Three years ago, anyone with a computer science degree and a pulse could practically name his price in the job market as companies scrambled to dodge doomsday Y2K possibilities.
That atmosphere was later buoyed by demand from Internet companies, which offered not just high salaries but also stock options, beer bashes on Friday afternoons and a weekly massage.
By now, the end of that era has become an almost forgotten cliche. But what might surprise some people is the bleakness of the job outlook for a sector once thought impervious to the downturn: software programmers, with experience in code names like SQL, Unix, Java and C++.
Despite recent predictions of a nationwide shortage of computer programmers, those who follow the industry say there are lots of qualified information technology workers in New York and the rest of the country who cannot find employment. Although their long-term prospects remain bright, those looking for work right now -- and the recruiters whose livelihood depends on finding them jobs -- say the market is the worst they have seen, though it is showing signs of picking up.
Eva Marie Plaza, a database and Web developer who lives in Manhattan, has been looking since she was laid off from TheGlobe.com last April. She said she looks at job postings on employment Web sites such as Monster.com, HotJobs.com and JobCircle.com, sending out 25 to 35 responses to classified ads each week.
That effort has generated about five responses a month, resulting in an average of one interview a month and still no offers. Even when recruiters call her about an opening, she said: ``What I'm finding is a lot of times, they'll tell me, `Oh, I have this great job. I'll send your resume.' And then I never hear from them again.''
That is a big contrast to the aggressive tactics recruiters used a couple of years ago to lure technology workers from their employers, in some cases obtaining copies of company phone lists to give prized tech workers the hard sell. All along a line of cubicles, Plaza said, "You'd hear people say, `No, thanks, not interested.' And then the next phone in the next cubicle would ring."
Recruiters are not relishing the fact that the tables have turned -- their commissions are on the line.
"I hope and I believe it's at its final stages right now," said Paul Krug, a recruiter with Today's Technology Inc in New York, referring to the job bust. Like most of his colleagues, Krug attributed the dearth of technology jobs to the implosion of the Internet industry and subsequent belt-tightening at companies that overspent in the late 1990s to keep up with the dotcoms. But he also echoed a general consensus that the market is starting to turn around.
Scot Melland, CEO of Dice Inc, an online recruiting service for technology professionals, said that at the end of February, the site had about 4,600 job openings listed for the New York metro area. Although that is a significant decrease from the 10,000 positions listed a year ago, it is still a 15 percent increase from the end of December.