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Posted Thursday, March 21, 2013 11:11 AM
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Revenant (3/21/2013)
Stefan Krzywicki (3/21/2013)
Revenant (3/21/2013)
L' Eomot Inversé (3/21/2013)
ChrisM@Work (3/21/2013)
Around 10 years ago whilst on contract for a telecomms company in Central London, I was introduced to a newly-hired DBA who wasted no time in rolling up his sleeves and fiddling with our servers. Two surprises rapidly followed. Firstly, he was candid about his salary, £70. Very good money back then. I figured he must be pretty good. The next surprise turned everything on his head. He asked me for help with a UNION query which he couldn't get to work properly. I had a look at the code he was working with and couldn't make any sense of it at all, until he pointed out that UNION joined the tables not vertically as I'd always thought but side by side to generate extra columns.
Rotten contractors are nothing new - neither are rotten permies.

Only twice in rather more than 40 years in the business did I actually have to fire someone (both were permies - contractors were always introduced by senior management so I couldn't fire them, until I became senior enough to refuse to use contractors at all). I reckon if I'd come acoss that guy that twice would have been thrice. But had I been able to do it I can think of a dozen or more bullshit spouting contractors who would have been looking for a new contract, and I've had far more dealings with permies than with contractors.

I think that a greater proportion of contractors than of permies are incompetent for one simple reason: when you come across a permie whose average length of employment is less than 6 months you need an awful lot of convincing before you will hire him - so those guys end up asking if you want chips and ketchup with it instead of scewing up your development schedule; a contractor can say he prefers short term contracts so that every four or five months he can take a couple of weeks off, and you generally don't have any valid reason to disbelieve him 9at least not in the UK, where he can sue you and/or the company if you are asked for a reference and deliver a bad one). So most of the incompetent permies don't survive, while most of the incompetent contractors do.

The problem with "permies," as you call them, is that they spend considerable part of their time thinking about the next empowering move and playing politics to make it possible, at least at big companies. Contractor is only as good as his last contract and that keeps them on their tiptoes.


There are many reasons I've stayed a contractor over the years. In general, I find that a person's status as perm or contractor has little bearing on their ability or work ethic. A compliment to the contractor nightmares I mentioned above are the many perm nightmares I've worked wiith. One guy had 10 years to go to retirement and it was his goal to just make it there while doing as little work as possible. I've had managers who were completely "upward facing" and as long as their boss was happy, they didn't know or care what the people reporting to them were doing. One project I inherited from a "permie" dropped and re-created every index in the database every time the product was started. He also had indexes on just about every column because he'd heard they were good once and he'd lecture non-tech people about this for hours, given the chance.

How you're employed has little bearing on what you do.

Gee, Stefan, I wish I could have slacked when I had 10 years to retirement. I am retirement age and I still have to work my *** off, 6 days a week.


LOL, he was an IBMer, does that help?


--------------------------------------
When you encounter a problem, if the solution isn't readily evident go back to the start and check your assumptions.
--------------------------------------
It’s unpleasantly like being drunk.
What’s so unpleasant about being drunk?
You ask a glass of water. -- Douglas Adams
Post #1433924
Posted Thursday, March 21, 2013 11:13 AM


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Stefan Krzywicki (3/21/2013)
Revenant (3/21/2013)
Stefan Krzywicki (3/21/2013)
Revenant (3/21/2013)
L' Eomot Inversé (3/21/2013)
ChrisM@Work (3/21/2013)
Around 10 years ago whilst on contract for a telecomms company in Central London, I was introduced to a newly-hired DBA who wasted no time in rolling up his sleeves and fiddling with our servers. Two surprises rapidly followed. Firstly, he was candid about his salary, £70. Very good money back then. I figured he must be pretty good. The next surprise turned everything on his head. He asked me for help with a UNION query which he couldn't get to work properly. I had a look at the code he was working with and couldn't make any sense of it at all, until he pointed out that UNION joined the tables not vertically as I'd always thought but side by side to generate extra columns.
Rotten contractors are nothing new - neither are rotten permies.

Only twice in rather more than 40 years in the business did I actually have to fire someone (both were permies - contractors were always introduced by senior management so I couldn't fire them, until I became senior enough to refuse to use contractors at all). I reckon if I'd come acoss that guy that twice would have been thrice. But had I been able to do it I can think of a dozen or more bullshit spouting contractors who would have been looking for a new contract, and I've had far more dealings with permies than with contractors.

I think that a greater proportion of contractors than of permies are incompetent for one simple reason: when you come across a permie whose average length of employment is less than 6 months you need an awful lot of convincing before you will hire him - so those guys end up asking if you want chips and ketchup with it instead of scewing up your development schedule; a contractor can say he prefers short term contracts so that every four or five months he can take a couple of weeks off, and you generally don't have any valid reason to disbelieve him 9at least not in the UK, where he can sue you and/or the company if you are asked for a reference and deliver a bad one). So most of the incompetent permies don't survive, while most of the incompetent contractors do.

The problem with "permies," as you call them, is that they spend considerable part of their time thinking about the next empowering move and playing politics to make it possible, at least at big companies. Contractor is only as good as his last contract and that keeps them on their tiptoes.


There are many reasons I've stayed a contractor over the years. In general, I find that a person's status as perm or contractor has little bearing on their ability or work ethic. A compliment to the contractor nightmares I mentioned above are the many perm nightmares I've worked wiith. One guy had 10 years to go to retirement and it was his goal to just make it there while doing as little work as possible. I've had managers who were completely "upward facing" and as long as their boss was happy, they didn't know or care what the people reporting to them were doing. One project I inherited from a "permie" dropped and re-created every index in the database every time the product was started. He also had indexes on just about every column because he'd heard they were good once and he'd lecture non-tech people about this for hours, given the chance.

How you're employed has little bearing on what you do.

Gee, Stefan, I wish I could have slacked when I had 10 years to retirement. I am retirement age and I still have to work my *** off, 6 days a week.


LOL, he was an IBMer, does that help?

Yes, that explains it.
Post #1433925
Posted Thursday, March 21, 2013 12:35 PM


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Slight change of topic (if there ever was one here). Over the past few weeks I have been trying to help out more with the questions posted here.
All I can say is I have massive admiration for the patience, knowledge and patience of the main contributors here. I'll spare your blushes by naming any individuals.
Hopefully I will get to meet some of you at SQL in the city (London) in June.


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Post #1433965
Posted Thursday, March 21, 2013 6:00 PM


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L' Eomot Inversé (3/21/2013)
dwain.c (3/20/2013)
Lynn Pettis (3/20/2013)
I am really wondering how some people manage to get into contracting when they have no idea how to write good, performing code and expect a free forum staffed by volunteers to help him write code to meet the clients requirements.


I can think of two reasons:

1. Nobody knows they write poor performing code until their contract is up.
2. They get paid for the time they spend posting questions to the forum.


3. They quote far below what it would cost to do the job properly, so those who are both competent and honest are not competition.
4. Because they quote so low, the cost of writing off what they have been paid is not worth the hassle of suing them, so they get away with it.
5. their customers are managed by people who haven't a technological clue, so as long as they can create sensible-sounding waffle about "management" or "policy" it doesn't matter that there technological ability is zilch - firstly because to admit you hired people inferior to the internal people means accepting a loss of face and secondly because the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence so they must be a better sort of grass than the company's employees.

edit: I omitted

6. because they haven't had to waste time acquiring competence in doing the job they've had plenty time to become expert at bullshit.


I forgot one:

7. If perchance their contract doesn't expire and their code is found to be poor performing, they're paid to correct it.



My mantra: No loops! No CURSORs! No RBAR! Hoo-uh!

My thought question: Have you ever been told that your query runs too fast?

My advice:
INDEXing a poor-performing query is like putting sugar on cat food. Yeah, it probably tastes better but are you sure you want to eat it?
The path of least resistance can be a slippery slope. Take care that fixing your fixes of fixes doesn't snowball and end up costing you more than fixing the root cause would have in the first place.


Need to UNPIVOT? Why not CROSS APPLY VALUES instead?
Since random numbers are too important to be left to chance, let's generate some!
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Post #1434095
Posted Thursday, March 21, 2013 6:31 PM


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I am well aware of the bad contractors out there... I'm a contractor myself. I've actually called back to the home company and told them to pull bad contractors who were gold bricking. A lot of folks keep their heads down though and just ignore the moron next to them. To make waves makes you look bad. I refuse to not risk looking bad sometimes.

Sometimes it's just noone's taught them. They're the clay you've got to work with, particularly when they're permies. Permies don't have consulting firms that can nearly blackball them from an industry if they make them look bad enough, they just punch out and move to the next spot. That's both good and bad... some consulting firms just want to fill headcount.

I can't speak for the UK but a single bad reference can kill a contracting career. Being able to go in, call it true, and make it WORK the way you said it could gets you some glowing reviews. Screw that up though? Oh yeah. Make sure you know you're right before you fall down that trap door.

and I... err... crap, I'm soapboxing.

I'm sorry Tom that you feel consultants are so bad that you would never hire one again. Sometimes you need exactly what a good one can offer. Someone who can come in with a fresh perspective, crush out the problem without all the overhead, and hand you a recommendation for a result... and can implement it if your staff is overwhelmed. Sometimes you just need some code monkey to knock out the SQL for a bunch of reports so your main staff can stay on target with other tasks.

However, if your code monkey/gunslinger hasn't produced ANYTHING that you can physically test inside of a month... I'm not entirely sure that it's just the consultant at fault there.



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Post #1434098
Posted Friday, March 22, 2013 5:38 AM


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Evil Kraig F (3/21/2013)
I am well aware of the bad contractors out there... I'm a contractor myself. I've actually called back to the home company and told them to pull bad contractors who were gold bricking. A lot of folks keep their heads down though and just ignore the moron next to them. To make waves makes you look bad. I refuse to not risk looking bad sometimes.

Sometimes it's just noone's taught them. They're the clay you've got to work with, particularly when they're permies. Permies don't have consulting firms that can nearly blackball them from an industry if they make them look bad enough, they just punch out and move to the next spot. That's both good and bad... some consulting firms just want to fill headcount.

I can't speak for the UK but a single bad reference can kill a contracting career. Being able to go in, call it true, and make it WORK the way you said it could gets you some glowing reviews. Screw that up though? Oh yeah. Make sure you know you're right before you fall down that trap door.

and I... err... crap, I'm soapboxing.

I'm sorry Tom that you feel consultants are so bad that you would never hire one again. Sometimes you need exactly what a good one can offer. Someone who can come in with a fresh perspective, crush out the problem without all the overhead, and hand you a recommendation for a result... and can implement it if your staff is overwhelmed. Sometimes you just need some code monkey to knock out the SQL for a bunch of reports so your main staff can stay on target with other tasks.

However, if your code monkey/gunslinger hasn't produced ANYTHING that you can physically test inside of a month... I'm not entirely sure that it's just the consultant at fault there.


If blackballing actually does operate here in the UK, I'd be very surprised as I've heard no evidence to support it and know from involvement in contractor recruitment that there are some truly awful folk masquerading as competents. One would hope that a blackballing movement would filter some of them out.
Blackballing could apply to companies too. Last time I worked here (this is my second gig with the same company) there was a chap I had competed with for a gig in Swindon some months before. He beat me to it, and I'm quite relieved he did. At face to face time the atmosphere in the offices seemed unnaturally strained and the interview was odd too, with an emphasis on developer discipline. Such as, head honcho briefs me to stick to plan A while he's away for a couple of days. While he's away and not contactable, underhoncho(?) insists on a switch to a different project to cover a dire emergency. What should I do, switch or stick?
Anyways, Mike got the gig and was on top of it for three or four weeks before being given a week's notice - because head honcho hadn't completed the project plan before hiring, and the project was scrapped by the board. Meh.


“Write the query the simplest way. If through testing it becomes clear that the performance is inadequate, consider alternative query forms.” - Gail Shaw

For fast, accurate and documented assistance in answering your questions, please read this article.
Understanding and using APPLY, (I) and (II) Paul White
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Post #1434209
Posted Friday, March 22, 2013 6:30 AM
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ChrisM@Work (3/22/2013)
Evil Kraig F (3/21/2013)
I am well aware of the bad contractors out there... I'm a contractor myself. I've actually called back to the home company and told them to pull bad contractors who were gold bricking. A lot of folks keep their heads down though and just ignore the moron next to them. To make waves makes you look bad. I refuse to not risk looking bad sometimes.

Sometimes it's just noone's taught them. They're the clay you've got to work with, particularly when they're permies. Permies don't have consulting firms that can nearly blackball them from an industry if they make them look bad enough, they just punch out and move to the next spot. That's both good and bad... some consulting firms just want to fill headcount.

I can't speak for the UK but a single bad reference can kill a contracting career. Being able to go in, call it true, and make it WORK the way you said it could gets you some glowing reviews. Screw that up though? Oh yeah. Make sure you know you're right before you fall down that trap door.

and I... err... crap, I'm soapboxing.

I'm sorry Tom that you feel consultants are so bad that you would never hire one again. Sometimes you need exactly what a good one can offer. Someone who can come in with a fresh perspective, crush out the problem without all the overhead, and hand you a recommendation for a result... and can implement it if your staff is overwhelmed. Sometimes you just need some code monkey to knock out the SQL for a bunch of reports so your main staff can stay on target with other tasks.

However, if your code monkey/gunslinger hasn't produced ANYTHING that you can physically test inside of a month... I'm not entirely sure that it's just the consultant at fault there.


If blackballing actually does operate here in the UK, I'd be very surprised as I've heard no evidence to support it and know from involvement in contractor recruitment that there are some truly awful folk masquerading as competents. One would hope that a blackballing movement would filter some of them out.
Blackballing could apply to companies too. Last time I worked here (this is my second gig with the same company) there was a chap I had competed with for a gig in Swindon some months before. He beat me to it, and I'm quite relieved he did. At face to face time the atmosphere in the offices seemed unnaturally strained and the interview was odd too, with an emphasis on developer discipline. Such as, head honcho briefs me to stick to plan A while he's away for a couple of days. While he's away and not contactable, underhoncho(?) insists on a switch to a different project to cover a dire emergency. What should I do, switch or stick?
Anyways, Mike got the gig and was on top of it for three or four weeks before being given a week's notice - because head honcho hadn't completed the project plan before hiring, and the project was scrapped by the board. Meh.


Yeah, I've worked for some truly horrible companies. One didn't actually want anything fixed. They just wanted to be told everything was fine the way it was, but improve the performace 100%, but don't change anything. They fired their head of IT because he told them the truth. Then there was the company I worked for that hired me solely as a scapegoat. I was told 2 month contract, no chance of extension. Got the initial work done in a few weeks, then was asked to do a bigger job with the time I had left. I told them up front that I didn't have the time needed to do the job, but they insisted and then never gave me access to the servers. A week to go in the job and they fired me because I hadn't made any progress. There's all kinds out there.


--------------------------------------
When you encounter a problem, if the solution isn't readily evident go back to the start and check your assumptions.
--------------------------------------
It’s unpleasantly like being drunk.
What’s so unpleasant about being drunk?
You ask a glass of water. -- Douglas Adams
Post #1434232
Posted Friday, March 22, 2013 9:46 AM


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I don't like the idea of blackballing. We all screw up, we all get second chances in different parts of our lives.

I do like disclosure, and the idea of laying out the good and bad of someone's work history. They can work to improve it or not, and companies can hire them, knowing the possibilities, perhaps keeping them on a shorter leash w/ regards to management.







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Post #1434342
Posted Friday, March 22, 2013 9:53 AM


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I agree, Steve; however, it usually costs lots of effort to get back the reputation one had before s/he/they screwed up, much more effort than the first time when they started fresh. This is just my observation, fortunately I never was in that predicament.
Post #1434347
Posted Friday, March 22, 2013 1:49 PM


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Here is one of my experiences as a contractor...

I was told to do a job in FoxPro 2.6 (for Windows). I requested that we use a later version of FoxPro, since it would resolve certain issues with that version (I think that version 4 or 5 was out at that time, but I know version 3 was available). They declined and wanted to use the 2.6 version. So I wrote the application in 2.6.

About 6 months later, I was called by this agency to help resolve a memory issue with the application I had written there. So I was in effect paid to come back and try to resolve it. But, as it turns out, FoxPro 2.6 had a memory leak issue, which was resolved with versions 3 and later. The sad part was, I was unable to easily resolve it (without, say, upgrading to a later version of FoxPro, and that would be a project).

So I bet it looked, to outsiders, that I had done a bad job and been rewarded for it, but that's not really what happened.



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The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge. - Stephen Hawking
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