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Why Work Sucks 222

Do you like your job? Do you feel secure in it? Do you know anybody who does? Life in the new technological workplace is filled with ironies and contradictions -- all tht money and opportunity, hardly any loyalty, appreciation or security. Companies no longer see themselves as pyramids, but fast-on-their-feet networks. Workers, especially older ones, are highly expendable. A new book helps us understand why the new capitalism is making companies more efficient, but destroying the character of jobs; improving the economy while ruining work itself.

Here's a quiz:

Do you like your job? Do you trust the people you work for? Do you feel needed and valued at work? Are you loyal to the company you work for? Is it loyal to you? When the time comes, do you count on your employer to take care of and protect you?

The most significant thing about this quiz, of course, is that most of the people reading it don't need to bother to take it.

An enormous shift is under way in the workplace, according to economists. There is a huge transfer of wealth from lower-skilled, middle-class American workers to the owners of capital, and to a new technological aristocracy.

This change is transforming the nature and character of work. And not for the better. The technological aristocracy is creating lean, mean, corporate machines. But for more and more people, work sucks.

The new techno-managers and their companies no longer care about individuals or their work or personal lives. They take over companies primarily to strip them down for re-sale, merger, or greater profitability. They've adopted a newly "flexible management style in which goals and structures constantly change, and older, more experienced workers are sometimes brutally abandoned; only younger presumably more malleable (read overworked) employees are favored, until they too are inevitably tossed over the side.

This chilling view of what technology is doing to work is unsparingly laid out in Richard Sennett's "The Corrosion of Character, The Personal Consequences of Work In the New Capitalism (Norton, $US 23.95). Sennett, who teaches sociology at the London School of Economics and New York University writes that the booming new economy teaches corporations to value flexibility over almost all other considerations.

Flexibility, he argues, has become the prime ideology, the golden rule of corporate life. Companies and executives place change and rapid-response above all other values. Notions like loyalty, security and character get chucked along with the expendable workers. Accordingly, large numbers of mostly younger people have no choice but to try a kind of extreme risk-taking, gambling that they will be among the survivors, the chosen few. In this increasingly cold-blooded scenario, those who succeed sweep the table of gains, like poker players after a winning hand; the mass of losers who remain divide the crumbs.

Instead of thinking of organizations as pyramids as they used to, says Sennett, management sees them as networks - network arrangements are faster, more efficient. This means that promotions and dismissals tend not to be based on clear, fixed rules, that tasks are never "crisply" defined. Instead the network is constantly refining its structure to remain efficient, competitive and profitable enough to satisfy stockholders and analysts, everybody's new bosses.

Drawing on interviews with dismissed IBM executives in New York, bakers in a high-tech Boston bakery, a barmaid turned advertising executive and a few others, Sennett argues that the new capitalism creates an environment where companies are continuously forced to down-size and re-organize.

Older employees are necessarily more resistant to continuous upheaval, saddled as they often are with mortgages and kids, and companies perceive them as difficult and more stubborn anyway. They're toast. Thus more and more workers are now must the most vulnerable precisely when they're the neediest.

This change is already so profound that American worklives are being dramatically shortened. The number of U.S. men aged 55 to 64 who work has dropped nearly 80 per cent in l970 to 65 per cent in l990. Statistics tell the same story - or worse - in France, and Germany. And much of this change has been involuntarily, prompting epidemic feelings of anger, guilt and uselessness rather than the chirpy contentment of early retirements portrayed in TV commercials.

That could accelerate: in America and Western Europe, sociologist Manuel Castells predicts, "the actual working lifetime could be shortened to about 30 years (from 24 to 54) out of a real lifetime span of about 75-80 years" - with older workers forced from the workplace long before they are physically or mentally unfit.

The image of corporate "deadwood" is so pervasive it has become a media cliché. Sennett quotes an advertising executive: "If you're in advertising, you're dead after thirty. Age is a killer." A Wall Street executive confirmed this view: "Employers think that if you are over forty you can't think anymore. Over fifty and they think you're burned out." Older computer programmers are rare enough to be stuffed in museums.

Recent flaps over age and hiring in television reveal that few TV writers are over 30; nor do many large Wall Street firms smile on bankers over 40.

That makes older workers instantly targetable during the ceaseless reingineerings, takeovers and mergers that characterize large corporations. The rate of involuntary dismissals for men in their 40's and early 50's, has doubled in the last twenty years.

But that thinking also puts considerable pressure on the young, sociologists argue. Experienced workers tend to be more judgmental about their superiors than novices, more likely to challenge unfair or arbitrary decisions. Younger workers are often forced to do a variety of jobs, whether they like them or not, and to be willing to move, whether they want to or not.

Sennett argues that the work values of the new technological elite threaten character, not only economic security.

"Who needs me?" is a question more and more workers are ask themselves. The new system radiates indifference. "Such practices obviously and brutally diminish the sense of mattering as a person," writes Sennett, "of being necessary to others."

Sennett's book is powerful documentation of what most people are learning the hard way: the great majority of those who toil in the "flexible" regimes are going to get left behind. One-sided, temporal relationships with employees are increasingly the only ones that make sense.

Technology has made corporations vastly more efficient, but at an enormous cost: they can no longer afford to be human.

Life in the technological workplace, toiling on behalf of the technocracy, is filled with ironies and contradictions - all that money and opportunity, hardly any loyalty, appreciation or safety.

Sooner or later, the elite and their corporations - connected to their workers only by money, by transitional and exploitive relationships - are bound to find themselves in serious conflict with the people they most depend on. You can email me at jonkatz@bellatlantic.net

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Why Work Sucks

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  • JoeBuck wrote:

    It's quite likely that some overworked child, or maybe a political prisoner in China, made at least some of the clothes you are wearing.

    China? How about the United States. The past few years several sweatshops paying unregistered aliens pennies per hour were shut down in New York City. I'm positive there were plenty more which went undetected and/or unmolested.

    Also, as the United States prison system has grown (we've got the largest percentage of lawyers and prisoners in the world) it also has been increasingly commercialized. A sizable portion of the United States manufacturing industry is now (quite legal) prison sweatshops.
  • They're all still there, just lower your threshold a notch or two (or click here [slashdot.org] to lower it to a rediculous level)
  • An Anonymous Coward was caught uttering the following:
    As true as this article is, Slashdot is the wrong forum to express it. Simply because Slashdot users consist of the younger, cheaper workers that Jon discusses. (As an aside, what do you think Slashdot's demographis are - I'll bet it's 90% young males between 18-30).
    90%? Not 90%, but close! According to this poll from August 8th [slashdot.org], folks in their 20s, dominate the population of Slashdot (54%) with teenagers aged 16-19 as the next group (21%). I find it interesting that the older segment (folks older than 30) comprise the same percentage here (21%). That's hardly a small percentage, and certainly not as small as you make out.

    Seriously: young or old, I think Katz is right in bringing something like this to the attention of the readership. Those who are willing to listen, will listen. Those who aren't, will not.

    Quite frankly, I like my job, but then again, I work for a State University and not a coporation. The attitudes and atmosphere between the two are worlds apart. I can see how folks who do work in a corporation might need a little heads up. Sure, it might not be happening to you now but don't discount later!

    - Cliff
  • It's not that older people are necessarily "set in their ways" or otherwise unable to learn; it's that your employer generally expects you to work 40-50 hours on things that are critical to the operation, and not on what will be critical in 2-3 years or 4-5 years.

    Most people with a full-time job make a choice between continuing to keep up and learning, and having any resemblance of a life. Add a family to the mix and suddenly your choices are tied to the welfare of other people. Let's see, neglect your family, or keep up with technology?

  • I make basically diddly working in tech support, but I'm working for/with a nifty Quaker boss, and we're gradually accumulating other techies who are actually clued. We do have future plans. The important thing is, we're basically flying in the face of the current job scene. We _care_, by choice, and it's a continuing choice- trust isn't easy, but we're all in the same boat.
    The ruthless motif is doomed. Who the _hell_ wants to do business with untrustworthy, ruthless people? Who really _wants_ to be used up and thrown out, or to depend on someone or something that's only out for what they can get away with? This is a dead end, an extreme swing in attitude (which I think can be traced back to MS's eternal attitude), and it CAN'T LAST. Cooperation has _advantages_. Functioning in a society has _advantages_. Cutting both of those things away and leaving everyone from the temps to the company itself scrambling ruthlessly for the next profitable betrayal has _costs_ that are not being considered at all. LOOK at an example such as Intel, and the FACE Intel website, for a picture of what happens when you go fully 'modern' with this approach to work. Reading that website, does Intel sound like a place with a future? No, it sounds like it is fscking going down in _flames_, man, and the sick thing is that nobody cares or wants to help because Intel hasn't given anyone a reason to like them other than being the 800 lb gorilla- there's no cooperation or social awareness within the industry for them, it's all what they can get away with, and people are sick to death of playing that game.
    People who seriously believe this ruthless attitude defines the future are deluded and uneducated. It's been tried many times in many contexts, and it _loses_. Your individuals end up so busy taking care of themselves that they WASTE TIME which could be spent providing some cooperative benefit, in doing things that other people could be helping them with, simply because they don't trust anybody and won't believe in a social interaction that can't be crushed by something ruthless coming along, so they won't even _try_ working with others and daring to risk contributing to a larger whole.
    Isn't it kind of odd that the people ranting about how the new ruthlessness is the future, are doing so on a site which advocates open source cooperativeness and the abandonment of this ruthlessness regarding _code_? Why shouldn't 'open source' work just as well on the personal level- a _GPLish_ (not 'public domain') type, in which you trust only the trustworthy, but will go to the wall for them, and vice versa? If you think I'm going to trust any of these merry ruthless child posters, you're out of your fscking mind- but I _will_ find other people who wish to cooperate in something, and I _will_ go to any length to justify their faith in me. But you gotta earn that, you gotta earn it and talking ruthless does nothing to suggest you are honorable and trustworthy- it suggests you are unscrupulous and dishonest- and if you think that's gonna win in the long run, man, you're gonna be alone out there, and I'm not fool enough to give you a hand on your inevitable way down.
    I will be busy giving a hand to the many people, including all Open Source programmers, who were willing to set aside ruthlessness and risk helping _ME_. And if you choose to scorn that I can only honor that choice... and let you die, free, proud, and trusted by no-one.
    So, in conclusion: Katz is right- but what he's not telling you (and perhaps doesn't know himself) is that the behavior he's protesting is a losing game, and ironically the people he's writing to, the ones who love and hate and argue with him, are a fine example of one way to put that behavior aside and return to the more successful behaviors of trust and cooperation.
    I hope he can see that. More than that, I hope enough Slashdot readers remember that, and remember the social ethic which underlies our open source licenses- and perhaps also the twist that defines the GPL itself- it's great to cooperate, but it's also damned useful to _demand_ it. If you can't play nice, maybe you oughta hit the road... I hear Intel is hiring, after a new round of layoffs >;)
  • Reading some of these replies is positively disturbing.
    I'm with the entrepreneur who said he was finding people with the same outlook and working with them, not with some corporate borg. I'm there- I'm trying to pick up a lot of knowledge, with very little formal training, because it interests me and because I have to- we don't have anyone else competent, so I have to spearhead the drive to understand Unix, and be part of the braintrust that's forming around a nifty (to us) concept.
    I'm a $20 an hour mac tech in a little Vermont town. This is outlandish- but I'll tell you why it's me in that position.
    It's because the person with the entrepreneurial dream, who is my boss, has a sense of honor, and I'm ready to gamble that he'll hang on to it adequately. I have bought shop equipment and paid him money when I was _owed_ by the shop- because we needed the financial liquidity- there was no Boss, no Employees, it was a question of paying rent on time or having Boss make excuses, and we don't _want_ to sleaze on the rent, dammit.
    I realize many people are surprised, as their attitude is 'if you _can_ sleaze on the rent, then you haven't reached the real due date, keep your money'... dishonesty runs deep in the new ruthlessness... but if you think that, you're overlooking someone.
    I'm cooperating with someone who isn't going to betray me.
    He is cooperating with someone who isn't going to betray him.
    If we, working together, can do better than we could do separately, then by God I'm gonna do that, and will sweat blood to make sure I don't let 'us' down... and I'm going to keep very, very aware of the inevitable people who blow through our field of vision who are faithless and would just sell us out in a nanosecond.
    Yes: it's asinine to be loyal to a faithless cause. But it is my firm opinion that faithless causes are losers- that they are doomed to collapse, horribly inefficient: they are the 'proprietary software' of business interactions, and it won't be righteous moralism that crushes this wave of ruthlessness- it'll be the hard edge of reality slamming down, leaving individuals hosed with no futures and no friends or allies, leaving businesses hosed with no decent employees left and no money to buy quality mercenaries anymore.
    It's just too damned easy to hurt the ruthless. You just survive, keep faith with those you can trust, and wait for a chink in the armor...
    So I'm waiting, hanging in there with my boss and our fellow techs. We tend to ease out people who don't relate with the trust and honesty thing, and latch onto those with promise... it's purely self-defense, really. Taking the ruthless attitude within our little startup is poison. We've got people absolutely raving about us, mind you they don't always pay on time but our attitude _is_ noticed.
    My only regret is how obscenely few of you Slashdotters, whom I'd think would be great matches for a neat idealistic startup involving Linux or at least Unix, would fit in here. But some of you would... probably the ones who contribute code and actually _do_ things to help open source.
    Once more: where does Open Source fit with this ruthless motif? Why would anybody even care? Is it purely an auditing the code thing? I really don't think pragmatism was the only motivation for this stuff... it remains to be seen whether Open Source can survive in an atmosphere of total cynicism and ruthlessness of its own advocates. Wouldn't it be better to just get MCSEs, extort tons of money from some rich corporation, get rich and die? ;P
  • Posted by modefan:

    To everyone that prefers contracting to being an employee, I have a few words for ya:

    1. I did it, I enjoyed it and I will do it again.
    2. Making the better and better hours is something that no other field gives you.
    3. You will become the most in-demand worker in your field.

    However, being a perm does have more benefits other than money and that's why many people like it.

    All in all, I hate working in general. I would much rather be retired and sitting on my DSL all day long =)
  • Posted by BikE_PUnX:

    All right, settle down, kids, and listen to this tale I have for ye...

    The first entities to form in Europe that could be considered a type of union were the guilds. These guilds formed during the Renissance of western Europe. These guilds formed cheifly to protect their members from overcompetition, but also to ensure that the quality of goods was maintained. Also, these guilds would care for the families of members who had died or who were extremely ill. The guild members were professionals - doctores, lawyers, bakers, tailors, and so on.

    Flash forward to the year 1825. A new way of life has gripped western Europe, and is beginning to spread east and across the Atlantic to America. The Industrial Revolution. For the first 50 years of this most extreme revolution, vast amounts of wealth were created, but this wealth was concentrated in the hands of an elite few. The masses who toiled at the bottom received little, and life was lived in the worst conditions ever known. Around this year, unions began to form. Once again, these were unions of skilled workers - team heads in steel mills, train engineers, master smiths - not the unskilled laborers. These skilled workers were in short supply, and as such, were in an advantageous situation to gain handsomely. Unions were formed, contracts were negotiated, strikes were struck.

    Again, flash ahead. The year is now 1877. Unions have spread, gradually falling through the ranks of less and less skilled workers. In Pittsburgh, a railroad strike ends in violence when Andrew Carnegie orders his security forces to fire on protestors, most of whom are women and children. Dozens die. The strikers respond violently, killing a score of guards and burning three miles of railroad yard and cars. Carnegie barely makes it out of the city alive, literally fleeing an angry mob.

    We go forward again, this time to 1900. Angry clashes like the Pittsburgh Railroad Strike are still in people's mind, both in America and in Europe. Workers at all skill levels have used the strike, walkouts, and slowdowns to gain better conditions for themselves, and better futures for their children. Skilled workers are slowly yet surely moving far ahead in income, to the point where they are making as much as many of the middle class.

    This brief story is to remind some confused people here what unions have done historically. It was not the construction workers who first unionized; they could be easily replaced. It was the skilled workers, those persons whose expertise was needed to ensure the quality of the job. By ignoring history, we are dooming ourselves to return to the early days of the Industrial Revolution, where we are all replacable cogs before the eyes of an unfeeling capitalist machine.

    We must protect ourselves, each other, and our children. The boss' goal is to extract as much work from us for as little pay as possible. Whether you like it or not, it is us versus them. Face this harsh reality, and think about it. There are strength in numbers. One voice screaming "No! I will not be exploited!" can be ignored. But a thousand voices, ten thousand voices, a hundred thousand voices... These shouts would deafen even the most protected corporate raiders.

    Think about it. Unions which take 2% of your $65,000 income, or bosses who pay you $45,000. Simple math for so many so-called intelligent people.

    Think about it.

    Matt Singerman
    "If you can't fix it with duct tape, it's fucked."
  • Posted by saintmae:

    I like having a job. It gives me a reason to get up and out every day. I even actually like my job. I do tech support. I like people and I like fixing things, and I'm good at it.

    However, I can't stand the policies and the attitudes of the company I work for. I work for a large outsourcer that provides technical and customer support for several hundred different projects in several different countries. My project alone probably employs over a thousand people - there are over three hundred people with the same job I have.

    You would think this would make me a little more expendable and them a little more "flexible". In fact, this is not the case at all. Because of "coverage", I am denied time off requests the day before the time off was supposed to take effect - when I submitted the paperwork three weeks in advance, ample time for them to get back to me. Because of coverage, I got written up for being late three times in a month - twice only one minute late, and the third time because I had to fill out a police report.

    If I were a child, I would still be in school. To have a job is to be assumed adult. I wish I were treated like an adult.
  • Posted by RAChiller:

    Not with that attitude, you won't.
  • You don't really expect ego-nerds to understand sociology and/or statistics?
  • Soylent Green is old programmers.
  • The elimination of the middle class, the widening of the gap between the lower and upper, is leading this country (hell, the whole WORLD) down the path of a Gibson novel.

    Walk out on the streets and you're immediately swamped with technological "have-nots", and yet every company worth its salt has a web site. Why do they bother? Because the technological "haves" have the cash and everyone wants a piece of that as-yet-to-be-properly-exploited market.

    The gov't is trying desperately to curb the flow of technology from its military and other R&D efforts into the hands of the people, hiding behind "national security". Strong encryption, while a pain in the ass to use, is an essential component of the new era of digital privacy that we have yet to see. Big Brother is watching you.

    There's a war on. A war against the lower class. Don't let them get out of place. Don't let them rise up. Keep them down any way you can. If that means locking them up in jail, so be it. It's really easy, these days, to masquerade a new Mandatory Minimum Sentancing bill as "tough on crime", when all it is, really, is "tough on minorities".

    Destroy the middle class at all costs, push them into places where they can be rounded up and branded "lower". Tax the hell out of property owners. Tax the hell out of the working stiffs. Make technology so difficult and expensive to acquire that the average person couldn't possibly start developing his own.

    Take away the choices. Too many choices lead to unpredictable behavior. Empowering people leads to people holding the power. Can't have that bullshit, we have a country to run. We have lives to steamroller over. There's a war on!

    The only choice you have these days is who you're going to let exploit you. Nah, you don't even have that choice. You can pick what industry is going to exploit you, and then you get to sell yourself out to a company in that industry. That is, if you're willing to lower yourself to the point of pissing in a cup first. What, you expect to be trusted? You expect to be valued on your own merits? Bullshit.

    Once you've decided how you're going to be exploited, you get the supreme honor of handing over half or more of what you earn, to pay for something that's not guaranteed to be delivered on time or at all. Worse still, you pay the salaries of the very same people who created this mess.

    Sorry... It's early in the morning, haven't had coffee yet...

  • AC wrote: "These comments smack of young arrogance to me...tell me what happens after you're 30,40,50, and you have family, commitments, that mean that you can't dedicate 90% of your waking hours to work?"

    Those who are spending 90% of their waking hours working in their 20s are getting into habits that won't change in later years, I think. Forget marrying later in life, these folks won't be marrying at all... if you spend 10+ years completely isolated from any kind of socialization, you're gonna have a hard time diving into it when the time is available.
  • Some older men may not be working because they can't find a job. However, my parents retired at age 62 (my father is a professor emeritus, so in some sense he'll never truly retire) because they could, not because they were forced to. This statistic is meaningless without information about how many older workers were fired, how many are trying to find work but can't, etc.
  • Really. I've worked in a variety of settings - academic, public service (ugh), large corporate, small startup (not counting summer jobs, of course). And I've enjoyed working in the academic and small startup only. The positions I had in each were different - academic: ESL instructor/department head; public service: library drone; large corporate: library technical advisor; small startup: sysadmin.

    One thing I've learned is that if you concentrate on what you can learn and how that turns around into what you can produce, the happier you'll be. The less you learn, the less you'll produce.

    Basically the work that has sucked for me has been the work that has degenerated into routine. I'm not saying that the marketplace isn't hard, fast and cutthroat, but IMHO it's always been. In each of the work settings I've found myself, I have always taken it for granted that tomorrow may bring a reorg/cutback/loss of financing, etc. Fact of life, sorry but we have to let you go.

    My point being: the more you know how to learn, the longer you stay marketable.

    My $0.02.
  • the average individual is far MORE empowered today than ever before.

    How so?

    e.g. it's far easier to move between income strata now than ever before. 30 years ago, if you were born poor, you likely stayed poor.

    Perhaps, if you have pretty intelligent parents (not all that common if you're poor) or you're a very wise child who can understand the real value of an education in order to work for the grades that may let you get a college education. Other than that, most poor people don't get much of a chance. If your family is fairly well off, then you don't have to live a perfect life. You can screw up a few times and still end up with a job and a decent future.

    the average individual has MORE ability to think of something grand and spread it to the outside world.

    So? We can say whatever we want.. sure, but if you think of something grand, you better have access to enough money to protect that idea, or the people who have all the money will make you wish you'd never thought of it.

    the average company is no MORE hardcore about not viewing their employees as interchangeable cogs. Skills / experience / etc. are MORE thoroughly rewarded now than ever before.

    I definitely disagree with this. Companies are hiring and firing like mad these days. You can't pick up a paper without reading 3 stories about companies laying off a bunch of people, or (though usually less publicised) hiring a bunch of people. One company falls and another rises in it's place. Unfortunately, the people who work for these companies have absolutely no security, especially as they get older.

    We are far MORE in command of our salaries than ever before in history.

    Once again, how so? You've made some pretty broad, sweeping statements and given no detail or support for them. It's pretty hard to draw any conclusions from this.

  • I've gotta agree with you. I noticed the same things about his post. He was free to just pick up and move across the company. That's great as long as you don't have a family to worry about. If you devote all your time to work and continuing education, you'll probably continue to do fairly well. Unfortunately that leave very little time for this thing called a life. I don't think we were all put on this planet to work until we die. What's the point? If we can't spend a reasonable amount of time with friends and family, then the great job doesn't do much for our lives overall. There is more to this whole issue than how much money you make. There's quality of life.. for you and for your family.

  • I started out working on a wheat farm, the family business...no thank you.

    I went to the city (Portland Oregon) and learned computers. Now I have a kickin job. I work when I want, I am almost unreplacible and I have two Power Mac G3s sitting on my desk and Xeon powered Compaqs to play with.

    The jobs are out there...at least in the United States. Workers make more than ever. Sure the cost of living is high and so are taxes...it doesn't bother me.

    I am far more empowered than my Mother or Grandfather ever was. I was born middle class and I still am middle class. I have lost nothing.
  • Since when has Slashdot ever advocated a political position? We even have people around here who like Microsoft :-!
  • We have a lot of comments from people who are making over $100,000 and a lot from people making less than $50,000 with no-one in between. Very interesting.
  • Unemployment rates are calculated from measuring unemployed people in the labor force. The labor force inlcudes everybody with a job or looking for work. If people do not fall into either of these categories they are not included in the labor fore and, therefore, not included in either employment or unemployment statistics.

    It's really not all that complicated or strange as you suggest.

  • It used to be that 'job security' meant that you would work at FoMoCo for all of your life putting that screw in that hole day after day. FoMoCo wouldn't lay you off..etc. But people didn't really have many skills either. Mechanics are a dime a dozen. So are IT people. The difference being, that almost every shop in town has a Network, and needs someone to provide TLC for it. So the shift is becoming that 'job security' means 'good skillset.' A good skillset and you will never have to look long to find a job, and you can constantly be asking for more and more money. Maybe you do get dumped by Xyz, Inc, but Xyzzy will pick you up.

    One thing's for sure. This new-fangled internet thing surely won't just 'go away.'

    okay. back to the crack pipe.
  • I'm 36, and I'm still slightly under the average age (I would guess) at my current workplace. Certainly on my programming team here in the flight operations area for a major US airline.

    Why? Because the mainframe applications we've developed in-house here over the past 30 years are relatively complex, and it takes a tremendous amount of time to grasp the reasoning behind what is going on. Not in terms of the technology, but in terms of the operational business rules around which the applications were written.

    These aren't stupid slow COBOL applications that generate reams financial reports for some pointy hair somewhere. These are the transaction-based Fortran applications that do our aircraft load balancing and optimal takeoff weight/thrust calculations and flight plan generation and real-time flight tracking. Zillions of real-time data feeds between systems. I've been in this position for seven years (first two as a contractor), and I'm only just beginning to get a handle on this stuff.

    Even in other areas we tend to have a lot of older people who have been here for 10, 15, or 20 years. I don't know if it's because airlines were early adopters of computer technology and we've just kept people over time, or if it's because of the stability of the company or what. Or maybe it's just an interesting industry to work in.
    -Rich (OS/2, Linux, Mac, NT, Solaris, FreeBSD, and OS2200 user in Bloomington MN)
  • I used to be one of the best employees at my previous company, but I wasn't given wage rises for the following reasons:

    - My hair wasn't as nice as Richards (OK, that's what it fealt like)
    - I didn't want to go into management
    - They couldn't, because they had to give everyone similar wages

    So, I got sick of the BS and went contracting. Never regretted it yet, and earn more than the directors at the previous company.

    Am I loyal to my employees? Yes - I employ myself!
    Are my employees loyal to me? I hope so ("self - am I loyal to me?") ;-)

    I think the older generation can also benefit from this newer model - they just have to face facts - the world is changing, you can no longer stay at the same job for the rest of your life. I think it's far more interesting this way.
  • OK, here's my rebuttal:

    - taxes: I pay my accountant to do that. He does everything for me. Every quarter I send him my invoices (which are printed automatically each week by a StarOffice macro), my reciepts and anything else he needs. In return I get sent pre-paid envelopes which I just stick a cheque in. I actually save money by using an accountant because a) I can spend that time working, and b) he knows all the right forms to save me money.

    - Unpredictability: 6 months is a huge over estimate. Perhaps you go for a long time between contracts, but I don't know any contractors (and I know a lot) that are broke, or go hand to mouth.

    - Treatment: I just keep my head down, and give as good as I get (in a light hearted way). I actually prefer the treatment I get because I'm not surrounded by political BS.

    Perhaps it's a lot different in the US though.
  • There is no question that corporate America is changing. It is no longer probable that you will spend your entire life working for one single company. The question is whether or not this is inherently a bad thing. Katz clearly assumes that no one would ever leave their current job except under duress, but (from my experience) much of the current job hopping is voluntary. The chances of getting fired are higher than they were 30 years ago, but there is also less of a stigma placed on those workers who have worked in several different companies.

    In fact, in many cases the experience is seen as desirable by employers.

    The fact of the matter is that it is hard to complain about the state of the job market (at least in the United States) with the current economy. This is especially true in the computer industry. We have some of the most sought after skills in the country. And it is really the skills that are valuable.

    Even if Katz did have a point, what would he propose we do about this "dilemna." Our employers are plotting to screw us, are they? How is that different from how it has always been?
  • Actually I think it's the right forum. The young'uns are the ones that still have th energy to shake the world. And given how tightly corporations hold on it's going to take quite some shaking.

  • You go man! Completely agree here. My last employer tried to screw me.. so I got a another job.. albet 3000 miles cross the country.. but not only am I makeing a hell of a lot more, they actually treat me very well here. So all it takes is the self confidence and desire to do better and you can. No one is going to stop you.

    Some people mentioned that in 20 years I could be out of luck because my field vanishes. Here's an answer for you... continuing education. No one is stoping you from keeping up to date.. or taking an evening class instead of watching monday night football.. in fact most employers encourage and pay for such classes. All it takes is some self motivation.

    Anyone who doesn't even try to do better or learn more has no right to whine and complain that they lost their job because their expertise was no longer needed.

    Hell I'm 23, I make 70K/year and if I cashed out all the stock I own I'd have $160,000 in cash laying around. So if I keep going at the rate I am.. and I have no plans to slow down.. I could easily have over a $1mil in assets by the time I hit 30. And the most interesting thing is that I'm not the smartest ape in the tree...

  • Ok so I'm single right now and I'm NOT looking for a steady relationship, but I also work 8-5.
    I very rarely work more then 9 hours a day. I've worked at my present employer for almost a year now.. and only once was I at work for more then 10 hours and only because it was a serious emergancy. If I finally come to settle down this job would not interfere at all.

    Frankly I have never been told I have to work more then 8 hours. But I accept the fact that there will be circumstance under which I will. My previus employer also didn't require me to work more then 8 hours.. they did do something that I didn't appreciate and that's why I left.

    The whole 10-12 hour days thing is rediculeous and no one seriously asks that of any employee. (the only people I know that work 12 hour days only work 4 days a week.) You can always leave and you always have the choice of where you work. IMHO the only people that complain about being "stuck" are the ones who don't do anything about it... except complain.

    Ok, there is a 1/2 truth to the 10-12 hour thing.. if you work for a start up. (IE 1st 1-2 years) then yes the job will require 10-12 hour days.. but if sucessfull you will also be very rich in the end. That's a risk you must decide on your own.. obviously you don't have to take that particular job.

    And truth be told even if I make 100million $$ before I hit 50 I will not just retire and sit around. I enjoy the challange that I get out of work. And frankly I go stirr crazy if I'm NOT working on something.. be it work related or not.

    The point I was trying to make is that what Katz was describing is a fabrication. Sure there are companies that will abuse their employees.. but you always have a choice.. and infact in these days you have a SIGNIFIGANTLY better choices.

    My dad being in his late 40 is jumping from job to job.. not because he gets fired, but because every few months he gets a better and better offer from a different company. If he likes the oportunity he switches. And according to him he's seen a steady increase in such opportunities.

    On a more personal note.. I too came from a computer science backdground (and I've only graduated 3 years ago). I've almost fallen into the "we'll try to hire him for much less then he's worth" trap. As pessemistic as it sounds it's the a companies job to hire you for as little as possible.. and it's your job to be well informed. A typical graduating CS student earns $45K right out of the gate. And there are also various publication that will tell you what you SHOULD be making and where the best opportunities are. The most important thing is to keep up to date and polish out your skills and knowledge as quickly and well as you can. Then find a company that will pay you what you think you deserve. It's not as hard as everyone makes it out to seem. Hell if I did it anyone with a little ambition can too. And that goes regardless of your sex, race or any other possible excuse.

  • I understand your concerns. The point is I'm 23! I want to establish myself before I decide to start a family. So my 1st concern is to get into a position where I would be glad to bring another life into this world. I think a lot of people are making the mistake of thinking that they can just get out of school, get a job, get married, and everything else will take care of itself.

    Yes, it's harder if you have kids or have a significant other who works.. but the choice is still yours to make. And you CAN'T blame a company for not giving you more money just 'cause you want more. An it's not a companies job to take care of you till you die. Your life and how you live it is your responsibility.

    And the other misconception is that a great job leaves no room for a life. I work 8-5. I go Mountain biking every day weather permitting. I go to bars with friends and co-workers alike, among many other things. This is the definition of a great job, getting paid well and having time to enjoy the other aspects of life. I never said that making a lot of money in exchange for not having a life is good; Quite the opposite.

    Like I said before.. anyone can do it.. it's a matter of picking your sacrifices. Life isn't supposed to be easy.

  • companies are downsizing, governments are downsizing and the corporate work environment is getting desperate.

    It's because they have to compete with me, and you. Hackers are the new source of wealth. New software and electronic products as well as the huge number of newly "software enhanced" products are generating a larger and larger percentage of the energy in the world economy.

    And we can produce software in a living room for sale world-wide. I can set up a shop on Geocities [geocities.com] with a credit card merchant account at Wells Fargo [geocities.com] for a less than a $500.00. I can then translate my page into 5 languages at bablefish [altavista.com] and sell world wide with no added transaction cost. If I weren't so lazy that is. The only thing that can stop us now is our own remotes. I could do all those things, but I sit here at work making somebody else's next million so I can be assured of a paycheck on the 15th and a convenient co-pay at the doctor's. All because making the money for myself would necessarily cut into my discworld [imaginary.com] time.

    Speaking of which, I just mastered Pragi's Fiery Gaze and Endorphin's Floating Friend and became a 4th Level Wizard! Not to mention finding a way to use the soul commands to cast what appear to be free illusions!

    Sages of the Unbroken Circle
    Wizard's Guild

  • Perhaps not everyone here is a professional, but some of us certainly are. As a member of the leading professional organization for IT professionals, SAGE [usenix.org], I can tell you that attempts to organize a more traditional trade union has met with heavy resistance among system administrators.
    In this economy, with the current shortage of IT workers, there is no reason to make $30,000 for 60 hour weeks. As stated in the last issue of ;login:, this is the time to vote with your feet. Walk away; with a reasonable skill set, anyone in this field can find a better employer, both in terms of economic compensation and personal considerations.

  • If anything, I found this article inspiring. Two years ago I decided to start a company rather than to bitch and complain about my previous employeer. I went from senior executive at a software firm to unemployment. And it feels great!

    Since 1997 I managed to sign up some very big companies as my customers, I'm working with the coolest technology, my company is expanding, and the company income increased more than 5 times from 1997 to 1998.

    The company is growing faster than I can control it now, and yes, I may employ people. I'd much rather hire contractors because their work ethics tend to be better than permanent employees' (out of self-defense; no performance = no $$). Other people who work with me come in as partners if we identify that our goals are similar. Then we all have a vested interest in making the company succeed.

    If you have a chance, check out Ricardo Semler's book Maverick. He explains how to structure your company as an employee-less place in which everyone involved maximizes the benefits of self-interest and self-ownership.

  • It depends on the company. As hard as it may seem, there are still companies that care as much about thier employees as they do the bottom line. In fact some companies consider thier workers AS part of the bottom line. I for one enjoy my work most of the time (all jobs have thier bad days) and I know that My employer isn't going to chuck me to the wolves. At Least as long as I keep my skills current. Heck! With the boss PAYING for my continuing education and updates to my skills that's not really that much of a chore.

    He does have a point though...There are far fewer of those kinds of companies than there should be.

  • I see we still haven't trained Jon to write proper HTML yet. Is it me or are all the closing double quotes not displaying on our browsers?

    Other than that a good article, actually. I liked it.
  • Wow. Finally an article where Katz managed not to use the word "geek". There is hope! :)
  • Something I always wonder... there are so few older programmers. What does a programmer do when he gets 50? Work on a sheep farm?
  • You could convert your money to yen and be a millionaire :)
  • Yup, company loses its help.
    Product stalls.
    Customers need something more stable.
    Switch to Free Software.

  • We are now all effectively independent contractors. That means that one has to think; one can't just mindlessly show up for work and do what someone else tells one to do and expect to be secure in retirement. Just because the post-war generation was guaranteed a rising income despite never learning a single new skill past the age of 25 doesn't mean that such a state ought to persist forever.

  • Umm, no.

    It's a bad idea. Why? Because if you're getting exploited ($30,000 for a 60 hour week? If you're getting $30K, you're a total newbie to the field and it's not worth making you work overtime, you
    don't have enough to contribute yet), leave. Don't ask a union to do the job for you, vote with your feet and get another job. If you can't at least get a 5% raise after 6 months of looking around (read "Ask The HeadHunter" [fool.com] for tips on how to look), then maybe you're in the best situation you can find for now.

    Still, 30K for 60 hours? Not worth it. At the very least, you should be getting overtime pay for that (making your real salary something more like $35K, which I wouldn't consider too bad to make in the first 1-2 years of an IT career).

    My take on unions is that I prefer a system where my skills determine what I make, not the amount of whining me and 50 of my buddies do. I'm just not a union fan, and never will be.
  • I couldn't agree more. Look at what Rob is doing; he's out of school and already his own boss (way to go, Rob, wish I would have had the guts and energy back then).

    Given that the days of the company being your nurturing parent are over (if they ever really existed except in 50s sitcoms), the next natural development is to band together in groups that *are* going to serve the interests of all involved. Small, tightly-focused collectives.

    I think it starts with very small firms (5-10 people) who then band together in consortiums (I'm looking out for contracts, and when I don't want something, let me hand it off to your group instead).

    It's becoming more and more of a model. I would totally encourage anyone who really, truly, is frustrated to examine that as an option. You *can* be your own boss, and it's much more healthy mentally than being a corp slave (and knowing it -- nothing saps the will like feeling like a drone).
  • Let me send out a disclaimer here: The following post contains vast generalizations, and there certainly are expections. I know this. But nevertheless, I think that what I'm about to say also has a great deal of validity.

    While the book Katz reviews may or may not be an accurate summary of the corporate situation today, it does paint a picture of what could be before long, especially as we 20-somethings become 40-somethings.

    When the computer was a new toy, 'techie' people were very special, because it took lots of ingenuity and know-how to make computers go. As a result, technie people were courted, schmoozed, and treated very well, because they were special. You couldn't just pull any guy off of the street to do a techie job.

    Then the personal computer happened. With the advent of the personal computer, literally anyone with some spare time and determination could become a 'techie type.' This is a wonderful, empowering thing. The largest reason why I'm proficient with computers is that I was raised with a computer in my house.

    But there is one side effect to this - because of the personal computer, more and more techie people are entering the job market, and this trend can only continue and increase. Indeed, by the time I'm 40, I fully expect hordes of young punks to enter the job market knowing more about computers than I will ever know (and that's with me keeping up to date).

    And as more and more techno-minded people go out into the workforce, they'll become more and more replacable. Already, to some degree, you can pull someone [young] off of the street and give them a techie job. That saturation of techie people can only increase, and as they become more and more replacable, they'll have to endure harder and harder working conditions, and be treated less and less like people and more and more like cogs. Inevitably, people in techie position will suffer all of the worst parts of capitalism that 'replacable' factory workers have endured for years.

    Call me a pinko commie, but under capitalism, as soon as someone is regarded as replacable, they repeatedly get bent over, because they are replacable. Sure, there are good companies that treat people well and don't exploit them, but there are also lots of bad ones.

    I'm not so sure if such is the situation now, especially in light of the insanely high demand for techie people in the work force. However, I do see a situation like this evolving in no more than 20 years...maybe even 10. As future generations become more techno-saavy and enter the job market, technical positions will become more exploited and less secure.

    Then again, I could be completely on crack, but I don't think so.


    PS. Any typos are really artistic alternate representations of words and sentances. :-)
  • You do raise some good points, and it could be that merely keeping up-to-date will make us less replacable than we may otherwise be, but I still have some reservations.

    It's not necessarily that young = smart, but one has to admit that an 8-year-old will tend to acquire technical know-how faster than a 30-year-old. Young people just learn faster than older people do.

    Well, as time goes on, you will have young people learning more and more advanced technology and a rate much faster than their older counterparts....if for no other reason than the older counterparts tend to have more home responsibilities and cannot devote every waking moment to computers. So, in 10 years, younger people will be entering the work force who could very well have a greater proficiency with a technology than their older counterparts, simply because they grew up with it and had more time to devote to it.

    But I don't think it even has to be an issue of highly skilled young people entering the job market. I think that mere market saturation (ultimately because of the personal computer), without regard to proficiency, is enough to make techie people replacable.

    Sure, 55-year-old Gill has been a good worker,and he's a smart guy, but we could pull a 23-year-old techno-saavy person off the street (will soon be possible, if not already possible), pay them half of Gill's salary and train them. Sure, experience is important, but not as important to every company as the bottom line.

    Just some thoughts :-)

  • My company employs around 40 engineers where the median age is 35-40. I am by far the youngest engineer at 24. Perhaps this is because I work on kernel level code or perhaps the average New England SE is older than the average SE on the west coast.
  • Assume everything Jon Katz says is true. Then what? Go back to big hierarchical companies like IBM, Digital, and Wang? Have old farts that drive Buicks and have no clue as your boss? Have a quota of old farts on staff? And what are all these old farts doing clogging up the golf courses when the job market is so tight? Are careers improved by stability? Are "flight attendants" happier than stewardesses were, now that they can stay in theur jobs until they get old, bitter, and snippy about their job being a profession?
  • I also make a living from contract work and agree that it kicks sand in the face of regular employment. It's true that you lose some degree of predictability and certainty that its present in regular employment; but as Katz points out this security is shrinking and there comes a point where it is no longer rational to say 'no' to a doubling of salary for an increasingly slender comfort blanket

    The short term nature of most contracts can actually work in your favour: if you are any good then your employer does not want to lose you. Once you have a record of quality you can say 'no' to toilet-cleaning work that often tries to piggyback on what was explicitly agreed because both you and your employer know you can always move on to something else.

    By the way, the best articles I have read on Slashdot have been on this subject: it seems to bring out the best in the posters because it is something we all have some experience of (and is very close to our hearts :) )
  • I agree with all your points. You basically have to incorporate (here in the UK, become a Limited Company) and regard yourself as a corporation that just happens to have one employee. Along with that goes all the grief of keeping receipts, issuing invoices, liasing with an accountant and so on. Goes with the territory.

    On the unpredictability, I have been lucky and haven't hit any quiet patches; but you are right, you have to have money in the bank first because your paycheck can no longer be relied upon. This has downstream effects such as mortgage lenders raising an eyebrow: however, again in my experience, once you show them your accounts, and they see you make good money then they're all smiles.

    On the NT invasion, I have been programming in C++ & MFC on NT for the last three years or so and only recently spent time with Linux, which was a revelation in several departments (mainly to do with how much of Win32 & NT itself MS had stolen from Unix, and yet munged up or made less capable). I have been looking at X programming recently (another revelation to run GUI processes on another box with all IO on the one you're sitting at) but I fear - and this is the point - that any new API I learn will be dust sooner rather than later. I see I could readily learn the X APIs, seeing as they are similar in intent to the Windows SDK APIs, but is it worth it? There's the tk way of doing things one could worship, too. But it occurred to me maybe we are entering a time of the Death of APIs where everything is written in Java and the rendering of the App - and which OS is being used - is a detail.
  • Seems to me that companies might rather hire contract work by independants than actually hire people and have to pay benefits, etc...
  • It's easy to deride this as 'socialist propaganda' when you're not likely to be affected by it. The pseudo-libertarians need to get over the idea that anytime a progressive mentions phrases like 'unequal distribution of wealth' we're secretly wishing for government thugs to come and take all the money from the rich and give it to us. The simple fact is that if your economic system is designed to move money toward the top, you DO end up with a class structure, and the division between the top and the bottom WILL get more pronounced. You don't need to be a "socialist" to see this, folks, you just need to do the math.

    On this specific topic, it's easy to make fun of it if you're 20 or 21. When you're 31, it's not so funny. If you're 40, it could really be terrifying. This "ageism" phenomena has been reported pretty widely by the mainstream media, who are, on the whole, not screaming flower children. (Believing that the news divisions of General Electric, Westinghouse and Disney are markedly anti-corporate requires the aid of some pretty serious hallucinogens.) This is not something Jon Katz is just making up--and it's something that should probably concern this audience. The question shouldn't be "is he right" or "is Slashdot the right place for this," but "what can we do to change this?"

  • Beanie Babies, Furbies, $30K+ SUV. Gee, I wonder why nobody has any money. I guess I could complain about my income, but it is much better than the minimum wage I started at years ago. It is also better than the pay I earned while working an "undesirable" job while paying for and attending college. Hmmm. Maybe I was not content with my job or my income and did something about it?

    I like my job. My techno boss gave me a week off with pay last September when my dad died. My last few employers would not have even considered it. That is why they are former employers.

    I'm not rich. I may never be rich. But if I'm never rich, it is my own fault. (I don't save $$$ worth a damn.) I'm not gonna blame my employer, when I was the one who chose employment. Sometimes work is actually, well...work!
  • I have to disagree with you here -- if /. is only younger males then it *should* get this sort of thing.

    A younger male myself (24), my reaction was "Yeah, there's probably some truth to that, but so what -- what's new?" Personaly, I don't think things are as bad as Katz is saying, and I also think that much of what is bad isn't so much systemic as it is a result of the fact that we're going through a period of change. I get frustrated sometimes, but I also got a relatively nice job (try carrying hod -- now there's an unpleasant job) by studying philosophy in college. That's quite a trick, if you want my opinion.

    But I realize that my experience in the job market is limited, and if you have a different perspective, I'd like to hear it, and hear why you feel that way, don't just tell us we're being arrogant.
  • Only our previous assumptions ABOUT work are being destroyed.

    Some get bowled over in the process, but this is true in ANY form of social change.
  • I think very few of us (20/30-something) have taken the idea of Social Security seriously for a long time. I pay my SS now soley in the hopes that it will benefit my parents someday, but with no illusions that it will ever help me directly. Today most folks are already acting around this issue, with 401k, self-employment, continuing education and other investments in their own futures.

    Rather than the tired and oppressive trade union perspective (which starts out for the common good, but rapidly evolves into a purely self-seeking corporate entity) I think we'll see more a return of guilds (places where tradespeople can network, socialize and upgrade their skills) and co-operatives (healthcare, childcare, educational, etc.).
  • by hawkeye ( 4170 )
    Ok... this article is not very well done and goes against some of the principles by which I live my life.

    "Do you like your job?"

    I wouldn't be here if I didn't.

    "Do you trust the people you work for?"

    I trust them to make decisions to make the business successful... That's there only job! If I'm no longer deemed "useful" then that's *their* loss, but it doesn't matter to me!

    "Do you feel needed and valued at work?"

    I'm not in it to feel "needed or valued". Just the satisfaction of *knowing* I've done a good job is good enough for me!

    "Are you loyal to the company you work for?"

    Loyalty has nothing to do with it. I feel that I'm doing pretty cool work right now. If I get sick of it, either my company will provide me a way to do other work, or I'll look elsewhere!

    "Is it loyal to you?"

    Don't care!

    "When the time comes, do you count on your employer to take care of and protect you?"

    I neither expect or want this! I have the freedom to leave the company any time I choose. This works the other way as well.... *If* I become "dead weight", I'd expect any decent company to dump me!

    I cannot foresee a time in my life when I won't have passion for the job that I'm doing and, if that time comes, I'll look elsewhere to regain it!!!

    I'll admit your points are "interesting", but they're not founded in the way things should work!


    - Hawkeye

  • A lot of the posts here are form the technical elite. I include myself among those. The people who went out and got the technical education and have the skills that, due to demand, give us more power over our employers than most. We are the ones benefitting from the current situation.

    Should we feel guilty about that? Hell no.
    Should we be aware of what is happening to those not as fortunate to be where we are? Hell yes.

    That could be us someday. Corporations realize we have them by the short and hairies right now. Why do you think there is this pursuit of increasing the Visas for technical workers? Why do corporations want more technically trained people out of colleges. Yes, they can't fill jobs, but on top of that they have to pay too much in order to fill them. If there were 1.2 people for every job, do you think they would be paying 23 year olds $70K per year. The highly skilled technical worker should never take his good fortune for granted. It can be taken away before you know it.

  • We happen to have a passion for an area of expertise that is greatly in demand right now. As far as I can tell, I can lie down on a street corner right now with a sign that says "Java" on my chest, and people would be rushing to offer me 75K a year jobs.

    Lets look at my girlfriend now, who has just as much education as I do, at a better school. I also think she is the smarter of the two of us. Unfortunately, her passion and talent is for illustration (and she's quite good at it). She has to scrape and scrabble to make a third of what I do. Fair?

    I supposed the Randites might suggest that it is her own damn fault for choosing a career in a more glutted, less (currently) valued field. But how many of us chose our field for the money it pays? Surely not the average Slashdot reader, who has a real passion for the technology with which they work and play.

    Let's remember the folks who are getting chewed up and spat out of the gears of the "New Economy" today, or whose gonna be there for us when the great wheel turns?
  • one more datapoint: some men aren't working because women in their positions get paid less.

    several years ago i heard a report on npr about companies that were laying off older men (high pay) and promoting women to fill their place (lower pay).

    i'm male, and supporting equal pay for equal work suddenly seem like it's in my own self interest, doesn't it? amazing how many things that "aren't in my self interest" actually are...
  • I've said it before on /. and I'll say it again, we need to get organized. If we accept the conditions do nothing, then we deserve what we get. I read about a group of workers, at Microsoft of all places, that are forming a pseudo-union in Wired magazine.

    And cut the crap, we aren't "professionals" the way doctors and lawyers are professionals, they don't work 60 hours a week for $30,000. We're workers, just like factory hands, and we need to face up to the problems that many in our field are going through.
  • Katz actually wrote something short, non-repetitious, and good. Maybe the wacko's are right about the world coming to an end.
  • How old is Mr. Katz? Do you KNOW he's a Gen X'er? Do you know the author of this book is a Gen X'er? How many 21 year olds do you know who are millionaires? Do you usually typecast people like that, or were you just cranky this morning.

    For the record, I'm 27 and I'll never be a millionaire for as long as I live.

    Christopher B. Wright
  • So, how's the Linux install coming along, eh Jon?
  • An article on how much "work sucks" targeted at a demo making a lot of money doing something they love? Uh, work doesn't suck for me, dude.

    However, I do understand the plight of older folks and hack journalists. But, still - does work suck? No way - and even for the old folks life in the '90s could (and has been) a hell of a lot worse. We live in affluent times. People on welfare have color TVs and VCRs, for crying out loud. Homeless people are obviously an exception, but we're not discussing them.

    Even if work does suck, it's not supposed to be easy. That's why it's called "work". If you can't hack it, move to a different job, start your own business, or learn some new skills.

    I know it can be tough. My wife does marketing for tv shows and was the victim of layoffs a couple of times because of age and seniority. After fruitlessly searching for a few months she decided to change careers. And lo and behold, her job prospects increased immediately. Sure, the thrashing around sucked, but once you realize that your current career is a dead end you have to do something about it.

    People throughout the ages endlessly complain about things getting worse. Our morals are worse, crime is worse, kids these days, the music they play...blah blah blah. I admit that things are going particularly well for me so I am biased (although I'm not going to be a millionaire any time soon) but one way or the other LIFE/WORK IS NOT GETTING WORSE. If you think it is GET OFF YOUR ASS AND DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. There are plenty of ways to make money if you're smart and ambitious, no matter what your age. Even if you're a blithering idiot you can make the big time if you're ambitious. One look at the average manager/executive/pr hack should confirm this for you.

    Whining about the system changes nothing. You have wasted time and energy better spent job hunting.
  • Come on, people, capitalism is dying.

    Yeah, dude, like me and some friends back in the sixties, man, we used to get high and talk about the pigs man, like it was all clear that capitalism was dying, the socialist utopia was just ahead in the seventies dude, I like sold all my possessions and stuff. Now I got married and some kids and stuff and I got a job working for the pigs, but like soon capitalism really will die man, like it's the millennium and stuff, fight the power dude! keep on smoking!!!

  • We need a better name... UITW doesn't exactly roll off the tounge. ;)

    However, I think something like this is going to be required.. we should learn from the unions though and avoid the problems they caused for themselves if you want to make it work well.

  • Quite correct. Of all the furniture (matresses, chairs, desks, etc.) that I had in my dorm room, it was ALL manufactured by the Texas prison system.
  • Then there are those of us that realize it's not our fault if "the little people" choose to step out in front of our fast moving automobiles to try and keep us from getting the hell away from them.

    As far as I know, there is no global shortage of food. If I manage to get more food than the average person, it's at no one's expense.


  • by Logan ( 7529 )
    This is pure drivel. "Are you loyal to the company you work for?" Loyalty is foolish. To work for an employer for no reason other than just because you've worked for this employer before is to deserve the unpleasantness of your job. "Is it loyal to you?" An employer that keeps an employee for no reason other than just because the employee has worked for him or her before is asking for the same. "When the time comes, do you count on your employer to take care of and protect you?" Well, if you do, I almost feel sorry for you.

    Managers take over companies in order to obtain greater profitability? Gee, that's a surprise. I would hope that my employer is in the business for the money, else where do I expect my paycheck to come from? Why are you so upset that corporations are becoming faster, more efficient, and better at survival?

    If anything the "fault" lies with younger workers that are more willing to work harder. If they think they are unappreciated by their employers, perhaps they shouldn't continue to work for them. Certainly one can find better pay and more security with a company that finds his or her skills necessary rather than working where one's skills aren't necessary. If you're miserable at work, quit. You can find a job you'll excel at and enjoy while others that excel at and enjoy your former job can take your place. If everyone is complaining about younger workers being too malleable and thus overworkable, why not take your own advice, stop whining about how your job sucks and quit. Or demand higher wages, or whatever it is that would make your job suck at a level acceptable for the amount of money you receive and time and effort you spend.


  • First off, let me respond by asking, why would I "hax0r" my own machine?

    You read, huh? Show me where. Call me "heartless." I don't care. Why? Several reasons.

    • I'm not stealing food from anyone
    • I could never eat enough food to cause anyone to starve due to a shortage of food
    • I've never gone out of my way to try to hold back any society from developing to the point where it can supply itself
    • I've never had any children I was incapable of feeding
    I doubt you could give me a single compelling reason why I should care. Why do people insist on piling guilt upon those that dream of or achieve success? Because of their own failures? I guess that's just one of those mysteries it's not worth wasting your time thinking about.


  • Keerist on a keerutch. What is your attention span? Go to any Detroit worker nowadyas OR 10, 20,50 years ago -- think they enjoyed their jobs?

    Fun is what you make it. Work is what you make it. I could double my salary by working in Silicon Valley but I choose not to.

    And Katz -- do you enjoy this job you have, of writing silly articles devoid of meaning?

    This article is about as useful as edible underwear that's been worn for 3 months straight.


  • I think anachronistic, chic and cliched drivel is better than sophomoric drivel. It's something to strive for.

  • The number of posts here and my e-mail already undermines the idea that this is the wrong forum. Work affects the young as well as the old, as do all of the issues mentioned above. Aging is only one of the things Sennett writes about..he writes about the nature of work as well.
    I also think it's patronizing to people on /. to suggest they only care about things that affect them directly. Not to mention the obvious -- they will all get older. But I have to tell you, from the e-mail I'm getting, plenty of people on /. have been through this personally, and all ages.
  • >Hi Jon --
    >It's me, Derek from fray. Hi!
    >I just wanted to let me know how much I liked your piece in slashdot about
    >work. It's nice to still see you out there in the trenches. :-)
    >fwiw, here are a few web resources on the subject:
    >collected writings about work fron the fray
    >user posted complaints about work
    >srini is giving away 5 million "fuck work" stickers
    >fucker.com presents boss horror stories
    >Keep in making trouble!
    >-- Derek
  • Sennett isn't claiming we're in the Dark Ages. He's just raising questions about the nature of work. Fortunately,most of us have some.
  • by mikec ( 7785 )
    I've read articles with the same basic thrust several times in the last few months. Maybe I've just been lucky, but my experience has been quite the opposite.

    I'm 43, and I have never felt more in demand. The company I work for seems to value me pretty highly---I make more in a month than my father ever did in a year. We're not only not laying anyone off, but working very hard to hire people faster. (There's a $5000 reward for a referral that pans out---send me resumes!) If times do get hard, I will probably talk to one of the head hunters who call me about once a week with "great opportunities." My management cares about my happiness. I don't have any illusion that this is pure altruism, but turnover is expensive and they know it. My only real concern with work is that there is a steady pressure to move from project leader into management, and I'm not quite ready to make that move.

    Several of the statistics given by Katz---e.g., the drop in number of men aged 55-64 who work---can be interpreted in several ways. It may be that a lot more men aged 55 can afford to retire than in the past. Personally, I plan to be on-line, wirelessly, from a sailboat in the Caribbean before I get that old.

    I think there is a nugget of truth in Katz's article, though. The lesson to take away is, Don't Become Inflexible. In particular, make sure you don't spend a decade working on something that has no future. Especially an internal, proprietary technology. Eventually, your company is going to wake up and realize that it has to go, and you will be in trouble.
  • A hundred years ago? It's quite likely that some overworked child, or maybe a political prisoner in China, made at least some of the clothes you are wearing. We are reverting to the 19th century and the sweatshop conditions that prevailed then.

    "21 year-olds are becoming millionaires"? Yeah, right, about 0.0001% of 21-year-olds.

    If you have good marketable skills, good for you. Have you given any thought to how you will be doing twenty years from now? Or do you think that you'll become a millionaire and retire?

    Think you're going to make a lot of money as a programmer? Why, when there are millions of skilled programmers in India or Russia that'll work for $10K a year and a network infrastructure that makes it easy to move the work there?

    I'm doing very well, thank you very much. But I'm not so self-centered or arrogant as to think that there is no reason for concern.

  • Also, as the United States prison system has grown (we've got the largest percentage of lawyers and prisoners in the world) it also has been increasingly commercialized.

    Kind of ironic that the "Land of the Free" is the country with the highest percentage of its population in jail ;-)
  • You're talking a deadend job that any normal person can pick up within a week and master within a few months. Is it going to be a career? Of course not! How can you ask for continued raises when you max out what you can do within the first year?

    The kinds of positions you're talking about are unstable because the standards are so low.

    The solution is to find a job that challenges you and uses all of your abilities! You'll be far better paid, and HAPPIER as well!

  • Pro Bono work = work that lawyers are willing to do for free because it's in a good cause.

    Find a lawyer to work for you pro bono might be hard, though, depending on your circumstances. It helps to be an obvious charity, and poor besides.

  • Translation: "You know, the problem with the workplace today is that I'M not in charge!"

    I see any attempt to form a union in my work field as a threat to my freedom to find a job for myself and succeed on my own talents and merits.

    I don't want anything to do with a union, and I will vigorously oppose any attempts to unionize my workplace. Count me in as your loyal opposition.
  • The lamer who wrote the book Jon is obsessing about is attached to the London School of Economics, well-known not for clear thinking about economics but for recycling tired socialist bullshit attacks on capitalism. What these idiots always overlook is that if things were as bad as they say they are the market would take corrective action; and the implicit subtext is always that society (read government) should do something about the disgusting state the world is in. When was the last time the government did something that made people's lives better? (as opposed to politician's lives better)
  • Typical Gen X whining. A hundred years ago four year-old children worked to death in mines. Today 21 year-olds are becoming millionaires. Quit whining and admit it that you're just projecting your own failure.
  • Even if you wanted to pour out the leftist workers-are-getting-screwed drivel, it was chic two years ago (a la William Greider and others). Now its just cliched.
  • wow, impressive use of the boldface tag.

    by saying it was cliched, i wasn't implying that it was wrong, but more to the point, we should recognize that Katz essentially is a hack. i haven't seen one really noteworthy piece of writing by him in this forum. he tends to basically rewrite others' ideas and try to look insightful in the process.
  • > Do you really think this is accurate?

    Not to be too blunt, but you don't have a family to support and relate with, do you? If you did, you wouldn't be asking this question. It takes quite a bit of time and effort...I'm just lucky I get to learn everything I want at work. :)

  • Sure, we can't count on the warm fuzzies from
    our employers. No loss. Build your own support network of old friends and inexpensive pasttimes. Work less. Enjoy life!

    The workplace never should have been "home" in the first place. More accurately, if we can get our souls fulfilled there, fine; but if not, just look somewhere else. There's plenty going on in this life beyond work and technology.
  • I agree. If you have a marketable skill, market it. If you have an idea, plan, design, implement, market, sell. Simple in theory, difficult in practice. So let's all get to work... for our selves.
  • These are like unions only better because they have all the benefits of a union, plus enormously strong lobbies. The real power of a professional organization is collecting dues and lobbying congress for the mutual interests of the group. If you don't form such a thing, you will be stuck with MS doing all the lobbying... American Bar Association and American Medical Association are the two most powerful lobbies following only by tabacco. There are many more IT professionals and many make comparable salaries to many doctors or lawyers. Benefits include insurance, accreditation of schools, and standardization of skill level through examination. Collect dues, and the lobby power will come. Why do you think Y2K suits don't have a maximum damages bar? ABA lobbied against it and it died. Cryptography restrictions could be next if there were such a lobby. Imagine the services that could be sold if the US let up on that?
  • While a little over obvious in content, and rambling within normal expectations this article is not NEWS.

    Put it on the editorial page.

    Sheesh... isn't anything you post news?

  • Not all jobs are doomed to that future. I prefer working at small companies precisely becuase of the greater appreciation and autonomity I find there. (among other reasons)

    Also, the lean and mean sword cuts both ways. Nowadays most corprate drones wouldn;t think twice before jumping ship to a nicer opportunity if the chance came along. Employees are also much less inclined by loyalty to stay at a job.
  • Leftists, oh what a nasty word to call a person. What is going on is scary. It's true that the vast majority of people think that old people cant work as well as young people, and the new culture that is arising in US is favouring those 20-somethings that are willing to give up their social life, rather than the 35+ who have stayed the course and have experience, with problem solving, and life in general.

    The new Culture's disrespect for Aged people for their vastly superiour experience is appalling. Being old is supposed to signify senility, being old-fashioned, conservative. The ageing in this country today desparately try to look and act young (plastic surgery, hair growth pills, viagra, etc.). While the young might have energy and vitality to do the grunt work, they need the experience of the aged to lead them.

    FOr those of you who tell katz to "go back to russia you leftist", you are all naive fools. You will most defenitely change your policy when you find out that Social Security isnt going to pay shit for you when you retire, when you find out that you're $5K in debt with credit cards, when your kids think you're some senile old fool, and when nobody wants to hire you because you've got wrinkles on your face and your hair is going gray. You cant be young computer techies forever, what are you going to be? I can tell you that right now, you'll be a "has-been".

    "He used to be a programmer"
    -"What is he now?"
    "Who the hell gives a shit? he's old"

    You smug self-satisfied techies will eat your words.

    Katz is cool.

    and no, I'm not old, I'm 17

  • Just a thought:

    Development of UNIX began during what the article refers to as the golden age. Over time it became the rock-solid operating system which served as the conceptual basis for Linux. UNIX (and by derivation, Linux)are products of that earlier mentality. Everything I've heard about Microsoft leads me to believe it is representative of the current system as described in the article.

    It takes patience and time to work the bugs out of a system. Knowing that you may still be working on the same product 5-10 years from now gives you a longer time-horizon and makes you more willing to do a thorough job, even on a big project. Patience, focus and attention to detail are as necessary to the development equation as are vision and drive. Nobody starts out with all of these qualities. It takes time to fill in the gaps. There's an awful lot of software out there that would be great if it actually did what it was intended to do, but was never finished because people were called on to the next project.
  • Leftists have been saying this crap since the Industrial Revolution. They have always told us that workers are "alienated" from their jobs, that we are pawns of the "super-rich," that corporations are "inhuman" and so forth.

    This article is the result of a monolithic view of the American workplace, what Drew Carey calls the "Shiity Jobs" phenomenon. There's all this nostalgia for the fifties, when `everyone had 9-5 jobs pushing papers from the right side of their desks to the left.

    It is particularily ludicrous to bemoan early retirement as some kind of inhumane punishment. If a corporation lays you off, you are free to seek another job. If you cannot get one, perhaps you should go back to school, and develop your skills. Companies in today's economy cannot afford to pass up skilled workers, no matter what their skills. This gives skilled workers an enourmous amount of freedom.

    Even the poor can move up in the world faster than they ever could before. For 1000 bucks, one can buy a computer and some books, and learn Java, html, or whatever, and get a job doing IT stuff. Never before has knowledge been so cheap and readily accessable.
  • Most of that 4% is what is called "structural unemployment:" people who are between jobs, seasonal employment, people who just graduated, etc. If you look at the number of people who are looking for jobs and actually can't find them, that number is much lower.
  • I still don't see why the college kid has an unfair advantage, or what should be done about it. It may be true that college kids are willing to work for less money, but it seems to me that that simply means that the older worker is overpaid. Now I can sypathize with him, and I'm sure his family is important, but his company pays him because he does valuable work, not because he has a family to support. So although it is certainly tragic when the older worker is laid off, it would be equally unfair to force the college kid not to enter the field, or to subsidize him, or just about any other remedy I can think of.

    About going back to school, there are lots of options besides going back to a full-time, four year college. There are night classes, there are self-taught programs, there are web sites, tutorials, textbooks, and so forth. And probably the best way to keep your skills up to date is to make sure that you are doing something that is new and interesting. That way you are learning new skills and getting payed for it.

    I guess my point is that life has problems, but the world is not coming to an end, and our families are not all about to starve. Making living takes more than showing up for work 8 hours a day. It means making sure that you are earning your paycheck, and that therefore your employer will not want to lay you off. If that includes putting in an extra few hours to learn new skills or changing jobs to keep your skills fresh, so be it. How you manage to support yourself and your family is and should be your responsibility. No one else should be forced to do it for you.

    About the poor worker, I am maybe a bit naive about how hard it is to move up in the world. But I have barely more than a high school deploma, and I can already get a job for $8/hour without too much trouble. For a single person working 60 hours a week, that is $25k/year, which is plenty to support oneself on. So you can easily save $1000 over the course of a year or two.

    Obviously, once you have a family, $25k is not so much money, but even then you often have both parents working, in which case you can still save some. And a couple who has trouble making ends meet should maybe work on getting a better job before having kids. Obviously that doesn't happen sometimes, but still, I think it is true that many poor people have the opportunity to improve their conditions if they work at it.

    As for using skills once one has them, it is certainly true that no one is going to get a high-paying IT job on the strength of having read a Java book, but, for example, they can set up a web site to show off their skills, and/or get a simple data-entry job or something. The point is that with a little perseverence one can get a job in the IT field without a 4-year degree.

    "Once you loose that .edu address & get in the real world, your perspective will change."

    I realize that it might. I hope it doesn't.
  • I am all for freedom of speach and all that crap, but I'd rather have /. trim all the fat and pointless comments. If not, all /. will become is a another usenet disaster.

  • Workers of the work unite!

Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing. -- Wernher von Braun