Archive for the 'Business' Category

Why I quit Facebook and you should too

Wednesday, November 21st, 2007

These recent revelations about Facebook’s increasing violations of privacy were the last straw for me. I no longer want to be any part of it, so I’ve deactivated my account and I’m not going back. I was never a big Facebook user to begin with. I logged in very seldomly, mostly just to find contact details for others from my school. I never bothered uploading any pictures, and the ones that my friends tagged me in frequently proved to be more of a liability than an asset. Basically, I was a member of Facebook not because I enjoyed it, but because I begrudgingly saw the benefits of allowing easy contact with my fellow students. But I’m finished with school now, and the risks far outweigh the benefits.

I don’t want Facebook tracking everything I do and making some of it available without my knowledge. It makes me uncomfortable. I want to be the only one deciding what is put out there about me. I simply don’t trust Facebook to protect my personal information when they actively profit off of sharing that information. This latest news about using personal information in advertising was the last straw for me. I simply don’t want anything more to do with Facebook. I’m taking my ball and going home.

However, I do worry that, by deactivating my account, I’m cutting myself off from some of my friends from UMD. I suppose that’s also part of the insidious nature of Facebook: you become dependent on its proprietary platform for basic things like contacting your friends or sharing photographs, and thus there is significant pressure on not leaving Facebook, even if you are concerned about privacy implications. But I won’t hold myself hostage to that. If anyone from UMD really needs to contact me, they should be able to find me through a simple Google search. Maybe they’ll even find this post.

If you’re one of my friends from UMD trying to contact me, Ben McIlwain, do so either by sending me an instant message on AIM at screen name Cyde2 or sending an email to cydeweys AT gmail DOT com.

From interviewee to interviewer in seven months

Thursday, November 8th, 2007

In April, I was an interviewee at the IT consulting company at which I am currently employed. Just seven months later, I’ve reversed positions, and am going to be the interviewer. It happens tomorrow.

It’s not quite as dramatic as it sounds. I’m not growing a tail and whiskers and going into Human Resources or anything. I won’t be the only interviewer. We bring prospective candidates on-site and have them talk to about five different people on staff. And now my turn has come up. I won’t lie, I am excited by this (whereas some people dread having to do it). I find it exciting, helping to chart the future of the company by having a say in its future employees. So I’ve been figuring out how to do the best job possible.

The most pressing concern weighing on my mind is that the majority of applicants to computer programmer positions cannot actually program. Seriously. Whether it’s people who simply don’t have any background in the field but are attracted by the lucrative salaries, or non-nerds who somehow managed to pass less-than-rigorous compsci programs without actually picking up the skill, the hiring prospects in this field are frighteningly dim. So I’ve come up with a simple programming exercise that should take someone who actually knows how to program just a few minutes, but will completely stump a faker.

Our interviews look at two main areas: whether the applicant actually has the skills to do the job, and whether the applicant will fit into our company culture (which is a bit oddball). It’s easy to do the latter; just chat with the person and see if they’re likable. That’s the problem. As I was talking with our company’s president and asking him what I should do for my first interview, he heavily suggested that I focus on the technical abilities of the interviewee. This is because most of our employees feel more comfortable simply chatting than asking technical questions that may reveal a lack of technical knowledge in an embarrassing manner. But I don’t mind having to deal with that.

My other main interrogation (err, interviewing) technique, in addition to the simple programming test, is going to be looking over the interviewee’s resume and getting into discussions about all of the technologies I see listed on it that I am familiar with (Java, C++, Perl, XML, MySQL, whatever). I put a lot of things on my resume, but I legitimately know a lot of things, and when someone asked me about them, I was able to deliver. I expect nothing less from the person I’ll be interviewing tomorrow. If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s a liar, and someone who puffs up their resume with all sorts of buzzwords, but can’t back any of it up with actual knowledge, will get an instant veto from me.

I have thirty minutes with the candidate. That’s more than enough time to evaluate his technical prowess. I’m not planning on making it thirty minutes of hell — actually, it should be very easy and enjoyable if he actually knows his stuff. But if he doesn’t, well, it’s going to get awkward for him, and I’m going to discover exactly how low the extent of his knowledge lies.

I’m in the right field

Thursday, March 8th, 2007

One of the major take-home lessons from the Career Fair at University of Maryland over the previous two days is: I’m in the right field. It was a general career fair for the whole campus, but, I would estimate, a full one-third of the employers there were looking for (or could use) computer science majors. It was the most sought-after major at the entire fair. The second most-wanted major was engineering.

What to glean from this? Well, we are in the age of the computer. Yes, the dot-com bubble did burst, but it’s not as if it suddenly made computers bad tools. Each year that goes by sees computers used more than ever before in the business world. Every medium-sized company or larger out there needs computer science people. They need IT workers. They need people to develop their internal applications. It’s not just software companies that need programmers anymore. It’s every company. I definitely got the feeling that I was in demand at the Career Fair; people’s eyes seemed to light up when I mentioned that I was graduating with a degree in Computer Science. I already have many interviews lined up and I’ve worked my way to the second level of interviewing with a couple big corporations that you’ve definitely heard of.

So, my advice to anyone going to college soon or just starting off college is this: consider a career in computer science. Unlike, say, a Psychology major, you will be in high demand for the skills that you picked up at college. Real-world programming experience makes for a great resume line-item. The prospective employers I talked with were impressed that I have open source development experience, significant Java development experience working in a group, and that I have three years professional software development experience in Microsoft Visual Studio (sorry, looks like I haven’t blogged this one yet).

One thing that confuses me is that the number of computer science majors graduating per year peaked just after the dot-com bubble, back when it was still “sexy” or the “hot thing”. Since then, the number of computer science majors has gone down significantly, yet the number of job openings in the field has only continued to increase year-after-year. Computers aren’t a fad. They’re now a permanent and important part of how every business works. It’s ludicrous that people were turned off from computer science by the bubble, but the truth is, computer scientists are needed now more than ever before.

Arrest warrant issued for Verizon Wireless

Friday, February 9th, 2007

Yes, you read that correctly. An arrest warrant was issued for Verizon Wireless, the company, after its lawyers failed to show up at a payment review court date following one customer’s successful lawsuit over being double-billed. The Massachusetts judge issued an arrest warrant for contempt of court for failure to appear. The man who had sued was about to file a motion to seize Verizon’s property to recoup his expenses when finally Verizon pulled it together and paid him the money they owed.

Imagine if Verizon hadn’t paid up. Would police be sent over to Verizon’s Headquarters? Would they just start arresting random employees? Or would they go for the CEO or something? How exactly do you arrest a corporate entity? I kind of wish Verizon hadn’t paid up. There’d be nothing funnier than this man going into a Verizon building, with sheriff’s deputies accompanying him, and just picking and taking equipment equal to the debt they owed him over the lost lawsuit. Verizon has suffered a pretty large corporate embarrassment over this lawsuit, but imagine if the arrest warrant had actually been fulfilled.

Deadly prescriptions

Monday, January 15th, 2007

From the “news that’s sure to make you feel better” department: Doctors’ handwriting kills 7,000 Americans each year. These deaths are caused by illegible prescription notes. I suppose I’m lucky; I’ve never really been prescribed any lifesaving medicine, so even if there had been an error in some of the prescriptions I’ve gotten over the years, it’d have to be a big mistake to kill me (such as 1500mg warfarin instead of 15mg Prozac). I have gotten some prescriptions that are thoroughly unintelligible, and I always look on in awe as the pharmacist expertly decodes the scribbling (asking me for confirmation of what I’m supposed to be getting, of course).

The Time magazine article mentions a new electronic prescription system that avoids most of the pitfalls of written prescriptions. I say it’s about time. It’s totally unacceptable for over two times as many people killed on September 11 to die each year because of some totally preventable errors. Electronic prescriptions will also hopefully cut down on fraudulent prescriptions. It’s easy enough to grab or forge prescription notes and order up some illicit OxyContin. It’s much harder to do the same when all of the prescriptions are filed electronically and kept safe using encryption and passworded access.

This whole prescription problem is just one of a slew of problems brought on by a failure to integrate computers into all facets of society in a timely manner. How many other systems are still being run on paper? How many billions of dollars of productivity could be saved by taking all of these antiquated systems and running them electronically?