The Job Experience: Tech Support, Year #3

 Most Jobs Are Worse When The Markets Suck


Supply and Demand on Labor

When I first landed my job as a software support monkey, it was a great time to be an employee.  There were more jobs available than people available to fill them.  Employers were on their heels; they had to do their best to attract and retain talent.

In a poor market, the opposite is true.  Employers become aware that there is a scarcity of jobs, putting them firmly in the driver’s seat when it comes to dictating terms and conditions of the job.

The software company I worked for knew they had the upper hand, and began to press their advantage.

Not good, people. Not good.

More with Less

Most companies managing to navigate through the dot-com explosion enacted hiring freezes.  Mine was no different.  Even though the volume of work justified taking on more people, they refused to pick up additional bodies to process tasks.

There were a couple of oft-repeated phrases to justify this policy.   The one that stuck out most clearly in my mind was “For the sake of our shareholders, we must learn to do more with less.”  A close second was along the lines of “In these trying economic times, every employee must do more than they are asked.”

The place I worked, SoftwareCompany, was still making money hand-over fist.  They had over a billion dollars in cash.  We were quite profitable.

It made no difference.  Market conditions became a convenient excuse to squeeze every last drop out of their employees.

A Good Salary, For an Indian

There was an increasing focus on hiring H-1B visa sponsored workers.  Or laying people off who were not tied to a work visa.

The official reason given for this practice was a shortage of talented labor to fill roles.

But this wasn’t the case.  There were plenty of skilled workers of many nationalities in the area.

I believe that employers preferred visa-sponsored labor because of increased control and lowered costs.  My Indian and Asian co-workers were absolutely terrified of being let go, much more so than their American counterparts, because they’d either have to find a new sponsor within two weeks (difficult, given current market conditions) or have to return home.

This fear drove many of them to work insane hours in order to feel secure in their jobs.

It happened again in the crash of 2008.  But, we’ll get there later in this storyline.

Don’t believe my opinion?  If you’re interested in getting into it, follow a few of these links and make up your own mind.

Oracle suit re: Racial Discrimination

Companies Preferring H1 Workers

The H-1B Visa Debate

Backing Anecdote

This subject came up one night when I was out to dinner with some co-workers.  At the table with me was a manager of the patching team.  Their job was to take a “real” issue — a problem already validated and filed by our support group — and in turn, produce a fix on our line of software.

They had a position open, despite the hiring freeze, because of an immense backlog of bugs that simply had to be addressed in order to satisfy customers.  So this patching team manager had too much to drink and started to get into the details of the hiring process.  He said that a) he had more applications than he knew what to do with, b) the foreign workers never asked questions about work life balance or benefits in the interviews and c) a few of the workers asked if they could have six or seven weekends a year off.

Read that last comment again.  These folks were bargaining from the position of assuming they would be asked to work 52 out of 52 weekends a year.

Have you figured out which applicants our patching manager was in favor of hiring?  Can there be any doubt?

Do you want to compete with that?

Look, I don’t begrudge any qualified worker for finding a job in America.  Not in the slightest.  My Indian co-workers in particular were, as a rule, incredibly smart and motivated, and friendly as hell to boot.  I have many fond memories of tea-time in the kitchen, which was ten minutes every morning devoted to having a hot beverage, complaining about customers, and offering tips to one another on how to get unstuck on tricky issues.

Further, if I were born in another country and found an opportunity in America that I believed would improve my lot in life, I would take it without any hesitation.  I get it.  I also immensely value my experience working with people from other countries and cultures.  If you are a curious, friendly person, it’s an incredible job perk to be surrounded by this diverse array of personalities, perspectives and talent.  I wouldn’t give that up for anything.

But the fact remains that they were generally also willing to put up with lower salaries and more challenging work environments than their American counterparts. I was witness to this shift and it’s no myth.  Foreign workers tended to be hungrier.  They would do whatever it takes, as long as it takes.

The ultra-competitive nature of employment meant that the weekly number of hours everyone was expected to put in slowly crept upward.  Every new height became a new normal, expected to be shortly exceeded.  The bar is always rising.

I must admit, there were times when I wondered if we, the workers, were raising it all on our own.

Salary/Wage Depression

The practice of handing out yearly raises came to a screeching halt.

Because hey, why give someone more money to work for you, when they’re so happy to simply have a job?

You wouldn’t.  So practically nobody did.

I could do this all day.

Note:  For the record, I didn’t work for Oracle.  I’m just linking to articles which show industry practices.  If a software juggernaut like Oracle is adhering to certain guidelines and policies, you can safely assume that it’s standard behavior for the sector.  My experience at my own employer during the same timeframe reflects this perfectly.

Bottom Line

Every cost-cutting activity, from outsourcing to hiring freezes to being denied PC upgrades, as well as other employer-friendly changes such as increasingly holding meetings spanning employee lunch hours and asking folks to “check in on work when they’re home at night” was justified by the company stock price.

When the stock is rising and the job markets are good, if you treat employees this way, they’ll leave.

But in the alternate environment, when folks don’t know where else to turn for work and everyone is scared of losing their job, we’ll put up with virtually anything.

This entry was posted in Backstory. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to The Job Experience: Tech Support, Year #3

  1. I still have never read YMOYL. Not sure if I’d get anything out of it at this point, but it’s impressive the number of people for whom that was THE book.

    Financial epiphanies like this, to my mind, are vastly more transformational than any religious conversions (or deconversions, in my case).

    • livingafi says:

      Hey GC, thanks for stopping by. Yes, you could probably skip reading YMOYL because it’s just a reinforcement of things you already know and do.
      If I got my BS in 2009 instead of 1999, I surely would have found MMM’s blog instead of YMOYL. Might not even know what that book was! The internet’s really changed everything… the vast majority of people seek answers to life problems online nowadays. It’s probably for the best –more efficient this way, with search engines and all.

      • Gamergirl says:

        I actually found YMOYL back in 2005, I wish I’d found it earlier, before I went back to school for my masters degree. After I got my bachelor’s degree, I was saving 90% of my income from my job. I thought I was doing something wrong! So I went back to school for my master’s degree. Then I met ex and let him lead me down the path of spending all my money.

        I still love YMOYL and recommend it to people who don’t like blogs.

      • livingafi says:

        I think “I wish I found it earlier” is the number one sentiment from folks who find MMM, EEE, YMOYL, etc. It sure would have helped me in Year 1 as well — although, the counter argument is that people aren’t necessarily looking to overhaul their lives until they’ve identified that they have a problem. It’s sort of like the AA thing: If you don’t think it’s an issue (yet), you’ll never look for a solution. I still shudder to think where I’d be had I not found YMOYL when I did. BTW, super-glad to hear that your spendy and destructive ex is just that — an ex. Without him weighing you down, you’ll get where you want to go for sure.

  2. I’ve picked up bits and pieces from all over, some of YMOYL works and some doesn’t for me (every dollar and every year is not created equal, but I can’t exchange future dollars for earlier years). Probably why I’m still wandering the internet, there are gems everywhere, but no-one source has The Answer. Before YMOYL, I had a ‘Rich Dad’ phase. Although I didn’t want to get into real estate, I did like the concept ‘before you buy a Porsche, buy cash-flowing real estate yield and let your investments buy you the Porsche’. Of course, I dialed it back to a used MiniCooper and a mix of dividends and bond interest, but the general idea was sound 🙂

    • livingafi says:

      Another part of YMOYL that sucks: All investment advice. Completely agree that there are wide differences in opinion when it comes to certain details in the FIRE journey. Some folks like DRIPing, others all paper, some renting, some quit early and find part-time employment just to ‘get them by’ while their initial pile of assets grow. There’s really no single right path and the best thing to do is gather as much data as you can and make an educated decision that works for you. I’m also extremely reluctant to be a landlord. I don’t want the hassle, but some many people on the forums really enjoy it.

  3. Gamergirl says:

    I LOVE this series, and I agree with another poster about the layout being very nice. It is long, but the images and the breakup between pages really aids in readability.

  4. Dwayne Hoover says:

    I really enjoy your blog, and particularly this series. Great stuff.

  5. MilDoc says:

    I’ve been reading a lot of FI / RE stuff for awhile now. Yours is the only blog that I am reading from beginning to end (I came close with MMM though). Your POV just seems to resonate with me the most, though my prison seems much more gilded than yours was. Still, freedom is freedom.

    For some reason, I HATED YMOYL. I sensed there was something to the underlying premise, but the style and diction (it seemed overly sentimental or patronizing or something) made me want to vomit so much, I could not get through it.

    One thing I have noted is that those who “see the light” wrt financial stuff later in life (like myself, though I am not that old but do have a wife and kids) have a more uphill battle with the consumptions side of the equation. It’s not like I can just rip my kids out of their expensive extracurriculars (which easily cost as much as owning an additional unnecessary car) without significant relational and societal repercussions. But there is more than one way to skin a cat…

    • livafi says:

      I didn’t like the writing style in YMOYL either. But I read it for the content and suggestions.

      One of my friends who is my age — 39 — has also been trying to scale back and he is running into some of the same problems you’ve outlined. E.g. Downsizing the house, he will say things like: “Are you kidding me? With a wife and three kids who each need their own bedroom and are used to an abundance of space in an affluent area? Dad will be viewed as crazy and subsequently hated for uprooting everyone.” It seems impossible (although it’s not), and as a result he’s sort of giving up on it. I do see his point of view. It is difficult. People who pretend there is no cost associated with making these sorts of choices are lying to themselves and their readers.

      But there is also a cost in continuing to do what everyone else is doing. These are tough decisions, there’s absolutely no question about it.

      The worst part of the giving up is that he’s going back to his old investment patterns. “Won’t ever be able to have 15% of saved income grow enough in the market with measly returns to enable retirement — need to hit it big” is what goes through his mind most of the time. So he’s doing things like putting money in VIX and hoping the market explodes and buying covered call options… I am aware the entirety of the market resembles one big casino, but that being said, some investment approaches are significantly more likely to result in losses than others.

  6. Vic says:

    Going through burnout right now and I needed this. You are an absolute artisan with words. Thank you so much for writing this account, it makes me (and i’m sure so many others) feel less broken.

    • Mr. RTFM says:

      Keep it up. I re-read his job experience series at least once a year, and recommend it for friends who are looking for a way out, or feeling burned out. His voice really helps.

      I actually just left my job for a higher paying one, mostly because of his posts. If he could manage the Goblin hordes, so could I. by my estimate, this move will shave off about 3 years of my original 15 years to retirement timeline. Hopefully more, when I pay of my mortgage and car in the next 1-2 years.

      The best advice i found in these posts is the daily exercise, after I put in my morning exercise, I found that the problems that used to make me want to vomit, suddenly seem like – if not easy- but at least solvable. On the down side, when I can’t follow my workout routine, I’m just dragging through my day…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s