Supply, Demand, Fear And Loathing in the UK Software Industry

Fear And Loathing

John and I have worked together a few times over the years.

The first time was back in 1998 during the halcyon days of deregulation when the government was throwing money at the utility companies in an attempt to open the energy and telecom markets and make buying electricity, gas or telephone services more competitive.

That was the party-line anyway but the real reason was in making money for the people who already had the money to invest, i.e. the Tory Party demographic and the banks, pension companies and institutes which could make huge profits buying the UK infrastructure at bottom-dollar prices and their share prices doubling over night.

As individuals working in software development, there was lots of money to be made on that gravy train and even although John and I were comparative bottom-feeders, we still made a relative fortune on obscene hourly rates, but that’s supply and demand for you.

Deadlines were tight, the date at which the market was set to open was fixed in stone and our employer Scottish Power was desperate to be one of the first PES’s with its foot in the door and it’s grubby little hands in your wallet.

Of course the reason that deadlines were tight was because the early days of analysis and design had been undertaken by some of the major consultancies of the time, IBM,. Logica, Cap Gemini and they were too busy lining their own pockets with the freely available money directed from the public purse to actually give a t0ss about getting the job done.

They talked a good game, as they always do, the project managers and analysts were the kind of guys who were good at drawing boxes to represent systems or data sources and then drawing the lines between them to represent processes and data flows.

You know the type, all talk, all confidence and delivered nothing.

I hear on the grape-vine that these guys are still out there now, 20 years later working in banking and the privatisation of Scottish Water, the latest gravy train to come along offering free money to those who talk a good game.

It’s not really strange to find that these guys all know each other, a cabal of frauds masquerading as leaders when all they are good at is leading any unsuspecting PLC up the proverbial garden path.

Of course by that time, budgets have been agreed and half spent, lots of documents have been produced with diagrams of boxes and lines but not a lot of actual detail and no infrastructure or software architecture which will implement the new business requirements.

That’s when they call us bottom-feeders in, the mercenaries who drift from contract to contract getting the work done on a decent daily rate extending the contract as long as we can to keep the dosh rolling in as long as possible or until someone else makes us a better offer.

1998 and Scottish Power went live with half-@rsed systems that didn’t work, that had been badly designed and sparsely data-populated.

Let me elaborate, some @rsehole who will remain nameless had been so focused on the data flows to communicate customer comings and goings with other market participants that he had completely missed any changes to the customer service screen to deal with the new data flows and the changes.

Another @rsehole in charge of data population decided that half the customers weren’t in scope for initial population. So on day-1 when these customers decided to get their electricity elsewhere, their data content fell down the cracks between the systems never to be seen again.

Yeah, of course it caused a stushie, there were customer complaints, OFGEN were involved, but the consultancies didn’t care, the @rseholes didn’t care and the bottom-feeders like John and I aren’t weren’t paid enough to care.

If the truth be told, what John and I did, with most of the development team was party hard on the money we earned on the gravy train that seemed that it was never going to end.

Every time our contract was renewed there was another £200 per week thrown on the deal, a sweetener to keep us motived and interested, sticking with the project to get it over the finish line even although we knew that it was fecked. We were paid to fix the bad software, write the missing parts and cleanse the data, all of which should have been complete before the system went live.

Here’s a unobvious truth, a software developer will earn more money from a bad project than a good one and I can assure that we made a fortune.

There were quite a few marriages ended in that period. But that’s another story for another day.

That was then, this is now.

But back to John, he’s a good guy for a hun. ( Rangers Supporter )

No really, he doesn’t spout the usual hun-like superiority nonsense or any of that associated religious bigotry.

Well not now, not when his club/company have went into administration and are currently in the liquidation process.

Yeah yeah, there’s a new Rangers back in the SPFL, but they aren’t the same, they might play in blue in Ibrox, they may have the same superiority complex, but it’s all fake and basking in old glories achieved by the former club and its years of cheating the tax-man and the UK Government and ultimately Her Majesty and her cronies that they claim to support.

Those days of The British Empire are gone and good riddance.

As coincidences go, I’ve worked with John at a few different locations over the years, The Student Loan Company and now at this huge global communications company in Livingston. You know the one. But this isn’t about them.

This is about supply and demand and fear and loathing.

In the 20 years since I started working with John, software development has changed massively, most systems back then were largely stand-alone applications, or a few different databases connected by internal database links or external file based interfaces.

That’s changed, todays systems are a collection of applications and databases joined together by message queues and layers separating the business, application and lower level technical infrastructure.

All sorts of bullsh1t terminology has arisen from these changes, software as a Service, Service Orientated Architecture, blah blah.

The database is no longer king, the crown has been stolen by the applications and the database is now purely a repository for a repository for storing the data and making it accessible. But even that is changing with newer technology and the rise of “Big Data”, Hadoop and “No SQL” … the irony being that the latter still requires some sort of SQL to access the data in a meaningful fashion.

As systems have grown and technology has changed, so have the skills required.

Consequentially new roles have emerged from such as Business Analysts , Solutions Designers, Data Architects and more technical roles of Database Designers and application developers in all flavours of Java, Spring and associated technologies.

Here’s the kicker, the higher up that list, the less technical you are and the more hot air you tend to talk.

It tends to be very well paid hot air.

Take Business Analysts for example, this is a relatively new role, a jumped up title for kinda guys who once upon a time did time and motion studies but no actual work. These roles either developed as top-down from people within the business who knew little of technology or from the bottom up where the technology was changing but the business needs were still pretty much the same.

Solutions Designers are similar, I’ve worked with so many who can fill documents all day long with square boxes representing the various applications and drawing arrows in-between to represent the interfaces but with no technical details.

In the middle, we have data architects who look at how the business data hangs between the systems and define the sources of all data and the standard formats for the Database Designers who implemented the relational database strategies of primary and foreign keys and many to many relationships etc ensuring data integrity is maintained within the individual systems.

What has changed most is the technology which joins the various databases together and makes them accessible to the business users or external customers over the internet.

The creation of “Apps” for accessing your utility bills, online banking or shopping is huge and there is a corresponding huge demand for people with skills in these areas.

As a consequence the need for database developers has stagnated, there is still a demand, but that is generally in providing data access layers ( DALS ) or API’s which shield the data from the end consumer ensuring they access the data in a stable, consistent and a secure fashion and maintaining data integrity.

The demand for application developers with skills in Java etc has multiplied enormously, so much so that the UK cannot keep up with that demand and for years has been importing the skills largely from India with many companies including the banks, utility companies and the consultancies either employing Indian workers on-shore at the customers site or off-shore in Bangalore of Mumbai.

I’m not going to get into a debate on the rights or wrongs of this, that would be like Neptune standing hopelessly trying to fight a tide which is relentless and shows no sign of change.

The world is changing, you either change with it or you become a dinosaur and die out.

Take John for example, years ago we were both database developers, he’s a skilled guy and good at his job. But he didn’t have the foresight to change with the tide and has anchored his position to skills which no longer have the same demands as there are many database developers out there both local, on-shore and off-shore who are available at reduced rates and much less than we earned 20 years ago.

At lunchtime today, he was moaning about it, looking around the canteen and complaining about certain groups congregating and speaking their native tongues.

Don’t get me wrong, John isn’t a racist, he doesn’t think these guys are bad people because they are this or that.  He’s just a guy who has retained the same skill-set when other people including myself moved on to something else.

For my efforts ( or sins ), I now have some grandiose title from that list above and pass work to the local team like John and the on-shore and off-shore teams. I think John is slightly jealous that in the time I’ve known him I’ve moved on and he is still doing more or less the same role for different companies.

Years ago John or his type may have complained working in the Glasgow Shipyards that the Irish such as my Grand-father or my uncle Mick were stealing their jobs.

You betcha that they loathed my grand-father or uncle stealing “their jobs” making sure they got all of the sh1t work and no overtime which was given to the old pals.

John’s angst like his forefathers before him is driven by fear and a refusal to accept that the world is a changing place and the realisation that he has made no effort to change with it.

As I look around the large open plan room, there is a variety of faces, male, female, black, white, brown, fat, slim, attractive, ugly.

Does it really matter who someone is or where they come from?

No.   What does matter is their abilities to do the task asked of them,  but I might get to that on another day.

Meanwhile I’d better do what they pay me for! 🙂


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