Swearing Off Software

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I see so many positions that require “software experience” with very detailed specifications that give me pause. It would seem that someone should be getting wealthy teaching all of this software. I learned a cutting-edge software a few years ago, and my instructor told me that knowing how to use that software would mean an instant hire. After investing a considerable amount of time and money (bought the software) none of the organizations that required knowing the software ever called me. Ever.


The lack of job offers didn’t deter me any; I bought the newer and newer versions when the old version of the software wouldn’t work on my new computers that replaced the old ones. I thought, any day now, someone will want that software knowledge, so I spent thousands of dollars with the newer and newer versions, not to mention the new computers that I had to purchase. I love the software, and have made very good use of it over the years, even though no one showed any respect for my knowing the software. The software has been very useful, and again, my knowledge of it proved to be very productive, even if no one wanted to pay me for knowing it.


It seems that the more specific, the more detailed the requirements for an open job, the more it appears the Human Resources department has someone in mind for the position, and has carefully crafted requirements that exactly fit the person they have in mind, and everyone else, well, not so much. This very specific criteria of knowledge and experience, fitting a minuscule selection of potential applicants; even if it seems biased, can defend the firm against anyone who claims they were overlooked or summarily rejected. If the criteria are set, arguing that it is unrealistic will not work when there is someone, even if it is only one person, who meets the criteria. I have witnessed  a government job that was only open to people presently employed within the organization; how that worked was anyone’s guess, but I am sure that they had some justification for their requirement that a job was only open to less than a dozen people. That really doesn’t seem fair, because surely in this big labor market there must be others who were qualified. You constantly hear of recruiters who can’t find anyone; perhaps they are narrowing the search to such a limited number of people, very few meet the criteria.


I have had to learn software after software, from different positions with different firms, as well as classes that insisted that knowledge of the software was essential to acquiring employment. What might have been essential to college instructors didn’t turn out that way in real life. Some of the software is so old, I can’t even remember its name, and would probably not work on today’s fast computers anyway. But it was important that I know it, at the time. All of this seems terribly ephemeral, in the light of reflection. Terribly ephemeral, except for the hole in my bank account that buying all of the software made, and all the time I will never get back learning software that the wrong people cared about. There’s lots of new software out there, for apps, for the cloud, for processing all kinds of information, not to mention social media. Please forgive me if I don’t spend lots of money and take lots of my time learning something that will be obsolete in five years and will not make any noticeable difference in my ability to attract job offers.


My favorites are the social media experts. Social media really took hold in 2002, a scant sixteen years ago. Most of the self-proclaimed “social media experts” are, in age, less than twice the length of time that social media has been with us, making being a “social media expert” a rather diminutive task, when compared to, say, the development of computer languages, which have evolved over decades. I have said this before and it still applies: being an “expert” in something that has existed only slightly longer than you have been alive is not some great accomplishment. New software? Fine, what does it pay for me to learn it? If there is no reward, I’m not going to invest time and money just to be dismissed as obsolete in a few years. Been there, done that.


Michael B. Added Mar 10, 2018 - 8:31pm
I know what you mean: I don't excel at Excel, have nothing but four-letter words for Word, find Access un-accessible, and my PowerPoint presentations are powerless and pointless, lol. Luckily for me, I don't need to be a master of any of those to do my job.
Jeff Jackson Added Mar 10, 2018 - 8:54pm
Thanks Michael. As I say, I have some software that I can't even remember the names of, and they wouldn't work on today's machines anyway. Being on the cutting edge only made me bleed green. Thanks again.
Michael B. Added Mar 10, 2018 - 9:02pm
I have also seen several instances where a job description was written around a certain individual to give the appearance of fairness. It also aids in discrimination in all of its forms. And that's when they even bother to post it; quite often, somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody who fucked some body that knows somebody gets the job; it's kind of like a reciprocal of an "old boy" network; a "young person" network. If you were in the workforce before they were a gleam in the mailman's eye, that usually means that a large and prominent target has been painted on you.
Mustafa Kemal Added Mar 10, 2018 - 11:35pm
I am familiar with the problems you speak, and know that discomfort personally.  The reality is in many places “applying for a job” is futile. What one needs to do is find some way to find someone that wants to hire you. Dont ask me how you do that.
“It seems that the more specific, the more detailed the requirements for an open job, the more it appears the Human Resources department has someone in mind for the position, and has carefully crafted requirements that exactly fit the person they have in mind.”
This is standard operating procedure for making a hire at gov facilities, where the law requires that to be “fair” they must put the job out for bid.  But they really just want to hire someone they know they already want.. 
“I have witnessed  a government job that was only open to people presently employed within the organization; how that worked was anyone’s guess, but I am sure that they had some justification for their requirement that a job was only open to less than a dozen people.”
It is not a justificaion, it is a constraint. When there is  a “hiring freeze” by the government they cannot hire new hires, but they can hire from other departments. These are internal hires.
Bill H. Added Mar 11, 2018 - 12:32am
There was a day when talented people made great decisions based on their prior experience and the lessons they learned from bad decisions. And they also factored in things like where the company could be in say, 5 or 10 years, or other things like employee morale.
Now we have Excel making our decisions for us. 
Jeff Jackson Added Mar 11, 2018 - 1:48am
Thanks Mustafa, good perspective that I was not really aware of how they game the system. Thanks for the comments.
Jeff Jackson Added Mar 11, 2018 - 1:51am
Excellent point Bill. It seems that we are on a month to month time frame nowadays, with few people thinking ahead, just everyone thinking about next week, not even next season or next year. Some of them think we have quantified everything, and they have assigned a number to it, even if the number doesn't make sense. Thanks for the comments, nice perspective.
Jeff Jackson Added Mar 11, 2018 - 1:52am
Michael, I think I recently witnessed the "young person" network. Thanks for the comments, and I'm going to use the "young person network" a lot more now. Thanks for the comments.
Leroy Added Mar 11, 2018 - 9:40am
It seems to me that any software destined for the American market is fairly intuitive today.  You don't even get a manual.  The Help function isn't particularly helpful, but the internet resources and training materials are excellent.  I haven't had any useful training in fifteen years, other than self-training.
My former company was big on training, but the training seems useless to me.  The company upgrades the Microsoft software, everyone has to go through training.  You have to be a real dumbass to not be able to figure out the changes yourself.  Much of the training is on how to use a particular Excel spreadsheet.  It's pretty ridiculous when you have to train someone on how to fill out a contact sheet.  I mean literally recording people's names, phone numbers, and department.  The damn spreadsheet is so complex that it requires training for some people.   And, you have to ask yourself, "Why are we doing this in this day and age?" And, for the millennials, if you ask them to do something, the first response is usually, "I haven't been trained to do that."  I suppose that is what is driving the trivial training. 
I had excellent training in the past, but, today, I don't need it today, not if it doesn't teach the advance issues.  One exception might be the French software.  It is so illogical that without some training to clue you in, you can't use it.  Even minor version changes can dumbfound you. There are no internet resources because no rational company would ever use it.  It is amusing to see the company advertise on the outside for contractors and potential employees who are familiar with the software.  They don't exist.
Leroy Added Mar 11, 2018 - 9:41am
"Michael, I think I recently witnessed the "young person" network."
Guess we could call it the YPN, where they wish older employees would die already.
Jeff Jackson Added Mar 11, 2018 - 10:03am
Great thoughts as always, Leroy. When I trained people in software, we naturally started with the basic stuff. Then, when (and sometimes if) they could handle it, I went very deep into it, gradually, of course. There were a lot of  single-key buttons (think F1, and on up) that opened up entire sections that, when you understood how they functioned and what you could access, opened a whole world of possibilities. Some could handle it, some not as much. The key word here is architecture. The software was very well-structured, and once you understood the architecture, it was the same in many different aspects, but you had to understand how to get to where you needed to go and what button to push when you got there (if that makes sense).
Somehow, the explanation of the French software makes sense that they would do it that way, because in many ways, their concentration on "equality" (remember liberty, equality and fraternity) would almost demand that everyone have an equal shot, thus making consistency impossible.  If the YPN is going to discriminate, we should reciprocate against those game-playing, incessantly texting trolls. Thanks again for the comment Leroy, insightful as ever.
George N Romey Added Mar 11, 2018 - 10:25am
Yes somehow being the master of Excel seems to make you the be all and end all of being a great employee. Ask that same employee what the spreadsheet says and more importantly what it doesn’t cover and you’re get a blank stare.
The sad thing is that if you know one software package you’ll learn another within days. But don’t try telling that to the “talent acquisition manager.” You’ll again get that same blank stare.
People with a brain need not an apply here. We only hire mindless bots good at doing key board oriented tasks. As the population gets dumber and more easily controlled.
Michael B. Added Mar 11, 2018 - 10:32am
@ Leroy - French software! LOL! At my last job, they used something called Enovia. When they first broke it out, I half-jokingly said that sounds more like a disease than a program, and even gave a live example ("Doctor, I need help BAAAAAAD. I think I have...Enovia."). It was a clusterfuck that got more clusterfucked with each and every revision (read "re-invention of the wheel"). Fucking frog software. I hope the engineers and others responsible for it get massive cheese and foie gras-induced heart attacks and die, lol.
Jeff Jackson Added Mar 11, 2018 - 1:25pm
Yes, George, the classes make sure that you can use Excel in accounting, finance and statistics, but what they never teach you (at least in the undergrad coursework) is how to draw conclusions  or make decisions about the crunched numbers. The talent acquisition manager is likely under 35 and looking for talent of the same vintage. Thanks for the comments.
Leroy Added Mar 11, 2018 - 1:38pm
Michael, we had one called Prism, which we affectionately called Prison.  Apparently, the documents received capital punishment, because once they went in, they never came out.  Then there was another called Xelec, which we called Exlax.
Neil Lock Added Mar 11, 2018 - 1:43pm
Michael B: You are spot on about French software. When I worked in Holland in the late '70s, we dealt with a computer manufacturer whose operating system people were based in Paris. They were useless (even including the chief designer, who was Japanese).
I visited them twice. The first time, we had a lot to get done, so we opted for the short lunch (2 and a quarter hours). The second time, we got all our questions answered in the morning, so we went for "le long lunch." Only half an hour longer; I was very disappointed. But I took away from those meetings a love of Brouilly wine which I still have to this day...
Neil Lock Added Mar 11, 2018 - 1:49pm
Oh, and Jeff: thanks for a very to-the-point article.
Pardero Added Mar 11, 2018 - 2:11pm
Great article. Although this exact issue does not affect my line of work or interests, I am concerned about an unsupported operating system.
Do you recommend I get off my lazy butt and get more savvy so I can consider Linux or similar?
mark henry smith Added Mar 11, 2018 - 2:23pm
The entire point of software is to create it to have it go obsolete so new software can be sold. I hear that internet explorer is being scrapped for something called, Excess? Maybe it's Access.
The older people who have been out of the job market are becoming the darlings of the new labor market because we really have work ethics and can adapt, and unlike in the past, have no seniority that makes our income levels a drawback. Yeah, it kinda sucks doing jobs that you remember doing as summer work to supplement the crappy pay out from your SS and 401 K, but what the hell, as least you get out of the bedroom. Look in your grocery stores. Look in your service sector. Older people are going back to work in droves because the lie of retirement has been exposed. For a lot of people, it's like watching paint dry, and they'd rather die trying something new than just being old.  
Ian Thorpe Added Mar 11, 2018 - 2:26pm
What would happen back when I was working Jeff, (I retired at 50, well off but burned out) was where union agreements demanded a job be advertised first internally and then to outsiders but management had a specific person in mind, requirements would be tailored to exclude anyone but the designated candidate.
Seems to me a similar process is now being used to sidestep equal opportunities restrictions.
Being the boss' son - in law is still the most desirable qualification for many jobs.
George N Romey Added Mar 11, 2018 - 2:34pm
For late Baby Boomers on there will be fewer retirements. Another lie from the MSM-all the upcoming retirements.
Dave Volek Added Mar 11, 2018 - 2:42pm
One of my memorable Toffler quotes can be paraphrased as: "The valuable skills of the future will to easily learn new skills, while disregarding skills learned in the past." He wrote this circa 1970--and he was so right.
A few months back, a relative asked me to prepare a Power Point slide presentation for a party. I used to be reasonable at PP 10 years ago, but have seldom used it since. I looked at the hours it would take to regain those skills, plus learn the new features of versions I had not encountered, I said "no." But I told her for what she wanted, there should be someone in town who can prepare this for $200.
In essence, if you are not using software, you are losing it.
The good old days where senior managers could make decisions by "their experience" are long gone. If this is still the better way to do things, then it should generate more profits than all those spreadsheets. But the old way cannot compete with the spreadsheets.
There is all sorts of software to decide whether a 1-lb bag of carrots should sell for $0.79, $0.89, or $0.99. Plus the software should be able to monitor changes to sales of carrots and other grocery products. The edge belongs to those who can work with the software and interpret the results. There is no sticking a finger in the wind any more.
I served on a non-profit board who didn't like much business analysis. We had no idea what things were costing us to do. In the end, we made a $100,000 mistake because we were above looking at the numbers. Even after that hit, I still couldn't effect change to run this organization more like a small business. I had to resign. It was driving me nuts to vote on decisions without numbers.
George N Romey Added Mar 11, 2018 - 2:48pm
Dave data doesn’t tell all. Ask HRC campaign manager Robby Mook about his insistence that the data showed HRC well leading in swing states, despite what others with 30 years plus  in campaigns were saying. Needless to say he’ll never run a campaign again.
Dave Volek Added Mar 11, 2018 - 4:22pm
For sure, the numbers don't tell the whole story, and a good manager should be aware of that. Total reliance on numbers can lead to wrong decisions. 
I believe the 2016 presidential polls were very accurate. Many more people believed HC was better than DT--and even the electoral college should have carried HC. But the polls did not figure out that HC supporters were not as motivated to make it to the polling stations as DT supporters. And that can make all the difference in politics.
If one wants to be successful in business these days, one should have a good background knowledge of the software. If this knowledge is coupled with experience, better decisions are likely.
But these days, experience only is not worth much.
Doug Plumb Added Mar 11, 2018 - 5:02pm
Jeff, which software do you refer to?
My objection to software is that they teach it in schools. In engineering I was often stuck for hours trying to figure out why MATLAB or MathCAD didn't do what I intended.
I believed this to be a waste of time and stood in the way of learning. Today I take a course in applied math that involves a lot of Mathcad usage in the end, thankfully I don't have to use the software to answer the questions in the book. Manually doing a Cholesky decomposition is much more enlightening than having Matlab do it. It gives greater insight to the usefulness (outside of the present application) of this decomposition as it does with others such as SVD.
I think the best way to learn any software is to go through the youtube videos that are published on it.
Jeff Jackson Added Mar 11, 2018 - 5:49pm
Pardero, I recommend that you not invest any more than you are willing to lose in the purchase or learning of software. It's all a bet.
Jeff Jackson Added Mar 11, 2018 - 5:52pm
Ian, you saw exactly what I am seeing, the description meeting a very very few, if only one. Nice work if you can get it. Ah, nepotism, what can we say? Sometimes it's not what you know. Thanks for your comments, Ian, smart and insightful as ever.
Jeff Jackson Added Mar 11, 2018 - 5:53pm
Mark henry, we're seeing more and more greeters at Walmart who are not high schoolers. Another is the underground market, those "helper" jobs that pay cash. We're all seen them, some of us have worked them.
Jeff Jackson Added Mar 11, 2018 - 5:56pm
Doug, I have heard of MATLAB, and have been asked to help people with it, but they weren't willing to pay much for the help, so I declined. Youtube is good, but there is nothing like just sitting down and playing with it, if, again, you have the time or want to invest the time. Thanks for your comments.
Jeff Jackson Added Mar 11, 2018 - 5:58pm
Yes, Dave, these days experience is actually a drawback. They want "fresh ideas" rather than older, proven solutions, for at least one reason is that the millennial boss has no idea what the older solutions are, and resents you if you bring them back.  Thanks for your comments.
Michael B. Added Mar 11, 2018 - 6:55pm
@ Leroy - "Michael, we had one called Prism, which we affectionately called Prison.  Apparently, the documents received capital punishment, because once they went in, they never came out.  Then there was another called Xelec, which we called Exlax."
Jeff Jackson Added Mar 12, 2018 - 6:22am
MichaelB, one of the amazing things is that people get paid to created junk like that. One of the sadder things are products that ceased production and there was no more software to apply. There were a lot of machines during the early computer revolution that didn't make it vary far. I think Wang Labs has been out for a while, though they were purchased by someone.
Darkman 17 Added Mar 12, 2018 - 10:36am
Long ago I stopped looking at job descriptions. The company either needs what I need to offer or they dont. If they need something else from me, its up to them to explain that and we will negotiate it as part of me coming on-board. 
The key thing is to have a package of skills, experience, and attitude that is in demand. I place (and I think many people today do, especially the younger ones) very little knowledge on knowing things and much more on ability to learn them fast. So I think the real resume piece is "ability to learn software fast" and to be able to back up how you do that if they ask. Usually the answer they are looking for is "I take an assignment and I figure it out using online content, and guidance form others. "
I have noticed that people that are older tend to rely on their experience, but the challenge here is that the experience has to be relevant to matter. If the experience is orthogonal or surpassed it unfortunately does not count, and can even be considered detrimental if it instilled counter patterns or bad habits. The kind of experience that matters most is experience in getting things done, working with many types of people, motivating teams, making decisions, hiring good people, selling, getting buy-in from executives etc... These kinds of qualities will never get out of date. 
Jeff Jackson Added Mar 12, 2018 - 10:25pm
Great points Darkman. I taught software, and certainly, some caught it faster than others. In one job that I had, the software had 23 different boxes on multiple pages to be filled in, and they showed it to me about 5 times, and each teaching session was interrupted multiple times, and they expected me to master it in those few times. That didn't happen, and somehow I was responsible for not knowing it. The architecture of the aforemetioned software was a patched-together blend of at least two different software programs that were not good matches, but the company didn't want to pay for new software, so they were matched very poorly. The entry of data had, literally, more steps than a calculus equation.
Sales? How about over $1 million. Experience from the workers doing the work to the VP of operations, all at the same job. Problem solving, sure, lots of that, with documents to prove it. Selected,trained and placed some of the most productive workers in several companies.
From your explanation, there is no way I am outdated. Thanks for your comments.
George N Romey Added Mar 13, 2018 - 8:02am
The last CFO I worked for was “ a data driven millennial.” He was clueless otherwise. He locked himself in his office. Never held meetings or talked with staff. Never even said good mornings or hello. Left by 7 even when staff including me worked regularly until 9 or later.
Yet he constantly made small and meaningless revisions that caused huge amounts of data entry work.
I was laid off but others left. Today the company is liquidating under Chapter 11. It was losing money and borrowing money to stay alive when I was there.
Jeff Jackson Added Mar 13, 2018 - 9:09am
But George, we "old guys" are supposed to be the people that make problems, therefore we can't be hired. The millennials have it all figured out. They are the smartest generation, after all, because of the information revolution, making them the smartest generation ever. Old workers don't have solutions, we only know how to do it the "old way" and that's obsolete. The millennials almost invented "work-life balance"- which means, of course, millennials have the balance and all the work after hours goes to someone else, because their life is important. Even when you show the know-it-alls the solution, they only resent you. Thanks for the comments George, and thanks for the reality. 
Ian Thorpe Added Mar 13, 2018 - 3:53pm
Jeff and George, millennials get by because these days so many large organisations run on process and procedure. Ask them to make a decision without a spreadsheet to help and they're lost.
I recall on my last assignment, one of the directors of the Swedish firm our consultancy was working for asked Andy, the leader of our project, "Why do we pay so much money for you guys, what do you do that we could not do?"
And Andy replied, "We make decisions."
Mark Hunter Added Mar 14, 2018 - 3:57am
I know just enough about software to get myself in trouble, and then I run to my wife, who's half my age and has twice my computer skills.
opher goodwin Added Mar 14, 2018 - 5:20am
Software changes so quickly. It is quite daunting to realise that all the stuff I have stored - music, photos, videos and books - might not be accessible at all in the future. I think it's a plot.
They build in this obsolescence with the updates. Your computer runs slower and slower. It forces you to buy a new one.
Mark Hunter Added Mar 14, 2018 - 5:23am
That reminds me, opher ... I need to organize my floppy disks.
Jeff Jackson Added Mar 14, 2018 - 6:38am
Excellent observation Ian, and right on target. They resent people who make decisions. I hate to call their success luck, but, as one of our WB contributors says, a stopped clock is right twice a day.
Jeff Jackson Added Mar 14, 2018 - 6:39am
Opher- now, Microsoft "updates" your computer, adding God knows what, but you have to let them. And yeah, those "additions" keep slowing it down. Wonder why?
Jeff Jackson Added Mar 14, 2018 - 6:42am
Mark- a tip- store your Word documents in RTA format, because that translate into any Word. Maybe no as well as you would like, but you still have it. I still have a floppy disk reader that attaches to my URL port. Like you, I have thousands of  examples of my work that are inaccessible now. Computers have made our lives so much easier!
Jeff Jackson Added Mar 14, 2018 - 6:57pm
That might be RTF format, and I'm only a WTF on all of these abbreviations. I hooked all of my house to my computer, and now when I hit the print button my shower comes on! I think I need to rewire some things.
Mark Hunter Added Mar 14, 2018 - 7:18pm
Thanks for the tip, Jeff. I was joking, kind of -- I have transferred all my writing to newer formats, and I've also developed a habit of e-mailing it to myself so it's available that way. However, I do also have dozens of floppy disk drives to go through, using my own reader.
Jeff Jackson Added Mar 16, 2018 - 9:05am
Unfortunately, a lot of my work cannot be accessed, because the new programs will not open  the old ones. I have some hard copy, but it is becoming difficult to store them, so all I can do is scan them and store them as PDFs on thumb drives. I never anticipated that they would change things to the point that they were not recoverable, but then, they have to find new ways to generate revenue. The hardware and software industries have given "planned obsolescence" a new meaning. Thanks for you comments Mark.
Mark Hunter Added Mar 16, 2018 - 9:21am
Hm ... I never thought of that. I'd better make darned sure I don't have any old manuscripts still not updated. And to think, I used to worry about losing papers.