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Ask HN: What was the job market like during the dot-com crash?
189 points by MalcolmDiggs on Dec 22, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 155 comments
With all the talk of us being in a bubble lately, I've been wondering:

What was it like for developers when the dot-com bubble burst in the early 2000's? I didn't start coding until after that, so the job-market I've always experienced has been one of ever-increasing demand. How different was it then? And how did you make it through?

What were job-prospects like? How were your wages affected? Did recruiters simply cease to exist? More to the point, what advice do you have for developers who want to be well-insulated if/when the next crash happens?

Thanks a bunch




A lot of shaking off of weak developers. I don't say that to insult the very talented developers during that time who couldn't stay employed. Rather, they suffered along with the rest, due to way too much supply. Developers who knew one language who could get hired merely by having a word or two on their resume and having a pulse; when things dried up, everyone who should have been an entry level sales person were all clammering to get the jobs and money they were used to, but it was a buyer's market at that point.

You made it through by being versatile. Not by starting to learn while you were job hunting, but being prepared when jobs were aplenty.

You had to be ready to be employed in a non-VC funded world, doing boring things.

I liken it to today, where you have an abundance of 6-week boot camps and developers writing code against the sexy Javascript framework du jour. Those developers will starve if we hit another period where VC dries up.

Learn some boring stuff, even stuff that gets laughed at on HN. .NET. Java. In places like Houston, there's TONS of jobs, but they're not in Rails or Clojure or Angular. They're in .NET, writing apps for big oil or healthcare.

Though it wasn't as big then, I think learning dev-ops will really take someone far when no one's writing Twitter aggregators or social networks for quadcopters.

tl;dr When times are lean, boring languages in boring companies that make real, not VC, money is how you stay afloat


I agree. I went from dot-com Unix admin to investment bank Unix admin in 2000. Luckily it was via a consulting company. They said my interview process was unusual, because every internal interviewer passed on me, while every interviewer from a dot-com gave me a strong recommend. I was interviewed by them many, many times and finally accepted.

It was very different. At the dot-com's that I was at, web servers and application servers were Red Hat Linux, and only the databases were Sun boxes, with E4500 being a high end box. At a post-IPO dot-com there might be one E6500 and maybe a few Sun E4500's, and lots of Red Hat machines. At the investment bank they were all Solaris on the Unix side, and had dozens of E6500's in my city, and hundreds of E4500's. The investment bank had admins in the OpenBoot PROM all the time, whereas I had barely been in it. The investment bank was always replacing disks in the hundreds of external RAID arrays they had whereas only our database had a large external RAID array. They used NFS extensively and you had to know it thoroughly. My knowledge about Red Hat Linux, Apache web servers, Java application servers etc. didn't amount to much.

It was qualitatively (and quantitatively) very different, and in interviews it sounded like I didn't know what I was talking about.

On the developer side, the bureaucracy is very different. If a minor change in a software package is being pushed to New York, London and Tokyo, which often it is, you might have five meetings about it, and the code push might take weeks or even months. No matter how trivial the change. Three different divisions might have to sign off on the change. It's definitely not an agile code process, with code going from your fingers to the production web/app within the week.


I must ask: What were investment bank admins doing in the OpenBoot PROM (aka Open Firmware), exactly? Hacking FORTH, using Emacs on the keys, and then saving it in NVRAM?

Did you know that Open Firmware has its own theme song?

https://web.archive.org/web/20060111132138/http://playground...

http://everything2.com/title/The+Open+Firmware+Song

Sung to the tune of "The Flintstones"

    Firmware
    Open Firmware
    It's the appropriate technology,
    Features
    FCode booting
    Hierarchical DevInfo tree. 

    Hack Forth
    Using Emacs on the keys,
    Save in
    NVRAM if you please.
    With your
    Open Firmware
    You can fix the bugs in no time
    Bring the kernel up in no time
    We'll have an FCode time!
I hacked FORTH with Mitch Bradley, the father of Open Firmware, as a summer intern at Sun in 1987. I love OpenBoot PROM, and his 32 bit 68k/SPARC Sun FORTH system that it's based on, which was derived from Langston and Perry's Forth-83! He also developed a version of it used in the OLPC XO-1. http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Open_Firmware


Cool.

For production slated machines, we were usually running commands such as "copy-clock-tod-to-io-board", nothing too creative.

While I was there, the Sparcstation 20's reached end-of-life and we were allowed to bring one home (I still have it). At home I had gotten ADSL through a reseller that had an odd routing setup - they wanted the MAC address of my desktop so that they could assign an IP to it. I guess I should have gotten a hub that could do NAT, but I gave them my Intel PC MAC, and then went into the SS20 OBP and changed the MAC address to that of my PC. It worked too, both machines got ADSL. Actually what I wound up doing is doing NAT with the SS20, after I swapped out the PC ethernet card with a spare one lying around.


If you're wondering how it works, it's self documenting: besides the usual "help", it also has a decompiler/disassembler built in: "see", which you use as a prefix before other words, like "see see" to decompile the decompiler!


Unix admin here too. I also spent more time with Linux and FreeBSD during the dotcom era, but, strangely, for a lot of enterprise companies because I was working more on the security side of things. When I had to cast my net wider after the bubble burst, and after having moved to a new country, my lack of deep enterprise Solaris experience did bite me. Fortunately after a few years Red Hat was starting to do really well in the enterprise market and I ended up in banking, where I picked up a bit of Solaris again but I didn't really bother too much since the bank was actively getting rid of Solaris. I suspect many technologies used in the startup world now will get taken on in the enterprise after the bubble burst, but it will certainly take a few years and these companies will be weary of people who doesn't have enterprise experience.


Having worked at large telco's it makes me smile when i got marked down on for suegsting that you sould have identical hardware on test dev and live and I mean identical down to havng the systems from the same prodcution run as ideal woudl all the DASD

the whole devlop on a mac book when the actual production systems are linux makes me wince.


I was lucky to be an old sack. I moved from mainframes to so called open systems, around the time when IBM decided to ship OS without source code. And when the dot.com burst, I had my mainframe skills, still rusty but good enough that my Y2K PTFs had been the ones distributed by CBT Tapes. So I was in hot demand to supervise Y2K tests, and later to migrate mainframe scripts and applications to Unix.

I did not stay in enterprise for long. I like mainframes, but I hate the culture of big companies. I next helped founding a university, and when tired by ivory tower, I left uni to fund a company to focus on machine learning for industrial applications.

So, most important advise from an old sack: stay flexible, and dont be surprised that old skills in solid technology might be worth good money at the moment when the hypes end.


I used to say that the bubble bursting got the people who quickly got themselves an MCSE so they can 'work in IT' and get paid well while they have no IT skills, to go back to the jobs they should have been doing like sales.

That's what happened, and many of them then ended up as estate agents.


To be honest, calling Java and .NET boring and laughing at these is just a hipster's indulgence.


Or a smokescreen to keep the market balanced more in their favor...


But at the same time, if you need to go through tons of red tape (either from bureaucracy/processes or even tools) to change something simple this is a big demotivator (at least for me)

Last job involved C# and it was good, and dynamic (pun intended)


Java was the coolest / most hyped up language back in 2000. Was .NET even around then?


No, it originated in 2002, but the equivalent was VB, COM, and ASP. That said, I was speaking in the present tense.


In 2000 proper, the crazy hip thing in the Java world was J2EE. Seriously ... being proficient in Enterprise and Session beans got one a 100K+ job back when that was a big thing.


To strengthen your point, by the mid-2000s there was a booming industry of well paid "consultants" developing software for the public sector, big companies and such. Largely .NET. It wasn't sexy. A project could be deploying an intranet and making it play with some other stuff. There weren't stock options. People wore suits.

The pay was certainly not poverty level and the required skillset was pretty achievable.


History is bound to repeat itself... What you say almost makes me want to learn enterprise.


>What you say almost makes me want to learn enterprise.

Perspective is a funny thing. I started in the enterprise and was there through the bubble (excluding a brief stint at a startup). I then went on to found my own company some years later.

Anyway, it somehow never occured to me that people actually depend upon the startup ecosystem continuing to thrive, and would feel absent options without it. I mean, I guess it's obvious, but I suppose I just hadn't consciously considered that it really implies "startups as a career".

So, it's somewhat hilarious for me to read someone musing that maybe they should "learn enterprise".

I'm also not in SV or another startup hub. So, I'm sure it's partly cultural as well.


> it's somewhat hilarious for me to read someone musing that maybe they should "learn enterprise".

I'm actually still in school. So, I tend to muse over learning a lot of different things. Your life story was really neat though ;)


Interesting. I wasn't aware there was a choice between "learning enterprise" and (other?) in school nowadays. Back in my day, you'd come out with a solid foundation, equipped to make those choices. Hey, another perspective thing. Fancy that!

But, I'd say, yeah...get you some "enterprise" while you're there, especially if they're offering it for the same price. ;)

Glad you enjoyed my life story. Happy to share.


[flagged]


I certainly did not read that unclebucknasty was bothered by your phrasing, but rather was sharing a story and encouraging you to branch out into some "not cool" tech that could support you in possible bubble-burst future.

New suggestion, though. You should spend your time in school learning how to remove your prejudice. It's pretty bad, and will hold you back more than not learning a particular language will.

P.S. Just to be clear, I was bothered by your ageism.


Just take the correction, apologize, and move on; there's no utility for trying to "win" the conversation and as others pointed out you really took it more personally than needed.

Knowing how to be graceful will spare you a lot of future pain in your career as well as your social life.


Point taken. At risk of being further downmodded, I have to say that I don't consider myself to be very graceful. I'm not sure how much I can change that (I find fake personalities exhausting).

However, the way you phrased your criticism was very polite, yet firm. It drove your point home in a self evident kind of way. It's got me thinking and I appreciate that.


If you'll listen to another old guy who wouldn't mind a nap:

There's a world of difference between having a fake personality and learning to politely and gracefully interact with others even when you really don't want to. Those skills are far, far more important than anything technical you will learn in your CS classes.


Yes, and then there's that sweet spot you find when you're walking the fine line between being polite and being patronizing. That perfectly guised condescension with a rich aroma of political correctness that still delivers the intentional underlying message.

That's the real skill to master, especially amongst the smug closeted egomaniacs in the programming world. But as a normally blunt person, it all seems a little silly(and very insincere) to me.


You ever read The Catcher in the Rye?

I'd suggest reading it. The protagonist struggles with "fake" throughout the whole book. Might give you some perspective.

Theres nothing wrong with being a bit blunt and direct, ageism is well beyond that threshold.


Yes, I've read it. It's not a very good book, in my opinion.

The end of your second point fails to address the comment you responded to, I was addressing an entirely separate issue about how this community (and to a lesser degree, the programming community) chooses to communicate. Specifically, how it fails to actually remove flaming, trolling, rudeness, and arrogance. It merely wraps these things nicely in pseudo intellectual packages.

Anyways, I wasn't defending my (purely spiteful) "ageist" comment, nor do I intend to. Although, I keep getting baited to address it, so here I am. Rest assured though, while I may never transform into a different gender or race, I will certainly age. I'm sure one day, when I'm older, someone on the internet will say a rude, politically incorrect comment towards me, and I shall weep with regret and understanding.


re: fake personalities

For what it's worth, I do think there's way more utility in differentiating oneself by having opinions one believes in, vs trying to be a crowd pleaser (which really adds no long term value to anything). Now the onus is really one oneself to make sure that those strong opinions are right, of course. :) Kinda like on HN, having a differentiable and unique idea/product/startup is way better than all the me-toos, as long as the idea is actually any good. :)

Consistency is one of those things that people try to figure out all life. I personally respect those who are clear in taking a stance even if I don't agree with them -- they've found their niche. The alternative is someone who's trying to play short term efficiencies and please everyone -- all they say are words everyday, words that carry no weight or meaning behind them.

Pardon the jumbled metaphors and all that. :)

PS -- Being mindful of what you type on the internet, just like being mindful of what you say in real life, is helpful in being genuine. Specifically it's to understand what other people are trying to say, and also understand the ramifications of your own words. And as you exercise this mindfulness, it'll become second nature and become a skill.

PPS -- re: gracefulness - just remember the downside value of a comment is not 0 but negative, and the expected value of a comment is not necessarily positive.


Weow that's pretty passive aggressive and toxic, maybe you should check yourself before that attitude hurts you.


Patio11 made a very good point in one of his posts that enterprise, specifically Japanese enterprise, taught him a lot about engineering skills.

There's an entirely different philosophy out there from the startup "push code to production on your first day". That of (lowercase) solid engineering practices where production releases are major events that require lots of interactions, checks and planning. It teaches you an awful lot. Safety critical industries, and many financial companies after Knight Capital, are good places to learn this kind of discipline.


I think it's best to know what you love, but also know what has massive demand. And by demand, I mean outside of the startup bubble. If you're lucky, you'll never have to do enterprise, but I'll be damned if I tie my ability to feed my family to a philosophy. :-)


Would iOS/Android be considered enterprise today?


Most "enterprise" things are mainly server-side and the mobile clients are just CRUD interfaces, so yes, some of it would be considered enterprise, but only the really boring stuff.


No; unless you're building iOS/Android-based workflow apps for supporting factory workers e.a.


Not just weak developers though. I don't have a CS degree, so I took one look at the job market and realized my only option was self-employment because I would never get past resume screeners.


For what it's worth, neither do I. I did get my first "real" job in 2000, in the midst of the madness, but since then, my lack of education credentials has been an issue maybe once or twice. But +1 on self-employment, I think that's a more fulfilling path.


I graduated in the summer of 2001 (BS ECE). Many of my classmates had their already accepted job offers rescinded before graduation. I ended up working a non-degree job for a year before finding an internship that I worked into a full-time position. Finally found a more permanent career in 2004 when I was hired into an aerospace company (where most of the jobs were).

Keep in mind, besides the dot-com crash and then the sept 11th attacks, the real macro environment of the early 2000s was outsourcing. Everybody believed you could just hire a team in India or Russia for pennies on the dollar. It would take another 5+ years for that trend to reverse as companies recognized the challenges in moving their development resources off-shore.

As I stated, I responded to the off-shore movement by switching to a less-affected industry (aerospace/defense). Most "market corrections" really affect the most vulnerable segments of the job market: entry-level and near-retirement.


This is a really excellent point - it might sound xenophobic or ridiculous today, but in the 2002-2007ish timeframe, it was taken as a given that after outsourcing swallowed up US corporate IT, it would then consume the rest of the tech industry. Like many trends, it turned out that insourcing/outsourcing is entirely cyclical and gee wiz, there is only so much talent everywhere in the world and you do get what you pay for.


Similar, I graduated with a BS in CS in 2001. I was lucky to have finished my job search in the Fall of 2000. The market had still been hot in the fall, I received several (4-5?) offers for 60-75k (boston/nyc). Each seemed like they were on the "new, exciting" project at a company where their revenue came from elsewhere. I took a job with a company I'd interned at.

By the Spring things had definitely changed. First lots of hiring freezes and then offers to friends rescinded. (A few lucky ones got paid 50% to take a year off.) I think most of the offers I had were for projects that were likely killed since they didn't add anything to the top line. The did a round of layoffs where I was joining in the spring before I started. I remember anxiously waiting at my college apt to find out if I was unlucky. I wasn't affected, I believe primarily because I was "cheap" compared to the people making 2x or more than me they chose to let go.

I felt very fortunate to land on an interesting team doing real product development; others I know who graduated in 2002 had no option but the longer path through customer support / non-tech jobs for a little bit.


I finished school in end of 2000, when things were crashing. I only finished school that late because of thesis (didn't get through on first try). I had to compare my wage to lots of people who got hired 2-3 years earlier (which could have been me, of course, if I hadn't pursued an extra degree).

Not starting work in 1998, I've calculated, cost me me somewhere north of $250k in wages (over three years, this is Europe I'm talking about). It would have been exhausting but the company that hired me in 2000 would have hired me in 1998 and allowed me to work on my thesis on the side, and of course $250k would easily pay for a year's sabbatical afterward. Even better scenario would have been work until 2001, get fired with severance (usually not optional in Europe), then finish degree, miss the worst of the downturn.

Very frustrating to work among people who make double or triple you do just because of the time they were hired (this was a consultancy firm, more than relatively basic development skills were not required, or usually not even wanted). Very frustrating to come to the realization I finished my education at pretty much the worst time in 2 decades, and just how big the difference was with a more optimal choice of when to study.

Oh well, maybe the people in this thread are right, and I'll get the chance to get another (related) degree. Or maybe going for a full phd. I am planning to do that sometime in the future, definitely, I guess maybe it'll be next year.


Man, I remember going to the college job fairs and meeting the guys who had graduated 1-3 years before me also looking at entry-level jobs. Why hire a fresh graduate when you could get guys with 3-5 years for pennies. I also had friends have rescinded job offers.

It was terrible and the university was raising tuition each semester because of the decreasing state budget, weak endowment investment returns and alumni contributions. Some were going to wait out the job market by going to grad school, but didn't know how they were going to pay for it.


Man, I remember graduating high school in 2006 and thinking Computer Science would be a bad career decision because of outsourcing. It seems insane now.


Haha I wanted to major in CS and my Dad persuaded me to switch because he was afraid of outsourcing of CS jobs. So I majored in math. Ended up teaching myself CS after I graduated and have my own company now.


The only people in demand was anyone with 10+ years experience. Job requirements got ridiculous and if you needed any kind of visa sponsorship you could just forget about it regardless of experience.

If you didn't have every single acronym in the job req and 5+ years of experience with each, the employers simply were not interested. Things like, you'd used Eclipse but not IntelliJ disqualified you because IntelliJ was requested. Some job reqs even requested more years of experience in some technology which had only been around for half the time mentioned.

Sending 100+ resumes a week without any callbacks became the norm. Recruiters could simply sit back and wait for the resumes to come to them. If you weren't actively looking, no one would call you.

Enterprise market was essentially the only game in town. Any kind of web dev just died overnight. I managed to start and finish a masters degree before things got better again.


> Things like, you'd used Eclipse but not IntelliJ disqualified you because IntelliJ was requested.

For me, it was Websphere or Weblogic. I had worked with Oracle's enterprise Java stack & plain old J2EE. One interviewer asked me why I was even brought in for an interview.


Thank you for reminding me of one of my most favorite job postings from the era.

I remember one that said "Websphere only. Don't even think about applying if you've used Weblogic!"

Some of all of it was in caps.


This was my experience as well. I left the industry when I started seeing requirements like 5+ years experience in windows 2000 when it was 2001.


I was in Portland at the time and it was bad. I got laid off, was lucky enough to find another job at 80k, and then was laid off again ten days before 9/11. The recruiters I was working with all slowly became unemployed. Once I had an opportunity to interview from a recruiter on behalf of one of either Intel or Nike, and the rate they quoted me (for perl/php programming) was $12/hour. (I declined the interview.)

After a couple of months, I started cold-calling businesses as a consultant/freelancer - got my first gig at $20/hour, and then a more reasonable one at $55/hour, since then I've been passed around via word of mouth. I found that clients were more amenable to contracts than FTE because they all needed work "for now" but were petrified of commitment since they had no idea what the future would be like. Anyway, I stuck with freelancing and have never since taken a salaried job.

Basic advice - don't sacrifice your salary for stock options (unless you're a founder and already have enough emergency fund saved up to last you through another crash). Don't trust your "like a family" employer to take care of you, don't believe that HR has your best interests at heart. You're in business for you, not your employer - treat them well in exchange for them treating you fairly, but not out of some misplaced sense of "loyalty". The rest of it is just, save up and live simply - programmers aren't investment bankers.


We had to get adjusted to not being treated like a rock stars just for knowing unix. We stopped chanting IPO, IPO. We learned the stock market is disconnected from reality. Took a hit in salary, but nobody starved that I recall. Looking back on it, it was if we hit the lottery but we were too young to realize that this isn't a normal economy we were living in. But c'est la vie, change is opportunity and all that. Just keep your skill set relevant and keep switching jobs until you land a gig working on something that is interesting with people you enjoy being with, and don't expect to get rich, but if you work hard you just might anyway.


this, so much.


I graduated in 2000 with several years experience. First gig out of school resulted in huge layoffs but I was paying attention and had already been looking, plus was still young (read: cheap) so didn't have any problems finding something. People who graduated the next two years after me though who hadn't really hustled to build up their resumes ended up leaving tech altogether because they couldn't get hired - and this was in a tech hub (Seattle). It was 2005 before it because "easy" to get hired again and I started to see new grads reenter the market. Even in the 2004-2006 timeframe salaries were pretty stagnate with the exception of places like amazon.com which seemed to be shoveling money at as many people as they could hire.

One of the big challenges was that large companies were the only place to get hired - the few startups that were around were often zombies leftover from the dot-com times; it was clear they weren't going anyplace, and (perhaps exaggerating slightly here...) nobody was starting anything new. Keep in mind though a lot has changed in 15 years - it took a lot more capital for infrastructure in those days so there were fewer companies starting up anyway.

For people my age and older... we saw the pre-dot-com slowness of the early 90s, we got caught in the dot-com downturn, we got caught again in the post 9/11 downturn, then we saw our house values melt down in 2008... so as far as I'm concerned, in good times be painfully frugal and stash cash because the bad times are just around the corner...


Your read on the 2001-2002 graduates matches my experience exactly. I graduated in 2002 and didn't get back into the industry until 2006. I remember Real Networks was one of the big companies everyone wanted to work for, even though nobody liked them.

I remember a friend getting me an interview at a finance company specializing in the growing subprime mortgage market. In hindsight, I'm glad that one didn't pan out.


SFgirl.com had the best coverage of this, with their "pink slip parties". The remnants of the site are at "http://www.sfgirl.com/about_us.html", but almost all the links are dead. A few that are still live:

http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Think-Pink-Slip-Layoff...

http://www.forbes.com/2000/11/29/1129pinkslip.html

About 40% of the twenty-somethings in SF moved out. SF itself was so dead that one day, at rush hour, I saw a completely empty street in downtown. I asked a cop if something was stopping traffic, and he said no, it had been like that for a few days. Many empty buildings in SOMA.

I had an automatic system predicting the death dates of publicly held dot-coms, based on their assets and cash flow. I keep it up for reference:

http://www.downside.com/deathwatch.html

(Where it says "Chart is not available for this symbol", that means the company is so dead.)


That site name wouldn't happen to have been inspired by "Upside" magazine, would it :-)


For anyone with actual skill, nothing really changed. But then again, for people with actual skill nothing has really changed throughout the last 25 years, despite the crisis.

Yes, there was a huge market through Y2K and the dot-com bubble for people who knew how to operate a keyboard, and that market collapsed. But those people where as much developers as I am a surgeon because I know how to apply a band-aid. Personally I was glad the bubble burst, because it became increasingly harder to avoid landing in a place where most of the "developers" weren't utterly incompetent.

HN isn't a representative audience though. Most of those people wouldn't be on the early 2000's equivalents of HN either. If this is a bubble and it bursts, most of HN-ers that get affected won't be out of work for more than a month.

Many may have to take a boring enterprise gig, but that's pretty much how the second wave of internet-companies started: bored and with time on their hands, many hackers started to work on what was then called "social software" projects, which eventually resulted in a wave of social media startups.

Things may be different in SV, especially when it comes to the balance of wages vs cost of living, but SV is an outlier.


This, this, and more this.


I started recruiting for startups around Philadelphia in 1998. For the first couple years anyone who could spell Java would get significant raises to leave big companies in the area for funded startup scene. Signing bonuses were given to most hires, and stock options were valued highly by most hires.

When the crash happened, I started to get calls from developers who wouldn't take my calls a year earlier. Many had a few jobs within a short period of time. I remember placing one guy three times in two years due to closings.

Many recruiters couldn't generate enough revenue and subsequently left the market, which was actually a good thing because the market had become flooded and needed a purging. Salaries came down a bit, but candidates at this point would put very little value on stock options. Options went from being looked at as a large piece of the package to being considered the equivalent of lottery tickets.

To be insulated, I'd encourage you to try to become 'known' in your space. Those with solid reputations and networks were always employed, even if they bounced around a bit.


There were three interesting groups that came out of that time. One was the CEO/CIO/CTO's of startups who found themselves barely qualified for entry-level roles when the bubble burst. It was a sad awakening for them. Another group were mid-career types who found their careers and salaries put on hold for 5+ years while the market improved. That was sad because many were very talented but with no place to apply it; some never really getting their shot again. The third were those who would have otherwise been starting businesses, but the times just weren't right so they put their heads down working in boring jobs waiting for their moment.


That's a good summary. I'd like to add a fourth group of which I was a part: people who were trying out startups but weren't entrepreneurial. We went back to being employees for mid-size/larger companies.


In addition to many of the previous posters' comments, I'd add that the number of job offers per week went from a flood (10+ a week, sometimes double that) to zero during the bust. Acquaintances, former co-workers, and myself all took huge pay cuts and the jobs that were available weren't terribly exciting for a spell. Outsourcing and offshoring were the watchwords; in-house custom development was laughed at in many places.

This boom is honestly (IMO) 1) more stable, as many companies actually do have business models and revenue and 2) more exciting (technology stacks are more interesting, tools have improved by leaps and bounds, very interesting companies are popping up.)

My advice is to be constantly learning (both theory and practice); watch trends and become familiar with where they are going (if an exciting new technology comes along, learn some of the basics, even if that's just a "hello world" equivalent - I don't recommend doing a deep dive of anything truly new unless it really blows your mind or you think it's going to become lucrative); try to generalize your skillset a bit - there's a tradeoff here of course, as specialists will often get paid more while the getting is good - but it means you'll never lack for work (and may get stuck with some more drudgery since you're the jack-of-all-trades, master of none.) I'd also recommend trying to get multiple income streams going, whether that's from your own services business, freelancing, or just software-related consulting, so that if/when the crash comes, you've already got your own personal safety net.


Depends on where you were. If you were in San Francisco, I can't speak to it; but if you were in your standard middle American city, it was fine. I graduated with a CS degree in 1999. In 2000, I got a job doing Java dev with no Java experience on my resume, and a 20% raise from my previous job. Later in 2000, I got a job doing Java/Perl (with both on my resume) and another 15% raise. In 2001, I got a Java job and 10% raise. And then in 2002, I got a .NET job (with two weeks of .NET experience) and a 25% raise.

The main downside was that smaller companies kept going out of business (which is why I had so many jobs in that time period -- two of those companies disappeared entirely, one of them taking a month's worth of salary with it, which super-sucked).

A key thing, though, is that lots of really, really, really marginal developers got hired in the late '90s -- I worked with some of those at the first company that went out of business -- and they very possibly never got a job in the industry again. Crashes make companies a lot more selective, just as bubbles make them hire any warm body who can possibly even theoretically write code.


> Crashes make companies a lot more selective, just as bubbles make them hire any warm body who can possibly even theoretically write code.

I think they also took it as an excuse to suck even more at interviewing. Since the pile of applicants was practically endless, you could reject people for any damn reason, and nobody would call you on it. At one point somebody was telling me that their standard interview question was "draw me a house." And if they picked up the pen without asking follow-up questions, that was a no-hire. I think that was also around the time the manhole-cover questions started taking off.


"Draw me a house," with the gotcha if you don't ask questions, is described by Fred Moody in I Sing the Body Electronic. That's early 90s Microsoft.


Interesting. While I understand the reasoning behind it, I just don't see how it would actually predict how the candidate would behave in the actual job. It seems more likely to divide candidates into a) people who thought this was setup for a bigger question, and b) people who'd been coached on this sort of thing.


I assumed I was safe being in Virginia. What I didn't realise was that Northern Virginia was a major tech hub and got hit pretty hard. The university started holding seminars to fight the anxiety students were having over finding jobs.


That's my impression about non-SF places as well. I graduated from a no name school in 2001, and immediately found a pretty decent corp programming job in Denver. Didn't really feel the crash there, everyone was pretty relaxed.


Scary.

I basically learned something I thought I knew - debt is bad. Really bad. We survived but it was only because we clamped down super hard and interest rates dropped.

When times are good, cut your debt so you owe nothing. Get some savings but once you have some savings pay off the debt.

I knew lots of people who were still employeed but were freaking out because the stock market was collapsing and they were overleveraged - they had borrowed against their home to buy stock.

When April 2000, hit everyone stopped watching their stocks shoot up to watching their stocks crash - same lack of work getting done but gloomier and more suicidal.

My advice to you is:

network, network, network - now before you need it.

Something that I find hard to do myself sometimes.

Then again I have been through a bunch of crashes/mini-crashes already.

But in 2000, you could not rent a Uhaul - they were all reserved for people leaving ahead of you.

Every boom time gets more and more selective here.

Tech is not a long term career move - the ageism will get you if the boom/bust doesn't. Plan for a life outside of tech if you can.

The froth is happening. I am betting on a crash somewhere around mid 2016. Stock market is looking frothy with the real economy doing nothing. .... just like in 1991, 2000, 2008


Stock incentives became considered worthless, and most people were happy to have a job.


I had two different employers go bust in 2002.

First one was a startup acquired by a big corporation in 2000, but they gave up on us a couple years later. How much the larger economic climate affected that, versus the indisputable fact that we were spending a lot more than we were making, I don't know.

Got another job before the severance ran out. Second one was a small startup, which ran out of cash and failed to make payroll a few months later. The owners wanted to keep going on a shoestring and offered me equity to stay, but I didn't want to take that gamble. Again, I can't say how much of that was due to the economy (harder to find investors in 2002 than in 2000), versus the fact that the company was spending money and not making any.

Got another job right away. This one was a profitable government contractor, I stayed there for years.

My first piece of advice is to always have current, marketable skills. You don't have to chase every trend, but you should know more than one thing, just in case that one thing becomes the next buggy whip.

My second piece of advice is not to put all your eggs into one basket. Salary is more reliable than equity. Savings will get you through rough times.


Changes create new winners and losers.

At the time the crash was just starting to happen, I interviewed at Sun for a job in the Java compiler group.

Their office was just off the De Anza and 280 exit in Cupertino. They told me how their neighbor Apple hadn't been doing well,and how they were gradually taking over all the office space near them. The folks I interviewed with thought Apple would be history in a few years, and being a hardware company that was doing well, they would deal with the crash just fine. I believed them.

Apple made a complete comeback. Sun went through many rounds of layoffs before it was swallowed by Oracle.

Luckily for me I ended up taking another job at a company that was one of the few to do relatively well during the crash.

Till this day I am grateful I did not take the Sun offer.


The best insulation you can have is cash in the bank or be prepared to move.

The next crash probably won't be cyclical in your city. The money will come back, but it will come back somewhere else.

If your priority is to stay in the city where you're living, be prepared to make that work (which means being flexible about what you do), or be prepared to move (which means being flexible about where you live, and being in a relationship where moving for work is OK).


I think diversifying your skill set can help protect you against a bubble burst. I had a reputation for being both a programmer and visual designer and I think it kept me afloat through the early 2000s.

And by "diversifying your skill set" I don't mean just being proficient in more than one area, but also being perceived as being proficient in more than one area. This is probably hard to do without switching jobs. You have to sell yourself as being "good at both A and B" during the interview and only then will the perception take root.

Incidentally, this was a double-edged sword for me, since peoples' perception of me being a designer (I had merely added a couple art samples to my resume) always seemed to pull my career in a less technical direction than I wanted to go, partly because I stayed at the same company so long.


When I went to college in 1999, our guidance counselor told us that for every student graduating with a Computer Science degree, there were 5 companies competing to hire them. She said "You have a 500% chance of getting a job with a Computer Science degree." When I graduated in 2003, 1/3 of my classmates got a job doing software engineering, 1/3 went back to their job they did before they got into college (usually some sort of retail), and the final 1/3 went back to live with their parents and were unemployed.

The only area that was really hiring at the time was the Government, and I lived on the east coast so I was able to work for a Government contractor a few months after graduating. It took quite a bit longer for some of my friends to finally use their degree and some still never have.


1) I was fortunate enough to be in a good place where my wages were not hit terribly hard, but there was a big slowdown in wage growth.

2) I did take a pretty dull "and stressful for being that dull" job with an insurance co. as a senior developer after the startup (probably closer to 'small biz' at that point) I worked for had a major restructuring. The dull job did allow me to focus a bit more on some other freelance/networking opportunities.

3) As a few have noted, the biggest thing afterwards seemed to be the outsourcing wave. That plus the sudden glut in the market seemed to nearly wipe out entry level opportunities. There was a period of time where I (being only 6-7 years out of college myself) don't recall working with a single new graduate.


I'll note that one positive in the industry is that people put some serious thought into working in a way that was more productive than dot-com crazy and we all took Agile methodologies seriously.


The MBAs went back to wherever they came from. Engineers were suddenly more interested in the work and the team. No more of those ridiculous parties, which were never fun anyway. Lots of people took a few months to a year to travel or relax. People no longer talked about "time famine".

Actually it felt great. Like a return to the basics.


Second that. And with exodus of ~ 1M people, Bay Area traffic got a lot nicer.


Have you got a source for that number?


The number may be incorrect, but the improvement in traffic was pretty obvious to us living in SF at the time.


The only comment on this entire thread so far that matches my take on it.


My experience applies to Dallas/Houston/Boulder, which was probably very different from Silicon Valley.

Before: * Pay increases of 10-50% each year or two as you changed jobs. * Finding a job was a matter of sending your resume to 1 or 2 decent recruiters, then fielding the endless calls about opportunities. * High quality, challenging technical interviews from senior developers and engineers.

After: * No significant pay increases anymore. * Recruiters that never answered emails or calls (explained below). * Low quality interviews given by hiring managers, or in some cases by contractors with little experience of their own. * H1-B visas bringing in floods of people who largely could not solve problems and who needed to be given every solution just short of typing the code.

Prior to dot-com bust, recruiters were professionals who had a fair grasp of the technologies and industries they were involved in. They seemed to treat their jobs as actual professions rather than as temporary stepping stones to something else.

After the bust, companies reigned in their (perhaps overly aggressive) hiring and IT growth, leading to perhaps an over-abundance of recruiting firms. But at the same time, new recruiting firms emerged staffed by low (no) quality keyword-searching resume-pushing monkeys who would work for peanuts. Thus, the real recruiting firms cut staff so severely that the remaining few were buried under resumes of all the IT people displaced (let go).

Companies still had positions open, even advertising them, but hiring managers were very reluctant to actually fill those positions. Despite approvals to hire, nobody wanted to take the risk of actually spending the money on more staff.

This led to the growth in low skill H1-B labor, which further reduced the need for quality recruiters. It all became a game of numbers, a race to the lowest common denominator.

When that didn't produce positive results for industries, corporate management (who could count money but could not judge IT quality) made the next obvious step - offshoring. This further ruined the environment.

Basically there was an 8-10 year dark age in IT (unless perhaps you were in Silicon Valley... I can't speak for that). It still hasn't recovered fully, and it probably never will.


I do think there are problems with H1B visas these days... Too many go to big consulting companies (Infosys, Wipro, Tata, L&T, Satyam), but...

Your post-boom H1B claims are simply not true. The glut of H1B visas were available and used DURING the boom. For several years after 2000 the cap was not reached. In 2003 the cap was reduced to 65k (1998 levels). Your generalized claims about the quality level of H1B workers looks to be xenophobia (or worse).

In 1999/2000, H1B visas were much less flexible than they are today. People were beholden to their companies/jobs. Transferring to another job/company took 5 months. Holders had 10 days to leave the country after losing their jobs. Out-of-status one wasn't allowed to find a new job.

During the boom, enforcement of those last two things was not always strict, but afterwards it was. KICKING ALL THOSE PEOPLE OUT CAUSED THE OUTSOURCING BOOM. A well-educated workforce, familiar with the American corporate landscape, a business network in America, forced to move back, willing to apply their skills with the help of cheap local labor.

While ragging on those H1B holders, it is important to realize that THEY FILLED THE UNEMPLOYMENT AND SOCIAL SECURITY COFFERS without ever being allowed to collect (look up '40 social security credits').


It was really similar in Chicago, except I don't think H1-B was a big thing here. We seemed to jump straight to outsourcing. Might have something to do with Chicago being a finance hub and financial companies needing to cut costs after the stock market fell.


The dot-com crash was quite an adventure. Being a coder/PM, I really didn't realize we were in it until it was already several months in.

I had left one gig and had started looking for the next one. One month I was getting multiple 6-figure full-time job offers. The next month the phone didn't ring.

I ended up going back to basics: marketing. I went through the online job boards and found which skills were still selling, then revised my resume to focus on those. I made my pitch better and started to talking to recruiters.

It's all still just a numbers game. There's a funnel of jobs you apply for. The next level is the recruiter interview, then the tech interview. Different rate quotes get different amounts of volume into the top of the funnel.

I ended up taking a 30% cut from my rate before. That went on for a few months, then the next job was back at my normal rate. In fact, the more I worked the market the better my rates got. I took a big hit for the several months it took to re-tool, but in general within a year or two I was doing as good or better than before. (The only exception is that the full-time job calls dried up.)

The rule of thumb here is that multi-skilled contractors can always find work as long as they have good marketing and sales skills. The guys who had been camping out at the same job for several years and not growing their skillset had the worst time of it.


You all are forgetting FC. Fucked was the front page of the startup scene. What was the bubble like? Discovering you were laid off by reading it on FC. Thanks to archive for saving all the content.

Oh, and having a friend who is a very good engineer (ms cs from mit) take a job for $45k to put a dent in their mortgage.

https://web.archive.org/web/20010201083400/http://fuckedcomp...


The late '90s were fun.

Money was flying about in all directions and all you needed to do was stick your hand up and grab some of it. Your silly internet company would get $25 Million for the worst idea you could think of. If you'd read a "For Dummies" book, you could take your pick of $75/hr contracts or just grab as much $200/hr freelance work as you felt like. You could stick that surplus money into the market by picking any stock with an "e" in front of the name and watch it double in value every few weeks.

Then 2000 happened. And it went back to normal.

Normal.

Not a disaster. Not the end of the world. Just back to regular jobs for regular companies with regular business plans for regular developer wages. If you were good at what you did, you were fine. If you were a converted business major, you went to law school. No sweat.

Everybody (at least everybody I was aware of) saw it coming. We were in a bubble. Yahoo wasn't going to double a fifth time that year, so it probably wasn't a good idea to accept that 10x leverage your brokerage offered and dump your life savings into it. We still partied like it was 1999 (since it was), but we were all ready for the day when the party ended.

Then it did. And we went on with our lives.

We might just do the same thing in a year or two. And again, it probably won't be that big a deal.


In Portland (where I was and still reside) it was pretty ugly. Pretty much everyone I knew in tech was unemployed for long-ish periods. I gave up hunting and started my own business freelancing - did that for over ten years. That gradually got better over time and by 2005 or so I was making more than my last salaried position. During that period I learned to live below my means and always have a 6+ month cushion, so all-in-all it wasn't a terrible thing.


In general it was good for the industry. At the peak of the bubble there was about a 50:1 ratio of pretenders to experts. Easy money tends to scoop up a lot of people who don't really belong. The same way that suddenly everyone was involved in real estate during the housing bubble.

> What were job-prospects like?

IIRC development went off a cliff. Even people who were in secure industries were at risk because of the deflation in salaries. IT/Operations was reasonably safe.

> How were your wages affected?

Roughly cut in half overall. Through the worst of it in two years then back to normal.

> Well-insulated if/when the next crash happens?

Aside from a good savings account. Don't be afraid to pick up a little ops experience. Most people I knew who sailed through the bubble spent a few years doing in-house work for some non-tech company. There is always work closer to the business side. When times are good it's all about wish fulfillment with new services/features etc... During a downturn it's ruthlessly about costs.


I went through about 12 jobs in the span of 6 months I think? At first it was easy to pivot into another opporunity but when it sunk it was hard... I was doing a lot of 'shockwave' and perl work - and still I wasn't sure wtf I was doing half the time. I went a year pretty much unemployed and start working in tv broadcasting but the pay there was equally bad.

I can understand why it happened. No one was educated some guy would get millions of funding for nothing but hype and high tail it out of there. People had money and were just cramming into places that didn't have a plan. I could literally walk into a place and make an animated gif on a webpage and people would oooooo'.

When it crashed it was literally like a vacuum and we all lived our life like 'that' didn't happen.


If you are serious about a long-term career in tech and you are concerned about this, here are some considerations:

1) There are industries like health care and insurance that have traditionally been good places to hang your hat during a downturn. If you can learn about regulations, trends, and domain-specific tech in those fields, you will always have a job.

2) Both in the dot-com era and more recently, there were loads of people who entered the industry because they saw dollar signs. If a downturn hits, many will be quickly weeded out because they won't have put in the hard work to round out their skills and portfolio, or thought about their long-term career progression. You can avoid being pruned by planning ahead and taking action now to make sure you've got solid credentials.


The answer to this is dependent on so many factors that you really need to pull them apart a little:

- where in your career you were - where in location you were - what kind of employer you had

Far and away the hardest hit during the last crash were new-grads who had accepted job offers that hadn't actually started yet. Those jobs immediately went away and there was nothing to replace them with. I know of lots of people who left tech in general after this, and others who constitute a "lost" generation that has always made less money/done less interesting things because of this. Everyone up the experience ladder did better in an almost exponential way. That is, junior devs either spent a lot of time unemployed or accepted jobs at salaries well below what they were expecting. More experienced devs ended up hunkering down in "boring" jobs and saw their wages stagnate for a few years etc.

SV and the west coast in general got hit much harder than the rest of the country. NYC, Chicago, Texas, Minneapolis, Atl, etc had down cycles but their diversified employer base meant that it was muted by comparison.

Besides the obvious dying of unsustainable startups and their employees, the people in tech. services were much more impacted than other industries. Particularly hard hit, were body shops and the big consultancies. Finance, insurance, pharma, etc all took much less of a hit.

I'd add that along with the dot com bubble, several other factors added in to make the last crash particularly brutal. Lots of enterprises used the 2000 bug scare as an excuse to retool and there was tons of work that went away after that ramped down. Then 9/11 came along and put a major hit on companies willingness to spend on infrastructure.

As far as being "well-insulated", there isn't much advice to give. These are macro factor trends that impact everyone. The advice for this is the same as for dealing with any risk. Keep your spend rate low, have a safety net, diversify your skill set and have a strong professional network that thinks highly of you.


I finished college in 2002, and moved to Dallas to support my wife while she pursued her PhD. Dallas was particularly hard hit with Texas Instruments and Ericsson shedding thousands of engineers. The market was flooded.

I submitted 45 applications. I ended up with two interviews. It took me 4 months to get my first job. I was being paid about half of what I was making as a high schooler in 1998.

In the end it was one of those strange blessings. That company ended up being a fledgling Quickoffice which launched me into my startup career.

Still, it was quite tense at the time.


I went back to school at 25 to get a CS degree in 1997. My first year I would hear stories of people about to complete bachelor's degrees being flown from Halifax to Boston (Canadian, here) to be courted (hotel, dinner, etc) by IT companies.

By the time I graduated in 2001 my cohort were taking jobs at Staples selling computers so there's that. Many people were getting into graduate programs to wait out the downturn. I am not sure how this affected minimum education standards for new hires down the road.

I did OK but there were some lean times.


I'm surprised no one has mentioned F*cked Company so far: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fucked_Company

I graduated from ArsDigita University in 2001. Right time, right place to see stuff completely implode. I must have sent 100+ resumes during 2001, and temped at Harvard for a while until getting a job through a friend in Feb 2002, in Java development. It wasn't great, so I kept up the job search and finally went to grad school in 2003 while finding a part-time consulting job, also in Java. That kept me afloat until I graduated in 2006, and moved out of the USA.

Looking back, the companies acted like they could do no wrong, and it bit them hard. ArsDigita was a dot-com darling for a while, but it did crazy things like sign ten-year leases for a branch office that could seat 20-30 people and they had 2-3 actual employees in that city.

I remember in ArsDigita University, we weren't based in the actual office but a place about a metro stop away (where ITA Software based themselves a decade later, yay lisp), in the basement. We started the program in September, and one day in March we were let into a larger, nicer office on the first floor and were told that AD also rented this part as well, anticipating another 20 or so programmers would work here as well. It remained empty until we moved out of the space later that year.


Ars Digita was fucked by the ceo VCs brought in. You can read some very unhappy posts about it from Phil Greenspun. He took them down, I presume as part of a lawsuit settlement, but you can still find them if you google.

Actually, here's a copy http://waxy.org/random/arsdigita/


There's actually a few takes on the history, here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_Greenspun#ArsDigita_his...

But you are right, that CEO was not the right guy for the job. His personality + Philip's no-bullshit attitude ended it.


I went to school for web design before the crash, and graduated in 2002, when the collapse had completely run it's course.

My first east coast gigs were freelance work that I took from video production shops who got into the business of building websites during the boom because it was such a big money maker. After the crash they had laid off all the unqualified staff (random employees who learned dreamweaver and were therefore somehow qualified to build websites) and started scooping up people with actual technical education (me) for dirt cheap ($25/hr).

I moved to the Bay Area about 2003-2004 and the situation was a little better but I still had to look for work aggressively. Fulltime positions never were presented to me, though there were a lot of on-site freelance gigs out there so I didn't notice. I think companies were still wary of staffing up. I was getting paid what I thought were amazing rates at the time ($45/hr). Back when I was starting out I was always the youngest person on any team by a stretch. A lot of staff guys were 15 to 20 years older than me with a family and kids. Some were even older. Might have something to do with who they chose to lay off a few years before my time, but never asked.

Because of the freelance vs staff situation I basically never took a fulltime job and stayed freelance ever since. Though after I moved to LA I was offered staff jobs circa 2006 onwards and it started getting aggressive after that but I stuck to 1099's. I think a lot of guys who entered the market when I did went the same path.


For context, I was a junior developer during the dot com crash, in Boulder. I worked at a web consultancy.

I saw decent developers laid off, but good developers kept on. I saw companies desperately hunting for business (and signing ruinous contracts to have revenue). I saw promises to employees that had been made in exuberance broken (we'll open a London office). I saw poor business practices--lay offs the week of Thanksgiving, for example. I saw the business I was a part of get smaller and smaller as the fat was trimmed.

However, for good developers, there were still raises. I know some great people who were hired away, so I think that the job market still existed. But you certainly weren't getting the exuberant benefits in the new job.

I was too young to be on recruiters' radar, so I can't comment on that.

As far as insulating yourself, I think the best things you can do are:

   * be humble
   * learn new skills
   * be cognizant of the business and the value it provides to consumers, and where it is weak
   * know if the business is profitable, and how (1 big customer? 1,000,000 small ones? advertising) 
   * save a large chunk of your salary, and not just in your 401k
   * keep your network alive (maybe be an informal recruiter? http://www.mooreds.com/wordpress/archives/1728 )
The easiest way to keep a job is not to need it because you have a buffer of savings, a viable network, and have valuable skills. In my experience, those developers can land on their feet even when they are surprised by a layoff.


> What were job-prospects like?

The market, at least in Dallas/Austin was barren. The only new job postings on job boards were repost by recruiters looking to pad their portfolios.

> How were your wages affected?

I keep lowering my expected hourly rate/salary weekly. When I got it down to 50% a recruiter called me back and got me something.

> Did recruiters simply cease to exist?

All the opportunistic, bad recruiters crawled back to whatever hole they came from. Same with all the unqualified "bandwagon programmers" who cashed on the bubble and gave all of us a bad reputation forcing hiring managers into brutal interviewing processes.

Recruiters were let go too, agencies closed or downsized. A few good ones remained.

> More to the point, what advice do you have for developers who want to be well-insulated if/when the next crash happens?

Well first, you got to have some sort of financial cushion and a plan to cut down expenses to the bone: the day I was laid of on 2001 I canceled my phone, cable, any other superfluous monthly expense. Also moved to smaller apartment as soon as I could. I knew it was going to be rough for a while.

Next is to know which industry to aim for: after 9/11 lots of money flowed to military contractors so I started aiming for that industry. I ended up programming for a company that provided services for the military until the market recovered.


I decided to visit one of my previously good recruiters in person to see why they weren't answering my emails or calls. What I saw was amazing... I saw their normal large office, empty of people. There was a receptionist, and there was one recruiter. There were about 15 empty desks.

The one desk with a person had a stack nearly 2 feet high of resumes. I spoke to her, and she said she just couldn't read all the resumes coming in, and she was also having to handle the client side (which meant endless calls to companies, trying to find open positions).

That's when I knew the old system (glory days) were over.


In the Seattle area it was bad enough I started my own business, moved my family of 3 into my parent's house and tried to make do on my income tax refund.


Late to the party, but here is my experience:

Absolutely dead.

I went on sabbatical in October 2000 to SE Asia to backpack for 6 months. When I left, my current company had an open return door for me in my position. I also had two other companies that I had been talking to about working for either of them when I got back.

When I got back in March, there were no jobs to be had. I had money in the bank though and didnt realize how bad it was. Six months after getting back we had a party where ~55 people showed up. All tech workers. Out of the 55, only 3 had jobs.

It wasnt for another 12 months that I found a job - falling back to my previous skill as an architectural drafter. Fortunately it was for a small design firm that was wanting to do more technical stuff - so we were designing datacenters, server rooms, corp stuff. It worked out well - but for 18 months it was really really really bad. I only survived because my family owned my condo and I had a roommate who paid me $750/month in rent which is what I lived on. I couldnt get unemployment because I voluntarily left for my trip - on which I spent almost all my savings.


Corporate jobs and consulting jobs were still around, and most people I know went that direction for a few years. Salaries dropped about 10-20k, based on the conversation I ahd with people in those days.

The good developers I knew went into a holding pattern, sitting at whatever job they landed until things improved. It only took 2-3 years before the demand started to come back. At that point, there was another split, where the really good people went off to new jobs, and the less talented stayed in the same corporate jobs. This then left a few really good years to be working as a consultant, as the corporate teams had lost all their talent and needed help. The guys I know who rode that consulting wave have all since migrated into director or VP positions at consulting firms, and are doing quite well financially, even if they have sold their soul tot he corporate world.

Of course, not everyone went the consulting route. Many of us just stuck with coding, but found better places to do it, for better salaries. But most people my age (40s) have no interest in riding the startup wave again.


Me: Started selling software in 86. In student/ working at universities 88-96. Industry 96-now.

As for what I did during the crash — started my own web/usability company in 2000. Nothing to do with the crash (the company I left was successful and bought a few years later — would have made a lot more money if I'd stayed and waited for my stock to vest ;-) Just wanted to get out of management at the time.

Just because the VC / startup market was crashing and burning didn't mean that a whole stack of existing companies didn't want to get on the web at that time ;-)

From my perspective a lot of it depended on where you lived.

The folk I know who were working in the US at the time didn't really notice a lot of difference if they weren't in the valley or NYC. Because outside of those areas the crash didn't cause that large a change in the job market. In the UK (where I live) not a lot changed outside of London, and maybe Brighton.

If you were in SF or London though you were facing a lot of skilled people hitting the streets at roughly the same time. Which obviously drove wages down. For a time it was a employers market.

For me the biggest visible changes I saw were:

* on the bright side: far fewer idiots were hired

* on the dark side: far fewer newbies were hired and trained on the job

* I got fewer calls trying to poach me, and lower offers for London jobs

* I faced a lot of competition from other folk starting their own agencies after leaving a failing startup

The biggest problem was faced by complete newbies or folk still finding their feet — since there were far more experienced folk around in the job market. And they got hired first.

Advice for developers who want to insulate themselves:

* If you're working now save money. Money gives you options.

* Be good at your job.

* Understand how to communicate to third parties that you are good at your job.

* Stop thinking that all work outside of the non-VC funded world is dull an uninteresting. It isn't.

* Have connections outside of the startup echo chamber.

* Live, or be willing to move to, locations that aren't flooded by hundreds of people just like you.


Jobs for developers/designers were hard to come by in Dublin immediately after the bubble, even for people like me who had experience. Ended up moving to London for two years to work in a different field of IT. A complete waste of time, hated the job, but I needed to pay the bills. Things bottomed out by 2003 and I came back to Dublin in 2004, have been working ever since.


I had previously moved from San Diego to the mountains of Central Arizona - no problems finding good remote work before the bubble burst.

Afterwords there was not much work for a short while until I took a 6 month development gig (writing a Sharepoint clone) for a company in India at a not very high consulting rate, but by the time I was done the job market was better for remote workers.


My second dot-com (in NYC) almost bit the dust in 2001 after bunches of layoffs, but management incredibly figured out how to make it through another five-ish years.

The thing that stands out to me the most about that period in time was how flat it was. No significant pay raises, no new hires, nobody leaving (where wasn't really anywhere decent to go). The team and the work fortunately stayed interesting.

Take that for what it's worth - I'm just one data point. Also, the last couple years have been too good to us in our industry, but I don't think it's anything like the absurdity of the late 90's, so I would be surprised if there was a crash that hit as hard.

Also, to echo what others here have said, we didn't know we had it so good until we suddenly didn't. If you're in your first job in a fabulously-funded tech startup with bizarro perks, brace yourself that it may not be normal. :) But appreciate it while you've got it!


... And at this point "Internet" companies are far more ingrained in the mainstream economy than they were in 2000. There will be some companies that will be hit, but things won't be as bad as it was when nearly anything net related took a hit.


I worked for two companies in 2000-2002 that went belly up. I was lucky to not be unemployed too long during that time, but it just reinforced that I was lucky to even have a job. I didn't even think about negotiating an offer until recently. That mind set put me back so much that when I became a manager a few years ago, I saw that the company I was working for (one of the big tech companies) was paying fresh college graduates more than I was getting.

I also remember a few times where I was interviewing tech writers, and they would beg me for the job - they had been out of work for 2-3 years.

I don't think it will get that bad if the current cycle bursts. There's a lot more tech companies out there that are making money, and even if/when the VC money dries up there will be some jobs.


I think the main concern nowadays is that the "actual money" being made by "real" companies is through advertising, and much of that advertising revenue comes from startups doing large ad buys with VC money. I worry that if the VC money dries up, then a lot of seemingly safe business models will also dry up.


I never thought of that before—as much as I'd love to get rid of this advertising-centric business model, I wouldn't want to go through another crash.


Super terrible. First off, there were far fewer tech companies total. Worse, the internet was still immature. Which had a couple consequences.

One, there were just fewer jobs and yet a lot of people competing for them, so it was especially hard if you didn't have a strong resume. Second, remote work was uncommon so if you didn't already live in a tech hub city you were pretty screwed. Third, performing the hiring process via the internet was iffy. Going through the process back then often involved stuffing a printed resume into an envelope and mailing it somewhere along with a printed cover letter, then waiting for a return letter or a phone call (which will probably just go to your voicemail or answering machine).

Granted, the tech field was a little better but not much, and not universally.


It was ridiculous. Newspaper classifieds were still kind of a thing at the time, and I vividly recall section 110 (computer jobs) disappearing entirely for over a year. During the bleakest period the few local businesses that were hiring were asking for insane skill combinations, a decade or more of prior experience, and offering the kind of wages you'd expect working in fast food. The tech support call center I was working at at the time had dudes with advanced degrees and many years of industry experience working 2nd shift just to have some cash coming in. Local news outlets were running stories about senior network admins and programmers with advanced degrees leaving the industry entirely to start up landscaping businesses and the like. It got pretty grim.


Really bad for a fresh graduate in the UK. I was unemployed for a year and a half (I did get a couple of temporary low paid jobs to get some experience). There were jobs around and I got interviews, but in the end they all ended up saying "not enough experience".


Yes. I left university in 2001 and took a 15-hour minimum wage job doing IT support for a university. The first year, I didn't earn enough to pay tax.

Problem is, I think the words "IT support" and "academia" were offputting to future employers; possibly quite rightly, as I definitely picked up bad habits which were hard to shake off. (Working in a team, mentoring/pair programming, working together on the same version control repository? We never had enough staff for any kind of collaboration.)

I sometimes feel like I'm exactly the wrong age: a few months too young to vote in 1997; the government I didn't vote for brought in tuition fees in 1998 and my year was the first to pay them. Always interested in computers as a kid and had never thought about the money but when I started studying CS at the height of the boom everyone assumed I was in it to "get rich quick". Now I'm in my mid-30s and thinking about going back to university just as the government announces postgraduate funding for under-30s only.


I know what you mean about the age thing. I had been holding off buying a house until the bubble deflates. Now the government announce 20% discount for under 40's just three months after I turned 40. I would be damn pissed off about that had I not moved to Spain (where the economy isn't doing any better).


The earlier bust had a lot of fluff bursting from the bubble, but there were solid, growing companies as well. GoTo (later Overture, then a Yahoo purchase) was ramping up its pay-per-click ad model and several brick and mortar companies were still trying to gain a presence on the web, and were willing to pay for it. Google launched Adwords in October of 2000 and its growth since then needs no recap. Basically nascent companies that were ideas sans business plan fell by the way side, but there was still active investments being made and a growing ecosystem online. A lot of capital shifted into that ecosystem--track newspaper closures with Adwords' growth. Valuations took the biggest hit, but the work didn't.


My own personal 2 cents: I arrived to San Francisco in 1998, so I was there when things peaked. I got paid more money than was good for me at the time, and getting a job was easy. Getting funding was even easier. I worked for an ASP at the time and on many projects. Some ideas were so silly it beggared belief how they had seven figures in funding and unsurprisingly most failed. But if you had an idea that included that word internet somewhere in the business plan - you got funded. If you could hold a mouse and do a "Hello World" you could get hired. I was also hooked up with one of the larger party organisers in town at the time, working on their web site and music streaming app (though it was all 'website' then, not apps), I was also producing music, playing big parties. I enjoyed myself fully.

So, geeks were given millions and felt like they had to impress the investors. So if the competition moved to a new office, they moved to even bigger ones. If the CEO was driving a Porsche, they got a Ferrari. So you could tell a tech startup was in a building by the multiple Porsches parked outside. The same principle applied after the crash - you could tell a tech startup is crashing due to the multiple people coming out with cardboard boxes. Every day another startup next to us did the cardboard box dance. Our turn came as well of course. My next job lasted 2 months as that company tanked as well, and as a new recruit I was first to be let go. Next company lasted a bit longer but at that time the city was changed. Before the crash I had to park my car at the other side of town and take a taxi to it when I needed it. After the crash I could park everywhere I wanted and at any time. After the crash I had periods between jobs that I couldn't find any work. At all, but I was lucky (and good enough) to ultimately get a good gig. During those dead periods though I had to leave the City which was probably the hardest thing for me as I really like San Francisco.

I don't regret a thing though. And I think the crash ultimately did good to the industry. It was too much before it happened. A strange gold rush with a total lack of common sense. The waves to follow are somewhat more sensible.


I experienced suddenly loosing my job, wife and house all in a few weeks time during the dot-com crash in 2001. I went from managing a group of 16 web developers in a large international ISP to do web server sysop. I was lucky. There were 45 others that applied for the same job, and I was really just a university dropout. In 1997 I contacted 7 different companies just for fun to see if they would offer me a job. They all offered me jobs. One guy offered me a job in less than 5 minutes without knowing anything about me, except that I knew how to write html and cgi scripts. It was simply to easy to get a job back then.

Later I went on to finish a masters degree in computer science and have two more kids.


Honestly, I barely noticed. Probably because although I was a software developer, I wasn't a web developer. The biggest impact on me was that my retention bonus went away. Because the company didn't want to lose devs due to the dot-com boom draining them away, my company paid a bonus in each paycheck to some developers to entice them to stay. Then sometime around 2003/2004 they realized they didn't need to pay it anymore and stopped the program.

Besides that, I never really noticed the crash. Hiring was just as difficult since the average unemployed web dev didn't do C++ and machine control, so the glut of developers didn't really help us.


Every time I hear about this, I think about how much of a mistake I made not getting my associate's in '97 and heading to the bay. I, too, graduated into the crash in 2001, but I was lucky because I had an independent study with a professor who referred me to his friend who was hiring.

Now, while it was terrible for B2C, government consulting was booming. It wasn't the sexiest of work, but it was a good four years of my life.

I just wonder what would have happened if I could have grabbed the money and then go to school during the crash instead... Perhaps it wouldn't have made a difference.


I also started programming after the bust. This discussion reminds me of an a16z deck I saw a while ago... (http://a16z.com/2014/10/28/mobile-is-eating-the-world/). As people are demanding their Wells Fargo account on their iPhone, what we now call 'tech' has penetrated far enough now to be partly independent of the VCs, so a funding cycle will not mean the total destruction of all careers which were narrowly iOS.


I was just graduating 6 months before the crash. I had a job lined up designing cable modem chips for Intel. They gave me 2.5 months salary to not show up. I sent out resumes for a while, but no bites. A friend of mine sent out 2,200 resumes and did find one bite after a while. It was pretty tough, but I picked up some books and learned some new skills. Eventually I found some freelancing projects through a friend. I was able to travel around the world for a bit. I eventually found a full time position using my new skills.


As somebody who hired developers at that time, it was far different from today. You could put a job listing up on Craigslist and have an inbox full of 100+ developers, many of whom had great resumes at name brand companies, who were willing to work for a few grand a month. Today it takes $100k+/year to get good people and even that isn't enough. You have to give them a reason beyond money to pick you over all of the other offers they are getting. They didn't care back then, as long as you could pay them.


Wiped me out. And chances of a recovery are `nil` at this point :/


what happened?


Late December 2000, 2nd and Folsom in SF was completely full of BizDev types talking into their cell phones.

Around April 2001, pink slip parties were still happening, but people were getting nervous. VC funding had completely shut off, I think.

Late December 2001, 2nd and Folsom -- tumbleweeds and homeless people.

Recruiters went from being suckups to being sorta mean. They never liked us in the first place. Interviews became brutal. The best way to survive was learning a little business and knowing the difference between a cost and a revenue center.


My experience running my own small consulting company was actually positive. In the late 90's I thought I was a loser since nobody was handing me seven-figure cheques. In hindsite, the stuff I worked on was solid and maybe better than the flashy dot-coms. By focusing on business value rather than what was fashionable gained us increasing revenues year after year.

2008-9 was actually worse... that was the first decline in revenues and it combined with changing climate toward outsourcing with our government clients.


In my version of the world; consultants do better when the economy is down. Because 'big companies' let people go; but work still needs to be done so they hire consultants / consulting firms.

In US companies; this shift looks good on the balance sheets and helps stock prices. Because employee cost is a different line item than consultant costs.

I believe the economy is picking up when my business takes a hit.

[All said with the caveat that my interpretation of events could be completely wrong]


Yes, this was definitely my experience in the 2000-2003 timeframe, but the catch was you had to have deep experience to sell yourself as a consultant (thus new grads got purged instead). But yes, many with enough experience to go the consultant route who knew how to sell themselves did well when the rest of the economy was in the gutter for the reasons you explain above.


Speaking of The Bubble, there's a documentary on YouTube filmed shortly after/during the burst. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EsVpNB2Lv3U

At one point you see these things, pink slip parties.. fascinating stuff. http://www.investopedia.com/terms/p/pink-slip-party.asp

Anyway, we're not in a bubble, so don't worry. :)


As I recall, talented people were still paid well in 2002, it was just not as hard to find them.

Also, the "dot com bubble" makes it sound like it happened all of the sudden. Lots of smart people thought things were fishy by 1998. By 2000 everyone was convinced. Just because some people are talking bubble now doesn't mean things are going to fall apart next month. Make hay while the sun shines. And be careful about car leases and mortgages.


It seems that by the time a career path / financial instrument is widely talked about as a "lifestyle", it's time to get out.

1999: "The dot-com lifestyle", everyone is an HTML/Flash developer. 2005: Flipping houses, adjustable mortgages - Mini Donald Trumps abound.

2015 seems to be lining up to be an energy industry crash.


> Make hay while the sun shines.

Get in, while the gettin's good


Out of work for 9 months, hired at 1/2 the salary (admittedly it was from inflated Bay Area wage to New Mexico wage) at a crap company that was super stressful.

I was dumb, had a couple of options to jump ship from the place that laid me off, and I didn't take them as I was insistent on moving to NM where my girlfriend was in grad school.

Shoulda stayed in the Bay Area. Rule of thumb: if something smells fishy about your current job: start looking asap.


It was definitely an employer's market. You could look for people with five or more years of experience in exactly the market and technologies you required.

For example, a job posting looked something like 'Five to seven years of experience building hospitality services using Java Servlets and Oracle Databases.' They would get dozens of qualified resumes and could hire someone for significantly less their previous salary.


Having only a years experience at the time, it wasnt possible to find anything, so I spent two years doing non development jobs ( data entry, then a year on a helpdesk ).

In a way it was good, as when I went back, I no longer did java.

(Edit): 6 months unsuccessful job hunting for dev roles, then after money ran out, back to home town and living in a place my mother owned and taking any job I could.


What was it like? It was horrible. My experience was very lucky, but it was horrendous to see all of one's friends losing their jobs and scrambling. People who did get new jobs frequently took shitty jobs that set their careers back a few years. If you did manage to get something new in 2001 you were frequently locked in for some years.

I have been continuously employed or have had substantial contracting since 1999 (almost all regular employment, except for no more than a total of 12 months of various freelance).

I can only guess why, but it is probably some combination of:

1. When the layoffs came, I was in the non-laid-off remnant, probably because I always situated myself to know how everything worked, soup-to-nuts: code, databases, servers, etc.

2. Constant re-education, and willingness to use languages and tools I considered to have technical deficits (e.g., ColdFusion).

3. Constant teaching. Was always teaching Java or, later, Ruby in the evenings. Stayed sharp.

4. Constant networking. Very important -> I networked both at the tech level and at the business level. Keeping in touch with VPs of marketing and business development meant that when their cohort was looking for devs, the business-side VPs would think of me. Techie-to-techie referrals were nil.

5. Maturity. Was recruited into an executive position in 2002 perhaps because of attitude + tech skills.


It definitely made my lack of a degree all the more painful. I had enough technical chops to get the job once in the interview, but getting the interview was the hard part. I have a pretty diverse skill set which helped land some jobs that I'm sure they couldn't find anybody else for, e.g. windows 9x device drivers.


I knew a guy who did a year-long, very expensive program in "IT". He said that they did "some" programming, and by the end reported that they were "just getting into arrays".

So...yeah.... if people like that were getting top salaries, then things were a bit crazy.


I was fed up with college in the summer of 1998. I was tired of a computer science degree program which required classes in COBOL and IBM 370 assembler. So, I went home to get an associate's degree and start earning some of that hot dot-com dough. By the Spring of 1999, I was looking for my first programming job with another year to go on my two-year degree.

That job search took months. Without a degree or professional experience, I didn't hear back from anyone. Which really stunk, because back then you had to fax your resume and my local Kinko's charged something like a buck a page. I was stocking the sci-fi section at Borders and reading computer books at night.

There was nothing like today's open source community, no sites like Github. It you couldn't point to a commercial product you built, you had no business claiming you could program. Recruiters wouldn't even talk to me.

I got a job at a company that hired pretty much anyone and sent them to a two-week BASIC course and made them web programmers. Literally, the guy who sat next to me drove limos and had zero exposure to programming before taking the job. But they could bill for his time by the hour, so...great! You can read a bit about my story and the technologies I worked with there in my three-part blog series "Pick is a living fossil of computer history" https://davidmichaelross.com/blog/a-living-fossil-of-compute...

Once I took that job doing Pick, I heard from recruiters at least once a week...for Pick jobs. Again, unless you had a job with a certain technology, you couldn't get a job with that technology, because there were 20 other people with more experience willing to work for the same crappy entry-level wages.

The early 2000s were much the same until I dropped $1000 of my own money on a Java certification and suddenly I was getting calls about Java positions all day long.

My advice? I hate telling people to build up a Github profile because not everyone has the luxury of coding in their spare time. But that's one of the most visible things you can do to prove your knowledge of different technologies. Be glad you have it, and use the heck out of it.

Save up money so you can go for months without a programmer's salary. You might need to.

Accept that you might have to take a job that's not very interesting of glamorous. But never take a job in a technology as old as your parents.


My colleagues across the hall at my old job who did all the Delphi maintenance used to tell Pick war stories from _their_ first job. They chuckled when I showed them Couchbase....


I went through a dry patch in the beginning of 2002 that lasted until March. I then got a job working for a company that was acquired by Oracle 4 years later. I've never had a problem finding work since.


I entered the job market at 19 years old in 1998.

I did what's now called DevOps, automating server and code deployment, monitoring, etc. I could do no wrong. Got promoted, ran a team before I could buy a drink. Got treated like a rockstar with every role I chose to take. People needed to scale and I knew how to do it without hiring a room full of network admins. Serious stock options. My compensation felt like it was following Moore's Law.

The startup I worked at failed. My friends, colleagues, former managers, almost entire network all got kicked to the curb around the same time. Recruiters dropped off the face of the earth. There was no one out there to reach out to.

I collected unemployment for a few months.

I ended up taking a basic IT admin job for a drug trial company at about 60% my salary. A friend of mine landed at a small business Windows IT consulting shop with a bonus structure I could kill, so I interviewed there. I ended up as a local field engineer driving around to different small business clients fixing windows desktops and printers, but with an extra hours bonus structure that had me back up to my previous salary in a couple of years.

In short, I went from a Unix/Linux rockstar to Windows network guy. Now I own my own language learning business and I'm back doing part time DevOps consulting (what's old is new again). I bill out at $225/hr because people want to scale again. It's nuts because just a few short years ago there wasn't a company on this earth that would touch me for $30/hr.

How does it relate to now? I just spent the past two weeks consulting at a couple of startups, including directly for a startup accelerator and wow, yeah. It's the same vibe.

I got back on my feet. Most of my friends did too. I had to fix Windows XP desktops for pipe supply companies and law firms for a while. I had to launch my own non-sexy business to really get out of it. Now my tech skill set and interest happened to be popular again, so I'm taking advantage of that and doing some consulting. I don't expect the tech stuff to last, so I prefer to look at my own small language business as my long-term gig. I don't trust this.

My advice... Industries go through ups and downs, so you will experience it at some point. I survived by becoming OK with helping businesses outside of the bubble. I built my own more or less non-tech business on the side that grew to where I can live off of that if I need to. I advise maintaining a good network across several industries. If the tech startups bubble pops, you can write code for industrial robot control panels or billing systems. Network in industries outside your comfort zone. My sister-in-law wrote systems on contract for a hotel. A friend of mine works on enterprise tax software for Mexican companies. If the bubble pops, have a diverse network to reach out to. The front door's going to be jammed with resumes from people like you, all at once.


Let's just say it became way more difficult to get $5k gigs building Flash banner ads.


there was a pretty good post about it on quora a while ago

http://www.quora.com/What-was-Silicon-Valley-like-after-the-...


Can anyone elaborate on the experience that Product Managers had in these times?

Thanks!


> the job-market I've always experienced has been one of ever-increasing demand

Believe me that can change. In a heartbeat. February 2000 and February 2002 were like night and day. BSCS's become much more important as opposed to just experience. You will see more "BSCS required" in ads. Networking - people who stayed in touch with former coworkers etc. came out ahead.

My career started in 1996. I had very little college, but knew Unix decently enough to be a sysadmin. I started at a small ISP, followed by a dot-com startup, followed by another dot-com startup which I was at in 2000.

I thought technology stock price/earnings ratios were at historic highs in early 2000 and was expecting a correction. I expected the crash, although it was bigger and longer than I expected. I thought getting some Fortune 500 experience on my resume would be a good idea. By the end of the year I was employed at a consulting company that placed me as a Unix sysadmin at a Fortune 100 financial company. Actually within a few months the company laid off internal staff and told the consulting company (which was pretty integrated into the staff) that they wanted some consultants cut, which I (barely) survived.

One mantra of our large consulting company is we never had to worry about the next assignment and money, but that was not true. During good times, they made the lion's share of the consulting fees, during bad times they fired anyone who could not be placed almost immediately. So the security they promised did not exist. I had time clocked in at a good placement though so I was safe.

I also had my own startup side project which I killed when the stock market crashed. It was kind of like a Geocities for video games. It had begun to get traction. It was very dependent on disk space, and I had been thinking of spending tens of thousands of dollars of my own money, not just on some servers but on disk arrays. Happily I never bought them. I went with the times - more focused on traction and "eyeballs" than revenue (although I made some revenue from beyond.com which sold software online, it was a public company whose shares went from over $600 to less than $1 and then bankruptcy).

Nowadays my efforts are more focused on bootstrapping and getting revenue early. It's worth it for an angel or VC to goad you on to spending money and chasing traction. They have dozens of bets and only need a few to pay off, you on the other hand might waste years of your life. I spent little money (colo'd at my old ISP), and a year of time, and learned programming etc. better so it wasn't bad.

I visited the Bay Area in late 2000 and had a job offer also, luckily for me I did not pack up and move there.

In terms of insulation: * A BSCS helps * Having lots of money saved helps * Money saved does not mean 95% invested in Rackspace stock, since stocks can go down as well as up * Keeping in contact with former coworkers helps * Having some clean, well architected, "Code Complete" proper code on Github helps * Having a side income from your own personal web sites, apps etc. helps

Another thing - right now the Bay Area is hot and other US cities are not as much. But from what I heard from friends, things were bad in the Bay Area in 2000-2001, whereas in LA, New York, Chicago, Boston, DC etc., they were not hit as hard by the tech crash.

Also, some people I knew were buying tech stocks on the margin in 2000 or even options (10% margin). They lost a lot. Also, unemployed people can eat through their savings very quickly. But there is no better insulation than having a lot of money saved up.


Absolutely brutal.

I was a Windows developer at the time and I remember a co-worker of mine left to join a startup and make it big. He started work at 8am, was downsized by 2pm and the company shut-down 2 days later. I worked with another guy who was going back to school for a certification, one of those early for profit schools, they had apparently invested much of their profit and when the market crashed, simply fired everybody in the middle of a semester, locked the doors and walked away.

Many of my peers moved back in with their parents and for lack of a job, simply went back to school and got their M.S.'s hoping to ride it out. I know a number of people who left the field entirely and started all kinds of random businesses: personalized woodburnt gift "cards", home-made chocolates, etc.

The company I worked for ended up simply running out of money, nobody had liquid capital to do anything like buy things or be our customer. We simply stopped getting paid.

I left, and through some connections, found a paid internship in a different career to make ends meet, on weekends I refurbished people's decks and delivered rides to kids' birthday parties. Through a twist of fate, my wife was in a weird immigration status and couldn't work (in those days you needed a work authorization card while waiting for your green card and the government was way behind in keeping them up-to-date). We were literally eating Ramen and Taco Bell for most of our food. I grew up pretty poor so it wasn't too much of a downslope, but it was pretty distressing for my wife. One pay period, my wife accidentally threw away my pay check in the trash, we wouldn't have been able to make rent and would have ended up homeless if I hadn't gotten my company to void it and issue me a new one.

Then 9/11 hit and things got worse. Immigration processes absolutely ground to a halt. My wife lost a job she had been able to get on her work authorization papers when they expired and the Immigration service forgot to issue her a new one. I remember an exorbitant anniversary dinner we went to at Olive Garden. We saved up for 2 months for it. It cost about $35 for the two of us. We asked for another basket of all you can eat breadsticks and a pasta refill then took the entire basket and all the pasta home with us so we could split it on another meal.

The place I was working at was delighted with me, and as a reward offered me another paid internship. Nonplussed with their generous offer, I applied to something like 300 other open positions, but the requirements had become insane: 5-7 years experience in fields that hadn't even existed 2 years prior, for entry-level positions paying less than I was making at my internship! I stayed at my internship. When it expired they offered to convert me to full-time at the same rate, but with benefits now being taken out I was bringing home less money!

It was about this time that lots of the courtesy in the hiring process disappeared, things like calling back applicants to let them know their application had been reviewed but they had decided to go another direction, that sort of thing, simply stopped.

On top of all of this, outsourcing was becoming a thing, and tons of jobs were moving to India. Many major employers simply stopped hiring or fired all their technical staff and moved everything overseas. For most of them, it didn't really work out, but it had a major impact in the number of openings and the requirements for the openings. You literally didn't know if your job would exist from one-week to the next.

For me, things started to turn around some time in 2003-2004. My wife finally was able to work after getting her Green Card, my internship converted into a full-time position with better pay, cost to borrow money was stupid low (at the time) with bizarre favorable finance rules (that later got the country in trouble) and we bought a house and started building equity.

The housing market became insane and we sold our house, 2 years after buying it, for a 40% profit. In the meanwhile both of our careers had turn into actual careers and not desperate grabbing at scraps. Outsourcing started to show major weaknesses.

A lot of the excesses of the dot-com bubble and pre 9-11 were carefully scrutinized. Dumb shit like starting a company and spending half the investment money on lava lamps were understood to be a bad thing now. Actually needing a business plan became important. It stopped being possible for 19 year olds with 2 years of experience and a 9 page resume made up of fabrications to get hired into mature startups as directors of engineering and paid $200k salaries. Perl started to fall out of favor as a major force in the development of the Web and Java shops started to become a major "thing".


The Bay Area was hit hard, and startups stopped being sexy. Oddly enough, I'd say that it was a great time to make money if (a) you'd made the connections before the bust, (b) you were building something of substance like Google, and (c) you were willing to play a longer game. The upshot of a time when no one's getting rich quick is that there's more audience for get-rich-slowly strategies. Technical excellence tends to produce get-rich-slowly paths; it's viral marketing bullshit (and overhiring) that's behind many of these rapid-growth get-rich-quick startups. When people lose faith in charismatic nonsense, that's the time to drive hard with true excellence and lower-risk get-rich-slowly strategies. If your goal is excellence, you don't want your industry to be "sexy", because that brings in poseurs with zero competence but superior social skill, and they end up (a) getting all the resources, and (b) humiliating the whole industry when they fail.

Think also about Paul Graham. Y Combinator is a case of him monetizing a reputation that he earned (and, yes, he actually earned it) by standing up for startups in the depths of winter. I, for one, plan on making a strong and vocal case for Real Technology (it shall rise again) after the Snapchat/Clinkle frivolity blows up and humiliates the current cool kids. Being able to explain why shit went to hell ca. 2017, as it will, is going to help us make a case for building something better in the next iteration.

That said, it was a bad time for entry-level salaries, and graduate school admissions were ridiculously competitive in 2003-05. If you had a $60k offer (that'd be $72k today) you were in the top third of CS graduates, and non-STEM graduates were lucky to see $40k. I'd guess that the more experienced engineers didn't see a massive salary drop (maybe 10-20% at worst) but it wasn't a good time for job hopping. Certainly that feeling that one could get a 20% raise, just by walking across the street, died out.

It was a good labor market for finance because there was a lot of cheap talent. First-year Goldman Sachs analysts were only in the $60-65k range. (Bonuses could be 50-100%, but they were also working 60-110 hours per week.) Undergrad quants (that's rare but the positions exist) were generally getting $80-90k offers.

People expected housing prices to come down, but they didn't decline by much because there was this other bubble that was building at the same time...


graduate school admissions were ridiculously competitive in 2003-05

This was true in my experience as well. I applied to grad school for 2004 and heard lots of crazy stories from programs about high applicant numbers and quality. I ended up at a "hidden gem" versus a top program. A couple years later I re-applied to PhD programs and got accepted everywhere.

In today's markets it's a little hard to believe that people would be flocking to grad school due to a poor industry market, but it seemed to be the case across science and engineering fields. I'm sure that influx also made the bad academic job market even worse, unfortunately.


> That said, it was a bad time for entry-level salaries, and graduate school admissions were ridiculously competitive in 2003-05. If you had a $60k offer (that'd be $72k today) you were in the top third of CS graduates, and non-STEM graduates were lucky to see $40k.

Like today, salaries in the Valley were about 2x salaries elsewhere. In the Midwest, I saw entry level devs getting $25-30k until 2002 or 2003.


One of the most popular site that came into existence during the crisis was called fuckedcompanies.com which published layoff memos from all the companies. It wad that bad.


I was a Unix sysadmin and in 2000 I could land a 100k job with 6 skills. 2002 I considered myself lucky if I could land a 60k job with 10 new skills. Since then every year I made it a point to tackle 4-5 new technologies. So far it has served me well.


2000 I thought IT was the king. 2002 I knew business was the king.




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