Archive for ‘General Technology’

December 15, 2013

Northern Ireland’s Tech Bubble

When I moved to Northern Ireland in 2009 I was told by many people, both within the industry and outside, how fortunate I had been to find a job in NI within days of starting to look. The job market that I have known, across all industries and verticals, has always been fairly depressed in NI, but in the last number of years, probably starting around, or a little before, the time that I moved to Belfast, “tech” has started to be seen as the saviour of Northern Ireland’s ailing economy.

I’m assuming you know a little about the economy here. It has been well documented elsewhere, from the reliance on the “block grant” to our disproportionately large public sector, many have put their two cents in.

My fear comes in that, in recent years, the public sector body that provides inward investment into NI with the goal of building a more vibrant and sustainable private sector, has stumbled upon “tech” as a quick win to lift the ailing economy. The rationale goes that if we incentivise foreign companies to open offices in Belfast, the jobs they will create will start to relieve unemployment rates and provide much needed tax revenue. This certainly would be ideal, were the jobs distributed evenly across many verticals. However, what I believe is happening is that, due to the ease with which tangible savings are being represented to “tech” companies, is that there is a disproportionate number of  “tech” jobs being created in the economy.

The ease with which these jobs are being brought to NI are built on two fundamental pillars:
1) government support – through its agencies the government supports organisations both foreign and domestic to grow in NI. This usually comes in the form of a “per job” lump sum, but can also be bolstered through a variety of grants and awards. That these are often nebulous and hard to access or understand for local SMEs is a topic for another time.
2) resource cost – be under no illusion the foundation on which the pitch to the companies moving in is heavily based on the low cost of working from NI, that is, salaries are cheaper.
I’m sure, like me, you can see the issues with basing the growth of an entire economy on two such factors. Both of these are things that can easily change.

Since moving here I have observed an, albeit anecdotal, 100-150% salary base increase in “tech” jobs, especially at the more skilled end of the market. You may wonder why I persist in parenthesising “tech”, the reason is this, although the term is bandied about euphemistically, it doesn’t relate to a rounded sell of “tech” professions. Sure, there are hangers on, but, where “tech” jobs are announced, read “programmers”. That’s where the majority of these jobs are, and where there isn’t proportional growth across the market there is the risk of further damage. You see, what is happening is that skilled developers are highly in demand, so highly, in fact, that salary negotiations have become heavily weighted in the developers favor.  Not only that, but there has been a dramatic rise in interim resourcing. When I dipped my toe in the contract market in 2011, prior to starting a business, there were no full time contract recruiters in Belfast, there are now 7 that I know of, and, no doubt, many more coming onto the scene soon. Now, I have no problems with interim resourcing, in fact, it’s a great way to scale up and de risk small businesses, however, the market has become one of opportunism rather than permanence, and it will be hit hard if the bubble bursts. Not only that, but, due to the supply and demand based salary growth in the programmer’s market, other related markets naturally rise, whether or not there is a supply issue.

Opportunistic agents have an economic incentive to place people in jobs they won’t be happy in, or in a place they know they can encourage a move on from shortly. After all, churn, rather than permanence in the market is what pays their bills. Who can blame them?

So my fundamental fear then, comes down to this; as the cost base rises, and once subsidies run dry, and they will run dry, who will stay? Add into that equation a politically volatile landscape that certainly worries outside investors, and I believe we may be on the precipice of seeing that bubble burst.

To me the bubble bursting may not look significant at first. A small closure, a branch of an SI, or a division of a financial player, but, as the market floods with candidates, even if a small flood, the rates will lower and any economy that has built around the artificial inflation in this market will start to falter. The “tech” world is small and failure carries faster and farther than (moderate) success. A lowering in rates doesn’t mean we will get another chance at this.

In some ways I feel this is inevitable now, and that I’m observing from the outside. No way to touch the inner core that is driving this machine towards this end, however I feel there are certainly things that can be done individually and collectively, to try to mitigate some of this:

1) productize / find your niche – find what you are good at and build expertise around it, whether that is product or an exceptional service offering, don’t aim to be the best in NI, aim to be the best in the world. It’s only with an attitude of wanting to be the best that we will keep business in NI. If we become an interchangeable part, able to be outsourced to the next cheap location, we lose.

2) work together / support local – collaborate, help each other out. Back scratching doesn’t only help yourself, but helps entire communities. This can be a differentiation of the tech community in NI. I’m talking to myself, in the main, here. There are many people doing excellent things, from user groups, to dojos, to collectives. Get involved, and if there’s no one championing your niche, start something.

3) upskill the young – from the junior developer in the office, to the 13 year old who wants to learn to code, try to help. The more skill we have in this are, the less likely we are to see a saturated market. This is a market that, regardless of outside interest, can grow and grow. But it will only grow while the skills are there to make it grow.

The more ways we differentiate our “tech” community, the more value there will be for those from the outside. But lastly, I think the answer to an ailing economy can only come from within, so I hope that there is a shift, and that there is more done to support local people who want to start something, but equally that people who don’t necessarily want to be the starters, and the entrepreneurs, can gather around them and cheer them on, because, at the end of the day, that is what will save the economy that they are in.

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April 8, 2011

OSX Cisco VPN Client: Error 39: Unable to import certificate

If you’re having problems with the Cisco VPN client on Mac rejecting certificates, and giving the unhelpful error:

Error 39: Unable to import certificate

Check that you have the correct password for the certificate. Be assure that the Mac client can read pfx files, and this does not require you to import the certificate into Keychain Access and export as a p12 file – as reported elsewhere.

February 8, 2011

Inbox Zero with Google Mail

I’ve started using the inbox zero techniques recently, and have seen my productivity increase massively due to it.

If you don’t know what inbox zero is – you should read the articles at 43 folders first.

Google Mail gives us some additional tools that can really help over and above what the 43 folders articles offer. In this article I’m going to briefly outline some of the tools you can use with Google Mail to improve your productivity around email.

Much of what is referenced below uses the google lab features. If you are not familiar with them, look for the green conical jar icon in between your email address and the Settings menu in the top right of your Google Mail screen.

Using inbox zero, I went from 21,000 emails in my inbox to just actionable email (currently 5).

1. Filters and Labels

Create filters! Lots of them! Make this an active, on going process. The Gmail filters are very powerful, and so I’d recommend using these to clear your inbox. I don’t quite agree with the 43 folders motto of “Delete, delete, delete”. Instead, with Gmail, archive, archive, archive is the way forward. Make certain email types auto archive (for me this is Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn etc.); and also make sure you label all emails that come in – this not only increases the findability of information in the future, but also ensures that you can deal with only the emails you want to at any moment. Archived emails are not visible to you, but you can use the powerful search functionality of Gmail to find old information at any time.

2. Nested Labels

There is a great lab feature available to enable nested labels. Nested labels allow you to create “folders” of labels; and this is great for being able to manage large numbers of labels (I have 60 labels, seperated into 3 main categories, some of which have sub categories).

3. Hide Read Labels

Another lab feature that is incredible is the “Hide Read Labels” lab. This hides any label which does not have any unread messages in it. Pairing this with auto archive, means that you can quickly come back to unread (though unimportant) messages at any time.

4. Send and Archive

Send and archive is a lab feature that allows you to archive a thread as soon as you send the response. Enable this to ensure that your inbox remains clean.

5. Tasks

Enable Google Tasks lab feature if you haven’t already, and then use the More Actions menu to create tasks from emails where you have actions within an email. You can then archive the email, and use the Google Tasks feature to manage your to do list. In addition, if you add a deadline to the task, this will appear in your Google Calendar.