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Business Technology: Flip Side Of The Job Market

This issue hit the streets on Labor Day. Since that's a holiday for most of you, my guess is that you'll be reading this sometime after that, so I apologize for being a little behind the times. But the subject--labor, or work, or your profession or career or livelihood--is one that merits some reflection in these days of certain uncertainty.

For example, here's an excerpt from a column that ran in this space 27 months ago, titled "Does Loyalty Still Matter?":

"... a recent visit with SiteSmith, a Bay area company that has hired 200 people in the past six months to fuel its rapid growth as an outsourcer of heavy-duty Internet site operations. How, I asked, was it able to hire so many so quickly in this zany job market? SiteSmith's answer was that at most companies, the deep-tech folks who handle these way-back-office chores are mostly anonymous, 'but at SiteSmith, they're rock stars.'" (See

Did I say 27 months?! Surely an anecdote like that couldn't have happened barely over two years ago--maybe I meant 27 years. Remember those days of dogs in the office, 40% raises, scooters in the hallways, and rampant paranoia arising from the fear that staying with a single company for more than a year meant you were a visionless, beat-down, fat-assed suck-up?

Here's another excerpt from that same column from 27 months (years?) ago: "Fortune [magazine] had a recent cover story showing three young women next to a caption stating, 'These fast-track MBAs are working for their third dot-com in a year.' I read that a few times, trying in vain to divine the deeper meaning: Is that few-months-and-out strategy a good thing, to be emulated? Is it a risky thing in the wake of the recent stock-market emetic?" Today, the three-job thing's a little different: I'll bet we all know qualified people who are working three part-time jobs simultaneously while trying to get back into the business-technology field full time. But is it possible that it was just two years ago when this sort of job-hopping was so trendy, so hip, so ... possible?

A federal grand jury indicted an American Muslim activist ... on charges of aiding the al Qaeda network. Earnest James Ujaama, 36 years old ... is charged with conspiracy to provide "material support and resources" to al Qaeda, including training facilities, computer services, safe houses, and personnel. Authorities said he knew and intended "that they were to be used in preparation for and in carrying out a conspiracy to destroy property and murder and maim."... In Detroit, [five defendants were charged] with a variety of violations, including providing material support and resources to individuals in the U.S. and abroad to assist them in engaging and promoting "violent attacks against persons and buildings within the territory of Jordan, Turkey, the U.S, and its allies" for the intentions of engaging in or supporting a holy war.

-- From The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 29

Corporate spending on IT, as we all know, is down precipitously from those heady times of 27 months ago, and the job market has become equally treacherous. One 20-something in the field said to me the other day, "Have you looked at the Monster job site lately? They only have two kinds of jobs now: You either have to be CIO God to get even a midlevel position, or you have to have great skills and experience to get an entry-level position. And their pay is way, way down from where it was a year or two ago."

What force or forces will bring about a change in this very difficult job market? Let's say that a year from now, IT spending begins to open up a bit (hey, I'm a Pittsburgh Pirates fan--I'm accustomed to dreaming). Can we expect or should we expect that hiring will ramp up correspondingly? Or have we passed some point at which we'll all look back and say, "That's when things really changed"?

But there's always a flip side--always. For one thing, the astonishing thing about the crazy anecdotes mentioned above is that they took place about 2-1/2 years ago. Is it not then possible that if we flip the arrow of time in the other direction and look a couple of years into the future, we might see ourselves looking back on these relatively bleak days and saying, "How could those knuckleheads not have known that the recession of 2001 and 2002 would yield to the boom of 2004?"

And did you see that Wal-Mart has replaced its CIO? It happened late last month, but for all the right reasons: Kevin Turner was promoted to run the company's Sam's Club wholesale division ( The new CIO is Linda Dillman, formerly VP of international systems development. Among her experiences at the company are stints in application development for in-store systems, supply-chain systems, and data warehousing.

So take heart: If one of the world's leading companies is making these types of changes, it must mean that the labors of business-technology professionals will be much in demand for a very long time--heck, for at least 27 months--to come.

Bob Evans
[email protected]

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