Feeds

How IT bosses turned the tables on our cushy consultancy gigs

I wasn't laid off, I was freelancing from the beach, honest

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

I think I’ve been through enough economic cycles in my life to say that the nature of employment, at least in the financial-tech industry that I’m most familiar with, has changed fundamentally in the last few years.

If you’re a technology worker and your job suddenly seems unusually precarious, that’s because it is: fear of unemployment, especially chronic or long-term unemployment, was virtually non-existent among techies in the not-too-distant past, but that carefree era seems to have gone the way of the COBOL programmer.

The short explanation for this is that tech people are now more subject to “market forces” than ever before, and that the market itself has become far more merciless and competitive.

More specifically, employers’ obsessive drive to cut costs (driven in turn by the growth of shareholder power and a greater-than-ever focus on the bottom line); the delicate state of the economy since the start of the global financial crisis in 2007; and the ready availability of very low-cost labour in Russia and India, or even Scotland and North Carolina, have conspired to burst the bubble of invulnerability that once protected us.

There was a time when job security was a non-issue for techies. A seemingly insatiable demand for good people, and a chronic shortage of technologists with the skills required by companies scurrying to build out their technology infrastructures, meant that we could virtually call the shots. In the 1980s and 1990s the number of consultants in the most demanding financial-tech jobs grew and grew.

Being freelancers, consultants were able to jump between gigs more or less at will, were blissfully removed from the nasty world of corporate politics, and, being paid fixed hourly rates, weren’t subject to the fluctuations of investment banking’s annual “bonuses”.

I was a consultant for years during that period, and I was never out of work unless I chose to be. I took multiple breaks of six months or more, and when I wanted to dive back in there was always something available. On the few occasions when a contract ended unexpectedly, I was able to find another gig pretty much immediately.

But at some point things changed. For me, it was during the recession of 2001 to 2002, a period of greatly reduced profits in banking that also happened to coincide with the dot-com bust. I was laid off from my job at a global investment bank - a full-time position, in this case - and found that landing another one was not so easy.

No one on the planet was qualified for the jobs advertised

In fact I was unemployed for longer than I’ve ever been - more than a year - at a time when I definitely wanted to work. It was then that it became clear to me that the world was suddenly a different place. The general problem was that, because of widespread layoffs and tight budgets, tech people now faced a “buyer’s market”. Employers and hiring managers were firmly in control, possibly for the first time in my 20-year career, and they made the most of the situation.

The requirements lists for open positions - programming languages, middleware, operating systems, networking protocols - became almost laughably long, with managers insisting on skill sets that, it seemed to me, no one person could possibly possess.

But if this meant it would take three times as long as usual for them to find qualified candidates, so be it. They didn’t seem to be in any rush, and with thousands of newly axed technologists flooding the market they were confident that they would be able to find someone who fit the profile eventually.

Coupled with a previously unknown stinginess, the shift in the balance of power also meant that technologists could no longer demand the same compensation as before. In my case, when I would sheepishly tell headhunters what my last salary was, some of them would practically chuckle at the number, or at the very least let me know that I couldn’t possibly expect to get that kind of money now.

(That salary was high by “normal” standards, but nothing earthshaking on Wall St.)

There was an additional catch here: Some potential employers feared that if I accepted a big pay cut, I would bolt the minute the economy improved and I could get more. My reassurances to the contrary generally failed to change their minds, though I did eventually take a job making considerably less than I’d been paid before; this was essentially the same position I’d been sacked from, and for the same company, but I was wise enough to realise that a bird in the hand was worth a lot more than being unemployed for another year or two.

Which brings me to another problem I faced after my layoff: the stigma of being among the unlucky chosen people. Sure, thousands of employees across the financial industry had just been let go, but why was I part of the 10 per cent or so selected?

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
Looking for a job in Europe? Experienced IT staff needed in UK, Italy and Germany
New graduates need life skills, says Euro Commish report
‘For the love of Pete, America, learn about decent chocolate’
If that's your only gripe about a life in LA, lucky you!
IT JOB OUTSOURCING: Will it ever END?
Let's look at the economics behind it...
The 'fun-nification' of computer education – good idea?
Compulsory code schools, luvvies love it, but what about Maths and Physics?
Want to break Netflix? It'll pay you to do the job
'Senior Chaos Engineer' sought to inflict all sorts of nasty, nasty, pain
HOT BABES! Worried you won't get that JOB in IT? MENTION how hot you are
'Don't hate me 'cos I'm beautiful' ploy for sad honeys
Oracle to DBAs: your certification is about to become worthless paper
So hurry up and get a new one, will all of you who took exams for 10g and lower?
prev story

Whitepapers

Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
Simplify SSL certificate management across the enterprise
Simple steps to take control of SSL across the enterprise, and recommendations for a management platform for full visibility and single-point of control for these Certificates.