Features Mar 28, 2018 at 4:00 am

Down and out in the disruption industry.

Illustrations by Lovatto


Interesting insight. Good read.
I feel so validated and seen with this tale of caution, so thanks for putting it out there Jon. I too have put tech in my rearview and bounced to preserve my sanity and sense of self-worth. It really isn’t the world it appears to be from the outside.
Tech is awful. And the biggest problem are the people. When I started in what I do, it was all the freaks & losers. Now, it's filled with cool kids. Just awful. You either work with privileged children convinced of their pure genius or miserable lifers (who tend to accumulate at huge companies that pay really well while they suffocate you). It's quite difficult to find work with professional adults who you don't mind spending the day with. And that doesn't even get into the bosses. Yeesh.

Many years ago, I made the decision between tech and the restaurant/bar scene. I totally regret my choice. Don't to it kids! Tech will suck your soul out. Unless you are one of the already soulless. Then go ahead, you'll fit right in.
"Oh, you hate your job? Why didn't you say so? There's a support group for that. It's called EVERYBODY, and they meet at the bar."
Interesting, good read, echos a bit of the dysphoria at the dot com crash; don't worry, or do worry, this Seattle bubble will pop, garan-teed...
I'm currently working in tech, toward the bottom of the totem pole, as a contractor. It's the pits, but I don't know that I could take up another job where I have to interact with customers. Hell is other people, as they say.

I envy you that you received severance in two separate layoffs, I've never been offered it, let alone "more than fair" severance.

Thank you for sharing your experience. With a layoff very likely in my near future, I've been rethinking my next step as well. I'm pretty sure I'm working at the same place you're alluding to with the malaise-emitting lifers who consider contractors less than human, but I guess there's some comfort in knowing it's not just my department, it's more like the whole industry. Yes, "comforting" is surely the word...
Why did the "pivot" have to mean laying off hella large numbers of people?
Very much my story too. I left healthcare to go into tech because my field of healthcare was a dead end street both professionally and personally. Salaries were almost laughable and really, no promise of ever being much better. When I moved to Seattle in 1987 from a job in Texas, I actually had to take a 30% pay cut. So, after 24 years in a laboratory, I went back to school to study IT. Got a job with a broadband provider, taking another pay cut thinking rewards would be coming. Working environment much the same as described in story. Watch what you say and to whom you say it. Then the dot com bubble popped, the company folded, and I was out of work after only 18 months (whereas healthcare is almost recession-proof - never had to deal with layoffs before). Biggest mistake, though, was leaving healthcare for tech being 40+. Big, big mistake. Anyone 40+ in tech in 1998 was either in the higher echelons of management, or they'd retired as millionaires. Went on many, many pointless interviews and never saw one gray hair ever - be it interviewer or visible workforce. I didn't know it at the time because I didn't feel it at the time, and regardless of my skills and recommendations, I was simply too old. Got very disillusioned with finding success in the tech world and after a couple of rare part-term temp jobs, I left the industry.
Tech - accomplishing nothing with drugged up permachildren pretending to be success stories, drugged up permachildren failing at accomplishing something with a programming language, or accomplishing something while drugged up permachildren sit around, hem, haw, lie, push back deadlines, and accomplish nothing on your back.

Or, my favorite lunch, pretending to be a developer while hemming, hawing, lying, and waiting on 40 Indians to do it.

Or just doing it yourself.
Couldn't read all of it. Hurt too much. Thought I had written it. Recruiters are bad people. Or just people that take money to do bad things.

@7. It doesn't. It really means "We don't have a fucking plan and never did."
Beforehand, our guru interviewed everyone on the team, and she confessed to me that she could tell I was "scarred" from my previous tech experience.

That's called a cold read. Of course she could "tell". (pro tip: she couldn't, she played the odds).

I'd always heard growing up that if you make yourself indispensable

This is true. But think about your background and what skills you brought. Apparently they could be learned from waiting tables and being generally not-an-idiot. How unique do you think that skillset is?

All that aside, here's my advice to anyone, in any industry: When an employer says the value you, ask them to open up the checkbook and describe exactly how much they value you. This ain't a marriage, you're both only it because you think you're getting more money out of the relationship than you fairly deserve. Push em.

After that, everyone should read this article: On The Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs
Any other Porch alumni know exactly who the startup was when they started reading?
Wait wait wait. WHAT WAS THE "WE NEED TO TALK" TEXT ABOUT???!! Did I miss it? You can't just put that down and leave it there!
I worked for a large software company in the 90’s and what surprised me most was these fabled nerds were mostly monsters. Misogynistic, maladjusted, but incredibly smart assholes. Where was the loveable underdog I wanted to root for? Not in my fucking group.

These days tech is much more replete with the jock stereotype that would have been a business or law major 20 years ago. An environment dominated by men simply chasing the money is not a healthy one, but I almost wonder how much worse it’d be if these guys (and it’s guys) never properly socialized themselves like the basement freaks I used to work with.
@12 Thanks for the link.
Wow, Jon and others! Thanks for the hi-tech warnings. I'm with @14 chilifries--you already had me cyber-scared with "We need to talk."
@12 sporty: I thank you, too, for the link. Wow. After having wasted about half of my lifetime enduring bullshit "jobs" (see under "Shamefully Below Poverty Level, High Stress, No Benefits or Morale, and Rapid Turnover Upon Getting Pushed in the Wrong Direction Despite a College Degree--Again") I am still hoping (delusional?) to still pursue my passion upon finishing an online program in my professional field.
One thing I forgot to mention in my earlier post was that after the dot com collapse, nobody was hiring nothing for quite a long time. And when an opening did occur, it was filled before lunchtime - by somebody's cousin or nephew or somebody's army buddy. I remember an extraordinarily frank HR person telling me in 2002 that she had just placed an ad on the Monster Board (remember that?) at noon and by 5 PM she had 450 "good" resumes. Maybe high tech, like show business (until you make a name for yourself), feels comfortable treating people like shit-on-a-stick because they know they have a vast pool of people just waiting to take your place. In other words, no matter how good you are, you are a dime a dozen. I'm convinced that those people who keep their excellent-salaried jobs at Amazon or wherever have incredible luck and/or fantastic schmooze and butt-licking skills. That's rather glib, isn't it? Let's just say from my personal experience, tech is not a meritocracy.
IT workers are definitely not immune to layoffs ...in fact, many entire departments are the first to go when IT is largely outsourced to AWS / Azure. I was fortunate to work for two software companies over 15+ years, but also got laid off twice—practically the norm among my colleagues (and I survived way more layoffs than the ones that got me). Having been in technical sales was both a boon & a bane ...the upside was very generous compensation in the form of base, bonus + commission + very generous benefits. We almost always made our sales goals & were doing rewarding—if stressful—work. On the flip side, when the parent company decided to cut costs, or when my other company was being sold to GE, those of us who were highly paid became convenient targets. Overall, I'm grateful for marketable skills I was able to acquire; or rather, that I had to learn in the course of my work—and which kept the work from ever getting stale or repetitious ...and for the incredible experience of traveling the world evangelizing & helping sell our software solutions. Not sure I ever want to go back to FTE tech work, and am now pursuing consulting based on the skills I learned & have continued to update. I strongly agree with the author's comments on networking, whether via LinkedIn, keeping in touch with former colleagues & reaching out to recruiters ...that is how most tech jobs are filled.
Just don't chase bubbles. Startups are very fun but very vulnerable.
Rather than making the goal "working for a tech company", make it your goal to get some tried and true technical skills* that you can offer to a wide variety of employers, not just the ersatz tech companies.

Article is a good read, and a lowball. I happen to know a few folks who have worked at a certain large tech employer in Seattle who resemble Job compared to the author.

* Human Resources, Advertising, those are not technical skills.
Is it just me or is anyone else kind of grossed out by the drawings of the finger nails in this article? I mean Jon is a straight dude, right? Straight dudes shouldn't have long fingernails/show white parts of their nails 'cause it's gross. Unless it's just a pinky nail and you have a coke addiction.
Well written and a good read for everyone who comes to tech from the "look at the fancy things techies have at work, their salaries and their contracts. I want this, too!". Which is, no matter what job or thing you are thriving for, a bad idea and the wrong way. It is like transforming into a woman because it seems you get laid more easily that way. The only thing you should thrive for is pursuing your own ideas, exploring the questions in your mind, diving into areas of interest that you can't stop thinking about. This will bring you the jobs and your fulfillment automatically. Make sure your life is adjustable, because when you chase dreams, you will have an exciting life, which means ups and downs. Don't move into a fancy apartment, unless you have a guaranteed paycheck for the rental period. Don't get a $80/month latest iPhone leasing whatsoever contract with T-Mobile, pay month-to-month and OWN your phone. Make sure you can easily cut costs, downscale your lifestyle, and, most important, have a peaceful life with a low income. You need money like your body needs salt. Too less is uncomfortable, too much will kill you.
@ 21:

The opening that the HR rep was telling me about was for a network engineer. I like the suggestion of just shutting up about it and learning all you can, but be aware of being taken advantage of. I know of people who have practically volunteered to get their foot in the industry. It's all part of the lure of a great salary and benefits, but if you enter the industry at a certain level, you'll probably be stuck there. Never heard of anyone going from $16/hr. to $150K a year - not at the same company no matter how many years.

#20 mentioned moving into consulting. I wish him/her great, good luck. I went back to school to get my Master's in International Business and part of the curriculum included a course and internship doing international business consulting.. I was really looking forward to the course because I thought consulting might be my gig too, but you couldn't take it until late into the program. It had prerequisites. Beforehand, I'd heard mixed reviews about the course. Three professors/instructors taught the course at my school. I'd hear, "Oh man, don't take it with him," a lot. Well the quarter finally came. My instructor was from Accenture. Some local businesses were looking for some free, fresh help with their respective dilemmas. We were told to choose three projects from a list of about nine recognizable companies (we'd be assigned one of the three) without knowing anything in advance about the issues, The course was not as exciting as I thought it would be. It was very hard work that required an enormous amount of time. That wasn't the problem. The problem was the resentment we could palpitate from employees working for the company we were trying to help. I guess I could understand that...a company in trouble...MBA candidates coming in suggesting stuff (but never suggesting staff reductions). Turned out to be a real cauldron of drama, and I found the experience very disappointing. Most of the people I met in consulting were straight up and honest, but there was pettiness and back-stabbing which I don't tolerate very well. I decided that maybe consulting wasn't for me after all. Trying to get along with people who don't want to be liked is exhausting and discouraging.
Worked at Porch. They have no idea what they are doing but dear Lord was the word disrupt thrown around a lot.
Silly me, I once thought getting laid off periodically was just part of living in Seattle.

I moved here after working in several other major cities and before the tech boom began (family issues here prompted the move). I'd never worked in a city before Seattle where layoffs seemed to be such a part of everyday life no matter what you did for a living. Almost everyone I met or spoke to about working here had experienced one or more layoffs in their lives (something I'd never encountered elsewhere; I was used to people work environments where people left on their own).

I didn't realize then that Seattle was a bellweather for what would become an entrenched nationwide phenomenon. I don't think what the writer experienced is confined to tech. I think it's just working in 21st century America has become.
Silly me, I once thought getting laid off periodically was just part of living in Seattle.

I moved here after working in several other major cities and before the tech boom began (family issues here prompted the move). I'd never worked in a city before Seattle where layoffs seemed to be such a part of everyday life no matter what you did for a living. Almost everyone I met or spoke to about working here had experienced one or more layoffs in their lives (something I'd never encountered elsewhere; I was used to work environments where people left on their own for something better).

I didn't realize then that Seattle was a bellweather for what would become an entrenched nationwide phenomenon. I don't think what the writer experienced is confined to tech. I think it's just what working in 21st century America has become.
The best part about this already AMAZING read are the comments. I thought you were trolling. But no: you are all for real. And maybe this article is, too. This is better/sadder than I thought. Wow.
Thank you so much for posting this amazing article! So true! I am really a tech-savvy with great love for code. Unfortunately, so many people are ruining this industry. The hiring process is totally absurd! I found consolation reading this article. I can't describe how much this article is super important. We, as tech workers have the power to build better workplaces. We should gather and decline companies that have absurd hiring process and help each other! If you really love tech and you don't do that only for the money - it is our responsibility to make this industry what we dream of! If you working in tech just for the money than you are useless. Let's fix it. Tech is the best thing happened to humanity. I dream that everybody will work on tech-related position and we will be able to make a better future with huge workforce!
As a long term die hard service industry employee, fuck you. You don’t mention at all the gender wage gap in the tech industry. I’m assuming you’re male, and I’m assuming a lot of the “luck” you had in the industry if because of that. You also don’t mention the bullshit tax breaks your bosses get. I was born and raised in Washington state and have watched these tech narcs treat the NW like their own private playground for too long. I cater your parties, and I keep a mental list of who acts the shittiest (Hulu is at the top of that list right now.) Your socially inept tech buddies routinely don’t tip, disrecpect female staff and patrons, can’t handle their alcohol, miss the toilet when they puke, etc. Yeah I’m envious of the money you make and the perks of your job, but I also know that I would learn more about the world drinking a couple beers after work with my dishwasher than I would in a year hanging out with you chuds. The service industry has a LOT of problems we need to fix, I get that, but we are hella winning the charisma department (and we’re better in bed.) Also, a word of professional advice: don’t half ass your side work on your last day dawg. It shows a lack of respect for your co-workers. Maybe that’s why no job wants to hang on to you. Please remind your friends to tip a dollar per drink
Oh, I am sorry. You took a chance and it hasn't worked out to your expectations. Life can be weird that way.
This article totally absorbed me, which is rare for any type of article I read. I almost felt like I was in your place. As a outsider to the Tech industry, I had no idea what the reality actually was. Thank you for the fascinating read.
@19: "Let's just say from my personal experience, tech is not a meritocracy."

Yeah, I was just thinking about this as I was walking into work this morning (hence why I'm back in the comments thread for this), and I wasn't sure exactly what sort of system it is, or what you'd call it. "Fellatiocracy" was the best term I could come up with.
Very interesting article. I am not in the space but have watched it for some time as an entrepreneur running a business for over 30 years. A few random thoughts:
- There are two kinds of companies in tech and elsewhere, those that are making money and those that are not. Avoid the latter unless the rewards if they succeed warrant it. Tech is full of winner take all companies and it is hard to disrupt and most start-ups fail. Amazon and Microsoft are in the former and you have a chance of survival if you perform and are liked. They don't have to worry about keeping the lights on and don't have investors breathing down their throat to stem the red ink. Start-ups are for those who either have a lot of savings, a room at mom and dad's house, and/or very low expenses. The chance of success is slim and the chance you will be shown the door high. The chance the company will make it is slim.
- At some point in time the job market corrects. Things get good enough, people take up the subject in colleges in large numbers, and the job market fills with qualified candidates and the space matures. Really, how many programmers are needed to keep Windows and Office updated? There are no regulatory barriers to working in IT. Just smarts and training. Everything, from construction to IT has cycles. The young don't remember the last crash. It will recur. It always does.
- Data travels the world free. If your job can be sent to Russia, Ukraine, India, Philippines or other developing countries with trained programmers, it will be so long as the pay spread is enough. My company has sent a portion of work abroad and the prices and product is excellent.
- How much time do we all really want to spend online or with tech and will it max out? I don't have the answer, but the premium for the space and the novelty will subside.

Don't dismiss the many companies that add value but are not in tech as ways to make a living and add value. And those in tech, don't forget that every company has tech needs and many employ a number of tech people who are treated as valued employees but are not drinking the Kool Aid of the tech world.

Good luck.
Most tech workers are engineers with degrees in computer science. If you just walk in off the street with no relevent skills, you can’t expect to have instant success.

Also, what he was doing before is a job. What he’s working at now is a career. It takes time to build a career. He’s doing well building his professional network though. In a couple of years if he keeps building his resume and skillset he will be doing quite well.

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