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Optical/IP

Down and Out in Texas

RICHARDSON, Texas – After being laid off, workers here in Telecom Corridor say that finding new employment is the toughest job of all. The hours are long, the pay is nonexistent, and the process of competing for a hiring manager's or CEO's attention is humbling, to say the least.

"I've been working from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. everyday just to try and keep up with possible opportunities here and on both coasts," says one engineer whose employer recently went under. "It's tough."

Unfortunately, the coming months don't look promising. The holidays are approaching and, with telecom companies still guessing whether their business has hit bottom, few are considering new hires until after the first of next year.

"Companies are hunkering down for the winter. They're just hiring a skeleton crew that can help them rebuild when the market comes back," says Jim Orr, who worked as the principal network architect for Latus Lightworks until it shut down several weeks ago.

An informal survey by Light Reading shows that most feel the job market is still between six and nine months away from a recovery. (To take the poll and see the survey results, click here.) Even those that are hiring, however, are taking their time, knowing that there are more than enough qualified candidates on the street.

Since this region is so closely aligned to the telecommunications industry, this year's layoffs at Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT), Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERICY), and SBC Communications Inc. (NYSE: SBC) have hit especially hard. Alcatel SA (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA), for instance, employed about 7,000 people here in January, but will only have about 4,850 on its payroll when it completes its most recent cuts. Fujitsu Network Communications Inc. (FNC) also recently cut 200 of its 2,400 jobs.

Startups, too, have been devastated. BrightLink Networks Inc., Codestream Technologies Corp., Ennovate Networks, Latus Lightworks, Metera Networks, Zhone Technologies Inc., and many others have either shut down entirely or significantly cut back their Texas-based operations.

U.S. employers cut 415,000 jobs from their payrolls in October alone. This was the largest nationwide employment decrease since May 1980, and it followed some 213,000 job cuts in September, the U.S. Department of Labor says.

Telecom Corridor, indeed, is feeling the pain. Unemployment in the U.S. was at 5.4 percent in October, up from 4.9 percent in September. In this region, however, unemployment hit 5.4 percent in September, according to the Texas Workforce Commission. Throughout Texas, the unemployment rate has been at 5.1 percent or higher since the end of May.

With so many out of work in one industry, the competition for every unfilled job is fierce. Last year, one telecom marketing manager from out-of-state recalls that with the help of recruiters he snagged three job offers from area companies in a matter of a few weeks. "Even relocation costs weren't a problem back then," he says.

Now, however, recruiters aren't cold-calling talented workers; it's the other way around. But even the headhunters can't do much with hundreds of unsolicited resumés when their clients just aren't hiring.

"We're still working with the area's big venture capitalists, but none of our searches are in the telecom industry right now," says Jeremy King, a senior vice president and partner at Austin McGregor International, the Dallas-based search firm whose clients include Sevin Rosen Funds, Mayfield Fund, and Austin Ventures. "The VCs know where the telecom startup opportunities are and, since the pace of investments is slow, they're doing more resumé vetting themselves."

With recruiters in a holding pattern, job seekers look to career counselors such as Optimance and networking groups such as Career/HiTech Connection to give them some kind of edge. One attendee of both groups says he learned how to pitch himself to a prospective employer in 30 seconds, which is helpful, since "you end up talking to more answering machines than people." An ex-Nortel employee says he's learning how to better match his skills to jobs outside the telecommunications industry.

But even savvy career coaches are no match for a well-worn Rolodex and personal networking. "Sending a resumé in [unsolicited] doesn't do you any good," says Orr. "You have to get someone you know to bring your resumé in. Even in those situations where I do know somebody, I'm seeing seven or eight other people with connections just as good."

Now the folks who were lured from defense and manufacturing jobs into telecom are lining up with resumés in hand outside Fort Worth's Lockheed Martin Corp., which just won a multibillion-dollar defense contract. And those that left optical networking startups for the security of the big telecom companies are finding the air over there is just as thick with anxiety.

There are jobs out there, insists Gregg Wetterman, founder of GeekMeet, a North Texas technology networking group with some 8,500 local members. Wetterman says he's heard from several large telecom companies that are quietly looking to fill very specific jobs.

"It was hard for these companies to decide which people to let go and, many times, they culled too many too fast," he says. "In those cases, they can't actively recruit; the response would be too overwhelming."

At local watering holes, such as Nedley's in Richardson and The Flying Saucer in Addison, the midday crowd wearing pressed khakis and collared shirts well outnumbers the college students and other patrons. They share new leads, critique each other's resumés, and try to keep their spirits up.

In the nearby suburban neighborhoods, where two-income families have one car in the driveway during working hours, laid-off workers ask themselves how long they can stretch their severance pay, whether they should get a part-time job to keep money coming in, and what their families can do without until things start looking up.

"Probably the hardest thing to do is to stay upbeat day after day," says one market analyst who was fired by an optical networking equipment startup several weeks ago. "There's a lot of cynicism out there, but you can't let it get to you."

— Phil Harvey, Senior Editor, Light Reading
http://www.lightreading.com
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MKTG_Hack 12/4/2012 | 7:36:13 PM
re: Down and Out in Texas I've been on the street for about 5 months and you can tell these folks that jobs are out there but they are amazingly hard to get. I've been in situations where there are over 500 applicants for one spot. I'm seriously thinking of getting out of this business completely since it looks to be dry for many years to come.
joe_average 12/4/2012 | 7:36:12 PM
re: Down and Out in Texas Last night as I was tossing and turning, I could name off the top of my head 28 people that I knew from the telecom industry who didn't have jobs. About 20 of these are quality people who would have had no problem finding jobs two years ago.

That lead me to even more tossing and turning.

Good luck to all of you out there looking. Try not to be discouraged as the situation (for most of you) dictated the layoffs.
MKTG_Hack 12/4/2012 | 7:36:02 PM
re: Down and Out in Texas It's worse than that. Expect no turn for 16 months but don't look for any significant hiring for 24 months at least. Remember, the RBOCs are back in control of our telecomm destiny so innovation will slow to a crawl and jobs will be hard to find.

I've been beating the bushes for a long time now and here's what you can expect. Lot's of folks will be impressed by your experience and background. You'll get flown all over the country and have really good interviews. Then the companies will vanish as if abducted by aliens. They won't return your calls and they won't respond to emails. And if you ever DO get a hold of them, you'll learn that they decided not to hire anyone at all. Or they reorganized the department and the opening has vanished.

Also, most companies have dumped the folks who maintained the external "careers" websites. In almost every case, those are not real jobs - they simply never took them down.

Finally, most companies are now recycling their own waste water for consuption. But that I mean that any open job MUST be filled internally. They post it externally just to satisfy EOE laws. So if the corporate lawyer wants that engineering job, they will give it to him over you.

Bitter - sure, and I apologize. But I've also encountered all of this and worse in the past few months.
NMSgoddess 12/4/2012 | 7:36:02 PM
re: Down and Out in Texas I got nailed in an optical network fallout in September. It was a sad day because I loved that job and I miss the people! However, I was lucky as many others have been out of work since Feb or May.

I think we all know how to find a job or to educate ourselves on how to do it. I know networking is the best way to find work, but would someone please tell me what you do when your entire network is unemployed? I know at least 250 people across the nation, all out of work. The 6 who are working are lucky they didn't get nailed in last week's cut.

Frankly, many of us who are telecom pros with several companies worth of experience are well aware that there is no security anywhere. Doesn't anyone remember 1991? Many of us are essentially banding together to invent our own jobs by trying to come up with start up ideas. You have no idea how many people are doing this now because we don't want to move to the high rent and high tax districts of the nation.

I am lucky because I am frugal, and have little or no debt so I can wait out the drought. But frankly, doing nothing and waiting will drive me and most anyone who works in networking nuts. So what do you do? It is easier to get temp work now than a full time job.

Many contacts in my network are taking temp contract work as a form of economic survival, unfortunately this pays about 50% of full time pay, but it certainly beats what TWC provides.

Oh yeah, if you think this is market is going to turn around in 9 months your foolin' yourselves. Give it 14 to 16 months. Meanwhile, I am going to incorporate, at least I won't have any career gaps on my resume.

Happy job hunting to you all,

The Network Management Goddess
MaxQoS 12/4/2012 | 7:36:00 PM
re: Down and Out in Texas Hack said:

It's worse than that. Expect no turn for 16 months but don't look for any significant hiring for 24 months at least. Remember, the RBOCs are back in control of our telecomm destiny so innovation will slow to a crawl and jobs will be hard to find.
________________________________________________

This is an excellent point well worth an in depth article by LR. The RBOC's have basically used the Government as a blunt instrument to pummel their CLEC/wireline competitors to death. Now that the FCC is eliminating spectrum caps on wireless carriers, a wave of consolidation will follow to reduce competition in wireless. Then having stifled all competion for broadband services, they'll hunker down for a protracted period of maximizing revenue on existing assets.

No innovative new services will be deployed but you'll still be able to get a T1 for a grand or so a month. Its good that the government is looking out for all of us.
The_Holy_Grail 12/4/2012 | 7:35:59 PM
re: Down and Out in Texas Phil -

Why did you just focus on Texas? This is a national trend. I suggest you read the post in www.usatoday.com (Thursday edition) regarding the slump taking place in the almighty Silicon Valley. This market is saturated and I suspect that many could make a very wise career move into another industry.

Unfortunately, many who have been downsized or will be downsized is not based on an individual's skills, but rather on failed business plans.

I suggest folks keep their heads up high and ONLY look forward.
lightcreeping 12/4/2012 | 7:35:56 PM
re: Down and Out in Texas I know many people in the corridor out of work. I feel badly for each of them. But I can't help but see a trend. Many of my friends at Nortel used to tell me of how they loved it there because they didn't have to work very hard. They won't get rich, they explained , but they had job security. If they went to a start-up they would have to work! No kidding that was their attitude! I couldn't believe a company could prosper with the employess having this philosphy.

should go on the NT board i guess.
sorry.
ben35bates 12/4/2012 | 7:35:55 PM
re: Down and Out in Texas Anybody got an idea how many jobs NT has axed in Texas? They had 9,000 jobs in Richardson/North Texas way back when things were good ... about eight months ago ... but I suspect they have cut at least a third and probably a lot more. I heard that NT employment in Atlanta is now about 1,000 or about one-third of peak levels. I suspect things are as tough in California.
I don't know if Texas is as bad as Paignton, England or Monkstown, N. Ireland where upwards of 75 per cent are gone from predominately manufacturing operations.
seabizkit 12/4/2012 | 7:35:54 PM
re: Down and Out in Texas This rivalry between Texans and the silicon valley is over, both are vanquished!! Texas can never be another silicon valley. They are too tied to Texas cultural values, like the siesta. Silicon valley startups work smarter and harder.
dodo 12/4/2012 | 7:35:54 PM
re: Down and Out in Texas "I couldn't believe a company could prosper with the employess having this philosphy. "

Lightcreeping

This is a misconception. Both in Montreal and atlanta, we worked our B---- off to make sure that things happen and revenues come in. Sure there are slackers everywherebut I am surprised about the attitude in Richardson.

Could be they were from the old switching div with the cash cow mentality. Both people in Access and Optical Bus were burning the midnight oil on and off. unless yoju work for the Government , there is no job security. Nortel has been laying staff on and off in the 80's and 90's and we should never take anything for granted.

Anyway Nortel is the WORLD LEADER in layoffs this year.

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