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.

prod-release a single file in a complex python^c++system

Q1: suppose you work in a big, complex system with 1000 source files, all in python, and you know a small but critical change to a single file will only affect one module, not a core module. You have tested it + ran a 90-minute automated unit test suit, but without 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 hard and often impractical. Even with high measured test coverage, the risk of bug is roughly the same. I never believe 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 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.