I first heard about the Internet in 1995. I received my first email account upon returning from working in Brazil for 2 years. It wasn’t yet even mainstream in the U.S. and like many at the time, I was introduced to the Internet through a CD-ROM disc with the initials “AOL” written across it. The first words the Internet spoke to me were “you have mail.” (It bothered me that the voice said that, but the notice on the screen said “you’ve got mail.” Why didn’t those match? Life as a perfectionist is hard sometimes.)
My first job after college was at an Internet consulting firm. Working in Silicon Valley was exciting, fascinating and fun. It was a fun time where it was difficult to do wrong. I entered the scene shortly after the Netscape IPO. My first meeting left an impression, due to the atmosphere and the people I met. Free food for everyone. Ping pong tables in the cafeteria. My meeting was with a guy in his mid-20’s who seemed competent. After the meeting, my boss turned to me and said, “that kid we just met with made $5 million in the IPO last year.” I was just a couple of years younger than he was!
Comprehending the world I was just thrown into would require some adjustment. Here everyone was successful. Discussions center around stock options, new competitors and new ideas constantly entering the market, new companies getting funding and newly minted millionaires. It was exciting. It was heralded as a new economy. Things were going to be different this time. The Internet has arrived and changed everything. Soon robots would be doing all the hard work, while we relax on the beach. This is a new economy. That is, until the world snapped out of its delusion and remembered companies need to make money and provide value.
The correction was tough. In fact, I lost my job as a result. Companies were no longer willing to spend money on telecom and Internet consultants. As Sinatra said, “you’re riding high in march, but all is lost in June.”
I recall working in Silicon Valley at the time of the last recession in 2001 when the world seemed to collapse around us. In a very short time the companies that were once worth immense sums were reduced to ashes. The ones that survived were dramatically transformed. Fortunes were wiped out nearly overnight. One of my clients spent nearly a week huddled in a corner crying after the collapse of his company and the lose of everything for which he had worked. Stock options, which were once the currency companies used to lure talented people, were worthless. It was a blood bath.
It used to be that one could work for a large, trusted company and expect a gradual increase in salary, constant security and surety that at the end of ones career, a pension to last the rest of one’s life. Even today, with all the layoffs and bankruptcies, people still look to large companies for security. Working for oneself is considered by many to be risky.
I don’t think that’s correct at all.
The world is currently a scary place. The recent Great Depression has shaken the world economies and the confidence of people the world over. Greece, Spain and Italy have everyone worried. Although it’s come down in the past 2 years, unemployment has been high and many people have stopped looking for work. For those who have kept their jobs, many have taken pay cuts and increased responsibilities. The economic collapse is still being felt by individuals and families. Longer hours. Less pay and benefits.
2008. 2001. 1992. 1987. 1974.
This may be the most recent recession, but it’s obviously not the first and certainly won’t be the last. Times have always been uncertain. Companies rise and fall, jobs come and go. What remains is the experience and education we gain and the personal networks we build. The only certainty we will ever have with work is what we build for ourselves. No matter what the economic climate, the rise and fall of markets, it’s our knowledge that will allow us to make a living and to make a difference.
Related: More about my story here.