Thebastidge: Trust, and the wealth of nations...
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    Monday, September 13, 2010

    Trust, and the wealth of nations...

    It's a pretty good book. You can get it from the Amazon lin at Tam's:
    http://booksbikesboomsticks.blogspot.com/

    But on to my point, here's a vivid illustration. While I was in
    Baghdad, we had limited options on where we could take exams to
    certifiy our geek-fu. There was one test center in the IZ, which was
    admininstered by one of the technical contractor companies, mainly so
    their own people could keep up to date. When Prometric lost the Cisco
    exam contract, we had nowhere to take these exams.

    Sure, there was a test center in downton Baghdad, but who wants to
    take their infidel ass downtown and sit in one spot for 2 hours?

    Funny thing though, the Iraqis wouldn't use that test center either.
    It seems they were cynical enough about Iraqi corruption, to believe
    that eventually the test center was bound, inveitably, to be
    de-certified and then everyone who had tested via that place would
    also lose their certification and thus the money they would have to
    pay (not an inconsiderable amount, by Iraqi income standards, but
    nothing to sneeze at for Americans either. Who wants to through away a
    couple hundred bucks?)

    So without these certifications, they had a harder time getting jobs,
    and less incentive to study to the level needed for the certification
    (which however cynical one may be about the certification process,
    does at least provide a minimum standard.)

    Trust really is a wealth builder. I hope, but have little confidence,
    that we won't lose that much trust in our own society in the next few
    years.

    4 Comments:

    Blogger mkfreeberg said...

    which however cynical one may be about the certification process,
    does at least provide a minimum standard.


    If you meet a candidate who is lacking in the requisite skill and should be rejected, and is also lacking in the certifications, the certification process works very well.

    If you meet a candidate who possesses the requisite skills, and also happens to possess the certifications, again, it works like a charm.

    However...you could say exactly the same thing about demanding a degree in corporate accounting when you're hiring a pastry chef. Yeah, I'm the guy you're writing about, nobody is more cynical than me. I've noticed there is actually an inversely-proportional relationship between the creativity/resourcefulness that are required to get the job done, and the natural talent needed to pass these tests. The one personal attribute that is shared between those two things, is drive.

    And yeah, there are some bright individuals who "burn the candle at both ends" and can pass tests and think on their feet. But...that's just like some talented pastry chefs have accounting degrees. It just isn't the appropriate criteria. We don't use it where I work. That's why I'm here.

    12:36 PM  
    Blogger Larry said...

    Leaving aside issues of how applicable the specific credential may be, there is a reason for the credentialing process. It's a proxy for personal acquaintence of the candidate. It is important in the same way that credit is important to a society, and for the same reason that easy credit is possible in our society and not in Iraq. Most Iraqis cdon't even have bank accounts, because they don't trust their institutions. This means in turn, that they cannot do business with anyone who is not close enough to physically hand them currency.

    My point is that trust in institutions (mostly cultural, but governmental and corporate is important as well) is necessary for the advancement of society.

    Anyway, I get shit done, and I have all kinds of certifications. It helps me get past HR watchdogs to actually contact the hiring managers, where I actually have to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the task to get hired. But I can't even get to that person in the average organization until I meet the paper requirements. There are good reasons why that is, even though in the end has its problematic aspects. If the hiring manager had to go through 3000 resumes for every junior admin position, he wouldn't get any work done.

    9:01 AM  
    Blogger mkfreeberg said...

    Yes, I can see the numbers argument. I'm not denying the tool has a beneficial effect, but there are other tools that could be leveraged. Subject matter knowledge on the part of these "HR watchdogs," for example. Because the weight of the task rests entirely on the cert process, it is forgivable for the technical expertise there to be something approaching zero. In fact, it's encouraged, since there's a strong desire for these jobs to be as disposable as possible. Rapid-out means rapid-in. No ramp-up time.

    And there's a reason for that, too: When the times get lean, and it seems there's going to have to be a bloodletting but only a limited one, generally HR goes first.

    This starts to become a harmful arrangement when you acknowledge something a lot of engineers don't want to acknowledge: antithetical skills. Imagine that the job to be done is Sumo wrestling...and the certification process is concerned with a quarter-mile sprint. If you look long enough, you'll eventually find an awesome wrestler who can also run fast. But you certainly won't see that often...and at the end of the day, when your team is assembled, you won't have the best wrestlers you could have.

    In fact, what you would expect to see is exactly what we are seeing in the high tech fields and have been seeing for awhile: Talented candidates frustrated they aren't getting hired; massive expense, lag time and inefficiency in the hiring process; CIOs upset that it has become such a cumbersome process to try to fill these positions.

    By "antithetical skills" what I'm referring to is that generally, the folks who are best at passing tests and following written procedures, aren't good at thinking on their feet. This is a significant problem. The issue that tends to come up in a technical field is something like: Our system was working with component X, now it works with component Y. Create a test Z, with as few moving parts as possible, that you know will pass if Y does X and you also know will fail if Y isn't working.

    It's kind of heart-breaking watching a bright engineer, just hired on, 100% on all his tests, look up from the task at hand with that blank expression on his face. Doesn't make him a bad person -- in his own way, he's pretty smart. But when people don't know how to do something, the most common response is to try to cut corners and avoid doing it. So the new configuration goes untested...which creates a needlessly large expense in terms of $$$ and time.

    Sprinting versus Sumo wrestling. Yes, that pretty much covers the situation.

    3:57 PM  
    Blogger Larry said...

    A large par to f what you're talking about is because of government regulation of the firing process- it's difficult to fire somebody for simply having the wrong skills, and ou always risk a lawsuit for "wrongful termination" which is and always will be bullshity. I should be able to fire you for any goddamn reason I can think of- your politics, your body odor, or your skin colour. Freedom of association is also the freedom not to associate, and let the consequences fall on me for being uncompettiive.

    1:41 PM  

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