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Work & The Economy

2002-01-05 16:25:18+00 by TC 21 comments

So, I got a call from our friend Steve last night and he's on vacation from his work in South Africa. One of the things he's done is the website work for Briges and it looks pretty good. The thing that got to me was while mentoring him I always preached Do something you love and are passionate about or get paid a hell of a lot. It's got to be one or the other if not both. Well, he might not be making a lot of dollars but he's definately doing something he loves. When he asked about my work, I whined about whoring myself to Deloitte & Touche and how big companies suck and while my hourly rate is ok they are exploiting my contractor status by just using me a few hours here and there (not 40 hours a week). At the end of my rant I relized I was 0 for 2 of my working criteria. I'm usually not a person to settle but it seems like everyone around me is doing the same. Is this normal nowadays?

[ related topics: Todd Gemmell Coyote Grits Bay Area Work, productivity and environment California Culture ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:34:12+00 by: Larry Burton

When bills have to be paid one is faced with settling on occassion. I'm a firm believer that one must enjoy what one is doing but I'm also pragmatic enough to know that on occassion I'm going to be required to do things that I don't fully enjoy doing just to meet other responsibilities that I have. The key is not to get stuck with a job that you are settling for any longer than is necessary.

#Comment made: 2002-01-05 22:26:19+00 by: Dan Lyke [edit history]

Career-wise, I think 2001 will be one of those "...and we shall never speak of this again" sort of years. I've been acutely aware of the mockery I've directed at those who were "just trying to not get downsized", and wondering if the fact that I come home without emotional attachment to my work is good or bad. I'm more and more thinking "bad".

I think part of this is the malaise as part of the .com crash: With all the clueless gits who cleaned up nice actually getting the money to do stuff like online wholesale restaurant supply, there was a shortage of money going to actually interesting projects. Now that most of those folks have gone broke trying to suck money out of pension funds I'm actually starting to see glimmers of interesting work on the horizon again.

In fact, now that my SIGGRAPH reading is done, I've got some other papers to evaluate.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:34:12+00 by: Pete

2000 - three different employers, rapid salary rise (undercut by being ripped off by one employer), two firms fold underneath me (one two weeks before Christmas), lots of new challenges, much new learned, net loss of cash

2001 - one employer, still there, salary slightly higher than 2000's high-water mark, more travel (which I have enjoyed), more meetings (which I have not), fewer new challenges, more formal training yet less hardcore work with new stuff, but what new stuff is there looks professionally rewarding, no monkey business on money, work that has potential for a lot of meaning, yet much of the day-to-day is mundane.

2000 was an adventure, 2001 was work. The money's good, the company is stable and well positioned for current and foreseeable environment, but it did lack the excitement of 2000.

For now, moderate but well-placed skill expansion along with good and dependable money that allows long term planning meets my requirements.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:34:12+00 by: ebradway

Ok, for me:

1995-97: Game developer and loving it. Had the only two game companies in Tennessee fold underneath me. Wife won't move

  1. Retraining as a contractor - SQL, web development, etc.
  2. Corporate job with good pay and free snacks but very unemotional work.
  3. Three job changes each with big raises and more responsibility. End up in dot-com-land.
  4. Trying through hook or crook to keep dot-com alive. Finally bites the big-one somewhat as a result of 9-11 catastrophe.
  5. Still unemployed. Just got word that game company in Florida isn't interested. This was only my second interview in four months of looking. Atlanta Sunday paper lists EIGHT IT jobs. I'm filining bankruptcy next week.

2001 started with a bang and essentially ended with a bang (the sound of four 767s crashing). Essentially it left me in a job market flooded with out-of-work dot-commers and employers putting all hiring decisions off until 2002.

I'm starting to ask myself: just what do I really enjoy doing... Making money was fun but I feel like there should be more to it...

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:34:12+00 by: Dylan

Well...if y'all are doing it, I'll join in...

1996-1998 Working for nonprofit. Warm fuzzies to the conscience. Cold pricklies (and nothing else) in my wallet. 1998-2000 Working for godless badly managed start-up that miraculously still hasn't folded despite laying off 80% or so of staff. Decent money. Bleeding ulcer from stress. 2000-2001 Working for two insane people who shall remain nameless. Best job of my life...doing work I enjoyed with people I liked *and* who understood the technical stuff (better than me most of the time). Dream job. Unfortunately, things are tough all over and the dream had to end. mid-2001-2002 Unemployed for eight, count 'em eight, months. I have had ONE interview. 99% of the resumes I send receive no response. Skillset stagnates every day as money runs out. Just recently started spotting loads of new acronyms I don't know...a death-knell for a tech career if I ever heard one. Pondering bankruptcy and going to get my ASE certification (auto mechanic thing). Can't afford either one.

The reason for the auto-mechanic thing is...well, I'm just not the sort of person who likes living with extreme highs and lows financially. Much rather be poor but stable. Cars need to be fixed regardless of what happens to the stock market or even the automotive industry. Plus it's fun to fix cars (at least to me it is)

If a great job comes along in the tech sector...I'll take it. But in the meantime I'm going to make plans to change careers to something steady and recession-proof that coincidentally will make me happier. I've definitely decided which is more important to me in the "do what you love" vs. "make a ton of cash" debate.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:34:13+00 by: polarbear

What if what you love to do is not valuable? I love to skateboard, snowboard, and surf. However I'm not Tony Hawk....so maybe Dan is right, I should just try to make a boatload of money. The problem with making a lot of money, is that unless you already HAVE a lot of money, it is hard to make a lot, without sacrificing every waking moment. sigh...

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:34:13+00 by: polarbear

one more thing... I like programming but I don't love it. I just got into it because I found that it was really easy for me to do...and paid a lot more than working in the library. However, now I'm 27 and have loads of experience, and am very good at what I do...yet I can barely find work. And, I'm not looking for anything amazing at this point...just something to pay bills!

Anyway. My situation is one where I don't really love what I do (but I don't hate it, either) and I'm certainly not being paid tons of money...I'm barely getting by. I'm thinking this might be a good time to find a different career path.

Some questions: Any techies successfully transition into some other line of work? Anyone have any advice for someone who really has no idea what sort of work would be appealing? Should I be worried that I'm having a mid-life crisis at 27 ? ;-)

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:34:13+00 by: TheSHAD0W

Hey -- talking about jobs, does anyone here do Win9x/2K/XP systems-level programming? I might have a task for you...

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:34:13+00 by: ebradway

polarbear: Have you ever heard of a 'Recreational Migrant Worker'? Dan used to encounter these people when he guided on the Ocoee River. This is an IRS classification for people who spend the different seasons working different recreational industries for a living. In this case the river guides would work in ski lodges in the winter. Most of these places have lodging available (usually a small spot on the floor in a cabin for your sleeping bag).

I think the tech industry as a whole is having a mid-life crisis. As far as having one yourself at 27, I know that I was married with a kid and a house at 24. It's not so much as a mid-life crisis as it is a delayed adolesence. My biggest complaint about being unemployed and having to file bankruptcy is that it means selling my Porsche 911.

Embrace the insanity!

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:34:13+00 by: Mike Gunderloy

Boy, not sure I can remember it all, but let's see:

1992-1994: Fed up with working for other people, out on my own as a computer consultant. Some days with no food and no money. Peak year 250 days of travel and more money than I could conveniently spend.

  1. Convinced to work for a slick-talking salesman/developer who dangled stock options in front of me. Moved to Virginia. Eventually told him to piss up a rope, quit, deeded options back to the company.

1996-1999: Back to consulting. Mostly lived on the road in an RV. Drove in, saved day, billed client, retreated to desert to recharge. Good life but hard to stay in touch and make enough cash.

  1. Dot-com company, stock options, decent salary, folded a week or so before Christmas, fancy footwork with the options to avoid a huge tax liability.
  2. Full-time author/editor. Income down 60% from 2000. Survived, but just treading water on the financial front.
  3. Hopeful. Talking to another potential dot-com. Some people never learn...

SHADOW: "Systems-level" means what, more precisely? I'm probably not the one, but I might know a highly-qualified & currently-unemployed person to recommend.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:34:13+00 by: Mars Saxman

Unemployment seems to be running around 40% among my circle of acquaintances these days. Kelly lost her job a few months ago, and Real Networks had a big layoff in the summer. 2001 pretty much sucked for everyone. I got pretty lucky: I quit Real Networks at the end of April and started telecommuting to this ten-person development-tool company in Texas. It's great - I get to keep living in Seattle, but my job is not affected by the flattened tech economy up here. It's also great work - best project I've had in years. So I really don't care a bit that I'm paid a Texas salary instead of a Seattle salary...

polarbear: don't think I've ever heard of someone before who was good at programming but didn't particularly enjoy it.


#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:34:13+00 by: TheSHAD0W

I'm considering opening a net cafe, and would like a small app to control computer usage. It would need to stealth itself, much like today's trojan horse programs. It would also need to perform very basic TCP/IP operations.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:34:13+00 by: polarbear

Mars, you'd be suprised. Two of the best hackers I know would really rather be playing violin. In my case, it might be that I'm just prematurely getting old. I don't mind programming, it is kind of fun. However, I can't help but notice that I sit at a desk 14 hours a day, and I'm getting fat, and my back hurts, and my eyesight is terrible, etc. It is more the lifestyle and consequences of programming that bother me. I'm working on getting back into shape and doing regular athletic activities to see if that will change the antipathy I have towards programming.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:34:14+00 by: polarbear

ebradway: I wasn't aware that there was an IRS classification for such people, but I know about them, and always thought that would be a lot of fun. Actually, my crazy "dream" idea was to attempt to get a commercial helicopter license, and be the guy that shuttles heli-skiiers and snowboarders up certain mountains. California in the winter, New Zealand in the summer.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:34:14+00 by: ebradway

polarbear: I highly recommend Ashtanga yoga. It'll eliminate both the belly and the back problems. Take a few classes but learn to practice on your own. As far as the helicopter piloting goes, you might want to consider the direction I'm thinking. As bizarre as it sounds, I'm seriously considering enlisting in the military. It was quite opposed to the idea before 9-11 but my pacificist leanings went up in flames so to speak. I'm specifically considering liguistics training in Monterrey. The school lasts about a year and you learn a foreign language. Pretty cushy by most standards. I would never be in the position to actually kill another person directly and I would likely contribute to efforts to prevent events like the WTC in the future.

The military is about the only place you can pickup any kind of flight training. Even if you aren't a pilot, you can easily get a position that will make sure you are surrounded by pilots. Learning to fly, like programming, is as much a process of osmosis. It's easier to learn to program if you are surrounded by programmers.

Mike: I've been considering the live-out-of-the-RV-consultant thing. Were you able to consistantly drum up enough work? Most of the bit-work I seem to come across tends to be a couple rednecks with a hair-brained idea that they think is going to sell millions of units. They never want to pay for your work - they just want to give you a cut of the profits.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:34:14+00 by: meuon

Wow. Compared to all of ya'll, I really don't feel so bad. I'm still a BBS Sysop in some ways, but the BBS has gotten a lot bigger. Dan helped us start this thing, and it's now a decent business that seems to be growing slowly and steadily just like it always has. My personal life sucks, but the business and financial part works well. Right now we are riding out the lull well, and I see some surf breaking ahead. I think the second wave will be much smaller, but will last a lot longer before breaking against the rocks of reality, it may be absorbd by another wave.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:34:14+00 by: polarbear

ebradway: I've also looked at the monteray defense language institute. it sounds like a good idea, if you are really into that...i'm not sure if I really am. one of my uncles did in in arabic years ago and now has more work than he can handle as a "consultant". (he's no longer in the military)

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:34:14+00 by: flushy

I love to program. I used to create programs just to solve problems which bothered me. Nothing serious, just stuff that was, "why do I have to do it this way? this is stupid... let's see if I can make something to make it - yeah.. now this is how it's supposed to work!"

However, my dream is still that rock and roll band. Now that I'm in Florida, I'm actually getting some musicians together. We're gonna try to corner the market in one or two bars and see where it goes from there. Maybe you'll see me on the cover of the RS!

That reminds me.. a cuz of mine it trying to build a MIDI device that will route MIDI data through a TCP/IP network. I'm sure someone has done this before, but my research turned up empty.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:34:15+00 by: Dan Lyke

polarbear: I think the "recreational migrant" was actually a census category, but a lot of my friends spent summer on the Ocoee, near Chattanooga, fall on the Gauley, winter ski-patrolling or waiting tables in the evening so they could 'board during the day out in Colorado, and spring on the Rio Grand.

Helicopter time is hella expensive, but Sam's got his rotary license (I think he's licensed to fly pretty much anything that can, although he doesn't have his type ratings for biz-jets and up), obviously the military is probably the only way to learn full-time so you could have a commercial ticket and enough hours to get hired to do mountain helicopter flying within the next 5 years or so, but if you were fairly religious about getting out, and had a tech job to pay for it, it's probably something you could do as a civilian within the decade.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:34:15+00 by: Mike Gunderloy

Eric: Yeah, I managed to drum up enough work to keep the RV thing going, and it was quite fun (quit to settle down when I got married -- long story there, but I didn't stop for lack of work). Things that helped: (1) A previous history of subcontracting for Microsoft which meant I could drum up work there on a pretty regular basis; a fair chunk of the wizards for the first release of Visual InterDev were written by me, with the RV in the parking lot at building 4 at Microsoft. (2) A reasonable amount of writing work (=doable anywhere, so I really could spend some time on the road). (3) A willingness to take some crappy jobs when I needed the money; in particular I spent most of one winter in a parking lot in Indiana trying to help out a disastrously mismanaged Y2K upgrade effort.

Things that hindered: (1) Having to use all laptops for my own work meant spending much more money on computers than with comparable desktops. (2) At the time, my best option for connectivity was satellite phone, 9600 baud at >$1/minute. (3) Some potential clients just couldn't deal with "You won't need to pay for a hotel, but I need a 30-foot long chunk of your parking lot and an electrical cord."

I'll probably never do it again, but it was fun while it lasted. And the payoff of actually spending some of my career living places like obscure hot springs in Nevada was worthwhile.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:34:16+00 by: TC

Hmmmm, guess it is that ugly out there. I guess for now I'm gpoing to go into a holding pattern. I have enough income for a moderate lifestyle and Dan and I have started and Online game project thats starting to put the "fun" back into functional code. BTW for me "creating things" is my passion and writting code is very much what I like to do, Even managing projects (if they are interesting) is rewarding. Creating Games that entertain people is near the top of my list, so as I dedicate more time to this new venture I'll probably get more happy.