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August 19 2013

On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs | Strike ! Magazine

On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs | Strike! Magazine

In the year 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that, by century’s end, technology would have advanced sufficiently that countries like Great Britain or the United States would have achieved a 15-hour work week. There’s every reason to believe he was right. In technological terms, we are quite capable of this. And yet it didn’t happen. Instead, technology has been marshaled, if anything, to figure out ways to make us all work more. In order to achieve this, jobs have had to be created that are, effectively, pointless. Huge swathes of people, in Europe and North America in particular, spend their entire working lives performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed. The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this situation is profound. It is a scar across our collective soul. Yet virtually no one talks about it.

#jobs #keynes #zobi #enlargeyourpenis

January 01 2013

Four short links: 1 January 2013

  1. Robots Will Take Our Jobs (Wired) — I agree with Kevin Kelly that (in my words) software and hardware are eating wetware, but disagree that This is not a race against the machines. If we race against them, we lose. This is a race with the machines. You’ll be paid in the future based on how well you work with robots. Ninety percent of your coworkers will be unseen machines. Most of what you do will not be possible without them. And there will be a blurry line between what you do and what they do. You might no longer think of it as a job, at least at first, because anything that seems like drudgery will be done by robots. Civilizations which depend on specialization reward work and penalize idleness. We already have more people than work for them, and if we’re not to be creating a vast disconnected former workforce then we (society) need to get a hell of a lot better at creating jobs and not destroying them.
  2. Why Workers are Losing the War Against Machines (The Atlantic) — There is no economic law that says that everyone, or even most people, automatically benefit from technological progress.
  3. Early Quora Design Notes — I love reading post-mortems and learning from what other people did. Picking a starting point is important because it will be the axis the rest of the design revolves around — but it’s tricky and not always the first page in the flow. Ideally, you should start with the page that serves the most significant goals of the product.
  4. Free Data Science BooksI don’t mean free as in some guy paid for a PDF version of an O’Reilly book and then posted it online for others to use/steal, but I mean genuine published books with a free online version sanctioned by the publisher. That is, “the publisher has graciously agreed to allow a full, free version of my book to be available on this site.” (via Stein Debrouwere)

July 21 2012

Overfocus on tech skills could exclude the best candidates for jobs

At the second RailsConf, David Heinemeier Hansson told the audience about a recruiter trying to hire with “5 years of experience with Ruby on Rails.” DHH told him “Sorry; I’ve only got 4 years.” We all laughed (I don’t think there’s anyone in the technical world who hasn’t dealt with a clueless recruiter), but little did we know this was the shape of things to come.

Last week, a startup in a relatively specialized area advertised a new engineering position for which they expected job candidates to have used their API. That raised a few eyebrows, not the least because it’s a sad commentary on the current jobs situation.

On one hand, we have high unemployment. But on the other hand, at least in the computing industry, there’s no shortage of jobs. I know many companies that are hiring, and all of them are saying they can’t find the people they want. I’m only familiar with the computer industry, which is often out of synch with the rest of the economy. Certainly, in Silicon Valley where you can’t throw a stone without hitting a newly-funded startup, we’d expect a chronic shortage of software developers. But a quick Google search will show you that the complaint is widespread: trucking, nursing, manufacturing, teaching, you’ll see the “lack of qualified applicants” complaint everywhere you look.

Is the problem that there are no qualified people? Or is the problem with the qualifications themselves?

There certainly have been structural changes in the economy, for better or for worse: many jobs have been shipped offshore, or eliminated through automation. And employers are trying to move some jobs back onshore for which the skills no longer exist in the US workforce. But I don’t believe that’s the whole story. A number of articles recently have suggested that the problem with jobs isn’t the workforce, it’s the employers: companies that are only willing to hire people who will drop in perfectly to the position that’s open. Hence, a startup requiring that applicants have developed code using their API.

It goes further: many employers are apparently using automated rejection services which (among other things) don’t give applicants the opportunity to make their case: there’s no human involved. There’s just a resume or an application form matched against a list of requirements that may be grossly out of touch with reality, generated by an HR department that probably doesn’t understand what they’re looking for, and that will never talk to the candidates they reject.

I suppose it’s a natural extension of data science to think that hiring can be automated. In the future, perhaps it will be. Even without automated application processing, it’s altogether too easy for an administrative assistant to match resumes against a checklist of “requirements” and turn everyone down: especially easy when the stack of resumes is deep. If there are lots of applications, and nobody fits the requirements, it must be the applicants’ fault, right? But at this point, rigidly matching candidates against inflexible job requirements isn’t a way to go forward.

Even for a senior position, if a startup is only willing to hire people who have already used its API, it is needlessly narrowing its applicant pool to a very small group. The candidates who survive may know the API already, but what else do they know? Are the best candidates in that group?

A senior position is likely to require a broad range of knowledge and experience, including software architecture, development methodologies, programming languages and frameworks. You don’t want to exclude most of the candidates by imposing extraneous requirements, even if those requirements make superficial sense. Does the requirement that candidates have worked with the API seem logical to an unseasoned executive or non-technical HR person? Yes, but it’s as wrong as you can get, even for a startup that expects new hires to hit the ground running.

The reports about dropping enrollments in computer science programs could give some justification to the claim that there’s a shortage of good software developers. But the ranks of software developers have never been filled by people with computer science degrees. In the early 80s, a friend of mine (a successful software developer) lamented that he was probably the last person to get a job in computing without a CS degree.

At the time, that seemed plausible, but in retrospect, it was completely wrong. I still see many people who build successful careers after dropping out of college, not completing high school, or majoring in something completely unrelated to computing. I don’t believe that they are the exceptions, nor should they be. The best way to become a top-notch software developer may well be to do a challenging programming-intensive degree program in some other discipline. But if the current trend towards overly specific job requirements and automated rejections continues, my friend will be proven correct, just about 30 years early.

A data science skills gap?

What about new areas like “data science”, where there’s a projected shortage of 1.5 million “managers and analysts”?

Well, there will most certainly be a shortage if you limit yourselves to people who have some kind of degree in data science, or a data science certification. (There are some degree programs, and no certifications that I’m aware of, though the related fields of Statistics and Business Intelligence are lousy with certifications). If you’re a pointy-haired boss who needs a degree or a certificate to tell you that a potential hire knows something in an area where you’re incompetent, you’re going to see a huge shortage of talent.

But as DJ Patil said in “Building Data Science Teams,” the best data scientists are not statisticians; they come from a wide range of scientific disciplines, including (but not limited to) physics, biology, medicine, and meteorology. Data science teams are full of physicists. The chief scientist of Kaggle, Jeremy Howard, has a degree in philosophy. The key job requirement in data science (as it is in many technical fields) isn’t demonstrated expertise in some narrow set of tools, but curiousity, flexibility, and willingness to learn. And the key obligation of the employer is to give its new hires the tools they need to succeed.

At this year’s Velocity conference, Jay Parikh talked about Facebook’s boot camp for bringing new engineers up to speed (this segment starts at about 3:30). New hires are expected to produce shippable code in the first week. There’s no question that they’re expected to come up to speed fast. But what struck me was that boot camp is that it’s a 6 week program (plus a couple additional weeks if you’re hired into operations) designed to surround new hires with the help they need to be successful. That includes mentors to help them work with the code base, review their code, integrate them into Facebook culture, and more. They aren’t expected to “hit the ground running.” They’re expected to get up to speed fast, and given a lot of help to do so successfully.

Facebook has high standards for whom they hire, but boot camp demonstrates that they understand that successful hiring isn’t about finding the perfect applicant: it’s about what happens after the new employee shows up.

Last Saturday, I had coffee with Nathan Milford, US Operations manager for Outbrain. We discussed these issues, along with synthetic biology, hardware hacking, and many other subjects. He said “when I’m hiring someone, I look for an applicant that fits the culture, who is bright, and who is excited and wants to learn. That’s it. I’m not going to require that they come with prior experience in every component of our stack. Anyone who wants to learn can pick that up on the job.”

That’s the attitude we clearly need if we’re going to make progress.

July 20 2012

Economic impact of open source on small business

A few months back, Tim O’Reilly and Hari Ravichandran, founder and CEO of Endurance International Group (EIG), had a discussion about the web hosting business. They talked specifically about how much of Hari’s success had been enabled by open source software. But Hari wasn’t just telling his success story to Tim, but rather was more interested in finding ways to give back to the communities that made his success possible. The two agreed that both companies would work together to produce a report making clear just how much of a role open source software plays in the hosting industry, and by extension, in enabling the web presence of millions of small businesses.

We hope you will read this free report while thinking about all the open source projects, teams and communities that have contributed to the economic succes of small businesses or local governments, yet it’s hard to measure their true economic impact. We combed through mountains of data, built economic models, surveyed customers and had discussions with small and medium businesses (SMB) to pull together a fairly broad-reaching dataset on which to base our study. The results are what you will find in this report.

Here are a few of the findings we derived from Bluehost data (an EIG company) and follow-on research:

  • 60% of web hosting usage is by SMBs, 71% if you include non-profits. Only 22% of hosted sites are for personal use.
  • WordPress is a far more important open source product than most people give it credit for. In the SMB hosting market, it is as widely used as MySQL and PHP, far ahead of Joomla and Drupal, the other leading content management systems.
  • Languages commonly used by high-tech startups, such as Ruby and Python, have little usage in the SMB hosting market, which is dominated by PHP for server-side scripting and JavaScript for client-side scripting.
  • Open source hosting alternatives have at least a 2:1 cost advantage relative to proprietary solutions.

Given that SMBs are widely thought to generate as much as 50% of GDP, the productivity gains to the economy as a whole that can be attributed to open source software are significant. The most important open source programs contributing to this expansion of opportunity for small businesses include Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP, JavaScript, and WordPress. The developers of these open source projects and the communities that support them are truly unsung heroes of the economy!

Tim O’Reilly hosted a discussion at OSCON 2012 to examine the report’s findings. He was joined by Dan Handy, CEO of Bluehost; John Mone, EVP Technology at Endurance International Group; Roger Magoulas, Director of Market Research at O’Reilly; and Mike Hendrickson, VP of Content Strategy at O’Reilly. The following video contains the full discussion:


December 20 2011

O'Reilly Radar Script & Links: December 20, 2011

Below you'll find the script and associated links from the December 20, 2011 edition of O'Reilly Radar. An archive of past shows is available through O'Reilly Media's YouTube channel. You can find scripts and links for other episodes here.

In this episode of O’Reilly Radar, find out why Joe Wikert thinks Amazon’s Kindle Lending Library is a bad deal for publishers.

We’ll also take a look at top stories published recently across O’Reilly’s platforms.

And LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman discusses technology’s role in job creation.

Now we’ll get to all that in just a moment, but up first we’re going to take a look at some of the news that’s on our radar.

Radar news & analysis

Many of us rely on mapping services like Google Maps to get from point A to point B. But the utility of these tools abruptly cuts off when we reach the front doors of our destinations.

Indoor navigation has, until recently, been defined by posted signs and the kindness of strangers.

But what if you could pull out your mobile device and easily navigate unfamiliar indoor locations?

Meridian, Nokia and other companies have been working to make indoor navigation useful. Now, Google is jumping into the indoor fray as well.

A new release of Google Maps for Android includes floor plans for a number of airports, malls and retailers in the U.S. and Japan.

Google’s indoor maps can guide you from spot to spot, and they even know which floor you're on.

For now, Google's indoor navigation is available in a limited roll-out. The feature is only compatible with Android devices and the list of participating outlets is pretty slim.

Nonetheless, this is one of those “we’ve always needed this” sorts of tools. So watch for indoor nav from the likes of Google and others to quickly transition from novelty to an established -- and expected -- part of future mapping apps.

We’ll be keeping an eye on the evolution of these geo tools and nav applications through continuing coverage on O’Reilly Radar, and at O’Reilly’s upcoming Where Conference.

The Radar interview: Joe Wikert

Coming up next I find out why O’Reilly’s Joe Wikert thinks Amazon’s Kindle Lending Library is a bad deal for publishers. Joe also weighs in on Amazon Prime, and he reveals some of the trends he’s spotting as he preps for February’s Tools of Change for Publishing conference.

Radar posts of note

Here’s a look at some of the top stories recently published across O’Reilly’s platforms.

Clay Johnson, author of the forthcoming book “The Information Diet,” has a problem with the term “information overload.” Johnson believes that information consumption is what really needs to be addressed. Read the post.

In a short and informative case study, discover how Omnivore Books, a small cookbook store in San Francisco, uses Twitter to solidify relationships with customers and break through the publisher blockade. The store has distilled its Twitter process into a dead simple rule: be ⅓ personal and ⅔ professional. Read the post.

Finally, what happens when everyone has access to your Starbucks card? Author Jonathan Stark found out this past summer when he conducted a unique social experiment. He shares what he learned in this interview. Read the post.

You can find links to these posts and other resources mentioned during this episode at

Radar video spotlight

In this episode’s Video Spotlight, we’re featuring Alex Howard’s recent interview with LinedIn founder Reid Hoffman.

Hoffman explains how technology, often perceived as a threat to jobs, can actually help create them.

Just a reminder that you can always catch episodes of O’Reilly Radar at And links mentioned in each episode are posted at

That’s all we have for this episode. Thanks for joining us and we’ll see you again soon.

October 13 2011

Developer Week in Review: Two giants fall

My apologies for the lack of a Week in Review last week — I was taken by the seasonal plague that's going around the Northeast, and spent most of the last week in a NyQuil haze. Fun bonus fact: Did you know certain prescription drugs inhibit the function of the CYP2D6 enzyme, which means that you can't metabolize Dextromethorphan (aka Robitussin)?

Thankfully, I was able to pull myself up from my sickbed and get my order in for one of those newfangled iPhone 4S contraptions. It's currently sitting at the UPS sorting facility in Kentucky. The faster processor and Siri are nice, but for me the big attraction is the 64GB of storage. I was always bumping up against my current 32GB iPhone 4's disk limit.

On to the Review ...

So long Steve, and thanks for all the apps

iOS App StoreAt this point, pretty much anything I could say about the passing of Steve Jobs has been said so many times already that it would be irrelevant. I was fortunate to see him in person once, at the last WWDC, but like many people, I've followed his career for years. I have somewhat of a unique perspective because I worked at Xerox AI Systems in the mid '80s, selling the Xerox Star (and later Dandelion) with Interlisp, and got to use the Xerox Alto at the MIT AI lab before that. In other words, I was able to use what pretty much became the Mac before the Mac existed.

It was a tremendous source of frustration to those of us who worked at Xerox that the company seemed to have no clue what an incredible breakthrough the Alto and its successors were. Obviously, Jobs had significant amounts of "clueness" because he raided the mouse and GUI wholesale from PARC, and a good thing he did, or we'd still be using CP/M.

One important legacy of Jobs is the App Store model. If you owned a Windows Mobile or Palm device at the turn of this century, you know what a mess it was to get applications to run on them. Until the App Store came along, you either had to hunt around the web for interesting things to run on your smartphone, or you were at the mercy of what your carrier chose to allow. The App Store created both a distribution model and an even playing field for independent and large software makers alike.

Web 2.0 Summit, being held October 17-19 in San Francisco, will examine "The Data Frame" — focusing on the impact of data in today's networked economy.

Save $300 on registration with the code RADAR

Goodbye to Dennis Ritchie

The other significant passing we have to mark this week is Dennis Ritchie, father of C and one of the brains behind Unix. It's no exaggeration to say that if you had walked into any programmer's office in the early '80s, you would have probably found a copy of "The C Programming Language" on the bookshelf. Between C (which begat the majority of the modern languages we use today) and Unix (ancestor of Linux, BSD, Solaris, OS X, iOS, and countless other POSIX spin-offs), Ritchie has likely influenced the computer field more than any other single individual in the last 50 years, Donald Knuth included.

Ritchie was a veteran of Bell Labs, the organization we have to thank for fostering the innovative environment that let him be so creative. I'd be hard pressed to find an organization today that is offering that kind of fertile soil, out of which so many beautiful flowers bloomed. Jobs may have been the flashier showman, but he never would have gotten off the ground without the contributions Ritchie made.

Worst reply-all ever?

We got a rare view into the inner workings of Google this week, thanks to an inadvertent broadcasting of a long rant by long-time Google employee Steve Yegge. Yegge accidentally made his short-story-length critique of Google's API policies public on Google+, letting the world know how he felt.

While it will be interesting to see if Yegge's posting turns out to be a career-limiting move, what's more interesting is the insight it gives us into the problems Google is facing internally. Yegge's main complaint is that Google doesn't eat its own dog food when it comes to APIs. He particularly singles out Google+ as an example of a product with almost no useful APIs, and charges Google with developing products rather than platforms.

Those of us who have been frustrated with Google's inability to implement "simple" things like a consistent single sign-on infrastructure would tend to agree.

Got news?

Please send tips and leads here.


November 15 2010

Hiring trends among the major platform players

After re-reading Tim's post on the major internet platform players, I looked at recent hiring trends* among the companies he highlighted. First I examined year-over-year changes in number of job postings (from Aug to Oct 2009 vs. Aug to Oct 2010). Consistent with the recent flurry of articles about hiring wars, all the companies (except for Yahoo) increased** their number of job postings. Winning the battle for the Internet's points of control requires amassing talent:


Below is the breakdown by most popular occupations over the last three months:


[For a similar breakdown by location (most popular metro areas), click HERE.]

(*) Using data from a partnership with SimplyHired, we maintain a data warehouse that includes most U.S. online job postings dating back to late 2005. Since there are no standard data formats for job postings across employment sites, algorithms are used to detect duplicate job postings, companies, occupations, and metro areas. The algorithms are far from perfect, so the above results are at best extremely rough estimates.

(**) As a benchmark, the total number of job postings in our entire data warehouse of jobs grew 68% from Aug/Oct 2009 to Aug/Oct 2010.

August 31 2010

Amazon's cloud platform still the largest, but others are closing the gap

Tim's recent tweet on the growing demand for Google App Engine skills inspired me to measure the popularity of the major cloud computing platforms. Elance is one of many job boards in our data warehouse of U.S. job postings1 , and I wanted to measure demand across many more job sites.

Measured in terms of (U.S.) job postings, Amazon's Cloud Computing platform is still larger than Google's App Engine. What's interesting is that the gap has closed over the past year2:


Over the past two months, the other cloud platforms were roughly one-third (Google), one-fourth (Microsoft), and one-sixth (Rackspace) the size of Amazon. During the same period last year, these platforms were much smaller: Google was one-fifth, Microsoft was one-seventh, and Rackspace one-tenth the size of Amazon.

(1) Data for this post is for U.S. online job postings through 8/21/2010 and is maintained in partnership with We use algorithms to dedup job posts: a single job posting can contain multiple jobs and appear on multiple job sites.

(2) I counted the number of unique job posts that mention each of the cloud computing platforms.

Tags: cloud jobs

August 08 2010

The number of Hadoop jobs continue to rise

While still a small fraction1 of data management job postings, the number of job posts that mention "hadoop" continue to grow steadily. Year-over-year, there were 300% more such job posts2 in the first seven months of 2010 compared to the same period in 2009:


The fraction of "hadoop" jobs posted by California companies remain high, but is definitely lower than what it was last year:


(1) Over the last three months, job posts that mention "hadoop" were inching towards 8-10% of the number of job posts that mention "mysql".

(2) Data for this post is for U.S. online job postings through 7/31/2010 and is maintained in partnership with We use algorithms to dedup job posts: a single job posting can contain multiple jobs and appear on multiple job sites.

February 15 2009

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Weapons programs re-branded as jobs programs

January 09 2009

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Global Pulse - 1/08/09 The Color of Stimulus: Green
Reposted bySigalon Sigalon
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