Thursday, July 8, 2010

What an Uber is.

I thank my Dad profusely every Father's Day for saying: "No, I will not pay for you to major in political science, journalism, or any soft science like psychology or economics. Engineering, hard science, or nothing. Your choice."

There was some discussion of how companies need to pay more for entry level positions, and how not doing so meant missing out on the "Ubers", people who were very productive.

Myself being a present "Uber" at designing wireless and storage products (not my words, my old CEO's) and having worked with several Ubers at various companies, I have some knowledge of how this works.

I can say that an "Uber" to use the terms of the discussion does not cold-call companies or really ever apply for a job anywhere after they attain a certain level of notoriety. They are continously employed until they choose not to be, and if suddenly laid off a recruiter usually will call them in a few weeks. Ubers have a good network, and if they say "hey, I lost my job" it spreads through the network and people call *them*.

And with Ubers, there usually is no interview at all, the resume and reputation speaks for itself. Companies calling an Uber know that they are very likely employed now, or if they aren't it wasn't their fault, and in order to lure them they have to meet their demand. If someone is sending out resumes and looking for work and getting no results, they are by definition not an Uber, and you as a CEO are not "losing out" on an Uber if you circular file a resume that asks 175% of what you have budgeted for the position. If they're an Uber, you already know about them, know what they make, and whether you can afford to hire them.

As such, I've been cold-called by a company, they put the offer out for a job (no interview), they said "$120K plus stock", I said "$175K flat" because I knew the company management and knew it was going to be a death march, they balked, I shrugged and kept working at my $120K job, and they went under 26 months later.

A lot of Ubers just want to work on cool stuff and don't want to deal with running a business of their own, they just want people to hand them cool projects and a team, leave them alone, and pay them. Sure, some get the business feva (like myself) and will start to strike out on their own, but not everyone is like this.

Your level of Uberness will depend on the economy, the direction of the field, and the day of the week. My old boss's definition of Uber was if you get 2 cold-call job offers a month in a down economy. Sometimes I got that, sometimes I didn't, but I didn't really care. It used to really torque my ex that I said "They laid off the entire R&D department including me today. Eh, someone will probably call me soon" and have it happen.

But that doesn't mean I think I'm invulnerable. Not in the least. I'm cautious with my finances, network like hell, subscribe to 5 technical journals and read 10 more at the library, maintain a blog so my network knows what I'm doing, and work on my own projects to keep all the mental tools sharp and ready to go, even ones not related to my present job or consulting project. I know that if I slack, the industry passes me by. If I get arrogant, I stop generating value add at the same rate and my $150-200/hr loaded consulting rate does not look nearly as good.

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