Contractless in Seattle

A programmer thought he was settling into good shape financially when he landed a temporary job with Microsoft. He was wrong.

Ina Fried Former Staff writer, CNET News
During her years at CNET News, Ina Fried changed beats several times, changed genders once, and covered both of the Pirates of Silicon Valley.
Ina Fried
3 min read

Editor's note: This is part of a series of stories about the recession's effect on the tech industry.

After nine months of searching for work, Ben Klausner thought he'd finally caught a break when he landed a contract gig in September doing security work for Microsoft's cloud computing project.

Just a month after he started, though, he learned his contract was ending. Now Klausner, a 55-year-old former IBM worker finds himself again out of work. And the prospects for employment look even dimmer than they were before the Microsoft job.


"It was frustrating," he said of his brief Microsoft experience. "You go in and you expect to be there for a year or more and after a month they tell you you have another 30 days."

Klausner's story is the kind that unemployment statistics and headlines don't often take into account. Unlike companies that have had widespread cuts, Microsoft hasn't announced broad layoffs. However, that doesn't mean the ranks of those doing work for Microsoft are as robust as they once were.

Microsoft has sharply slowed hiring and cut a significant--but unspecified--number of contractors. The company has also said it is looking to reduce its bills from its vendors, an action that could also trim the ranks of those who do business on Microsoft's behalf.

"I don't think many people are aware that Microsoft has cut back a lot of projects," Klausner said.

Klausner said he tried to find another job either within Microsoft or at the consulting company through which he got the Microsoft work, but he came up empty. "They talked about finding other things, but they didn't have anything," he said.

Things haven't worked out the way Klausner planned when he left his IBM job in Texas nearly a decade ago. Klausner, a ham radio enthusiast and science fiction fan, had grown tired of Texas and wasn't enjoying his latest assignment at IBM. He headed to Seattle at the peak of the dot-com boom because of its low unemployment rate and fast-growing technology sector.

"It was the height of the boom, so I figured I could make a move," said Klausner, whose resume includes work as a systems and network architect in addition to his security work. He found jobs at a couple of Seattle-area start-ups, but after the dot-com bust, he found steady work harder to come by.

Eventually, he settled on finding work as a contractor--one of the legions of tech workers that companies hire for specific projects. "I've been doing contract work for about four years; not so much by choice but by circumstance. It's what was available."

Click for special report
Click for complete special report

But now, Klausner said he doesn't find very many jobs even for contractors. He said he applies for several jobs each day but that there's a huge amount of competition, noting that the recent failure of Washington Mutual has put even more technical folks in competition for the slots that do come open. "There just aren't that many coming up either," he said.

For now, Klausner is also curtailing spending as best he can. "I'm going into what I think of as hermit mode," he said. "I don't go out much. I don't buy much. I was on the verge of replacing my car and that went on hold."

Instead, he is relying on his 12-year-old Ford Explorer as he searches for new work. That, he hopes, will make his savings last longer.

"Of course, investments have gone in the toilet so it's not as big a cushion as I would have liked," Klausner said. "I've got some savings for a couple of months, but it could be a real problem if this goes on."

Next in the series: For Net consultant, a crisis, then a silver lining