accumulation: contractor vs FTE


You said that we contractors don’t accumulate (积累) as FTE do.

I do agree that after initial 2Y of tough learning, some FTE could reap the (monetary) rewards whereas consultants are often obliged (due to contract) to leave the team. Although there are long-term contracts, they don’t always work out as promised.

My experience — I stayed in GS for 2.5Y. My later months had much lower "bandwidth" tension i.e. the later months required less learning and figure-things-out. Less stress, fewer negative feedbacks, less worry about my own competence, more confidence , more in-control (because more familiar with the local system). If my compensation becomes 150k I would say that money amounts to "reaping the reward".

As a developer stays longer, the accumulation in terms of his value-add to the team is natural and very likekly [1]. Managers like to point out that after a FTE stays in the team for 2Y her competence, her design, her solutions, her suggestions, her value-add per year grows higher every year. If her initial value-add to the company can be quantified as $100k, every year it grows by 30%. Alas, that doesn’t always translate to compensation.

That’s accumulation in personal income. How about accumulation in tech skill? Staying in one system usually means less exposure to other (newer) technologies. Some developers prefer to be shielded from newer technologies. I embrace them. I feel my technical accumulation is higher when I keep moving from company to company.

[1] There are exceptions. About 5% of the old timers are, in my view, organization dead weights. Their value-add doesn’t grow and is routinely surpassed by bright new joiner within a year. Company can’t let them go due to political, legal or ethical reasons.

You said IV questions change over time so much (ignoring the superficial changes) that the IV skills we acquire today is uesless in 5Y and we have to again learn new IV skills. Please give one typical example if you can without a lot of explaining (I understand your time constraints). I guess you mean technology churn? If I prepare for a noSQL or big data interview, then I will probably face technology churn.

On the other hand, in my experience, many interview topics remain ever-green including some hard topics — algorithms (classic algos and creative algos), classic data structures, concurrency, java OO, pass-by reference/value, SQL, unix commands, TCP/UDP sockets, garbage collection, asynchronous/synchronous concepts, pub/sub, producer/consumer, thread pool concepts… In the same vein, most coding tests are similar to 10 yeas ago when I first received them. So the study of these topics do accumulate to some extent.

self-degrad`habit: compar`+higher flyers

This post is Relevant to parenting, in sports and also in a dev team…

eg: I was very strong in physics at high-school level in a top secondary school. Then other students rose up to be as strong as me. I had a deep sense that my edge was gone and I would no longer be far and away the strongest in my school. One day I suddenly saw myself as a nobody since I was no longer the strongest. The fact that I was still one of the strongest in that Beijing district, and also across China was completely wiped off the table and trashed.

eg: A great preacher goes to Australia and was wowed to witness another preacher of a similar style, but more powerful (or more eloquent). He soon decided to learn and improve himself, and developed his distinct style. He has unique talent as an invidual, and he would sooner or later develop some feature of his own.

eg: A solid movie can be upstaged by a movie of a similar genre, but higher box office. However, every serious movie is unique. If two very similar movies are both good, then invariably the differences will be significant.

I know more than one individual with a habit to degrade, belittle, and dismiss her/his own achievements, strengths and talents. The opposite of “celebrate every little improvement”. An irrational, unfair, self-destructive habit. Because most grown-ups have developed some immunity, doing this thing to other people is not as harmful as doing it to ourselves and family members. We will have more to say about parenting…

It’s impractical to dictate “If I’m good at this field than I have to be #1 in the entire school or nothing.” If you are indeed #1, then sooner or later you would meet someone with a higher talent in some part of this field, so your #1 position becomes questionable. Does it diminish your achievements? Possibly, arguably yes, but does it zero out your achievement? No. You are still a valuable player in the team

no need to feel modest against high flyers, not every time


See also post on self-degrading

Every time I feel positive/competent about my technical or interview capabilities, why must I always remind myself to be humble and compare myself with high achievers?

shoe-change — step into the shoes of AA (one of the less technical guys I know). Every time he/she achieves something technically difficult, he has a right to feel proud. It may not be so big technically, but it’s a real, worthwhile, significant achievement for that individual, requiring consistent effort for a long time.

What if that person is your wife, your sister, your mother, or your child? You would tell her it’s a real achievement.

The “class” of high achievers are inevitably dominated by managers, and they always earn more than I do!

* sales dragon? I stopped looking at them from 2007
* entrepreneurs? I stopped looking at them from 2010
* open source legends? No
* enterprise software architects (often sales-oriented)? They usually move into management. Xie Yuanyang. Ho Yin? Sundip?

[[Don’t sweat the small stuff]] is a wake-up call. My self-administered “modesty” reminders have a negative aspect. It stops me feeling good about myself. Perhaps those reminders are fair and justified and realistic, but looking back, I felt positive and confident when I was Not comparing myself with those high achievers.

My dad has always pointed out that I’m not the management type, so it’s counterproductive to compare with them. I guess the architect roles may be within my reach, if I put in enough time and become very knowledgeable and also have good relationships with stakeholders.

it takes effort to remain in financial IT#Ashish

NY vs NJ — cost is basically the same my friend, in terms of rent, transportation, food … Most of my friends probably live in New York city suburbs. (I know no one who choose to live in NYC, paying 4% city tax.) My cost estimate is always based on my experience living in NYC suburbs.

The “relief” factor you identified is psychological, subtle but fundamental. It resonates in my bones. It’s a movie playing in my head every day.

In the present-day reality, at my age I probably can still find jobs at this salary in Singapore or Hongkong, with growing difficulties. How about in 10 years? Huge uncertainty. If you were me, you have to take a long, hard look into yourself and benchmark yourself against the competing (younger) job seekers. You would find negative evidence regarding your competitiveness on the Asia financial IT job market. That’s the get-the-job aspect. The 2nd aspect is keep-the-job and even tougher for me. Therefore in the U.S. I make myself a free-wheeling contractor!

As I age, I take the growing job market competition as a fact of life. I accept I’m past my prime. I keep working on my fitness.

On both [get|keep ]-the-job, U.S. offers huge psychological relief. Why? Ultimately, it boils down to long term income (and family cash flow). Since I believe U.S. employers can give me a well-paying job more easily, for longer periods, I feel financially more secure. I will hold meaningful jobs till 65 (not teaching in polytechnic, or selling insurance etc). I can plan for the family more confidently. I could plan for a new home.

There are many more pros and cons to consider. Will stick to the bare essentials.

Singapore offers security in terms of the social “safety net”, thanks to government. Even if my Singapore salary drops by half, we still enjoy subsidized healthcare, decent education, frequent reunions with grandparents, among many other benefits (I listed 20 in my blog..).

Besides, I always remind my wife and grandparents that I have overseas properties, some paying reliable rental yield. Under some assumptions, passive income can amount to $5k/mon so the “worry” my dad noticed is effectively addressed. Another huge relief.

As a sort of summary, in my mind these unrelated concerns are interlinked –

· My long-term strength/weakness on job markets

o coding practice, lifelong learning

o green card – a major weakness in me

· family cash flow

o passive incomes

o housing

· Singapore as base camp

Do you notice I didn’t include “job security” in the above list? I basically take job-Insecurity as a foregone conclusion. Most of my friends are the opposite – taking job security as an assumption. This difference defines me as a professional, shapes my outlook, and drives me to keep working on “fitness”.

If I had no kids, I would have already achieved financial freedom and completely free of cash flow concerns. As a couple, our combined burn rate is S$3k-4k/mon but our (inflation-proof) passive income has/will reach that level. Also medical and housing needs are taken care of in Singapore. In reality, kids add S$1k-2k to our monthly burn rate. We are still on our way to financial freedom. So why the “worry”?!


Sent: Thursday, 16 March 2017 8:07 AM
To: Victor Tan
Cc: ‘Bin TAN (Victor)’
Subject: Re: it takes effort to remain in financial IT

That jewish guy and avichal are exceptions . Most of developers struggle and get success by hard work, by spending time with code for atleast 1-2years in any new company. I have not met other fast learners like them. Those are rare to find.

Regarding the worry that your dad always notices , i think this is quite obvious "more money more stress" but yeah this is the right time for you to move to USA where there are plenty of tech jobs . This move will surely give you a shy of relief.

Regarding the cost if living, why would you want to stay in NY , it is indeed costly. How about NJ?


Both mental stress and physical stress. Let’s take a step back and compare the stress intensity during job hunt vs GTD stress on the job.

Many people say it’s too stressful and tiring to keep interviewing compared to a long-term job in a big company. Well, I blogged many times that I need to keep interviewing…. The stress is so far manageable.

On a regular job, the GTD stress levels range from 5 to 7 on a scale of 10 (Donald Trump on women;). Often rise to 8.

Became 9 or 10 whenever (as FTE) boss gave a negative feedback. I know from several past experiences. In contrast, contract projects felt much better.

(To be fair, I did improve after the negative feedback.)

During my job hunt including the challenging Singapore lap, my stress level felt like 4 to 7, but often positive stress, perhaps due to positive progress and positive energy.

Conclusion — I always felt more confident on the open market than recovering from setback on a job.

quartz platform:too experimental-}%%pain

I now remember Rob, Andy Carlise (5Y Quartz veterans) … spent lots of time struggling with some underlying Quartz platform functionalities. I feel these technologies are experimental and work-in-progress. Seriously inadequate documentation.

Most technologies I use are much better. Consider Python ( Most “routine” tasks are well discussed on StackOverflow. The complex tasks are still tractable.

Consider Autosys or Accurev. Few online resources, but the products are rock solid and less complex.


2000 – 2002 are the first few years I spent in IT and had a deep impact on my outlook. However, there are many overstatements:

  • Too early to say — javascript had a surprise revival, even on Wall St! I have not decided to go back there.
  • Too early to say — perl was widely used on Wall St and was a key factor to my survival in GS.
  • SQL — skills I acquired in GS is not completely irrelevant. Many (financial etc) systems still use it. Perhaps less used on west coast in web 2.0 shops.
  • php — investment was not 100% lost. It did provide me a job at NBC. I think this is still a valuable skill on west coast. My php confidence is an asset.
  • mysql — investment was not completely lost. I would say my mysql experience gave me enough confidence and competence to take on other database systems.
  • apache — investment gave me valuable insight into network servers. I think apache is still widely used outside Wall St.