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The explosion of outsourcing compan...

In this last part of the article, I will explain the relation between the growing of outsourcing companies and the age of consultants. Let me a...

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The explosion of outsourcing compan...

On the first part of this article, I introduced why is easy to create an outsourcing company. In this second part, I will approach how the crisis ...

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The explosion of outsourcing compan...

  In the last 20 years, there was a grow in the number of outsourcing companies, but in the last 5 years this number has increased substan...

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The explosion of outsourcing companies – Part 3

old-programmer

In this last part of the article, I will explain the relation between the growing of outsourcing companies and the age of consultants.

Let me ask you a question. If you are IT consultant around 40 years old and you work for an outsourcing company and you don’t belong to the managers or sales group, what do you think it will be your future?

The business of an outsourcing company is putting consultants in customers, where soon or later they will return to the office and going to another customer, and that’s it. What kind of career is this one? Maybe you expect to climb the ladder until you reach the manager position? Well, probably a few dozen more consultants like you, in the company dream about the same, and as you may guess, there is no place to everybody.

What to do? You can try some office maneuvers closely to the managers and expect a promotion. You can wait for the future to tell you if you will be a manager or not, until one day, you find out that people with a less curriculum and experience climb the ladder faster than you, and you don’t even understand the reason. Or you can try other options, like trying to be hired by a customer, or the most logical one, open an outsourcing company. You already have know-how, maybe you never stop to think about it. (See previous parts of this article)

If you observe the ages of the managers in recent outsourcing companies, they are people around 35-45 years old who opened their eyes to this reality, that being an outsourcing consultant is like a professional sports player of high competition, their career end around 35-40 years old, and people expect them to be managers or similar.

You don’t agree? Let’s face the reality. How many outsourcing consultants you have with 50 years old as developers or team leaders? How many customers will hire them? You can read on job descriptions, ignoring the possible illegality, searching for people between 23-35 years old. Sometimes, they just mask this reality, asking for things like “junior project manager”, “junior manager”, and related. How a project manager can be junior? Or a manager be junior? They just want fresh and young people.

There are exceptions. IT professionals with skills for project manager, architectures, or very advanced technical team leaders, can be great assets in big companies. But those, are exceptions, and these companies are real big, with big projects who need real experienced IT consultants. These are the top consultants, probably the 1-3% or less of all IT consultants.

This is a generation of IT consultants around 40 years old, that are becoming owners of outsourcing companies. Why? What else to do?

The explosion of outsourcing companies – Part 2

goldfish jumping out of the water

On the first part of this article, I introduced why is easy to create an outsourcing company. In this second part, I will approach how the crisis was a good thing to the creation of new outsourcing companies and an opportunity for others to grow.

The crisis brought some cleaning to the market. I remember a technique to make a company grow, where every year 10% of the employees are invited to quit and new ones are hired to occupy the places left empty. The idea, a little cold, is to remove people considered weak links, and bring new blood, fresh ideas and motivated people to the company. The idea is as good as any other, a bit cold for the human view but companies are not created for charity (well some of them are, but I hope with a different human management strategy).

This behavior happened to the companies, instead of employees. Small outsourcing companies, the bottom of the market, didn’t resist and they were bought by bigger ones or just closed the doors. Others were created, because it was easy (see the first part of this article), and occupied the place of the “fired” ones. The number of created companies was bigger than the number of the closed ones.

The main reason for the failure of some outsourcing companies was because the majority of its consultants were in a few big customers, that due to the crisis they had to dispense them to cut the costs. Now these outsourcing companies had dozens or hundreds of consultants returning to the main office without any customer to go. Some of them were invited to find another outsourcing company, others just saw an opportunity to open an outsourcing company, and a few stayed.

Other companies saw the crisis as an impulse to try new markets, outside their comfort zone, in other countries. They have created partnerships with international outsourcing companies or opened new international offices, and the crisis was just replaced with new needs for consultants. The consultants, they had to adapt, and even going against some of his family values, they started to accept international positions. They started to visit their family weekly, monthly, or they just moved to other countries with or without the family.

Some consultants and managers with no will to go to other countries saw here as interesting opportunity to open outsourcing companies. The big companies put their focus on outside markets and left the low-cost opportunities for other small companies. Sometimes, they just invite these companies to belong to their enterprise group, or they just buy these companies. This, I observe frequently.

Other mid-size companies, they didn’t try outside markets, consequently they only find small positions for the consultants, because the now international companies have a more strong brand in the outsourcing market.
Now the number of international outsourcing companies has grown, ironically because of the crisis, and the other ones, are fighting to survive in the local market, still in crisis. The weakest ones, they have a big challenge here, the low positions available on customers, make them loosing their best assets, to the big companies. They try to fight this, creating the concept of “cultural niches”, which I said before is not the solution, but it’s a way to go.

And a new explosion of small outsourcing companies is still happening, created by the free consultants, managers without a place after his consultants were fired, and others just taking the space left by the big companies that went international. Why? It is easy to create an outsourcing company.

The explosion of outsourcing companies – Part 1

consultants

In the last 20 years, there was a grow in the number of outsourcing companies, but in the last 5 years this number has increased substantially. Why? I think there are 3 main reasons I will discuss in these three part post. On the first part, I will show why this is an easy business to create. On the second part I will talk why the crisis was, ironically, a great thing for some of these companies, and on the part 3, for me the most important, the age of the consultants.

I would like to make this thing clear, I am not against outsourcing companies, they are necessary. In the time this post is written, I work in one of these companies. Computer market, for me, is the new construction business, and companies don’t need developers after the project is done, so it is easier to “rent” developers and delegate the responsibility to train (sometimes) and manage them in outsourcing companies.

Outsourcing companies are an easy business to create. To have a good durable company, you just need some money to handle the monthly gap between salaries and customers paying date (an outside investor/partner, for instance), someone to manage the resources and good sales people, usually called managers.

The blood of these companies, they aren’t the consultants. (I accept discordance at this point) but the CVs. They negotiate with customers with CVs. The consultants they are only needed when the probability of the customer wants the consultant be very high. Usually when they call you for a job interview, even if they have knowledge of your profile, they ask for your CV, unless you are a very useful resource, they will insist in a CV before the interview, strangely in their CV company layout. There are several ways to get CVs, the main ones are, having job descriptions from customers, and just put some “ghost” needs on the internet to get CVs from several IT areas, and consequently interviews.

It is necessary for customers know about the company, so the managers do this work and expect to follow with the customers on a regular basis or wait for them calling when they need some resource with a specific profile. This is the common cycle of development of a company.

Why is this an easy business to create? There are no materials, no stock, low risks. The major of companies appear as the result of some consultants or managers who have quit and started their own company because it is easy. They already know how this works! They already have contacts in customers, they already have colleagues or friends consultants and they bring some of them to the new company.

Probably it is not very discussed in public, but there are some mechanisms to try to avoid this leak in the system. In the job contracts, the outsourcing companies have clauses to forbid a consultant to have any kind of business with the customers, for as long as 6 months to 2 years. There are some “illegalities” here. First, at least in Portugal the Constitution has “the right to work” has something inviolable, for clear reasons, of course. So, these kind of clauses, are somehow against the worker rights. However, some companies started, and for me with some fair equilibrium to give something in return. Something like:

– After you quit the company, if the first 15 days after quitting, the company can forbid you, for 6 months, to work for the customer. But, it will give you in return 50-60% of average salary, for the 6 months. Even if you work in another place you will receive this money as a compensation and avoidance of the illegality.

– I have seen too, 10-20% for 1 year

– I have seen the inverse, for 1-2 year you can’t work in any of the customers, and if you go you can be punished some thousand euros plus more money the company could be losing from your moving.

I understand these restrictions in contracts. This is an easy business to create, and after some time in a customer I can easily open a company like this one and probably taking advantage of all the investment the outsourcing company had with me, and I just steal the customer and some consultants.

I call this an easy business, this doesn’t mean I think it is easy to have a company like this. I think with some grow it is very difficult to manage the consultants, their motivation, careers, make them stay even when other outsourcing companies have better projects or salaries. To avoid a big rotation of resources between companies, there is a current growing trend about the concept of culture in outsourcing companies. A way of the consultants to live the company as a family, or a great place to work. At the end of day the consultant works with a customer, and the company earns the money from the consultant in the customer, not “in the place to work”, so this culture is welcome, but I don’t think is the solution. That the reason on average a resourceful consultant stays for 1-2 years in an outsourcing company. It is not the only reason, but this is a theme I will discuss in future posts.

It is a tricky business having an outsourcing company, and somehow a very volatile business. I think it is the price to pay for an easy business to create, and with some irony because they try to restrict how themselves were created!

Cross arms on professional photos – avoid

cross_arms

I love the body language “science”. It is worldwide accepted it represents about 55% of our communication language. Our silence is more loudly than our words!
There are several positions of the body from what we can infer with some confidence the intentions of a person. For instance, the direction of the feet is one of the most honest parts of our body. They always point our intentions. If someone is talking to you, but his/her feet is pointing in another direction, to the door, for example, you know your conversation should end. Or you want to participate in a conversation between a group of people, and start a talk but no one directs to you, they are just listening but they are not inviting you to the group. This is not infallible science, but most of the body language is spontaneous and automatic, so, when we do it is most certainly sincere unless you practice to control it.
LinkedIn has a lot of posts from human resources companies, where we can observe a lot of professional photos where people stand with crossed arms. I am not a specialist in body language, but from what I know about the subject, this position is associated with a barrier, where the person closes the contact, she/he says is not open to you, she/he is not invite you. Remember the kids, they always cross their arms when they want to silently saying “I don’t want to talk to anyone and don’t anyone near me!”.
I wanted to be sure of this, so I searched more specialized places about professional image related to body language.I was right, this position IS the position to avoid in professional photos. This position indicates closed defensive shield, sometimes anxiety, like you have something to hide, is it sometimes called negative body language. One of the main tasks of sales people is when a potential client has the arms crossed, giving him an object as a gift so he could be “open” to the talk.
You can try a more professional position, with a picture where the arms don’t appear on the photo, or if they appear, you should try to show them doing something related to work, like pointing to a board, writing, etc.
If you belong to human resources you should be aware of this. I think it is not the message you want to pass.

Architecture – Its all about stakeholders – Part III

jigsaw

In the part I of these series it was introduced the importance of the stakeholders in the architecture. In Part II we have learned how to communicate with them, using views and viewpoints. We will now focus on the concept of perspectives, the non-functional requirements in our architecture but usually the most important, like security, audit, logging.

Perspectives

In the previous parts, we have talked about architecture elements, and how to show them to stakeholders in a way understandable for all the parties. By now, we have an initial structure of the whole system, but it misses the most important things in the architecture, and usually the more challenge to include, the quality attributes, or sometimes called cross-cutting concerns, like security, performance, logging, audit, scalability, etc.
These attributes of the architecture are always very challenge to include because they are orthogonal in the architecture. For instance, logging is something we want all over the architecture, probably in all modules, tiers, layers, etc, which implies changing all views already developed.
The name was given to these attributes in the context of an architecture its a little bit controversial, because there are entities that consider these attributes additional views of the architecture, and other entities consider something that change the views, orthogonal in the views, something that complements and can change an entire viewpoint. So it is natural to find these cross-cutting concerns named as views or perspectives. I, personally, like the term perspective, because these attributes are not another kind of views in the architecture, but the application of “quality” in the architecture, the insertion of elements that enrich the system. Like in a house, besides the construction we can improve the whole house with a better light system, internet all over the house, better walls, toilets with material that don’t get rusty, etc.
Why is this important for stakeholders and why we need them? Because they are usually the most important concerns! For instance, in a Bank, security is probably the attribute most important, and I bet almost every requirement includes security, explicitly or implicitly. The people who give support surely they want logging and audit to help them finding the origin of issues or someone who tried to access a resource illegally. In a website like amazon, the end users surely they want a very performant website, and so amazon wants a scalable system, for the system to grow big and in a smooth way.
The quality requirements, are the core of the requirements. They give color and form to the functional requirements. You can create a web page to register a user, but you will want to include audit, logging, security (like HTTPS) and manage the load balancing and scalability, not forgetting about sticky sessions or another architecture tactic (different from patterns).
With all these views, viewpoints and perspectives, you can think the architect will have a fragmented view of the whole architecture, which is true, but someone who wants to be an architect must be prepared for this challenge, find the best way to build a system with all these pieces, that’s why he/she will be an architect. It is not about the technical skills, only, but about choices and stakeholders.

Architecture – Its all about Stakeholders – Part II

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In the previous post, we have seen the importance of the stakeholders in the development of an architecture. Because stakeholders aren’t all fluent in technical language we must find a common ground to communicate.

Views and Viewpoints

An architecture is a very complex system. If you try to create one big diagram to show all the elements of the architecture and its relations, it will be a big document, only useful for the ego boost of the architect. The stakeholders don’t need do know everything about the architecture, just the parts with interest to them. For instance, users of a bank application, they are more concerned with the user interface, performance, available information and in many cases with security. They don’t care how the database server exists or how is it connected with web services, integration tiers, etc. The architect should create a set of views of the system, for each set of concerns of the stakeholders. To this set of views, we call it Viewpoint, a part of the architecture. One view always belongs to a Viewpoint, and a Viewpoint can have multiple views. Examples of viewpoints are information, development, concurrency, functional, deployment and so on. We can observe there is a set of stakeholders with an interest in each of these viewpoints.

Let’s see an example. When building a house, you don’t want a unique blueprint with every element of the house, the exterior, the interior, the materials, the flow of the light, water, electricity, streets around, halls, etc. You expect to have several views of the house. You will have some views for the exterior like front view, side view on the afternoon, or if you want to see how the interior will look, you have a view of the living room, another for the kitchen, rooms, toilets, and so on. Other concerns could be how you circulate inside the house, and you expect to see views from the entrance, hall, the accesses between rooms and living room and toilets, etc.
The views about the accesses are a viewpoint related to the circulation of people inside the house. The other views are more related to the context, how the house is presented from outside, for instance.
The house is the same, but the views are different, and directed to specific concerns and different persons (stakeholders). When the architect talks to you, shows how the house will be at the end, but when he talks to the company that builds the house, the concerns will be completely different, they are interested in exact measures, materials, ground, time. These diagrams will have information you don’t care because they are too technical.

Again, the stakeholders are the fundamental piece of the architecture, besides the project being developed for them, even the management activities are around them and depend on them. Your strategy as an architect should have the stakeholders as the main actor on the scene, and all the tactics should include them in every decision.

Now, we know how to talk with stakeholders during the development process of the architecture, it is time to include in these views quality attributes, or sometimes called cross-cutting concerns, like security, performance, cache, etc. We call them perspectives (it is not a consensual term in the architecture community, but the main idea exists and is shared). We will see more about this in Part III of this article.

Architecture – Its all about Stakeholders – Part I

stakeholders

In this three parts article, I will introduce the concept of how the success of an architecture depends on the relation with the Stakeholders. Part I will describe the influence of Stakeholders in the success of an architecture, then Part II e III will describe how to communicate and create a common ground between the architect and the Stakeholders.

Stakeholders

A Stakeholder is: “individual, team, organization, or classes thereof, having an interest in a system” (ISO/IEC 42010).

From the definition, we can observe something all Stakeholders have”…interest in a system”. This interest can be from a perspective of the customer who is buying the system and follows closely all the steps in the creation of the product, until someone, anonymous, who just uses it, like a person or system buying a ticket to a game. So, the objective of an architect should be building a system maximizing the satisfaction of all Stakeholders.

An architecture is, therefore, built around the Stakeholders needs. The majority of the Stakeholders are people, so the human variable enters in scene very strongly in the construction of the system. Things like negotiation, agreements, meetings, communication, expectations management, are skills the architect should dominate.

An architect is not a Project Manager but should work very closely with him. The success of a project from the Project Manager perspective is the satisfaction of the Stakeholders, as so for the architect. That’s the reason, for some many times we see the architect as a project manager too.

The process of developing an architecture evolves thinking, technical skills and a lot of communication with Stakeholders. The Stakeholders, usually are persons who don’t understand technicalities. It is necessary, for the architect, to create a way to expose his/her views to them, to create a common language of understanding. For that, we need Views and ViewPoints, something I will talk about on the Part II of this article.

The culture of dummies

lemingThere is a kind of a popular trend saying for you to win you should lose a lot of times, that all the fails somehow lead you to success. Really? Do you fail to win? I love paradoxes, really, I love them, but I don’t agree with this. It’s like saying if you are in a dark place, you should go against the walls until you find the exit. With luck, you can find the doors, hitting the walls over and over again. This is the plan? I don’t think it is a good plan, a very hurtful one to follow. it makes me remember a game I played when I was young, “Lemmings”, these little creatures, they moved to all kind of obstacles until someone (the player) could guide them to the exit door.

It is normal to “fail” a few times, but only if it is a part of a strategic plan, where the outcome of some tactics didn’t reward us as we though they could, but this is not failing, it is fighting against the uncertainty. Failing is bad, makes us wish to quit the endeavor. But having a mindset about victory and became very upset because something didn’t go as we wanted, makes us trying to improve our strategy, without losing our focus on the goal.

Maybe this is just about semantics, but makes all the difference by saying someone should lose to win, against the mindset that he just have to improve until he wins. In the first case we are saying you are a loser but maybe with luck you can get it, on the second, we are saying, you have the right to fight for what you want, but revise your strategy and the tactics as necessary while you are using them. You are making the person feel he/she is already there, but should adapt better to the environment to keep going.

The true of all of this, is that a lot of people will really fail, there are no space for all the people to be the owners of big companies, managers, leaders or references in their fields. In the end, only some of them will reach the success. Some people will say they are the ones who never quitted (“besides the falls along the way”), I will admit that some of the credit was due to the persistence (of falling and get up again), but the luck, time, the right people at the right time, context, environment, friends, family, money, they had a lot of saying in the final outcome.

I am not trying to steal your dreams, or steal the motivation that leads your life, but I think each people just have to try to find what their natural qualities are, where they can be great, and try, in that space, to fight to be great, not hitting walls until finding the success but enjoying the ride of overcoming the obstacles of improvement, again, not the walls, just obstacles, where your natural skills can help you to overcome them, and the victory is almost certain.

First, find yourself, then find your happiness.

Argumentation tools – Concession

In a period of my life I worked for a big company, my job was at customers site doing some advanced product troubleshooting and configuration. Some customer employees always had this predisposition to gently degrading the image of the company products, referring the quantity and severity of bugs in them. At first I was upset by this, and I tried to defend with all arguments I knew, however, my manager told me to not do it that way. He told me to accept the critic from the customer, and telling them that they were right. Really? What? He said to me: First, the comments are true, you cannot say it is false, its a fact, if you defend this you are creating breaches in your character reputation (more about character in a future post). Second, after telling them this, they don’t have any more arguments to say, it is out of the way, now you could talk about the qualities of the product when compared with the other vendors products. You could focus your argument in the advantages over other products and why the customer chose our products and not the others. So, you conceded, for a while, the “advantage” to your audience, but then you get the upper hand, because the “bad quality” issue was already resolved and there is nothing more to talk about it! A kind of jujitsu in the language! It is like a sports game, you accept an attack from the other team just to open their defense, and then counter-attack.

You can apply this kind of tool to anything in your life. Usually a good salesman never say no to a customer, he hears the customer, accept his arguments (for a while) and then he counter-attacks with his sales tools, and it works quite well! “Yes, the car is expensive, but have you observed all you can get with that price?”

Another angle is, when someone is trying to win some kind of argumentation against you, and you know that its just something that he/she doesn’t really know well, just keep hearing and let them talk, concede the “advantage”, for a while, and you will see how they hang themselves in their own argument.
By curiosity, this tool was used by Gandhi (at least in the movie) when he cites the Christian Bible “If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” (the argument is more extensive, but the idea is the same)

In chess, we call this a gambit, sacrificing something for future advantage.

Being a better architect – Developing for several markets

apple_microsoft_android

An architect should always be ready to increase is knowledge considering the actual market tendencies, because it is his job to present solutions to his customers, which are always considering solutions to decrease their costs using IT. With this vision, as an architect I am always pushing myself with new challenges and learning more and more. Since the beginning of the current year I have bought books, in subjects like IT, social behavior, strategy and soccer. I like to develop myself in different subjects in order to acquire other perspectives and expand my way of thinking. I believe it increases my creativity and give me thinking tools to handle challenging projects.

Two weeks ago, I decided to develop an application and publish it in different App Stores, I want to know the software production lifecycle in all these markets:

  • Android Play Store
  • Apple Store
  • Google Chrome Extension
  • Firefox Add On
  • Windows Metro
  • Windows Phone
  • (Maybe) Android Watch
  • (Maybe) Apple iWatch

The idea was to learn how these markets/stores work. What is to develop an application in different languages, different technologies and different paradigms.

After some analysis, I decided not to use popular developing frameworks, where your code once and they will produce code for the several markets. I wanted to use the native environment/language, Developing using HTML5/JavaScript is about design, not about acquiring some know how in each environment. I wanted to use the knowledge I already had in languages like Java, C#, JavaScript and HTML, XAML and little bit of Objective C, and maybe learn the new Swift Apple language.

At the end, my expectations are to be happy with the result. Knowing I have learned how to develop to the most important markets and be a better technical team leader, architect and have increased my know how to manage these kind of projects.

The process

I already started with this professional project/program. I have used a three step approach:

First, what kind of application to develop.

I have a lot of ideas for apps, so I chose one where I could develop more than one screen, should have some utility and a basis for increments and upgrades. For version 1.0, I just wanted to release it, not earning money or using traffic or Ads, just be in the market to get the know how about planning, developing and publishing it.

Second, decide the target markets/platforms.

I chose the six platforms/markets above, I believed they were the big ones.

Chrome and Firefox extensions are in the list to improve the knowledge in the browser arena, I think it is important for an architect having a little bit of knowledge in the user applications/tools we use daily. It helps understand the end user needs.

The “watch” items, lets see if I have time and energy. The issue with developing for several markets, it’s the management, not the developing.

Third, the order of development.

I started with the Chrome Extension, after researching how to develop one. It is simple, just HTML, JavaScript, and a manifest. Some screenshots and marketing images, and it is done. A good basis of know how for the future developments.

Next steps

I am now developing the windows version for Windows Phone and Windows Metro. I have already developed the Android App and Chrome Extension. You can follow all these apps on my blog at “Give Me Numbers – Apps”.

In future posts I will describe the process I have followed for each app. Including, at the end, a comparison between all technologies from the perspective of a developer/publisher and manager

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