Monthly Archives: July 2006

Mr Angry’s rules for permanent employees working with contractors

This post in my series on contracting focuses on suggestions for non-management permanent employees working with contractors. The driver for this is that over the years I’ve worked on both sides of the fence and I’ve seen the sorts of preconceptions and misconceptions that can strain working relationships between permanent and contract staff. The sources for the suggestions in this post are a combination of things I have seen myself and the questions I am most commonly asked about contracting by permanent staff.

Let’s get the touchy one out of the way first: money. Don’t ask a contractor how much they are getting. Ever. It’s unprofessional and rude and, honestly, no good is going to come out of asking. If you want an idea of how much contractors can earn, look up some job ads. I’ve covered this topic in detail in previous posts so, if you need to, go back and re-read the sections comparing contract rates to permanent rates.

Contractors are not, by definition, any better than permanent employees at what they do. The reason for employing a contractor can vary from case to case and it’s worth finding out the reason a contractor has been hired if you find yourself working with one. If there’s any sort of decent management in your workplace (a big “if”, I know) then the contractor will have skills and/or experience that nobody else has. In the case of specialists, it’s easy to see why a contractor has been brought on but this is not always the case. Sometimes a contractor will have the same skill set as permanent staff (or even less skills) and they have been employed to provide “an extra set of hands”. This can lead to the unfortunate circumstance where someone appears to be getting more money while offering less return but this premium is the return for giving up the security of perment employment.

It’s worth getting clarification (preferably written) of how you, as a permanent, are expected to relate to a contractor. Are they a peer? Are you expected to report to them or pass any of your work through them? Will they have no impact at all on your work or who you report to? Once you have the word from management, introduce yourself to the contractor in this context:

“Hi, I’m… we’re going to be… I’m looking forward to…”

All those nice platitudes. This is good practice for two reasons. First, it gets you both off on a positive footing. Second, it can reduce miscommunication. It is not unheard of for management to tell a contractor one thing and permanent staff something else (shocking, I know).

I can’t recommend strongly enough that, where appropriate, permanent staff have a lot of interaction with contractors. There’s all those airy-fairy “team building” concepts of course (and I strongly believe the contractor should be treated as part of the team – for everyone’s benefit) but there are also some excellent selfish reasons for doing this. I’m going to approach this from a positive perspective and assume that you, as a permanent employee, want to improve your position/career/pay rate. If you happen to be the bump on a log type who is happy to sit the same desk and do the same job for as long as a regular paycheck keeps coming, feel free to ignore this advice.

A contractor, by definition, is doing something that a permanent employee isn’t and they are a much better source of information than any agency, article or guidebook when it comes to discovering what life as a contractor is really like. You may have no interest in becoming a contractor as such but a contractor is likely to have had more diversity in their roles and can provide some valuable insight into how to develop new skills, how to adapt to changing environments and what skills and/or experience are most valued in the job market. Whether you are looking for advancement in your current workplace or wondering what roles might be available elsewhere, someone with active experience in the job market (e.g. a contractor) can help you make a decision.

What it all comes down to is don’t build walls between yourself and contractors. Honestly, some contractors are jerks, gloating about their exciting life and sky-high pay rates and they can make you feel resentful towards contractors in general. If you’re going to dislike someone, do it because they’re a jerk, not because they’re a contractor. In my experience, the vast majority of contractors want to get on with their permanent co-workers so give them the benefit of the doubt.

Pretty much the only platitude I subscribe to is “if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” Bitching about contractors having too many advantages doesn’t help your situation. Besides, if you were so sure they had things so good, surely you go out and do some contracting yourself? Permanent staff can gain a lot of benefits from working with contractors so don’t be shy. Treat them as part of the team and you never know what you might gain.

READ PART FOUR

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An angry drive (part four)

This is why it’s dangerous to let me have a camera – I get a head of steam and don’t stop.  This one’s almost six minutes without an edit and includes my calm and measured attitude to 4WD/SUV owners.

The Malcolm Gladwell article I referred to in this rant is at the following URL:

http://www.gladwell.com/2004/2004_01_12_a_suv.html

The URL for the vlog is:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DOWBGf-dK9k

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Filed under Driving, Video Blogging

Mr Angry on MySpace

This is another YouTube “response” video, answering the question posed by Mr Safety: What would people do in a world without MySpace?

If you know somebody who needs to adjust to life beyond MySpace, send them the following link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EYDzELIzunI

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Beauty tips from Mr Angry

This video is a response to one of the popular YouTubers, i.e. another desperate attempt by me to ride on someone else’s coat-tails. It also features the behind the scenes “making of” video of the first of my new t-shirts, courtesy of my wonderful, talented girlfriend. Bound to be the top fashion item of the summer.

I’m having a bit of a mad run on videos today so there’s a few more to come. Stay tuned. In the meantime this one is also at:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dXFg2Ngi3H4

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An angry drive (part three)

This is a shorter grab from my angry drive that starts where the last ones finishes and ends with a frank and shocking admission.  I’m nothing if not honest.

I had to finish this at that point (although that’s a good finishing point) because after this I go on an uninterrupted chain of consciousness rant that doesn’t stop for more than five minutes.  So there’s something to look forward to – five minutes with no edits.

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Filed under Driving, Video Blogging

An angry drive (part two)

Well, after a bit of editing, here’s the second stage of my drive to work.  I start off fairly philisiophical but then my mood degenerates pretty quickly.   In other words, it’s Mr Angry being Mr Angry.

For anyone who wants the URL, here it is:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xqVZQU9goes 

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An angry drive (part one)

I thought I’d try something a little different and do a vlog while driving to work. It’s a bit of a long drive so I’ve cut it into bite sized chunks and this is the first part.

Feel free to distribute far and wide from this URL:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GbdgsAcoypQ

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Mr Angry’s rules for employing contractors

I previously wrote about rules I thought contractors should follow in order to have a happy life. Of course, contractors themselves are only part of the equation. Everybody else has their part to play. This post contains suggestion for people currently employing or planning to employ contractors. The rules covered below are based on my experiences in a range of workplaces; some handled contractors very well (and are used as positive examples) and some failed badly (and provided the negative examples).
First and foremost, make sure you actually need contractors. Ideally your project planning will be well thought out enough to see staff and skill shortages coming. When you identify such a gap, consider a range of options to fill it. Would it be covered by providing additional training to existing staff (and so boost your long-term advantage)? Is the need an ongoing one and so needs a permanent solution? Can the need be covered by some reshuffling of existing staff and/or project schedules?

In other words, don’t just wake up one day and go “Oh god, we’re shorthanded. I’d better hire some contractors.” Do everyone a favour and go out and read “The Mythical Man Month.” This may sound a bit counter-intuitive, a contractor saying don’t rush to hire contractors, but I’m saying it for a number of reasons. Mainly I’m saying it because being hired onto a project as an act of desperation means I’m going to be dumped in a pile of crap. I like to think I’m good but I can’t work miracles. Plus, it tends to piss off existing staff if contractors are brought in as “saviours” before they are given the proper opportunities to deal with the situation themselves. And rightly so.
Also, I know I can say this without affecting my future job prospects because I can safely say not enough employers are going to listen to change to change anything. I’m sounding cynical (hard for any of my regular readers to believe, I know) but I’ve been doing this sort of work for around 15 years (10 as a contractor) and I’m yet to see any significant improvements in management practices.

And speaking of pissing off staff, another time when you really shouldn’t hire contractors is when the disparity in pay between the contractor and your permanent staff is too high. If you can’t get a contractor without paying them double what corresponding permanent staff get, then you should be paying your permanent staff more. I covered this issue in more detail in my previous post but in short, avoid increasing the pay-based antagonism between contract and permanent staff.

Short term, I am thinking of my own interests – I don’t like working in negative, resentful environments. Long term, it serves any company to have a stable, satisfied workforce. The simple act of not hiring people who seem to swoop in, scoop up piles of cash and then fly out can really help the job satisfaction of permanent staff.
There are always the exceptions to the rule, the super-consultants whose knowledge is so deep and/or specialised that they can command over a grand a day in any job market. This isn’t me but I’ve heard these creatures are not totally mythical. But bear in mind this sort of pay disparity is rarely justified. If you find yourself in this situation you’re either not paying your permanent staff enough or you’re paying the contractor too much. Most likely compounded by very poor resource planning on your part.

But let’s think positive, when are the right times to hire a contractor?

The obvious times to hire a contractor are when there is a skill or experience gap in your team that you can’t fill internally or when you simply need some extra hands for a set period of time. Notice I said a set period of time. It’s a common mistake to say “we’re overwhelmed so we needs some contractors” without thinking it through. The one sentence summary of the book I mentioned before, The Mythical Man Month, is that you can’t make a project go faster simply by throwing more people at it – the management and communication overhead for larger groups (among other things) counters the benefit of having extra people on board.

And for the sake of everyone involved, make knowledge/skills transfer part of the planned engagement for the contractor. It benefits the business overall by increasing the skill set permanently available, it benefits permanent employees by helping them develop new skills (and almost everybody in IT wants to increase their skill set) and, speaking personally, it can help make the contractor feel involved with the workplace. Set this sort of goal at the interview stage and if you discover a potential contractor who resists the idea, this is a very good reason to not hire them. Any contractor insecure enough to try to hold on to “secret knowledge” probably isn’t all that good anyway.

Another important rule for employers dealing with contractors: if the contractor has been hired through an agency you DO NOT discuss pay rates with the contractor. EVER. You discuss work issues with the contractor. You discuss contract issues (including rates) with the agency. The agency discusses contract issues with the contractor. It’s like the separation of church and state. Except more important. And don’t ever say anything along the lines of “isn’t that why you get paid so much” to a contractor. Not even in passing, not even as a joke. The rate was set when the contract was signed and shouldn’t be discussed again unless the contract is up for renewal.

Plus, it hurts. Most of the time, most contractors will let it go but they shouldn’t have to. Any discussion about performance etc. should focus on professional expectations. Talking about money is unprofessional and is almost certain to damage the working relationship, however slightly. There are a thousand legitimate things that can strain a working relationship without introducing unnecessary crap like this.

It’s only human for an employer to expect more from a contractor than from an equivalent permanent employee. But set these expectations at the interview stage and confirm them in writing with the contract. Don’t add things in after the fact and keep piling the contractor with more and more work “because they’re paid for it.” It’s unprofessional and nine times out of ten it will result in a worse performance from the contractor, not a better one.

A final word of advice, don’t be scared to ask the contractor for input on what they should be doing. No matter how unique a situation seems to you, most contractors will have seen something very similar before. You’re hiring this person as an expert or at least for their additional experience and expertise. Use that wisely.

READ PART THREE

READ PART FOUR 

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Technorati seems to be having some problems

I was doing one of my random trawls through Technorati (I’ve hit the top 50,000 by the way, woohoo!) instead of working and saw that they may have a few bugs to work out with their new-look site. For those of you who don’t keep track of things (99.9% of the human population) Technorati revamped their site recently giving it a sleeker look and feel and changing a few of their features. Broadly I think the changes are good although I’m still getting used to a few of them.

I did a search for new posts on Google and got the following result:

no posts contain Google
I don’t wish to suggest that the blogosphere is completely unoriginal but how many posts relating to Google do you think appear every day? I’m guessing more than zero. This happened a couple of times in a row then it started working and I got a more realistic 320,000 hits. I guess you can’t make big changes without experiencing a few teething problems.

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A short video interlude

I am still deeply dissatisfied with my failure to dominate YouTube. Originally I was simply using YouTube as a tool to serve up videos for this blog but since seeing how many viewers a lot of the videos on YouTube get, I’m determined to get a bit of that action. It’s that whole world domination obsession of mine.

I have learned two tricks to attracting viewers, one is featuring (or seeming to feature) semi-nekkid people and another is to respond to a popular video and ride on their coat-tails. This video is a response to one of the most popular YouTubers – a perky little 17 year old girl (so I’ll obviously never be as popular as her). The context is she makes a humourous video about a science topic, this one was the coriolis effect. So here’s my response:

If anyone wants to see how gross and childish I am, I’ll post the first take where I farted then couldn’t stop laughing. If I get enough requests, that is :)

I was also thinking of doing a “social experiment” on YouTube like my “uncut action” video where I see how many viewers I can trick into watching my videos by making them look like porn. I was going to do one with nekkid ladies, one (as requested by Saly) with nekkid men for the ladies, one with lesbians (which would attract horny hetero males, not lesbians) and one aimed at gay men. Then I would know what porn images were best for tricking desperadoes.

But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. It just seemed to icky. What do you all think? Should I exploit the horny nature of YouTubers?

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