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Who’s the new guy?


I’d got to the office a little earlier then usual and had to walk past this new guy. No one had told us to expect a new colleague. I said hi and he replied hi allowing the ability to end the conversation
with a nod if I wished and I took that opportunity.

It was around 1987-1988. Memory is a bitch huh? Anyway, I dont remember exactly the year but I reckon it started about then.

When more familiar faces walked in I was able to ascertain that the new guy was a contractor. And as it turned out a bloody good bloke! Apparently we were short a programmer or two but did not have the budgets to permanently fill places. So they got in this contractor to do it. The first thing we noticed is he knew his stuff. That was great as it made the learning curve much easier. The other thing we found out through whisperings was he was on about double our hourly rate. Resentment is a bitter thing. But as I said lucky the bloke was a good guy as that was washed away quickly in the staff room.

And just as you are all really getting to know each other, his contract finished and he was off.

As it turned out, when the system went live, it had a few teething problems and so I was able to stay in contact with our absent friend to question him about some of the code.

It was only much later in the early 90s that I realised what had happened and why I did not like to see too many contractors. By then it was too late.

You see, when our contractor friend had ended his contract, he took with him knowledge about the system that we did not have. To be able to support our customers, I was now relying on someone that was doing it because he was a mate. He had other clients and other contracts and me calling him in the middle of those all the time no doubt peeved his new employer.

Now as it happened, it was not that bad and not that many phone calls. As I said, the guy knew his stuff, and it was only the one guy. But before you could say WTF? contractors where everywhere. And not only working as support to short staffed teams, but entire teams themselves. And you can imagine the number of phone calls you had to make to track down team members re support. So contracting firms began to sell the idea of handing over the project completely. They build it, put it in place, and they will maintain a support office.

I saw experience that once was in a room disappear on a friday night never to be seen again all too often. The programmers we did have had to spend time getting used to a system written by someone else. The way they addressed data meant I had to redesign database formats, but in a way to not stop all the old programs we had that had different formats. Imagine that. We tailored our entire office to a system that was out of our hands.

Management did not see the problem. They counted bums in seats rather then faces. Did not understand the issues that different faces may have re different levels of system knowledge. When they did, they began to extend contracts to the point where my last place of employment had a contractor as their longest serving employee. Clearly cheaper to keep him on and keep the knowledge.

And that is why the 457 visa debate reminded me of this. The outsourcing of staff and then the losing of the knowledge and experience from an office can really screw productivity.


A. Ghebranious March 2013

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