[Warning: This is a rant! Feel free to comment... Anonymously if you like.]
It is time for all AI Guys (and other decent programmers) to rise up in revolt! I, for one, am sick and tired of having headhunters, er, recruiters, call me back within two or three minutes of my having sent them an email with my five-page CV asking, "What is your hourly rate?" You know, I know, everyone knows, that they never did read the CV!! These guys are not even worthy of the name "headhunter" - they are nothing more than slot-fillers, clerks, looking for warm bodies to fill a slot somewhere. They see only one or two qualifications on a résumé or CV, pick up the telephone and immediately try to beat down the asking price. And the Asians are the worst! I have been discussing this with some of my "AI Guy" friends and this is what we have discovered. First some history:
Way back in the 1990's the big recruiting firms used to work with the Fortune 500 or Fortune 100 firms and take 5% off the top to supply 100 to 1,000 contractors to the firms. Now, do the math for just COBOL programmers who were making $35 / hour. Large recruiting firms like Maxim were making $40 per hour. That is $5 per hour per person and, let's say Maxim had 500 COBOL programmers at FedEx (they actually had a lot more) then Maxim was making $2,500 per hour just at FedEx or $100,000 per week. All of that usually was due to one or two fairly busy account executives. That's $5M per year for the company and the account executives made good money along the way as well. Everybody was happy. Some greedier recruiters got $7 to $10 per hour but we all knew them and stayed away from them. The COBOL guys were making $70K per year, way more than they had ever made at FedEx before they retired and started contracting to make some extra bucks, the account executives were happy, Maxim was happy and FedEx was saving major bucks by not having to pay out all of the "perks" that they would have had to pay for employees. Everything was Rosy.
Then came the up-times and the down-times. FedEx and other large companies moved to "Client-Server", meaning Unix, and started hiring more expensive Unix guys, C/C++ guys, GUI guys, then Java guys and J2EE guys. YUCK! These guys wanted more money. And then more firms wanted their services. These guys started making $50, $60, $70 per hour and more. And then the headhunters came out of the woodwork. By the end of the 1990's headhunters (formerly known as recruiters) were waking up to making a bigger share of the pie. Now they were taking 20% off the top. By the mid 2000's the headhunters were taking 30% or more but at least they were fairly up-front about it.
Then in the mid 1990's came the Java-based Business Rule Management Systems (BRMS), formerly known as RuleBased Systems. BRMS was a rulebased system with a GUI on top so that the business guys could make some sense of the rules. The BRMS consulting guys were new to the game and could command really good hourly wages at that time. Especially since Neuron Data (later FICO) and ILOG (later IBM) were commanding $300 per hour plus expenses. But, then, IBM, Oracle and other big companies were commanding $400 to $500 per hour for their guys so ND and ILOG were cheap compared to those guys and when you consider that the factory guys were there for two weeks or less it was not so bad.
Then came Drools, a Java-base rulebase that did not have a GUI interface but did have a Rete engine. Drools was free under the Apache License and anyone who could spell "Java" could claim to be a Drools expert. You did not have to know anything about AI or be a Rete-guru to do Drools; just know something about "if-then-else" and something about not implementing an infinite loop. If the company did not have more the 200 rules you were gold. If they had more than 200 rules then you called in the Big Boys and bailed out with what you had made so far. The poor clients did not know the difference between Drools and JRules or Advisor. Unfortunately for Mark Proctor, Drools programmers gave Drools a bad name even though he was working harder and harder to make it a better and better product. It is a far better product today but is still suffers from a bad past.
By 2010 the industry was having a headhunter feast. These guys were taking between 40% to 60% off the top, charging expenses to the client and keeping it for themselves and the poor schlimiel programmers did not catch on for several years. The clients did not care. Now we, the programmers, have caught on! So, whenever a headhunter says, "That's all that this job is paying." then they are lying. Plain and simple. How do you know that they are lying? THEIR LIPS ARE MOVING!! OK, maybe one or two out there are truthful - but I have not found them yet. What we need is a National Database of Jobs Available from Independent Customers so that Independent Programmers can apply to them. All of this has been brought about by totally lazy and incredibly inefficient HR divisions within companies who are just too damned lazy to do their own homework and find the right guys for the job. They would rather let headhunters do the their work for them and find somebody rather than sift through the résumés themselves and have to think about what is there and what they need to do and who they need to call to check on what that person has said on the résumé.
So, now let us think about what we should be doing.
- Set an hourly rate plus per diem (expenses) and DO NOT deviate.
- Set an hourly rate all-inclusive that includes $35 per hour for expenses and DO NOT deviate.
- Go get GOOD training on your particular field, whether DBA, Java, J2EE, BRMS or whatever. BE the Guru that you claim to be.
The East Coast (even FL and PA) is worth an extra $10 per hour in expenses. Demand it. Do not back down.
The West Coast (CA, WA, OR) is worth an extra $15 per hour in expenses. Demand it. Do not back down.
Expenses include air fare, meals, taxi, auto rental, incidentals (tips, etc.), coffee breaks, breakfast, everything that you have to spend while on the road. Everything!! And do NOT let them tell you that the limit is $60 or $75 per day. If they can live on that while on the road, then let them go on the road and live on that in NYC!