Opinion: Do your job advertisements still show a location?

I've been amazed as the pandemic has continued, how many companies that claim to understand remote work, still really don't get it. I've decided that a good test of that, is whether job advertisements still show a city or location for the work.

Now, not everyone can work remotely, and not everyone has anywhere suitable to work from remotely, but the majority of knowledge workers can do just that. That's who I'm talking about here.

Old School

David Solomon, the CEO of investment bank Goldman Sachs hit the news last week, when he described remote work as an aberration. He said he wants his people back in the office while noting that "a business like ours, which has an innovative, collaborative apprenticeship culture" can't work remotely. He added that "It's an aberration that we're going to correct as soon as possible".

Turns out though, that he's already now walking back much of what he said.

To agile innovative businesses that haven't been around all that many years, embracing remote work seems easy. For businesses like banks that have been around for more than a century, I'm sure they do see the change as a blip in their timelines. Turning these organizations around will be like trying to turn around the Ever Given within the Suez Canal.

Pre-pandemic

Before the pandemic, I already saw many businesses that were hamstrung by their inability to utilize remote talent. I remember consulting at a development company in Melbourne that had nearly 500 developers. They were endlessly searching for new developers. But only if they could live in Melbourne and come to their offices.

What's the outcome of that?

Well over time, they'd lose people and couldn't replace them. They'd already exhausted the local market, and so they started lowering the standards of who they'd hire.

Yet if they'd embraced remote workers, they could have had such a pool of bright developers they could have used. Instead of focussing on endless job searches, they should have been focussing on enabling a remote workforce. Instead of buying more office space and equipment, they should have been buying better connectivity.

Again, there are exceptions, like requirements for particular citizenships in certain jobs, but they are the minority, and even then, they don't need to be located in a particular city.

Pandemic Time

So many businesses that argued they couldn't work remotely suddenly found they could when the pandemic hit.

Prior to the pandemic, I found it particularly ironic that companies like Microsoft and even newcomers like Slack, really didn't seem to get remote work, even though they were building the tools to enable it. Teams is improving rapidly now, but the early versions of it showed all the hallmarks of being designed by someone who lives in a corporate cubicle, always within a single domain and email address.

Both companies have now changed their thinking but I can only wonder what sort of tools we might have had by now, if they'd actually been using their own tooling to truly enable remote working.

In particular, I've been really pleased to see the number of Microsoft job advertisements that now don't have a location, and make it clear they want to find the right person no matter where they are. This is great to see.

Future Work Combinations

I've been closely watching the surveys within Australia on where knowledge-worker staff want to be able to work. Most of the results break down like this:

  • 20% want to be in the office all the time
  • 20% want to be remote all the time
  • 60% want flexibility to choose between the two as needs arise

And just as importantly, they want flexibility not only on where they work, they want flexibility on when they work. 9-5 Monday to Friday just isn't going to cut it any more.

Worse, the lack of timing flexibility affects far more women than men.

Attracting and Retaining Staff

Any company that thinks the world is going back the way it was, is going to have a serious difficulty attracting great staff, particularly if they're chasing world-class talent.

I can already imagine the companies that could lure away key staff from the Goldman Sachs of this world, by offering them a different way to work, that is employee-centric not just company-centric.

The best staff aren't likely to choose to spend mind-numbing hours commuting to/from cubicles in city centres, if there's an alternative.

 

 

 

 

 

Opinion: Does your organization have a memory problem?

There's a café in Melbourne that I've liked going to for a while. It's not far from where I live when I'm in Melbourne, and it has all the makings of a really nice cosy suburban café. But there's something missing.

When I sat there the other day, my meal came as ordered but it was just a shadow of what it normally looks like. I put that down perhaps to a different chef that day. It's not great that they haven't all agreed on what those meals are usually made like, but that could have been a one off thing.

Another couple sat down near me though, and one of them put a finger on what the issue is with the café. He said "this place has no memory". He wasn't talking about the food changing; he was talking about each time you come in, it's like you've never been there before. What I think is the basic problem in that café, is that the only people who interact with the customers are the wait staff; there are usually only one or two, and they seem to change these staff regularly.

The old Cheers TV show had that aspect right. The theme song talked about people wanting to go where everyone knows your name.

IT Companies

A large IT company that I deal with has a partner program. I remember talking to one of their staff who had called me about an upcoming event and how they were running it. I asked why on earth they'd changed one of the core concepts. She said to me "It's always been that way". I said "No, it definitely was different". She said "Ever since I've worked here, that's how it has been". I asked how long she'd worked there, and she told me "Six Months".

Customer Feedback

Another large IT company has a way for customers to provide feedback, and for other customers to comment on and discuss the feedback.

But every few years, they seem to manage to have a need to purge all the feedback, either as some ill-conceived way of "tidying up" the feedback, or by losing info during migrations between feedback systems.  Either way, the information and rich discussions they have lost are amazing. Wonderful insights that were provided by people who've now moved out of the industry are all gone.

Now add into that mix a constantly changing set of staff within the relevant teams in the company. Again, you've created a lack of organizational memory. And time and again, you see the same mistakes made by new staff that previous staff had made.

Does your organization have a memory problem?

 

Opinion: iPhone12 Pro is an interesting device but a lousy phone

I'd been using an iPhone6+ for quite a while, and it still worked fine. Lately though, I'd been running into things that needed a later version of iOS than what was supported on that phone. So I changed to an iPhone12 Pro.

So far, that's been a big mistake.

One thing I've seen over the years while working with technology, is that development teams often get enamoured with the new features. And they forget to make sure that core functionality works as expected. The core functions seem to get lost in the weeds.

The iPhone12 Pro is a fascinating device, and a wonder of technology. But it's a lousy phone.

The most basic functionality you'd require for anything that calls itself a "phone" is that it can make and receive phone calls. The iPhone12 Pro fails that simple test. So often now, I get an SMS from my carrier telling me that I missed a call and it went straight to voice mail. But the phone didn't ever ring in the first place.

I'm not alone. If you browse online for "iphone12 goes straight to voicemail", you'll find a large number of articles, some with many steps showing how people have tried to work around this issue. I've tried them all. In the end, I've concluded that it's just buggy. My previous iPhone worked fine in the same location, and on the same network. My wife's iPhone6S, sitting right beside me, works as expected.

Coverage

While investigating various issues, I've also been reading about all the people with basic connectivity issues. For some reason, the iPhone12 just doesn't maintain the same level of connection to a tower.

But so many people complaining that once they've changed to one, their phone coverage has really suffered.

Intelligence gone mad

I keep finding issues with this device (I won't call it a phone for the reasons above), where something doesn't work as expected. And when I search online, I find others who also were puzzled, and it turns out there's some new "intelligent" feature that is enabled by default, and makes the device act strangely.

Here's a simple example: If I plug in the device to charge at say 10PM, I'd expect it to have fully charged within an hour or so. But if I pick it up at 4AM because I need to work early that day, it's not fully charged. Why? Because the phone decided that I normally take it off the charger at 7:30, and decided to go into a slow charging mode (no doubt well-intentioned), that will make it ready by 7:30AM.

This is intelligence gone mad. Great to have an option for that if I want to choose it, but making it a default that I need to find a way to turn off? Not so much.

Appropriate change methods

The Apple (wrong) way to introduce these breaking "features" is to just enable what they think you'll want, even though it will often end up confusing the user, who hasn't got a clue what's happened.

The right way to introduce it would be for the feature to be off, and for the device to tell the user "hey I noticed you normally take this off the charger at 7:30AM. If I slowed down the charging rate so it's ready by then, your battery life would be longer. Do you want me to enable that?"

Appalling recovery options

These devices now come with a large amount of memory. Yet Apple hasn't worked out that devices with a large amount of memory need better backup/restore options.

For example, when they can't explain problems, the support people often suggest reinstalling the device from a backup. Or if they change the device, you need to do the same. I tried their option for iCloud backup/restore once. It took quite a while to back it up, but when I tried to restore it on the new device, even on a fast connection, it took 3 days. That's simply not fit for purpose.

Worse, when it finally finished, it just calmly said "Some files were not restored". No hint, no idea which files.

How did this ever become acceptable?

And if you have a device with 256GB+ memory, and you need to change to a new device, what are your options? You can backup/restore to a PC, but once you're done, you have a mess that takes ages to sort out. Most of your data (e.g. music, books, etc.) won't be there. They assume you need to download it all again.

How is that reasonable when you have them all sitting in a device right beside you?

Heaven forbid if you have a bunch of things like authentication apps that all need to be set up again.

Overall

I can't tell you how much time I've wasted with the iPhone12 Pro, just trying to get it to perform with basic functionality. Wish it wasn't so.

 

 

 

 

Happy new year: and a reflection on 2020

Hi Folks,

Just wanted to make a post to wish you all a happy new year for 2021.

I doubt there's anyone much on the planet who didn't have a very, very peculiar, or very, very difficult 2020, and while there's a glimmer of hope with the virus now as vaccines arrive, I suspect that 2021 is still going to be dominated by the coronavirus, and a very tough year for so many.

2020 was also a very lonely period for many people, particularly as lockdowns occurred. Make sure you reach out to anyone you know who might be affected.

At this point, I just hope you all try to stay as safe as possible. Hard (or even disastrous) as other things might seem, everything else can be worked out later. Your health can't be.

 

Opinion: Development vs Professional Development

We had a new house built a while back, and in a few rooms there was a double switch: one for the light and one for a fan.

But which is which?

Now the old way to do that would have been to put a label on each one. Seems like a reasonable idea but unless that's a braille label, and you can read braille, that's not going to help you in the dark. You want to just reach in and turn on the correct switch. That's easy enough to do, but it really only works if the electrician who installed them followed a pattern i.e. the switch furthest inside might be the light, and the one closest to the door might be the fan.

If you only had one room like this, it mightn't matter much, but if you have several rooms, you'd hope they're done the same way in each.

But they weren't.

Professionalism

And that got me thinking about someone who does it the same way each time, and someone who doesn't. A licensed electrician might install it safely, and both switches work but a more professional electrician would check not only that it works, but that it was done in a consistent way, throughout the house, and throughout all the houses that they worked on.

When I see someone who installs things differently in different parts of a house, it leaves me with an uneasy feeling about the overall quality of their work. It's a clear indication of their lack of attention to detail. There might even be a standard for how that should be done. If there isn't, there should be. So perhaps there is a standard and they didn't follow it.

For a number of years I worked as an engineer for HP, in the fun days where they had the best commercial minicomputer systems in the industry. That involved working on large pieces of equipment (including some that were quite scary to work on), with an enormous number of pieces and screws to hold them together.

If I ever started to work on a piece of equipment, and found screws were missing, even if they were where the customer wouldn't see them, I got a really bad feeling about whoever worked on the same machine before me. Fortunately, I generally knew that whoever did it was unlikely to be based in our office, as the engineers doing work out of our office were meticulous about that. It was an unwritten rule about doing quality work.

Development

And so the same things apply to development work. Are you hacking together something that works? Or are you aiming for more than that?

When someone needs to do further work on a project that you worked on, how will they feel about it?

Congratulations to Dr Georg Thomas !

Many years ago, I spent a lot of time in universities. I ended up finishing my studies at QUT in Brisbane

and I have a great and continuing fondness for that institution. Earlier on though, amongst other universities, I did quite a lot of study through Charles Sturt University

Over the years, I've maintained a continuous link with my friends at Charles Sturt University (CSU). Back when we used to run Code Camps for both developers and DBAs, CSU were only too pleased to jump in to help us. From the minute we arrived that first day in Wagga Wagga, I knew it was going to be good. Associate Profession Irfan Altas was an amazing help and remains a friend to this day. I'm always pleased to get to chat to him.

Irfan asked me to be the guest speaker at a CSU graduation a few years back. That was a great honour.

What many people might not realise is that I've also been helping as an industry supervisor for students in PhD or Doctor of IT programs.

And that's the reason for this post. I was so excited yesterday to hear that one of the students that I've been supervising (in this case together with Professor Oliver Burmeister) has completed all the requirements to be admitted to his Doctor of IT degree.

Congratulations to Dr Georg Thomas ! That's a major life achievement for you.

 

 

Opinion: Please don't schedule online meetings for full hours

I've seen a lot of people lately complaining about meeting burnout. It seems that in our pandemic-isolated world where staff members and others are available pretty much on call all day long, it's become really common to have a much larger number of meetings than we used to.

I'm interested in why this is. Perhaps it's the lack of contact leading to a desire for more contact and conversation, but if there were a lot of unproductive meetings before, nowadays that seems to have increased so much that it seems almost silly.

Endless interruptions are also a problem. I've been watching developers lately who can never "get into the zone". Some device around them is beeping every minute or so to alert them that another message has arrived from their favorite chat application: Teams, Slack, etc. And every time I see them losing their train of thought.

But the worst aspect of the current meeting culture seems to be this incessant need to fill every possible minute of each hour (or half hour) of a scheduled meeting. I partially blame our calendar apps. Why do they automatically allocate meetings right up to the end of an hour (or half hour)? Who designed that?

Back when we were in office, you'd see people hurrying to get from meeting to meeting but often that was only one or two. Now I see people with back to back meetings for a large proportion of their days, and every meeting occupies the entire timeslot.

There's no opportunity for them to be human for a few minutes in between.

Please learn to schedule meetings for say 50 minutes instead of full hours, and let the humans recover, get a drink, take a bio break, answer a message, etc. in between meetings.

What does the consistency of your work say about you?

I work with many different clients and I see work that's great and I also see work that's not so great. But the work that frustrates me the most, is inconsistent work.

When we built a house a while back, there are a number of rooms that have a combination light switch like the one shown in the main image. One switch is for the light, one is for something else: most likely a fan in a bathroom, etc.

Note that the electrician who installs them doesn't label which is what I want anyway. And if they did, that would look both ugly, and wouldn't help you in the dark anyway.

What I normally see though, is that they've done it the same way in every room. I don't care if the furthest in is the light, or the closest to the door is the light. I'd prefer it was the same in every house, but in the end, either is fine.

But when only one or two is done differently to all the rest, I'm left wondering about the quality of work that the electrician did. It might seem a minor thing, but I think about how many of these he/she has installed in their career, and puzzled that they don't have a standard. Even if there's no formal standard, you'd think there'd be one in their heads.

How's the consistency of your work?

 

Opinion: Don't block PO Boxes unnecessarily

In some countries, post office boxes are quite anonymous. And for that reason, some vendors aren't keen to send goods to PO Boxes. But that's not all countries. In Australia, for example, you have to provide all sorts of ID to the post office to be able to get one.

Why PO Boxes?

The fundamental reason that many people use PO Boxes is to have a relatively safe location for their mail to be collected. At so many houses, letter boxes are quite unsafe. And for people living in apartments, the situation is often far, far worse.

Like everyone else, we've been doing a lot more online shopping lately. What has really frustrated me though, are vendors who don't handle address details properly.

Losing sales

I've had many sites who have a rule built into the UI to prevent entering a PO Box for a shipping address. Even though I'd prefer it wasn't that way, I'm OK with that. But then they use the same address validation logic for a billing address.

Please, please, please don't block PO Boxes in billing addresses. That makes no sense.

I've had sites where I want to buy products, and I can't because they won't let me enter my actual billing address (i.e. a PO Box) for the credit card.

At that point, I can't proceed with the purchase.

And identity theft issues

Stealing mail from street letter boxes, etc. is a common cause of identity theft. Yet, I often find that exactly the sorts of suppliers who should be concerned about identity (utility companies, banks, local councils, etc.) often insist on sending mail directly to street addresses. That's not sensible.

Awesome image by Mathyas Kurmann

Worse, I've seen people move to a new address, and the bank sends details of the change, to their old address ! i.e. the place where they are no longer living.  I understand the decision process that led them to do that (in case the move wasn't real) but think what they've just done: 99% of the time, they've sent private bank-related details to an address where someone no longer lives.

Another common situation is where people travel a lot. While that's not an issue for us right now, it is at times. And having mail hanging out of a street letterbox isn't helpful security-wise. We fortunately have good neighbours who will deal with that but the issue is that we shouldn't need them to do that.

 

Opinion: Does a human respond to your website contact requests?

Most websites that I visit have a link at the bottom of the page that suggests that you can use it to contact either the website team or the company that owns the site. (Might not be the same people) Based on years of trying, my expectation of ever getting a response from using one of these links is close to zero.

If you have a website that has a contact link, does it lead anywhere sensible?

Does it have a contact form that sends the request to an email address that no human ever monitors?

I see two common issues: the website creator bit bucket, and the sales-proof company.

Website Creator Bit Bucket

This is one of my least favourite issues. Countless websites have flaws that stop you interacting with them. Often, the team that designed the site might have included a link for letting them know if you have a technical issue with the site.

So often, the team that built the site has moved on, perhaps aren't even associated with the company any more, and the output of the contact form might as well go straight in the bin. No-one is ever going to see it.

Sales-Proof Company

This is the worst of the two, and it's especially important in the current pandemic-related situation. I'll give you an example.

There's a tech company in Melbourne that I've loved to deal with in the past. Their people are knowledgeable and friendly and are just pleasant to deal with.

So when I wanted to buy another high-end NVMe drive the other day, they were the first people I checked. Their site said they had them in stock, the price was fine, and I decided to buy one from them. However, their online order entry application would not allow me to enter the correct billing address for my credit card, based on silly rules. (I'll write more about that another day).

Bottom line is that I couldn't complete the order. If that's happened in the past, I've called them, and they've processed it over the phone. But with COVID-19 happening, they haven't managed to get a good system to divert calls to their own sales people working from home. So they just have a note saying their phones are temporarily not being answered. (Mistake #1)

I had no choice but to use their "Sales Enquiry" contact form.

The Wait

I waited, and waited and heard nothing. (Mistake #2)

After two days, I ordered the drive from another supplier, and it arrived quickly.

Nearly three weeks after I filled in their contact form, the first company did send me an email to check if I still needed help. But that was way, way too late.

But they did respond

On the positive side, they did at least contact me. I've read reports that say that up to 80 percent of online sales enquiry forms are never responded to at all.

Don't be one of these companies!