SCI-TECH COLUMN | Kamyshev: During financial industry’s struggles, technology provides a viable job alternative

Seth Sternberg ’01, co-founder of Meebo, spoke to a room full of Yalies Wednesday about the art and science of technology startups. At the beginning of the talk, another serial tech startup creator stood up and announced his idea of a specialty e-commerce site. Despite his experience, the man’s request for software developers was not met with much enthusiasm.

One would expect that Yalies would jump at any job opportunity, given the economic climate. But this was a technology talk — and the rules are different. Many qualified people are still able to refuse job offers in the field of technology and get away with it. Indeed, it is clear the demand for software developers is not going away anytime soon — however low the Dow Jones plummets.

Following the market crash, the finance industry has become the laughing stock of the entire nation. After the $700 billion bailout, they are looked upon as leeches on the economy, rather than its enablers. The high employee bonuses of which Yalies are so fond are targets of both popular and political criticism. The only reason that some of these companies still exist is taxpayer money. Only the Yale bubble still harbors the illusions about the relevance of a job on Wall Street. After this year, if you work in finance, you are either not going to get a bonus or — in the unlikely case that you are — you will be considered undeserving of it.

Is that the kind of career for which you want to prepare yourself? Who would want to work for 100 hours a week, competing with your coworkers for the bosses’ attention, all while constantly being reminded that there is an army of Ivy League grads who are ready to replace you at your first misstep?

On the other side, technology companies are routinely rated as some of the best places to work. They rank highly on the scales of employee diversity. They actively work to retain employees, instead of burning through them like consulting companies do. At a software firm, you’ll probably work 40 hours a week and like your coworkers. You can dress casually because the companies that care about productivity have long realized that dress code is of little importance to the work one does. You can take a year off work and come back to it later, because there are not set rules or guidelines for promotions.

If you value your free time and health, you are much better off in this work environment.

Working in the technology sector also enables you to see the concrete, tangible results of the work you do. You can frequently point to a product and say: “Hey, I made a part of this.” There is no need to hide behind the meaningless jargon like “adding value.”

While technology companies are not immune to the recession, they are surviving and even turning a profit without any government assistance. Even if the major software companies slow down hiring, there are still numerous startups, all of which are looking for technologically-oriented bright minds. Whether it’s Web 2.0, nano-tech or biotech, new ideas can still find funding.

Outsourcing does not concern the most highly paid tasks, because American engineers and software developers frequently have hard-to-replace skills. People with good engineering backgrounds are in short supply. People with good engineering backgrounds who understand the historic, economic and psychological impacts of technology are in even shorter supply.

This recession is forcing many people to adjust their career options and choices, and Yalies will have to adjust to it, or face a rather impoverished alumni network.