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Ask HN: How was life for a regular dev during the dot com burst?
642 points by kace91 29 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 400 comments
I'm a youngish developer (28y/o), and the constant recent comments of people predicting a new burst have made me curious about how life changed for developers at the time, and maybe what to expect if such a thing were to happen again.

I've heard stories of rich startup founders losing everything back then, but not much about what happened with the average devs. What was it like, living through those times? Did many people change careers? was there still a thriving industry in less risky tech companies? did salaries drop? I'm basically clueless about the whole thing.




I had a summer internship at HP while I was in college. (I graduated in 1992.) When I graduated, the assumption/expectation was that they would offer me a job. They hesitated, and a manager who was unusually nice to me explained that HP hires people who will stick around for many years -- and thus, they weighed every hire carefully.

He went further and said that several years before that, when there had been a recession, everyone at HP -- all the way up and down the ladder -- worked 9 days out of 10, and took a 10% salary cut, in order to ensure that there wouldn't be any layoffs.

People spoke about the company, and how it treated employees, with great pride, and the way that they treated workers during hard times was one major reason for that.

If nothing else, I learned from these stories that the boss/owner should be paid last, after all of the employees receive their salaries. I've done that whenever I've had employees, and I credit that lesson not just to general business ethics, but to a sense that business is about much more than just profit.

It's hard to imagine a modern company taking such steps to avoid layoffs, but the story continues to inspire me nearly 30 years later.


Hey, lately i'v read "The HP Way: How Bill Hewlett and I Built Our Company" and your story really resonates to what the founders said.

Snippet:

> We have always considered that we have a responsibility to our employees to plan our work so we can assure job continuity. We do not intend to have a "Hire 'em and fi re 'em" operation. This poses some serious considerations. One is always compelled to fi nd the most effi cient way to get a job done. At times it seems the most efficient way is to hire a group of people, work them as hard as possible, and when the job is fi nished, send them home. Well, even if this is the most efficient way, we have never operated in this manner. Bill and I do not feel this is the best way for a company like ours to operate. We have very rigid requirements of technical competence to maintain and rigid requirements in the quality of our equipment. This requires that we have and keep good people at all times. So we feel it is our responsibility to provide opportunity and job security to the best of our ability. This means specifically, sometimes we ask people to work overtime in order to meet customers' demands rather than hire additional people. While this is an imposition in a sense to our employees, it seems to be generally acceptable and we feel it is preferable to "hiring and firing." This is something you all need to understand as supervisors.

https://gizmodo.com/the-hp-way-how-bill-hewlett-and-i-built-...


It's a good book and I really respect their management philosophy which could not be more different than modern corporate theory. Just look at this snippet of Dave's statement on the purpose of a corporation (The whole thing is really worth a read).

"I want to discuss why a company exists in the first place. In other words, why are we here? I think many people assume, wrongly, that a company exists simply to make money. While this is an important result of a company's existence, we have to go deeper and find the real reasons for our being. As we investigate this, we inevitably come to the conclusion that a group of people get together and exist as an institution that we call a company so they are able to accomplish something collectively which they could not accomplish separately. They are able to do something worthwhile-they make a contribution to society (a phrase which sounds trite but is fundamental)"

Remember that Bill and Dave started HP as a 2 man operation in their garage during the great depression. They basically built the company from nothing into a technology power house over the course of their lives and the things that they went through clearly shaped how they ran the company. It is a testament that you can still find a large number of impressive engineers that were HP lifers.


It's sad. Most companies these days (to include HP) are hire and fire shops. All of them deny it.

Want to know why my resume is full of 1-2 year stints? Because when a project is winding down I've learned to start looking for a new job - because it's the safe thing to do. Managers will tell you up until the day you get your layoff notice that your job is safe.


At my last real job, the entire IT staff was getting laid off when the new CIO came in. One team after another and replaced with contractors. We knew in November of 2016 things weren't going to last. I was on the last IT team still employed.

My manager was fighting tooth and nail to try and save at least some of us. But come February (3 months longer than other IT teams) the fight was over and he lost. We were all laid off. I was given 6 months severance + insurance if I would stay around for 1 month and do a knowledge transfer to the new team, one of the easiest decision of my life. The majority of the team were escorted off premises that day.

Manager's boss helped everyone secure a new job (except 1 who just disappeared never to be heard from again), I got a contract gig for double the pay of that job.

I still talk to everyone, and we are all in better positions today than we were there.


> one of the easiest decision of my life.

Which way did you decide?


The free 6 months of pay and insurance for staying for only 1 month!


>It's sad. Most companies these days (to include HP) are hire and fire shops. All of them deny it.

This is a good thing for people who want to work at those companies but are not yet employed there. Companies that can fire people easily are more willing to take a chance on someone without a perfect pedigree than those who insist on only hiring those that they are certain they want to work there forever.


Scania, the truck manufacturer, did this during 08-09. 10% paycut, 20% time reduction and they encouraged people to use the time to study and improve. None were laid off.


While I think this might be a good step in production work, it might be killing for firms in knowledge intensive industries. When this happens the first to move are the still employable and affordable youths. So the average age and salary might go up after a move like this. In the long run older firms get more trouble hiring youthful people, etc. Source: an interesting discussion with a union bargainer that was actually dismayed that young people disliked working hour reductions even though the firm promised no layoffs in return. My take away is that for some employees an honest severance package is better than working hours reduction.


I've actually seen the opposite of that, on medium/small firms (at least the ones I've worked on) when hard times hit the first to go down are the senior positions (except those close to management) and they're substituted with way cheaper out-of-college people.


I'm not certain it would be bad for knowledge intensive industries. My reasoning is that people would use their time more wisely and get more done. As for young people (also affects older), I think the implication `more time working => more done` is still deeply ingrained even when there are arguments against it[1].

I do agree that having forced off-time can be distressing to some people. Some may like to think they are indispensable to run the company, and suddenly they feel betrayed because their company doesn't need them working at 100%. Or they are optimistic and think the grass is greener elsewhere. Or...

Anyway, I think it would be interesting to see studies of """productivity""" when employees are forced to do part-time work. Based on what I know, I wouldn't too surprised to see good social benefits (but it doesn't mean everybody would thrive).

[1] A simple search here on HN: https://hn.algolia.com/?q=long+hours


Unions generally work for those who have been there the longest. The young workers don't like hour cuts when they see people who have been there for years not have to take the same cuts. Worse, when you are young it is harder to have the required savings in place. My bank won't accept a lesser house payment - if I have been there for 10 years inflation has indirectly made my house payment less so I can afford to live on less income, which benefits the older worker over the younger. (there are lots of bills in life, some do hit older workers more and I'm intentionally not talking about them)


Google "dead sea effect" for some interesting discussion of this sort of thing. Many companies end up with a majority of employees with no mobility, and the culture in those workplaces suffers because of this.


Much of this is not due to goodwill of owners, but unions.


These are specific examples, not general trends, so you should be able to cite evidence that these examples were due to union pressure.


Note that union boosters tend to want to push the narrative that all business owners and managers are evil caricatures of greedy capitalists who wouldn't give workers anything but scraps if not for the valiant unions protecting them.

Not saying it's never true, but know when to be wary of union people claiming this and avoiding the point that unions sometimes obstruct efforts to keep the company alive and not lay anyone off during hard times by demanding strict adherence to negotiated agreements on hours and wages.


A pay cut would be an "over my dead body" issue for many unions.

Edit: Since this apparently does not go without saying, the feedback loops in a union are all wrong for taking that kind of risk (remember, the pay cut does not guarantee company survival). People willing to rock the boat with calculated gambles like that do not rise to positions of authority in a union.


That depends on where you are. If I recall correctly, In ~2009-2010 German automotive unions worked together with management and employees and negotiated widespread reduction of work hours in order to prevent layoffs.

Of course unions/employee representatives have a different place here(e.g. half of members of the board of directors are elected representatives of employees.)


That's a quite specific german phenomenon that does not replicate much outside, specially around europe.

France, Spain, Italy, etc... Tire-burning trouble starts with just mention of the possibility


The Volkswagen Autoeuropa plant in Portugal did this, and as far as I know it went very well.


Where I work the non-union staff are not laid off in downturns, only the union staff.


If your company does business in the United States, they're violating the law. https://www.nlrb.gov/rights-we-protect/whats-law/employers/d...

Section 8(a)(3) of the Act makes it an unfair labor practice for an employer, "by discrimination in regard to hire or tenure of employment or any term or condition of employment[,] to encourage or discourage membership in any labor organization." (An employer that violates Section 8(a)(3) also derivatively violates Section 8(a)(1).) For example, you may not

- Discharge, constructively discharge, suspend, lock out, lay off, fail to recall from layoff, demote, discipline, or take any other adverse action against employees because they support the union or engage in union activities.


What about companies where different parts of the company have differing work arrangements? For instance, my telco has some union workers in specific roles, as well as non-union retail staff, and a "management professional" category. If union people were getting laid off, it would be due to the role, but of course there would be no non-union workers in that role.


This is nothing to do with union membership: when sales are down we slow the production line (everything is just in time) and part of that is letting go people on the production line who are not needed at the slower pace of operations. They will be recalled if sales improve. You have to be union to work on the production line (that is in the contract), so there is no discouragement of membership.


Why not both?


>the boss/owner should be paid last

Yup. My dad is big on that too. Always thought he overplayed it, but one day he explained that the people he employs are quite poor. So if they don't get paid they can't put food on the table - literally. While he has a bit more of a buffer.


When I was a contractor in fintech, I did a lot of work for one guy on and off over 10 years. He was always very prompt in paying, and I only found out after some time that some of his clients (big banks) were very slow to pay him. At one point he paid everyone contracting for him out of his own pocket for nearly a year. None of us were exactly poor, but it contrasted with other clients who were happy to pass payment delays straight on to me!


These are the types of people that earn my respect and loyalty as an employee. No nonsense, no BS, no trouble!


Leaders Eat Last. A very good book by Simon Sinek but based on an old Marine Corps principal.

While other services have 'head of line privileges' - basically the more senior you are the more you can cut in line to get food at chow time. In the Marines, you always line up most junior to more senior.

It drives home the responsibility leaders have to take care of the people who follow them.


Exactly. This also extends further. I have led and managed, and always try to take on the least appealing work while letting those I managed do the 'fun' work.


No US services have head of line privileges.


I guess that’s the downside of paying people as little as you can get away with.


>I guess that’s the downside of paying people as little as you can get away with.

Fair point I guess...to an extent.

People somehow manage to live paycheque to paycheque regardless of the absolute number they get paid in my experience.

In this particular case - it's in the context of 40% unemployment. So the market equilibrium is quite low.


There's a definite threshold between "their responsibility" and "the economy's responsibility."

I'd say generally the number at which you can no long afford to (a) put a roof over your head in a reasonably safe environment, (b) buy enough at the grocery to feed yourself and any dependents, (c) afford necessary medical care.

When you're trying to figure out how to make your paycheck cover only those things, we're not talking about disposable income anymore.


I have done this when companies I worked at where having difficulties, I volunteered to wait for my pay and prioritise other colleagues who had less of a buffer (single parents for example)

Did mean in one case I had to take the hit when the company collapsed and claim via RB2 (this is in the UK) - of course it turned out that my employer had not been making my NI payments so no unemployment benefit for me.


>I have done this when companies I worked at where having difficulties, I volunteered to wait for my pay and prioritise other colleagues who had less of a buffer (single parents for example)

That's quite a brave move if you might end up never getting paid. Props


Well I would get the government safety net which pays out a proportion of wages id just have to wait a couple of months so I wasn't risking much a few hundred.

But when one of your co-workers is a single mum who lives in rented accommodation and is buying her electricity on a Pay As you go electricity key losing a months wages is more serious.


There's many reasons the owner(s) should get paid last. That's the moral reason. From the financial perspective, I've always viewed it as a risk/reward scenario. The people who are guaranteed paychecks aren't really taking much of a risk, except the general bet that their employer will continue to exist and need them. The owner(s), however, are taking a large risk in many different ways and if they are able to make a profit, then they should get a larger portion of it.

I've always thought of it in this investment sense with the risk to reward payoff.


This is similar to how many German companies adapt with recessions. They even subsidise in-house trainings to keep their employee's skills up to date during the non-working days.

I wish HP did the same reduce-work-hours scheme during the 2008 recession instead of the pay cuts w/o reducing the working hours. At least the pay cuts were voluntary but still...


I’m from Boise, where HP headquarters are. Many of my friends parents were laid off unceremoniously in 2008/9. There was a lot of resentment


HP was a different company by 2008. The HP Way had been replaced by the usual corporate abuse - good for the share price, bad for everyone else.


The hiring of Fiorina is a good marker when HP started to go downhill, and the 2008 recession was like the climax of this somewhat tragic story.


When Bill and Dave were finally out of the company there was a stark 180 in philosophy. You can always tell when management is about to do something sleezy in any of the HP spin offs (including HP) because they invoke the founder's to justify their obviously poor decisions.

"I really think this is what Bill and Dave would have done"


Was it really better for share price? Not short term, but long term. HP was very respected before, not so much latter.


If your current investors want to pump the stocks up before using the pump to offload them into pension plans and the like, it makes sense.


Exactly! Short-term tactics are good for loot-and-plunder leadership, seldom for the business. And the market tends to be disproportionately interested in short term gains, so things can be antagonistically stacked against the business as an organization. After all, short-term is where the best combination of margins and flexibility lie.


Yep. High CEO salary, especially in startups, is a big red flag. Typically, C-suite/founders in startups should be paid enough to live on or $0 if they're already rich.


He went further and said that several years before that, when there had been a recession, everyone at HP -- all the way up and down the ladder -- worked 9 days out of 10, and took a 10% salary cut, in order to ensure that there wouldn't be any layoffs.

I have a good friend who has helmed several very successful software companies. His philosophy is quite different: it is unfair to ask employees to work take a pay cut (and work more hours) when they could find another job that would potentially pay them more money.

I'm not posting this to argue with the HP philosophy, but rather to point out that there are other ways for management to care about their employees.

For the record, I stuck with my current employer through some hard times (forced furlough was the worst of it) because I appreciated what the leadership was doing, and believed in the goals of the organization.


Well, they can always leave if they can find such another job.

I'd love to been suggested that arrangement instead of the "We're sorry we are out of money" excuse I got (while the company was heavily spending in other stuff). 3 months later they "got a new client" and posted new job ads to hire back the positions (while swapping all senior positions with junior staff).

What angers me about the situation is not that I was laid off, but that it was a decision only justifiable by focusing exclusively in the short term.


I'd much rather have a juicy severance package. If I leave out of my own volition I don't get the ~3 months' salary.


Doesn't pass the sniff test. Employees can find another job while working at the place they got a pay cut. Sorry to say but your friend might have terminal executive-brain.


Thanks Carly.


Yeah Agilent took the HP way with them...


Dassault Systèmes is like that : the CEO publicly said during the 2008 crisis that layoffs would be the absolutely last thing happening.

The company froze the salaries and he kept his promise.


> If nothing else, I learned from these stories that the boss/owner should be paid last, after all of the employees receive their salaries.

That's exactly how equity works.


I was ~1.5 years out of college and at a small dot-com with a niche SaaS at the time. I distinctly remember 9/11 and the chill that came over our office that day. That passed in time, but our economic prospects never recovered. I used to hit the gym in the mornings and then work ~10am-7pm and I distinctly remember the day ~9 months later when the VP of engineering called me on my cell while I was finishing up my workout and asked when I would be in the office. He said to come straight to his office when I got in. About 85% of the company was laid off that day and I was among the "lucky" ones who was not.

What followed was almost straight out of the Silicon Valley sitcom. Management know our existing product was a dead-end, but with 85% of the company laid off, our remaining VC funds gave us a decent runway, so they decided to pivot to ... something. That is, the entire company (about ~15 of us) would sit around in the boardroom and try to come up with new product ideas. Needless to say, that went precisely nowhere.

The CEO was pushed out fairly shortly after that and I had been brought in through his network. My layoff came about ~6 months later in the second round of layoffs which constituted only me. Thanks to the VP of engineering going to bat for me, I did get 3 months of severance. I spent 9 months looking for another job and finally found one in fintech in NYC which turned out the be, to this day, one of the best jobs of my career. I also met my now-wife and many of my best friends there. That time was both the most traumatic experience of my working career and the best thing to happen to me at the same time. I know it was much harder on many other people, but it turned out for the best for me.


I know of one company that actually managed to pull off the pivot thing!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TippingPoint

They switched from an internet appliance (kind of like an early Chromebook) to smart deep packet inspection firewalls. Not a ton in common between those except that they both require hardware to be built.

If I remember right, local lore was that they pulled it off partly by realizing early that they needed to change direction and being well-funded enough that they had enough cash to start over.


Here's another example of a successful pivot:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18063362

Posting anon.

In 2009, the startup where I was working was hitting the skids, and our investors (correctly) were not willing to back us. We all kept grinding for a month or two in honorable futility, but after a while, my bank account depleted and I had to go.

To make various ends meet and to keep my mental health during the wind down however, I took up some contract work that I found through various friends in the SF startup scene. One company that I really liked and did some small stuff for was Burbn, which was a mobile-only location check-in that was hinged around taking photos of your location.

Missing my friends in NYC (I made a lot of friends in SF, but my inner circle were my college buddies from CMU; I went to tech and they went finance, sigh), I decided to leave SF to head to NYC and get a fresh start.

As I was leaving, I wanted to tie up a few loose ends, so I emailed my contact at Burbn and said I was likely to be unavailable for any more work, but that I liked the project and hoped for the best for him. He responded and said that he was near funding on a small pivot, and that if I was interested, there might be a full-time role available. I declined - I was mentally done with SF and the startup scene (Larry Chiang, 111 Minna, the rise of FB spam-crap like RockYou, etc.) as it was then.

That person was Kevin Systrom; that pivot was Instagram.


Ouch! I hope your fresh start paid off, though.


Didn't slack start as a game studio? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slack_(software)#History


So did Flickr. Same guy behind it too. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stewart_Butterfield


Not in the dot-com years.


Novell was a successful pivot. Novell started as a hardware company, with a proprietary computer based on the 68000. That bombed, so the pivot was to NetWare. That dominated PC networking for about 15 years.


I graduated from college and entered the industry just post-bust (early 2002.) I went to work for a company that had, 6 months prior, laid everyone off and decided to pivot with the remaining VC cash. I think it took them 3 or 4 months to figure out what the new company would be. That strategy wound up being successful for them (us, I guess...)


I started about a year before you. I went into embedded rtos stuff. At the time it was comparable to the beat SV offers and by the time SV recovered enough to start offering double or perhaps triple embedded rates, I had learned i actually liked it an felt the amount of domain specific knowledge i had aquired was a good investment. I'm not sure that was the case, but at 40 having never changed jobs from that original corporation, I think I at least got stability and fun work out of it.


I finished high-school in 2001 and started working straight away (before college, I continued working part time during my studies). Being cheap was probably a big part of why I got and kept that first job for 4 years! I was paid a little above minimum wage.


> found one in fintech in NYC

I'm interested in hearing which, if you care to share.


Well, it was nearly 20 years ago and with SoX and all the other regulations, the fintech industry now is essentially unrecognizable from what it was then. I worked for a bulge-bracket investment bank whose business today is dramatically different and a hedge fund that is no longer solvent. The reason it was good for me was that I was an inexperienced developer and I got to work with much more talented developers in an environment where results mattered. I learned a lot and became a lot better myself.


9/11 was well after the dot-com crash. It didn't help, though.


the crash was not a singular event, 9/11 was at the tail end of it but it was crashing for a good 2 years or so from 2000-2002/3 (look at a graph of the NASDAQ from the 90s till today).


Yep. I worked for a small company that had been struggling through the dot-com slowdown. But 9/11 was basically the precipitating event for its final tailspin. I was laid off a week or two later and it continued to spiral down over the next 6-12 months.


Did the company manage to IPO before it tanked?


No. And, thankfully, I had not early-exercised any of my options, either.


I went through something very similar at a startup around 2010 (layoffs, new runway because of layoffs, random pivots trying to find anything to work)... so I guess some things never change!


> it turned out for the best for me

Survivorship bias. What could have happened is that you spend 12 months looking for another job, nothing, you lose your house, end up on street, take some minimum wage job, never comment on HN. We don't get to see stories like that.

The stories we see is where it did turn out good. That's the commonality: you must step out of the comfort zone for something good to happen. However something good does not happen to everyone 100% of time.


Bias entails the misrepresentation of a population, but "for me" implies that the population consists of only himself, so the term bias is nonsensical in this context.


What value does a comment like this add? The question asks for the perspective of someone during the dot com bust and this was his.


"for me" is the key part of the sentence you quoted. If he had said "for everyone" then yes that would have been survivorship bias, but he did not.

Though if you are trying to point out the fact that we might get a skew towards success stories in this thread because those who actually made a success of the dot com crash are more likely to post about it then those who failed then I would probably agree with you.


Offered in the spirit of "don't believe everything you hear": I went into university and graduated during the post-bust winter. The few adults I knew, plus the Wall Street Journal, were unanimous in their opinion that engineering as a field was done in the United States and that all future hiring of software developers would happen in Asia.

I got on a plane to Japan immediately after graduation. It's been a fun and fulfilling 15 years, but I am reliably informed that there have, in fact, been engineers hired in the United States since then.


I remember a Partner from the large global consulting firm that I worked for telling me a similar story: “There is no point getting in to engineering as it will all be offshored to Asia; much better to become a project mgr that ‘glues’ delivery together”. Since that point I always regretted not doubling down on engineering and have spent the rest of my career trying to become more technical.


Yep I remember them scare mongering with that line. Which really gutted the already short supply of developers available. I also remember when the outsourcing wave came crashing down on their dreams of cheap development labor and they had to come back hat in hand to US developers who understand US business processes to bail them out. BOA being a big one that's project busted spectacularly. Most of us that witnessed this period held their feet to the fire and jacked up our rates, due to the limited supply of developers.


People are still telling me this just last year. Met a couple of software developers that I believe worked at one of the more traditional large corps. Over the next half an hour or so they kept telling me about how software is a dead end career and all the jobs are going to go off shore soon. They seemed super depressed about their future prospects. No amount of me talking about career (and compensation) prospects of software developers would sway them. And this was in the Bay Area.


Maybe if they’re not doing their jobs properly, but even if their company is sending pretty much all jobs off-shore they still need someone to verify the quality of the contributions from those people, and that’s where your job will be.

Besides, my big company is starting to bring more and more jobs on-shore again after finding out that doing it all off-shore doesn’t actually work.


I work for a consulting company and any time we work alongside offshore developers (hired by the client to do parts of the work) its a nightmare. Maybe its just the clients being too price-sensitive and not knowing how to oversee offshore devs, but every time I've been in this situation, the offshore developers are slow to deliver, their quality of work is far below the standards of the team, and we end up spending time to fix their work.


I think the problem is they have zero stake in developing a great system. If anything, a barely working kludge that they can maintain for the next few years is best.


Though quite a few of them have been Asians. ;)

For most westerners considering a move to Asia, I'd recommend Singapore over Japan. It's essentially Asia-light, and salaries are higher.


Perhaps, but you're still lopping your SV salary in half, and if you want a central 1 BR that's not government housing, you're paying close to SF housing prices.


Well, those visas that allow you to work in SV don't grow on trees. (And you'd have to put up with California and the US.)

If you do have an American passport, you get a double-whammy in opportunity costs: you can already work in SV, and you still have to pay American taxes even when you are not working there.

---

The government housing in Singapore can be quite nice. But yes, you are going to live in a high rise tower, most likely. Not a country house.

Some people prefer urban living and short commutes.

One effect that I only appreciate after living in Singapore for a while and then visiting elsewhere: the peace of mind not having to look after all you stuff when you are out and about. In Berlin or London or New York, I need to constantly worry that someone would nick my laptop, if I leave it on the table in a cafe when going to the loo.


About the taxes thing -- you can subtract foreign taxes that you pay from your American tax bill, and you also get an exemption on your first $100,000 of earnings, so it really only affects you if you're living in a low-tax-rate country AND making a six-figure salary in USD.

(I'm an American living abroad so I deal with this every year.)


Yes. Specifically for Singapore those salaries are easy to achieve for techies, and sort of the point of living here as a foreigner.

Otherwise, you are probably better off in a lower cost place.

I assume you still have to do your American taxes, even if just to show that you didn't hit the threshold?


Yeah you still have to file your US taxes


Rents are cheap in Singapore. Way cheaper than they are in London. When I worked in Singapore few years back I paid at the time an equivalent of 1 thousand pounds for a brand new condo in a nice gated community with swimming pools and stuff. It was only 3 MRT stops from downtown.

In London to get something of comparable quality I would have to pay at least 3000 pounds if not more.


Around 2012, I found London relatively comparable to Singapore in terms of rents. Since then, rents seem to have come down by about a quarter. (I live in an HDB close to the CBD.)

Singapore has those 'gated communities', but it's actually the last place on earth to need them. ;)


I remember being at Zellerbach Auditorium at UC Berkeley in 2001 or 2002. Bill Gates had come to urge students to please consider majoring in CS.


Interesting. How has your experience been in Japan? I hear that the work culture in Japan is bad that you have to grind for long hours at work. And then the culture is so different and the accommodations so small and you can't drive around in a big fat suv. For the culture part, it is okay as long as you like to experience new things, I guess.


:) :) :) :)


Didn't mean any offence by this! I was merely indicating my appreciation for the humor of the original poster with his great command of the language: "have been reliably informed since..".


Will briefly share my story, then offer advice:

I was VP Tech at a high profile ad driven startup. We raised $50M (Softbank money in those days). Spent a lot of it scaling up on Sun hardware, ran TV ads, saw tremendous response, then a week later the bottom in the ads business model dropped out. Literally a week later. Amazing.

We went from close to 300 staff in March (60 of which reported to me) to 7 in October. The CEO handled the layoffs.

Most of the developers who reported to me took months to find new jobs.

Many of the non-tech people who had found unique jobs in our business were not able to find similar work again and went to business school or law school.

I had worked day and night to scale up, then worked day and night to scale down. I burned out. I moved, stopped working for pay, lived on savings, went to grad school (in CS) for a while, then finally got back on the horse in 2005.

Some advice- worrying about the next bubble bursting is a distraction, like following the shiny. It is good you are asking the question, but the right plan to be making- a career plan- is what is important, and whether there is a bubble or not is kind of irrelevant.

You might lose your job in the midst of major investment, or you might weather repeated rounds of layoffs. Random things will happen uniquely to YOU. They have to all of us.

The average story is helpful context but it is not your story. Protect and defend yourself. You are the only one who can.


I would emphasize this: worrying about the next bubble bursting is a distraction, like following the shiny. It is good you are asking the question, but the right plan to be making- a career plan- is what is important, and whether there is a bubble or not is kind of irrelevant.

Internalizing that can be the best thing any developer does. It is way more impressive to talk about all the skills you have acquired in your career in an interview than it is to talk about how your last company crashed and burned and you rode it right into the ground.

Make your plans for how you want to advance your career, what you want to learn, what field you want to work in, the companies that are places where you could pick up relevant skills. And plan for things you could do in the down time between jobs.


Interestingly this is also the attitude of many money managers (Warren Buffett, to take the best known example). You'd think at least they would take explicit, timed preventive action. Many (most?) of them don't.


I'm not sure exactly what you're trying to say about Buffett, but he's sitting on a gigantic pile of cash right now. He knows which way the wind is blowing.


Not sure this is a result of crash planning, or that good deals are hard to find at the top and he won't pony up unless it's a good deal.


Which is exactly what I'm doing as a freelancer as well.


> and went to business school or law school.

Familiar sounding story. I've got lots of friends who took it as an opportunity (or were forced by it) to switch out of tech careers. Lots of people I know went and became things like paramedics (at least three I can think of), nurses, doctors, lawyers. A bunch were well enough off to be able to reinvent themselves creatively as photographers, musicians, DJs, producers.

(I'm from Sydney, so it didn't hit anything like as hard here, I was at what would these days be called a startup in the online travel industry. We'd hit $1mil in turnover @~32% margins in Jan and had an offer on the table which my would have turned my ~5% equity into a quite nice house paid for outright if we'd taken it. Then when Sept 11 happened we lost 90% of our US customer revenue over night (which was by far the bulk of our customers). Didn't _kill_ us outright, but it took us ~2 years to recover back to our next $1m month. We struggled on for another half dozen years before selling the business to a competitor, and I eventually spent my entire share proceeds from that sale taking a handful of friends out to a (very nice) dinner.)


Idk I graduated into the Great Recession and ignored it at first. Undergrad just didn’t prepare me for professional planning nor woke me up to the relevant market pressures. I’d say it’s important to know what’s going on in the market to inform both things like immediate savings priorities, but also medium term choices and direction. For example, I knew my programming chops could be honed into marketable skill, but I didn’t foresee my math BS becoming as relevant to highly valuable jobs like it has.

I definitely wouldn’t have moved somewhere the economy depended so greatly on luxury goods and services, for instance. It was hit really hard by the GR.


I worked at a company called Hydrogen Media in St Pete, Florida. We had a bell that would ring only when we got a million dollar deal. It rang multiple times a day.

Our office was insane. Exposed rafters with the trusses and everything painted black. Our walls were deep blue but had blue neon running the length of the room on all sides. No overhead lighting.

Our developer floor was elevated with sub-floor network cabling. We had a dev floor about 100 yards by 50 yards, the size of a football field, roughly. A little shy of that. Private offices had glass walls facing the dev floor. Our sound studio (these were the flash days) was a hollowed-out VW bus in a soundproofed room.

We had a fire pole from the bosses office down to the dev room, conference tables with in-layed TVs. It was pretty wild.

In my time there, I built ~400 replicated sites for Colliers realty, DuPont Registry's website, a bunch of websites for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Tampa Bay Lightning's website among others. We were printing money.

The crash hit hard, and Hydrogen Media dwindled. Massive layoffs, and eventually it renamed to Bayshore Solutions and relocated to Tampa where they still do business to this day.


Damn. I’m surprised I never heard of you guys at the time. I was 20ish around that time living in St Pete. Was seriously looking for an “internet job” at the time even though I had almost no advanced experience. Things sure have changed since, especially since I moved to SF a few years later.


It was a rough point in time. In the dot com boom, people who could rub two lines of visual basic (for applications) were getting jobs. If you did not like your job, you could make a phone call and have a few offers waiting for you by the end of the day. Glorious stock options at promising startups after fleecing larger companies in panics about y2k and missing the boom. The parties and travel...

We were joking about the pets.com of the world - buying pet food, selling it at a loss, and trying to make up for it in volume. At least we had a business model that made money, a foosball table, and actual personal offices for each developer. When the stock market tanked... everything just shut down. People stopped buying or investing - and anything that assumed growth, for the most part, died. Starbucks with long, long queue lanes were empty.

As some companies died, there were opportunistic shops that were looking for solid talent. As they sold off our little shop of ten people, I ended up getting an offer and then being one of the folks left behind to turn the server room lights off. I had negotiated a start date a few months into the future, and very thankfully, they honored the offer. Things got worse. There were several more bits of belt tightening - we had a 25% round of layoffs later as the impacts of a bad economy really hit home. I did well/got lucky - but while the first round cleared out a lot of 'charlatans', I saw many solid people go on that black Friday

Salaries dropped - or at least stopped growing for most senior people. The rise of off-shore came and the realities of global economies eventually settled in. Large swaths of people turned their back on development... and here we are today, where it can be tricky to find solid folks again. The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again.


> people who could rub two lines of visual basic (for applications) were getting jobs

If one can put two sensible lines of VBA that solves a particular problem (e.g. in Excel or whatever context), I believe such person has enough knowledge to not to be unemployable, even today. We are not talking about mid/high six figures - there are plenty of jobs in-between.


> In the dot com boom, people who could rub two lines of visual basic (for applications) were getting jobs. If you did not like your job, you could make a phone call and have a few offers waiting for you by the end of the day.

Yea, that doesn't sound anything like today!

/sarcasm


There was no “grinding leetcode” in the late 90s...


What were SWE interviews and interview prep like back in late 90s/early 00s?


UK experience. Turn up, usually do some sort of coding or skill test - which was mostly on paper and consisted of about half an hour or so worth of questions. Starting with a few gifts like an obvious error, or "explain encapsulation", through to 2 or 3 bastards that were probably the current department's idea of funny. 30min - 1.5 hr interview, usually with a quick wander round the department or building. Not uncommon to get an offer as we wrap up. No prep - just know the company you apply to, and know your stuff.

A few were still just interview with no test. Some would have a second round - mostly corporates, which were mostly a repeat of round one but with someone else. In that era I can remember just one whiteboard interview, which also required a surprise presentation. I passed, but didn't want to proceed. The interview put me right off them. :)

On the interviewing side it was actually depressingly common to have one or two turn up and hard fail the easy gifts, and completely fail to explain encapsulation, or know what a constructor was etc. There were quite a few trying to wing it with a couple of years C++ or Java on the CV when they maybe sort-of knew a bit of C and fancied a bit of the absurd y2k and dot com money that TV kept on about.


The cargo cult of the day were the Microsoft style logic puzzles, "how many telephone poles are there in Seattle" and that sort of thing.


Oh wow, you built a product in 3 months that makes 1mm/year, you know Perl, sql and JavaScript, you’ve built 30 websites, you’ve run 3 successful businesses, you’ve built a framework to build web apps quickly? When can you start?


Good point.


I didn't expect a reference to the Wheel of Time.


I graduated in 2002, took a "Beltway Bandit" consulting job testing Java code for a Treasury project in a basement in Hyattsville, MD, watched my older friends who graduated in 2000 into dotcom pay struggle to keep up payments on their Porsches, and counted my blessings for being able to pay my student loans and foolish new car purchase.

Two years later, I took a US Army contracting job in Germany, and through a couple of twists and turns, have been in the IT department of a large German auto parts manufacturer for eight years now... where we just got our 40 hour contracts cut to 35. My husband (engineer) and I live about the same lifestyle that our neighbors who are secretaries and mechanics do, so finances will not be a problem unless we're both unemployed for over a year.

My advice: don't take on unnecessary expenses that you would have a hard time backing out of (big car note) or that would tie you to a place (mortgage on something that would be hard to sell for what you owe), and think hard about what are needs (eating healthy food, recreation) and what are wants and conveniences (having prepared food brought to you, expensive activities and exotic travel). Go ahead and enjoy your wants a bit while times are good, but be ready to cut them out when the punchbowl gets taken away.


I was working at Treasury in Hyattsville around that time (in the basement as a matter of fact, where I think most of the contractors lived) but that was my first job after getting away from all of the .com bubble-busting BS.

Salaries were still pretty good (but flat) for those pros who stuck around and had actual technical skill, but a lot of the newer people to technology had it much rougher.


HPTi?


Great advice. I have a friend who went into finance in the run-up to the Great Recession. He spent his first big bonus on a Ferrari. Then the crash came, and the Ferrari sat in a parking garage (over $1,000 a month because it was a premium car) while it took him years to find another job. Also, nobody was buying a used Ferrari in '08 or '09 so he couldn't even get rid of the damn thing haha.


I graduated from college right amidst the bubble bursting, and it was brutal. Fresh college grads and junior developers were competing with displaced veterans for entry-level positions. ~1 year prior I had been offered $120k/yr to drop out of school and move to Pittsburgh to take a job. I decided to stay in school to finish my degree instead, and by the time I did the bottom of the market had fallen out and I was unemployed for 7 months and finally landed my first professional software development job in Washington State for less than half the salary of the job I'd previously declined.

I thankfully had my CAD/CAM background & contracting to fallback on while hunting for those 7 months, but it was enormously demotivating & disenfranchising. I was within a couple weeks of just abandoning a career in software entirely and going back to what I knew permanently.

I expect it all worked out in the end, as I'm now CEO of a startup doing a thing I'm really interested in and have successfully raised money to fund it along side our early revenue. But, it was still immensely crappy at the time and shocking to see just how extreme the pendulum can swing in terms of available jobs, pay scales, etc.


My experience was very similar- I was working on my resume the morning of 9/11 at the start of my senior year. My friends and I all boasted about how we would refuse to even entertain any offers below 75k prior and several had already secured offers at the end of their summer internships.

The bottom fell out of the market, and though I had two summers an intern under my belt, there were hordes of devs with 1-2 years experience in specific stacks I was competing against. Most offers that were secured were rescinded.

I was somewhat fortunate- I did not plan on going back to the place I interned at, but facing no other prospects I reached out and they offered me a job- for literally 37k. I swallowed my pride and took it- it was a small consulting firm, close to my house, and they had just scored a new project for a major sports organization.

I kept looking on the side in hopes to get a better offer, but got literally zero bites on it. After one year there (and my boss tried to get me excited about a 3,000 but 10% raise) I got my first actual response to a submitted resume for a place that seemed terrible. The month after that I got a second call, that didn't work out. The month after that a third callback- and they made an offer on the spot- for 55k. I was over the moon- it was at least a living wage, and working in finance for a group that was working on what would later be called high frequency trading.

Things picked up from there, but I didn't hit that 75k mark for another year or so.


It’s funny to hear stories like this, because I didn’t begin my career as a software dev and 37k would have seemed like incredible money to me fresh out of college in ‘06. My first job, I was making 21k and I felt pretty ok about it. I’m making an order of magnitude more now, but I’m grateful for learning how to be happy on a 21k salary. Literally everything over that feels like excess that I could do without if need be. Makes it easy to choose the work that I actually want to do, too.


That must have been in a LCOL area... 37k was not enough to move out of my parents house comfortably... 55k was, at least I could live with roommates and still save a bit- I was in NYC though.


Did you look into the history of the Pittsburgh company? My guess is you did the right thing, in a year you could have been in a strange city looking for a job with no degree.


I did. It eventually folded, but the people I knew that worked there managed to go into some pretty impressive gigs. One ended up as a VP at Apple on the iTunes Music Store side of things, if I recall correctly.

It's hard to say how things would have worked out otherwise, but I'm not living on that git branch in the repository of life, and I fear what it would take to resolve the merge conflicts, so I just chug away on the feature branch I'm currently on until the whole lot of it is deprecated. There are two nascent forks running around here that I think show promise.


I like your thought process.


I was at ask.com during the crash. The first bad part for me was the options. I planned on selling them the instant they vested. A week before vesting they were trading in the low hundred dollar range. The day they vested they were in the dollar range, with a strike price of 10 dollars. Thank goodness I didn't exercise them or I'd be stuck in the tax boat. So it was demoralizing, but I still had my salary, and I was young enough for that to be enough.

I weathered three rounds of layoffs and that was pretty harsh too. Every morning we'd check fuckedcompany.com and look for Ask in there. One morning it popped up with a 60% layoff in two days. It was almost exactly right; 16% of staff were laid off. Someone mis-heard the number.

I was in a smaller off-shoot office, so when people were cut they were called into the managers office, and while there security would pack their desk. When they came out of the office the box was just sitting on the floor, right outside the door. By the second round the manager just wouldn't come in that day, and the main office would send some stranger to do it.

At first I rationalized the people who were cut as people who weren't valuable, weren't adding to the bottom line. They were the less technical people, and their jobs were more nebulous, so it was easy to ease any mental pangs. It was a way of coping with something similar to survivor's guilt. Then when I was laid off, well, it was a tough time for me personally. I couldn't help applying the same rationale to myself. I wasn't valuable. I wasn't adding to the bottom line. The company is better off without me.

They gave me a pretty nice severance check. I convinced them to keep me on for another week to document my project. It was actually one of the only cash-positive projects at the company, due to contracts with Visa and Nike. That extra week pushed me into 2 years of tenure, which bumped my severance from two months pay to three.

I did not do anything mature with the money.

Generally the attitude I saw was to hunker down and try to weather the storm. Nobody interviewed because nobody could get recruiters to answer the phone. And nobody wanted their manager to think they were interviewing; that was a great way to be called in first during the next round. And lots of late nights working; gotta show you're still committed, despite everything crumbling around you.


+1 for reminding me about fuckedcompany.com — that was the first thing I read every morning. We didn’t pop up on it but I heard the news of our layoffs on the radio that morning when I was driving in - we were public and it was a pretty big layoff. As for what life was like after, my wife was pitching in midtown NYC on 9/11. It took her a week to drive back home. I knew a lot of founders who for many months kept pitching VC’s after 9/11 like everything was going to turn around the next day. I remember one who was just floored when a VC literally said to him: look, I took this meeting to do you a favor: stop pitching. Seriously. Anyway I don’t think it was until 2005-2006 before I stopped looking over my shoulder for news of layoffs in whatever job I had.


Man alive I lived on that site during those years. If you don't remember or if it was before your time: people anonymously posted internal emails, layoff notices, and so on. Some of them (the Cerner "tick-tock" email comes to mind - though it looks like it appeared on a Yahoo board first) were legendary. And the FC forums...oofah.



yep completely forgot about that dark humor of the period. Thanks guys for the throwback.


"Hunker down and weather the storm" was exactly how I felt in 2000 and 2008 both. I actually didn't know many tech people that lost jobs, but.... everyone stopped hiring, everyone stopped quitting. Just lay low.


I went through it, and started a company soon after it crashed and then a couple more during the downturn. Ironically a lot of money can be made in downturns if you know where to look and how to approach it.

What I saw and experienced was enterprise devs basically just kept doing what they did. Startup devs that could went into (or back in some cases) to enterprises. Enterprises used it as an opportunity to snag up good devs at a bit of a discount in many cases.

To be fair, true developers were not really negatively affected at least not more so than other professions. One nice side affect I thought was that the crash cleared out most of the people claiming they were developers but had no real experience or talent. Most of my friends and people I worked with were fine and at worst might have gone back to an enterprise gig or in many cases were already there and didn't really miss a beat.

IMHO, if we have a crash this time (versus just a softening market), it will be similar as the need for quality software devs won't disappear. It will take longer to find a position in general and there won't be as much money floating around but decent developers are not going to have a hard time putting food on the table or finding work. Remote work will suffer, pay will suffer and VC dollars will drop dramatically, but the average developer will be fine.


> To be fair, true developers were not really negatively affected at least not more so than other professions.

My anecdote is the opposite: My father was an engineer at a company that made machines for semiconductor manufacturing.

They had a physical product, customers liked them, they sold each machine at a profit - none of the obvious-with-hindsight folly of companies like Pets.com.

However, when the dot-com bust happened they went out of business anyway. Turns out the collapse of the likes of Pets.com dropped the demand for semiconductors from the point where every wafer manufacturer wanted to expand capacity to the point where no-one wanted to. Boom, no orders. And of course, some investors when they see 'tech stocks' are falling, will sell your stock even if your business is much less speculative than the likes of Pets.com.

There were three lessons I learned:

1. Your business may be nothing like Pets.com and may seem to have strong fundamentals - but if the bottom falls out of tech stocks, you can end up unemployed anyway.

2. When the going gets tough, satellite offices get hit before head office.

3. If you have car/mortgage/credit card payments, you can get insurance that covers the payments if you lose your job. A lot of the time this isn't a good investment - but once the company started laying people off and everyone could see the writing on the wall, people with debt brought gold-plated insurance and were glad they did.


One more note for your first lesson: you might have a hot product that you sell at a product, but your own salespeople can kill you.

Lucent (AT&T spun them off to commercialize things from Bell Labs) had the absolute best product of the late 90s/early 2000: the Ascend MAX DSLAM/modem bank. Before that, an ISP needed T1 phone lines (24 channels) plugged into a CSU plugged into 24 modems plugged into a chassis that would emit serial that would be plugged into a router, along with a server that would do authentication and logging for billing and IP assignment. The Ascend MAX turned all of that into one box: phone connections to ethernet and all services provided and remotely administrated. Insanely great.

The problem was that Lucent's salespeople were very good, and the market for new ISPs was huge -- everybody was starting one or expanding their available markets -- so Lucent started offering financing.

When you finance your house or car, your loan is backed by the asset: the house or car still has some large percentage of the loan value at any given time, even with depreciation.

When you finance your ISP equipment purchase, Lucent assumed that they could always repo the MAX and sell it at a discount to some other growing ISP.

They didn't count on the ISP market collapsing.


Yes, it can definitely be the opposite. And product companies can have the hardest time if their target audience was the bubble companies or those that supported the bubble companies. This is also part of why I think a lot of things are different this time around, although we could still crash, but I personally feel it would be different.

Last time much of the entire market and product was new, e.g. web purchasing was barely in its infancy, companies were building up around that and the web wasn't an integral part of peoples lives, yet. Today, everything we do is around smart devices, the internet etc, so I don't think a collapse like we saw during the dot com boom/bust is likely. But that's just my opinion, could be totally wrong.


> To be fair, true developers were not really negatively affected at least not more so than other professions.

That was my experience as well, all the weird roles got cut in companies, all the crazy extras removed, but the companies that had working business models kept on trucking and hiring competent developers, and competent developers at unsustainable businesses had no trouble finding new work.

Because at the end of the day, the dotcom crash was about the crazy financial expectations of internet-enabled companies, not a rejection of the internet itself.


Austrian school of economics believes that occasional recessions are useful because they destroy bad ideas (not exclusively bad ideas, but many bad ideas) and therefore free up resources for new ideas. Some of which will be good, some bad.

For a huge example: Madoff was only discovered because of the 2008 crisis. SEC had plenty of evidence against him for years before that, including the fact he did not actually trade! The guy didn't even trade securities and posted consistent double digits returns! The SEC did not investigate. Only when clients started asking for funds has the scheme collapsed.


I that is the SEC for you. At one if the firms I worked at we had an algorithmic trader who did hundreds of thousands of naked shorts (selling short a stock he didn’t own). He always canceled the order, bought shares, or swapped internally but was still a no-no, and he would do this thousands of times a day. He got caught and we put together a report of his activity that required a hand truck to deliver. The SEC took one look at that and made the firm promise to increase their internal oversight and that was it. They didn’t even open any of the boxes.


Naked shorts are still legal if you're a market maker, for example. They're not entirely bad, it's sort of like credit - it's only bad when you fail to deliver. If you do deliver then it's great as it lubricates the system. See "Regulation SHO":

https://www.sec.gov/investor/pubs/regsho.htm

Not sure if this was the case at your company, i.e. if they had the permission to do so. If not then I don't know why they didn't prosecute that trader. Most organizations cannot do naked shorts and have to pre-borrow securities.


    occasional recessions are useful because they 
    destroy bad ideas (not exclusively bad ideas, 
    but many bad ideas) and therefore free up resources 
    for new ideas. Some of which will be good, some bad.
I feel this was absolutely true for the world of internet applications.

The stuff built in the early dot-com era was typically garbage from a technical standpoint. Heaps and heaps and heaps of spaghetti code written in PHP, Perl, and ASP Classic. You could theoretically write maintainable code in those technologies if you were truly dedicated but this was decidedly not the norm.

Think of literally any basic best practice for writing either the server or client portions of a web application that we might follow in 2019. In, say, 1997 those best practices hadn't been invented yet and even if you traveled back to 1997 in a time machine you couldn't implement some of them since the technology hadn't been invented yet.

From a technical perspective, roughly 2002-2006 was when things started to get really good from a technical standpoint.

- A lot of untalented folks (people calling themselves "developers" but with no real coding ability) were filtered out of the industry.

- A lot of lessons had been learned about how to build this stuff.

- More and more people were getting high-speed internet access.

- The use of AJAX to build responsive client-side applications became a thing, thanks largely to...

- ...Google, who released two absolutely world-shaking web applications in Gmail and Google Maps. These became something of a guiding light in a number of ways. Both from a technical showcase of what could be accomplished with web standards, and a design perspective... it showed a lot of pointy-haired bosses that what people wanted was minimal design and maximum usefulness, not a flashy multimedia experience.

- Other "Web 2.0" tech like RSS matured and enabled LOTS of cool demos (sadly we've moved away from this...)

- Pressure from Firefox forced Microsoft to finally embrace some more web standards and we edged away from the brink of a Microsoft-ruled internet


Dunno. Practices in 1997 and 2002 didn't differ in very appreciable degree, just that piles of crap C++ became piles of crap Java. AJAX was made possible not by Google but by Microsoft's XHR and IE5. RSS never took of in any appreciable commercial way…

I would say the bust had no substantial impact on technology side of thing. Perhaps the pricing became bit more modest, and sure, lots of careers were "filtered out".


>I would say the bust had no substantial impact on technology side of thing.

I think that it did, because it focused development efforts of companies that remained in business. Many failed dot-coms should have failed before the bust, but they kept acting like working businesses as long as they had capital available. They diluted markets, absorbed development talent by offering equity and large salaries, and in general distorted the whole industry.

After the bust, the technologies and idea that got attention/effort/built up were the ones with a solid foundation, not the pipe dreams.


Ajax was made technically possible by Microsoft XHR and IE5. It took Gmail and gmaps to bring this to wide attention.


Yes. I remember people (including me) being a bit amazed by the web version of Outlook that first made use of it. Technically MS introduced this functionality in IE5 in 1999, as an ActiveX control.

It was a Microsoft-only thing for a while though, until Mozilla/Safari/Opera implemented their own versions. That took a few years IIRC.

At any rate, Gmail was what made the world really take notice of what AJAX could do.


For the record there where a lot of people that where doing the same thing before the XHR object, they where just using an iframe and polling to get the data which was usually an HTML snippet or XML. They would construct the url for data with JS in the main frame, change the url of the hidden frame to point to a different CGI script, get the data and read it into JS variables. It was just that none of them got the exposure of Gmail or Outlook web. Now in saying that iFrame polling was a huge hack and a major PITA but it worked. IIRC one of the major CGI/Perl chat apps used this hack to update the web chat window.


One thing I will add too, is if you do go back to the enterprise or at least out of tech, make sure you don't allow yourself to stagnate or miss the upswing. I saw that happen to friends who got salary stuck making half what they would had they joined the broader market during the recovery. Enterprises can rescue you in some instances, but they are not usually great for salary growth outside of a few key places and people.

So I'd only caution people to pay close attention the whole time so you can know when to jump back into the market and to capitalize on that next salary increase.


> To be fair, true developers were not really negatively affected at least not more so than other professions.

I did fine in 2009 when I was laid off, getting a job in a month, but hiring can be random and I knew some great people that struggled to find their next role. Some developed issues as a result that raised the bar yet higher. People are crazy and irrational so never take these things personally. Deliver good work and keep acting in good faith to find a place that will treat you well. Smart people don't want to live in contexts of misery.


Yea, I think this is the normal thing that happens to good people that do their work and contribute to the team. And you are so right, don't take it personally because that can eat you up and it was almost never personal.


>Ironically a lot of money can be made in downturns if you know where to look and how to approach it.

Can you expand on this? I'm honestly curious about what machinations begin once a company dies or the market sinks.


Others already mentioned some keys.

But a couple key things change (many more do too these are two I look for), yes capital is harder to come by, or at least requires better fundamentals and connections but the overall market is in a selling mood (e.g. good buying market). So enterprises and healthy businesses are looking for things to buy on the cheap (which is relative to the high of the market), and how to expand cost effectively. There is of course a cool down period that you have to get through before this starts happening.

Enterprises after they snap up their initial FTE roles they need to fill start looking for a lot more consultants to fill project roles versus bringing on more FTE's. This opens up more consulting gigs at pretty favorable pricing usually. You can now hire people to expand a consulting practice because people are less expensive so you can grow when things are "down" for others.

When the air pops out of the system people also get discouraged from the market and run away. A lot of the speculators will back out and so it becomes a more sane environment for a few years. If you are a developer and just work through it as things recover you change jobs a couple of times and you can really jump your salary during the recovery because there is a time when demand becomes super high but supply again is low. This also is again where it is awesome to be a consultant, I kept increasing the rates for my company all through the downturn and people would pay.

Outside of tech a downturn is usually time to capitalize on real estate, rentals and a host of other things. But you have to set yourself up to do this usually a little before things take a full slide into that first year. But if you are relatively debt free and can take some debt on during the down point of the market on real estate you can make a lot of money on the upswing. To be clear, real estate may not crash at the same time or rate, or may not at all. But the demands for rentals vs buying changes as does the buying power of people, so you can leverage those both.


Start a new company. Lots of talent available and investors look for heads-down new things. Classic Namazu stuff.


Capital's harder to get, but personnel and real estate is cheaper if you get funded. And then while you develop, hopefully the market recovers, and there's cash available for subsequent rounds and with customers to buy your stuff.


And it really depends on who your customers are. The amount of cash available during a recession doesn't change. It just gets more sluggish and people tend to be more reluctant to let it go. But it's there all the same.


I don't know if people tend to be more reluctant to let it go, they just change where it goes. As an example, a company I worked at during the dot.com crash made a lot of bones in regulatory compliance until 9/11...at which point, redundancy and high availability became the money machine.


What is "classic Namazu stuff"? I have never heard that phrase.


It's probably not super common, I just like to use it to describe economic upheaval and opportunity.

So there's this giant catfish in Japanese mythology, the Namazu. It's captive in the ocean, under a giant keystone held down by the daimyojin Kashima. When Kashima gets tired or distracted, he lets off pressure a little, the Namazu wriggles around to get free and that wriggling sets off earthquakes and subsequently, tsunamis.

After an earthquake, there's always a rebuilding and a redistribution of wealth. And after the Edo earthquake of 1855, woodcut prints depicting the namazu and society (namazu-e), money falling from the sky, businessmen vomiting and defecating money, etc. got super popular. (https://www.illustrationchronicles.com/When-Giant-Catfish-Sh...)


I worked through the tail end of the dotcom boom and saw all of the dot com bust.

My company went from 1500 people to about 300 people in 1 year. Layoffs decimated the company, and eventually we were bought by a competitor. I have coworkers who were out of a job for 2+ years. One of my personal friends on H1B had to pump gas overnight, and transferred his balances between credit cards just to stay alive. Entire technology parks were abandoned wastelands.

Even worse was that the idea of "outsourcing" to India started up during this time. So not only we were losing our jobs, the thought was that we could possibly be losing our jobs forever, because why wouldn't the engineers in India be just as effective for 1/5 the price? The per-capita job loss in Silicon Valley was worse than Detroit in the 80s, and the job losses were so bad that the traffic on 101 was actually okay.

I honestly felt like my way of life was dead, I even went to the hospital for a panic attack. Take into considering that while the wages for software engineers were high, they weren't as high as they are now. I was making good money, almost 6 figures, and it felt like I might have to find a new job in less than 5 years. It felt like a very dire situation.

After a couple of years, things started to stabilize, and it didn't feel so dire. However, I think people who went through the bust like I did were naturally reticent about joining companies like Facebook, Google, Netflix, etc which were the next wave of companies that defined Silicon Valley so we missed out on a lot of upside.


> Take into considering that while the wages for software engineers were high, they weren't as high as they are now.

That is a common misconception when people do not take inflation and housing cost increases into account. $1USD today is worth only 65 cents in 1999 according to the consumer price index:

https://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=1USD+in+1999

CPI inflation is only 56%, but house prices in the Bay Area have risen 280%:

https://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=median+house+price+san...

https://www.mercurynews.com/2018/06/22/median-price-tag-for-...

Tech worker salaries only seem high relative to salaries for other workers, because the tech worker salaries have not been falling in inflation/housing cost adjusted terms for the past 30 years. IMO computer programmers are, as a whole, grossly underpaid today, just not as underpaid as much as people in other lines of work.


Why do you think the outsourcing never got quite as bad as everyone expected?


Communications is a big factor: if you can’t make good software in house, adding a time delay and lack of business knowledge won’t help.

The savings are almost always overstated by a huge margin: people with equivalent skills charge more or move. Most of the sales pitches assumed you’d get good results at, say, 20% but don’t work when that’s really 85%.


You get what you pay for, high quality code costs money and off shore talent will generally immigrate to first world countries if they have the talent cause of wage suppression abroad for the same skillset. My 2 cents


I think the other commenter is probably closer to accuracy. Here in NYC, offshoring to Chile/DR and other countries in the same timezone is surprisingly popular, even for early stage startups. The idea that people will just immigrate is a bit of a stretch. Coming from an immigrant family I will tell you that some of the most talented people stayed behind while others got lucky. My $0.02, just like anyone else's, and I know people currently in India launching really great code schools, but the talent argument never held in my mind.


Backdrop: I was inspired by games and went to CS undergrad with the hopes of becoming a videogame developer and ultimately a designer/director. I started college just as BBS distribution gave way to the World Wide Web; I had to learn HTML in order to distribute my shareware games.

Moonshots: I dropped out of school with only a year left to graduate because the Web development startup I launched with two of my friends was getting out of control. We were charging over $100/hr in the 90s and still having to turn down clients. We worked on amazing projects I can barely remember and made a pile of cash. But we were kids and couldn't get along so we split. I joined another startup that got bought out and put more cash in my pocket which led to me following leadership to yet another startup... that died pretty hard in the Fall of 2001.

Aftermath: Money, parties, travel, and then boom... it was over. Although I had been an irresponsible child with my earnings, I had the good fortune of having some saved some before I was laid off - and I could collect unemployment benefits.

Like everyone else, I couldn't find work anywhere. There was a flash cartoon back then called "Laid off: a day in the life". Good times, good times. I went back to school to finish earning my BS in CS. While in school I tried desperately to get a job in the service industry. I couldn't even land a job waiting tables. Managers told me that they had plenty of people that could work at any time and they didn't want to fuss with people who had school schedules. One manager told me he had over 1,500 applicants at his new restaurant. After having held a Director title in 2001, I ended up starting over again with a fresh degree and a job as a Jr Videogame Programmer in 2003. At least I was working on videogames instead of web! (spoiler, I'm back in web, but that's another story)

I still don't think I've fully come to terms with the unrealistic expectations I developed early in my career. I rose to success quickly because I had a head start in web tech just as the industry around it was taking off. After the crash I had to work hard for things like everyone else which means coming to terms with the realization that I am not as special as I thought I was.


The cartoon if anyone is interested: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5dMFM-Jqji0


This just solved a huge mystery for me.

One of my first managers I had after becoming a developer used to say, "Listen, if you don't get your stuff done, you're going to be having fudge stripes and pringles for breakfast, ok!?" All of us junior devs had no idea what the hell he was talking about.

I always thought, "That doesn't sound too bad to me."

It was actually a reference to this cartoon. Thanks for solving a 10 year old mystery for me!!


For what’s its worth, it beats frickin workin


I had 12 years at a major tech company, then I contracted for awhile. Before the bust I felt like a film star fielding calls whenever I was looking for work. Fun is the word; I was so in demand. When the bust hit I was actually choosing to take some time off (and taking classes). After that I was the only person in my Java class who got a job, out of 35 or so, and that job was one third my previous contractor hourly, and it was intermittent. On, off, on, off, with that small company. One of my friends in my class was unemployed for two years. I live in SF and the Mission had been flooded with bright young wannabes with shiny degrees, and they all disappeared during the bust. One horrifying thing happened that I was close to. The small company that I had gotten a gig with went under and the CEO committed suicide. That was a few months after my final check. He was a brilliant and funny guy. I have had a lovely run of success lately and I try to remember how much of it is luck plus timing. Also we underestimate the true hardness of hard times. Best to be appreciative.


I went from being a hotshot who had multiple offers all the time with sign up bonuses to somebody who could send out 100 resumes and not get a single response and once I got a response I was offered much less than I was used to. It was very depressing but also educational. It took me quite a while (probably too long) to accept this new reality. I feel the same may happen to a lot of Startup guys who make big money in their 20s now.

Not all success is your own making. Often you are just riding a wave that takes you up but will also take you down if you are not careful.


> It was very depressing but also educational.

Indeed. When 2008 hit, it was reminiscent of what ~2002 felt like, except instead of tech it was basically happening to everyone. In that way I felt more prepared to deal with the new crisis because I'd learned from the old one.


I was so lucky to be in university from 2007 to 2011. When I got out, things were cooling down again...


What did you learn?


Several things:

- Any news about a "recovery" has nothing to do with the reality you are likely facing.

- The worst of it is in the long-tail, not necessarily the initial shock.

- The change in the market from, "We can grow our way out of anything!" to, "Quick! Circle the wagons and lay low." happens a lot more suddenly than you expect, but there are also warning signs.

- You're super valuable and totally super employable right up until the moment that you're not, and in the wrong place at the wrong time you have no control and almost no influence over changing that, so be prepared to weather it or jump ship.

- Super high software developer salaries seem somehow correlated to VC-pumping, and when the market fundamentals kick in, you're likely to find yourself facing steep cuts, so live like you're a mechanical engineer, not a lottery winner.


- Value the team not the employer, you might meet them again elsewhere, while the employer might fire you at the first crisis.


After reading this thread, now I get why /r/financialindependence is so full of IT guys like me. We got so roasted during 2001, that we never ever again want to be dependent on our cosy well paying jobs we know not to take for granted. I think FIRE is mostly an insurance for us who has seen those dark days. Like 50% of the other swedes working in IT, I got kicked out of the trade for many years. Moved to China, had a crazy wild life there, married there and moved back to Sweden after 12 years. Currently work in one of the four big IT consulting firms. After the 2001 IT bubble/crash, I still today fear that the crash will come again and wipe us out. Today I grow a healthy sized emergency fund and my investment portfolio is very hedged against a stock market crash. I suggest the same to anyone who asks me for advice.


Very interested in FIRE myself. Would love to hear more about your hedging strategy!


Indeed. I had a cushy government job for years and remember reading about FIRE. But at some point, I decided I'd go freelancing and although you earn better, it definitely put the fear of recessions in me, and I've seriously started my FIRE journey. Including, like you said, a hedged investment portfolio.


what is FIRE?


Financial Independence (Retire Early). ie have a ton of money saved up and invested to live off the interest without working.


Got stuck with a huge tax bill on my stock options when Yahoo went under, took 10 years of brutal back to back contracts to pay it off. The state didn't care that I had nowhere near the opportunities again they just mercilessly hammered me for taxes until I paid it off a couple years ago but took nearly 15 years to pay off the tax debt and meanwhile I could invest in nothing else.


It was rumored that a friend had a $1.5million tax bill on options he had exercised. He apparently held onto his shares riding them down to about about $300K or so in value.

Not sure how he resolved it (whether he negotiated his tax bill down with the IRS or came up with a payment plan).


Isn't this what bankruptcy is for?


Can't file for bankruptcy for taxes due. Nor legal liability (ex. Auto Accident liabilities)


You can’t file for bankruptcy within three years of the tax becoming due, but after that, you can have federal income tax obligations discharged in bankruptcy.

Unrelated to bankruptcy, ou can also file for an offer in compromise, which collapsing option values or an excellent candidate for.


I've seen something similar to this in other responses in this thread, how exactly does one get a big tax bill for your stock options while simultaneously not being able to pay them off? I'm not understanding something about the situation.


Taxes on equity and option grants are complex beasts [ISO/NSO/RSU, Conversions between ISOs to NSOs, Income vs. Cap Gains, AMT, 83(b) elections, Exercised vs Non-exercised, Vesting schedules, etc]. Unless you personally understand the nuances in everyone of these cases, you should 100% work with a tax professional (and if you do understand, you are probably a tax professional!).

Here is an earlier discussion on taxes on options: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10020063


I mentioned it in my post.. a lot of financial people recommended taking loans to buy stock options.

Also in some cases especially with public companies they gifted you the options as income. That got marked as income even if the stock then tanked and you couldn't sell the stock for what the gifted value was.

There were various ways to get yourself screwed up.


That happened because you exercised and didn't sell?

Also, we may be hearing many stories like that after the Bitcoin bubble when IRS goes through the records more carefully. Always remember to take profits the instant you make those profits, put some of that cash aside for yours and IRS's sake. Always.


No, that is nothing like bitcoin. Stock options get exercised at fair market value and you immediately owe taxes on the paper profits, even if you never get a cashout. For example, if your strike is 10 cents and when you finally exercise the FMV of the company is $1 per share, you have 90 cents of profit per share even if the company is still private.

Bitcoin is a commodity, if you buy at $10k and the value drops to $5k, you have straight losses. You don’t owe taxes on paper gains unlike the totally ridiculous and insane situation with stock options. The government blows.


I meant for people that bought low and then traded around the top. If you switched BTC to, say, ETH around the peak - you created taxable income. Even if you've lost almost everything since then.

A buy, full ride up and down to the same level, followed by a sell shouldn't be taxable income.


Golden rule is if you exercise sell enough immediately to pay off the tax burden. If you have a lockout get it written into your contract that you can sell them to another private holder (e.g another employee, investor). It's legitimate for a private company to want a lockout, they don't want external influence in a company but most will allow internal if you get it in contract.


That is awful. If you had more money could you have fought it? Was prison threatened?


The IRS at least for now doesn't throw people in jail because they can't pay. There aren't enough jails and being in jail negatively impacts ability to pay.

Sometimes if the amount is ridiculously out sized compared with ability to pay the IRS will settle for a lower amount.

Notable if the IRS ever filed a lien against you: IRS Form 12277 Application for Withdrawal of Filed Form 668.


I worked at a place starting 1998 that blew through 48 million dollars in the span of two years. I was employee no. 7, and we grew in those two years to 250+, offices in San Francisco, Las Vegas, and New York City. I remember the crash where my project manager was not looking too hot one day and he told me he had lost $100K in stock valuation the day before. We all had thought we were going to be rich. In 2001 I quit because I was so stressed out. I mean, I would walk to work through sunny SF thinking, "Please, let a car hit me today". Not that I was doing anything stupid toward that end, and not that I wanted to die; just wanted to be laid up in the hospital for a while.

I quit in May, the company died a painful death about a couple months after that. I heard it was pandemonium there. They simply could not raise any more money. Plain and simple. But of course, I had no severance and no unemployment.

But whatever. It was what it was. I basically got stoned and played video games for the next 5 months. I really needed that. Fortunately I had some money saved away because at that time I wasn't doing anything with stock trading. So there was that.

From October to February I looked for a job, and got hired at a pretty good place, but wow the sentiment was completely different.


> I would walk to work through sunny SF thinking, "Please, let a car hit me today".

I don't know what SF was like in the early 2000s but that honestly sounds normal for SF.


>I basically got stoned and played video games for the next 5 months.

Did you find this 5 month period notably changed your life philosophy/trajectory?


Well, actually I stopped smoking pot after this, so in that sense at least the answer would be yes.


IIRC, It was the perfect storm. Y2K bug projects were complete, Microsoft had been found guilty of monopolistic practices, the euro conversion projects were winding down or complete. I think Greenspan was raising the fed rates, and taxes were due, so people were selling to pay those. Then 9/11 happened and that was the final nail in the coffin.

This was the first, "learn to code," era that I recall, so there were a lot of not-necessarily computer savvy people in the industry, and they were getting hired. Once things started to slide, companies just stopped hiring as a sort-term strategy, many held layoffs too. Many people were pushed out of the industry for good. I was stuck as a contractor and in-between contracts out of blind luck. I was 4-5 years into a promising career and I couldn't find work for 6 months. I felt absolutely worthless.

Fortunately I knew a guy who was a partner at my previous contracting firm. He just pulled a CIO position in a city 2 hours away and they needed someone to take over their engine (software shop). I had to pick-up and move, but I got a job that paid a lot less than my previous ones.

I survived, partly because I worked hard, like I was scared to lose my job. I still work that way. People take notice and will call you when they switch companies and need to fill a position. Because of this, I haven't had to do a formal / cold interview since the dot bomb.


Another item of note was the acceleration of hardware design and manufacturing moving to China. While it did not directly affect the .com boom, a lot of those individuals that where left in hardware saw their jobs dry up due to all the web companies going bust thus killing a portion of hardware demand and their prospects for their jobs coming back where pretty much nill as when they market recovered that hiring happened in China.


I experienced the fallout of the dot com bubble burst, graduating from University in 2003 and interning in college.

I was a front office developer analyst at leading buy-side finance company. One memory that really stuck was elsewhere in tech, if you were in an infrastructure related role, full time employees were receiving letters saying:

"The company is downsizing. Your position is one that is scheduled for strategic reassignment to an offshore consultancy (TCS). Following this transition, your position in the company will no longer be required. If you stay with the firm and help train your replacement, you will receive X months severance. Thank you for your cooperation."

The other tech teams had to work with offshore consultants while doing work that managers hadn't figured out how to outsource. IT management essentially had a mandate to outsource anything possible and lower costs. Creating value for business was secondary. Managerialism sucked all of the life out tech. Being a programmer wasn't enough. You had to solve business problems.

This turned out to be very useful advice. I saw all around me the consequences of not doing so. So, I learned programming during the day (mostly sql, relational db modeling, scripting and reporting) and unfamiliar finance and business concepts on my own during nights and weekends. This helped me advance myself into greater challenges and varied terrain.

I'm no longer in finance but got a lot out of the experience. I did the best I could with the resources available and without compromising my integrity just to survive at someone else's peril. I learned that managerialism can bring new product development and growth to a complete halt. Technology solutionism over promises and under delivers. Business cycles and availability of credit determine who gets their moment of power and influence. No role is guaranteed.

Keep hustling, people. Complacency and convenience may alleviate stress, but if you are not growing personally or professionally, you may struggle worse during hard times. Never stop developing yourself.


For me, the most crazy change was several stories in the early 2000s of running into (literally) used car salespeople who mentioned they were software devs for a while in 1999. They were hustling cars in 1997, hustling code in ‘98 and ‘99, and back to cars in 2001.

I spent the crash in the financial industry which was hit in its own way: one fire-sold company office, one closed satellite office with a job transfer to a consulting company maintaining the same codebase for the company who closed the sat office. That last was my worst job ever but paid rent. The day the final retention bonus/bribe to take the consulting gig hit my bank, 6 of us resigned to come over to our next early-mid-stage startup. My ex-colleagues from the original office seemed to have slower job searches but all found interesting and fruitful work. (The office was a D. E. Shaw & Co. office: fully staffed with higher than average caliber devs. All found work reasonably quickly.)

In the 2008 GFC, that was much less a tech bubble and more a general financial issue. Our company just grew more slowly as the world worked itself out of that crisis, so I have no meaningful insight about that one.

To the extent that this “bubble” feels much less severe than 1999, I suspect more than 3/4 of qualified devs will do just fine in any tech bubble burst. Terrible devs barely hanging onto their job now could easily be shaken out into another field. That might even be better for them overall.


Interestingly, I was just on linked in and saw what appeared to be a car advertisement on my feed, and I was annoyed- but then I looked at it more closely and saw it was a guy that had become "head trader" at a financial firm I worked at shortly after I left in the middle of the crisis. He is now a sales manager of a lexus dealership.

I was going to un-link with him, but realized this is a good reminder that you are on top of your game until you aren't, and if you don't keep on the leading edge of things, the world will pass you by.


> They were hustling cars in 1997, hustling code in ‘98 and ‘99, and back to cars in 2001.

Hasn't changed that much, except now there's the in-between step of getting hustled by a boot-camp promising big $.


There were Visual Basic boot-camps during the dot-com boom.


I was in the middle of college when that bubble burst, and I kinda felt like I was being cheated out of the opportunities I was expecting to have when I went in. Most of this centered around the internship/early-career period that is quite vital to one's career growth later on.

When I went into college, they talked about all these great internship/co-op opportunities that everyone got. So each year I went to the career fairs seeking them out:

- Freshman year: Go away, we only want juniors

- Sophomore year: Go away, we only want juniors (though I got lucky and had a single hit that I did take up on)

- Junior year: Go away, the tech economy crashed. We only showed up because we didn't want people to forget we exist.

After college, I attempted some semblance of a grad school experience to bide my time, while looking for work on top of it. Unfortunately, I often felt like I was competing with all those people with the critical "4-5 years of experience" who were unemployed. Furthermore, everything I did find seemed to be crappy contract positions requiring tons of experience for very little pay.

Eventually I got a gov't job that needed my degree, but didn't use or develop my skills. I got quite depressed, as I felt like all my education and personal development was going to waste and was going to rapidly become worthless. When I finally escaped, it was to a worthless job at a different employer that actually had future grown opportunities. This ultimately allowed me to pivot into the kind of job I actually wanted, and the rest is history.

Of course the takeaway from this is that I was already 4-5 years post-graduation before I had the opportunity to take my career in the direction I was expecting to go immediately after leaving school.


I worked for etoys.com in London and Santa Monica. Was worth $6bn at peak market cap and got delisted after dropping from $80 a share to below a buck. I survived multiple layoffs. Ran their warehouse management software for Europe. Lots of people got screwed. Big tax bills after exercising options and not selling and watching it drop. Family investing and losing everything. The perl community was fairly invested in etoys because we were a big Perl Apache and MySQL shop. Met my wife there. Was fun during the good times but layoffs suck and so does having the job market shrink. Taught my wife and I what not to do and how to run a lean but growing biz. Today we run a self funding company of 40 people in the cybersecurity space. So it all worked out just fine.


I was doing an internship in 2001 during my master and at the time many people wondered if one shouldn't quit univeristy to start a high paying job (people would hire you no matter what).

Fast forward 1 year later, i started a PhD in a research lab working on sound hardware / software in the SV. The day i arrived i noticed something weird : the first floor of the pretty big building was completely empty. There were still computers and mugs on some desks, but other than that it looked like a weird epidemic killed everyone.

I learned later that half of the employees of the research center (including the local boss) had been fired two weeks before i arrived, and everybody had been moved to the second floor. I couldn't complete my PhD because they wouldn't finance new research anymore, so i went back to France and look for a job. After a few months trying to look for work in the audio field in vain, i finally ended up finding a job at a consulting firm, doing mundane backoffice development (database, web-based interface, in corporate environment).

So, basically it went from "we'll hire just anybody, even unqualified", to "PhD looking for a job" in just a year.


I worked for a tech support and CS outsourcing company. I was developing the tools they would use for call logging and associated things.

They were growing rapidly by offering support services to all the new dot com startups. Hours were long, the pay was decent and my head was being fried by having to juggle multiple tech platforms and languages thanks to the differing requirements of the clients.

Then came the bust. Within a matter of months we went from having 2000 support people on site to just 400. To survive the company started targeting non dot com clients. For the most part that meant providing CS support for companies like utilities and retail stores. Standards went downhill and ethics became something other companies thought about. We also lost our on-site subsidised canteen.

One of our post bust clients was Comet, the now defunct UK electrical store. We provided technical support for their extended warranty holders. One of the requirements that they insisted upon was requiring the customer to attempt a full re-install of Windows before agreeing to send out an engineer. I thought this was dodgy AF, especially since the support staff were so untrained. They were making customers reformat their drives because they didn't know how to change the keyboard layout from US to UK. Part of the support staffs training was to be told that the DOG debug tool could fix noisy hard drive and they would ask callers to use it to destroy and recreate the FAT. For an IT support company they knew very little. Their head of training, who had no formal IT training of his own, had some crazy ideas about to fix computers.

One day I got a phone call and the caller introduced herself as "Hi, I'm xxx xxxx and I'm a researcher from BBC Watchdog, just to let you know I'm recording this call and it may be broadcast". While I was trying frantically to flag down a manager, the caller was demanding that I answer questions about an 85 year old WWII veteran who spent 10 years scanning photos of his army friends only to lose all his work because someone told him to reinstall Windows. I didn't usually get phone calls seeing as I was an in-house dev, what happened that day was that the everyone else had been told not to answer the number Watchdog called from (there was previous) and the phone system bounced the call around until muggins here picked it up.

I left soon after that.


I spent two years welding ships together at the shipyards in San Diego. Yay fallback skills!

There are times when I miss it. Of all the jobs I've had over the years, it was the most meritocratic. If you did your job well and didn't cause too much rework, they loved you. I don't miss the hazardous/chemically toxic work environment, though. Those two years felt like a decade of wear on my body.


didn't you wear any protection?


Of course. You still spent several hours on site getting to the work area, breaking to eat lunch, etc. I had it a lot better than the guys that didn't feel like wearing the respirators, but PPE isn't perfect.

Think of it like wearing shoes at the beach. Yeah, they protect you from most of the sand as you're walking around, but enough gets past that you still have to dump them out when you leave.


I'm sure he always wore a condom while welding. UV protection is important.


I entered the industry in 2000, and it was "programming geeks"—people who dug computers and thought coding was fun—who survived the dot com bust mostly unscathed. Dabblers, fillers, talkers, people-managers, org-climbers, etc. had some pretty lean years.

That isn't to say some programming geeks didn't get sacked, but they tended to land on their feet. Also, it was often the hard-negotiating salary-seekers who found themselves in the cross-hairs, and possibly facing a slight decrease in standard of living, because of the big price tags they'd put on themselves.


I was a young-ish dev at a smallish (200 or so people) company in the Bay Area during the dot-com crash. I came in one day to find that something like 1/3 of the people in the company, seemingly chosen at random, no longer worked there. Those of us who remained were consolidated into one floor instead of the two we had before. My salary and options were not affected, and the (basic by modern standards) free food stayed pretty much the same, though I think WebVan was no longer around to deliver it. I left soon after that, and the company lived on in cockroach mode for years. I think it was eventually acquired, but I haven't paid much attention.

One reason my experience wasn't catastrophic was that I was at an infrastructure company, not a hype-driven one like Pets.com. If/when the current ad bubble bursts, average devs will fare best working at companies several steps removed from the hype. People may not want micro-targeted ads, but they'll still need software.


I got hired as employee #12 in a dotcom in March 2000; by December I was out of a job. In between, the company raised and mostly spent about $35 million. The biggest single expenditure was a huge deal to own a topic channel on AltaVista, which was one of the big portal sites of the day. Everyone was building portals because search engines were dead ends that were hard to monetize (seriously, this is what people thought). Yahoo was the 800 lb gorilla of websites that everyone tried to emulate.

I knew a bit of coding and was scheduled for the Arsdigita boot camp [1] that would learn me up to be a real programmer. Instead I got laid off with 3 months severance. They had the decency to do it on December 2 so I had health care through Christmas.

I got a job with a local tech consultant about 3 months later, which paid the same as the dotcom job. I kept my dotcom stock option paperwork for a little while for nostalgia's sake... {sigh} I thought I was on my way to being rich the day I got those papers...

[1] https://philip.greenspun.com/teaching/boot-camp

(This will give you an idea of what a web programmer was expected to be able to do back then. Today what would you call someone who can install Unix on hardware, install and configure Oracle, install and configure a CMS, and code up an entire web site?)


I'd call them an "intern" or "entry level".


In November 2000 my options were worth $2.4m on paper but they did not start vesting until January. In January they were worth -$1.5m and never exceeded the strike price again, at a company that is still public and worth > 10 billion today. They laid me off in february. I got healthy in 2 months and found a small startup with a 15% paycut but the CEO was a WeWork-level crook with a jet and he absconded with all the money 8 months later and it failed. I finally got a stable job in mid 2002.


I don’t know how stock options work. If you’re laid off do you no longer have access to them?


To qualify as IRS Incentive Stock Options (ISOs), they have to expire shortly after you're no longer an employee; some companies these days offer options than will instead become non-qualified and have a much later expiration, but that wasn't common in the dot-com boom.

For companies that expect to survive for years after the layoff, they may give you X months on payroll, and then Y months severance. Your options expiration because of no longer being an employee would generally start after the X; but I think most of the layoffs then were immediate --- the companies needed you off payroll ASAP, so they could stop paying healthcare and what not.


The contracts can be written with any language. But generally yes, you lose them. If they are vested you can exercise them - meaning you pay your own money to buy them and own actual shares.


If you’ve vested any, which is usually 25% after the first year, and then monthly for the next 3 years. You get to keep those shares if you can buy them at your strike price. If you get laid off, you may only have 90 days to exercise (buy) your vested options before you lose that right. Some companies more recently are extending that time.

In the dot com crash era it was common for your options to have a strike price higher than the stock price (under water) so no sense in exercising them, since they are worth negative.


it depends on the company most companies take away your options 90 days after you leave and they are known as "golden handcuffs" because nobody wants to leave! Some companies like Lyft allowed early hires to keep options for up to 7 years. This can actually be a problem because there are SEC rules limiting private company stock (not option) ownership to 500 shareholders at most. Many companies let you exercise options when you leave by buying them. I did this at one company - but the owners were crooks - and when they raised a new funding round of $3,000,000 they just put it in their personal bank accounts of the CEO + 5 VPs and shut down the company!


It was late '99 or early '00 when I went to work at my first "tech" startup. We'd raised 70-something million, and all the stars were aligning. We'd go to lunch and bring a calculator so we could work through "worst-case scenarios" millions of dollars were in our future. I remember passing up other job offers that also included a lease of a new BMW as part of the signing.

Of course, with the down-turn, and given that we were effectively trying to position ourselves as CRM middleware, all bets were off. The business dried up, and our burn-rate was through the roof. Word got out the day before about the upcoming layoffs. The next day there were kegs of beer that sat out in the engineering pits.

IT had a helluva time, as a lot of people walked off with their laptops and company-issued phones. The dirty secret was that there was also a complete (still shrink-wrapped) palette of brand new 2U Dell servers in the loading bay that mysteriously went missing in the CO office that day.

Like a naive babe in the woods, I survived the first 2? maybe 3? RIFs. Even as I was building a website that listed all of our hardware and furniture for sale, and unracking and packing all the servers from the colo—I still didn't get it. Reality hit like a brick.

I was lucky enough to fall in with a good group of folks who continued to follow each other to other companies either as employees or as contract work for the next few years. There were maybe one or two scary months, but overall it was manageable. (Also lesson learned: your network is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING)


I stupidly left college to join a dot com for all kinds of fun things like a huge salary, bonuses, dual monitors, my own office space, a big cool office building.

Then, after about 6 months, the company funding our company just pulled out. Left us with a few bucks in the bank.

I took another dot com job about 400 miles away and got out of there. Lots of people there had no jobs after that, but a few of the smarter crew went on to huge companies like Microsoft.

The next dot com I went to, I was there through 9/11. Something inside me changed after that and I actually quit to pursue a different type of work. That dot com also went bust, but it never had any hope anyway. The owner was self-funding it with money he made from investing in dot coms - but he cashed out at the right time, and he was basically making a clone of another service. It was pretty terrible.

It was certainly a strange time.

The funny thing is, I just got hired as a contractor to work for another dot com that reminds be of those ridiculous days. At least all my eggs aren't in that basket. I hope the best for them, but the similarities are scary.


Could you elaborate on the similarities?


In Switzerland, the worst event was not this one but 9/11 in 2001.

In a matter of a few hours all new IT/IS project were cancelled and budgets for IT/IS were frozen to below the minimum in all companies. It took almost a year to recover a little.

I started my career during the summer 2001. I was hired in seconds without any technical test.

All (no exception) my friends who wanted to chill during the summer before finding their first job... ended jobless for 1 full year.


The timing was brutal. I made the mistake of hanging on with a sinking company until the end of 2001. In 2002 there were so many resumes chasing so few jobs that I wonder if anyone even saw mine. I didn't collect another paycheck until early 2004.


Why were jobs in Switzerland affected?


I do not have the numbers from 2001, but even today USA is our 2nd partner: https://www.bfs.admin.ch/bfs/en/home/statistics/industry-ser...


I had just gotten hired as employee #9 by a startup which was growing fast making software network components, and after me three more devs were hired in the next month.

Next month we moved into a much bigger office, with a lovely view and lots of space for growth - then boom, the crash (gradually) struck: the three people who'd come in after me were let go, one at a time, and the rest of us were asked to work part time - volunteering how much part of the time was. We split the office and squashed into a small part.

I worked one day on / one day off for a couple of years (maybe a bit less) while our boss scrambled for sales. He was a great guy, was very open and helpful to us all, and did eventually get the company back on its feet and eventually sold it. The five founders did well, the boss retired three years later, and even I did OK (worked for the company that bought us for eight more years, then also retired.)


I was living in Florida, working for a Boston-based WebDev/ISP consultancy. Smart people, high-flying projects, free snacks, nerf shenanigans, constant hiring, with bonuses for you-name-it. I'd recently gotten a nice bonus for bringing on my good friend as the office's systems administrator.

Business slowed, clients missed payments, people started watching f*d.com, the first round of layoffs came, the execs did a tour and promised all was ok, the second round of layoffs came. We spend a lot of time at Starbucks contemplating plan B.

One day I came in and the laptop wouldn't connect to the network. I stick my head in my friend's office, and say "My laptop won't connect, is there something I should know?" He gets that deer in the headlights look, rushes off to check with the management, and a meeting is convened where the third layoff happens, something I'm part of and he's not (Probable cause for me being out: I didn't play ball on a traveling assignment I didn't want, was OK with the outcome. My friend hung on to the bitter end, and we laugh about it now.) The hardest day was sending back the extra paycheck the company had accidentally sent.

I started looking for jobs, but I started getting calls from friends who heard I was available for a week here, a month there, a six-month thing, etc, etc. I wound up forming an LLC and staying self-employed until decided I needed a nice safe job just before the financial crisis.


>people started watching fd.com

what is fd.com?


It was a chat forum website called fuckedcompany.com. today a similar website is thelayoff.com. there is one subforum per company and everybody spreads rumors about how near is the end at xyz.com and why ...



fuckedcompany.com - it was a site that collated news about all the "dotcom" era companies shutting down.


> sending back the extra paycheck the company had accidentally sent.

Sorry, didn't get it....


What I can tell you with some confidence is that something like the dot com bust can never happen again in our industry.

The strange thing was how suddenly it happened. It felt like the majority of projects got defunded in a matter of weeks or months. Our funding disappeared as the VC firm collapsed together with its parent company. Our customers (telcos) stopped approving any new projects that weren't guaranteed to be profitable within the quarter as they were hit by a ruinous bidding war for frequency sprectrum at the same time.

The reason why I'm saying it can never happen again (in this particular industry) is that tech/internet was a tiny and isolated part of the economy back then (called "The New Economy"). Today's tech industry is huge and very diverse. It's part of everything now. The largest corporations on earth are now tech firms. Back then, there was nowhere to go for many employees in that sector (at least for a while).

I was fortunate enough to have saved a bit of money, partly because I had refused to take stock options in place of proper payment. So I was able to self-fund some projects that I was interested in with a goal of creating an organically growing company. I've been avoiding the whole high growth VC culture ever since, which may have been a mistake in purely financial terms.


You need to frame it in terms of the times. The web was relatively new, and there was a dramatic shortage of talent. Remote work was pretty rare, and the infrastructure to support it was very nascent.

Web development wasn't very mature: just knowing HTML could net you a nice paycheck. You could go even farther with basic spaghetti-code skills in languages like PHP, ColdFusion, and ASP. Frameworks really weren't a thing. Javascript wasn't used for much more than form validation, so you could go to your favorite "DHTML" website and find scripts to copy.

Couple this with the high pay, and there were a TON of "developers" who were one- or two-trick ponies. Someone who honestly was better suited for sales or management were writing code and making big bucks, and assumed this was their life path. For many, they turned into developers. Many didn't, and left.

In my experience, if you knew more than one backend language, and were happy working in boring fields (often in boring locations) like travel or healthcare or energy, you probably didn't go without work for long. (I was at Sabre at the time, working in their HR department, and 9/11 affected me more than the dot-com bubble)


I was employee #4 in a startup in 2000, just before the burst. At that time the situation was crazy. For instance our founders had made an ambitious business plan to raise money in the next investment round. It was sent back by our investors because it was not ambitious enough: basically they asked to blindly multiply all the targets by 10. This was completely unrealistic but the founders did what they were asked and promptly new investment money came rushing in.

And then the bubble burst and the sentiment was 180 degrees opposite. By then our company had already acquired some customers and was making some money, and was ready to expand and grab a significant piece of the market. However it didn't matter what we did or what business plan we made, it was just impossible to raise any kind of money whatsoever. So our startup continued living its zombie life until it was taken over by a competitor a few years later. In the end I was lucky because this way I could survive the years after a crash while still having a job. But it left me with mixed feelings about the so called angel investors. It didn't appear to me that they had any idea what they were doing.


I was on the East Coast, 2500 miles away from Silicon Valley. But we felt it out here too.

It was hard to know if you (as an internet application developer) would ever make a nice salary againn.

I don't think anybody thought that skilled and experienced internet application developers were going to be out of work forever.

It seemed clear that the internet had definitely solidified itself as a part of everyday life. There was going to be an internet, and things to do and buy on there, and people were going to have to build those things.

I think my main concern was how lucrative it was going to be. I briefly made $100K in my early 20s in the early 2000s with just a few years experience. Even at the time that didn't really seem sustainable.

When the crash hit, I soon went back to making $40 or $50K. That was nice enough money but I didn't know how far things were going to fall. Would the market be flooded with programmers? Would I eventually be making $25K as an experienced developer? Would I make $100K again someday?

So I worried a little bit... not too much.

There were still jobs and they were OK enough.


I wasn't in the valley at the time but was part of a startup that lost our angel funding before it happened because the angel's funds were overcommitted already in failing startups.

My view has always been that during the dot com boom, companies were so short staffed that they would basically take anyone on, regardless of their technical skill, with the hopes of training them up to learn programming. Janitor, receptionist, your weird cousin Eddie who ate glue - all of them could get a tech job if they really wanted one.

When the bubble burst, lots of people lost jobs. Both skilled people and unskilled. This was a huge darwin moment for people who'd worked at startups. Lots of people went back to whatever they were doing pre-bubble. The better people typically found work, even if it took a little while to do so.

In my view, it really did serve as a healthy shake-out of talent in the long run. This very well may happen again soon...


I was a lucky one I guess. One day we came into work and there was guards at the the door checking IDs. About 1/2 the place got let go that day. We went from having dreams of being millionaires to just being happy we had jobs. I bailed out at some point, but the place is still going, some of the same people are even still there! It was scary as hell to see this place go from 80 people to 100 something and back to 80 in just a year or two.


One day it was all froth and then all of a sudden there was no work. I was lucky enough to have had enough money in the back to be able to spend the following two years studying, travelling and working on open-source software, and actually had a really good time that I look back on fondly, but I knew many people who had to switch from a very lucrative job at a startup to waiting tables and such.

Lesson: if you're making good money now, save (and if you then find yourself with nothing to do which pays, try to make the best of that time by doing interesting things that you would normally not have the time to do).


I was laid off in 2001. In the second of 4 waves. Prior to the first wave one of the co-founders flew over on Concorde to tell us that each of us could save $5/day there would be no layoffs!

I got a reasonable package, 3 months salary, and 2 weeks later joined a new startup (which a few years later was acquired). I actually saw an increase in salary. Those two factors compensated somewhat for the layoff trauma.

People who had solid skills like C++ were fine, generally. It was those with only HTML who had made good money in the 90s and never upgraded to real programming that suffered the most.


This thread is scaring me.

Question on exercising and such. I have all exercised options, but not all vested, been here about 2 years, so half vested. Didn't pay taxes at exercise because there was no difference between exercise price and market price.

What happens taxwise if my company goes under? Don't I only owe taxes if I sell vested options?


> I have all exercised options, but not all vested, been here about 2 years, so half vested. Didn't pay taxes at exercise because there was no difference between exercise price and market price.

Early exercise with a 83b election?

You will be fine.

The tax problem happens like this:

1. Your option strike price is $0.01/sh

2. The current price as set by the board (or the stock market if public) is $10/sh

3. You exercise 2000000 shares

4. You write a check to your company 2000000 sh * $0.01/sh = $20000

The fair market value (as determined in step #2) is 2,000,000 sh * $10/sh = $20,000,000

The IRS says "wait a minute you only paid $20,000 for something that is worth $20,000,000".

The difference $20,000,000 - $20,000 = $19,980,000 was a 'gift' that requires taxes to be paid.

Now lets do the 83b election with early exercise. In that case the FMV == the strike price on the options. The difference is $0 You are paying FMV and there is no 'gift'.


Thank you! The 83b situation is the one I'm in. Appreciate it, sorry for the late response.


If you exercised at market price then there's no tax liability. The shares are yours now; your exercise price is your cost basis, and you pay capital gains taxes when you sell on the difference between sale price and exercise price.

The situation that caught lots of employees in the dot-com bubble is that they exercised stock options where the market price at time of exercise was a lot more than the strike price (which means an income tax liability for the difference), but then there was a lockup and they weren't able to sell the stock until after it had dropped significantly. As a result, they had tax bills that were higher than the market value of the stocks they owned.


I had several friends and coworkers end up in this situation. Lucky for me, I started late enough that my options were underwater before my first year cliff and stayed that way...


I thought I understood this but the lockup that everyone in this discussion is alluding to has surprised me. Should the tax man not count the price of the security on the day the lockup ends as the strike price? Otherwise, any time you get discounted options with a lockup, it appears you should assume the options will go to zero and budget the tax accordingly. Or am I missing something?


The tax code counts the price at the time of exercise, not at the time the lockup ends. (A lockup is a contractual obligation not to sell the shares: you still own them, you just can't sell them.) The logic, I guess, is that there are other types of property (eg. real estate, private company shares, collectibles) that you may not be able to sell on a liquid market, but they are still items of value that you've received, and you should still be taxed on them at the time of receipt.

You could argue about the morality and rationality of this decision: some people would say it's both wrong and somewhat unfeasible to levy taxes that people have no way of paying. But that's the law for now. There are other scenarios that can get people into this situation as well: cryptocurrency transactions, property taxes, wealth taxes in general. Indeed, one reason we have Prop 13 in California is because seniors were being forced out of their homes because they couldn't pay the taxes, but that brought with it a whole bunch of other undesirable economic distortions.

From the employee POV, your best options are usually to either a.) file an 83(b) election as soon as you receive the stock options, indicating that you'd like to be taxed on their current fair market value (which is usually zero at the time you receive them, because most strike prices are set at the current market price) and have all future gains taxed as capital gains with a cost basis set at the time of the 83(b) election, or b.) don't exercise your shares until you're ready to sell them.


Did you file 83b election when exercising at market price? If yes, you already paid the taxes (which were $0). If not, there may be taxable income at vesting periods. Talk to tax professional. I'm certainly not one.


An 83b election is to be issued at the time of grant, not the time of exercise.


Honestly speak to an accountant - there are so many different ways you can get shafted on Tax for Options / Employee stock grants / Capital Gains.


My understanding here is that you wouldn't owe taxes if you sold exercised options (at loss or even) because you would make no gains. You may even be able to write off some taxes?

I'm not exactly sure what happened with people who go bust. My guess is they could have had the type of options where you don't pay taxes up front, and then they weren't able to pay when it was finally time.

Like you, I would love to hear more about this.


Unlike the normal situation where you pay taxes when you sell an asset, with options when you acquire them any difference between the strike price and their value at acquisition is a taxable amount. If your acquisition occurs when you cannot sell because the shares are not publicly tradeable or because you are subject to a rule not allowing sales then in the time between when you acquire and when you could sell the stock can become worthless. This worthlessness has no effect on your tax bill which is finalized at the point of acquisition.


Yes, this is my understanding as well. You owe a lot of taxes initially (that you to pay to even exercise) and then you wouldn't pay AGAIN if the company goes bust.

That would, of course, suck, but you wouldn't "owe more" if the company goes bust. It would just be what you already paid now being worth less than what you paid for it.

I guess I don't understand the point being made with that in mind. If you took out a loan to exercise the options (don't do that), then that would be a big problem.


You only pay tax on the profit of exercised options


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