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Ask HN: How did you make it through the 2008 financial crisis or dotcom bust?
58 points by thatsamonad on April 1, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 27 comments
I know many of us are probably experiencing some anxiety about potentially or actually losing our jobs.

For those of you who made it through the 2008-2009 financial crisis or the dotcom bust before that, how did you do it? Do you have any particular advice for weathering this storm?

I've built up a life around me that appears as if I make half what I do. My peers all have a second car and lots of nice luxuries that I don't. As a result I could take a job that pays half what I get now and wouldn't have to change a single thing about my life.

Stability for my children is the most important thing for me.

I also think that most of us are likely well into diminishing returns for what happiness can be bought. Really second guess your need to buy those nice things and that extra big house. You might not actually need them.

I appreciate this is longer term advice. Hard to act on any of it now.

Seconding this. If you live well within your means you can get through almost any crisis.

2001-2002 was brutal; I'd built a career around a dying language & I wasn't living in a major tech hub. I lived off savings and contract work from a company that was terrible, but had entrapped customers into their terrible software, so they had a steady cash flow.

By 2008 I was in California and had been working for tech giants. When the housing bubble popped I was laid off but quickly landed at a non-profit. Fun fact: non-profits are exempted from H-1B caps; as long as you can get hired, you can stay. I worked for what most San Francisco techies would have considered laughable wages.

On the other hand, working for that non-profit was probably the portion of my career that will have the highest impact on actual humans. Most tech industry jobs are the poem Ozymandias, except everything turns to dust in 4 years rather than 4,000. If you find yourself unemployed, it's probably better to be underemployed at a nonprofit.

Yeah dot com bust was much worse. I mean the market was over-inflated with flash developers with 6 months experience making $100k and sysadmins fresh out of their MCSE cert course making 80k. I joined a travel startup as the CTO when the dotcom bust was looking like it was coming in 99. 9/11 knocked us down for a little while but we built it back up and exited in a sale to Hotels.con.

08 was much better for me, I had a steady job with Marriott and tech skills where very much in demand.

Dot com bust was a bad time to be out on the market the 08 crash was not.

You will have a unique experience. One thing I learned through the dot-com days was that there were wildly different experiences. I struggled to find employment but after a lot of hustling finally found one as was surprised that most of the people I worked with barely knew there was a problem. They continued to have employment and all they knew is they got up in the morning, went to work and got the same paycheck they always did. It was like musical chairs. As long as you had a chair you were fine. If you didn't have one when the music stopped you were devastated.

I was in NYC during the 2008-9 financial crisis and did my best to make sure I always had a chair but here's the difficult part, people can give you tons of advice on what to do but you don't usually have many options available to you. You pick the best option you've got an go with that. It's all you can do.

We all know something big has happened but I don't think anyone can say what that thing is. It's going to be complex and defy and single explanation. I think the most you can say is that there is a great deal more uncertainty in the world than there was before and a great deal more randomness.

Outstanding people will be destroyed and unworthy people will find great opportunities and there wont be any more reason than just because. That will probably make you feel very uncomfortable.

Do the best you can and persevere.

Working for a traditional tech firm, I went to lunch or happy hour every week with my more adventurous former peers who had moved to dotcomland. Since I could never “get it” (whatever it was they were doing, or how it was ever going to make money), I just took the salary increases old tech made to stay competitive.

Post dotcom bust, moved to CA and got a rent controlled apt and stayed with old tech. Researched how to short the housing market but never managed to find Michael Burrey. 401k / investments were highly defensive by 2007, took a 10% hit.

People need to look for something beyond changing the world through their jerbs and start living well below what their lifestyle can afford. Perhaps it’s having Depression-era relatives, or going to school with boom-and-bust oil kids who got a corvette from daddy and then had to drop out of SMU when daddy went bankrupt.

The cycles are like spring and fall. Whether you or Wall Street see it or not, it will always come. Always. Squirrel away those acorns and good luck.

I'm old enough that I went through both, but I've been lucky in both instances.

2000: Moved to San Jose that summer (my first job) to "make it big" at a friend's email startup. The crash hit a few months later. I was lucky enough that the company stuck around for a few years, and I moved to the midwest in 2003 where it was cheaper.

2009: Savings cut in half, I looked a long time for a new job, and ended up moving back to San Jose to get one. I put most of my remaining savings into the only house I could afford (which was barely livable), but it seemed like the only chance I'd get to own real estate in California. I ended up not liking my new job, but I couldn't afford to quit. After a long search, I was able to switch into a much better job, and I lived pretty well for about 4 years in San Jose before once again moving back to the midwest.

Everyone else has covered the basics of handling these difficult circumstances, but to reiterate:

1. Try to have some savings. If things have looked good for a long time, get conservative with your money. I neglected to do this before the 2008 crisis, and lost much more of my savings than I should have. On the other hand, coming out of a crash can be a great time to invest.

2. Be frugal and flexible. Be willing to cut back your life style, and be realistic about how stable your job is, and how long you can live without it. Be willing to move to take opportunities, or take up a different line of work if needed.

3. Keep up with and help out the people you know. Band together with your friends and family.

4. This too shall pass. I'm worried this current crisis will be the worst I've seen, but even if that's true we'll eventually get through it.

Best of luck to everyone out there.

I always changed my life shortly before one of these crisis took effect. Why? I don't now... Dot-Com bust: After school in 2000, I worked for a small startup which hired me full-time because I was able to code in Java. I had to quit this because of mandatory military service (was still mandatory in Germany in 2000) and later moved out of my home town to study computer science. For me, I could only pay for this with a side job and in early 2001 there are still huge job opportunities if you had some coding skills. I don't now, but I opted for the least modern industry and went to a company building software for steel-rolling and warehouse logistics. When the towers collapsed I was in the first month in the job and in my studying city (Aachen). Everything else went down but the industry I worked for was quite immune. They even kept me as a student worker while laying off other employees around me. I learnt a lot in this times, because I worked with developers having a coding experience of 40years AND they were open for new stuff. In 2007/2008: Ok, I skipped a lot of studying in between and in 2007 my employee offered me a full time job (skipping studying completely). I refused and quit the job from my side. Lived on savings and started to complete studying full-time - then everything went down. I actually owned some stocks and hedged them with put-options 4 weeks before the stock market collapsed. Sold everything with no losses. During studying I went for the more theoretical parts of computer science - that turned out to be very helpful because with most modern tech, I just needed to conclude which theory now was brought to live. Now: I quit my well paid consulting job in December 2019 to build a startup. Selling digital marketing products for brick&mortar business. Not the best thing for the moment, but I got some cash in the backhand and lets see if this (unintended) strategy pays off again.

In my experience, the last hired are the first laid off, regardless of performance. This applied in a large corporate context, involving human resources and myriad decision makers far removed from immediate work.

If your network primarily consists of coworkers, they probably won't be able to help you find new work that you'll be interested in. Don't hold it against people if you don't get referrals.

People are generally good, don't forget that. Situations compel action from the top down (to say it nicely).

This debacle isn't like the Financial Crisis. I worked in finance for almost ten years and was directly impacted by industry changes. Head count wasn't restored to pre-crisis levels. There were permanent, structural changes. The situation now is different. Government and shareholders aren't compelling structural changes. This is cause for hope, but sometimes getting what we wish for isn't what is best for us.

I turned hardship into opportunities for advancement. It came at great personal cost. Yet, I believe that the best days are ahead of me because of what I did in response to career instability. My story is far from finished. So, I am hesitant to give advice. However, I am comfortable with advising anyone considering business school for job change or advancement to reconsider, assuming you are paying. Tuition is higher than ever. Student loans and other debt will constrain your decisions and opportunities. Academic accomplishments can be achieved without taking on $175,000 in loans. Business school is rewarded by students more than students rewarded by business school. An MBA is highly regarded by those who have them. The reality is that these people were going to succeed regardless of the degree. While they are complicit in perpetuating a myth, it is largely a consequence of bias.

If you are laid off and would like perspective from someone outside of your network and can relate, you can contact me.

Nothing changed for me 2008-2009. My company was (still is but not with me) in finance sector and apparently all those banks needed companies like us to implement new regulations and stuff which came as a result of the finaancial crisis.

We also did write financing software (which calculates your monthly rate) and that became more popular too.

I'm not really sure how corona will play out but right now i'm again in a very stable position: Company is very big and is in the software area which is quite critical to companies. I was thinking about becoming a freelancer but never liked the idea too much because of risks.

I also never bought a car, don't have any loan and no kids. If i would get fired now, i would need to find a job in 10 month.

nothing stays the same. it will pass. you end up wiser, stronger, and if lucky.. a more conscientious and humble human being.

I like this.

I didn't really experience the 08 crisis directly but the aftermath for sure as I got my degree in 10 and the market in my home country was really bad at that time.

Had to go back to my less than stellar family for a year and a half, all of us surviving on the struggling family business while slaving away pretty much all the time.

Got a way out to move to Belfast and build a career slowly moving up from shit job to less shit job.

While lots of it has sucked, in hindsight it was the best thing that happened to me.

So you know, there might be a silver lining, maybe it's even platinum but you can't even tell yet.

I graduated college right in 2001 and needed Visa sponsorship. A complete no go. I was unemployed for all practical purposes for 3 years until May 2004.

I remember job requirements turned absolutely bonkers with every acronym under the sun and 20 years of experience required to boot.

I took the opportunity to go to grad school and spent hours every day building projects with technologies I thought worth while. It paid off.

When the economy picked up again I had an awesome portfolio and a huge variety of skills. I had even published a book on MySQL while unemployed for wrox press.

Ironically I was making the biggest money in my life in tech 2008-2009

One of the biggest differences during the dotcom crash was how much of it played out online. There was so much chatter in online forums and websites like f*ckedcompany. This crisis seems silent in comparison.

Omg, I loved f*uckedcompany.

08 - Cut all losses and moved into the cheapest possible place to rent in less than desirable neighborhood. Didn't buy a single thing that wasn't needed to survive. Found myself humbled AF yet constantly starving for success (and food!). Worked 60-70 hr weeks between 2 jobs (every single day of the week) for FIVE years straight (no exaggerations) until the storm passed and I was in a better place. Ended up selling the company I formed during that period just last year :)

Learned a ton about myself and the world outside...never been so alive!

In 2000 I was lucky (?) to be working for a stable company developing a product with a bright future. During the dotcom boom, the main developers on the project, including me, got retention bonuses so we wouldn't quit and run off to the Valley.

In 2008, at the same job, the company had instituted a hiring freeze, but we were still solidly profitable so we weren't really concerned.

In 2020, I've already taken a pay cut to help keep the business afloat (different company). Oh, well :-(

This, too, shall pass. But it's gonna suck for a while.

I cannot agree with this strategy at all. Pay cut requires a time cut. And with that extra time, do whatever you want, but one of those things might be finding alternatives. It is not your responsibility as an employee to prop up the business.

SBA Payroll Protection Program. Your company could take out a loan and pay you 100%. 8 weeks is forgiven (strings are attached). The interest rate beyond 8 weeks loaned is 0.5%.

You're right; it's not. But as an adult, I get to make that decision.

$100k/year salary (prorated) is the cap, so depending, it may not cover everyone 100%

I keep my expenses at 20% of my post-tax income, in part to avoid any impact from deep or prolonged crises.

Got a job at a company selling a legitimate project, lived within my means.

I was lucky. Kept my job. Was renting. 2008 made no difference to me.

Same, except that I bought and didn't rent. Same for previous bubble bursts

Went to college (msc) - it’s subsidized/ free in Europe

I went through both but they were both at weird transition times of my life that they basically didn't have a real effect (or at least, it all seemed normal enough for me)

dot bomb: I was 22, had worked for Red Hat since their IPO in 1999. I hadn't gone to college, and was working in developer support, then QA, when I got laid off, it was kind of like, eh, oh well, gonna move back in with my parents. We get along so it was kind of not a big deal. I had saved a ton of money from working and having no social life.

Ended up moving to California, playing a ton of EverQuest, learned to surf, learned Kung Fu, and started to take classes at a community college.

My best advice for anyone early in their career/life with a lot of flexibility and privilege is to spend that time acquiring a new skill that is unrelated to the field that you are already in. It's a great time to develop an alternative/fall back.

I decided after the dot bomb that I was going to be a luddite and not focus on computer related work, so I started studying physics.

I got my degree and ended up building and maintaining a cluster for processing satellite image data, so basically got right back into tech.

That brings me from 2003 to 2008!

I was going to get a PhD, then my advisor died, and the satellite I worked on got shut down (government defunds science in recessions!) so I got bitten by my own advice! I don't regret it, though.

At that time, I had just finished my undergrad, and had started working full time in the research group I had worked in as an undergrad. When things finally sunk in economically, I had to go back to part time temporarily, but again, and this might be a theme, I had enough saved up and enough of a personal cushion to ride it out for the six months it lasted until we got a fresh grant.

I ended up leaving academia to get back into tech, and here I am again, and I'm feeling pretty comfortable with the coming chaos, which is weird to say, and I know it's going to be a lot harder for others.

My sisters both have work that puts them at a huge risk, and are struggling with that, but tldr;

- save money

- don't panic sell if you have investments

- if you can, buy now :)

- seriously and intentionally develop a new skill, hobby, or interest

- make new friends, reach out to folks, build a more robust social network

What you can't control, and what usually is behind "how I survived X" is privilege though.

I have a colleague who is kind of a "prepper" but in the last downturn, he used that as a way to feed himself and his wife for six months (boat rations, rice & beans, etc...!) and volunteered at a mechanic shop so he could learn to fix/build cars (he offered them SEO in trade). Now as a hobby he sometimes buys cars, soups them up, and sells them.

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