Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Noncompete agreements and who owns experience

In Massachusetts, the governor is proposing to ban noncompete agreements.  Go Deval!

My first experience with such agreements stretches back to 1996.  This tech company wanted to hire me, but one of their conditions was I sign a piece of paper stating that if I left the company I couldn't work for any other place doing similar work for a couple of years.  When I first read that I was thrown for a loop and almost turned down the offer.  But then I talked to a friend in law that said those things were hard to enforce - such docs were used more for scare tactics in the tech industry.

Why would a company want to use intimidation tactics to keep their employees from jumping ship?  I can understand not wanting someone to go to a competitor with trade secrets, but there are already some laws in place to prevent that.  But wouldn't a more positive solution be make working there too good to quit?  When I worked at Hewlett Packard in the late 90s they called it "golden handcuffs."  All the perks of working at HP just made it too depressing to leave for some other company.

Another thing that comes to mind is that the company using a noncompete agreement is being hypocritical about experience.  When they look to hire someone, they prize that person's experience in the industry.  But then they turn around and damn someone who wants to take the experience they've acquired to a different company.  That really irks me.  Any experience I've gained in the course of my job (writing programs, building test systems, going to conferences, etc.) is MINE.  The company pays me for the work I do, and they own the product of that work.  They do NOT own the knowledge that I've gained in the process.  That knowledge and experience I've gained by being a good engineer and deliberately learning new things.

On a related subject, you could always watch that bad Ben Affleck movie Paycheck.  Then again, maybe not.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Job satisfaction

As my children have grown older, I've tried to describe to them two important things about the working world: doing a job the right way, and the hard-to-define satisfaction you can get from a job well done.  I had the perfect example described to me this past weekend.

My wife teaches at a local high school, and the hockey team made it to the state championship game.  To show our support, we attended the game.  At the game I bumped into Gus, whom I used to work with at a startup company I left back in 2011.  His company runs the IT support for that company, and I worked with him to implement the database I developed as well as my test systems and analysis software.  We talked some about how the company was doing, and Gus mentioned that the database, the test systems that write to that database, and the programs that pull and analyze that data are all still actively used by the company.

Now THAT is a really nice feeling.  I must've done something right.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Republican Brain

Science and technology are very important to me.  I look back on the thousands of years of human civilization, of failed empires, of the rise and fall of governments and it just makes me sad.  Then I look at how far civilization has come in just the past few hundred years, and I'm hopeful.  Maybe it's a little bit religious, but I do have faith that most people are basically good and, if we continue to emphasize scientific and engineering advancements, humanity will prosper.

Then I spend a little time watching Fox News, or reading a website like this, and I get depressed again.  The earth is getting warmer.  Mankind evolved from apes, which evolved from earlier species, all the way back to primordial ooze.  The Earth is a few billion years old, not 6000.  All these statements are supported by mountains of evidence and theories.  Why don't people accept this?  I finally got around to reading "The Republican Brain," and I have to say it was very convincing.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Labview versioning hell, pt 2

Back in July I wanted to look at some fairly old code I had stumbled across - in the past I've had to do this a time or three.  This code was too old to up-convert with the version of LV I had, and I didn't have access to any older versions of LV.  While I worked on posting the code online to ask someone to convert it for me, I posted a suggestion to the LabVIEW Idea Exchange.

Basically, I was asking for a way to at least view very old code, and maybe include reasons for why it couldn't be up-converted.  The response I got was, basically, "If you are an SSP member you can download older LV versions.  If you don't pay to keep up your SSP, you're SOL."

Needless to say, I found that less than satisfying.  First of all, why would I want to spend the time and effort to download and keep track of older versions of Labview?  Second, it sounds like just another way to have owners of the LV software to continually pay money to NI...

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Test your code

So at my new company I'm back to software testing.  What goes around comes around I suppose - I first learned the ins and outs of software testing at HP about 15 years ago.  Even though most of my jobs have been hardware testing since then, I still enjoy reading about it (i.e. - here, there, and way back then).  As my dad has said many times, it never hurts to learn something new.

Speaking of which, I recently found two articles about the costs of NOT testing your software that I enjoyed, in a perverse sort of way.  The first article is a bit esoteric unless you've done serious code testing before.  Basically, it explains how Kaspersky released an update to software that wasn't regression-tested.  In other words they made changes to the software, and, while they may have tested their changes, they didn't test whether those changes would mess up the base code.  That's the whole point of a regression test suite.

The second article is of somewhat more personal importance.  For a long time I owned only Toyota cars.  But once I started reading about braking problems back in 2009, I decided to buy Ford instead (here and here).  This past October a court finally ruled against Toyota, and central to the case was the Engine Control Module's firmware.

Will companies forever keep neglecting software testing in favor of releasing product ASAP?  I mean, just reading a paper like this from NASA and anyone with half a brain should realize that software testing is of paramount importance.  Jeez.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

More salary surveys

I have a thing for salary surveys (here, there, and back then).  I will admit to using them as a gauge of how fairly I'm paid.  But I also think they're interesting because...

  • A good salary survey will break it out into several interesting data trends.  And I'm a geek for data analysis.
  • I like to see how engineers feel about their own circumstances
  • It's interesting to see how it relates to where the economy is

So, here's a couple of surveys that came out in the past month or so.  Enjoy.

Design News 2013 Salary Survey

Dr. Dobbs Developer Survey