Pink Slips Can Lead to Rosy Opportunities for Tech Pros


Not too long ago, tired of seeing the value of my retirement account shed 25 percent every quarter, I took my investments out of stocks and opted for a conservative (and puny) amount of interest, probably not much more than I'd get from a traditional savings account. I just don't have much of a stomach for risk.


With the economy showing only tentative signs of recovery, I'm certainly not the only one getting cautious. With the technology sector no longer looking as recession-resistant as optimists predicted it would be, even California's Silicon Valley is hunkering down. As Paul Boutin writes in Wired:


Silicon Valley 2009 is a bunch of nerds slashing their spending, sitting up late tweaking their Excel spreadsheets for the Great Depression 2.0, and generally hunkering down in their current assignments.


That's in contrast to more flush times when, confident they could find work, many techies switched jobs frequently rather than putting in long years for a single employer. And that was a good thing, say some folks. According to AnnaLee Saxenian, author of "Regional Advantage: Culture and Competition in Silicon Valley and Route 128," the area's frequent job-hopping "facilitates flows of information and know-how between individuals, firms, and industries. When combined with venture capital, it supports unanticipated recombinations of technologies and skill."


Back in 2007, pundit Robert Cringelypresented employee migration as a threat to Google, theorizing that workers frustrated that Google couldn't spare the time or the resources to develop the ideas it encouraged them to spend 20 percent of their time working on would leave the company and found their own businesses.


That's why layoffs may ultimately be a good thing, writes Boutin. Because so many folks are losing their jobs, there is no stigma attached to getting a pink slip. For folks with the right skills, there's a low cost of entry to create a Facebook widget or iPhone application, Boutin adds. The Wall Street Journal concurs, pointing out in a recent article that, in many ways, a tough economy is a great time to launch a startup. For those needing a little help, business incubators appear to be enjoying a revival, wrote IT Business Edge blogger Lora Bentley a few months ago.


Could it be that folks accustomed to facing adversity make good entrepreneurs? Starting their own businesses probably doesn't seem all that intimidating to immigrants, many of whom came to the U.S. to escape some pretty horrendous conditions in their own countries, I've suggested before. For most people, even if no stigma is involved, losing a job certainly qualifies as adversity.


The implication that losing a job is a great way to get the creative juices flowing is one of the more interesting takes on innovation I've seen in recent memory. What do you think? Boutin wraps with a personal example, nnoting he's been axed five times since moving to Northern California and has found a new career opportunity each time.