Ageism in Slovakia: Recruitment

October 28th, 2006 § 8

The elephant in the room about which people are reluctant to talk is the effect of age group on calibre of candidates. Eighty per cent of the employees at IBM Slovakia are under 25. Similar numbers apply to Dell (I was at their autumn party at the Design Factory in Bratislava and saw the phenomenon with my own eyes). I don’t have the Siemens numbers.

In my own recruitment project, I had a mixed group of resumés for what ended up being two positions. CV’s for the most part came with date of birth. The best candidates were almost invariably younger. I had no bias against hiring someone a little older.

My inclination for a more mature candidate went against the recommendation of my recruitment manager. He recommended hiring young and training up. But I was specifically seeking someone around 30 with good experience who would be ready to work. I’d rather not lose my time in training and we could afford to pay well for someone who can do the work properly straight away.

Amazingly enough the older candidates for the most part were unexceptional. The work they had done in the past was not great. Their salary demands were excessive in line with their talents. They had a bunch of skills next to useless to Foliovision (.net, ASP, Flash, java: what we needed was CSS, PHP, Rails if you’re interested).

For the most part, their demo sites were atrocious flash messes. In the best case some horrible CMS with some very basic graphics slapped on top of its out of the box layout.

One older candidate (thirty-four) who I interviewed turned out to be a catastrophe with made up stories of employment and perennial conflicts with his boss. A slightly older candidate (just over thirty) whom we took on a short trial didn’t turn out well either: competent but very inflexible in her way of doing things with no inclination to learn new things.

In the social scene, I’ve noticed similar traits as well in the different age groups. The people who are inclined to work hard and learn here are the young. These findings are only in Bratislava. I have not yet been to East or South Slovakia.

So despite my best intentions of hiring older and more experienced workers, I had to follow George’s advice and take on younger individuals. For instance, our new junior programmer is just twenty-one. While he is somewhat less reliable than an older person (he sometimes forgets appointments both in and out of work), he does some very good work and learns very quickly.

Recruiting Standards and Performance: IBM, Siemens, AT&T in Slovakia

October 28th, 2006 § 0

Today when out on a beautiful autumn afternoon walk near the castle in Bratislava, I ran into someone else working in the IT sector.

We fell to speaking about international companies coming into Bratislava in the IT sector. IBM has moved 1800 jobs to Slovakia in fulfillment and logistics.

Apparently, IBM employees are free to use IM (instant messenger) as well as personal email during work hours. They are judged on performance. Over at AT&T Slovakia, the network administrators band IM clients full stop period, while using personal email is a punishable offense.

Siemens in Slovakia has something like 7000 employees doing varied things, but also including a customer service section.

IBM pay starts around 30,000 Sk/month (about 810 euros). Siemens pay starts around 18,000 (about 480 euros).

I have a pretty idea of which company is going to get the better talent. I have a pretty idea of which company will provide better service.

Curiously enough my acquaintance at IBM is a graduate of the top commerce university in Slovakia, with a year of study in an international business school in Western Europe.

My acquaintance at Siemens is a trained teacher, with a degree in Geology.

I respect and admire teachers but one has to believe that IBM has set the bar higher here.

This was very useful knowledge. At my company, we want to attract personnel as good or better as those going to work in the major international companies. To do that, we have to provide a congenial work environment. We also have to provide better opportunities and better salaries. From what I can see, we are on track to do so.

But with IBM hiring thousands at a time, the battle for talent will be fierce. We are not really competing for the same personnel as Siemens, so they are less of a factor.


We also talked about motivation for bringing the jobs to Slovakia and Bratislava. The savings in salary for the international company in comparison to personnel costs in Vienna. I imagine people of the same caliber as the IBM crowd would cost about 2000 to 2500 euros per month. The big savings is as much on the social charges as on the salary. The employer in Slovakia will pay about 400 euros in social charges on the Slovakian salary. The employer in Austria will pay 2000 euros in social charges on the Austrian salary.

End cost to IBM of high calibre junior personnel in Slovakia = 1200 euros/month
End cost to IBM of high calibre junior personnel in Austria = 4000 euros/month

Global Military Spending

September 27th, 2006 § 0

This year global military spending has reached the highest point of history, outranking even the highest years of the Cold War.

Global military spending this year is estimated to reach US$1,059bn, outstripping the highest figure reached during the Cold War in real terms, and roughly fifteen times current international aid expenditure. This growth in military budgets has caused a boom for the arms industry, with the top 100 arms companies seeing their sales increase by almost 60 per cent, from US$157bn in 2000 to US$268bn in 2004.

One has to ask oneself if Bill Clinton or Al Gore were in power would this be happening… The answer is no. The US economy would be growing in the direction of services and international consumer goods.

American influence would be expanding as its products and its businessmen took over whole markets and could even control huge sections of the media sector via their advertising.

I know how the system of control and domination of foreign markets works, from my experience as head of televison in Russia for two of the world’s largest ad agencies with, in both cases, P&G as our principal client.

Of course, some American expansion into new markets carries on anyway, despite the animosity of the Cheney years. There is a great deal of momentum in world trade which takes years and decades to succumb fully to inertia and negative forces. But the Americans would be having a lot more success stories and a lot less bloodshed, had they not played the imperial card and instead carried on with Bill Clinton’s friendship hand.

Had the Israel-Palestinian issue been resolved instead of launching the foolish (and deadly) Iraq crusade, there would have been little standing in the way of a mass PR and business benefit to American business throughout the world.

And we would be in a much better position to take on issues like world hunger. Not solve them, but make them a lot better.

If we could alleviate world hunger even a little bit it would be a wonderful thing. Each statistical percentage points is the difference between hundreds of thousands starving. Conversely, each billion dollars of military spending ends up costing tens of thousands loss of life and limb.

Statistics like this should make us angry, not depressed. This is how our money and how our efforts are being spent – on arms and not on helping our fellow man.

Vote, protest and educate.

Internet Marketing No BS Checklist

September 27th, 2006 § 0

John T. Reed maintains a fabulous list of the real estate gurus out there operating. I say operating as few of the teach anything of substance. Some of the worst include and best-known include: Ron LeGrand, Robert Kiyosaki, Russ Whitney and Carleton Sheets.

While most of John T. Reed’s site is specifically related to real estate, the no BS checklist could apply to almost any business involving high-priced training and gurus. I’m thinking specifically of internet marketing.

Here’s just a single goodie – # 37:

37. Riff raff in audience. If you go to a live presentation of some sort, you can see, in-person, the other customers of the guru in question. B.S. artist gurus have audiences that look sleazy, unkempt, the bottom of the socio-economic barrel. The better the audience looks, the better the quality of the guru’s information as a general rule. Think of it this way. Look around the room and ask yourself, “Are these people who I want to be like when I grow up?” If not, leave.

Fantastic advice. Not universally true but almost so.

Thinking of doing business? Get thee hence and memorise this No BS list.

Slap on the wrist for White Collar Criminals

September 27th, 2006 § 0

There is no justice in the world. While there are people doing life sentences (three strikes and you’re out) for stealing hubcaps in California, one of the five core figures in business crimes which shook the American economy gets six years of minimum security. The judge even knocked time off of the plea-bargain his lawyers had made.

Andrew Fastow, who helped engineer the financial trickery that sank Enron Corp and then helped convict his former bosses in the scandal, had four years knocked off the plea deal he made, receiving a six-year sentence instead.

US District Judge Ken Hoyt said the 44-year-old former Enron chief financial officer had given “exceptional” assistance to prosecutors, had pledged to help victims and had shown remorse, and his wife had gone to prison for a year….

Judge Hoyt imposed no fine and recommended a minimum-security prison for Fastow.

Enron’s crash caused investors to lose billions and cost thousands of employees their jobs and retirement savings.

No fine!

Unbelievable.

This means Andrew Fastow should be out on the street within two and a half years. Perhaps he will even have weekends out.

The Enron men should be going away for twenty years and up. Business leaders need some clear signals from the criminal justice system that their misdeeds will not go unpunished.

How can we expect honesty and diligence from:

  • ordinary people
  • small business owners
  • employees
  • politicians

when every day they see the rewards for crime.

On the other hand, a mass murderer and an election thief is allowed to stay in The White House and continue to menace the world and hold up peace in the Middle East.

We are entering a Modern Dark Ages, a latter day feudalism. There is one set of laws for hereditary lords and another for the common folk.

Any such system degenerates quickly enough into mass bloodshed and disintegration. It is the opposite of a merit-based system. It is the opposite of fairness. Such a system encourages sycophancy and corruption. Third-world nepotism makes it into the big leagues.

Frankly, these are not the rules of the game which I would wish on my children and grandchildren. Or yours.

Web 2.0 Spam: Advanced Content Recycling | Manipulating Digg

March 4th, 2006 § 3

Looking for a perfect example of somebody using someone else’s old content and Web 2.0 tools to create a lot of buzz for themselves?

The guy over at SiliconCloud.com which is just a two-month old weblog went through Jakob Nielsen’s old lists and a couple of other lists floating around out there and chose twelve items which web designers/owners are still doing.

Here’s just one example: Forms.

From Silicon Cloud’s 12 Ways to Irritate Your Visitors:

7) Unnecessary Questions – Ensure that the subscription form to your ezine or newsletter spam contains at least 36 questions more than needed. Why stop at the username and email address when you can ask them for information such as their mailing address and at least 3 different phone numbers (home, work and mobile). By adding other pointless questions such as age, sex, hobbies, religion and inside leg measurement is a sure-fire way to prevent people ordering your product or subscribing to your mailing list.

From Jakob Nielsen’s Top Ten Web Design Mistakes 2005:

7. Cumbersome Forms

People complained about numerous form-related problems. The basic issue? Forms are used too often on the Web and tend to be too big, featuring too many unnecessary questions and options. In the long run, we need more of an applications metaphor for Internet interaction design. For now, users are confronted by numerous forms and we must make each encounter as smooth as possible. There are five basic guidelines to this end:

  • Cut any questions that are not needed. For example, do you really need a salutation (Mr/Ms/Mrs/Miss/etc.)?
  • Don’t make fields mandatory unless they truly are.
  • Support autofill to the max by avoiding unusual field labels (just use Name, Address, etc.).
  • Set the keyboard focus to the first field when the form is displayed. This saves a click.
  • Allow flexible input of phone numbers, credit card numbers, and the like. It’s easy to have the computer eliminate characters like parentheses and extra spaces. This is particularly important for elderly users, who tend to suffer when sites require data entry in unfamiliar formats. Why lose orders because a user prefers to enter a credit card number in nicely chunked, four-digit groups rather than an undifferentiated, error-prone blob of sixteen digits?

Forms that violate guidelines for internationalization got dinged by many overseas users. If entering a Canadian postal code generates an error message, you shouldn’t be surprised if you get very little business from Canada.

Frankly, Nielsen’s advice is far better and more detailed.

Anyway our friend Thomas over at Silicon Cloud, then went on to post his own linkbait article to Digg. It took. Far more interesting from an SEO perspective, than the recycled twelve errors is his own account of his Web 2.0 manipulation:

Step 1 was to post the article into the Digg site. This was fairly easy as we already had a Digg account. Once our article was in digg on the diggall list we sat back and watched what happened next. Quite quickly a few people ‘dugg’ the posting and within about 15 minutes the post had 10 diggs and appeared as the next level of popularity in the cloud view. Things were going well. All this was helped by the first comment received on the article which was almost as funny as the article itself. Thanks James.

I have to agree with reader James’s comment – the most annoying current practice on the web is to break long articles up into multiple pages, making it slower to read them and harder to reference them (i.e. over at Silicon Cloud). Why do commercial site owners do this? To increase the number of ad impressions and clickthrus. Strangely it has the opposite effect on me. I will avoid sites which will slow down and attack my browser or make me click through three or five pages (SEOchat.com, anybody?) to read what is a 1000 word standard article.

For those actually interested in usability issues and the various plagues that site owners and web designers unleash on us the hapless users (instant remedy Firefox and AdBlock), here is a list of most of Jakob Nielsen’s top ten no-no lists. I’ve bolded the three that I find most useful and still actual (it includes one from 1997!).

Read Nielsen and weep. The errors of 1996 in large part, persist.

Takeaway lesson: Web 2.0 is doomed to fall to the spammers shortly if the ramparts are not built high. The number of trackback spam and blog spam I get even on uncoy.com is astonishing and a nuisance.

Spammers and cloakers – Web 2.0 has arrived – on your marks, get set, go.

* Thomas Clay is also the creator and owner of Whatbooks.com – another fine example of search engine manipulation – it’s a review site of best selling books only: Tom Clancy, Stephen King, John Grisham, J.K. Rowling – you get the drift. Thomas is holed up in the Cotswolds which is in the south of England. For some reason the Brits are a good deal better at more subtle and long lasting manipulation of search engine results. I attribute to the life-long vow of hypocrisy and dissembling which is British society. Manipulation of the social atmosphere just comes naturally.

My favorite SEO, Ammon Johns (where the hell is his website?) is a Brit. Why Ammon Johns? Ammon Johns is one of the most helpful people in the SEO world and he was one of the first to fix his attention on helping his clients market their business, rather than on pure rankings.

Web 2.0 Definition

November 15th, 2005 § 2

Some smartasses in search of investors have invented a new term: Web 2.0.

Basically that means using Javascript in advanced way to improve the functionality of individual websites. Or in simpler terms, improve your website.

The nasty chaps over at The Register in the UK have had enough of pompous manifestos and declarations about Web 2.0 and decided to run a contest for definitions of Web 2.0 among their readership.

Web 2.0 Definition Continues »

Google sitemap software

November 5th, 2005 § 6

In the last two weeks, Google has just gone through a very elaborate update which has seen some of my clients’ sites drop dramatically and others rise to the top of some very difficult categories.

This turmoil has focused my attention very clearly on Google and things which might help with Google ranking and indexing. One of those is Google Sitemaps.

Google sitemap software Continues »