We were recently looking for a skilled Swing engineer for one of our clients. Three people who had been referred to us looked like good candidates for the job.
One of them was happily employed. The other two had left the business - one is now an aspiring rock star, the other, a monk.
In the wake of historically massive layoffs at technology companies, many tech professionals have reconsidered what they want to do with their lives.
For many people, this process of reconsidering career goals has followed a familiar pattern. A common scenario for those who were laid off goes something like this:
1. Within the first few weeks comes the disorientation and shock of losing that daily routine and sense of responsibility and self-esteem that goes along with an important position.
2. Still in fast-forward mode, your frantic networking gene kicks in to "get you back in the game" as soon as possible.
3. Everyone in your network is glad to hear from you and sympathetic, but they've been laid off too - and no one is hiring.
4. You decide to use some of that overtime you earned pulling all those prerelease all-nighters and take some time off to do a little traveling.
5. That trip to Hawaii, South America, Europe, or Australia reminds you that there are places in the world where time moves slower than in the hotbed of high tech.
6. You relax, unwind, and realize that there may be more important things in life than coding, debugging, and beating the competition to market.
7. Two or three months go by. You check back on the job market. Still nada. And then it occurs to you: Do I really want to go back?
"A third of the people in my network ultimately saw their layoff as more of a blessing than a nightmare," says Kim Mason, former design director at E*TRADE. "I saw it as a chance to change my whole paradigm."
Mason had led multiple groups responsible for E*TRADE's brand identity and product positioning in the U.S. and eight international markets.
After doing contract work and accepting invitations to lecture and lead short-term workshops, Mason went into secondary schools, mentoring students in media design.
Her recent move to Oakland, California, coincided with Mayor Jerry Brown's plan to revitalize city schools with charter conservatory schools, including the Oakland School for the Arts. Mason will be head of media arts for the new school, which opens in September.
"It's been a 180 for me," says Mason, who is herself a graduate of the Duke Ellington School of Arts in Washington, D.C. "Education is one of those careers - you either choose it or it chooses you."
Many tech professionals have been trying to make the transition from the private to the public sector, applying their technical and management skills toward the goals of nonprofit organizations.
After five years as a manager at one of Silicon Valley's largest educational software companies, Michael Chertok left the corporate rat race to make a difference in the nonprofit world.
He's now managing director of Global Catalyst, a private foundation that initiates and grants funding for projects that bring technology, software, and Web access to underserved communities, including third-world countries.
"I went from a large corporate atmosphere to the smaller, nonprofit environment," says Chertok, "and it works better for me. This is what I always wanted. But today there's a lot more caution on the part of nonprofits in hiring people with private sector experience."
"Nonprofits typically operate with a consensus management style, while private companies use a top-down management style," says Chertok.
"A lot of the people who've left are making life decisions versus career decisions," says Anthony Ha, whose titles have included director of application development and director of Web technology.
Currently working on a long-term contract at Sun Microsystems, Ha sees plenty of opportunities on the horizon for engineers who are open to exploring new technologies.
"Most people I know are still in the industry, but they might be moving into newer technologies like wireless or Web services," says Ha.
"If people really love technology, they'll find a way to stay and do what they love, even if it's for less money. And they'll always be able to find jobs doing it."
Bill Baloglu is a principal at ObjectFocus (www. ObjectFocus.com), a Java staffing firm in Silicon Valley. Bill has extensive OO experience and has held software development and senior technical management positions at several Silicon Valley firms.
Billy Palmieri is a seasoned staffing industry executive and a principal at ObjectFocus. His prior position was at Renaissance Worldwide, where he held several senior
management positions in the firm's Silicon Valley operations.