accumulation: contractor vs FTE #XR


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.)

Here’s my experience 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 had become 150k I would say that money amounts to “reaping the reward”. In reality, the monetary accumulation was an empty promise.

As a developer stays longer, the accumulation in terms of his value-add to the team is natural and likely [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, or 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 within a year by bright new joiners. Often 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 useless in 5Y and we have to again learn new IV skills. This is not intuitive to me. 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.

edit1file]big python^c++ prod system

Q1: suppose you work in a big, complex system with 1000 source files, all in python, and you know a change to a single file will only affect one module, not a core module. You have tested it + ran a 60-minute automated unit test suit. You didn’t run a prolonged integration test that’s part of the department-level full release. Would you and approving managers have the confidence to release this single python file?
A: yes

Q2: change “python” to c++ (or java or c#). You already followed the routine to build your change into a dynamic library, tested it thoroughly and ran unit test suite but not full integration test. Do you feel safe to release this library?
A: no.

Assumption: the automated tests were reasonably well written. I never worked in a team with a measured test coverage. I would guess 50% is too high and often impractical. Even with high measured test coverage, the risk of bug is roughly the same. I never believe higher unit test coverage is a vaccination. Diminishing return. Low marginal benefit.

Why the difference between Q1 and Q2?

One reason — the source file is compiled into a library (or a jar), along with many other source files. This library is now a big component of the system, rather than one of 1000 python files. The managers will see a library change in c++ (or java) vs a single-file change in python.

Q3: what if the change is to a single shell script, used for start/stop the system?
A: yes. Manager can see the impact is small and isolated. The unit of release is clearly a single file, not a library.

Q4: what if the change is to a stored proc? You have tested it and run full unit test suit but not a full integration test. Will you release this single stored proc?
A: yes. One reason is transparency of the change. Managers can understand this is an isolated change, rather than a library change as in the c++ case.

How do managers (and anyone except yourself) actually visualize the amount of code change?

  • With python, it’s a single file so they can use “diff”.
  • With stored proc, it’s a single proc. In the source control, they can diff this single proc
  • with c++ or java, the unit of release is a library. What if in this new build, beside your change there’s some other change , included by accident? You can’t diff a binary 😦

So I feel transparency is the first reason. Transparency of the change gives everyone (not just yourself) confidence about the size/scope of this change.

Second reason is isolation. I feel a compiled language (esp. c++) is more “fragile” and the binary modules more “coupled” and inter-dependent. When you change one source file and release it in a new library build, it could lead to subtle, intermittent concurrency issues or memory leaks in another module, outside your library. Even if you as the author sees evidence that this won’t happen, other people have seen innocent one-line changes giving rise to bugs, so they have reason to worry.

  • All 1000 files (in compiled form) runs in one process for a c++ or java system.
  • A stored proc change could affect DB performance, but it’s easy to verify. A stored proc won’t introduce subtle problems in an unrelated module.
  • A top-level python script runs in its own process. A python module runs in the host process of the top-level script, but a typical top-level script will include just a few custom modules, not 1000 modules. Much better isolation at run time.

There might be python systems where the main script actually runs in a process with hundreds of custom modules (not counting the standard library modules). I have not seen it.

##define good life: job,health,family..

I will not list generic and vague items like cash asset or health.

  •  job
    • #1 factor — sense of security that I can always get a job. Ashish Singh is the first one to point it out
    • engaging, challenging job, learning something meaningful, not like java/SQL again.
    • some complexity
    • [$$] reasonable commute
  • [$$] not so much time spent on home maintenance
  • enough time to spend with kids
  • enough time for exercise
  • [$] yoga classes + other classes
  • [$] healthy diet
  • grand parents frequent visits? Very hard
  • kids not falling behind in school
  • passive income? LG2 but the more the better
  • appreciating property? LG2
  • [$ = money can “buy”, to some extent]

##what defined %%self-img ]each period

See posts on time allocation. Those things I overspent time on tend to be what defined me.

Income alone is never an item. Instead, “Earning capacity due to …..” is often one of the defining features.

In This list I prefer one-word items.

  • till high school, what defined me was nothing but
    • grades
    • simple focus and dedication, driven by academic ambition
  • NUS ( grades became mediocre even though I worked very hard towards Dean’s list )
    • academic ambition -> commercial ambition
  • 1999 – 2002
    • wizard — salary (due to my wizardry) was high but gradually became just about average
  • 2002 SCS – …
    • bizwing
  • 2007 – 2012
    • IV — in java, c++, swing, dnlg … became my killer skill
      • billing rate
    • tech zbs — (“GTD”? No) zbs was my focus even though i was not really outstanding
  • Aug 2012 – Apr 2017. Focus was finally lost. I became “interested in” many other things
    • wealth preservation, income maintenance — became the #1 undercurrent
      • MSFM was part of “income maintenance” effort
      • properties became the main part of wealth preservation and retirement planning
      • (alternative income source (rental, per investment, trading) — became a temporary focus and never get big)
    • I also defined myself as a dedicated and serious father to Yixin, not really hoping to produce a prodigy, but to shape his character and habits, and help him find his motivation.
  • now
    • IV and tech learning
    • continuous push to go deeper, further and increase zbs
    • low burn rate, conserver lifestyle

Hope to regain motivation and sharpen focus on c++, exchange conn and grow another “wing”

##accumu lens:which past accumulations(zbs+)proved long-term

(There’s a recoll on this accumulation lens concept…. )

Holy grail is orgro, thin->thick->thin…, but most of my attempts failed.

I have no choice but keep shifting focus. A focus on apache+mysql+php+javascript would have left me with few options.

–hall of fame

  • 1) data structure theory + implementation in java, STL, c#
  • 2) [C  RT] core java including java OO has seen rather low churn,
    • comparable to c++
    • much better than j2EE and c#
  • 3) [T] threading? Yes insight and essential techniques. Only for interviews. C# is adding to the churn.
  • 4) [j] instrumentation in java codebase and to a lesser extent c#. Essential for real projects and indirectly helps interviews
  • [C] core C++
  • [j] google-style algo quiz? Only for high-end tech interviews
  • —-also-ran :
  • [!T] bond math? Not really my chosen direction, so no serious investment 
  • [!T] option math?
  • [R] SQL? yes but not a tier one skill like c++ or c#
  • SQL tuning? not much demand in the c++ interviews, but better in other interviews
  • regex – needed for many coding interviews and real projects
  • py? increasing use in projects
  • [R] Unix instrumentation, automation? frequently used but only occasionally quizzed
  • [R] Excel + VBA? Not my chosen direction

C= churn rate is comfortable
D = has depth, can accumulate
R= robust demand
T= thin->thick->thin achieved
j|J = relevant|important to job hunting

why employers prefers younger workers, a revisit

My neighbour Julius (of Indonesia) said

* younger employees mean lower cost
* more energy
* can map out a 10Y career plan for him

Below are my own observations and reading.

The younger guys often have more spare time available. Granted, many choose to spend it outside work, but a small percentage (30%?) of the ambitious, dedicated or hard-working individuals would *regularly* and voluntarily spend some of that at work.

For managerial roles, I feel a 30-something can be very effective. The relative short experience may not mean a lot.

For technical roles, the long experience of a 40-something is even less valuable. My own experience is most convincing. At 25 I was more formidable than many of my older colleagues. I was sharp,
fast-learning, self-driven, knowledgeable, possibly more experienced than them in a given technology.

worked harder as FTE than contractor@@

My experience – in terms of work attitude, professionalism, ownership, my contractor jobs was not really lower than FTE. However, longer hours were rare. When I work longer hours as contractors, manager often recognize more easily.

Personal sacrifice was lower.

Ownership of project is often with FTE.

Expectation of bonus is real as FTE.

All in all, the bitterness (and pain, blow to self-esteem…) of a poor appraisal and low bonus is deep, hard, pervasive. It last many months and is a bigger stress than marriage issues, kids poor studies, investment failures etc. I was “shaken to core” (Michelle Obama once said) by those events.

Generally I choose to work at slightly higher than the minimum level to get by.

  • as contractor — sometimes this hurts me (Citi) but often my standard is well above the manager’s
  • as FTE — I don’t like to work way harder than the minimum, because often (Stirt, GS) it’s still not good enough for various reasons, so I would feel “not worth it”.
  • I also have a conviction that managers decide which FTE they like based on non-technical reasons, so why bother to work so hard? If manager doesn’t like me then hard work won’t help a lot.

What’s so special about jvm portability compared2python/perl#letter

You have a very strong technical mind and I find it hard to convince you. Let’s try this story…
At a party, one guy mentions (quietly) “I flew over here in my helicopter …” 5 boys overheard and start talking “I too have a helicopter”. Well the truth is, either they are renting a helicopter, or their uncle used to have a helicopter, or their girlfriend is rich enough to own a helicopter, or they have an old 2nd hand helicopter, they have a working helicopter for a university research project, or a toy helicopter.
It’s extremely hard to build a cross-platform bytecode interpreter that rivals native executable performance. Early JVM was about the same speed as perl. Current JVM easily exceeds perl and can sometimes surpass C.
In contrast, it’s much easier to build a cross-platform source code interpreter. Javascript, python, perl, php, BASIC, even C can claim that. But why do these languages pale against java in terms of portability? One of the key reasons is efficiency.
To convince yourself the value of JVM portability, ultimately you need to see the limitations of dynamic scripting languages. I used them for years. Scripting languages are convenient and quick-turnaround, but why are they still a minor tool for most large systems? Why are they not taking over the software world by storm?
Why is C still relevant? Because it’s low-level. Low-level means (the possibility of) maximum efficiency.  Why is MSOffice written in C/C++ and not VBA? Efficiency is a key reason. Why are most web servers written in C and not perl, not even java? Efficiency is a key reason.
Back to jvm portability. When I compile 2000 classes into a jar, and download 200 other jars from vendors and free packages. I zip them up and I get a complete zip of executables. If I fully tested it in windows then in many cases I don’t need to test them in unix. Compile once, run anywhere. We rely on this fact every day. Look at spring jars, hibernate jars, JDBC driver jars, xml parser jars, jms jars. Each jar in question has a single download for all platforms. I have not seen many perl downloads that’s one-size-fit-all.
I doubt Python, php or other scripting languages offer that either.
(See comments below)
Sent: Sunday, June 26, 2011 8:14 PM
Subject: RE: What’s so special about jvm’s portability compared to python’s or perl’s?
If you treat JVM == the interpreter of php/python/perl/etc., then Java’s so called “binary code portability” is almost the same as those scripting languages’ “source code portability”.
[Bin ] I have to disagree. AMD engineered their instruction set to be identical to Intel’s. Any machine code produced for Intel runs on AMD too — hardware level portability.

That’s one extreme level of portability. Here’s another level — Almost any language, once proven on one platform, can be ported to other platforms, but only at the SCP (source-code-portable) level. Portability at different levels has very different values. High-level portability is cheap but less useful.
Java Bytecode is supposed to be much faster as a lot of type checking, method binding, access checking, address resolution.. were already completed at compile-time. Java bytecode looks like MOV, JMP, LOAD … and gives you some of the efficiency of machine code.
Another proof is: Java binary code (compiled using regular method) can be de-compiled into source code, which indicates that its “binary code” has almost 1-to-1 mapping to “source code”, which means its binary code is equal to source code.
[Bin ] I would probably disagree. The fastest java bytecode is JIT and probably not decompilable I guess. For a sequence of instructions, the more “machine-like”, the faster it runs.
Well, you may want to argue JVM is better than the interpreter of those scripting languages, and I tend to agree. Java must have something that earned the heart of the enterprise application developers. Only that I haven’t found what it is yet 🙂

What’s so special about jvm’s portability compared to python/perl, briefly?

When I compile a class in windows, the binary class file is directly usable in unix. (Of course I must avoid calling OS commands.) I don’t think python or perl reached this level.

I feel dynamic, scripting languages are easier to make portable because they offer source-code portability (SCP), no binary code portability (BCP). In other words, BCP is tougher than SCP. I believe BCP is more powerful and valuable.  BCP was the holy grail of compiler design and Java conquered it.

Due to the low entry barrier, some level of SCP is present in many scripting languages, but few (if any) other compiled languages offer BCP, because it’s tough. JVM is far ahead of the pack.

Even C is source-code portable, but C is a known as a poorly portable language due to lack of binary portability.