The best of Letters to the Editor

Of all the stories we published this year, nothing generated more feedback than the ongoing dispute between companies like Microsoft which use the designation “”engineer”” as part of their certification programs and official bodies like the Canadian Council of Professional Engineers (CCPE). From

the more than 50 long, detailed responses we received for our coverage, Luc Vachon may have proposed the most rational solution:

Re: Who are you calling a software engineer? (June 12)

The term engineer had been coined to identify more than the expression software engineers long before we got into software programming. An engineer is somebody that abides to a code of ethics and bears responsibility for his actions, recommendations and approvals. I think software engineers, if they aspire to the same recognition as other engineers, should look at developing the branch within the established professional orders. Today, people are stealing the term to grant themselves titles that look good since the term evokes the profession.

The term software engineer and software architect are also misleading because they’re uncontrolled. In one organization, you’ll find a software engineer with as master degree in software engineering while in another one the software engineer barely knows SourceSafe and read the introduction of an UML primer. The software industry and its leading professionals should get organized to straithen requirements and obligations of its professional adopting titles for which they intend to develop the same prestige as other professional groups did.

Now what should they call themselves? Could they be certified software designers, chartered software analyst, fellow software analyst, etc.? There’s problably tons of good terms that could be found to avoid using those that have already been coined. Whatever they’re called, the important thing will be to develop recognition as truely certified professionals and not just another bunch of uneven experts with good looking purchased and borrowed titles.

Luc Vachon

During the last technology boom, Comdex was criticized as an oversized circus that didn’t respond to the needs of its attendees. When the IT market shrank, it was lambasted for hosting fewer exhibitors. Ray Mayer’s letter reflected the prevailing mood after Comdex Canada in Toronto:

Re: It’s a small show after all (July 11)

I’ve been going to Comdex on and off for eight years and this year’s show was definitely its lowest point ever. The lack of large players, the emphasis on enterprise solutions, no real attempt to address the small and medium business market, no major software vendors, etc. The high point was Palm’s booth, but even there it dealt mostly with wireless communications. I pine for the days of Vardex, where it was only dealers and no public. I brought my co-op student to show her what trade shows were like and she was vastly disappointed. I think it’s my last.

Ray Mayer

The Home Office Place

IT managers have long been accused of failing to work well with their counterparts in the enterprise. had Neil Sutton explore the problems and possible remedies in a groundbreaking three-part series which struck a chord with many readers, including this one:

Re: Why can’t we all just get along? (July 15)

You hit the nail on the head your soft skills in IT series. I was an IT technical support analyst supporting a Workplace Safety and Insurance Board regional office of 175 clients by myself. Educating your end users about IT’s responsibilities along with service level agreements with management is key to avoiding misunderstandings and putting out fires.

The moral of this story is that a little soft skills goes a long way if you really want to make a difference and take pride in your work. You will be noticed.

Bob Skoretz

Many readers were incensed when ISPs like Rogers and Sympatico introduced limits on the amount customers would download from the Internet. The issue sharply divided our readership:

Re: Bit parts (Feb. 12)

It was interesting to read your editorial on this issue especially since when I arrived at home there was a postcard announcing a Rogers application before the CRTC to remove price capping. The coincidence had me thinking that one objective is very likely buried within the other.

The impact on homes and businesses of bit capping can be huge. If “”large”” providers like Rogers and Sympatico feel it necessary to move to this new revenue-generating model then maybe we (the users through government) should containerize the providers by similar rules that have seen the big Bells (monopolies) forced into being the carriers for less mature, cheaper providers. I already pay for the privilege of using the Internet and I’ll be damned if I’m forced to pay even higher fees just so they can get around the established fact of the Internet becoming a household necessity/tool.

T.L. Darby

Re: Broadband users launch petition to protest bit cap (June 3)

Ever notice how cell phones work better during weekdays when ‘Free Minutes’ plans are not in effect? As someone who uses DSL to check my bank balance and send the odd e-mail I don’t mind paying by the byte to ensure a superior level of service. I also don’t like the idea of paying the same rate as someone who downloads half a Shark disk subsystem every month.

You wouldn’t go to the gas station and expect to fill the tank of a GMC Suburban for the cost of filling the tank of a Civic. You can’t build a network without spending money. The broadband suppliers are just asking people to pay for what they use. In my world that’s a reasonable request.

James Broen

As part of International Women’s Week, the Ontario government launched a training program to help unemployed, low-income or recent immigrant women pursue careers in IT. Not everyone was enthused:

Re: Training tries to lure women in IT market (March 5)

This is a brilliant idea especially now when the number of unemployed IT workers, most of them with university education, is far greater than ever before in history.

I would also recommend to train girls and women to become nuclear physicists. I bet that they represent even less than 30 percent of the nuclear physicists graduates! Let’s train them in three-four weeks for this field.

And being a man, working in IT, let me offer myself to be trained as a fashion model. Men in this field are very much underrepresented. So by giving up my IT job I create a vacancy for a woman! (But it must be a well paying fashion model job with a pension because I have 3 children.)

Laszlo Vince

After years of keeping its technology close to its chest, Research In Motion decided to license its hardware and software blueprints to customers of Analog Devices Inc., including its radio modem, chipset and operating system. When he read our editorial about it, Mike Hilton decided to share his own experiences as a mobile user:

Re: The low-hanging fruit (April 8)

I was one of the first people to use a BlackBerry. In fact, I was on a trial program for the first six months. When the trial was over I told them that the service was great, but that I would prefer to have platform choice. This was when the first generation of Pocket PCs emerged and Sierra Wireless (with their AirCard product line) and Novatel Wireless (with their Minstrel and Merlin products) both took advantage of the market by producing PC cards which provided wireless modems and software services on the Palm and Pocket PC platforms.

I suggested to product management that if it could put its modem in a PC card (or preferably a Compact Flash (CF) card) and provide the necessary desktop software and integrate with a Palm/Pocket PC inbox I was sold. The real magic of BlackBerry is not the “”thumb keyboard”” it is the wireless, inbox synchronization software at the desktop and the always on, low battery consumption modem in the device.

I told them I would be more than willing to pay the same price as a BlackBerry device, for a PC card/CF card option. From a component perspective, the unit would have had a significantly lower cost of production, making it very profitable for them. I also believe they would have taken significant market share from Novatel and Sierra Wireless whose devices, although capable of Internet access, are used mostly for e-mail. Of course RIM had made a commitment to their form factor and they had to stay focused to ensure they cleared out inventory, but I think that focus may have cost them the game.

Now, everyone is getting into the add-on card game, this year has already seen the announcement of a CF card GSM/GPRS module for Pocket PC from Pretec and Audiovox (of course RIM also makes a GSM/GPRS modem but are still only offering it on their platform).

I think it may be too late to create the market advantage they could have had 18 months ago, unless they get very aggressive on new platforms and new partners and even develop their own CF card option.

Mike Hilton

We couldn’t help making fun of TextJam, a short message service (SMS) offered by Cleveland, UK-based Media54, which allows motorists to send text messages to other drivers using a mobile phone. One of our responses came from a particularly far-flung reader:

Re: Media 54, where are you? (April 18)

You’re dead right about the text messaging thing. If there’s any justice in the world, the jerks who set it up will be the ones killed by someone sending a message while driving. The good news is that the service relies on people registering their numbers, and no-one’s that stupid, so it goes nowhere. Cowboys tried the same thing here in Australia last year.

The issue of distracted driving has become very topical this year. There are lots of research reports around. If you’re interested, you could probably find them by searching. (I don’t have the references to hand.) Using a phone while driving increases the risk of crashing by four times, which is the same as .05 blood alcohol level. Text messaging must be much more dangerous.

A U.K. truck driver got five years jail for killing a person while sending a text message driving down the street. In California, an actress ran over a little girl on a pedestrian crossing. The actress was talking on her phone. There are many such cases.

Tony Healy
Software engineer and road safety researcher
Sydney, Australia

A later editorial looked at other technology entering automobiles, a trend that left us ill at ease. We weren’t the only ones:<

Re: Drive, he said (Aug. 29)

You’re 100 per cent right. Keep unnecessary distractions out of the car. By the way, my 1995 Hyundai Accent (277,000-plus km, still goes like a rocket and doesn’t burn any oil) just made two comfortable Toronto-Montreal trips in the past two weeks. It has a radio/cassette, but I only listen to music. I turn it off when the news comes on. That’s too distracting.

Did you know that listening to music uses the opposite half of the brain required for thinking and driving? Ergo, you can drive and listen to (good) music at the same time. My next car will also be a Hyundai.

Trevor Armstrong
Senior Automation Engineer
Kinetic Modular Systems

Some IT professionals will deny a skill shortage exists, but not Human Resources Development Canada, which predicted a deficit of IT workers by the end of this year. Reactions varied widely, depending, it seemed, on the age of the IT worker:

Re: Ontario faces return of skills shortage (May 6)

I am a recent graduate from The Institute for Computer Studies. I have been searching for work since April and most of my classmates have not found work either. I have been to many employment Web sites and have looked in the newspapers, but can’t find jobs for new graduates. Today’s corporations do not even look at the résumés of new graduates with no experience. If only we were given the chance to show what we know and what we could accomplish.

Alicia Luk

Re: Letters to the editor (May 17)

I too graduated from the same school as Alicia Luk–class No. 6, April 1971. And like Luk and her classmates none of us found jobs immediately. As a matter of record, I mailed and/or hand-delivered over 150 resumes each with its own typed cover letter and had all of about six interviews–and I happened to stand second in the class. And I mean posted, not e-mailed; fax machines didn’t exist back then, never mind the Internet. I was finally hired as a computer operator/night auditor by The Inn on the Park hotel. Not exactly the position that I had spent $2000 and six months learning mainframe programming for. So if she’s ready to throw in the towel after only six weeks, then she probably wouldn’t make much of an employee anyhow.

Andrew Sharko

Privacy legislation began to take root across Canada this year, but some businesses worried about the impact. Their concerns drew little sympathy:

Re: Ontario call centres distressed over privacy law (May 10)

Well Hallelujah. After years of being pestered by these people–usually at dinner time–it’s a relief to know someone is finally listening.

My 90-year-old mother, who has trouble getting back and forth to the phone, has been completely unable to get rid of the telemarketers. She’s on all the “”don’t telemarket”” lists from the Canadian Marketing Association, but, evidently, the call centres don’t read these lists.

The call centres have no one but themselves to blame. This is clearly a situation where self-regulation doesn’t work. At one point we counted over 100 calls one month, doubtless the result of all the list trading.

I can only hope and pray that their lobbying efforts are completely unsuccessful and that people who don’t wish to receive these calls will finally be spared these ongoing and intrusive interruptions. Now if only something can be done about the spammers.

Jeri Danyleyko

The downturn in IT spending left many vendors running scared. In an editorial, Shane Schick urged one of Canada’s most flamboyant business leaders to come back into the limelight. He didn’t have to ask twice:

Re: What the world needs now is Michael Cowpland (Sept. 26)

Thanks for the nice article, but actually I was speaking at the Yankee Group last week on an SMS panel comprised of Microsoft, IBM, Xerox, RIM and Zim. Zim will be very visible shortly with SMS Office, our enterprise/retail software.

It also looks like the bundling deals that Steve Houck has been doing at Corel will ignite their sales soon. And Sun is now using Corel desktop Linux (under a spin-off name) as the core of their future strategy.

Michael Cowpland

With all the layoffs that happened this year, the politics of being fired prompted a sort of how-to article, but as always, our readers’ first-hand experiences were even more interesting:

Re: Termination relationship management (Nov. 27)

Having just been involved in doing this, I think understanding why, on a case-by-case basis, is in order.

The person in question did not have his contract renewed. Under the terms of the contract, there was a 30-day clause for notice. We paid him out his 30-days.

The reasons for not renewing included consistently missing deadlines and milestones, insubordination, gross misuse of company computing facilities for personal use, and, as a minor item, the person did not add required skills to keep up with where the company was going technically even though told to do so (The company pays all tech training.) The above items had been documented over the past year and the person was given three chances to correct the deficient items. He was on notice of termination when his contract was not renewed.

This person was the network administrator, Web master and security officer for the firm. He knew were all the confidential information was stored, all code base(s) for products under development, all client files, etc.

This person was assessed as being a risk to the company if left in his position, and, as such, his contract was not renewed. This was done yesterday at 4 p.m. by the owners of the firm. He was allowed under supervision to delete person data files and was then escorted off the premises. The process of changing all system passwords also began at 4 p.m. and took over an hour to complete. Letters to relevant ISPs and suppliers went out at 4 p.m. as well.

The owners of the firm hope that they have changed all the passwords. They don’t know, however, since the person in question never created a site binder outlining all passwords. They also hope that they can recover from the issues created by this person in his position. It was a difficult decision, not made lightly.

Name withheld by request

Then there were some who just couldn’t take it anymore:

Please unsubscribe me. I’m no longer in this crazy business.

Patrick Brown

Letters to the editor must include the writer’s name and company name along with an e-mail address or other contact information. All letters become the property of Editors reserve the right to edit submissions for length and content.

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