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Wednesday, January 22nd, 2003

simmer on this, buddy

Last week, Frank (not his real name) took a job for minimum wage. A fortysomething Web engineer who has worked for some of the biggest dot-coms, Frank had come to expect that his nearly 100K-a-year income was assured. But now that he’s been out of work for a year, he simmers with suppressed energy… So he took the job with the teenage-level pay, even though he considers it a humiliation. An exploitation.

Well, life sucks all over, Frank. You bled the system as hard and fast as you could, changing jobs five times in as many years, demanding a $10,000 raise every time, ultimately tripling your salary over the boom years. You became an “impulse shopper” and traveled the world on your big dot-com paychecks. You bought a house in San Francisco?! And today you’re making $9/hr.

I don’t suppose you see the connection between overpriced employees and failing companies, do you?

I think a little loyalty might have helped out. It’s difficult to become indispensible when you’re still figuring out where the coffee machine is.

Before the crash, new hires were often paid more than senior employees — not because the new folks were more valuable to the company, but because the market forced adjustments to compensation packages. In other words, thanks to job-hopping mercenaries like Frank, companies had to pay more to get less-skilled employees, and the senior staff sometimes got cheated in this process.

Of course, lots of them still have jobs. “Fate, it seems, is not without a sense of irony.”

In our parents’ generation, a typical career path spanned exactly one employer. Young and multiply-pierced dot-commers laughed at the notion of the gold watch, not only because it’s a pretty pitiful token for 50 years’ hard work, but at the base concept that anyone should have to work for 50 years in the first place. Personally, I feel the same way — I don’t plan to work for 50 years. But the retirement horizon is a lot farther away than it was three years ago, and although I could blame faceless entities like “the economy,” I’d rather blame people like Frank. If he and his ilk had stuck with one company, and built some products with value, maybe the crash wouldn’t have happened.

OK, wait, I take that back — we were doomed from the start. Too many people were trying to cash out for the industry to sustain itself. And I’m sure no big-city newspaper reporter would get suckered by a venture capitalist’s sob story, so Frank has to bear the brunt of my wrath. Honestly, I’m impressed he stuck with the industry after the bottom dropped out. I’d think most long-term-unemployed folks would bail out of this sinking ship, into different (and higher-paying) jobs in other sectors.

posted to channel: Personal
updated: 2004-02-22 14:49:16

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