The Atlas

Those who don't study history are doomed to repeat it

Nails in the Coffin of a Dream

Last Thursday my former business unit was all but shut down. Almost all that remained of the team I loved beyond measure was laid off. And the small handful who were not laid off were put in the horrible position of being the 'last man standing' to deal with clients, a complicated transition and more work that is realistic for such a tiny number of people. My phone started exploding around 7:00 a.m. and went on well into the night.

There are no words for how much my heart breaks for so many wonderful, talented people who had united around enthusiasm to execute against a vision that is now also dead.

When I was growing up, cutback and layoffs were a function of the manufacturing industry. Detroit, in particular, and the steel industry, were the two I always remember being in the greatest degree of tumult, but they were certainly not the only ones.

These days it is SOP in the tech industry. And, in all fairness, after 25+ in technology, the majority of coaching clients I work with come from this space -- in one way or another. And when they come to me to work on their plans to make a big change, too often the conversation starts at a problematic starting point:

I have a ton of experience. I have been doing this for a long time. In my last job, I took a big pay cut and now that I need to change again, I need to get back to what I was making before. I can't afford to keep doing this.

Oh, how my heart sinks when I hear this. So many of us got so accustomed to making a huge amount of money that our ability to pay our bills on a much smaller salary is hard, if not impossible without major changes -- starting, quite often, with the house we live in.

Recognizing the Pattern

And yet... those of us in who grew up in tech need to consider that the tech industry in the 2000's was like automobile manufacturing in the 1950's: it was booming, it was growing, it was possible to get in early and make a great living.

But tech as we approach 2020 is like the automobile industry in the 1980's: foreign competition is faster, cheaper and easier to use than ever before; other countries are making bigger investments in the infrastructure required to compete with domestic talent, and all of this makes businesses absolutely unable to justify the cost of expensive onshore talent when they have low-cost offshore talent available at a fraction of the price.

The part that is most amazing to me is that tech people are often to first to point out that the old school auto (or steel, or coal, or manufacturing, etc.) industry establishment was unrealistic in refusing to acknowledge the changes that ultimately transformed their space. And yet those same people often struggle to recognize the same about their own industry.

So the question I often come back to with my clients who insist they need to make what they used to make is: what happens if there is no way to get your old career (and income) back? What does your new plan look like?

Define the New Normal

No one likes this question, least of all me. But all industries go through a very common and well established maturation process. The rapidly-growing financial tide that lifts all boats is on the front-end of it of that process, not the back end. And sadly, when it comes to the software space, we are on the back end now.

And, even worse, ageism is acutely bad in the tech space -- moreso than other industries (except for the big offenders in this arena, like sports and modeling). Which means that, not only is competition for well-paid roles more severe than ever before, but if you're over 40, you are also likely competing against people 15 years younger who often listen to the same music and play the same video games as the hiring manager. (Let THAT thought sink in for a moment. And then have a shot of tequila. I know. I get it.)

That leaves us with some basic choices:

  1. Find a way to leverage your past experience into an all new way to make the income you need.
  2. Dive into a niche market that still needs expertise for a while longer -- recognizing that you are likely on borrowed time.
  3. Roll the dice with the hope that you will get really lucky, at least one more time.

As a classic Type-A control freak, to me option #3 sounds like the least appealing. It's high risk, long-odds and something that is mostly outside of my own direct ability to influence. But I am constantly shocked at how willing people are to double-down on that choice.

So my question to you is this: how do you take control of your professional future in an industry that has shifted under your feet, and where you may never command the same wage for the same role that you used to?

Hiring Technical Talent in Austin?

And, if anyone knows of someone hiring some exceptionally talented retail technology software professionals in the Austin area, drop me a line. I have a heartbreaking number of people I can put you in touch with.

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