Letters

I am the programmer turned dishwasher, and you're next. A response to the letters written criticizing the former high-tech workers in Katharine Mieszkowski's "From Programming to Pizza Delivery."


Salon Staff
February 12, 2004 1:30AM (UTC)

[Read the original story and the letters written in response.]

I wanted to clear a few things up about the 42-year-old programmer cum dishwasher. That person is me.

I was criticized for not being prepared. In fact, I was very paranoid and consequently very prepared.

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Please note that the cost of living in San Jose in 2001-02, if you live as I did, modestly in a no-frills studio apartment, was between $1,800 and $2,500 a month, including food, rent, insurance, utilities, etc.

Please also know that I was selected by an elite Fortune 500 company from an extremely competitive field of candidates. I therefore had every reason to believe that my career would last at least 36 months, which is all I was willing to plan for. I therefore attempted to pay back my loans at a rate that would permit me to have them gone in 36 months. I also saved for the proverbial rainy day.

What I didn't do was have much of what people call "fun," averaging as I did 65 to 70 hours a week and 6-7 days a week. So yes, I went through my money, but don't get the impression I lived a life of excess or that I wasn't also setting money aside. I was.

When I was laid off, I had a reasonable belief that, having been selected in a competitive environment, I would find another position, and I went through $1,800 a month for quite a few months before I realized that I was wrong. $1,800 a month while looking for a job full time will eat through most people's savings accounts.

A part of that time was wasted on what in our industry is known as "sham interviews," one of which was briefly alluded to in the article. This is where a job is advertised, you pay to travel to the interview, and you never hear back from the company despite your qualifications or how well you interviewed.

What is happening, I learned later, is that the company doing the interviewing is merely going through the formality of interviewing an American candidate (as they are required to do when they are what is known as "H-1B dependent") before they hire yet another H-1B visa holder. Typically, the interview is conducted by H-1Bs themselves.

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Why would a company do that? Because H-1B visa holders are de facto indentured servants to the company that hires them; their continued stay in the U.S. is contingent on their continued employment by the employer who sponsored them. This gives the employer freakish leverage over their employees.

I would say I threw away $5k on such interviews.

The point of the article, as I understood it, was that people who have made all the right moves -- paid for their education, excelled at school and then professionally, committed themselves to learning cutting-edge technologies, and delivered to their employers value, quality and dedication -- are being shucked aside indiscriminately and in very large numbers, irrespective of their individual abilities.

I didn't get the impression that the article was seeking to solicit sympathy for individual personalities, but rather to highlight a trend whose implications should concern all Americans, alleged profligates and otherwise.

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One implication is the following. The level of education necessary for a career that can be commoditized in two short years turns making the decision to take out a student loan into something akin to high-stakes gambling. You may find employment briefly, or through no fault of your own, you may never find employment in the field you plunked down $40k to enter.

Another implication is that if your job can be characterized as the creation of anything that can be digitized, then you're next.

Since the above definition includes journalists, analysts in every discipline, telephone operators, programmers, advertising whizzes -- virtually all white-collar jobs -- we have to wonder not just what the next source of jobs for Americans will be, but what there will be about those "next" jobs that prevents them, too, from being outsourced to cheaper labor markets found in India, China, Vietnam, etc.

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The people who wrote in to castigate the subjects of this article for their lack of "readiness" are falling prey to a certain type of panicky delusion that I am not sure there's a neat name for, so I'll describe it.

It's the delusion of a threatened or doomed person, who, upon seeing one of his or her kind being taken down by the common enemy, tells himself or herself that it was all that victim's fault, that had they been or done something differently, which is transparently common sense to everyone else, they would have been spared.

I want to tell you that if you think you're special, if you think your gifts or talents are so unique that you can't be reckoned as disposable in the face of a worker who will work for one-half or one-tenth of your wages, you're wrong. That's what I hope everyone who reads the article takes away from it.

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-- Chad Pratt


Salon Staff

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