Hope for High Tech
Last week two friends decided to chuck the Silicon Valley.
All the good, talented people they used to work with had been laid off, and the only people left at their respective companies were neurotic pathological backstabbing dweebs that were better at holding onto a job than doing it. They were exausted from five years of relentless expansionary overwork, and two years of endless recessionary corporate bullshit, and the endless planning meetings producing pointless specifications that couldn't be implemented. There was always one thing missing (money, people, time, talent - and especially - flexibility) always delaying the project, always leading to more meetings, where nothing happened. Mental paralysis had set in - a far cry from the heyday of the boom years when the path from having a problem to solving it was whipping out a credit card, hiring a consultant, or a late night's coding.
It took them a long time to realize that they were wasting their lives propping up people that deserved to be on the street themselves.
And so they plan now to get up and go, themselves, move elsewhere (they won't let me say where), and start something of their own. They keep each other going now by instant messaging each other with "I'm so ready to leave" and variants, reduced, now, after months, to a series of acronyms. They've been sweeping up sweet, well engineered, barely burned in Cisco gear on Ebay
for pennies on the dollar in preparation for their new company.
These two were behind the infrastructure of two of the bigger cable and online banking systems during the boom. I have no doubt they can dominate their niche in another market, and
relax and have a good time. But I'm going to miss them a lot.
I reflected on this all last week - years ago, I too left California and took the skills I'd honed here to someplace more backward and started a company - it worked - and there I met this guy, this brilliant engineer, and told him all these starry eyed tales of California - Then he came out here during the boom, did well, got a ton of experience, and some major scars, met his SO in the biz and now they're going elsewhere together - wow, I thought - full circle
. A happy ending. A new beginning.
I thought: Maybe I'd find someplace sunny and do the same. I could survive on disability a lot longer and create something really new... The joy and heartache of capitalism is that intellectuall capital is mobile... And maybe after a couple years I'd come back. Maybe after a couple years, they'd get bored with a slower life and come back. California is such a... rush... such a hotbed of ideas, smart people, beautiful scenery, filled with fractal driven energy... I don't want to leave. I finally owned my own house. I finally had an obscenely large tax deduction on an impossibly small place that offset the obscenely large salary. If I stayed maybe my own employer - which has powered through the bust with quarter after quarter of strong growth - will become fun and interesting to work for again in the next boom. Or I can get on the ground floor of the next big thing - or my own company will - or I'll sell some stories - or something...
I've been kicking myself for months for working so hard all these boom and bust years and not taking advantage of the culture, the waves, and that scenery. All the money I spent back when money came easily on sushi and sandwiches.
This morning, at 6:30, clutching a cup of strong coffee, I staggered outside to have a cigarette. The Chinese/American paperboy delivered the Sunday SF Chronicle
next door. I told him I wished I had a buck-fifty so I could get it.
He looked me up and down, smiled sadly, mysteriously, and just gave me one. (I looked in a mirror afterwards: I was unshaven, wearing friday's seafood stained shirt and paints - and I had enormous bags under my eyes)
I sat down, flipped over the paper to the bottom and there: the first piece of postive news about the local economy I've had in a long time.
Also last week, another friend, nine months unemployed, submitted a resume to a startup via email, and 5 minutes later was talking to a recuiter. Another friend had had a resume sitting on monster
for a year and got a callback out of the blue.
Trendspotting? The joys and pains of capitalism. Do I have reason for hope? Is this the turning point?
I'm visiting my parents in San Francisco this weekend. They're staying in a magnificent apartment that overlooks the bay that they got via Home Exchange
. We saw the movie "Identity" Friday night - which wasn't the culture in SF I came to see, but the symphony was sold out - Identity is easily the most twisted film I've seen since the Sixth Sense. I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected and I'm still wondering about the bullet in the back of one of the characters. A cut scene? A loose end?
We spent of saturday at the artist studios open house, on the Point in SF. It was an incredible experience of artistic input and overload...
I have a bunch of business cards to try an associate artwork to... and fragments of conversations on tape that I'm sorting through... Here's one with an artist named "greg" (note, this blog is a work in progress, I'm assembling bits of it as I write, please
check in later for more). I admired his space, and the light, and his impressionistic work... and also how well one of his pieces translated to a cd cover, and struck up a conversation:
Greg: "You have a good time?"
Me: "Sure, absolutely. I have all this gunk in my head right now - you know, just wacked stuff - I write, paint, play music... And I've got one of those... bottlenecks, unfun things - here I am dealing with this writer's block, and artistic block..."
Greg: "Oh wow, and and this is great to get out and see, yea, I love that so much."
Me: "I have this mental image that I have this gunk drain, a valve on the back of my neck just below the thalmus. The stuff's highly flammable under intense artistic pressure. So I come out and I absorb all this great stuff through my eyes and it pushes into the top of my head, pushes down the gunk, I break out a mental lighter and foom! it ignites and blazes away. The pressure drops. Good daydream! It seems to be working today."
Me - "I love these spaces, so much great light, it's a place where you can sort through the debris of your life and the accumulated debris of your creative life, in a separate space. I've been thinking it's sort of a time for a spring cleaning of the soul..."
Greg: "I like that. Absolutely."
Me: "You got a card?"
Greg: "Yea, here..."
Me: "Who'd you do that cd cover for?"
Greg: "It's just a mix."
Me: "It's just a mix... [laughter]"... "that's a nice piece of work"...
Me: "I wrote a song about the Challenger years ago... and I needed to get it out of me. And I started working on it... I needed to get it out of me. I had a decent version about a month before the Columbia went up in smoke, and I've been stuck ever since. I added some lyrics, I played the song pathologically over and over again, I couldn't get it better, and I was just stuck. I couldn't break it into pieces and work on it. My rhythm sucked. Then my guitar and hard disk recorder got stolen... I was just stuck. So I said "fuck the music, I'll work on the art!"
Greg: "Yea, there you go..."
Me: "I had all these other images around, I'll work on the art! I got something that I liked... and it didn't print good enough, so, you know, I got stuck on writing some other piece, and now I'm up here, trying to break loose." [frustrated laughter]
Me: "I'm curious, do you ever get stuck like this?"
Greg: "You know? There are times when I definately need to fertilize my ideas. Yea, I have to get out there, I have to see things, I have to experience life, and so maybe
I'm not creating that much. I try not to think that I'm stuck, maybe I am but I try not to admit it.
Greg: "I've got a lot of projects going at once, and that seems to help that. Kind of like you, shifting from one gear to another... if somethings not happening right now then I'll do something else."
Me: "Well, I guess, I'm caught, again well, here I am I'm just bitching. I'm sharing emotions here you know?
Greg: "Yea, it's great. that's what this is all about. Open studios..."
Me: "I'm caught in thrash mode. I'm working on the record, and boom, the record's around here somewhere. and I'd stop doing that and I'd have to swwiiiiiiiicccch over. I'd have to pile up my piles somewhere else... and then I couldn't find stuff
Greg got distracted by a pair of pretty girls and I mumbled to myself: "Elbow room! Maybe that's an answer."
Greg called over: "Absolutely."
I wandered out.
There was paranoiac conversation (I'm too paranoid to say with who it was) that night about the real fate of Senator Paul Wellstone
. Around 10:30 my mom and I soaked in the hot tub, while admiring the lights of the Presidio.
I went from dog tired/sleepy to wide awake. Alan Greenspan takes his hot tub in the morning, now I know why. I was up past 3 AM - I pounded through the closing pages of Japan's Imperial Conspiracy, by David Bergamini (published 1971). I shrugged off an ambien and awake thinking through the idea of writing a murder mystery where Nero Wolfe was killed - but I couldn't figure out who the killer was, there were so many potential perps to chose from... I went to sleep listening to a tape of Robert Frost reading his own poetry.
And then this morning... at 6:30... see above.