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US Justice Dept. Investigates IT Hiring Practices 223

Zecheus writes "The Wall Street Journal (no paywall on this story) reports that the Justice Department is 'stepping up' an investigation of hiring practices of US technology firms, such as Google, Intel, IBM, and Apple. From the article: 'The inquiry is focused on whether companies, particularly in the technology sector, have agreed not to recruit each other's employees in ways that violate antitrust law. Specifically, the probe is looking into whether the companies' hiring practices are costing skilled computer engineers and other workers opportunities to change jobs for higher pay or better benefits.'"
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US Justice Dept. Investigates IT Hiring Practices

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  • by DeadDecoy ( 877617 ) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @06:56PM (#31802696)
    How does one even verify whether or not a companies have agreed not to poach from one another in a way that cannot otherwise be explained as 'not the right fit'?
  • Re:Here We Go ... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by theshowmecanuck ( 703852 ) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @07:07PM (#31802794) Journal
    It isn't bad for the company's, but it sure sucks for the employees. That is the point of the investigation. Several years ago when I was working for a major telecom billing system vendor in Saint Louis I was trying to find work elsewhere. Every head hunter in the city told me the same thing: they wouldn't talk to me while I still worked for that vendor. It seems that vendor was a major client of all of the head hunters as they were doing a lot of hiring at the time, and told the head hunters they would not deal with them again if they ever found out that they had helped one of their employees (like me) find a job somewhere else. So it made it that much more difficult to find other work. I did eventually, but this is very much like the situation in the article. In fact I think this is likely way more prevalent and is what the government should be looking at. But it is also very difficult to combat, so they will likely only go after the low hanging fruit; as in cases like Google, MS, IBM, etc.
  • by martin-boundary ( 547041 ) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @07:12PM (#31802848)
    I think there is a reasonable question here, tough. For example:

    I've always wondered why Microsoft hasn't hired a lot of Google's engineers away from Google. In the last 10 years, Microsoft has had huge amounts of cash in the bank. It would have been easy to simply offer each of the 100 top Google engineers literally double their salary each, just to come work for MS. Even if they didn't do anything specific (or did their own thing), as long as they didn't work for Google it would be a net gain. That would have been such an easy way to gut a competitor, much easier than trying to build a better search engine, or to buy Yahoo!.

    Not every company could do that, but the top tech companies are swimming in cash, and targeted poaching is an option. But it doesn't seem to be used anywhere near its full (business) potential.

  • Re:Sexism (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ClosedSource ( 238333 ) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @07:12PM (#31802850)

    I'm afraid at your age you are subject to two discriminatory categories. If you started working as a programmer in the 1980s, you must have been pretty determined to put up with the rest of us (men) during that era. I'd hire you - if I had a job.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 10, 2010 @07:13PM (#31802864)

    I work for a really big (20+ Billion dollars in revenues) company's IT department.

    Of late, they have become enamored with one of the big Indian outsourcing companies. I'm sure their folks are wonderful - indeed, of the ones I've worked with, it's about the same breakdown of wonderful/OK/awful as everyone else.

    Based on job listings recently found on one of the internet job sites, they appear to have asked the outsourcer to find someone to work in my area as a technical manager of sorts. The job listing is full of internal lingo and acronyms - nobody from outside the company would know what it's talking about; indeed, some of the acronyms are commonly thought of as something else. (For example, suppose IBM stood for, internally, the "Internet Bandwidth Management" system but it says in the job listing "must be familiar with IBM computer technologies.")

    I'm usually one to attribute stuff to stupidity before malice or deviousness.

    But is the crap job listing a devious attempt to prove that nobody with US work rights already is suitable, thereby making it OK to bring in someone on a visa - and totally ignoring the fact that the visa guy won't be suitable either?

    Or is it just stupidity? After all, HR folks mess up technical job listings all the time.

    I don't know, but I do know that the H1B bull shit needs to be cleaned up. Given the employment turmoil of the last year, why would you possibly, honestly, need to bring someone in from overseas?

  • by ErichTheRed ( 39327 ) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @07:20PM (#31802926)

    I'm guessing this this really only applies to the high-level, superstar tech talent, right? Especially with firms like Microsoft and IBM, what could they possibly be losing when IBM hires someone who's been working on the grammar checker for the Norwegian version of Word? Or the lower-level code monkey keeping an obscure feature of WebSphere MQ up to date?

    These kinds of agreements would work in environments where talent tends to stay put. Unfortunately, the invisible hand seems to think that job stability is a stupid, backward 20th Century concept. After all, who doesn't like looking for a new job every 2 to 6 years?? In an environment like this, even the big guys are going to have trouble holding onto employees.

    I think a much better investigation would deal with the well-publicized claims of IBM laying off senior US techs, replacing them with Indians or Brazillians, and forcing the laid off person to train the n00b to get their severance package. I'd also like to see the H-1B program users under some scrutiny for things like not paying prevailing wages, or employers intentionally not pursuing the hiring of US workers so they can get their work cheaper.

    All of these things would be less of an issue with some kind of professional standards body in the IT realm. Unfortunately, too many people I know think this is evil and doesn't allow the full brilliance of their talent to shine. I don't think that's valid...lawyers sure like the Bar Association and doctors like the AMA. These organizations give them the power to influence laws and maintain educational standards...exactly what we need.

  • by davidwr ( 791652 ) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @07:26PM (#31803000) Homepage Journal

    Your sig: "The upset over a missed deadline goes away much faster than the terrible taste of a bad product."

    Mod +5 insightful.

  • by presidenteloco ( 659168 ) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @07:35PM (#31803082)

    That would seem to be the biggest problem for would be switchers. Essentially, their legalese translates into:
      "You must be subjected to a complete mind-wipe before going to work at one of our potential competitors, because if you use any of the specific expertise you developed while working here, you're screwed."

  • HB-1 "solution" (Score:2, Interesting)

    by davidwr ( 791652 ) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @07:37PM (#31803102) Homepage Journal

    A partial solution to the problem of foreign laborers is to tax it. A 20% payroll tax on people with employment-based visas in addition to current requirements such as prevailing wages would reduce the incentive to use guest labor. If you applied this to illegal aliens as well, then you have yet another stick to go after people who hire illegal alien labor. The downside risk is that even more jobs will go overseas, where companies are subject to weaker safety, pollution, and other good-for-mankind laws and consequently much lower costs of doing business.

    Personally, I don't mind competing with foreign workers who work under American work rules - if they are willing to come to this country and flood the market and drive me out of a job or drive my paycheck down, it's just one more incentive for me to keep my skills sharp. However, I realize most Americans are more "America for Americans" than that.

  • by DaMattster ( 977781 ) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @07:41PM (#31803140)

    I think a much better investigation would deal with the well-publicized claims of IBM laying off senior US techs, replacing them with Indians or Brazillians, and forcing the laid off person to train the n00b to get their severance package. I'd also like to see the H-1B program users under some scrutiny for things like not paying prevailing wages, or employers intentionally not pursuing the hiring of US workers so they can get their work cheaper.

    Finally I read an idea that makes a lot of sense. When there is plenty of talent in the states, why are companies offshoring jobs or importing labor via the H-1B programs. Companies get tax breaks for this kind of non-sense. Companies actually get tax breaks for eliminating American jobs! If that isn't an example of just how bad things have gotten in America, I don't know what is. And supposedly the economy is recovering - I just don't see how. It is time for a change and more laws to protect the American Worker. I might even go so far as to advocate that IT needs to unionize!

  • by Darkness404 ( 1287218 ) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @07:49PM (#31803192)

    Unfortunately, the invisible hand seems to think that job stability is a stupid, backward 20th Century concept. After all, who doesn't like looking for a new job every 2 to 6 years?? In an environment like this, even the big guys are going to have trouble holding onto employees.

    Job stability doesn't work when the -industry- is changing. Advancements in hardware allow for new software concepts. 15 years ago if someone came up with the idea for Google Maps it would be shot down for a number of reasons. Number one because of the lack of high-resolution satellites and number two because of the fact the average person could never download such a large file over the (then) current technology. Today, Google Maps is a large part of Google and similar things are used on other sites.

    Other industries are rather stagnant without any huge innovations. For example, while farming has changed a lot, the basic principles are the same, plant, irrigate, fertilize, and harvest, the same that farming has had for several hundred years. On the other hand, the best IT skills from a few years ago don't transfer, especially when it comes to practical skills. Other than legacy systems, no one has a need for DOS anymore, someone who spent their entire lives making DOS programs and working with DOS must adapt or die, something that isn't seen in many other industries.

    A company can not be stable when an industry is unstable, employment can not be stable when companies are unstable. And honestly, the "stable" companies are the ones that have changed the most. Look at Apple, a few years ago they were producing no phones and no iPods. Then suddenly they are producing music players and now cell phones! The industry is changing.

  • by Vellmont ( 569020 ) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @08:47PM (#31803586) Homepage

    I might even go so far as to advocate that IT needs to unionize!

    It'll never happen. Why? No, not because IT has some special political position. No, not because IT is someone some special talent pool that's immune to corporate scum-baggery. It's because IT is by and large a large amount of small shops who's power would be very weak. The UAW is a great and powerful union because there's only 3 major U.S. based automakers. Teachers unions are powerful because school districts are large. But IT? So spread out and diverse it'd be impossible to control.

    The option most used for labor that's felt pressured from unskilled workers competing is required certification. Examples would include Doctors, CPAs, electricians, plumbers, etc. Plumbers and electricians have unions, but they still largely exist because of the laws for certifications. I wouldn't rule this out.. but the IT world is so incredibly diverse and changing, how would you have any kind of certification for it (even if you made 10 different certs for instance).

  • Re:HB-1 "solution" (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 10, 2010 @08:51PM (#31803604)

    No, it would only reduce the amount of money those people would be willing to pay in salaries. Trust me when I say that it would be really easy for them to fire people.

  • Re:Here We Go ... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by erroneus ( 253617 ) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @09:55PM (#31804012) Homepage

    Yeah it's not bad for the company, but it's bad for the people who would like their wages to be set by "the competitive market." This is harmful for anyone who hopes to be paid what they are worth. It harms not only employees at any company engaged in such practices, it harms everyone else who uses these large firms as a measurement by which wage expectations are set.

  • Re:Here We Go ... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by turbidostato ( 878842 ) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @10:09PM (#31804096)

    "It should be considered unethical if a company lays off an IT person, then ship their job to China, for example."

    How goes the old saying? You can't have the cake and eat it too, isn't it?

    Didn't you want free market and capitalism? Well, there you have it.

    "when you ship all of that expertise elsewhere, you handicap innovation in your country. That's stupid."

    Maybe it is, but then you are telling capitalism and free market are stupid. For capitalism is not about long term planning and global-wise decisions. It is about here and now and you can bet laying you off and hiring at China is a local optimum for the one taking the decision: the CEO and his bonuses and that's all about.

  • by jjrff ( 891275 ) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @10:53PM (#31804382) Homepage
    My story and a very close friend of mine story is opposite. We were working for a research arm of Proctor and Gamble as contractors on their Linux High Performance Computing Cluster. Someone in upper management at P&G decided a managed contract would be a better way to do business, what they did not realize (and they did not care) was that we would have to leave because of non compete law. In fact, our users (primarily PhDs) wanted us to stay and maintain the current systems because we delivered great service. We had to leave and that is that. Sure, my friend and I are fine (I mean with that on our resume, it is kind of hard not to be) but we really enjoyed our work and did not want to leave. We tried to stay, we tried to find a way to even work for the new managed services company but it just could not happen.
  • Poor Activision... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Daetrin ( 576516 ) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @11:22PM (#31804600)
    This does not bode well for Activision, who are counter-suing the former executives of Infinity Ward [] for being "insubordinate [...] self-serving schemers."

    Their supposed crime? Interviewing with EA for a job.

    The "supposed" part should be doubly emphasized. First of all, because so far at least Activision hasn't actually provided any proof that the studio heads were actually doing that. Second of all, because if the Justice Department thinks refusing to hire people because the worked for a competitor is illegal, how are they going to respond to a policy of firing any employees that are suspected of talking to a competitor about a job? Presuming no actual trade secrets were being shared Activision my be setting _themselves_ up for further lawsuits or investigations. Everyone knows that if your current company finds out that you're shopping around for a new job that there might be consequences, but most companies aren't stupid enough to announce in a legal document that it was a direct response intended as a punishment for "misbehaving" employees.
  • by Bruha ( 412869 ) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @11:43PM (#31804728) Homepage Journal

    The "Rumor" is enough to get someone fired, I've seen people get others out of their way by using such tactics.

  • Gee sounds familiar (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 11, 2010 @01:18AM (#31805212)

    Where I work a large contract was let to several LARGE companies - they shared it (Lockmart, BAE - you get the idea). They each had an agreement that if someone left the others wouldn't hire them. No big deal until this contract gobbled up 90+% of the tech slots - many hundreds of them. It extended to all of the subs too. People were actually ASKING to be fired in order to switch companies! The federal folks who these people worked for knew about it and encouraged it actually. Finally that person was replaced and the new person coming in told the companies that it wasn't kosher and that they didn't support it. But... the companies continued the practice among themselves! Once you get on this contract it's the kiss of death - you cannot find work elsewhere if your company screws you or they cannot place you elsewhere and you want to move. thankfully I've nto gotten stuck on this thing and work elsewhere but many others haven't been so lucky. It was years before anyone in the Govt. stepped up and did anything but even after saying they didn't support it (and they did for a VERY long time) the companies continued it. Hopefully the next re-compete dumps these turkeys....

  • by Douglas Goodall ( 992917 ) on Sunday April 11, 2010 @01:30AM (#31805270) Homepage
    You are right that no one should tell you you can't use your skills to make a living, but in all my forty years of contract engineering, only once did I chose to work for a clients direct competitor. There was enough opportunity out there that I felt I could move on. I think it hurts your professional reputation if you do that kind of thing. The one time I did work for a company that had a similar product as a previous client, I asked for and received permission from the previous client based on their faith in my honesty and their faith that I would not share their IP with their competitors. I made my share of mistakes in my career, but treating my clients poorly after taking their money was not one of them.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 11, 2010 @07:22AM (#31806678)

    Not because IT has some special political position. Not because you need to be in a large pool like automakers or teachers. Doctors, plumbers, and architects all have effective organizations and many of them work in smaller groups than IT departments. Secretaries have been known to unionize.

    The sad truth is that all these groups have one thing that IT workers are infamous for lacking. Social skills.

    It's hard to band together when your natural inclination is to stay apart. But whether everyone works in 30 companies or 30,000, the strength comes from unity and numbers. Enough people can make a difference, no matter how spread out they are.

    And, it that wasn't bad enough. IT people seem also to almost universally think that they're "management" and therefore are loudly despising of unions. They're not management. I've heard management refer to the as "shoe salesmen" and less complimentary things.

God doesn't play dice. -- Albert Einstein