Watts (chipotle) wrote,

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Networking Ho!

I spend the morning at another meeting of ProNet Tampa Bay, the networking group for out-of-work "professionals" in the Tampa Bay area--a kind of support group for white collar workers rather than blue collar. I talk to a few people there, including a guy I met at the meeting two weeks ago who used to work at Second Century, a flash-in-the-pan telecom company started a few years back by ex-Intermedia guys. The Intermedia guys with the brains, notably Mike Viren (who I used to call "Grandfather Networking," but not to his face), were pushed out about a year after the company got going because the venture capitalists weren't satisfied with the progress in building the network. Viren, coming from a background where companies actually tried to have services to sell before selling them, wanted to spend a few years ramping up. The VCs didn't see it that way, so they brought in somebody else who spent money much faster on everything but the network. They were gone in two years.

The only thing I leave ProNet with is a mental note to register for their "reverse job fair" coming up September 12th. That's right: instead of desperate wannabe employees wandering around tables of employers dropping off résumés, the employers are invited to wander around tables of desperate employees.

On the way home I decide to splurge for lunch, in the sense of "eating out at all," not "eating out expensively." I stop at a Miami Subs which is now four or five fast food places with one counter, and order "Arthur Treacher's" fish and chips. This is no doubt from conversations about fish and chips I've been having with a British friend (kareem), and these would no doubt compare to a brand he described as "the shop you find in bus stations"--although this time they were served hot and crisp, which wasn't the case the last two times I've braved this location. I keep giving them the benefit of the doubt because I remember really liking Arthur Treacher's as a child, although to be honest I can't be sure if that's as much because I was undiscriminating back then as because of quality. On a good day they're still better than Long John Silver's.

The evening is another networking session.

I arrive at the Blue Martini, a huge bar that can only be described as "swank," a bit after 5:30, this time with my networking cards ready. A "networking card" is distinct from a business card in that it's to remind people what you can do, not what you are doing. Mine lists "Web Development & Design" followed by a buzzword list: "Studio MX / PHP / SQL / Apache" on one line, "Graphics / Layout / UI / Content on the next. It has my two phone numbers, an email address and a website address, but no physical address.

The Blue Martini is already crowded. I stop at the entrance to fill out a nametag. We can choose one of three border colors for our tags: red means you're hiring, gold means you want to be hired, and blue means you're employed and just here for the networking. I choose a gold tag and write WATTS MARTIN, WEB DEVELOPER on it. Then I wander around aimlessly looking for people to talk to, or sometimes stop in one location to try to catch people in conversation. Most people are either engaged in conversation--often with people they know, from what I pick up--or they are wandering aimlessly, too.

Very early on I catch a nametag I recognize: Henry, late of Intermedia's engineering and now at Switch and Data. He's there with another ex-Intermedia person, Mario, who at one point supervised my (now also unemployed) friend Maggie. I talk a little with Mario, but only a couple sentences before he excuses himself to chase down an appetizer tray. I have a faint suspicion that he was afraid I was going to ask him for a job.

I talk briefly with one man, Joe, who's also wearing a gold tag. He stops me because of my Cisco polo shirt, and is disappointed that I don't work for Cisco after all. He's looking to get in touch with someone he knows at Cisco in Petaluma. We talk a little; he's in telecom infrastructure. Joe isn't happy with the job market here. "I've gotten interviews in Virginia, in Texas, in Georgia, but not in Tampa. I don't know if I can stay here." Joe takes one of my cards, telling me that he has a friend who might be looking for web development work.

This is a recurring theme over the evening. I talk with one person, Matt, who wrote on his name tag: UNIX? He jokingly explains he's hoping anyone looking for anything Unix will stop and talk with him. Matt's been looking for a few months. He's considering moving to Virginia.

The last person I talk with is Andy, a salesman for UUNET--one of the original Internet backbone providers and now a division of WorldCom. I say, "I bet life's exciting around there now." He laughs and says, "Yeah, people are either chaining themselves to their desks or fleeing for the exits. Sometimes both." He knows of Intermedia, of course; he'd been to the Star Trek-like executive conference room in Intermedia's new HQ building for a meeting at one point. Andy's also considering moving; he's thinking of going back to Atlanta, where he'd been with a defunct startup called NetRail. Andy and I compare NetRail to Second Century (which was, amusingly, one of NetRail's clients).

The strongest lead I get during the evening is not actually for me. While I'm talking with Matt, a woman named Janet, with Pegasus Imaging, comes up and asks if we're C/C++ programmers. I admit that I'm not, but that I have a friend who is one and who's looking to change jobs. We talk a little and determine that she's looking for someone who's really good with low-level stuff, and that they work a little on Solaris, maybe a little on embedded systems, and on Win32 but with, she assures me, a very portable framework. I take her card for Kim. I have no idea if it'll come in handy, but there's a perverse sense in which Kim may need a new job as much as I do: despite the fact that he's making an inordinate amount of money, he's facing an inordinate amount of stress, much of it due to stupid changes at his workplace. I'd like to see him less stressed. I'll admit that given that he's the person I'm planning to move in with in Palm Harbor, I'd like to see him not feel compelled to flee this area, too.

I leave the networking event and wander by the Apple Store to confirm that they're going to have a "coming out" party for OS X 10.2, "Jaguar," tomorrow night. I don't know if I'll attend. I play with Jaguar a little on a G3/700 iBook with a video card comparable to my G4/550's, and it's noticeably snappier.

On the way home I strongly consider stopping by Indigo Coffee, a wonderful drive-through that recently opened. But a $5.33 lunch plus a $4 drink (counting a perhaps extravagant $1 tip) at Blue Martini puts me at almost $10 spent for the day, and if I do end up back at International Plaza for the Apple event tomorrow there's a good chance I'll end up spending more money on food I shouldn't. So I take a pass on the cafe con leche that's calling to me.

I decide that I'll make a coffee float when I get home--decaf coffee (hot) poured over vanilla ice cream. Trust me, it's pretty good.

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