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Letters Since the new boss of the British Computer Society warned that the economy would wither if it didn't train some more IT bods, Register readers have started to recount the sad stories of their underpaid, unappreciated, insignificant lives.

The problem, according to Professor Nigel Shadbolt Shadbolt, the BCS head, was that undergraduate intake for university courses in computer science had dropped by a third since 2002 because the teaching wasn't good enough and kids where put off by the industry's nerdy image. Yet demand for IT skills had doubled, and this skills gap encouraged employers to outsource more work overseas.

Shadbolt's analysis was right, said Register readers - if you trained us properly and paid us more, you wouldn't need to send your work overseas.

To rub salt in the wound, the Trades Union Congress released figures at Christmas that showed how since 2000 executive pay in FTSE 100 companies had increased 105 per cent more than the cost of living, while pleb pay had gone up a measly six pounds.

Executives had lined their pockets with cosy pensions as well, while cutting the pensions of the underlings who did their dirty work.

What can you do but have a good moan? Write a letter to The Register, of course. A problem aired is a problem shared, as they say. And boy, have you guys got problems.

What we'd like to know is, who's got the crappiest job with the stingiest pay in the IT sector, and how much does their boss earn? Do tell us. What's that? Your boss won't tell you what he earns? Why's that, then?

You might take the BoFH's advice on this problem. Meanwhile, here's more mid-winter woe from our readers.

Know your place

"Yesterday I happened upon the snippet that the *average* income of IT workers in the USA is just over $80K." Where the hell does it say that? Speaking as someone who's never even *met* an IT worker making anywhere near $80K, I'm curious. Or do all us humble, ill-paid-and-ill-appreciated technologists who keep everything working for the high-forehead computer-science types not count as IT workers?

Hi Mark, I couldn't help myself, I had to write. It appears from your selection of posts that no-one understands that one of the major influences on IT recruitment is the applicant filtering processes. Many advertised jobs are asking for gold standard operatives who have mucho years experience, often working for blue chip companies. Then you see the pay scale and you realise that these posts will only ever get filled by folks who have been sacked from previous posts and are willing to lie through their teeth to get ANY work. By the time the agencies and the employers have finished with the shortlisting algorithms, I can see that there must be few valid applicants for many of these jobs. When you look at the joke salaries being offered, and then see that these jobs are mainly in "the smoke", it isn't hard to see what is happening. It's a return to the Dickensian Britain we love and cherish so much. Stuff working for some rapacious global corporate monster, I can fix peoples PC's and give advice on the latest industry scandals, OS vulnerabilities, product recalls, etc and feel good about myself at night. At the moment this only grabs me pin money, but with a bit of hard work this could gross me £50k + from full time work. Now compare this to what software pirates get .... when they get caught, and imprisoned. Surely, even someone without a maths degree can see why the industry isn't getting the staff they require. Regards David Urmston

£50k a year as a door to door PC repair man? Pull the other one, David. Ignorance is bliss they say, and if you prefer it that way, stop reading here...

The real reason your pay is so shiq

Here's an analogy that might clarify the confusion. Someone says mechanics are in short supply - Mechanic A, with 20yrs experience in rebuilding Morris Minors says this can't be right because he can't find work. Mechanic B, with a freshly minted certificate in repairing Ford Escorts complains that there are no mechanics 'cause he is paid peanuts. Nigel down the road, who taught himself to repair Ford Escorts complains that if only garages would accept self taught mechanics, there'd be no shortage. Meanwhile, Mercedes mechanics are being imported from overseas 'cause that's where the real shortage is ... G.

>Professor Nigel Shadbolt, recently appointed head of the BCS, told the >BBC that there was a skills "crisis" There isn't a skills crisis, it's a purely financial problem which, with the current vogue of outsourcing services, is only going to get worse. The root cause as always is money and specifically the greed of the client and the service providers. Firstly, the client wants the cheapest provider. Secondly, the service provider wants to maximise its profit. This means the provider enters a low bid to win the contract and then has to pay peanuts to the IT staff and we all know what you get when you pay peanuts.

To compensate for the monkeys, the provider will get in a few competent people, let's call these the geeks. These, they will pay a bit better as a form as insurance to carry the contract when things get tough and to get close to the service level agreement but generally speaking things just amble along quite nicely. This outsourcing can go down a few depths as providers outsource to other providers each taking their cut so what's left for the monkeys isn't worth beans, let alone peanuts and I don't know if monkeys can live on beans alone.

And here's the thing that nobody wants to let out and why it all works. There is no great mystery to IT, only a myth perpetuated by those within - anybody with half a brain can hack it. Before anyone gets offended, I include myself.

The monkeys think that they are surrounded by some special aura. The good ones who earn geek status continue the myth because it's all they've got - that and the ability to fix PCs for other peoples girlfriends.

I've worked outside the UK in various countries for over twenty years and it's the same everywhere I've been. People are intrinsically greedy. The geek with an inflated sense of importance is no different than the CEO in wanting more money - it's the pecking order that counts.

These "dozy half-wits" are sore that they're dozy half-wit running things. But whatever situation they are in is down to their own lack of negotiation skills and a willingness to accept crap. Then they just sit down an complain about it, quite honestly, they deserve what they've got. And as for getting to the top of the pecking order, with their current attitude they haven't a chance.

So I for one would rather they put up, shut up or actively do something about it other than moan in public.

Kind regards,

Chris Winpenny

Not a bad idea, Chris - shut up moaning or do something about it, that is ;-)

Are British CS courses really so shoddy?

I think there's an underlying issue in these letters which is quite interesting: the quality of what is taught in British schools. My stepson recently gave up computing (or ICT, whatever they call it now) at school, because he could see that there was really no point in spending time learning which button to click in Word to get it to make text bold or something.

And he's right: even if the button is the same one when he enters the job market in 10 years or so, the program is designed so that anyone can work out how to do that. What is being taught at school is, frankly, worthless.

This is a tragedy in the country which gave us the BBC micro and other heroic attempts to actually teach people about programming computers. Something Should Be Done. --tim


Hi Mark, On the letters page, you featured a letter from a chap from New Zealand commenting on the state of our Computer Science courses.

Unfortunately, I have to agree with him. I studied Computer Science between 1995 and 2000. I covered topics of genuine use in the field of Computer Science. I look at the same course now, and I would personally change the name to "BSc Java Programming".

We recently had a placement student from my old university working for us. When we got to talking about the course, I began asking some questions: "Did you get taught about NDFSMs?", I asked, "Uh? What are they?" he replied. Honestly, how many Computer Science graduates today know about Finite State Machines - Deterministic or otherwise? And yet, they believe they are qualified to write efficient software or design new hardware!

Next, I asked "Why do you need to understand hFE?", I ask, "What?", he says. When I sat the course, we covered both Digital Electronics and Analog Electronics within the first year.

It is my belief that Computer Scientists and Programmers (particularly those writing code for embedded systems) need to understand how the systems they are working with work, and yet the electronics has been entirely removed from the course.

And, since the course is now entierly Java based, with not a hint of C++ in sight, none of the recent graduates have a clue about how Memory Allocation or Threading works at a fundamental level - they simply allow the language to do it for them without a good understanding of what is happening "under the bonnet".

I could cite other essential elements of Computer Science which are no longer taught, however I think you get my point - most Computer Science graduates at the BSc level in the UK are little more than Programmers, and poorly educated ones at that. Regards, Mike.


Mark, I read your article "IT bods bemoan slavery" with a lot of interest, but I disagree on a lot of points with those commenting.

I would say the reason IT salaries aren't going up is because staff churn isn't high enough - companies don't increase IT salaries because they aren't losing many people.

My company is beginning to offer higher salaries for our higher level positions, due to an increase in staff churn. I've worked for my current employer for 2.5 years and recently became an Infrastructure Architect. I am 24 and earn £39k a year in a permanent role. I know 3 other guys from school who are my age and doing similarly well, two as Infrastructure Consultants and the other in Web Development. None of them have degrees, and neither do I.

After college I did a gap year in IT support for an engineering consultancy on £9.5k. Then in 2001 I started a degree, but it was useless. The web design module taught us how to use MS Frontpage.The other modules on the course were similarly pointless. So I quit my course after a year, and went back to the engineering consultancy.

After a few moves and a couple of years I started at my current company at £27k + company car, doing Citrix and some Altiris. I've moved twice internally since and in the 2.5 years have added £12k to my salary.

Moving companies typically can net you about £3k on top of what you are currently earning, to do a similar job at a similar level. There is a skills shortage in certain areas and the best thing any of us can do is take advantage of it.

There are too many institutionalised Brits that are comfortable where they are or afraid to move on to something else. The people that are doing well at the moment are the young guys that have a more mercenary attitude or the people at the top levels who are lucky enough to be head hunted.

The centralisation of IT support and the outsourcing of lower positions to other countries makes it harder for fresh blood to get on the first rung. Where first rung positions are available the salaries are low, because there are so many applicants and so little skill is required. Positions for the second rung are dead man's shoes and difficult to find.

My 2p anyway. Geoff

Geoff and Mike might be onto something. By turning their courses into "work skills" mince makers are they dumbing the industry down? That might be another reason why there are so few people interested in taking the courses. Word might be spreading...

You just can't get the people

I'm currently at one of the top universities for Computer Science, and they're having a huge issue attracting students. I'm in my second year, and there are about 45 students. The year ahead of me theres more like 60, the year that has just started has only 20.

Based on their current applicants for next year, the people I've spoken to wouldn't be surprised if there were only 10 students... This is a common problem across many universities. If the department is reduced from over 100 students now to 30 in a couple of years time, I wouldn't be surprised if the powers that be start thinking about closing it...

We've seen it with Physics and other science departments close - computer science could be next... Ed


Industry creating a rod for its own back
Your article and the letters are to the point, but they miss one thing. I graduated in 1978, with a 3rd class degree. But what I find now is a large number of employers who insist on a 2.1 or 1st class degree.

What does it matter after almost 30 years? To be fair, if one can get through to the technical people then they evaluate based on what the candidate can do and knows.

The problem is getting through the HR droids who see "doesn't have the qualifications" and round-file the CV. And then the tech people have to put up with people who have "the qualifications" and can't write a program to save their lives...

The grass is greener

Rather than whine, try scraping together some gumption, get off your arse, go on line and check out some stateside want-ads, email your resume (CV) and set up some interviews. Scrape up some cash for airfare (Chicago - Shannon round trip via Aer Lingus can be less than $400) and come over for some interviews...take a chance, worst that can happen is a quickie vacation, best is a job.

Don't worry about INS, no one else does - we get 2-5 million+ illegals a year...takes the feds years to catch on if they bother. The best part, you already speak English, and a British accent is in vogue these days.

If it really is so miserable in Blighty, take a chance and come on over, we've got plenty of room in the States. Only one thing though, no guarantees, and you'll have to work...it takes a while to find the free lunch.

Cheers, and I'll hoist a pint for you! Tre

BTW we really do like our English bretheren, and they are usually welcomed with open arms. I have quite a few friends who have come here from Blighty without legal paperwork, disappeared in plain sight (no one is looking), got jobs (usually for cash at first) and are living quite well.

But maybe the UK ain't as bad as all that

Hi Mark - I just returned from 5 months as a visiting research fellow in an IT department at a uni in the UK. Being an academic is so much better in England compared to Australia - it's like visiting another planet or a higher species. Maybe wage slaving is the go in the private sector, but for academic research work England (and Europe) make Australia look fourth world.

last, but not (in the) least (bit homo erectus)

England is not shit. It might be a bag of poo from time to time, however. I am sure you are not a c*nt, but you might be a wally from time to time. Kind regards, Ed Collins

You know me too well, Ed!

"And that, afterall, is the one we use when we visit the US and Australia and come back thinking the grass is greener."

"afterall"?

Never mind that the spiel you wrote to accompany the crop of letters you published was aesthetically repellent by any judgement: what made it unbearable was the fact that you couldn't even be bothered to run a spelling checker before sharing it with the rest of the world.

What are you playing at? Is there no professional pride left?

<sigh> Well, I'll just have to hope that El Reg's powers that be don't let you loose on much that I want to read. Your pieces do strike me as sloppily written and unpleasantly rude at the best of times, with a tendency to veer towards the deliberately misinformative and downright offensive.

Study the writing of Lester Haines - he gets it right. Rowland.

You poor, sad, barstewards.®

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