[20] charmS@slow track #Macq mgrs#silent majority

another critique of the slow track.

My Macq managers Kevin A and Stephen Keith are fairly successful old-timers. Such an individual would hold a job for 5-10 years, grow in know-how, effectiveness (influence,,,). Once a few years they move up the rank. In their eyes, a job hopper or contractor like me is hopelessly left on the slow track — rolling stone gathers no moss.

I would indeed have felt that way if I had not gained the advantages of burn rate + passive incomes. No less instrumental are my hidden advantages like

  • relatively carefree hands-on dev job, in my comfort zone
  • frugal wife
  • SG citizenship
  • stable property in HDB
  • modest goal of an average college for my kids
  • See also G5 personal advantages: Revealed over15Y

A common cognitive/perception mistake is missing the silent majority of old timers who don’t climb up. See also …

y old-timer paid below grads; unable2quit #Davis

My friend Davis revealed to me that many non-VPs earn below the $115k salary offered to a fresh Master’s grad.

  • Davis said employer won’t give you more than 3% annual increment, so quite often it can’t reach $115k.
  • Anthony also said the big hike happens only when you change job [1].
  • Jack Zhang said over 10 years the total increment could add up to below 20k.

Q3: what’s the market rate for your skill as an old timer?
A: probably higher than the grads.

Q3b: so why the old-timers don’t get a better job elsewhere?
A: they don’t feel they can.
A (Davis): these old timers have value-add only because of their localSys knowledge. In a sense, some new-age employers have a prejudice against people of loyalty. They probably associate Loyalty with stagnation and obsoleteness.

Therefore, one-long-job resume can be bad when you change career. I always felt my job-hopper resume is a liability, but some west coast shops don’t care.

I feel these old-timers are afraid of failure [1] at the new job, perhaps after a long, stressful adjustment. I think people do notice that adjustment to a new environment can be very tough and often unsuccessful.

Contractors keep adjusting.. stronger, more adaptable, more confident than those loyal old-timers.

Q6: why is employer willing to pay grads so much more?
A: Employers don’t want to but that’s the market rate set by supply-demand. Ibanks want to bring in fresh talents and must pay the market rate.

[1] A.Gambino discussion .

longer u stay,more localSys nlg≠⇒safer #SXA

As I said in this blog, FTE-dev is often worse off than contractors.

I think if you stay for many years without moving up while some of your colleagues move up, you may or may not get a stigma.  Some of the newer members may become your manager:) But this is not the main focus here.

The longer you stay, the more knowledgeable about local system. Hopefully more relaxed and less stress? Partly true but very dangerous slippery slope. You hope that you can live comfortably under 80% of the earlier /intensity/, but I think it won’t happen in most ibanks [1].

In my observation, most VP-level old timers operate under /unrelenting/ pressure (“threat”) to maintain high productivity. They are expected to be more proficient and more productive than earlier, not allowed to slow down and take it easy … No semi-retirement here. Otherwise, they would fail the peer benchmark against other VPs.

When I posed this question to XiaoAn, who stayed in one Oracle post-sales field support job for 11 years, he agreed that the expectation indeed grows higher. I said these old-timers often look tired and /stressed out/ by the responsibilities, but now I think many managers have a zen attitude — Larry, Josh

Another Part of the threat comes from hungrier, younger colleagues able to reach (and then surpass) half your speed within a year or two, driven by /formidable/ brain-power (energy, intelligence, ..)

[1] There are exceptions but I only know a few so I don’t want to spend too much analyzing. Exception — if you were the original architect and you keep an eye on the evolution of your brainchild, and remain knowledgeable about it, but this scenario requires some brain-power.

That’s the harsh competitive reality even if you don’t seek increasing responsibilities. A small percentage of the people are ambitious ladder climbers. (Am clearly not, because at my current level I already feel the heavy workload.) Other people (the majority) I talk to want an “easy life”, not increasing responsibilities. However, If you don’t take up increasing responsibilities, you may become too expensive [2]. You may get a token bonus. I think you may even get a humiliating bonus.

Overall, in “peacetime” long service without moving up can feel embarrassing and uncomfortable for some individuals. (It’s more noticeable if most of the peers at your level are much younger, as in Macq and OC.) Some corporate cultures may tolerate but stigmatize that.

Employer claim they prefer employees staying longer rather than shorter. That’s blatant propaganda. In reality, some employers wish some old timers to leave on their own, to make way for younger, cheaper fresh blood [2]. GS annual 5% cull in peacetime is widely-reported in WSJ, Independent... A few common motivations:

  1. Old timers are sometimes perceived as obstacles to change, to be removed.
  2. some employers believe younger, newer workers are cheaper and more motivated on average
  3. Whenever a new manager comes in he would bring in his old friends, otherwise he is seen as weak.

Down turn? All hell breaks loose. Rather than protecting you, your long service track record may make you vulnerable[2]. You may be seen as an opportunity to “replenish fresh blood”. In contrast, the less-productive but newer colleagues may show potential, and the hiring manager don’t want to look bad — hiring then firing new guys. In other words, it’s sometimes safer for the manager to sacrifice an old timer than a recent new hire — consider my GS experience. This is different from my Stirt experience.

[2] Overall, old timers are not really safe, despite localSys advantage. Consider Jack Zhang, Arif (6Y veteran)

My personal biased conclusions —

  • no such thing as long service recognition. No such thing as two-way commitment.
  • If you can be replaced cheaper, you are at risk. The more you earn, the more risky
  • If you are earning above the market rate then you need enough value-add, regardless how long you have served.

exposure:=semi-automatic(shallow)Accu #$valuable contexx

Opening eg — In RTS team, granted I didn’t get deep[2] socket experience or latency /engineering/ experience, but over the years semi-automatically I would get some valuable exposures, by raising good questions about .. sockets; reliable order-book replication; error recovery; throughput engineering…

eg — in mvea team, I can get some valuable exposures to FIX; large scale and reliable equity OMS; low-latency (caching); order routing; automatic hedging; partial fills; limit orders; order cancels/amends; busts… Even if I don’t get deep experience on this job, my resume could claim genuine experience! Strategic positioning … (shallow) Accumulation

eg — in citi-muni, I got exposure to mkt-making; event-driven limit order repricing; PnL roll-up; mark-to-market; swing; JMS; Gemfire…

Key points about the “pattern”:

  • thanks to the strategic contexx, you get to accumulate (semi)automatically
  • robust commercial value in the skill
  • shallow [2] accumulation — I call it “exposure”, enough to impress some interviewers.
  • [1] small amount of effort — much lower than GTD, getting a job/certificate, losing weight
  • consistent effort ..

However, as the years go by, many developers stop digging with questions and others ignore the opportunities to dig into the difficult codebase because … they don’t have to:(. The automatic learning is a valuable option if you put in some legwork [1]. In contrast, some jobs don’t offer much automatic learning —

  • OC team: not so mainstream. I could still learn some WCF; reliable windows servers;
  • Qz team: poor portability. I could still learn some curve building; ticking risk;

[2] In contrast, here are examples of “deep” experience (hopefully serving as a protective entry barrier ) —

  1. from-scratch (95G) wait/notify solution
  2. from-scratch (95G) sybase stored proc to manage inventory in the face of competing orders
  3. home-prj order book replication in 2 coding interviews — Jump + iRage
  4. home-prj FIX client/server https://github.com/tiger40490/repo1/tree/jProj/java/com/tanbinFIX
  5. home-prj swing GUI to auto-update a table viewer


lower pressure to move up ] U.S.^sg

In U.S.,  the overall income differences between a hands-on developer vs a leadership role is smaller.

UE: U.S. engineers;
UM: U.S. managers;
SE: Sgp engineers;
SM: Sgp managers;
  • salary — UE much better than SE. The few high salaries in SE are too rare and unreachable
  • career longevity — UE clearly better than SE; UE probably better than SM too.
  • job security — UE much better than SE due to abundance of similar jobs; UE probably better than SM
  • fungible — UE can move into technical UM and back, more easily, thanks to abundance of jobs
  • tech lead, architect roles  — UE can move up in that direction more easily than SE, thanks to abundance of jobs. SM and UM may not have enough technical capabilities.

Economy — I feel hands-on specialists are more central to the U.S. economy and U.S. companies than in other countries. In Singapore, manager is by far the most instrumental and dominant role.

For a Chinese techie in the U.S. the prospect of managerial path is limited. Most of these managers won’t rise beyond the entry-level. And then consider your own background relative to the average Chinese here.

My tentative conclusion is

stay long→move up to hands-off roles: hurts fitness

I think a few people I know said they deliberately avoided hands-off roles. Avichal, Nitin of Morgan Stanley, .. If I ever become a manager, I feel 100% sure I would adopt the same career strategy.

(How about German Cheung?)

In the US and in Singapore, I stayed away from hands-off manager or client-facing architect/pre-sales positions.  One of the top 3 justifications is to stay fit. Hands-on roles keep me fit to the job market.

In 80 to 90% of the financial IT job interviews I attended, there’s a non-trivial technical screening, usually a coding test. However, I am an biased statistician or there’s no science here — nothing but personal observations.

Backgrounder — (See also https://bintanvictor.wordpress.com/2016/03/03/long-term-system-expertcontractor/) I did hope to stay in a job for a few years and grow into a system expert. In a few places, it turned out that in one team (say up to 10 people), there are multiple system experts each with many years of experience in the local system. Even if you have 3 years experience in this local system, you may not be appointed the team lead. The chance is 50/50 … could be 30% or 70%. So do you want to remain here for 3 more years and hope for a leadership role?

When I couldn’t rise up in the team, I always decide to move “out” of the comfort zone into the “cold” — every job interview has a technical screening. I soon came to the conclusion that to stay relevant and marketable, I must maintain portable (non-local) tech skills. Many techies at my age wouldn’t choose this route partly because only a minority of techies can stay fit after 45.

Well, I see myself in that (lucky) minority. I don’t mean to say I’m as fit as at 30, but I am fit enough to pass the tech screening.

%%tech leadership: a few pathways

Many friends feel I could consider how to move up. As an experienced (I didn’t say “strong”) hands-on developer, I saw a chance to move to lead developer, architect or project manager roles when moving to Asia. It didn’t happen, for several reasons.

Now I feel by default I will remain a senior developer at VP or AVP level, and surpassed by younger competitors. Already I feel many 30-something are stronger than I am at this age, technically.

With aging and family commitment, this default pathway is weighing more heavy.

Some people (like Ken Li) believe we will be fine. My parents also feel I worry too much. However, the world is not so kind and caring. Commenting on business (not individual) competition, Andy Grove said only the paranoid survive. The default pathway might get narrower and we might find it harder to find jobs. (In Singapore I already see the telltale signs.) I feel I need to think harder how to move up. I think there are some visible pathways. See also https://bintanvictor.wordpress.com/2015/12/27/app-architect-civil-engineer-or-a-salesman-sgus/

If I have good enough know-how about certain frameworks and base products (such as spring, or MOM, or DB with embedded business logic) I could lead a team in building a few types of solution: * database-centric web apps
* batch processing of data either, in java or scripts.

There are many other types I’m less familiar with but feel confident I can pick up and lead. * mobile front-end + server side
* javascript front-end + server side
* nosql to replace the RDBMS
* MOM-based

app owner^contractor#German6Y

Q: Look at my current per-hour value-add to the team. How many percent of that value-add is portable to next two jobs?
%%A: I feel it’s usually rather low. My value-add is mostly about local system knowledge.

Current value-add/hour to the current employer does increase over the years and grows with relationship.

According to German, in the big banks, many team managers badly need an owner-developer, a system expert to remain with the system for 3-6 years. However, on Wall St and London, there’s a long tradition of hiring (proven) high-caliber contractors as the “big guns” to get through a tough project. eg: Song Jun

eg: Rob in the Stirt tech team
eg: bloomberg

Also, from budgeting point of view, a system needs a long-term owner (like BAU), whereas a project needs temporary manpower. So that’s one difference between a lead developer vs a big-gun contractor.

The owner-developer often earns more than the regular contractor but not sure about “big guns”.

Promotion to owner-developer is not guaranteed simply by staying for x years because

  • there may be other old-timers
  • even after 4 years some parts of the system may still be unfamiliar to you
  • even after 10Y on the system, you have below 50/50 chance to build credibility and position to convince everyone to follow your suggestions. Look at Kevin’s influence after just a few years on the system.

For me, it doesn’t make sense to get very familiar with a local system and become efficient and a “powerful” local system expert. Yes the manager would appreciate my value but

  • it often takes 2+ years and a lot of learning effort (Does it cause aging? Only if excessive stress.)
  • Still, for many years the existing experts may remain more powerful than you, so manager may not appreciate your value as much as you expected.
  • the learning effort takes away from my “body-building”
  • Depending on context, it offers only 50% protection from job loss. Sadly, due to lack of body-building, you may become weaker on the new job market.
  • the appreciation seldom translate to meaningful compensation