The Joel Test: 12 simple yes/no questions verbalised by Joel Spolsky in 2000 to determine the pain of developing software in some company. Since he wrote them, I have been using them to check companies if to work for a them or not.
In 2003 and 2004, I "checked" several companies during interviews or asked friends about their jobs. Back then I found that marketing and web design agencies scored lowest (1 out of 12), followed by little software shops and in-house development of small companies (2-3, sometimes up to 4). More seriously working software companies usually reached 6. That was it. Only one out of 20 companies scored 9, still not ideal. (Especially noteworthy was a mobile phone provider with more than 1000 employees having only a score of 3.)
In 2008 while looking for a new job, the companies I met were scoring about 9 or 10. I do not have much data to state any facts, but this feels much better than 4 years ago. The question is if there is such a tendency, a technical progress of the software engineering craft, that could be measured by Joel's test? Or is it just my experience telling me where to look for proper work now?