antipaucity

fighting the lack of good ideas

evaluating “work from home” “opportunities”

It seems the number of advertised “work from home” “opportunities has gone ever higher since the advent of prolific social networking.

A not insignificant portion of these opportunities really are legitimate – 31, Avon, Mary Kay … – but a lot of them at the very least feel scammy.

The good ones tell you everything you need to know up-front:

  • “franchise” or licensing fees
  • buy-in cost
  • required sales to maintain active status
  • expected monthly commitment
  • growth paths
  • etc

The scammy ones do not – they have poorly-written, ambiguous, or unstated expectations, require lots of cold calling, expect you to pay-in an enormous amount with little-to-no understanding of how you will get paid later, they’re really “affiliate” marketing, etc. They’re the timeshare of the ‘independent consultant’ business. They’re the 2AM infomercial of the “work” world – you know the type, “for the low low cost of 3 easy payment of $39.95 I will teach you how to make money sending envelopes!” Btw, the way you make $1000s sending envelopes is by promising people to teach them how to make money by sending envelopes.

Many people I know have a tendency to get sucked into the more scammy of the varied wfh things – using the common catchphrases of “if you’re tired of being a Just Over Broke (aka “job”) worker, this is for you” or “in just 10-15 hours a week, earn $500-$2000 a month” or “I’m getting ready to launch a great new product, and I need you to be on the secret board of directors in the prelaunch stage” and more similar to them.

Let’s look at the the first one I mentioned: “10-15 hours per week to ‘earn’ $500-$2000 a month”. If you work (whatever this involves, it’s always left very nebulous), 40 hours a month and make $500, you’re making $12.50 an hour – about 50% above minimum wage, but you haven’t paid taxes yet – and you’re on the hook for all of your SSI (not the half you usually are by being a “real” employee). That means you pay 15.3% to SSI and Medicare (and remember, still no income taxes taken out yet). 15.3% of $500 is $76.50. Compare that to working for a “real” employer where you only pay 7.65% (because they pay more than half of it). 7.65% of $500 is $38.25. That’s a major difference.

What if you’re at the high end of the mentioned range? $2000 a month (which is only $24000 a year, btw – a third less than teachers start in the state of Kentucky), and we’ll say it took you 60 hours to earn it. That’s $33.33 an hour. If you could sustain $33.33 an hour (by, oh I don’t know, having a real job?), you’d be earning $69333 a year (2080 work hours in the year). The problem with these types of “opportunities” is that they’re not consistent. And the hours range always (in my observation) corresponds to the bare minimum of the “earnings” range. If it takes you 60 hours to make $500, you’re only making $8.33 an hour – a dollar more than minimum wage, and you’re on the hook for double the SSI/Medicare taxes – which, over the 60 hours, shows a difference of only 44 cents per hour more than minimum wage. 44 cents. Why not just get a job?

What if you’re truly successful with one of the “work from home” thingies? Well, then you start making the infomercial rounds, and you’re the guy they show with the 12 mansions, the 8 yachts, the cars, the women, etc. But you’re also not working “10-15 hours a month” – you’re engaged with the “opportunity” full-time+. You’re probably operating your “business” 70-90 hours a week.

If you’re going to work 70-90 hours a week, why not start your own company and own *everything* you do? You will, most likely, pay far less in taxes than as an independent contractor.

Are “work from home” “opportunities” all a scam? No. But do they consistently yield the earnings levels advertised for the hours put in? Not that I have witnessed.

For more information, this Money.SE question, “What warnings would you tell a friend about to enter a multi-level marketing (MLM) business venture?“, is a great resource:

  • MLM is not really a selling job
  • Be careful not to stockpile inventory, you’ll end up with $4000 dollars worth in your garage that you’ll never use
  • MLM is really a recruiting and training sales people job
  • Don’t think you are going to get rich at this part time
  • There are a lot of millionaires from MLM but they work a lot of hours recruiting and training
  • What does the business do
  • How do you make money
  • How do they make money
  • Why does this business need you
  • What do you bring to the table that the business doesn’t already have (skills, contacts, money)
  • How realistic are your time expectations – is this to be a part-time occasional endeavor, or your full-time occupation
  • Is there a product
  • Is the market saturated
  • http://www.consumerfraudreporting.org/MLM_pyramid.php
  • Put as little of your own money into it as possible
  • Take as much out of it as you can as soon as you can
  • Don’t count your money as earned until you actually get it in your hands as ‘cold hard cash’
  • Remember if it’s too good to be true, it usually is – no matter how many of people assure you it’s not
  • Don’t go in thinking you’ll beat the system by trying harder than everyone else: the only way you’ll make any money is by recruiting lots of people, and selling products that can be obtained for cheaper elsewhere at a normal store
  • Make sure you are paid on volume, not people

seamless is now avnet

As mentioned a couple weeks ago, Avnet has finalized the purchase of my former employer, Seamless Technologies.

All of STI was brought over “intact” – ie, we’re still a unit, and Avnet purchased us for the people – but it’s very weird to go from such a small company (about 60 people) to such a large one (about 17000).

The last time I rode through an acquisition, it was very bad (HP’s overtake of Opsware in 2007). So far, this one looks a lot better – but, of course, only time will tell.

Hi Avnet 🙂

avnet buying seamless technologies

Avnet (AVT) is acquiring Seamless Technologies (my employer).

Full Press Release (well, the important part): (and WSJ reprint)

Avnet, Inc. Announces Agreement to Acquire Assets of Seamless Technologies, Inc.

Significantly Expands Cloud and Automation Solutions

PHOENIX–(BUSINESS WIRE)– Avnet, Inc. (NYSE:AVT) announced today that it has agreed to acquire substantially all of the assets of Seamless Technologies, an IT private cloud and data center automation service provider. Seamless Technologies provides expertise and services in IT infrastructure software technologies, automation, cloud, virtualization, integration, and Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) best practices. Seamless Technologies has developed a robust cloud practice, working with customers of all sizes on their transition to private, public and hybrid cloud environments. The company generated revenue of approximately US$14 million in the 2012 calendar year.

“Recent services acquisitions have been well-received by our partners. This latest acquisition adds a critical component to our expanding services portfolio, with private cloud, virtualization and data center automation services that broaden and deepen our suite of solutions for our customers,” said Tony Vottima, senior vice president and general manager, Avnet Services, Americas. “Our capabilities span presales through implementation, training and managed services, which create new opportunities for our suppliers and reseller partners.”

Founded in 1992, Seamless Technologies has created a unique set of intellectual property and software that enables faster integration and deployment of large-scale private cloud and IT infrastructure environments. This acquisition will be integrated into the operations of Avnet Services.

“The addition of these new service offerings supports our long-range vision of solutions distribution, delivering technologies, services and solutions that provide high business value and accelerate hardware, software and services sales. Seamless Technologies’ domain expertise in financial services, healthcare, and insurance will complement our SolutionsPath® strategy and enable our partners and customers to achieve their business goals,” Vottima added.

This transaction, which is expected to close in approximately 30 days, is immediately accretive to earnings and supports Avnet’s long-term return on capital goal of 12.5 percent.

automation {gp}

The way people moved up the ladder in IT during my early days (starting in 1975) was to take on new projects that allowed them time to master the new software and become the local expert. As you became the local expert on many new software products, management became very comfortable giving you more and more of these new software projects. Now, at this critical time you needed to train your replacement for some of the software that you had become the local expert because you could not maintain forward momentum with the tremendous drag caused by being the local expert for so many software offerings. Of course, you would get management to agree to lighten your workload because your current workload didn’t allow you to work on their next “Pet” project (after all you are now their go to guy). Also, you would push to give up the software that was either too time consuming and/or not part of your future automation plans. If you didn’t give up something (holding onto knowledge is your power trip), you would fail to meet management’s expectations and someone else would get the new projects and your plans would stall (cut off from new software knowledge and isolated).

When you start to automate, you automate your existing manual processes usually by using a wrapper because it is the fastest way of showing progress. However, after demonstrating that you can automate longstanding processes, you now have the evidence to convince management to allow you to automate your next project (beginning to end) because you will become the local expert not only on the new software but also on the automation software. After successfully completing the automation beginning to end, you are in a position to push for the policy that states that all new software/applications will be automated as part of its installation/configuration steps. Now, you push for automation friendly software/applications because wrappers will no longer be acceptable automation options.

The philosophy of automation document was compiled during IBM user group meetings from around 1987 through 1989 when automation was a very hot topic.

The Philosophy of Automation

Automation is not a technical problem it is a people problem.

When you initially automate, you convert your process flow documents into executable code that consistently runs on a prearranged schedule, or through a monitor, or an error message. These executable processes enforce your process rules every time.

You cannot automate processes that are all over the place.

When you automate your processes they will be transformed.

Because you automate your processes automation never ends

Automate as close to the source as possible.

Problems with automated processes occur infrequently but are more difficult to solve than manual processes.

The combining of problem, change, and asset management with automated process management and root cause analysis, improves quality and allows you to consistently meet your service levels.

All automation code is throwaway code.

Automation is very exciting

Automation is very rewarding.

Everyone is on the automation team


Guest Post from one of my colleagues, Dave B

publicizing compensation – why not?

Many (if not all) companies have provisos when you become a salaried employee that you not discuss your salary/compensation package with other employees.

Most people have been raised in a mindset, largely because their parents have worked for companies like this (and maybe their grandparents, too – it is 2013, after all, and this is not a new phenomenon), that they shouldn’t ever discuss how much they make doing job R when their friend does job H – even at a different company.

Let me state, first, that I am not going to promulgate the idea that everyone should go around bragging about how much they make – especially if you are in front of either mixed company, or in front of someone you know is having a difficult time financially- after all, who wants to be the one guy in the room making $35000 when everyone else is in the 6 figures and gloating about it? I sure wouldn’t.

However, (and maybe I’m weird – though I don’t think so) I have never cared about how much you made in comparison to myself. If we are doing the same work with the same experience and we do not have the same compensation, it implies that one of us negotiated better (I have some thoughts about negotiating, too, both published and not). If you manage to get an extra $1 an hour ($2080 more per year), that’s awesome.

Given that the previous paragraph, outside of “basic” jobs like warehouse work, cleaning cars, etc, never happens – why should anyone be surprised that not everyone has the same compensation as the next guy? Somewhere along the line we got the idea that salary+benefits needed to be “fair”. “Fair” is a concept that only exists in economic theories not based on effort. (The first thing to know about compensation is encapsulated in the book Everything is Negotiable – and a related, but highly specifized1 form for salaries.)

There are services like Glassdoor that help to provide “competitive” salary information … but salary is only a small portion of compensation. Let’s say you and I both make $5000 a month ($60000 a year – make the math easy). But you have 2 weeks of vacation, and I have 4. But I took the lower-deductible insurance option, and you took the higher. Which one of us is bringing home more per month? Who cares! My individual desires and needs are, apparently, being met on my package, and yours are with yours. So why does it matter that we not discuss salary information with each other? Transparency is vital in the security world, it also is internally in a company. And between friends (though, of course, the amount of data we dump, and the methods we choose, will vary) it establishes trust.

Do I care if everyone in the world knows how much I earn per year? No. Tax returns are not public, but they’re not exactly private, either (they’re not that difficult to get if you want them). House sales prices are matters of public record. And from a house sale, along with known mortgage rates at the time of sale, you can determine how much someone is spending on their housing payment every month within a decent error margin (eg, $200000 home, 4% interest, 30 year mortgage, 10% down, you have in the ballpark of a $1000 base mortgage payment2 – within about 5-10% (to cover taxes, insurance, and PMI)). Presuming you’re not living on your credit cards, that means you’re making at a minimum $1500 a month ($18000 a year) just to afford to have a house payment. Add-in other normal essentials of 21st century America (car insurance and maintenance (or bike/bus money), groceries, phone, internet, tv, student loan, etc), and you’re at least at the household income level of $40000 (pretax). Likely quite a bit higher – especially if you have a car payment of any kind.

Why go through the miniature exercise above? Because no one seems to mind comparing they car insurance premiums. Or how often they eat out. Or what they like to cook at home. But SALARY! Heaven forbid you ever talk about THAT! That’s the one no-no in discussion of financial data between friends and coworkers. But it’s irrational when in just a few second you can ballpark the minimum someone earns.

We can compare generalities – vacation time, insurance plans, sick policies, maybe even bonuses (but only as percentages – don’t you dare use real dollars when discussing them) … but not the salary.

I read recently an Atlantic article discussing Millennials and the slow break-down of corporate boundaries to sharing compensation information. I think that’s wonderful.

Publicizing (at least internally) salaries (even if it’s in bands, a la FogCreek, HP, IBM, or the Federal Government (and Military)) is extremely positive. It doesn’t disclose stock options, bonuses, etc, but can give some kind of indication between colleagues of their relative value to their employer.

At one former employer, I found out shortly after I started that another recent hire (with more years of support experience) was being paid barely more than half what I was. And had had no options when he started (just weeks before me), when I had a modest issuance. Neither of us was upset about how much I was being paid, but I was disappointed to finally see “in the real world” such salary discrimination going on. The entire reason he was paid so much less than me? He didn’t negotiate well.

It was technically against company policy for him to tell me how much he made. And me him. Technically, it was a dismissable offense.

That’s the ridiculous part of not sharing compensation data – that by sharing it you can have your employment terminated. Employers who are worried about little things like whether a given employee knows another employee’s salary are [most likely] micromanaging – at least from the Personnel Department3.

Additionally, if the company is concerned that finding out how much someone else is earning is going to cause unhappiness amongst the team, they’ve done several other things wrong. They’ve [at least]:

  • hired people whose only motivation is money (or believe that’s the only motivator)
  • intentionally tried to undervalue their team
  • established an immediate sense of distrust
  • decided to treat their employees like children instead of adults who can rationally and intelligently discuss differences between themselves – and not just on their preferred lunch joint

I would love to see this aura of distrust disappear.

If you really do have people whose only motivation is money, you need a better team: they’ll jump ship as soon as something more lucrative comes along – instead of changing only when the work becomes more boring .. or more interesting elsewhere.


1 I know it’s not a word – I’m using it anyway
2 Divide the mortgage amount by 180, and you have the rough base payment on a 30 year mortgage (for the under 5% mortgages I see in mid-2013); your base payment is the home’s cost *2 / 360 (number of months in 30 years) – or just price/180
3 I positively despise the term “Human Resources” – employees are only “resources” to the MBA types: they’re people, and should be accorded good treatment (including referentially) as such

automating or automation?

I have been working in the realm of “automation” – specifically data center automation – for several years.

Merriam-Webster defines “automating” thusly:

  1. to operate by automation
  2. to convert to largely automatic operation <automate a process>

Notice the subtle difference with M-W’s definition of “automation“:

  1. the technique of making an apparatus, a process, or a system operate automatically
  2. the state of being operated automatically
  3. automatically controlled operation of an apparatus, process, or system by mechanical or electronic devices that take the place of human labor

These words tend to be used interchangeably – but they are different. Most of the customers I have worked with think they are “doing automation”, when in actuality they are only barely starting to “automate”.

What do I mean by this?

Most customers that bring automation tools in-house (whether simple cron jobs or complex tools like HPSA) take their current, manual processes and merely write wrappers around them to make them “automatic”. That is the first step of automation – but it’s only the first step.

Too many people try to take new tools and make them fit their current processes, procedures, and policies – rather than seeing what policies, procedures, and processes are either made redundant by the new tools, or can be improved, shortened, or – wait for it – automated!

Think of a physical example – you’re a Shaker Cabinetmaker in the late 1800s. You’re making end tables. Cutting dovetails with a dovetail saw. Sanding with a block and sandpaper. Cutting pieces to size by hand. Drilling mortises and cutting tenons with a manual auger and small saw. Lathing on a treadle-powered lathe.

Jump forward 100 years. You’re WGBH in Boston wanting to come up with a how-to program to air weekly. You find a fellow named Norm Abram, and pay him to do the show. You put New Yankee Workshop on TV for years. Norm visits places like Hancock Shaker Village for inspiration. But Norm doesn’t use loads of hand tools – he uses radial arm saws, drill presses, table saws, routers, joiners, etc. Why? Because he wants to make a prototype or three in a few days. And then wants to film a show in two (or occasionally longer for big projects) and be able to give you the confidence, along with a set of measured drawings, that you could, more-or-less, replicate what he did in your own home.

Which approach is better? Neither – they both yield end tables. Which approach is more repeatable – especially by someone with little experience? That’d be Norm’s method: the automated method. But the New Yankee Workshop is only slightly down the road of automating the entire process.

Automation (in the furniture world, at least) is found at Ikea. Thousands of identical Ingos and Karls roll out the door every year. Produced by automated machinery.

The job of the Information Technologist has a great deal of art to it – but it’s also a science: at the core of everything that a computer does is logic (perhaps poor logic, but logic nonetheless). Everyone in information technology (especially, though it’s applicable to myriad other industries) should be striving to make themselves replaceable – because no one is irreplaceable. I’ve seen it come true in scores of settings: the person who makes themselves “irreplaceable” never gets promoted, and is eventually replaced by someone else: either management removes him or finds a way around him, or he leaves the organization.

Therefore, preemptively make yourself replaceable. This was Ken Moellman’s campaign when he ran for State Treasurer in KY: to eliminate the very job he was running for.

There’s a secret to making yourself replaceable – and that is that when you can show that you’re replaceable, especially in the world I work in, you tend to be promoted. You also tend to grow because you’re learning more. Because you learn more and grow, you become more valuable. Because you become more valuable, you can move up the chain as you like.

Do artisan works still have a market? Of course – go look at any “artsy” type store that showcases “local craftsmen” in almost any part of the country: they’re offering their hard work for your consideration … at a hard price.

Is the artisan chair fundamentally any better than the Ikea chair? Maybe, maybe not. It sure looks better. But it’s not as repeatable.

And repeatable tasks get automated because if you have to do it twice, you need to write it down. And if you have to do it more than twice, you need a process anyone can follow. But processes are always open for refinement and replacement. The process to get a piece of lumber from a tree is not completely dissimilar to day from how we did it before the advent of the sawmill – but with laser-guided blades, the sawmill of 2013 can optimize lumber out of a log in a way very very few people ever could .. and can cut the log into its constituent boards faster than any person.

The process for manually provisioning a RHEL server is pretty simple – but shortly after introducing Anaconda, Red Hat introduced the kickstart (modeled after jumpstart). Microsoft, likewise, has unattend.txt and unattend.xml (for either the DOS or WinPE methods of installing). And SuSE, HPUX, and AIX have their systems (AutoYaST, Ignite, and NIM).

Why do these tools exist? It’s so administrators can rapidly deploy machines without having to do a lot of extra setup work by hand. The same can be asked for why do chainsaws, table saws, and circular saws exist? It’s so you can cut wood more rapidly and more repeatably than by hand. You can fell a tree with an axe. You can fell a tree with a saw. But for a single person, felling a tree with a chainsaw is best. Or you can use a Tiger Cat.

The first step of automating needs to be building wrappers to reliably repeat manual processes.

The second, and far more important, step in the paradigm shift from manual methods to automation, is to systematically go through all of your processes, procedures, and policies and see what can be refined, what can be replaced, and, most importantly, what can be removed.

What legacy activities are you doing that should be eliminated, updated, or cleaned-up?

free wifi

I travel a fair amount for work – not excessive “road warrior” style anymore (thank God!), but often enough.

One thing that has consistently dumb founded me is that, like cheap hotels, the smaller the airport, the more likely it is that it has free wifi.

I understand places like ATL or ORD are incredibly busy. I don’t know why, however, that means they have to treat their customers like they are cash cows.

It’s like the difference between staying at Motel 6 vs a JW Marriott. I have platinum status with Marriott, so my wifi is always free there … but it’s also free at the $40 a night joints.

How is it that Days Inn for $40 can afford to hand out free wifi, but The W at $400 a night cannot?

I’m writing this from ABE – which has free wifi. Why? Because my next stop, DTW, does not. And that’s dumb.

For the relative cheapness per person of putting-in an airport-wide service, there’s no reason everyone shouldn’t be doing it.