High-tech? No Thanks

Most high-tech workers who have received a pink slip remember the moment as a traumatic one. But not everyone who has left the world of high-tech harbors a sense of loss. Some even feel that working in the field seriously marred their lives, and are happy for the chance to start a new chapter. Some swear they will never go back, even if the high-tech industry in Israel recovers.

Galit, 28, was a project manager in a large Internet company specializing in information systems. "I got into high-tech by chance," she says. "While I was studying economics, I decided to get a job. I wanted to work with people - not sit in front of a computer screen all day. The employment agency suggested that I call a company looking for an industrial and management engineer. Even though it's not my field, I passed the test and they gave me a chance."

Today, Galit wants nothing to do with high-tech. "Actually, the work was interesting, and in the beginning, the pressure was positive: It got my mind working. The problem is that the hours were too long. I worked there for two and a half years, but if you figure in all the overtime, it was more like three years.

"In hindsight, I think we were being manipulated. They pay you well but they chain you to the office. I arrived at work at 9 A.M. and stayed there till late at night. If I wanted to leave earlier, I had to find an excuse, as if I were doing something wrong."

"I had no private life," says Galit. "I turned into this frustrated person. I couldn't understand my co-workers. There were people who got married, went off on a fancy honeymoon to Zanzibar, and then came back and worked day and night. From my point of view, it was slave labor. When you get home late, you have this whole compensation system. You have no strength to cook, so you eat out. I used to spend a fortune on clothes and appliances so I would feel I was getting something, after all the work.

"It took me two years to realize that life was passing me by, although I knew I would earn much less in any other job and that scared me. A moment after the shares began to fall, I was out of there. Despite my fears, I knew it was time to go back to the sane world."

For the last four months, Galit has been working in an accounting office. "It's sort of a dull job, 9 A.M. to 5 P.M. No company car. No cell phone. No company outings. But I get home when it's still light out, and that makes it all worthwhile. In October, I'll be studying for an MA in philosophy - as far away as you can get from high-tech. To high-tech people who've been given the boot, I have one thing to say: This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Start living for yourselves and not for others."

Meirav, 33, took a retraining course in website management after working in editing. "I signed up for a number of reasons," she says. "I was looking for a change, I like learning, and I saw people around me in high-tech earning piles of money. When the course was over, the instructor referred me to various companies, but it turned out the hours were very long and the salaries pretty low. Some of the younger people in the course decided to go with it anyway. They could live with their parents in the meantime, and get some experience under their belts. That sort of adventure wasn't for me.

"While classes were going on, I already had the feeling this wasn't for real. How could a person earn a huge salary after doing a ten-month course? You can't compare a course like this to a 3-year university program where you come out with a degree. Unless you've had previous experience in the field, you don't really know enough by the time the course is over. This type of framework is designed for people who are on the gullible side. Like me."

In the end, Meirav went back to her old profession. "I found an editing job that was more interesting than all the jobs I was offered in high-tech. The hours were also more reasonable. The industry will pick up again one day, and then maybe I'll make use of what I learned. At the moment, the NIS 11,000 I paid is money down the drain."

Gali, 28, lost her job as a software tester two months ago. "Today, I can say that being fired saved my life. I was sick of working in high-tech," she says. "On the other hand, it's pretty depressing to be handed a pink slip." Gali found the job through an employment agency. "I didn't even know how to switch on a computer. I was hired as a secretary, but I started working with software after two months. For years, I thought about going over to programming, and I took courses in computers at the Open University, but because I had no experience, it would have meant taking a cut in salary."

Despite the long hours, the pressure and the loneliness of sitting at a computer all day, Gali liked some aspects of the job, which she stuck with for six years: "We went on overseas trips and company outings, and they organized a party for us every year. Most of the employees were between the ages of 24 and 30. Coming to work in the morning was almost like walking into a discotheque. We even had a lawn to stretch out on, like in high school. The management treated us fabulously. We were made to feel as if we were part of the big success, which was very flattering."

Just before the high-tech crisis, Gali joined another company. "At one point, I was getting 30 job offers a day," she recalls, "but then everything changed. They started firing people, and eventually, my turn came. I've been unemployed now for a month and a half. When I go down to the employment office, I meet a lot of friends. I look through the ads a couple of times a week, but so far I've had only one offer. One thing I know is that I'm not going back to high-tech. Maybe I'll study interior design."

Noa Wald, 36, studied industrial design at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design before entering the world of high-tech. For several years, she designed teaching aids for computer study. In 1994, Noa and three friends developed a system of subtitles for language instruction, and launched a start-up; its shares are now traded on the London stock market.

A few months ago, Wald dropped out of the race altogether. "With the money I made from stock options, I have plenty to live on without working. But the idea scared me," she says. "So my sister and I decided to open an interior design studio. It's called `Me and My Sister,' and we work alone. We make all the business decisions, choose the clients and most importantly, decide how many hours to put in."

The decision to change direction began to crystallize in her mind several years ago. "I liked the team work and creating from scratch," says Wald, "and I also liked the salary. But I had no life. I'm not sure if I'll go back to high-tech. From the moment I called it quits, I began to see that there are other options to choose from. It's an optimistic thought. Especially now that I have the time to let it roll around in my brain."