A Programmer Tells It Like It Is

greenspun.com : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

This is from csy2k - look at this in the y2k context...

"Just read WRP 109 and 110. Agree with the comments on contracting. As a former contractor I would like to make some observations on the current situtation.

Contracting Shops (headhunters we call them):

First they keep a lot of programmers from getting a good contract. Why? Their bill rates are exorbitant. I have had clients tell me(not ones I contracted to) what the specific bill rates were they were paying and they appear to usually be twice and more than twice what the programmer gets. Say you will take $40 after they spend all their time talking you down from your asking. They will usually be getting $110 or in that neighborhood. This is for a industrial grade systems programmer on large mainframes. Varies by locale of course but ballpark figures.

Whats wrong with this is that many companies will reject this contract based purely on the bill rate. If the intermediatary wasn't so damned greedy you could get the contract and all would be happy. I believe this is why we see so many instances of good contract programmers sitting at home and wondering why nothing is happening.


Heres the scenaio. You go to work your first day. No lines of communication. No idea of supervisory chain of command. Your given a cube everyone else has rejected. Location is horrible. The workstation is dead. Its been robbed and is the slowest in the shop. Has no tools. No connectivity. It takes forever to get a logon id. Get various authorizes from TSS or Racf. The perm programmers are looking to dump every lousy job on your lap. They see you making what to them looks like big bucks and therefore hate your guts. The gurus in the shop are afraid you will make them look BAD. Everyone is out to make sure you fail.

Back to the intermediatary contracting firm:

Even though they call you their "employee" they are really 'in bed' with the client. They will do NOTHING to hurt that loyalty. They will scarifice you in a heartbeat. They offer NO skills upgrades. Little benefits (you pay if you want) and virtually no communication. Your on your own here.

Effect on y2k:

People with real skills are at the mercy of the companies on both sides of the fence. The headhunters have absolutely NO idea what you are speaking of when you reiterate your skills and background.

The job shops(clients) seem to be totally unwilling to create websites where they can deal 1 on 1 with actual applicant programmers.

Instead they seem to prefer the intermediatary firm and end up paying twice or more the rate the worker would be satisfied with. In fact some firms DEMAND that you go thru a intermediatary. This is beyond my comphrension. A simple 1099 is all it takes. The contract is a real nothing. Basically it usually states that either party can quit anytime they wish. That is not the problem.

The real problem is that substandard programmers and lackeys are dug into the mainframe shops. They are accomplishing little of value. All the 'downsized' programmers are waiting at home for that call that never comes and watching all the 'green card' aliens streaming in taking the jobs they left behind.

The mainframe shops have only themselves to blame for this situtation. They refused to act intelligently. They refused to deal directly with the qualified programmers instead going thru intermediataries to the detriment of the problems we could have fixed.

All the talk of the value of assembler language programmers? I read asm code for lo many many years. I could read it straight off the dump. I could code it enough to resolve defects ,create ptfs and superzaps. I spent long weeks in PLS school. I built some of the tools that house the source code for IBM program products, all the maintenance(ptfs, etc) and generates all the SMP.In fact SMP was created by a good friend of mine who I worked with. We used the forerunner of it long before it was ever introduced to the field. I created the first apar to allow GTF trace. It was once MVS trace and evolved from a 'sugg' apar I pulled out of a trash can in Raleigh ,NC.

My cohort was shitcanning it. I pushed it and started using it in my next worksite. I made our advisory pgmr push it also and we eventually got acceptance. My dept started shipping it to others and it grew to be what it is now. Excuse the ramblings of an old geezer codehead.

As far a putting this on a resume, its a waste of time. None, not even the PHM of the IT dept knows what I am speaking of. The HR folks haven't a clue and the headhunters eyes glaze over.

Theres a lot of us out here. Many have turned to other pursuits. We were there when all this started. Its too late now. We have to take the ride. No getting off. No fare returned.

Back to the garden planning and new corn field layout. Think about a chicken house to go up. Hogs to maybe raise. Programming for me is just a hobby now. I fix all the home PCs hereabouts, help newbies and help maintain the local ISP.

P.S. Excuse the spelling."

-- Andy (2000EOD@prodigy.net), February 12, 1999



Good post. Here's a point worth considering by anyone who would like to act on some of the grievances posted here. The situation of going only thru intermediaries was created by the Washington D.C. wing of corporate America. I don't have the specifics of the legislation but someone who is directly affected might give us some specifics.

Basically, legislation was written specifically adressing temporary help in computer programming and related endeavors. This was done to protect the large firms whose campaign contributions paid for the legislation. If the frustrated person who wrote the preceding document could sell his services directly he would be taking business away from one of the many megacorporations who have bought and paid for our legislators at every level of government.


-- Woe Is Me (wim@doom.gloom), February 12, 1999.

The legislation was passed in I think June of 1986, but not realized by those affected until December 1986 when it appeared in the WSJ. It was introduced by Moynihan and passed at midnight without beening read (typical). It was under paragraph 1706 of the IRS code. It became known as "1706". Just one more slice of freedom lost.

-- out of the loop (soonto@be.broken), February 12, 1999.

oe is me and ootloop, I'm not sure what you are saying... are you saying it HAS to be this way by law, that these agencies MUST be intermediaries....???

-- Andy (2000EOD@prodigy.net), February 12, 1999.

I'm a programmer now, but not Y2K.

Several problems, having looked at it from the "company's" point of view.

First of all, companies can't hire "anybody" and then get rid of them. Even though the state we work in has a 6 month No Questions Asked rule, there are still problems even with that. So, companies want to hire people under contract firms, because they can still get rid of them when they desire. Once you've been a regular employee for 6 months or more, you are practically impossible to get rid of, without risking a lawsuit.

Secondly, and Microsoft is facing this, RIGHT NOW. The IRS refuses to recognize individual contractors, working for a major company. In the IRS's eyes, you're an employee if:

1. The company decides what time you come to work and leave and your "hours". 2. The company dictates what work you do. 3. You are required to attend all the same meetings as a regular employee. 4. You are doing the same work (or more) as a regular employee.

So, the company basically CANNOT hire you as a contractor, because the IRS will automatically redefine you as an employee. Microsoft even ran these people through an agency, but because they worked at Microsoft for several years, even though they worked for the agency, Microsoft may have to pay them for benefits and stock options they never had. Basically, Microsoft was using the agency to avoid paying benefits to workers.

Finally, companies want agency contractors because agency contractors are bonded, in the event that a contract employee screws something up major at "the company". Lose a major source code library, take down a transaction processing system, and it could cost "the company" tons of money. Reputable agencies have insurance or bonds to insure the company against loss in the event of a contractor failure that interrupts business.

So, I think it's more of a two way street than you realize. But the government is "protecting" you, so be happy... And you wonder why all companies are off trying to automate everything...

-- Glen Austin (gdaustin@aol.com), February 12, 1999.


In programming myself. IMO, headhunters are just folks too dumb and not honest enough to be car salemen. They are quite low in the food- chain, just above lawyers.

-- Buffalo Bob (buff@hal.com), February 12, 1999.


Are we saying "it HAS to be this way?" Yes, the law is designed to prevent companies from dealing with independent contractors directly. As another forum poster pointed out there may be some other reasons for using the body shops and huge consulting firms but they don't apply to all situations. Y2k is a perfect situation where a company could, for example, use a night crew of "contract programmers" who don't want to quit their day jobs but do want some extra income. However, it would be difficult to assemble such a crew of "moonlighters" due to the legislative constraints.

Here's a real world example: My wife's boss asked her to locate a parttime network technician stipulating that the international company they work for demands that this person must go on the payroll since they can't deal with independent contractors. The tasks mostly involve wiring new workstations and relocated work stations and installing peripheral devices on a "as-needed" basis. In other words, they occassionally have small amounts of work for a "network plumber." Now, when they need a regular plumber to replace a faucet they deal with a one-man, independent plumbing "company" but when faced with minor "network plumbing" jobs they are restricted by legislation designed by lobbiest to protect lucrative consulting businesses.

If you want to see what Washington's priorities are in Y2k then watch the legislative agenda. The most important legislative issues concerning Y2k will be with regard to limiting the liability of companies who wrote much of the broken code to begin with. You won't see any legislation to make it easier for project managers to find good people on a parttime basis at reasonable rates or good full-time people who prefer to be "self-employed." The only assistance the federallies will give in the area of staffing is to allow more imigrants in to staff the big consulting companies.

-- Woe Is Me (wim@doom.gloom), February 12, 1999.

I'm a software engineer and I've done a fair number of contracts. My experience with it jives to a certain degree with all the above comments.

I'm a little different than most contractors in that I have a corporation that I can use to do "corp to corp" contracting. Most of the problems I've encountered were by companies afraid of the IRS.

The IRS has been so agressive and strict in their "interpretation" of the various laws (many of which they had a great deal of influence creating), that nobody wants to even have the appearance of violating these regulations.

So, even if the IRS is "interpreting" the various laws to increase its revenue, without regard to what the laws really say, NOONE WILL QUESTION OR LITIGATE against the IRS. IT's just too expensive.

Currently I'm telecommuting on a contract, and that's the best of situations, currently. However, I look for the IRS to change the rules as telecommuting becomes more entreched.

Intimidation by a government agency with the power to bankrupt you, your client, and throw all involved in prison is a normal thing. I don't blame the people for not fighting it.

Not so Jolly.

-- Jollyprez (jolly@prez.com), February 12, 1999.

My usual handle is "vbProg@microsoftsucks.com"

Most everything so far on this thread is right on. The reason that Y2K IS going to be a big deal is stupidty, greed, and lust for power. The above posts illustrate these factors in one way or another.

The existing system is dysfuntional. Perturb the hell out of it and see what happens.

P.S., one can have a lot more cash available for stocking up if you act on info at

-- vbProg (vbProg@BeenContractingForever.com), February 12, 1999.

My experience with clients matches Jollyprez's to a "T". I've been contracting the last 19+ years.

If we manage to avoid the worst consequences of Y2K it is my hope that us "independents" will prove to be flexible and able to quickly adapt to the changing circumstances. I think large organizations will tend to go down hard simply because of their size. Our place will be in helping the SME's recover. If Y2K de-fangs the IRS, as I'm sure many of us hope, the SME's will welcome us back with open arms.

One note. Jolly mentioned the "corp to corp" situation. I've recently organized as an LLC, mostly because it's a lot cheaper to do so, in California anyway. I've checked with 3 or 4 agencies in recent weeks and, while they were unsure at first, all stated that they could work with me as an LLC on an independent contractor basis. If you decide to look into this be sure you check first with any agency you are working with or thinking about working with.

I'd like to hear from any others that have gone the Corp or LLC route or is thinking about it.

-- Bob Benson (appysys@inreach.com), February 13, 1999.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ