Living the Dream
By the middle of year 2, I’ve got a pretty good feel for the texture of days.
I get to work, jump on conference calls with customers complaining about losing money because of product bugs, and try to fix them.
Some days I have meetings with my manager to discuss areas for improvement. Some days I don’t.
Similar to Peter in Office Space, it seems as though everyone is my manager. Sales reps call and ask you to look at a particular ticket so they can close a deal. Managers call you and ask for you to work on a different ticket because the customer has called in angry. Account managers call and ask you to do a full reckoning of all tickets opened by Company X. Your co-workers ask you to help on tickets they’re stuck on. You must continually reshuffle priorities and try to ride the incoming waves without falling off your surfboard.
On top of the casework, Mr. Data asks me to work on ‘stretch’ goals in our 1:1s. Even though my production has steadily increased over my two years, it’s not enough. It’s never enough. The company wants more. I’m learning new technologies in my spare time at night so that I can increase the number of technical areas I support.
I have to admit that at the time, I was extremely motivated to do whatever it took to be successful. It was common for me to put in 55 hours a week, so we’re talking perhaps 15 hours of unpaid overtime. I did this partially because I wanted to — because the work was fairly interesting at times — and partially because I felt compelled to — sink or swim and all of that.
I was determined to be a swimmer.
On the market side of things, there are signs of trouble with the NASDAQ index in 2001. From March of 2000 to January of 2001, the index shed 50% of its value.
Startups all over the city were flopping. The company I worked for appeared to be stable for the most part, but at the same time, we weren’t growing at our projected pace, so our stock price plummeted. Stock prices are all about projected earnings, so if you’re not growing in line with expectations, the value of your shares go down, even if you’re running a profitable business. Ours dropped 80% in a single year.
This made some of the new company millionaires worth only a few hundred thousand. Many people grew depressed about it and morale suffered.
At the same time, our support division started a project I like to think of as Mission: Outsource Support. We tapped into India for cheap labor. This touched off a few rounds of small layoffs in our division. About 10% of U.S. tech engineers were let go that year. This made the remaining people very very nervous and an increasing number of employees ratcheted up the amount of voluntary overtime they put in. It was obvious that the people who were let go were not working as hard or as long, and the remaining workers took note.
Internal competition became fierce; we all knew Mr. Data and his peers were continually weeding.
And they knew they had the upper hand. Suddenly, jobs in the city had dried up. Funding disappeared for new startups. It was increasingly difficult to simply switch from company to company — folks started to feel stuck due to economic conditions and job scarcity.
I ended the year feeling great about my professional growth, but somewhat less than happy about the continually increasing demands of the job.
It wouldn’t be long before I started searching for a different path.
Year End Financial Summary
Net Worth at Start: -40K.
Net Worth at End: -25K
During the year, I got my first raise, a merit-based increase from 60K to 66K.
Also significant: I started learning finance 101, almost by accident, because websites like Yahoo! would occasionally have articles posted on their landing pages which SCREAMED at you to learn a bit about consumer debt and how to manage your money better. I learned I needed an emergency account, and I set to work building one.
So I dumped 15K into an Orange Savings account from ING.
I spent less on material stuff this year, but continued to blow money on restaurants like a madman. Still, I was at least moving in the right direction here.
Zero progress on my 5% 40K student loans. I continued to just pay the minimum.
I also had not yet started contributing to my employer-sponsored 401(k).
Additionally, my cost of living went up. I moved out of my $500/mo apartment and into an $1100/mo studio. I desperately craved the privacy and thought I “deserved” it due to my hard work at the office. If I could go back in time, I would have held on to the cheaper apartment. I was barely ever home, anyways.
Many of my financial epiphanies occurred in the following year, though, and the picture starts to look quite a bit different.