Paved Paradise: Faces of the IT Recession

  • Smaller Small Medium Big Bigger
  • Default Helvetica Segoe Georgia Times

The stock market is back above 10,000, and the NASDAQ continues to climb. Yet the IT workers who once helped deliver the promises of productivity to Wall Street and the world are still struggling to shake off the worst IT recession in history.

Stories from the Trenches

During the past two years, I've been collecting stories from dozens of IT professionals as they have tried to weather the economic climate that has devastated their careers. The collapse of the dot-com investment bubble, the furloughing of developers and network personnel, and now the plague of offshore outsourcing have all been events that have transformed the terrain in which IT professionals now work.

All of these profiles came to me unsolicited in response to articles that I have written for MC Mag Online between 2002 and 2004. These professionals want their stories told, but they want their names withheld: They do not want to draw attention to their personal tribulations; they simply want to bring to light that something is seriously wrong in the IT industry today.

These are their stories, with names, companies, and places changed to protect their privacy. Yet, even so, you may be surprised by what you discover in these stories. You may be chastened by the faces that you recognize, anonymous though they may be. This is IT today, in the aftermath of the IT recession.

Meet Rachel: Experienced, Educated, and Competent

Rachel received her MA in Computer Science from one of the most prestigious University of California graduate institutes. She graduated with honors in the spring of 1999 at the height of the IT shortage. She had the recommendation of her graduate advisor and was quickly recruited by a business software organization that was developing a new Supply Chain Management (SCM) package to replace legacy tool-building code. She was assigned to one of four teams writing applications in Java. Previously, before taking her advanced degree, she had worked in manufacturing, writing programs in IBM's RPG language and COBOL. But she decided to return for her Masters in Computer Science to further her technical skills and improve her credentials. She loved programming and had a natural knowledge of manufacturing and the requirements of SCM. She had hopes to one day become a Chief Technology Officer in a start-up Internet organization. But for now, she was happy. She was well-paid, with an excellent starting salary, and she had already managed a number of important projects.

"With a pink hotel, a boutique
and a swinging hot spot"

At the end of the second quarter of 2000, her company's capital investment strategies began to fail. The company had recently obtained new investors who were now growing uneasy with the market's future. By the following September, it was clear that layoffs were coming, but her manager encouraged her to ignore the phone calls from headhunters and to stay with the organization. Her position, he told her, was safe. The worst that could happen would be a reduction in the number of teams, and she would be transferred to whatever teams remained.

"They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot"

In November, the entire development team received pink slips--all four teams. Even her manager was laid off. Suddenly, everybody was out of work. Calls to recruiters were not returned. Was it because of the holiday season? Or was something else going on?

Rachel's longtime boyfriend, who worked as an IT administrator in another company, also found himself out of work. Together, they weathered the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays of 2000, but between January and March of 2001, neither of them received a single response to their resumes.

From Programming Chips to Serving Salsa

In March, Rachel took a temporary job to make ends meet waiting tables at Chile's restaurant in San Francisco. A month later, her boyfriend was there, too. "The restaurant manager told me that he was receiving close to 20 applications a day for wait positions," she said. "All of us would kid the customers. We'd tell them 'We used to program chips for your servers, but now we serve you the chips for your salsa!' All of us were out-of-work IT professionals and dot-com-ers."

"Late last night
I heard my screen door slam
and a big yellow taxi
Took away my old man"

Her long-time relationship with her boyfriend ended when he moved to search for work in Washington state. (She says the move was unfruitful, and he is now picking up odd jobs as a freelance Web designer.) She, in turn, moved back to her hometown in Ohio to live with her mother. "The rent in the Bay Area was just too much. Even when they cut the rents in half--because so many places were vacant--I couldn't make it work. I had too much debt left from grad school. At least here, in Ohio, I can make rent."

Rachel Today

Rachel now works for a large regional retail tire distributor in the Akron area. She is still in IT, but her prospects and plans have evolved. "I seldom get to touch code anymore," she wrote. "I had to remove my MA from my resume just to get this job, and the only reason they hired me was because I knew ILE RPG and the SCM code that runs the company." Her dream of becoming a CTO is now on hold. She's planning to apply to law school in the fall of 2004.

Meet Ezra: Experienced Professional Consultant

Ezra had a long history as a successful consultant in the Los Angeles/San Diego area. He says people liked his hands-on practical approach to problems. He'd started in IT supplying programs for hand-held data collection terminals and then moved gradually into application development, working primarily on the AS/400 in the distribution industry. His consulting contracts were usually one and two year stints, and at the height of the 1990s, they normally included an option to convert to a permanent position.

The Fork in the Road

In the spring of 2001, Ezra was facing a career choice. He and his wife had just started a family and wanted to move away from the congestion of LA. His contract was about to expire, and although the company wanted him to convert his position, Ezra was hesitant. Two separate companies were bidding for his services in the Salt Lake area, and the time seemed ripe to make the move to a more relaxed and less expensive environment. They took the plunge and moved to Utah in June of 2001.

Unfortunately, the first position didn't work out as planned. He lost his job in December after 9/11 and stayed without work until August of 2002. "This eight-month stretch was a searing experience," he wrote. "It seemed like most Utah headhunters were out of business, and the ones that weren't didn't respond at all. Most of the LA-area headhunters I knew were out as well. Of course, by then I was considered an out-of-state candidate and local-only was the order of the day."

Experienced Persons Need Not Apply

For the first time, Ezra found his past experience--working on substantial projects in a variety of different environments--actually a hindrance to his job prospects. Managers would look at his resume and question his past work ethic as a consultant. "I was treated as a pariah by companies seeking staff hires. The term 'stable work history' was used pretty often, as though supporting your family for years was a clear sign of instability and a lack of commitment."

Ezra Today

Ezra eventually found a short-term contract at a low rate in another state and worked there until his former Utah project manager landed a spot in a Boise-area company and brought him in on contract. This was quickly changed to a permanent position. "I've been here as an employee for over a year now, and I'm bringing my family out this summer. The business is distribution with mostly custom code and with the management working closely with IT. It's good, solid, steady work, which I value a great deal."

Meet Anne: "We Made a Difference!"

There is a commonly held belief that the IT struggle is restricted to developers, consultants, and lower-level IT administrators, but Anne's story is of a different sort.

Anne was the VP of IT and CIO of a moderately large retail manufacturing and distribution organization in the Atlanta area. She had worked her way up through the ranks over a period of 15 years, first as a consultant, then an analyst, and then a series of management positions. Her company grew by acquisition and consolidation, parlaying a highly recognized brand name within the industry while inheriting numerous and varied IT systems along the way. Over a period of 10 years, Anne created a dedicated staff within IT, consisting of six developers, a program analyst, two help-desk personnel, and a rotating group of consultants, as well as three PC IT administrators and a crew of operators to run eight AS/400 and iSeries servers in five locations across the United States. She was effective with management and exceedingly knowledgeable about the state of her company's industry. The CEO and president considered her expertise vital to the company's long-term planning, and she was invariably on the lead team that went out to investigate prospective purchases for the company's continuing acquisition plans.

Consolidating the Consolidator

In 1999, the parent company itself was purchased by a smaller but cash-rich competitor--a company that had no systems itself but was heavily invested in outsourcing IT functions to a large international third-party organization.

Anne's first reaction, at the behest of her CEO, was to cooperate in every possible way. "He said the company was small and inexperienced. They'd need our systems to make a profit," she wrote. "But as we progressed through the first series of meetings, it became clear to me that they were out to gut our systems. They had no intention of operating the business. They were going to outsource everything. Not just IT. Everything!"

"Hey farmer farmer
Put away the D.D.T. now
Give me spots on my apples
But leave me the birds and the bees

Over the next two years, Anne gradually became a thorn in the side of the new company's CIO. "We would get memorandum from the outsourcing company, telling us that on such-and-such a date they would be replacing all our iSeries PC Support software with Brand X software. Why? Because the IBM license fees were too much! But we had literally hundreds of applications that had been optimized over the years to use specific IBM APIs within the production process. Just determining how such a change would impact us would have taken months to figure out."

Budgetary Showdown

In June of 2002, Anne and her company president had a budgetary showdown with the CIO of the acquiring organization. Using the IT budgetary figures provided by the parent organization itself, Anne was able to show not only that her staff and her systems were cost-effective to the operation of their company, but that by expanding those systems to meet the needs of the entire enterprise, she could save the parent organization vast amounts of money compared to the existing contracts used for the outsourced services. The uproar that followed, within her own organization and within the parent organization, culminated in Anne's quiet dismissal 14 months later. While she is not allowed to publicly talk about the circumstances--and would not confide in me the final reasons for her severance--it was clear that she was exhausted.

"They took all the trees
Put 'em in a tree museum
And they charged the people
A dollar and a half just to see 'em"

"I stayed because of my staff," she said, "and because of the good work that we were doing together. I was loyal to the corporation, and I did everything I could to fulfill the responsibilities of my job in IT. I'm not angry, but I'm sad that the mission of the organization had changed so much. We were a good team! Maybe not the most advanced, but certainly the most cost-conscious. We made a difference to that organization! We were denied the opportunity to do more!"

Anne Today

Today, Anne's former company is operating with a skeleton crew of system operators doing double-duty as IT network administrators. Most of the company has been outsourced to foreign manufacturers. The rest of her crew has attempted to find other positions in a difficult IT market. Some have been lucky.

Anne herself has been out of work for more than a year. She's not certain exactly what her next step will be. She says she's doubtful that it will be in IT.

Thomas M. Stockwell is Editor in Chief of MC Press, LP. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Thomas Stockwell

Thomas M. Stockwell is an independent IT analyst and writer. He is the former Editor in Chief of MC Press Online and Midrange Computing magazine and has over 20 years of experience as a programmer, systems engineer, IT director, industry analyst, author, speaker, consultant, and editor.  


Tom works from his home in the Napa Valley in California. He can be reached at





Support MC Press Online





  • White Paper: Node.js for Enterprise IBM i Modernization

    SB Profound WP 5539

    If your business is thinking about modernizing your legacy IBM i (also known as AS/400 or iSeries) applications, you will want to read this white paper first!

    Download this paper and learn how Node.js can ensure that you:
    - Modernize on-time and budget - no more lengthy, costly, disruptive app rewrites!
    - Retain your IBM i systems of record
    - Find and hire new development talent
    - Integrate new Node.js applications with your existing RPG, Java, .Net, and PHP apps
    - Extend your IBM i capabilties to include Watson API, Cloud, and Internet of Things

    Read Node.js for Enterprise IBM i Modernization Now!


  • Profound Logic Solution Guide

    SB Profound WP 5539More than ever, there is a demand for IT to deliver innovation.
    Your IBM i has been an essential part of your business operations for years. However, your organization may struggle to maintain the current system and implement new projects.
    The thousands of customers we've worked with and surveyed state that expectations regarding the digital footprint and vision of the companyare not aligned with the current IT environment.

    Get your copy of this important guide today!


  • 2022 IBM i Marketplace Survey Results

    Fortra2022 marks the eighth edition of the IBM i Marketplace Survey Results. Each year, Fortra captures data on how businesses use the IBM i platform and the IT and cybersecurity initiatives it supports.

    Over the years, this survey has become a true industry benchmark, revealing to readers the trends that are shaping and driving the market and providing insight into what the future may bring for this technology.

  • Brunswick bowls a perfect 300 with LANSA!

    FortraBrunswick is the leader in bowling products, services, and industry expertise for the development and renovation of new and existing bowling centers and mixed-use recreation facilities across the entertainment industry. However, the lifeblood of Brunswick’s capital equipment business was running on a 15-year-old software application written in Visual Basic 6 (VB6) with a SQL Server back-end. The application was at the end of its life and needed to be replaced.
    With the help of Visual LANSA, they found an easy-to-use, long-term platform that enabled their team to collaborate, innovate, and integrate with existing systems and databases within a single platform.
    Read the case study to learn how they achieved success and increased the speed of development by 30% with Visual LANSA.


  • Progressive Web Apps: Create a Universal Experience Across All Devices

    LANSAProgressive Web Apps allow you to reach anyone, anywhere, and on any device with a single unified codebase. This means that your applications—regardless of browser, device, or platform—instantly become more reliable and consistent. They are the present and future of application development, and more and more businesses are catching on.
    Download this whitepaper and learn:

    • How PWAs support fast application development and streamline DevOps
    • How to give your business a competitive edge using PWAs
    • What makes progressive web apps so versatile, both online and offline



  • The Power of Coding in a Low-Code Solution

    LANSAWhen it comes to creating your business applications, there are hundreds of coding platforms and programming languages to choose from. These options range from very complex traditional programming languages to Low-Code platforms where sometimes no traditional coding experience is needed.
    Download our whitepaper, The Power of Writing Code in a Low-Code Solution, and:

    • Discover the benefits of Low-code's quick application creation
    • Understand the differences in model-based and language-based Low-Code platforms
    • Explore the strengths of LANSA's Low-Code Solution to Low-Code’s biggest drawbacks



  • Why Migrate When You Can Modernize?

    LANSABusiness users want new applications now. Market and regulatory pressures require faster application updates and delivery into production. Your IBM i developers may be approaching retirement, and you see no sure way to fill their positions with experienced developers. In addition, you may be caught between maintaining your existing applications and the uncertainty of moving to something new.
    In this white paper, you’ll learn how to think of these issues as opportunities rather than problems. We’ll explore motivations to migrate or modernize, their risks and considerations you should be aware of before embarking on a (migration or modernization) project.
    Lastly, we’ll discuss how modernizing IBM i applications with optimized business workflows, integration with other technologies and new mobile and web user interfaces will enable IT – and the business – to experience time-added value and much more.


  • UPDATED: Developer Kit: Making a Business Case for Modernization and Beyond

    Profound Logic Software, Inc.Having trouble getting management approval for modernization projects? The problem may be you're not speaking enough "business" to them.

    This Developer Kit provides you study-backed data and a ready-to-use business case template to help get your very next development project approved!

  • What to Do When Your AS/400 Talent Retires

    FortraIT managers hoping to find new IBM i talent are discovering that the pool of experienced RPG programmers and operators or administrators is small.

    This guide offers strategies and software suggestions to help you plan IT staffing and resources and smooth the transition after your AS/400 talent retires. Read on to learn:

    • Why IBM i skills depletion is a top concern
    • How leading organizations are coping
    • Where automation will make the biggest impact


  • Node.js on IBM i Webinar Series Pt. 2: Setting Up Your Development Tools

    Profound Logic Software, Inc.Have you been wondering about Node.js? Our free Node.js Webinar Series takes you from total beginner to creating a fully-functional IBM i Node.js business application. In Part 2, Brian May teaches you the different tooling options available for writing code, debugging, and using Git for version control. Attend this webinar to learn:

    • Different tools to develop Node.js applications on IBM i
    • Debugging Node.js
    • The basics of Git and tools to help those new to it
    • Using as a pre-built development environment



  • Expert Tips for IBM i Security: Beyond the Basics

    SB PowerTech WC GenericIn this session, IBM i security expert Robin Tatam provides a quick recap of IBM i security basics and guides you through some advanced cybersecurity techniques that can help you take data protection to the next level. Robin will cover:

    • Reducing the risk posed by special authorities
    • Establishing object-level security
    • Overseeing user actions and data access

    Don't miss this chance to take your knowledge of IBM i security beyond the basics.



  • 5 IBM i Security Quick Wins

    SB PowerTech WC GenericIn today’s threat landscape, upper management is laser-focused on cybersecurity. You need to make progress in securing your systems—and make it fast.
    There’s no shortage of actions you could take, but what tactics will actually deliver the results you need? And how can you find a security strategy that fits your budget and time constraints?
    Join top IBM i security expert Robin Tatam as he outlines the five fastest and most impactful changes you can make to strengthen IBM i security this year.
    Your system didn’t become unsecure overnight and you won’t be able to turn it around overnight either. But quick wins are possible with IBM i security, and Robin Tatam will show you how to achieve them.

  • Security Bulletin: Malware Infection Discovered on IBM i Server!

    SB PowerTech WC GenericMalicious programs can bring entire businesses to their knees—and IBM i shops are not immune. It’s critical to grasp the true impact malware can have on IBM i and the network that connects to it. Attend this webinar to gain a thorough understanding of the relationships between:

    • Viruses, native objects, and the integrated file system (IFS)
    • Power Systems and Windows-based viruses and malware
    • PC-based anti-virus scanning versus native IBM i scanning

    There are a number of ways you can minimize your exposure to viruses. IBM i security expert Sandi Moore explains the facts, including how to ensure you're fully protected and compliant with regulations such as PCI.



  • Encryption on IBM i Simplified

    SB PowerTech WC GenericDB2 Field Procedures (FieldProcs) were introduced in IBM i 7.1 and have greatly simplified encryption, often without requiring any application changes. Now you can quickly encrypt sensitive data on the IBM i including PII, PCI, PHI data in your physical files and tables.
    Watch this webinar to learn how you can quickly implement encryption on the IBM i. During the webinar, security expert Robin Tatam will show you how to:

    • Use Field Procedures to automate encryption and decryption
    • Restrict and mask field level access by user or group
    • Meet compliance requirements with effective key management and audit trails


  • Lessons Learned from IBM i Cyber Attacks

    SB PowerTech WC GenericDespite the many options IBM has provided to protect your systems and data, many organizations still struggle to apply appropriate security controls.
    In this webinar, you'll get insight into how the criminals accessed these systems, the fallout from these attacks, and how the incidents could have been avoided by following security best practices.

    • Learn which security gaps cyber criminals love most
    • Find out how other IBM i organizations have fallen victim
    • Get the details on policies and processes you can implement to protect your organization, even when staff works from home

    You will learn the steps you can take to avoid the mistakes made in these examples, as well as other inadequate and misconfigured settings that put businesses at risk.



  • The Power of Coding in a Low-Code Solution

    SB PowerTech WC GenericWhen it comes to creating your business applications, there are hundreds of coding platforms and programming languages to choose from. These options range from very complex traditional programming languages to Low-Code platforms where sometimes no traditional coding experience is needed.
    Download our whitepaper, The Power of Writing Code in a Low-Code Solution, and:

    • Discover the benefits of Low-code's quick application creation
    • Understand the differences in model-based and language-based Low-Code platforms
    • Explore the strengths of LANSA's Low-Code Solution to Low-Code’s biggest drawbacks



  • Node Webinar Series Pt. 1: The World of Node.js on IBM i

    SB Profound WC GenericHave you been wondering about Node.js? Our free Node.js Webinar Series takes you from total beginner to creating a fully-functional IBM i Node.js business application.
    Part 1 will teach you what Node.js is, why it's a great option for IBM i shops, and how to take advantage of the ecosystem surrounding Node.
    In addition to background information, our Director of Product Development Scott Klement will demonstrate applications that take advantage of the Node Package Manager (npm).
    Watch Now.

  • The Biggest Mistakes in IBM i Security

    SB Profound WC Generic The Biggest Mistakes in IBM i Security
    Here’s the harsh reality: cybersecurity pros have to get their jobs right every single day, while an attacker only has to succeed once to do incredible damage.
    Whether that’s thousands of exposed records, millions of dollars in fines and legal fees, or diminished share value, it’s easy to judge organizations that fall victim. IBM i enjoys an enviable reputation for security, but no system is impervious to mistakes.
    Join this webinar to learn about the biggest errors made when securing a Power Systems server.
    This knowledge is critical for ensuring integrity of your application data and preventing you from becoming the next Equifax. It’s also essential for complying with all formal regulations, including SOX, PCI, GDPR, and HIPAA
    Watch Now.

  • Comply in 5! Well, actually UNDER 5 minutes!!

    SB CYBRA PPL 5382

    TRY the one package that solves all your document design and printing challenges on all your platforms.

    Produce bar code labels, electronic forms, ad hoc reports, and RFID tags – without programming! MarkMagic is the only document design and print solution that combines report writing, WYSIWYG label and forms design, and conditional printing in one integrated product.

    Request your trial now!

  • Backup and Recovery on IBM i: Your Strategy for the Unexpected

    FortraRobot automates the routine tasks of iSeries backup and recovery, saving you time and money and making the process safer and more reliable. Automate your backups with the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution. Key features include:
    - Simplified backup procedures
    - Easy data encryption
    - Save media management
    - Guided restoration
    - Seamless product integration
    Make sure your data survives when catastrophe hits. Try the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Manage IBM i Messages by Exception with Robot

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Managing messages on your IBM i can be more than a full-time job if you have to do it manually. How can you be sure you won’t miss important system events?
    Automate your message center with the Robot Message Management Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated message management
    - Tailored notifications and automatic escalation
    - System-wide control of your IBM i partitions
    - Two-way system notifications from your mobile device
    - Seamless product integration
    Try the Robot Message Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Easiest Way to Save Money? Stop Printing IBM i Reports

    FortraRobot automates report bursting, distribution, bundling, and archiving, and offers secure, selective online report viewing.
    Manage your reports with the Robot Report Management Solution. Key features include:

    - Automated report distribution
    - View online without delay
    - Browser interface to make notes
    - Custom retention capabilities
    - Seamless product integration
    Rerun another report? Never again. Try the Robot Report Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Hassle-Free IBM i Operations around the Clock

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413For over 30 years, Robot has been a leader in systems management for IBM i.
    Manage your job schedule with the Robot Job Scheduling Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated batch, interactive, and cross-platform scheduling
    - Event-driven dependency processing
    - Centralized monitoring and reporting
    - Audit log and ready-to-use reports
    - Seamless product integration
    Scale your software, not your staff. Try the Robot Job Scheduling Solution FREE for 30 days.