Sunday, July 11, 2004

Life in the Tech Sector circa 2004

I work in the IT (Information Technology) industry. I've been ridiculously lucky in this career. I didn't major in anything of the sort. My first exposure to the Internet was a roommate who used it to download pirated computer games (yes I played them - naughty me).

Generally computers were neat to me for a long time because they were toys. I learned to do things with them for sheer entertainment value. And I don't mean I invented new programming languages because that was fun. I mean I learned to tweak memory, and understand operating systems because I needed to in order to play the hot new computer game on the market.

In my first adult, post-college, non-food industry related job, that turned out to be a rather valuable skill. By the end of my two year tenure, about all I did was computer related. It was a small company of only 15 employees, so that meant I got to sample a bit of everything IT-related for a small company. Turned out I was actually good at it.

So... a friend of mine recommended me to his consulting company. I interviewed. They hired me for what I later discovered to be well below market wages. But I didn't feel qualified and it was well above what I was making anyway. So I jumped.

Then I got to experience to experience what it's like to ride a market bubble from boom to bust to whatever the heck this is now.

See, the tech sector was hyper-inflated and we all knew it by the late 90's. But, at that time, we sort of put that out of our minds and got silly. We demanded signing bonuses, and acted like rock stars. And we very much knew we were nothing of the sort. But heck, everyone in the important publications was writing about how all the old rules had changed, and this was a new world.

And then... Kee-rash!

If you weren't in it, you have no idea what that was like. It wasn't about watching the stock markets and jumping out a window. It was successfully arguing for a multi-thousand dollar bonus after your last review and being laid off the next quarter... and finding no one else wanted you afterward, though they were beating down your door just a couple of months ago.

I was mercifully spared the indignity of a lay off. But in a perverse way, I was scarred by it all the same. For stupid reasons, I ended up last man standing-in-charge of an IT shop of about 40 developers in the midst of this. And my company had decided to save money by jumping into the offshoring trend with both feet. So what did that mean to me? It meant I was charged with deciding who was laid off among those under my "authority." I wasn't the only vote, but I definitely was the biggest affecting those 40.

The first round was easy. The next harder. And then the rounds kept coming, and there was not a soul you could honestly feel good about choosing. And all the while they were hiring their replacements in India. Same company. This was eventually well-known by those being laid off.

What's more, a dirty secret about offshoring hit me in the face. The resulting product was an accounting-oriented shell game. Getting a quality product out of offshore developers required a serious investment in new processes and communication. My company was not doing that. Their first, second, and third priorities were quarterly labor costs. And they went down when your workforce was paid in Rupees in Chennai, India.

I eventually abandoned ship, and landed at a company I deemed very good and very different.

The past month I've been assisting a senior architect at the new company. The assignment? Put together a strategy for successful offshoring of work. Our customers are demanding it.

At this point I'm thinking I need to get the heck out of this industry. It feels dirty. But with over ten years of work behind me here, where can I go? I'm sure that's a common question in the American tech sector these days. Ick.

We're still the best in the world at this stuff. But the world has changed. And so have the market fads. I fear for our country if we lose the edge in this stuff, but without a major change in the way things are going we will. And soon.


Blogger Noneya said...

I've got the same problem -- web developer with a Psychology degree. I like what I do but it's getting harder and harder to find a company willing to pay me for it. I've decided to quit/work part-time in a few months to take care of my kids.

I never demanded huge raises, bonuses, or perks. In fact, I turned down a job at a startup because I was more interested in a steady paycheck than the nebulous rewards they were offering.

Just remember that a liberal arts degree shows that you can *think*. That's the one thing every employer wants.

9:32 AM  

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