Understanding Microsoft

Part 40. Job Control Language

Back in the "old days," when people used their hands and their heads for their work, hiring managers used to have to ask some pretty tough questions. They had to ask about a person's ability to write, to spell, to form sentences and paragraphs, to use good grammar, and maybe even how to think logically. They might have to ask about a person's analytical ability, or their mastery of mathematics, or perhaps the laws of physics. The job interview consisted largely of determining a person's mental abilities, their ability to apply those talents, and their willingness to blend in with an organization's culture.

Generally the hiring manager never had to ask if a person could use the *tools* of his or her profession -- as it was obvious what those tools were, and that a person would not dare walk about in society without knowing how to use them. You remember those tools, don't you? Pencil and paper. Maybe a slide rule or a calculator. Books. Dictionaries. Or if physical labor was involved, a hammer. Nails. A saw. Bricks and mortar. However, the rise of software, particularly Microsoft products, has changed the equation.

Before Microsoft, if a manager wanted to verify that a person was fit for the job, he or she could watch the person apply these things for a few moments. It was easy to tell if this person had a talent for the job or not. If a position involved writing, the hiring manager wanted to see a sample of the writing. The accountant wanted to see some numbers massaged. The carpenter wanted to see some woodwork. Nobody would ask what *brand* of tool was used -- did you prefer Bic or Scripto pens? Stanley or Craftsman hammers? -- because that was unimportant. The emphasis was on work, not on tools. Nobody would be denied a job because they used the "wrong" brand of tool. That would be absurd.

Now, however, with software -- and by extension, every industry that software touches -- the worker of today is judged far less on the content, the experience, and the mental aptitude they bring to the job. The deciding factor -- in some classified ads, seemingly the *only* factor -- is What brand of tool do you use? Are you a PowerPoint user? Do you use Excel spreadsheets? Have you used Corel Draw, or Quark Xpress? The emphasis is on overcoming a growing "language barrier" that has been raised between a worker's innate talents, and the tools that are forced upon them in the workplace. Managers don't ask very many tough questions during interviews; what they really worry about is that they won't be able to find "plug-in workers" that already know the chosen tools in that shop. Since most shops are stuck with Microsoft products, that means most information laborers are forced to learn Microsoft products, even if they detest them.

This is the equivalent of posting a security guard at the pizza place to ensure that workers driving Chevrolet or Honda cars cannot become delivery persons, only drivers of Fords or VWs. The questions of the person's driving record, safety habits, and honesty are ignored in this Kafkaesque drama; only the brand of automotive experience they bring to the workplace counts. This greatly pleases the current crop of hiring managers, who often prefer to let third-party hiring mills do their jobsearch for them. Simply feeding a list of software tools to a word-matching macro does wonders for finding someone with experience on a particular Micrsoft application or platform. But it smothers the non-Microsoft workers who may be far more talented and hard-working, and also more productive, using superior non-Microsoft products of their own choosing.

Most recent revision: March 5, 1998
Copyright © 1998, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.

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