A Whole Lot of Crap

It’s been awhile since I last wrote, and a lot has happened in that time. I have been really busy with both work and school the month, although that’s not really anything new. I’ve been doing a lot of little projects and activities for work, and it almost feels like I’ve been running in place for a few weeks. I know I’m doing important stuff with videoconferencing training, technology assessments, NDATL meetings, etc., but it seems like work on the training registration & evaluation applications is going so slow! I have been doing a lot of research and planning, but things will really start moving once code starts getting written. I’m getting documentation in place with a wiki system, writing design and coding standards, and writing user stories to get the major functionality down on paper (index cards, to be precise). I’m trying to employ as many practices from Extreme Programming as makes sense, including unit testing, implementation iterations, and refactoring, to name a few. The goal is to keep things simple, and get the system up in parts instead of trying to get everything running in one big release. I’m learning a lot through all of this, which is great.

I had the opportunity this past week to sit in on six of seven job interviews for IVN‘s database/web development position, and it was an interesting experience. They currently don’t have anyone on staff that understands the technical lingo of programming and web design, so they asked me to be an advisor. I have to say, they a great pool of applicants, which made the decision difficult. Most seemed really strong on the technical end of database and script programming, but weaker on the front end/design side. This isn’t really suprising, and I really expected it. It’s very rare when you can find someone with an eye for design plus an understanding of the logical side. One thing that really surprised me was the background of the candidates – of the seven, only two were from the United States. The remaining five included three from India and two from China. If they are any representation of the quality of people that are back in their home countries, we (as in the USA) have a lot of work to do in order to remain competitive in technology. We really need to find some way to strengthen our math and science curriculum in the elementary school, high school, and college levels – its no wonder we’re sending so much work over to India and China.

After the interview with one of the Indian candidates, we were chit-chatting and the topic somehow turned to outsourcing. He mentioned that is from Bangalore, the epicenter of the tech industry in India (they like to call it their version of Silicon Valley). One of his comments really got my attention and got me thinking. He said that he has several friends back there working for some of these outsourcing companies, and the are changing jobs (or have the opportunity to change jobs) every week. Also, these companies are hiring anyone with computer/programming experience just to fill positions. Does this sound familiar? To me, this sounds exactly like the tech bubble we experienced in the late 90’s, when people with English and history degrees were being hired as web programmers. Based on my limited knowledge of macroeconomics, this sort of thing will move the aggregate demand curve to the right, which will raise wages because they are being bid up and will therefore raise prices as well. At some point, the costs involved with outsourcing to India will outweigh the gains. At that point, I don’t see U.S. companies stopping outsourcing all together, I just see them moving on to the next source of cheap labor – China. Whatever the case, I’m still firmly convinced that outsourcing is a Good Thing in the long run, helping to evolve our economy by letting us focus on other high level tasks. There’s no doubt its a rough transition, but we will move through it eventually, and we’ll be better for it.

Changing the subject, Casey took me to the Barenaked Ladies concert that was in town last Friday, and it was a great time! I’ve been a big fan of the Ladies for a long time, so it was nice to finally see them in person. They put on a great live show, playing for over two hours. It seemed like they were genuinely happy to be playing in Grand Forks, which is not always the case when musicians come here (can you blame them?). They even did a little ad-libbed rap about GF, which was very cool. I got the impression that the guys in the band are great friends and have a lot of fun peforming on the road. One of the coolest things the BNLs do for their fans is this: A day or two after a concert, they offer the whole concert for purchase as downloadable MP3’s ($13.99) or as CD’s that are mailed out ($20.00). I decided to buy the MP3’s so I could listen to them on my iPod, and tt took about 1/2 hour to download the huge ZIP file containing everything (about 170 MB). They included printable liner notes and a CD label in addition to the MP3 files, which were compressed at an impressive 192 Kbps (that’s pretty good quality for MP3’s). I think this is a great idea, and I can’t believe I haven’t heard of other groups doing this. I was more than happy to spend $14.00 to support the band and have a chance to relive a great concert.