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CPSR - CPU, Issue 17

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Issue: 017 CPU: Working in the Computer Industry 09/15/1997

An electronic publication for workers in the computer industry



  2. /*COMMENTS*/

  3. FEATURE: Time to ask for a raise

  4. FEATURE: UPS strikers deliver wake-up call to Silicon Valley

  5. FEATURE: Greg Morris (1934 - 1996)

  6. BILLBOARD: Net Worth, Net Work: CPSR Annual Meeting

  7. TOOLBOX: Labor Party, UK organization and more

  8. LABOR BYTES: Miscellanea

  9. EOF: Programmers vs. Engineers


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PLEASE RE-POST THIS FREELY, especially at work. CPU material may be reprinted for non-profit purposes as long as the source is cited. We welcome submissions and commentary. Mail sent to the editors or to CPU will be treated as a "letter to the editor" and considered printable, unless noted otherwise.

Editors for this issue: Michael Stack and Jim Davis. We may be contacted by voice at (510) 763-8760, by email to, or by USPS at 2437-C Peralta St., Oakland, CA 94703.

CPU is a project of the "Working in the Computer Industry" working group of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility / Berkeley Chapter (though views expressed herein are not necessarily those of CPSR).


We intended to do this newsletter all along, but other things intervened. And now we have a massive backlog of materials, issues, and events to try and report on. We decided rather than trying to cover everything that has happened since the last issue, we would just pick up like we had been publishing as consistently as before.

A lot has happened in the 16 months since CPU.016 came out, and we have been lax in reporting these events to our readers. Some things we will touch on in this issue, including the founding of the Labor Party here in the U.S, Prop. 209 in California, the UPS strike [yes we will tie this to work in the computer industry], and the booming job market for programmers and the like. Other stuff we will try and touch on in subsequent issues.

As always, we encourage reports from the workplace, news from abroad, letters, etc. We promise to be more prompt in getting issues out.

Thanks for all of the encouraging notes asking about our pulse. Reports of death were premature.



If it's been a more than a few weeks since you asked for a raise, ask. Hey, ask anyway. This seems to be one of those remarkable moments when the labor market shines on computer programmers, and when the market shines, it's time to make hay.

Last March, _Business Week_ raised the alarm (3/10/97): "Calling all nerds: U.S. companies are fighting a fierce bidding war for high-tech talent." It rang the alarm again in July: "Forget the huddled masses: send nerds -- a critical shortage of programmers has prompted a worldwide labor hunt." (7/21/97)

The confluence of the Rise of the Internet, the Year 2000 Problem, the general expansion of the use of computers and computer- controlled devices that require software, the inability of the world's educational institutions to meet the labor demand, and the slow development of productivity-enhancing software tools has created a glorious opportunity for programmers.

Here are some things to toss at your boss at negotiation time:

-- The Information Tecnology Association of America (ITAA) estimates that 190,000 info-tech jobs stand vacant in U.S. companies. And at the same time, U.S. universities are producing historically low numbers of computer scientists (down from 48,000 in 1984 to an estimated 26,000 this year). While Indian universities are training 50,000 programmers a year, it's not enough. The well-trained Russian scientists generally don't have the English and/or the business skills (the U.S. alone accounts for two-thirds of the world's $300 billion market in software products and services). Chinese programmers will be needed for that country's own projects. Plus, the Immigration and Naturalization Service said a few weeks ago that the flow of three-year visas for skilled foreign-born workers has been temporarily cut off. The INS has tentatively reached the limit on the number of H1-B visas it can issue annually. The wave of downsizings of a few years ago provided another source of labor. For now, anyway, that too seems to have dried up.

-- Four fifths of tech companies surveyed by ITAA hope to hire more computer experts. And two-thirds cited the shortage of technical people as the greatest barrier to growth for their company.

-- Last year pay for info-tech workers rose 12% to 20% according to the William M. Mercer, Inc. consulting firm.

-- The Gartner Group estimates that The Year 2000 Problem will cost $600 billion to fix and test. Maybe you could leave a copy of a COBOL textbook on your desk. (See also a related item in the Miscellaneous section below).

-- The Global Internet Project, an industry group, estimates that 760,000 people work at net-related companies. That number sounds enormously inflated, but probably includes lots of people who don't necessarily work on net-related projects. Still, the Rise of the Internet has been a draw for lots of engineers, programmers, graphic artists, and systems engineers.

-- Citing global competition, lots of companies look to better computer systems to help make them competitive. "Enterprise-wide applications" have absorbed some $42 billion in corporate spending last year. "The Big Six consulting firms are doling out six figure salaries for technicians," according to _BW_.

-- Besides the programming work, the microchip industry is feeling squeezed, too. According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics Daily Labor Report in August: "Microchip manufacturers expect to create 40,000 new technicians' jobs in the next five years, but the industry has not been able to find enough qualified applicants, according to a consortium of 10 semiconductor manufacturers ....The semiconductor industry now employs about 250,000 people and has grown by 43,000 workers since 1992, according to figures from BLS."

-- And there are the job possibilities outside of the computer industry itself. According to the reengineering author Michael Hammer, "The productive sector of the economy is becoming absolutely dependent on software systems." The "Send nerds" article says that even the best programmer "painstakingly turns out some 10 lines of code a day", and that "even" a cellular telephone requires some 300,000 lines of code. "Armies of programmers" is the term the article uses.

-- The situation was echoed in a _Wall Street Journal_ column recently (8/25/97). In "Silicon Valley, Worker's Paradise", Po Bronson (author of _The First $20 Million Is Always the Hardest_) says that "[t]he traditional gatekeeper for high-tech startup has been financial capital. But today the make-or-break factor is a far scarcer resource: talent." The proliferation of head-hunters prompted him to raise the possibility of a "headhunter hunter -- someone who can find you a good headhunter."

Keep in mind that this situation may not last. Even if the current shortage stretches out over several years, in the overall economy, we are not talking about enormous numbers of jobs (see the related item in Miscellaneous). Companies in the past have shown no long- term loyalty to workers; some of the same companies hiring today were the ones doing the dumping a few years ago. Case in point: IBM's Global Services Division is supposedly trying to hire 15,000 software folks this year. IBM squeezed out an estimated 150,000 people in the first few years of this decade. So there's no reason to think that that new job will last. And even in the midst of this, some companies are still dumping people. Borland announced earlier this year that it was laying off 30 percent of its workforce, and Apple was reported to be laying as many as 5,000 of its workers. For many temps and contractors, the story can be much different (see the next story for more on this, in light of the recent UPS strike). But for now, the labor market seems to favor programmers.

- jd


By David Kline
August 19, 1997

The same explosive issue that sparked the bitter United Parcel Service strike is a ticking time bomb in Silicon Valley.

If you thought the recent UPS strike was just some old-fashioned industrial age conflict with little relevance to the high-tech industry, think again. The issue at the core of this strike--the rights of America's fast-growing contingent workforce--is about to strike with a vengeance at the very heart of the Silicon Valley's information age new economy.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, nearly one in five American workers nationwide is now classified as part-time or temporary. Corporate America is driving this shift to contingent employment, of course, because it results in lower labor costs, greater flexibility in responding to changes in technologies and markets and increased competitiveness in the global economy.

Most Americans understand that there may be a price to pay for making our economy more competitive. What they don't understand, though, is why workers must shoulder all the burdens and receive none of the benefits of such increased competitiveness. In UPS' case, the bosses' profits kept rising, rising, rising--more than doubling, in fact, just since 1992--while the workers' incomes, benefits and working conditions (can you lift 150 pounds?) kept falling, falling, falling.

It's a simple matter of fairness--and as UPS' bosses discovered to their surprise and chagrin, insulting the American people's sense of fair play is a perilous game indeed! The UPS strike, in fact, was the first large-scale labor action in a generation to win the overwhelming support of Americans, who in recent decades had become disdainful of unions and intolerant of economic disruptions of any sort.

What does all this have to do with Silicon Valley?

Simple. The relentless drive to "ephemeralize" American jobs is nowhere more pronounced than in Silicon Valley, where legions of cybergypsies roam the high-tech landscape in search of one fleeting job after another. According to a 1996 study Working Partnerships USA, a nonprofit institute funded by the AFL-CIO, the contingent workforce in Silicon Valley has grown 35 percent in recent years, it now represents more than 40 percent of all high- tech workers. (see

For workers who can effectively navigate the twists and turns of this new contingent labor market, the rewards can be greater entrepreneurial opportunity and more flexibility in managing their work and family schedules. But for the majority of both low- and high-skilled workers, the rise in contingent employment means increased economic insecurity, declining wages, little access to benefits and health care, and few, if any, of the rights and protections afforded by state and federal labor laws.

Indeed, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, less than 10 percent of Silicon Valley temporary workers receive health insurance. As for wages, the Working Partnerships study found that the real incomes of contingent high-tech workers, adjusted for inflation, have fallen 15 percent since 1989.

And we're not just talking about those lower-skilled workers who assemble PC's, either. High-skilled technical workers, including software programmers, have seen their real wages fall an astonishing 28 percent in the past seven years, according to the study.

So take it as a warning: The same explosive issue that sparked the UPS strike and galvanized the American people to support the workers is now a ticking time bomb in the heart of Silicon Valley. It may not come this year or even next, but sooner or later high- tech workers' demands for more equitable treatment will burst forth and rupture the 30-year-long tradition of labor peace in Silicon Valley.

Indeed, the first shots in this coming labor war have already been fired--and none other than Mr. High-Tech himself, Bill Gates, ended up with a multimillion-dollar wound. In July, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (in San Francisco) ruled that Microsoft's practice of classifying long-time contractors as "temporary" to avoid paying employee benefits or stock options was illegal. As the Wall Street Journal noted, "The ruling could have widespread reverberations [for] high-tech companies in particular."

What's next? Watch for union organizing efforts to begin making inroads in Silicon Valley. The South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council in San Jose recently appointed a young new organizer, Amy Dean, to head the effort. And judging by her public statements, she seems to have grasped an all-important truth that many high-tech bosses, along with their brethren at UPS, have ignored:

While most employees want their companies to succeed and are prepared to make some sacrifices toward that goal, they will do so only if they see that the rising tide of high-tech opportunity lifts all boats-- including those of workers like themselves who helped create that opportunity in the first place.

It's a simple matter of fairness, you see.

[From the November 1997 issue of Upside Magazine (; subscription information available at the site). Reprinted with permission. Copyright 1997 David Kline. Kline is a business columnist for Upside and author of 'Road Warriors: Dreams and Nightmares Along the Information Highway.' The Amazon URL is ]

[The web page for the South Bay AFL-CIO referenced above can be found at -- it's an "on-line resource to help workers negotiate the difficulties of contingent employment in Silicon Valley". -- eds.]

5. FEATURE: GREG MORRIS (1934 - 1996)

Actor Greg Morris passed away last August. Morris played the electronics genius on the original "Mission Impossible" television series (1966 - 1973), and was one of the first U.S. black television stars. He also briefly played a supporting role opposite Robert Uhrich in the 1979 - 1981 series "Vega$." He had suffered from lung and brain cancer.

Morris gave life to what became something of a stock character in film and TV -- the black technical expert. This character pops up, mostly in action films, where a group of adventurers of some sort rely on the technical skills of one of the members. In "Extreme Prejudice" (1987) Larry B. Scott sits at a remote site disabling a bank's security system; in "Die Hard" (1988), the Eurogang relies on Clarence Gilyard, Jr. to crack the security codes to the vault wherein are stored the convertible bonds. In the 1996 "Mission: Impossible" movie (which Greg Morris says he walked out of), the Barney Collier character is reprised by Ving Rhames. In "Terminator II", Joe Morton plays the a more respectable version of the character as the engineer trying to decipher the strange chip from the future. Of course, probably the most widely seen example of the character was brought to life by LeVar Burton as Lieutenant Geordi LaForge in "Star Trek: Next Generation".

In the midst of the civil rights struggles in the U.S. in the 1960's, Greg Morris's character represented the hopes of millions of African Americans fighting for a place in the sun of the expanding economy. Expelled from the cotton fields of the South following the introduction of the mechanical cotton picker, the mass migration of African Americans into the cities of the North and West following World War II carried with it hopes also of integration into the stable and skilled jobs of industry, and the ranks of management, engineering and government. (Jeremy Rifkin has an interesting chapter in his book _The End of Work_ on this process.)

Setting aside considerations of the general public's simultaneous wonder and fear of technology and its practitioners, this character I think represents an uneasy acceptance of African- Americans in U.S. society -- the shapers of ideas, at the time anyway, could grant blacks roles of technical competence and responsibility, but not, ultimately, roles of authority. ("Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" broke through this barrier with the casting of Avery Brooks as Captain Benjamin Sisko overseeing the astrocolonial outpost at the edge of the worm hole; there's also the emergence of another kind of stock character, the harried and grouchy black police captain, parodied in "The Last Action Hero". These characters reflect perhaps a new reality, where class reasserts itself. But I digress...)

This widespread presence of the film and TV black engineer, though, takes on a bitter irony when contrasted with the relative absence of real-life black engineers. The 1995 C.R.A. (Computing Research Association) Taulbee Survey of Ph.D.-granting institutions and the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering showed that, in spite of enormous progress over the past three decades, in 1995, minorities -- who that year made up 28% of the American college age population -- comprised only 9.2% of the engineering graduates and just 2.1% of the engineering doctorates. In Computer Science and Engineering, women comprised only 16% of the Ph.D.s granted in 1994. And as the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering recently noted, with "the plateauing of minority enrollment, we are likely to become a more vulnerable nation, ... a more economically and ethnically bifurcated society."

These stats were included in a news release issued last Fall by CPSR's "Working in the Computer Industry Working Group" (the same little operation that publishes this newsletter), in the midst of the campaign around Proposition 209 in California. Proposition 209, a California-wide ballot referendum basically kills the use of "affirmative action" programs to attempt to remove barriers to the participation of all Americans in any and all aspects of society. Proposition 209 passed, and the courts in the last few weeks upheld its provisions. One might speculate that the expanding economy of the 1960's desired affirmative action to expand the labor pool of all sorts of professionals; but in the new economic realities of the 1990's, affirmative action became an expensive relic that could be cast overboard. While computer science may currently be suffering from a shortage of people (see above), the same does not seem to be true of other professions, including medicine and law, which seem to be suffering from a problem of oversupply.

With Prop 209, and similar attacks on affirmative action programs, the possibility of training a generation or two of Barney Colliers and Geordis becomes more difficult. At the same time the black technical expert pioneered by Greg Morris encourages black youth in particular to take up the engineering arts, the doors of opportunity are slamming shut. Meanwhile, each week in a TV market near you, Geordi keeps the Enterprise running and Greg Morris/Barney Collier assembles the gizmos to pull off the impossible. In the cultural clouds, the images still promise much, and also taunt -- not there yet, not there yet...



Saturday and Sunday
October 4 & 5, 1997
University of California - Berkeley
Dwinelle Hall

The "information highway" as a business model has generated major questions concerning privacy, security and free speech. It's clear that digitization does more than just turn analog activities into ones and zeroes. Many aspects of our society are greatly affected -- how we conduct business and how we work. This conference will focus on the burgeoning digital economy, especially its impact on wealth and jobs.

We are moving into a new era for the workplace and some believe that we are reaching "the end of work," as we know it. This change has been compared by some to the social impact of the industrial revolution. The "digital revolution" is leading to both predictable and unforeseen transformations. Net Worth, Net Work: Technology & Values for the Digital Age will explore the many aspects of this epic social transformation.


Saturday, October 4
9:00 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.

THE TECHNOLOGIES OF RESPONSIBLE BUSINESS What are the technologies that will make digital commerce work in a socially responsible manner? Nathaniel Borenstein of First Virtual and a panel of digital commerce experts will present an overview of the tools of the digital age and freewheeling discussion of their responsible use.

ACCESS FOR ALL: New technologies are rapidly changing what people need to know to compete effectively in the job market. It is increasingly evident that the technology revolution threatens to leave whole populations behind -- despite improved access to computers in our communities. Many predict the long-term result will be a new generation of Americans mired in low-paying, menial jobs. This panel, organized by Madeline Stanionis of Access to Software for All People (ASAP), will explore access to technology as the basis for economic opportunity.

FAIRLY FREE: Compensating Creators and Maximizing Access As the slogan goes, "information wants to be free" -- and in digital technologies there is a plethora of information. Computer libertarians sometimes find themselves at odds with commercial publishers, and in a sometimes uneasy relationship with creators -- writers, photographers, graphic artists -- who want to be fairly compensated when others profit from their work. What is the public's stake in translating traditional principles of copyright, piracy and fair use into the media environment of the 21st century?

SHOW ME THE MONEY: The economics of the digital age are quite different from that of our waning industrial world. From the "market of one" to global banking, value is no longer measured in tons or shiploads, but in much more difficult to measure units like "attention" and "clickstream." Speculation about the future in this area rivals some of the greatest science fiction ever written. The question is not only where are we going, but is there anything we do about it?

Saturday, October 4
6:30 - 8:00 p.m.
Berkeley Conference Center
2105 Bancroft Way, Berkeley

Cocktail reception honoring Dr. Peter Neumann, 1997 recipient of CPSR's Norbert Wiener Award for his outstanding contributions to the field of Risk and Reliability in Computer Science. Reception tickets may be purchased without registering for the conference, for $30.

Sunday, October 5
9:00 a.m. -12 noon
Twelve workshops will give hands-on information on such topics as creating community access; how will we work in the digital workplace; how will we define work-value and compensation; and many more important issues.

For updated conference information, check our conference webpage at:

Sunday, October 5
1:30 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.

         Reports from the CPSR board and staff.
         Envisioning our Future - CPSR's Strategic Plan

AIR: United Airlines is the official airline of the conference. For a discount rate, call 800-521-4041 and refer to Meeting ID Code: 520YA

HOTEL: Some rooms have been reserved at the Shattuck Hotel, in downtown Berkeley, a few blocks from the campus at $69 for Singles, and $79 for Doubles, plus 12% tax. To reserve, call by September 19th. Call in CA: 800-742-8825, Out-of-State: 800-237- 5359, and refer to CPSR.

DIRECTIONS: University of California - Berkeley visitor and parking information is available at:

PARKING: Parking on weekends is $3 (all in quarters in most lots) per day in any parking area not posted as "restricted." Parking behind Dwinelle Hall can be reached from Oxford Street by taking Cross Campus Drive (between Center Street and Allston Way). A campus parking map is available at:




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                                Pre- registration (By 9/26)   Late
or On site

CPSR members                   $65______                 $75______
Non member                     $90______                $100______
New or Reactivating CPSR membership
   & registration              $95______                $105______

Low income/student             $30______                 $35______

Wiener Award Ceremony
    rate for conference registrants     $5______         $10______
OR to attend without registering for conference  $30 _______

Additional donation to further CPSR's work       $________

                        Total enclosed:          $________

Scholarships available in limited quantity.  Contact CPSR for

Send completed registration form with payment to:
CPSR, P.O. Box 717, Palo Alto, CA  94302



On September 19-21, 1997, professionals and academics in computer science and computer-related fields will gather at the Fairmont Hotel in San Jose, California, for the second Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference. Make plans now to join us as we celebrate the legacy of Admiral Hopper, a pioneer in the field of computing and an inspiration to scientists and women everywhere. The three-day conference features technical talks by many of the most successful women in the computing field as well as panels, technical topic sessions, workshops, and birds-of-a- feather sessions.

For more info or to register, check out


LABOR PARTY: In June, 1996, the Labor Party formed in Cleveland, Ohio. This new organization was formed with the support of important sections of organized labor in the U.S. While there have been many "third party" movements in the U.S., this is the first party that has a strong, independent organizational backbone, and that takes an explicit class position on conditions in the U.S. It represents a maturing of the political situation in the U.S. We'll try to do more on the LP's techology plank in a future issue. For now, more information can be found on their web page at:


EMPLOYMENT LAW, WORKPLACE ISSUES, ETC: From July's Labor Notes ( Laborlink ( "is a gateway to several institutions and comprehensive reference sources related to: Organized Labor, Employment Law, Labor Relations and Workplace Issues"; "Disgruntled: The Business Magazine For People Who Work For A Living" at is filled with great stories about dis*** employees and what they did; and, is an AFL-CIO sponsored site that serves as the "working families' guide to monitoring and curtailing the excessive salaries, bonuses and perks in CEO compensation packages".



The Information Technology Professionals Association (ITPA) is an autonomous section of the Manufacturing, Science and Finance Union, MSF. MSF is the 5th largest union in the UK and 4th largest union in Ireland, and has established the ITPA to look after the interests of our 10,000 members who are information technology professionals.

The ITPA was formed in June 1995, and aims to provide specialist advice and a network for IT professionals for the exchange of information on matters of common concern and interest.

Materials currently available include:

-- ITPA WorkWorld - an interactive tour around the ITPA services on disk

-- ITPA World - an electronic handbook on rights and conditions at work for IT professionals

-- Handbook (paper) version of ITPA World

-- Details of ITPA-Poptel on-line service

-- Outsourcing - Guide for Members

-- Survey of MSF IT Professionals (June 1995)

-- Various published articles

-- World Wide Web site at

-- Embryonic electronic network

Issues in which the ITPA is involved include:

-- Support for members at work

-- Pay and conditions at work

-- Teleworking

-- Outsourcing

-- Information society in the UK and Europe

-- The future of work

MSF works with other unions representing IT workers across Europe through involvement in the IT Working Group of Euro-Fiet, the European section of the international labour organisation representing professional, technical and clerical workers.


PUTTING THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE: From reading the magazines, you'd think that computer-related industries are the driving force behind U.S. employment growth. Since the June 1992 recession low, employment in computer services (which includes custom programming, prepackaged software, systems design, data processing, information retrieval, and maintenance and repair) has grown by 534,000 -- or just 1 in 26 of the new jobs over the last 5 years. Communications services added another 52,000, and computer-related manufacturing (the machines themselves, plus semiconductors, and communications equipment) another 97,000 (which didn't even make up for the recession losses of the early 1990s). Putting them together, employment in the manufacture, programming, sale and deployment of computer and communications equipment accounts for just 5% of U.S. job growth since 1992. That pales next to the 20% accounted for by retail trade (which includes bars and restaurants as well as stores), 10% by state and local government, and the 9% each by health services and temp firms. Of course, gadgetry is transforming these and most other lines of work: cops are outfitted with radar guns and "suspect" databases, and fast food workers cook potatoes in computerized fryers -- but we should be clear on just where the jobs really are. (From the _Left Business Observer_, 7/17/97 (#78). For more info on LBO, or sub info, see

NEWS FROM CANADA: Nearly 100 striking workers barricaded themselves in computer parts maker PC WORLD's main plant in Toronto recently, hoping to force an end to an eight-month strike. The workers, members of the Canadian Auto Workers union, stormed the plant and vowed to continue the occupation until a collective agreement has been signed. PC World is a division of Toronto-based CIRCUIT WORLD CORP., which makes circuit boards for companies like HONEYWELL INC., NORTHERN TELECOM LTD. And CELESTICA INC. The company has been seeking wage rollbacks and other concessions. The company has been charged with bargaining in bad faith. (_Toronto Globe and Mail_, 9/9/97) Also in Canada: Teaching and Research Assistants at the UNIVERSITY OF OTTAWA recently unionized. The School of Information Technology and Engineering, a hybrid department combining Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, was a union stronghold -- 120 of the 650 signed union cards came from that department. And the union executive continues to reflect the high participation of Science and Engineering students. (From a Canadian reader)

GAG ORDERS: Non-compete agreements, confidentiality clauses and "intellectual property" issues -- questions of who owns the goodies in your brain (see CPU.015 and CPU.016 for more) -- continue to pop up in the news. Last June DIGITAL EQUIPMENT CORPORATION filed a legal motion to prevent a former employee, now working at INTEL, from divulging information from his previous work. Digital sued Intel over alleged patent infringement with regards to chip designs; Digital allegedly wants to keep other former employees now at Intel from breeching its confidentiality agreement. (_Wall Street Journal_, 6/13/97) And a few days ago, the New York Times (9/8/97) reported on a case involving programmer Evan Brown and his former employer DSC COMMUNICATIONS CORP. which fired him last April and is suing him because he refused to divulge some ideas related to a project begun before his job at the company. The case is atypical because the ideas in question have never been recorded, which would help the courts determine who "owns" the ideas. According to the article, there is no way anyone can seize custody of the ideas without Brown's cooperation, and Brown has already refused to comply with orders from two county court judges to disclose his ideas. Roger Schechter, a law professor at George Washington University Law School, is quoted in the article: "The larger question is if someone comes up with a really brilliant idea while he's an employee, one that's worth tens of millions of dollars, should that person be entitled to a share in the economic windfall regardless of what the contract says? The traditional answer in the United States has always been 'no.' "

PANIC IN JURASSIC PARK: On The Year 2000 Problem: About nine years ago American big-business decided that mainframes were dinosaurs and needed replacement. By implication mainframe Cobol programmers like myself were also targeted for extinction. The mainframes cost too much and the experienced Cobol programmers cost too much.

Goldman-Sachs fired 60 people like this one day. I reported on the massacre here [on the PEN-L list - ed.]. Goldman-Sachs and nearly every other big corporation had a new strategic direction. Replace the mainframe systems with client-server systems and hire new programmers fresh out of college who would be more than happy to work for lower salaries and not complain about longer hours.

What happened, however, is that client-server was oversold, just the way that object-orientation has been oversold. Client-server systems were considered a way to reduce costs, but business soon learned that the cost of maintaining software on the clients (PC's and Macs) was exorbitant. This was what I have been doing at Columbia for the past five years or so and it is time-consuming and complex.

In the meantime the old mainframe systems did not disappear. They kept chugging along. When they were not replaced by client-server systems in the 1990s, nobody gave much thought to the year 2000 problem until recently. Now these firms which kicked out all the graybeard Cobol programmers are desperately trying to lure them back on a contractual basis. I could make huge money over the next 3 years or so but will probably stay put. The downsizing experience I went through in the 1990s left a really bitter taste in my mouth and I really don't want to go near a place like Chase Manhattan Bank or Salomon Brothers unless I really have to. I suspect that big business is facing a huge crisis around this problem. (From Louis Proyect, posted on the PEN-L list (, reprinted with permission.)


[This seems to belong to a niche genre of workplace humor. Not sure where this one came from ("off the net"), but others have been passed along where engineers outsmart programmers. Now what's that about? -- eds.]

Three Engineers and three programmers are going to a conference and must travel by train to get there. At the station, the three programmers buy their three tickets and watch as the three Engineers buy only a single ticket. "How are three people going to travel on only one ticket?" says one programmer. "Just watch and you'll see," answers an Engineer, smugly.

They all board the train and the programmers take their seats and watch in amazement as all three Engineers cram into a restroom and close the door behind them. The train departs and shortly afterward, the conductor comes around collecting tickets. He knocks on the restroom door and says, "Ticket, please." The door opens just a crack and a single arm emerges with a ticket in hand. The conductor takes it and moves on. Moments later, the three Engineers emerge from the restroom and take their seats.

The programmers see all of this and agree it is quite a clever idea. So after the conference, the programmers decide to copy the Engineers on the return trip and save some money (elegant solutions and all that). When they get to the station, they buy a single ticket for the return trip. But to their astonishment, this time the Engineers don't buy a ticket at all.

"How are you going to travel without even a single ticket?" asks one programmer. "Just watch and you'll see," answers an Engineer.

They board the train. The three programmers cram into a restroom compartment and the three Engineers cram into an another one nearby. The train departs. Shortly afterward, one of the Engineers leaves his restroom, walks over to the programmers' stall, knocks on the door and says, "Ticket, please".

CPSR is a nationwide public-interest organization that examines the impact of technology on society.

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