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5/25/2007
12:40 PM
John Soat
John Soat
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IT Confidential: Database Experts, Or People Good With Lists, Uncle Sam Wants You

Who says there aren't any jobs in technology? The way the federal government is lining up projects, they're going to have to start drafting for talent.

SCENE: A federal administration building in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. A hallway is jammed with young people standing in a loosely formed line, most of them chatting or texting on cell phones, waiting to be called into an unmarked office at the end of the hall. A middle-aged woman appears, calls the name "John Smith." A young man steps out of line, walks down the hall, enters the office. Inside is a middle-aged government official, seated behind a bare desk.

OFFICIAL: Federal or state?

SMITH: What am I doing here? I got a letter ordering me to appear.

OFFICIAL: I need to know if you're federal or state. Look at the bottom of your letter. Does it say F-E-D or S-T-E?

SMITH: F-E-D.

OFFICIAL: OK, now we're getting somewhere. Congratulations, you've been drafted to serve your country by working for one of several federal agencies. Would you say you're better with names, numbers, or images?

SMITH:I thought the draft was discontinued after the Vietnam War.

OFFICIAL: This isn't a military draft. This is a draft to accommodate several impending federal mandates with the appropriate resources to develop and support the necessary database systems. Names, numbers, or images?

SMITH: Images, I guess. I don't know anything about database technology. I just graduated from college with a degree in English literature.

OFFICIAL: Don't worry, we'll teach you. There aren't enough computer science majors coming out of college to support all the technology initiatives the government is planning. States have gotten snippy about the lack of funding from the feds for some of these projects, so a bill was passed to press the nation's young people into service.

SMITH: I didn't hear about it on the news.

OFFICIAL: It was tacked onto an appropriations bill voted on during a couple of late-night sessions. Most of the congressmen were asleep.

SMITH: But what has that got to do with me?

OFFICIAL: Look, the new immigration reform bill includes something called the Employment Eligibility Verification System, which will require all employers to check the eligibility of all current or potential employees against federal and state databases. It will require database integration to an unprecedented degree, among systems run by Homeland Security, the IRS, Social Security, and the State Department on the federal level, and DMV databases on the state level.

SMITH: Sounds complicated.

OFFICIAL: The Real ID Act requires states to create driver's licenses that incorporate digital photographs and bar codes for personal data such as addresses and Social Security numbers. That data must be stored in interconnected databases, so the licenses can be used for national identification purposes. The data normalization effort alone ...

SMITH: I thought a lot of states had rejected the Real ID proposal.

OFFICIAL: They wish. And where do you think all that database expertise is going to come from?

SMITH: I guess I never thought about it.

OFFICIAL: Damn right, you didn't. Now, which did you say--names, numbers, or images?

SMITH: I said images. Can I change my choice to names?

OFFICIAL: OK, but that puts you in the Secure Flight group, not one of our most popular projects. Say hello to the people over there for me, OK?

And ask them if they have any industry tips, which they can send to jsoat@cmp.com or phone in at 516-562-5326.

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