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…