Random Thoughts – Randocity!

The H1-B dilemma

Posted in best practices, botch, business by commorancy on April 9, 2014

I have recently heard that a common question among Silicon Valley CEOs towards government is, when is the H1-B allotment going to increase? Let’s explore exactly what this question ultimately means.

Foreign vs US Workers

The H1-B visa is a type of work visa granted to a foreign national to work within the United States for a specified period of time, that eventually expires and will need to be renewed. Asking to have more of these granted per year says only one thing: These Silicon Valley CEOs believe they cannot find domestic US talent to fill positions. Either that, or they mistakenly believe it’s for cost cutting purposes.

My problem with this situation is that someone in each of those organizations is telling the CEO that they cannot hire locally. This is a load of rubbish and the current limit on the issuance of H1-B visas is in place for a reason. If you are a company doing business in the US, the point is to …

Hire Domestically

The foreign visa limits are there to prevent hiring foreign workers over local US citizens (and thus, keep those wages inside the US to help the economy). That’s the entire point. If the US government were okay with letting companies hire foreign workers willy nilly, then there would be no limits on H1-B visas nor would this visa likely even exist. Instead, it is there for a purpose and that purpose is to limit foreign workers to force hiring of US citizens. This is exactly as it should be.

If you think you need to hire foreign workers, feel free open a foreign office and hire all of the foreign workers there. Just keep them there and do not bring them onto US soil.

H1-B Workers

One of the other problems that I have with hiring H1-B workers is that most of these worker’s wages get sent back to the country where that worker calls home. Most of the money is not spent in the US. So, in general, H1-B workers do not, for the most part, help improve the US economy. But, they do help out their own country’s economy by sending much of their paycheck there. This is, if for no other reason, a big reason to hire US workers over any other type of worker. This all assumes that you value your US based business along with the US economy.

Again, if you really need to hire cheap labor, open an office in that region and hire to your heart’s content. As a CEO, nothing is stopping you (other than perhaps the board of directors) from making that decision. Asking the government to grant more allotment of H1-B’s is not the answer and never will be.

Lack of Talent

If anyone on your hiring team is telling you that there is lack of talent, the real lack of talent is actually in your hiring team. Meaning, when they’re not finding people it’s because they’re simply not trying. There are people all over the US who are talented and willing to work. Yes, you might have to pay them more in some cases, but if you want good talent, you pay for it.

Is hiring an H1-B worker actually cheaper? Not necessarily. If your company is choosing to sponsor a foreign worker (whether or not they plan to get a green card), your company is in for a large number of fairly pricey and somewhat time consuming legal proceedings at regular intervals. In other words, expect legal fees and lawyers to manage this process. So, what you’re not spending on that worker’s wage goes to your lawyer to keep that person legally in this country (and your business in compliance with the law). Worse, if that H1-B worker chooses to leave the country before your sponsorship is over, the legal fees you’ve spent are lost. If nothing else, the proceedings can interrupt both yours and that worker’s schedule to meet legal deadlines. Even worse, an H1-B holder can work at your company just up to the point of becoming a citizen, making your company foot all of the bills and then they jump ship leaving you without a worker and a set of legal bills you still need to pay. It happens. It’s not pretty. You can simply avoid this by hiring domestic US citizens.

Silly Valley

It’s called this for a reason. If Silicon Valley CEOs are claiming they need more H1-B visas, I call hogwash. There are plenty of talented US workers. The problem is not in the talent pool, it’s in the talent acquisition process. Either the job role is too overreaching, in which case you still won’t find someone or the job role is overly tiny, neither of which a foreign worker would turn down even when they’re not qualified. Considering the unemployment rate today, your hiring managers are not even trying. Meaning, because most hiring processes are severely broken, its difficult to find talent because it’s hard to spot talent. That’s why you have a 90 day new hire grace period. Put it to use. Hire people, take chances, let those go early who don’t work out. Many job description postings are looking for the swiss-army-knife of talent. For example, a guru in networking, databases, systems administration and software development all rolled into one. If your company is a startup, you might need someone like this because your staff is so small, but chances are you’re not able to hire H1-B staff that early in the company’s life.

Still, a swiss-army-knife of talent is hard to come by no matter the size of your business. Pick the role that you really need most and train the staff for the rest. Focus on the skills you find in your candidate rather than those that are not there. If you can find a database administrator separately from the systems administrator, hire two people. You still need to have the backup. If you place all of your eggs in one job role basket, when that person leaves (and they will because they’re in demand) you have a huge hole that’s, once again, hard to replace. Choose smaller more easily replaceable roles. You’ll also end up paying a high wage to the swiss-army-knife talent versus much less for the limited role talent.

Hiring Processes Broken?

Hiring managers can sometimes create some of the most difficult interview processes leaving would-be candidates unable to show they have talent because the hiring manager asked the wrong questions. Yet, given a chance, many people would not only do well, but they would excel at the job. Hiring managers don’t see the talent and then claim they can’t find talent. The HR people pass that feedback blindly along to the CEO who wholeheartedly believes he/she needs H1-B workers for all to be right with the world.

Nope. I completely advocate that you need to exhaust all of the talent pool in the US before you jump on the H1-B bandwagon. And no, hiring one Indian worker does not mean you need to hire more Indian workers no matter how convincing that first H1-B worker may have been. However, if you promote an H1-B worker to a managerial position, you need to expect them to reach out to their friends living in India and then want to hire their friends who will also require an H1-B. Your hiring handbook should be very clear on this point. You should only hire H1-B workers after you have exhausted all domestic US workers and this is as it should be.

The point is, your company doesn’t need H1-B workers. It just needs better processes to find citizens living in the US who are willing and able to work the role. If you still think you need H1-B workers, please re-read this article again and then comment on why you think so.

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Rant Time: Google Wallet Verification

Posted in best practices, botch, business, california, personal security by commorancy on March 22, 2014

So, I know how much everyone love my rants. Well, here’s another one. This falls under personal security and internet security common sense. Today, let’s explore the safety of Google Wallet and it’s so-called verification system.

What is Google Wallet?

Basically, it’s another type of payment system like Paypal or Amazon checkout. Effectively, it’s a way to pay for things or send money on the Internet using Google. That’s about as simple as it gets. Who uses it? I certainly don’t nor will I ever if Google doesn’t change its ways.

Verification of Identity

Like most other payment systems, they want to know who you are. Or, at least, that the person who is wanting to use the payment system owns the card or bank accounts added into their system. However, each one of these payment systems usually does verification in similar ways. For example, Paypal verifies you by requiring you to add a checking account (i.e., routing and account info) and then adding a small amount of money to your checking account. Later, you enter those two tiny amounts of money into their verification panel and you’re all set. That’s pretty much it for Paypal. This is similar to other financial institutions like E-Trade.

Google’s Verification = Stupid

And I thought Paypal’s verification was stupid. Leave it to Google to diverge and make it even more difficult. In the verification form, Google requires you to enter your social security number, your birth date, your home address, your phone number and various other information that could easily lead to identity theft. Then they require that you submit it. Information, I might incidentally add, that is not required for you to use an established credit card or bank account for payment. After all, banks are already required to identify you before opening an account. This is the whole reason why Paypal’s verification system is enough. Paypal merely hangs onto the coattails of the bank that has already previously verified your identity when you opened the account. I digress.

When their entry form doesn’t work, they require you to attach a PDF document of a government issued identification card. Not only is that stupidly manual, who the hell know what Google is going to do with that PDF file once you send it to them? Why would you want to do this anyway? Seriously, you’re not opening a bank account with Google. You’re not getting anything out of it by sending this to Google. And, you’re opening yourself up to huge personal risk by leaving PDF documents of your identification cards floating around on the Internet for hackers to find. Seriously, what is Google thinking here?

For me, that’s a big red flag and a BIG FAT NO to Google. I have no intention of providing any physical paperwork to a private corporation. If you can’t figure out proper method to identify the user electronically, that’s not my problem.

Legal Compliance?

I know that Google claims that this is all in the name of Federal compliance, but I’m quite sure the compliance laws don’t require you to verify a user using any specific implementation techniques. Clearly, Paypal is able to comply with these laws without requiring a PDF version of physical government issued identification. The reality is that Google also does not need a copy of this. That they claim that this is required to fulfill legal obligations is smoke and mirrors.

No, it’s quite clear, Google’s verification system is broken and completely unnecessary. They can certainly comply with all identity verification laws without resorting to asking for a copy of your identification be submitted to them in PDF or any other format.

Merchant Requirements

In fact, while credit card issuers like Visa and Mastercard don’t forbid asking for identification when using a credit card, the merchant must still accept the card for payment as long as it’s properly signed without seeing an ID. Because Google wallet requires actually seeing your identification before using some services with your credit card, this violates card issuer rules regarding the requirement for seeing identification before purchases. On the other hand, unlike a retailer who has the physical card in hand, Google cannot see your card and whether it’s signed. But, the spirit of this rule remains. Using a method of charging a small charge to the card and asking you to check the statement, then supply that dollar amount should be enough to verify that you own that card and that you have access to statements… just like Paypal and E-Trade.

Because a lot of statements have now become e-statements online, the small charge method doesn’t necessarily verify your physical address. Though, if they need to verify your physical address, they can simply send a postcard with a code. Then, have you enter that code into a verification panel once you receive it. In fact, this is really the only method that will verify your physical address is valid.

Google Wallet’s Usefulness?

With all of that said, Google has failed to make any traction towards becoming a defacto wallet. In fact, there are so few merchants that actually use Google Wallet, it’s probably safer not to verify with Google. Being as unused as it is around the Internet and seeing as Paypal is the primary method of paying for things today, it’s too much of a personal risk to submit PDFs of your passport or drivers license to a random corporation. You have no idea where that PDF might end up. Though, it will likely end up on Google drive because Google likely requires its employees to eat Google’s own dogfood (i.e., uses its own services).

And since the risk of using Google drive is as yet unknown with all of the Facebook-like features that Google has added (and continues to add), it wouldn’t surprise me to find Google internal documents accidentally shared through a Google employee’s personal account via Google+. This would obviously be bad for Google, but it wouldn’t surprise me. That’s why you don’t upload PDF files to corporations like Google. In fact, I wouldn’t share PDF files of that type on any network drive unless it’s encrypted and passworded. Better, don’t put it there in the first place.

Companies requiring copy of a personal ID

Personally, I won’t do this type of ‘give me a copy’ verification for any company unless I’m opening a bank account, credit card or need to provide it for some specific financial transaction. Even then, I will only transact that business in person and allow the person long enough time to see the documents to get what they need from it. And no, they are not allowed to photocopy it unless there’s some specific requirement.

I especially won’t do this with companies as big as Google or Microsoft when no transaction is involved. As companies grow larger and larger, employees get more and more careless in document handling. Asking for photocopies of identification cards, social security cards, credit card faces or any other issued card is not cool and I have no intention of ever providing that to a company for any identification purposes unless I’m actually performing a transaction. I won’t do it for ‘just in case’ services that I may never use. Doing so stupidly leaves a financial time bomb out there ready to be exploited.

The most they need is the number off of the face. If a company cannot make do with what’s printed on the face of the card (by being typed in), they get nothing. Just like giving your check routing information to a company such as Paypal is like writing a blank check, giving copies of physical documents to corporations is tantamount to identity theft. I simply don’t trust corporations with access to copies of my physical documents.

Though, were Google to set up a storefront and I could walk in and hand my card to someone to visually inspect and then maybe have them swipe it (although, I’d prefer not), I’d be somewhat okay with that. But, knowing a PDF file is floating around on the internet somewhere with a copy of my physical card, that’s not in any way cool. I will never do that for any corporation sight unseen no matter who they are. Since there’s no way to transact business with Google in person, there’s no way I’ll ever verify my identity for Google Wallet.

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Is Obama hostile towards big business?

To answer this question, we need to delve a little deeper. Note, I am neither condoning nor praising Obama’s handling of his regulatory efforts. However, I would like to point out certain corrections that do need to be made.

“The truth is that not even the Franklin Roosevelt administration was as hostile to and ignorant about free enterprise as this [Obama’s] administration is.”
–Steve Forbes.

But, is Obama really hostile towards business? Or, is he making needed corrections? There is a fine line here. This issue also points out a serious problem in politics today. That problem is, you guessed it, money. Without money, the world doesn’t work. Without money, candidates don’t get elected. Without money, businesses don’t sell things and make money. Back up the train.. Businesses make plenty of money without governmental help. The trouble is that businesses want to be able to make laws that enable their businesses to make more money and then have the government be lenient with them when issues arise.

The reality, though, is that like the separation of church and state, the government now needs separation of business and state. The two are oil and water, they don’t mix. Government needs to be able to make law without interference from any party. But, businesses have deep pockets and hefty lawyers. These two elements help elect officials and help sway these same officials into making good on promises they made towards these businesses during the election.

Obama’s corrections

While I don’t agree with every single thing Obama has done, I do agree that change is necessary. The change that he is making is intended to correct the issues that led to the economic downturn. The trouble comes with statements from people like Steve Forbes. Mr. Forbes believes that he is the end-all-be-all-know-it-all when it comes to all-things-business. The trouble is, he doesn’t. Yes, he runs a successful magazine, but that doesn’t make him an authority. That makes him a successful business owner.

Obama is walking that fine line. A fine line that shouldn’t even be necessary. But, there it is. The line that’s there to help Obama help the economy, help spur business and growth and reduce the chances of a repeated failure. At the same time, the line is there to show that government values business, but isn’t there to socialize it. The trouble is, this economic downturn was of our own making. By our, I mean Wall Street. The housing bubble was just that, a bubble. Bubbles eventually burst and this bubble was no exception. It’s not as if analysts and intelligent minded people couldn’t see the handwriting on the wall. When the mortgage interest rates got down to 1% and all of those ARM and specialty loans were being issued like water flowing down the Mississippi, trouble was inevitable. We just didn’t know that banks and insurance companies were tying their financial soundness to these extremely risky loans using credit default swaps.

Until the bubble burst, no one really knew just how deep the rabbit hole went. Then, everything came crashing down and all of the nasty subprime mortgage and credit default swap issues came into view in their all fugly detailed glory. The first evidence of that was Bear Stearns followed by AIG (and the subsequent governmental bailout). I still think they should have let AIG fold, I digress.

Government and Business

It’s high time that government distanced itself from corporate businesses. It’s high time congress made laws to separate government from business (including political support). It’s high time that government stopped being a pawn for corporate businesses. Forbes clearly seems to think that Free Enterprise requires socialism to function. Free Enterprise is not part of and does not need socialism. Free Enterprise means that businesses can do whatever they need to do (within the limits of the laws) to make their business succeed. Clearly, there have not been laws enabled that have dramatically impacted Free Enterprise. The laws that have been enacted have been placed there to prevent corporations from producing risky investment vehicles with a high likelyhood of crashing down again. If businesses are now floundering, it’s not because of laws. It’s because corporations have lost their way and are still expecting handouts. Well, you can keep your hand out, but don’t expect the government to be dropping any coin in it.

Corporations have relied, no… depended on the US Government for handouts. That time needs to end. Subsidies for business need to go away. Businesses need to fend for themselves just like Free Enterprise mandates. If a business can’t make it on its own, then let it fail. I’ll repeat, LET IT FAIL. Failure is also part of Free Enterprise. Businesses that will succeed, will succeed because they produce a good product or service. Businesses that fail, will fail because they don’t produce good products or services.

Lost our way

America, and specifically corporate enterprises, have lost their way. For far too long have big corporations depended on favorable governmental conditions (sounds like a weather report) to help them stay in business. Well, that train has left (and must leave). It should be solely up to you and your business practices alone to make or break your company. It is the quality of your products, services and support that makes people want to buy your products or invest in your company. Nothing has changed about this aspect of Free Enterprise.

We need to go back to a time when quality was the key. When providing a superior product was the answer to getting people to buy things. If that also means deflation, then so be it. Businesses need to find their way by learning how to do more with less. How to manage their staff better and stop over-hiring. At the same time, many of them need to stop under-hiring and also value the employees that they have right now.

The key to keeping your business flowing is by keeping your employees active, productive and happy. Morale is a big problem in companies during any downturn. Once fear sets in over the next reduction in force (RIF), then morale falls to all-time-lows. No, taking the employees on an outing doesn’t boost morale. The way to boost morale is to stop RIFing the staff out the door. Yes, I know it gives a temporary boost to the stock price and makes the shareholders happy, but that’s a temporary fix with limited effects. Once the dust settles, the employees who are left become disgruntled, unhappy and produce less. This is completely backwards thinking. Which is why business has lost its way.

Shareholder value vs quality products

I know, someone’s going to say that it is all about ‘shareholder value’. That may be the way things seem now, but it is wrong. Currently accepted actions that lead to improved shareholder value tend to undercut production, stifle innovation, reduce profit margins and lower productivity. Why would you intentionally do this to your business? So, while these measures may seem to help the stock price, it does nothing to help the company improve its quality of products and services. In fact, in the long run, these actions almost always negatively impact the bottom line. So, the fundamental question is, are you in business to make the shareholders happy or are you in business to sell quality products and services? This fundamental question must be answered.

The true answer to this question also shows that Free Enterprise priorities today are all wrong. It used to be that the customer is #1. Now, shareholders are #1 and customers are #2. This is both wrong and stupid. Until businesses go back to the idea that the customer is #1, corporations will continue to fail and need governmental subsidies. While shareholders are considered #1, there is really no such thing as Free Enterprise when it comes to multi-million dollar corporations… which is why they always need a handout from the government.

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