Sunday, April 4, 2010

What’s it like to work in the tech industry

Now that I’m in the tech industry again, adding HTML/CSS/PHP/Javascript/Postgres (My boss feels this is a better database than MySQL)/CMS design experience to my résumé, some thoughts on how the tech industry works.

The technology sector is extremely fickle. It’s feast-or-famine; some new technology comes along that everyone wants to have (Aerospace in the 1960s; video games in the early 1980s; the internet in the mid-to-late 1990s) and people are hiring like crazy and fortunes are to be made. If you’re at the right place at the right time, you can even make millions and retire young.

But then, all of a sudden, no one is hiring any more and all you get at Monster and what not are idiots who want you to have ten years of experience in whatever technology is the hot new buzzword, regardless of whether the actual technology has even existed for ten years.

The things that appear most stable in the tech industry, based on the people I knew in the 1990s and where they are today, are technical writing and middle management. Tech support is underappreciated and underpaid; programming and system development is very fickle — when there are layoffs nearly everyone becomes jobless; after the dust has cleared and they start hiring again, the listings on Dice and Monster generally only hire people with proven experience in technologies that didn’t exist or matter before, and it’s very hard to break in again.

I remember, when I was working in San Jose, an older gentleman telling me the story of what happened when Nixon cut off the funding for an orbiting space station that NASA was supposed to build in the early 1970s. People would come to Silicon Valley to work, buying a house, and start moving in. They would show up for their first day of work, and be told that there was no longer a position for them and that they should pack up and move back. Indeed, this inspired the computer revolution because there were a lot of really intelligent people who found themselves suddenly jobless.

So, I’m finally getting paid to do tech again. With the exception of a short-term contracting gig in the mid-2000s making a Linux/Apache/MySQL/PHP website, this is the first job I have had in tech since I was laid off during the dot-com implosion in 2001 (No, the job babysitting Windows machines and doing things like reinstalling Windows or copying Outlook files from one computer to another doesn’t count). I’m starting on the ground floor again; the pay is low but the experience is great to put on my résumé.

The one thing I don’t like is the lack of time to finish up MaraDNS. My boss wants an entire CMS ready in two weeks and I just don’t have time, between that and my wife, for MaraDNS right now.