It will be very interesting, after they have filled all the positions, to find out the relative pay scales of 'civil' vs 'able' servants. Is it possible that they've not been attracting the 'able' because they've been paying below scale?
I just hate it when the 'fix' is to throw lots of money at a problem - temporarily - when the real fix would have been to throw a bit more money at the problem all along. "But we had to now!" versus "I guess we should have back then..."
Maybe they also need to toss some money for "training"? Part of the problem is new stuff shows up and the manglement gets some briefing and mild training. They won't pay for the troops who maintain this stuff to be given training on it.
Uh, this isn't about new systems, it's about old systems. Think embeded SQL, COBOL, System V (with all the 1992 updates!), custom C programs (written by retired or dead programmers) etc...
Government agencies spend millions to replace all these old stable systems with new systems that break all the time and are closed to any RFC system and drowned in license fees.
...state IT staff, who are primarily trained to oversee the older systems on which many state offices still run.
This isn't the entire story, a lot of government IT jobs are filled by people that know someone that know someone. It's nepotism to the extreme - "My nephew knows computers! Yeah, he fixed my screen saver, hire him and make him an admin or something". So you get arrogant novices without a disciplined approach to problem solving that give up quickly.
"So you get arrogant novices without a disciplined approach to problem solving that give up quickly."
Pretty much. Some dude walked in and said "This isn't running Node.js in a docker on Ubuntu, I'm too good for this" and walked out. You can always tell the types that know what they are doing because they are older and don't converse with anyone. If they are really seasoned, they even pass on the doughnuts and leave without saying goodbye.
@MyBackDoor -- Re: Pay?
While you're right about the old systems, the article's first paragraph says: New York state officials say they are having to hire outside consultants to work on their systems because the state's own IT personnel lack the skills to manage newer technology.
Re: @MyBackDoor -- Pay?
Sorry, you're correct. I read that, but apparently misread a later wording to make me think otherwise, the 'who' in the following reads ambiguously to me:
"contractors will need to be hired from outside the pool of exam-taking applicants and state IT staff, who are primarily trained to oversee the older systems on which many state offices still run."
On a side note, lord only knows what "cutting edge" technology NY has if NYC has to beg Uber for data. I'm defaulting to believe as many other here do, this is all a big financial back scratching.
Some dude walked in and said "This isn't running Node.js in a docker on Ubuntu, I'm too good for this"
So not that different from the Silly Valley or the Silly Roundabout after all.
"Is it possible that they've not been attracting the 'able' because they've been paying below scale?"
I'd say from my experience, that could be part of the problem. In the state local government (Missouri) I often see IT postings with a long list of high level requirements and a salary not remotely competitive with the private sector. Guaranteed way to build up a workforce of incompetents who will never leave. I have also had to work with state, local government and educational IT staff in a consultant capacity: a good many of those workers should not have been employed in the field.
I once had a boss that told me our staff didn't need training. We would just replace our current staff with trained staff. Incredibly stupid and short sited, and fortunately the actual company policy was to keep the staff well trained - mandatory off-site training was a yearly development requirement.
"This isn't the entire story, a lot of government IT jobs are filled by people that know someone that know someone. It's nepotism to the extreme - "My nephew knows computers! Yeah, he fixed my screen saver, hire him and make him an admin or something". So you get arrogant novices without a disciplined approach to problem solving that give up quickly."
Things must be different where ever you are. I have never come across this in the government sector. It is shockingly common in among non-profits and unremarkable among companies that have recently made the jump to a grown up IT dept.
My experience is you find two types in the public sector: the young and green and the old and time serving.
The former are generally well trained, knowledgeable and enthusiastic to make things work. They are usually working for a fraction of what they would get in industry, either because they lack the work history to get a look in at a corporate HR dept, or because they think its a secure job (ho ho ho). Once the enthusiasm is beaten out of them by a combination of rigid systems, brainless management, budget cutting and people telling them that all public servants are stupic, overpaid and lazy they either bail out in favour of a private sector job or become job-hopping greasy pole climbers in order to escape into management.
The latter are often quite good on one topic - usually some obsolete system - but pretty useless if you need someone who can deal with anything later than NT4. They can be surly and unhelpful, which I think is a pretty normal reaction if you started what looked like a promising career 20 years ago only to have it tank due to factors well outside your control. Add a bunch of young guns who come and go talking about things you no longer even understand and the knowledge that at least some of those you started with managed to move on and up, but you are trapped until whatever system you know is retired and then you'll just have to hide in the toilets and hope no one notices until retirement day.
Basically, the same surly resentment of their own failure at life that in the general population led to Brexit, Trump and our own beloved One Nation party (known affectionately as One Notion around here). But I digress...
Where was I? Oh yeah, my experience of public sector IT, and the public service at the state level, is of well meaning and competent people trying to get things done in spite of their work environment. At the federal level morale and conditions have savaged to the point in some departments that the norm is now what the army used to call dumb insolence.
Well put, Käpt'n Blaubär.
My experience with public sector IT is:
- a significant number of well-meaning people with at least reasonable ability*
- some incompetents
- politics getting in the way of obvious improvements
Uncompetitive pay naturally attracts incompetents and if you have incompetent managers they will be allowed in and hang around. Unionized environments can make it tedious to get rid of the incompetents, which discourages managers from trying and then they're just carrying dead weight in budget and body count.
The politics can either be departmental budget protection or well-meaning job protection, but either way it's a frustration you have to deal with. Any developer in government IT, should understand that if you're doing your job well you should be making positions redundant, until eventually you are made redundant. Other bureaucrats should be thinking like that, but aren't.
You might think that this inefficiency would make it easy for the private sector to compete, but I've heard of some pretty insane bids for systems. The vast majority of stuff that government IT does is basic data processing so it should be really be relatively cheap.
Anyway, with all of the risks and challenges related to getting good staff, you can hardly be surprised that they turn to contractors. Contractors also sound temporary (even if the reality is people being around for years or a project-by-project churn), which helps when talking to pols about the budget.
* I think of myself in that group
I have worked on a couple of federal contracts, and helped out on an RFP or two. This in part involved writing up people who were OK at clearing printer jams as if they were guru-level sysadmins, and had given up coding embedded systems because it had become too routine. From what I saw of other contract employees, we weren't the only contractors who did that sort of thing: one encountered very able contractors, and also ones who were in over their heads.
Re: Don't know
the problem with bringing in "contractors " is most of the time they are there only between searching for FT roles.. and leave when a better gig comes along ..there is no loyalty when mgt treats employees like furniture
Re: Don't know
"the problem with bringing in "contractors " is most of the time they are there only between searching for FT roles.. "
Only in the US, which I know we are talking about. But the US seems to be a special case because the "benefits" of being staff are the things that people take for granted in Europe - pensions, healthcare.
I've been dealing with a big US integrator on several contracts in the UK. The American management team can't get their head around "contractor" being a career choice. They came up with a "brilliant" idea of offering contractors a "permanent" job with them at half the pay, because in their mind working for DREADCO is the best thing every and people would want to do that, right?
Unfortunately the contractors all know they can get paid better elsewhere and don't see a "permanent" job with an organisation that sacks thousands of people on a whim/to ensure the CEO gets his $10M bonus this year as attractive.
 Name changed to protect the guilty.
In house impossibility
Technology is moving very quickly and without being able to work on systems, on a full time basis, or having the resources necassary to keep up to date, it is almost impossible to master the systems that we now work with.
We are a small company but with our fair share of technology, On a daily basis I am working with Telephony Systems (Avaya), Databases (Oracle, MS SQL), VMware, Netapp, AD (Windows 2003-2012), various Reporting Tools ( BO, Tableau), Legacy apps ( PHP, ASP,) to name but the most current.......It is impossible to master all of these systems/technologies. There are times when we bring in outside consultants that even who have to think, our even call home in order to find solutions....
I am sure that many of El Reg's readership are in exactly the same position, it makes life difficult but interesting.....
In-house staff have to deal with so much in-house/daily chores/tasks that the high-end/complicated tasks can only be performed by dedicated engineers. So I can easily understand the requirements here and would not consider it as anything but a normal situation...
Unless you are Microsoft, IBM or one of the other major providers I am quite sure that most houses use external support on a regular basis,,
Re: In house impossibility
"Technology is moving very quickly and without being able to work on systems, on a full time basis, or having the resources [necessary] to keep up to date, it is almost impossible to master the systems that we now work with."
Why is this increase in complication occurring? What business need drives it? Is this some law of the universe, like the Second Law of Thermodynamics? Or is it new systems being overlaid on older systems with each layer introducing second order effects?
coat: clueless end user going down the shop for croissants and coffee.
Re: In house impossibility
I would consider that it is a mixture between, Risk Management ( BCP, DRP), increasing need to have a maximum of information at hand, cost cutting ( tradtional servers are damned expensive), facility ( Virtualisation provides excellent benefits), fear ( not keeping up with the joneses) and a multitude of choices for which we are convinced that they are good but whereby initially we do not understand the hidden costs ( increasing complexity).
Re: In house impossibility
> Why is this increase in complication occurring?
To some extent, it's just life and lifecycles, but in my experience, it's mainly because senior management expect an IT strategy document to have nothing to say about, well, IT.
Re: In house impossibility
need want to have a maximum of information data at hand,
Re: In house impossibility
@ Keith Peter
Some of it is driven by end user "I want want shiny", so that iPad they must have suddenly needs a whole new platform underneath to support them.
Then you have "we must be competitive" attitude, where they spend millions on brand new amazing kit, to only do exactly what they were doing before, as the kit was never the issue, but the processes.
Add in the demanding "customer" that expects everything 24x7x365 (for free) and complains when they can't order something at 3am on Christmas day.
And just occasionally,just occasionally, it's to replace something that is actually no longer fit for purpose.
Re: In house impossibility
"Why is this increase in complication occurring? "
Because management want more and more from IT. They want systems to be integrated but accessible from the poolside at their villa in Tuscany. They want input clerks replaced by software robots. They want the whole thing moved into the cloud to get rid of that unpleasant to them) CAPEX. They want BYOD for their iThings etc.
Albany is full of it. Maybe if they would actually hire some of the IT workers who take the placement exams they would have some. It smells like a kickback scheme where someone is looking at a big kickback payday form some IT head shop maggot wrangler.
For me, Albany was a city. Thanks to your remark, instead of making a snarky comment on how New York could possibly be called Albany, I now have to thank you for teaching me that Albany is a cornucopia of different places and the USA has more Albany than the entire rest of the world put together.
Any day I learn something is a good day, so thank you.
Having lived in NY state, Albany is a shorthand for the bloated, incompetent, corrupt, state government because Albany is the capital.
Why any DC would allow contractors in with no loyalty is horrible. The turn over rate would be high
The company I work for (C*pita) have this in reverse! They have IT gurus employed and then get rid of em, drop the salary for the roles and hire taletnless monkeys!
What about doing something sensible
Invest in your existing staff and train them. Staff at appropriate levels so your staff can keep up. As new systems are bought on-line ensure that, as part of the budget for the system, you include budget for training of staff (and ensure that there are enough resources to cover the "absence due to training").
Re: What about doing something sensible
It does not increase shareholder value!!!!!!
Do you HONESTLY expect the C suite slugs to give up their bonuses so IT peons can be trained, and bought off by a competitor.
C-suite philosophy: "Let the IT peons pay for their own training. I don't want it coming out of my bonus!!!"
Don't have? Don't know more like.
From my experience of the public sector and civil service it's almost certain that they have no damn idea what skills they've got because there's usually absolutely no effective skills management or tracking.
Somewhere at the top of the shop there's an assumption made that they can't possibly have the skills available in house. Meanwhile people lower down are leaving because they're passing their AWS certifications and learning skills on their own time, at their own expense, that their employer doesn't believe they could possibly have.