My birthday is coming up so I am thinking about the past a bit lately, and TechCrunch reminded me yesterday of this great video that came out a while back.
(Apparently it was removed for a period of time pending photo permission from some people in the video. You can find the links on the TechCrunch site if you want to know more.)
I love this video.
I was in tech through the first bubble, through the massive market down-swing (pseudo crash) after 911, and I think I have a pretty good grasp as to what being in tech really means. It really takes a certain kind of person to persist in the tech industry.
Tech is like living on the edge of a cliff. You get to experience all sorts of really cool things, you get to create those cool things!, but when the ground rumbles, you have a good chance of toppling right off the edge of that cliff. People who belong in tech are okay with that. Maybe not ‘happy’ about it, but it’s a reasonable risk for the return you get.
To wax metaphoric for a bit…
Being in tech is like driving a super hot, fully loaded, sports car to the red line. It’s a great ride, it’s fun, exciting, nerve-wracking, downright annoying, sometimes vicious, and generally entertaining… but at the end of the day, the car will eventually run out of gas. And then, there you are… toting your empty gas can, looking pitiful, being angry at yourself, as you stomp backwards a few miles to the last gas station that you saw. (Of course the catch is that usually it also happens that you have no cash in your pocket and have to work at the gas station to refill your tank, but that’s just part of the game.)
Eventually, if you’re persistent, you will get back to the car and be able to keep driving.
It makes me crazy when I hear from some of these kids (sorry guys, but you’re young) who are so utterly convinced that they are going to have a life-long stable career in the tech industry. That its going to provide them benefits for life. It makes me shudder to hear the words ‘stable field’ and ‘tech’ in the same sentence. The only thing stable about the tech field is that it’s unstable.
I blame the colleges honestly. I’ve been to them. I know professors, have listened to their lectures, and I think that they are part of the reason these kids are leaving college thinking that tech is stable. Most of those professors worked in tech when working in tech meant maintaining mainframes, doing hardware support, and building huge applications that were for their business. The meaning of ‘tech’ has evolved away from that. I can’t honestly think of a single person I know who has graduated in the last few years and writes down ‘maintain mainframes and provide great tech support’ as their life career goal.
Not to say that there is anything wrong with that sort of work. But it falls more in the realm of ‘general hardware and technical support’ than ‘tech’ nowadays. Unfortunately, there is a huge difference between the kind of stability found in jobs like that 20 years ago, and the inherent lack of stability found in modern tech. I don’t think alot of people coming out of school are aware of it. There will be many more bubbles. They happen periodically… its sort of the market way of hitting the reset button. It’s normal. Alot of these new people won’t make it through the first bubble they hit.
But how you cope with a bubble in tech, and whether or not you go back into tech, really defines whether or not it is for you. I don’t believe anyone can say with certainty that they love this field until they have gone through one. It’s one of those rare fields where you can go from making hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, to making zero – overnight. Of course that zero rapidly falls into the negative if you have bills (which you certainly do), and when the tech bust is happening and you go into the negative… what do you do? Probably what most of everyone who lived through the first tech burst did – go out and get a ‘real job’ that you despise, groaning about getting paid $8.00/hr, and keep it for a while. And wait.
Patience is important in tech. You can ‘feel’ when the anger and frustration starts to fade. You can ‘sense’ when the time is right again. You’ll get ‘a hunch’ that people are ready. Then it’s time to jump back in the seat, and start accelerating back up to that red line.
There will surely be another bubble. There will certainly be many people who leave tech because of it. But as long as you look at that bubble as a certainty, rather than an off chance – you won’t be as shocked that it happens… because you’re only waiting to see what day it will happen on.
In the end of it, it’s worth it all. Being in tech is one hell of a fun ride.