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What Happened To The Glory Days?

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When I started to earn money out of writing software (I’d been writing code ever since I was a kid and got my first computer, some Aquarius or whatever it was) it was great. We were in the middle of the dot-com boom and everything was in abundance. The salaries seemed astronomical. Being a geek meant being in demand. The world was my oyster.

When I went to job interviews it wasn’t a case of trying to impress them, I was more interested in them trying to persuade me to come and work for them. Recruitment agents would constantly be trying to persuade me to go to interviews and wouldn’t easily take no for an answer. I felt as an employee that my employer had to make the effort to keep me and to that end companies would buy table football, pool tables and other recreational items to provide a fun working environment. I could go into pay negotiations knowing that I could walk out the door at any time and get another, higher paying job elsewhere in a matter of days.

I didn’t do this though because I lived for the software. I loved working the long hours transfixed to a monitor. The sense of achievement solving a software engineering problem, writing tight, efficient code or writing a piece of user interface that was so simple that a user has no idea of the complexity underneath is what keeps me in this business today. And the sense of seeing a piece of software being used successfully by a customer that you wrote makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I was quite happy working in a team of high calibre professionals that I could both learn from and impart knowledge to. Everything was great.

But it all had to end. And it did. I decided to switch companies just as things went downhill and as the work dried up and friends started to get made redundant I realised that it was all over. I eventually moved back to my current company and a couple of rounds of redundancies happened just before and just after my return. It was sobering and something I’d never considered before. I worked at a University before the boom (not the real world) so for as long as I’d worked in the industry there had always been 10 jobs for every developer – it was all I’d ever known. Things have settled down a bit but as another friend has just been made redundant it makes me think.

I’d felt invincible and secure before. I could demand whatever I wanted and it felt like I was doing my employer a favour by working for them. I admit it, I was an arrogant tosser. It was mostly as a result of being young and wet behind the ears, but it was also as a result of the software business seeming to be this new unbeatable monster. Now the threat of redundancy is quite real and no matter how hard you try and how good you are, it can still get you. There are still jobs out there but not as many as there used to be, and not as well paid as they used to be.

I’ve been lucky though and am happy working where I am, doing things I find interesting and challenging, working with good people (albeit fewer people than there used to be). I no longer feel that the world owes me a living and, having been around the block a bit and lost a lot of the arrogance (I hope), I’m a much better professional as a result. But I don’t feel so safe any more. That doesn’t bother me particularly, it’s a fact of life now that this is a volatile industry and the glory days are gone. But it does make me wonder what I’ll be doing in 10-20 years time (assuming I’ve not been killed in a parachuting accident or something by then).

A lot of top-class developers are still out there who have been out of work for a long time and it’s saddening. I can only hope that the industry as a whole reflects the cyclical nature of the electronics industry and picks up again soon. I doubt there’ll be the heady heights of 2000 again but I guess it was fun while it lasted. And I’ll always have the memories of playing table football at lunchtimes and moaning about how we deserved more because we were so good and the management were so bad. Maybe that was always the problem…

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Creator of John's Background Switcher. Scotsman, footballer, photographer, dog owner, risk taker, heart breaker, nice guy. Some of those are lies.

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  1. I’m afraid I don’t feel too sorry for developers who are out of work. I worked with a lot of contractors between 1992 and 1998 who were earning upwards of ?25 per hour [quite a low rate these days] whilst I was earning about ?11,000 a year, and I knew more than they did. I suppose you could argue it was the fault of my company that they paid these people what they did… So to all those people who earn a fortune and get there job through reading up on a topic the night before their interview and pull the wool over the eyes of their employers, I have no sympathy. I do have some sympathy for talented and good developers who are out of work, but no more than for doctors, firemen, teachers etc. And the fact is that IT people are far too highly paid for what they do. But that’s capitalism for you I suppose.

    Regarding the dotcom boom, I worked for a company in Henley on Thames between 1999 and 2000, at the height of the dotcom boom. They had very nice offices, table football, people who’s job it was to ‘brighten up the work environment’ [?50,000 a year for 2 days work a week for doing that!], but at the end of the day the work was lousy and under all the ‘cosiness’ it was no different to any other company. Their share price went from ?7 to ?22 while I worked there. It is now around 50p. 250 staff have been laid off out of 500 and it’s mainly down to the speculative nature of the stock market and the power that has over a company’s future, which is unfair on all the good people who worked there.

    Anyway. I feel a bit strongly about this, so sorry for the ranting.

    mr latimer

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  2. Couldn’t agree more. There were a lot of people in the software business that had no right to be there and could get by with “talking the talk”.

    And my girlfriend has a job 10 times more stressful than I do and yet gets paid less than half of what I’m on. Where’s the justice in that?

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  3. Too right.

    By the way, I notice you no longer refer to your girlfriend as ‘long suffering’. Is that a deliberate omission, or does she not suffer as much anymore????

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  4. Nah, I got sick of prefixing with “long-suffering” all the time, maybe I should have assigned a shortcut key… As long as she’s my girlfriend then she must be suffering – anybody who has to spend that much time with me would be!

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  5. It’s interesting reading about your experiences, particularly the heady dot-com boom stuff. It’s interesting because it’s so different from my own experience. I’m a developer in the Civil Service. I have job security but the pay is shite (and I really mean shite!) The upside is that it’s a laid-back place, the flexitime scheme is generous and they invest a lot in training us. My organisation spends a fortune on contractors because everyone internal leaves after a year or two to get jobs that pay properly. People literally stay a year or two or else they’ve been there forever and can’t afford to leave because their pension is so huge! We have a serious staff retention problem.

    Although I’ve been writing software in my spare time for years, this is my first job as a developer. I’m looking forward to a year or two when I know that I’ll have the skills on my CV which will mean that recruitment agencies will talk to me seriously and my glory days can begin (hopefully)!

    Your description about the satisfaction from writing great software was bang on the money BTW.

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  6. Thanks! And come a year or two the general job situation should be a lot better than it’s been in 2002 (imho). Having said that, these days I’d rather get paid less to do something I enjoy than get paid loads more to be constantly stressed doing something I don’t believe in. Or maybe I’m getting older…

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  7. The .com days were great, however now I’m part of my own company created with people I met in the .com days I couldn’t be happier, it certainly isn’t the glory days, but now everything I do impacts directly on the companies success, now that is a good feeling (especially as I get to be involved in the whole process from pitch to final testing)

    The satisfaction is huge, but the best part is still pulling a late night and knocking out some cool complex code, I don’t think anything will change the way I feel about that.

    The .com glory days were bound to end, there were some very stupid people out there putting together some even more stupid business plans, the shame of it is that the knock on of .com is with us still and having an impact on companies with solid business plans and experience.

    oh well, 2003 will be a lot better (and if it is maybe I can buy the office a table football!)

    😉

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