't have to think that the engineers are [...] creative snowflakes [... but] that's how they think of themselves."

    and

    "Dickerson [...] has collected the names of more than 140 engineers."

    Are the names in a binder?

  • by Karl Cocknozzle (514413) <kcocknozzle@hotma i l . com> on Tuesday August 12, 2014 @09:32PM (#47659739) Homepage

    Can you do what they can do? No? So then, how about a nice plate of shut the fuck up, then?

    Government doesn't get good techies because they don't pay enough, have a lousy working environment, and don't have ANY of the perks of the private sector that techies prize, like working from home (HA!) flex-time, or flex-spending accounts. Workplaces are static (you can fight for the "best office" after 10-15 years of seniority, but will toil in an ill-lit cube farm until the,) schedules are inflexible, and benefits are one-size fits all.

    I saw an advertisement for my job (basically to the letter) working for a "state" organization here... The Teachers retirement fund (it's a pension fund for the teacher's union, operated by the state under state employment rules.) What I make is irrelevant, but suffice it to say, their "max" was 40% less than I make today, and just over 50% less than what "the market will bear."

    That's your ballgame.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      don't have ANY of the perks of the private sector that techies prize, like working from home (HA!) flex-time, or flex-spending accounts.

      (1) They do have work-from home. Didn't you read the story from yesterday about all the patent examiners working from home?

      (2) Flex-time is not a benefit, it is a way to screw over employees. Combining sick-leave with vacation they've reduced the total number of days off. Government jobs have much more generous vacation and sick-leave policies. Llike all the days in your flex-time balance are still less than the typical number of vacation-only days in the public sector.

      (3) Flex-spending accounts - yet a

      • don't have ANY of the perks of the private sector that techies prize, like working from home (HA!) flex-time, or flex-spending accounts.

        (1) They do have work-from home. Didn't you read the story from yesterday about all the patent examiners working from home?

        No, but most of the government jobs int his country aren't with the patent examiners, or the Feds in general. None of the government jobs I've looked at had this benefit because I live in a "red" state, so "government equals bad always."

        (2) Flex-time is not a benefit, it is a way to screw over employees. Combining sick-leave with vacation they've reduced the total number of days off. Government jobs have much more generous vacation and sick-leave policies.

        Ahhh... Youv'e confused "Paid Time Off" encompassing sick and vacation time with "flex-time." What it means where I've worked is your schedule is flexible to meet your needs. So if you need to come in at 6:30am so can get your kids off the bus at 3:30pm we'll do what it take

    • by trout007 (975317)

      I work for the federal government.

      I have all of the benefits you mentioned.

      I telework over VPN so I can access all of the internal servers.
      I get a flexible schedule and FSA.

      I also can actually get paid OT. At my salary it's just straight time but still that's better than many in the private sector.

      The big downside is congresses messing up the projects every year or so. This is not helpful when 3 months of a year are spent on budget fights when projects should be budgeted for 10 years.

    • by microTodd (240390)

      Well...

      When I was Civil Service IT, I had frickin' awesome benefits (sick leave AND annual leave?? And sick leave doesn't have max carryover?!? And I can use sick leave as paternity leave?!?!?!?!?), I got 3 hours a week PAID to go to the gym (link [army.mil]), and I got to work a 9/80 schedule.

      In the private sector job I'm at now, where you have to, you know, actually produce results on time and under budget, I'm frequently working nights and long hours because if I don't get our release done by a certain date, our

  • I was working, in IT, for the federal government until about a year ago.

    From what I saw: any special project, like that website, is going to be done by contractors, not staff employees.

    IMO: there is a lot of corrupt politics involved in getting those contracts.

    • by ruir (2709173)
      Dont care about others doing some projects. If they fuck up, there is already someone to blame.
  • not the clothes (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Goldsmith (561202) on Wednesday August 13, 2014 @01:24AM (#47660587)

    I've worked for the government in a scientific job, with a lot of IT folks. It was probably the most relaxed atmosphere I've worked in. No expectation to dress better than business casual. No expectation to work overtime. No expectation to really get anything done.

    It's that last one that's really the killer. If you're not focused on getting projects done, first and foremost, then you're not going to attract good people.

    A good engineer isn't necessary when the jobs at a government office survive only by making the right political and budgetary statements at precisely the right times. With very few exceptions, technical success or failure just doesn't have much influence on your career in the government.

    Lastly, 140 engineers will make no difference. The federal government is huge. The office I worked in was a backwater, nearly forgotten location. We had a staff of 5000 people, about half of them engineers and scientists. There are thousands of engineers in the government right now who would love to work on meaningful projects. It's not a lack of talent or manpower that keeps those projects from happening.

    • This is one thing that kind of bugs me about public perception of government staff, particularly technical staff. Every org will have some duds, but most of those I know are highly trained, talented, dedicated and motivated (for the most part, it is hard not to get beaten down), and would like nothing better to work on interesting innovative projects doing good work. However management, money, and politics (not just office) often times interfere with that goal.

  • Are the slacking of the old timers, the dick measuring contests, and the senseless games of power. You got to live with that, and you enjoy the perks.
  • Yes, there is probably some tie in with the need for a dress code like shirt and tie and over bureaucracy.

    However, this article is full of real and very practical issues. Yet, what gets touted in the headline? Engineers don't want to dress up. Yep, that is why healthcare.gov flopped. Engineers wanted to wear shorts to work. Do you have any idea how ridiculous that makes us look?

    How about point 3. The biggest point of all. The companies hired to do it had no experience in it. You know, like how business peop

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