In Memory of Fleetwood - The Nedprod Story In Memory of Fleetwood - The Nedprod Story
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    Default In Memory of Fleetwood - The Nedprod Story

    Originally posted four years ago in 2003. CUK asked this chap to write an article about Contracting. After Test-Please Delete it is the most famous and fondly remembered article and following thread which Niall kept. He may hate us all and never came back. Fleetwood got the first dig in which in reading it back is now sadly prophetic.

    For all newbies(last four years) enjoy and the thread is at the bottom


    A Contractors Guide

    It occurred to me pretty early on that it would be useful to others if I should write up my experience of entering the IT contracting market. I hope that this account of my first week as a contractor will be useful to others.

    Having been working in Spain for a number of years, I took time off work to try programming some ideas which had been burning slowly in the back of my mind with the intention that if proven workable and not the mad ravings of a loony, it could form the start of my own company. This happened in May 2002, and by December 2002 it was clear that not only were my ideas workable, they were a vast improvement in technology and held within them the next evolution in computer software.

    Unfortunately, venture capitalists wouldn’t invest for the three years I needed, business angels decided against a risk with someone they didn’t personally know and partnership with other companies proved impossible. Government grants proved too small, and NESTA, the UK government blue-sky investment fund, unwilling. Ultimately, I needed one or both of two things: (i) 100,000 euros (£64,000) and (ii) business contacts.

    It was because of all these things that I thought contracting would be ideal: in between contracts, I could work on my evolutionary software. I would also earn the money I needed in two to three years, and changing jobs every six months introduces you to lots of the right people. It seemed ideal.

    Contracting?

    Just a quick explanation for those who don’t know (skip it if you want): Contracting is the name given to short-term fixed length periods of work. They tend to be very well defined in terms of responsibilities of each side and because they are defined as temporary work by legislation, much of the overhead of employing someone full time is removed and thus contractors can earn considerably more than permanent employees.

    Clients tend to have agencies find the contractors for them [0]. They specify what they want, the agency forwards a list of suitable candidates and they choose which to interview. If approved, the agency will sign a pre-discussed contract with the company representing the contractor. Then each party does their work for the agreed time (charged per hour of work), and more often than not all is good.

    For many years, there was a tax-avoidance mechanism in private limited companies of paying yourself mostly dividends and this mechanism still remains available. However, for work mostly on-site of the client (plus many other complicated conditions), the recent IR35 legislation applies and thus tax can no longer be avoided. The majority of contractors thus must now pay full tax. [1]

    Hence, since you can only make maybe 10% more as a contractor [2], there isn’t much point in it any more especially when weighed against the loss of job security, worker rights and things like sick pay. It’s likely to become a job only for the young and those without ties to one place – and most especially those who enjoy the extra freedom it offers over permanent positions (e.g. working when you want, not at some stupid predefined hour the boss has decided).

    The job hunting begins

    I arrived in the UK (London) after the costly and hard work of moving everything you own between countries at the end of February. I had already done my homework and realised that with IR35, the best approach for a first timer was to join a PAYE-style umbrella group (a company which for tax purposes employs you as a permanent employee – but you do all the job-hunting and work). This offers flexibility and low start-up costs, especially when you have spent all your savings and are sleeping on the sofas of friends and family. Hence I chose one for twenty five quid per month, and after a quick form fill out on their web page, that part was ready.

    I then sat down every morning in front of ContractorUK’s contract search page and after creating accounts on the engines with your CV, found it was very easy to apply for jobs – click the apply button, write a cover note, and send. Probably my favourites would be planetrecruit.com and jobserve.com – these allow boolean searches with AND and OR letting you say for example: London AND contract AND (C OR C++ OR Assembler). They also provide a summary of the advert so you don’t need to keep opening each entry – great! – and it’s something other sites could learn from.

    Pretty quickly, the phone calls began. Agencies would ring you and give you a five minute interview. The first one was a total surprise, so I did a lousy job of selling myself, but for subsequent ones I was much better. These continued and I also received emails notifying me of interest, but at the time of writing I haven’t been offered a single interview. That got me onto thinking why, and below are my conclusions.

    Skills

    I am lucky in that I am good at what I do. Indeed, I know of only five engineers who can properly trounce me, and I am talking about the cream of the international crop here [3]. I have regular debates with the leaders of software technology basically by emailing them with a knowledgeable discourse on why whatever their pet project is broken, and it usually generates an excellent response that both of us learn from.

    I have also worked in a number of countries in a number of (human) languages. I have successfully piloted tens of thousands line projects through some seriously troubled waters and would be best called a consultant in that I can wear a management hat, troubleshooting hat, design hat and coder hat. I have worked on a dozen operating systems (even written my own) and could be considered an expert in half a dozen programming languages (though I can use plenty more). I find embedded systems as easy as desktop or mainframe and I have no difficulty becoming productive in a totally new environment in days. By all measures commonly used, I am a good engineer.

    Imagine then my surprise when I find agents won’t forward me as a candidate because I don’t have the relevant experience. I don’t get this – I know the market is depressed right now, but since when has experience ever strongly correlated with ability? Sure, if I were a virgin programmer just out of university, then experience is highly important – however I have seven years of professional experience, and eighteen years of programming experience. What more experience do they want? [4]

    Well, it would seem that they want direct actual commercial experience in the job. For example, if they want a C++ programmer working on financial systems spread across Unix and NT (common in the City), you might have thought I’d be ideal as technology-wise, I’m a perfect fit. But no, there seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding that experience is not transferable – that somehow a financial computer system is fundamentally different to any other. Just because the technology is 100% exactly the same seems to matter not a jot.

    What’s even worse is that any experience not practised in a commercial setting is completely discounted. Much of my skill base is self-taught i.e. me playing with stuff in my own free time. Although I and the majority of other engineers would correctly say technology learned for fun is superior to something you had to learn, this simple and intuitive concept is completely lost on them.

    Whenever I interview someone for a position, I test their ability usually by asking impossible to answer programming questions. The first words I want to hear are “I don’t know” – if they try to blag it, they’re out the door. The next thing I want to see is how they go about solving the problem – the steps they take. Just that ten minute process tells me vastly more about their worth than any degree, qualification or experience. A quick learning hard worker with the right mental processes is ten times the programmer others can be. If you don’t believe me, go read “The Mythical Man Month” by Frederick P. Brooks (-www.ercb.com).

    Yet from my experience in the contracting market, there seems to be an absolute lack of understanding of this. Employers seem to think that the dregs of those with direct experience will somehow always outweigh a better engineer with no experience. The agencies merely are representative of the employers view, not the cause of it.

    Investment

    There seems, in my view, a lack of will to invest in workers in the UK. Businesses seems to think that employees will teach themselves or be taught by the state – or more importantly, they should be taught by anyone other than business itself. Furthermore, they don’t like encouraging employees to self-improve, because then you have to pay them more or they will get a job with the competition.

    This reflects a fundamentally broken view of industry. Employers constantly complain about the lack of training of employees and how many of them are incompetent. Never do they realise that their own selfish practices cause the national pool of employees to be sub-standard. Therefore, their own lack of willingness to invest in employees causes deep-seated and institutional difficulties in getting decent workers i.e. the problem is cyclical and self-perpetuating.
    Last edited by MarillionFan; 9th February 2007 at 20:45.
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    Default cont

    I have loads more to say on this, including how I’d radically reform IT company management structures (quite frankly in the UK, IT management really sucks – even the Spanish have better management on average than the British, and the Germans certainly do) but it’s outside the scope of this article. If I ever form my company, I’ll put them into practice there and if successful, expect a ground-breaking book!

    Conclusion

    I’m still looking for contract work, but quite frankly it’s looking bleak. Once agencies receive your CV for the first time, they show some interest but quickly you become forgotten and just another number. Hence, it’s looking like a permie job, with all the bollocks about being in on time every morning and the usual entrenched mismanagement which sucks out at least 75% of potential worker productivity. If anyone wants an excellent explanation of this, “The Office” a dark comedy by the BBC is all you need to see. I swear, if I have to go on another employee morale boosting day, I’m liable to chuck a monitor at someone!

    If you’re looking to become a contractor, my advice to you would be as follows: You need direct experience of the roles (as in, have done precisely the same job before). You will need this direct experience very recently, in fact it’s best if it’s your current job. You will get no opportunity to diversify or learn new skills, and you will be stuck doing the same job forever because without direct recent experience in something else, you won’t even get the interview. You can’t even train yourself in new technologies, because unless they come with an expensive certification (like a MCSE), they’ll be completely ignored.

    All in all, very disappointing. If you want to show me how wrong I am, please write to niallworkoffers at nedprod . com – and oh, I’m based in London.

    Niall Douglas
    March 2003
    [/SIZE]


    and how Fleety and the regulars responded
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  3. #3

    Some things in Moderation

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    Bluddy hell, even I'm on there (not talking to Nial, admittedly, but I couldn't follow him up his own arse...)

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    MF, well done.

    I wonder what the little chap is up to 4 years later...

    Saturday 20th January 2007: 11.32am. Johanna's friends have just left, so now I finally have time to sit down and write up my traditional birthday entry. I finished my exams a long time ago now, well over a week and half and they went reasonably well - I should get a 2.2 overall, maybe a 2.1 which isn't bad given the crappy semester and poor coursework grades I received.

    As we limber up to the next semester, I have plenty on my plate. Lots of Future Society lectures, some thermal physics to study, shall be off to Barcelona next week to visit a friend N- who has been having a rough semester. Got a new computer to build whose parts I shall be ordering from Barcelona so they are here when I get back. No shortage of things to be doing ...

    Usually this time of year I review my year, and decide the ups and downs. I will say that one particular up of this year was that S- organised the best birthday I have had in at least three years, and unlike the usual depression I feel on my birthday at being one year closer to death and another year of not getting enough accomplished, I actually had a good time. S- let me down badly last semester, but she's made up for it with that birthday - a little effort at the right time can mean a great deal, and she got it spot on - even if as she says herself, it was rather an easy steal. No matter I feel, my initial problem with her was not her intentions but rather her timing, and this time round she greatly improved her timing.

    Ok, so major events in my mind of 2006:

    Johanna and I broke up
    ... and thus ending the longest relationship I have ever had. It wasn't much fun, as it never is, but it was less awful than ever before which is mostly due to Johanna being far more sensible than previous girlfriends. But it also had something to do with me having learned to let go rather than trying to assert control of a failing relationship because I didn't want to lose it. I've finally at the age of twenty-nine learned to let things which are dying to die gracefully, which is about time. And here's the surprising jist - her and I are doing better than ever before since we broke up. We appreciate one another far more, and there is no longer that sense that we were in perpetual decline. Now, being broken up, she is far more of a positive thing than she was before, and while I logically expected that that would be the case, I didn't actually expect it as I've rarely (actually, no, I've never) seen that in anyone else I've personally known.

    Started on implementing Tn on The World
    Now I know everyone thought I was nuts at the time I was starting Tn and saying it could be applied to everything, but hopefully last summer those reading this diary got to see that indeed yes it can. Right now I am finishing up an article on my approach which is somewhat like thermodynamics but also somewhat less Physics-based - after all, we are talking about social phenomena here where intersubjectivisation rules. I learned during the research for this article that I am not the first to think of economic entropy flows, indeed this fringe idea is called thermoeconomics and I just ordered about the only book on it from Amazon with next semester's course books. Interestingly, I have learned that the great Economist Jevons actually pioneered the approach in the 19th century during his discussion of coal!

    Reset my relationships with close friends
    This past semester has been one (yet again) of having become over-invested in close friends. I am a lonely, fragile person and I find it very easy to get caught up in the lives of (usually dysfunctional so they need me) others. It gets too intense for them, so they hurt me. That took out much of last semester in depression, but then even at the start of that semester one had a sense of impending shrinkage and thankfully I'm old and wise enough by now to realise that the end of one cycle means the birth of a new cycle which appears to have begun just before the Christmas break.
    Should I have the Future Society in there? No, I don't think so - while it could be a major achievement of 2006, it was very much seed planting for enabling the PhD funding I want ie; it hasn't yielded much yet except introducing us to quite a few important people (with a lot more very important people to come this semester). In other words, when/if I see the pan-out, then it'll get onto this list though I'd doubt that would even be the 2008 birthday entry.

    Right so, back to my article! I hope you all had a great Christmas break, have fun!
    I urge you all to visit www.nedprod.com
    Last edited by Churchill; 10th February 2007 at 09:08.

  5. #5

    Godlike like

    SallyAnne is too good to be a permie

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    Best thing about that thread was people having a go at MF for his number of posts "Do you spend all of your time on here?" - excellent!

    And he always has a go at me - the circle of life!

  6. #6

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    nice one MF.

    Milan.

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    Quote Originally Posted by idiot
    I am a lonely, fragile person and I find it very easy to get caught up in the lives of (usually dysfunctional so they need me) others. It gets too intense for them, so they hurt me
    hmmmm

  8. #8

    Contractor Among Contractors

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    I don't know this niall, but god he is a boring f*****. Can someone precis it in 100 words or less for me?

  9. #9

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    Precis

    I have never had a job but you contractors know bugger all and did I mention I am one of the best 5 programmers in world, plus you contractors know bugger all. Now anyone want to give me a job.
    What happens in General, stays in General.
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    In memory. Bump

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