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  1. Technology
September 23, 1990

CRY FOR HELP FROM FLOUNDERING EAST GERMAN PROGRAMMERS AS THEIR CERTAIN WORLD COLLAPSES

By CBR Staff Writer

It’s so difficult when the whole basis on which one has lived one’s life is undermined overnight, and East Germans are finding the adjustment extremely trying and worrying – it’s said that a West German spy was still reporting titbits of information to the East German Stasi secret police until May this year. Economic, monetary and social union between the two Germanys has led to growing fears among East Germans about the security of their jobs – even skilled data processing specialists can no longer take their jobs for granted. Computerwoche staffer Hans Kniges, went along to get the lowdown on a sticky situation from Wolfgang Lutzke, data processing manager at shipping company Deutschen Seereederei in Rostock. Everything used to be so simple and unchangeable under the communists: the party ruled the land unchallenged, the enterprise you worked for was Owned by the People, you took your holidays every summer at Plattensee. Suddenly everything is turned upside down – the market economy has shaken up the East Germans so much that now they have no idea what will become of them. Insecurity pervades, says Lutzke, because cash for new investment has suddenly become scarce. Before, the trend was exactly the opposite, but now computer companies and departments are having to make severe cuts, getting rid of unprofitable parts of the business and making staff cuts. Lutzke now realises that there is no longer any call for shipping automation systems his department develops – orders are now going to outside companies and its programmers are going to have to look for jobs elsewhere. Lutzke is confident, however, that employees that have been made redundant will find work again – he claims that even in Rostock one or two new marketing and software businesses have been set up this year. On the other hand, he admits that in realistic terms the demand for data processing people isn’t great – demand itself is what’s needed, yet it is this that is lacking. In Lutzke’s opinion, computer people aged between 35 and 50 years really haven’t got a hope of finding new jobs with large companies, because all are cutting their workforces. The Rostocker reckons that these companies have no other choice – their development contracts have virtually completely dried up. Whether computer people with university educations – and paid only the equivalent of $1,000 to $1,130 – have already considered trekking west depends on whether they have a diploma in mathematics – it seems that that is about the only passport to a computing job in West Germany. At present most are playing a waiting game but feel deeply insecure about the value of their training and their capabilities.

Over-spacialised

Computer people feel that West German data processing specialists have everything going for them while we suffer, because West German firms are winning all the contracts – Lutzke has come to know about this through his colleagues in West Germany. He is one of the fortunate ones, having already been able to take advantage of further education courses in the west. Earlier this year he attended a Unix course and seminar on networking and data communications. His impression is that data processing personnel in West Germany are very specialised, so that although they are highly skilled in their chosen area, they would be useless sea in any other area of computing. He reckons only a handful have an all-round overview of computing – even all the information and resources they need to broaden their horizons is readily accessible. In East Germany, it is the exact opposite: informaticians have had a good general grounding so that they have the broad perspective Lutzke believes is necessary, although this means that to an extent they lack in-depth knowledge in any specific area. If the highly-qualified data processing specialists are to have a real chance of survival, West German software houses will have to stop treating their Eastern counterparts as poor relations. He feels the need for advice in how to acquire the additional skills needed to compete in a developed data pr

ocessing environment, in raising seed capital and in winning initial orders. Lutzke’s employees have plenty of motivation, but are lacking direction.

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