Monthly Archives: January 2010

Next London Financial Python Users Group meeting

28 January 2010

The next meeting of the London Financial Python Users Group will be on Feb 3, 2010 at 7pm, and is being kindly hosted by KBC Financial Products at their offices: 111 Old Broad Street, EC2N 1FP (just opposite Tower 42).

All are welcome, but for security reasons you need to register in advance; just drop an email to Didrik Pinte.

The topics planned for this meeting are:

  • Improving NumPy performance with the Intel MKL – Didrik Pinte, Enthought
  • Python to Excel bridges:
    • “PyXLL, a user friendly Python-Excel bridge” – Tony Roberts
    • Discussion on connecting Python and Excel (xlrd/xlwt, pyinex, win32com, pyxll, …)
  • Speeding up Python code using Cython – Didrik Pinte, Enthought

New laptop!

28 January 2010

Back at the end of October, I asked whether when I bought a new laptop I should get one with a Core 2 Duo T9600 or a i7 720QM. They both cost the same, and there seemed to be pros and cons to each.

After weighing things up, and particularly with the advice of Greg Bray, I’d pretty much decided on the i7, so on 2 November I was ready to buy. I went to the Dell shop… and discovered that they’d added £400 or so onto the price for both models in the spec that I wanted. Welcome to the pre-Christmas price rise.

So I waited until early January, and finally the price for the i7 returned to where it had been (though the T9700 was still expensive). And last Thursday, the new machine arrived. i7 720QM quad-core at 1.6GHz (up to 2.8GHz when only one core is active), 4Gb RAM, ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4670 with 1Gb RAM (which can do 432 GigaFLOPS[!]), Windows 7 Pro 64 bit, 256Gb SSD, and a 16″ RGBLED screen (if I understand that correctly, the backlight is an array of LEDs in groups of 3, and it adjusts the backlight colour in a screen segment to match the colour in that part of the screen). All for the same price as the cheapest 15″ MacBook Pro.

It’s lovely. The build quality is excellent — the only comparable machines I’ve tried have been the MacBook Pros and the Air, which are nice but slower and considerably more expensive. (To be fair to Apple, the MacBook Pros are better-made than this Dell. But it’s a close thing, and I don’t think it’s worth the extra. YMMV.) The screen is the best I’ve seen since I saw high-end CRTs on SGI Workstations back in the 90s.

Size and weight-wise, it’s comparable to a MacBook 17″ — smaller, but in the same category. So I wouldn’t recommend you get one as a netbook — but as a desktop replacement, it really looks like it’s going to be perfect.

The only thing that sucks is the face recognition login widget, which has so far managed to recognise me once. Out of 30 tries. But hey, it can be uninstalled.

Joining TheyWorkForYou to Twitter

20 January 2010

I’m putting together some spreadsheets that we’re going to use to publicise Resolver One over the coming UK electoral campaign, and one set of data I needed was a list of Members of Parliaments’ Twitter accounts indexed by an ID that I could use with TheyWorkForYou.com. I was delighted to discover Tweetminster, a site analysing MPs’ tweets, and in particular their Twitter list of all UK MPs’ accounts, but there was no link to TWFY.

So, given that no-one else seems to have done it, here’s my own list:

Hope someone finds it useful. It’s up-to-date as of this posting, and I’ll endeavour to keep it up-to-date, at least for as long as we need it at work :-)

IT headhunters considered harmful

7 January 2010

I got an interesting call from a headhunter today; he knew that we were likely to start hiring software developers at Resolver Systems soon (keep an eye on our jobs page or drop me a line if you’re interested) because he had helped someone who’d chosen to leave us to find their new job.

As I said, it was interesting. I admire his honesty if not his morals; while most such people will merely hint about things, this chap came straight out with it: “we’re actively trying to poach people who work for you, and we’ll stop doing it if you stop trying to recruit people on the open market and use us instead”.

Now, I know that is how a large part of the IT recruitment industry works, but it was a surprise to hear from someone who admitted it so directly. I would post the details of the person and the company concerned, but I wasn’t recording the call and UK libel laws put the onus on the publisher to prove conclusively that what they said was correct.

I’m no big fan of recruitment consultants, either when hiring software developers or when looking for development work myself. In general, in the UK their fees for a successful hire are 20% of the recruit’s first year’s salary (yes, you read that right: 20% of a year’s salary), and they don’t seem to provide much value in return. We’ve never used them at Resolver Systems, and I doubt we ever will. But back when I worked for Goldman Sachs, we’d use them all the time. If we were hiring, we’d send them a description of what we needed, and they’d send back quite literally hundreds of programmers’ CVs. Perhaps two thirds of them would be completely unsuitable; there was almost no evidence of filtering on the part of the “consultants”. We’d invite the remainder in for interviews, and the people who turned up for those were frequently hopeless. Luckily, enough people applied that we were able to find the stars and hire them; I don’t remember a bad hire over the years I was there, but the process to make that happen was a lot of effort. (Goldman’s wasn’t really my kind of place, but the one thing I really do appreciate is that the people there were generally extremely smart. Not necessarily doing the right thing, but at least doing the wrong thing intelligently :-)

So, anyway, 20% of a year’s salary. That’s a lot of money going for no obvious added value, and that means, to my mind, two things, depending on whether you’re buying or selling your time…

If you’re looking for a development job

If you’re intending to leave your current job and move to a new one, then don’t get a new job through a recruitment company. The consultant there will get 20% of your first year’s salary, while you do all the hard work. Even worse, if, say, you’re interviewing for a job paying £30,000 a year, then an employer who uses a consultant is looking at a total cost of £36,000 for the first year if they hire you. That means that if someone who contacted them directly, and does as well as you in the interview, asks for £35,000, it’s to the hirer’s advantage to hire that person at the higher salary. (As an employer, salary for later years isn’t so important when hiring; after a year, good hires will need to be given a raise, and you hope to have got rid of bad hires. This might be different in countries like France where it’s hard to fire people, and so you have to be 200% sure of anyone before taking them on.)

Now, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t go to interviews set up by consultants. After all, you need to have a benchmark for how much you should be paid for a particular kind of work in a particular industry, as otherwise you don’t know what your room for negotiation is. I’ve not tried it myself, but it occurs to me that it might make sense to go to an interview arranged by a recruitment consultant as a way of establishing your value to company A, find out how much is on offer, then to apply directly to A’s competitor using that as a baseline, adding on maybe 15% to allow for the saving the employer is making. Remember that to a certain degree you and the employer are both trying to get as much as you can of the 20% saving from not using a recruitment consultant, and that the more information you have on the going rate for your labour, the better off you are.

If you’re an employer

If you’re an employer looking for great developers, don’t waste money on recruiters when you can spend it on paying better salaries. Recruitment consultants will say that they “represent” a lot of good programmers, but those good programmers will also be looking on job boards for their favourite programming language, or ones that are run by techies for techies. Or even better, they’ll be applying to companies they’re interested in directly. If you want to hire the best, make sure your company is a place where the best programmers will want to work and do all that you can to make sure everyone knows — Joel Spolsky is, of course, the master at this. Or perhaps they don’t know about you — but you can find out about them. Check for open source projects that are related to your business area and see if there are (non-spammy!) ways you can engage with the best people to see if they’re interested in working for your company.

Oh, and finally, ignore threats to “poach” your staff. People won’t leave your company for a worse job because a recruiter told them to. A call from one might be the trigger, but ultimately people will leave because they want a new challenge, or more interesting work, or to learn something new, or because their boss is an idiot, or any one of a thousand other reasons, many sensible and some not, and they think that the new job will be better. They may well be right. I remember reading that on average, software developers change jobs about every three years. If you’re doing worse than this, then see what you can do to fix your company before you blame the recruiters. If you’re doing better, well done! (Or perhaps you need to hire more pro-active people ;-)

[UPDATE: the first version of this article didn’t make it clear enough that I’m talking purely about using recruitment consultants for hiring software developers; I’ve updated it to make that a little clearer. I’ve no experience with other kinds of headhunters, so can’t speak about whether they’re more useful, or, indeed, professional.]