April 11, 2006
Layoffs as a Stock Booster
I came upon yet another news article saying, essentially, the best way to improve an ailing company's stock price (hence value) is to lay off employees. It seems to be "conventional wisdom" in the quarterly profit driven business world. This is stupid.
What are the ways to increase profit? Cut costs, or increase productivity. The easiest, and sleaziest, is to cut headcount - a layoff - to reduce costs. The low end employees are shoved out the door. Problem is, when you do that, you also cut productivity. The workers that are usually cut are the ones actually engaged in producing product! Do this too many times, and you have only a pathetic shell of a company, inhabited by lots of entrenched managers and no one with any spark of creativity left.
Now, if you really want to cut costs by reducing overhead, you don't cut production staff, you cut executive staff! Eliminating one $5, VP is the equivalent of sacking 1 $5, widget makers! But it doesn't look "good" to Wall Street anal-ists if you just chop dollars, not lots of bodies.
Other cost cutting measures might work just as well, but aren't as flashy. Like, say, tying executive salaries to profitability. If the company doesn't make money, the CEO only gets $8,/year, and no stock. Essentially, put executives on commission - no profit or no growth in the year, no bonus. Cutting jobs to boost profit is "ungrowth", so even if there is an increase in profit, they get docked for shrinking the company. You could also reduce the amount of travel allowed, and stop catering lunches for meetings.
You also could increase productivity, but that involves real, long term, effort. You need to analyse your processes, find the inefficiencies, and encourage all of your employees to come up with "a better way to build a mousetrap". You need to be willing to experiment, and pilot test your solutions. But this isn't a quarterly process, so it doesn't play well to Wall Street.
Buzzwords and Hype
We've all heard/read it. Phrases like "User Generated Content", "Web 2.", "Interactive Network", "Blended Multimedia Content", and other such cruft get thrown around by marketing people, and picked up by astroturf bloggers (people who just regurgitate press releases). A large number of these terms are either redundant, or oxymorons.
Reading some blogs is like reading some advertising flak's rough draft - all fat, no meat. Pompous, at best. I swear some of these idiots post just to see their drivel in print, and since they have nothing real to say, just spew the same crap they read elsewhere!
Mind you, the only area worse than the tech sector on this is the political blogosphere. One "big name" dittohead regurgitates some think-tank's propaganda, and all of the other similar dittoheads echo it. I guess these twits think that if you say the same thing a magic number of times, it must thereby be true. Sorry, guys, up is still up, down is still down, and calling lies "truth" does not make it any less a lie.
Now, I admit, it isn't possible to come up with something "original" or "profound" every day. I can't. On the other hand, I don't post every day. I don't tend to post unless I think I have something real to say. (You may not agree with my assessment, but that's expected.) Maybe if this was a group blog, with lots of contributors, it would have a daily post with decent content. But it doesn't.
So, if you really want profound, real insight, don't read hype sites. Take everything you read on somebody's blog with a big grain of salt, and run away when it reads like marketing puffery or propaganda. Your brain and sanity will thank you.
April 4, 2006
What I Do, at A9 and Elsewhere
I am a systems engineer. This means I do internal infrastructure, and handle user issues. I'm not a software developer, but I'm not just a help desk person either.
My area of specialty is Linux operating system and software, both implementation and customization. I also write perl and shell code, admin miscellaneous source control systems, and even play with the hardware. I play with embedded systems as a hobby.
Since I'm not a programmer, I don't do any contributions to open source projects. I just test it and comment to those that do. Nothing glorious, or ego-worthy.
I like to write, and when I get time I do reviews (see The Other Hand). Since I actually have a fairly busy life, I don't get to write up as much as I like.
So I have fairly unknown, unimportant blogs, a fairly calm, routine job, and a tendency to flame from my days on usenet.
Well, Shel Israel responded to my comment in his blog here with:
I won't respond to this because you are anonymous. Tell me who you are and where you are coming from or I'll not post anything else from you."
What a maroon. The "ljl" is linked to my typekey/typepad profile, which lists my web page. This blog is linked from my web page. How hard can it be to figure out "who I am and where I'm coming from"? Do I need to draw a map? I don't have a seeing eye dog to loan out!
I can't really take seriously a doofus who can't even click a link in his own blog to see my profile (the typekey link), and check out my web page to see a whole lot about me. He wants to be spoon-fed, or something.
I use "ljl" as a user id on this blog. I don't usually post anything with my full name, because I don't like people getting hung up on the uniqueness of my name and ignore what I'm writing about. But it's not "anonymous".
Feh. Color me very unimpressed.
BTW, I've been blogging since 2002. Blogging is not a "new" technology. In fact, it's been around since at least 1997! That's nearly ten years - ancient in the computer and web field!
In other news, Amazon now has PodCasts, a newer technology that offers content that their users actually might be interested in.
April 3, 2006
Oh, my. Robert Scoble (http://scobleizer.wordpress.com/) and Shel Israel (http://redcouch.typepad.com/) did a talk about blogging at Amazon last week. They are the authors of Naked Conversations, a book supposedly about the benefits of corporate blogging. From what has come out in the blogosphere since, it appears that their message is "Blogging makes you money, every company should do it!!" hype. That went over like a lead brick with Amazon's CTO Werner Vogels (http://www.allthingsdistributed.com/), who already has a blog, just not a corporate rahrah one. He asked pointy questions, and apparently the two A-list bloggers thought he was rude and thus Amazon didn't "get" blogging.
The irony, it burns. Two self-congratulatory author types (yes, I know, it's redundant) can't back up their hype for a tough, cynical, audience, and thus conclude that the company didn't "get" their pet technology, when the toughest questioner already has a well established blog!
So the thing ripples, unto and past the point that Slashdot (http://slashdot.org/) posts about the tiff. Yes, it was a slow news day at Slashdot, apparently. Then the ripples get big.
Now, I think that these two authors should give Mr Vogels a great big thanks. You can't buy this kind of publicity and attention. Even if their book is pure bunk, this will have sold at least twenty more copies, just to people wondering what they're whining about!
Now, I've read some of their bog entries, especially about this, and I immediately get out my Buzzword Bingo cards. Too bad I'm not playing for money. I've also read a number of Vogels entries, about this and other subjects. Geeky enough to lose me, but realistic. Guess which blog made my links? Yep, the geeky one.
I've looked at some other of the so-called "A-List" blogs. I am unimpressed. Lots of hype and razzle-dazzle, not much real meat. Hell, the closest to A-List that I peruse on a regular basis is Post Secret (http://postsecret.blogspot.com/) - because it feature stuff from real, albeit anonymous, people. No astroturf.
Amazon & Blogging
So, about blogging at Amazon and subsidiary companies:
First, a lot of what happens "inside" the company is under NDA. Duh.
Second, a lot of what we do in many areas is maintenance and upkeep. Most of it is either very routine, or fixing the results of Murphy's Law in "overdrive" mode. This is common to any large company I've worked for. Not blog fodder.
Third, there is a constant re-evaluation and revision of technologies, so Amazon can deliver the best service in it's core business: helping people find what they want, and get it when they want it. That all happens on internally, not in public. It's often boring, and not remotely ready for the public. Plus the NDA issue.
Now, Amazon has a policy on external communications, just like any other company. Employees who blog, like me, need to make it clear that the opinions that we post are our own, not Amazon's, and we are not allowed to discuss anything not already in the public domain (or cleared to be released to the public). Also, lots of stuff is just not blog fodder.
Some companies, like A9 with Open Search, have official blogs (http://blog.a9.com/blog/) where technologies and relevant links are pointed out. But that is because it "fits" with what they do. I have links to some of them in my sidebar.
I personally do not think that people who are looking for things to buy are interested in the mechanics of the order processing and delivery system. I know I'm not, I just want my stuff. So Amazon.com itself doesn't really have anything to blog about! Now the authors featured on the plogs, and the creators of listmania lists, or people who submit reviews, yes, they have something to contribute - and there are mechanisms on the site to do it.
Blogging for blogging's sake is silly. A company being pushed to "blog" for nebulous, feel good, gains when they already have other content addition methods that are better suited is ridiculous.
Obligatory Disclaimer and Disclosure
I work for A9.com, a subsidiary of Amazon. I blog on my lunch hour, and after work. My opinions are mine (all mine!), not those of my employer. Amazon and it's subsidiaries have thousands of employees, each with their own viewpoints.