Attitude Adjustment

A few years ago, I wrote a column critical of a type of company I call body-brokers. These companies match resumes and skill sets with customer engagements. They typically hire people as part-time hourly workers and lay them off when their engagements end. They don’t invest in training, facilities, equipment or the future -- they just broker talent.

I told the story of a couple of people who were paid ridiculously low wages with no benefits and were locked into unreasonable noncompete contracts, while the companies that employed them raked in wads of cash from end user customers. I thought it was a great column, vividly illustrating the plight of exploited technical workers.

A few of you barbecued me for my naiveté, and at least one reader may have called me a communist. For a skinny bald guy from the cornfields of Minnesota, them’s fightin’ words, don’t ‘cha know.

A couple of sales reps from California-based consulting companies e-mailed horror stories about independent contractors and prospective employees who -- given the leverage of a then developing labor shortage -- decided the pastures were greener somewhere else and walked away from their commitments. I heard stories about consultants who didn’t show up for interviews and jobs, stories about inflated resumes and stories about technical people leaving customers and consulting companies high and dry.

I didn’t think anything like that would happen around here. I was wrong.

We recently had a potential customer ask us to provide a Unix system administrator. This would have been a nifty opportunity because we could begin developing a diversified skill base, and it never hurts to diversify. Looking for a Unix technical leader, I talked to dozens of people, most of whom weren’t interested. We found a person who agreed to meet with the customer, but one hour before the meeting he called and said he had taken another job. A few days later we found another person, and the same thing happened -- that person took another job before we could talk. This happened four times during a one-week period: Each person scheduled a meeting only to cancel it at the last minute.

Needless to say, we didn’t get the work.

Remember those exploited workers I wrote about a couple years ago? I got a call a few months ago from a person with a similar story: He was getting frustrated and wanted to leave his job. He wanted to work for our company and was interested in talking to us. We happened to have a potential customer engagement that matched his skill set, so I set up a meeting with the customer and us. He didn’t show up! When I called, he said he wasn’t sure he wanted to change jobs after all.

Exploited workers, huh?

In this column I’ve criticized Microsoft, my former employer, other hardware vendors and have even exposed my own foul-ups for public ridicule. I’ve berated body-brokers, complained about callous consulting companies and raged about ridiculous rules and regulations. But I’ve never chastised individual technical people in this column -- until now.

This arrogant behavior I see all over the place must stop. Do you guys realize how long my memory is? When you don’t show up for meetings, when you stand up customers, when you ignore work from one consulting vendor to which you’ve committed yourself in favor of another that pays a little more, when you burn me, I’ll remember you forever. I guarantee you’ll be at the end of my list next time I need technical help on a project. Based on the e-mail from a couple of years ago, I don’t think I’m unique.

It’s been said that 90 percent of success is simply showing up. This means that when you arrogantly blow off customers or set impossible conditions under which you will accept work, you blow off 90 percent of your chance for success in the future.

Don’t get cocky -- the current labor shortage won’t last forever.

I’ve seen things from many points of view: I’ve been a customer, hardware vendor, independent consultant and run a consulting company with several consultants on staff and under contract. I’ve ridden product and vendor cycles all the way up and all the way down. The common theme that repeats itself is that when companies and people become arrogant, they become stupid and eventually fail.

So those of you with today’s hot skill sets who think the world will always cater to your whims, think again. Sooner or later, today’s hot technology will be ancient history, and everyone you make mad today will be mad at you tomorrow. It’s a cruel lesson, and I don’t like watching it happen to people. So grow some humility now, before it’s too late. --Greg Scott, Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE), is Chief Technology Officer of Cross Consulting Group (Eagan, Minn.). Contact him at gregscott@scottconsulting.com.