20-something Part 3

August 31, 2001

I have always felt that it is not good to write about events in the too-recent past right away. History needs time to make nostalgic memories and to soothe old wounds. So you’ll have to wait another 5 years to learn what really happened at hotjobs.com.

Needless to say, it was the best time of my life in many ways. Building a tiny little company from 4 to 675 people at its peak. From private to public. Thirteen offices in four countries. Three Super Bowl commercials. From an unknown website, to the most heavily trafficked job site in the world. Consistently in the top 60 or so sites on the web. Several hundred new friends. Maybe even a few enemies. But a moment in time that has changed my life irrevocably, and for which I will always be grateful. And I didn’t *actually* intend to retire before Josh graduated from Harvard, but hey, shit happens.

And for now, much to the chagrin of my folks, I am peacefully unemployed and enjoying life. Cooking classes at the French Culinary Institute are done, and I can almost make a mean cream puffs (chicks dig that, I’m told — you know, almost being able to make a cream puff). I started taking piano lessons again with my cool teacher, Peggy Stern. I’ve also started to do a ton of digital photography, which can be seen on the homepage (hitting “reload” causes the image to rotate…). That’s it. Hope you enjoyed reading about my life. Make sure you e-mail me your comments.

June 30,2005

I said to wait 5 years in 2001. I lied.

Contrary to what you might hear in the press, HotJobs.com first debuted in early 1996 — the brainchild of Richard Johnson. He assembled a team consisting of Earle, Chris and me. Chris didn’t stick around very long, and eventually became a hot shot security consultant in Atlanta. You might find it ironic that he was also convicted for hacking as a teenager, but really, who better to advise you on security than a hacker?

I was hired as a designer. I knew some HTML, but not much else. My first day was November 9, 1995. I worked two jobs for the first year to make ends meet. 9am – 7pm at HotJobs, and then from 7:30 – midnight at a service bureau in Soho, where i laid out type and made proofs for magazines like…well, Penthouse.

HotJobs was initially called the Online Technology Employment Center, and only offered technology jobs. Richard came up with the name “HotJobs,” and I just rolled my eyes. So did John. John eventually created Urban Baby with his wife.

Little Known Trivia: I designed the HotJobs logo, which is still used by Yahoo! today.

We brought on another guy named Chris, who went by the name Max. I don’t remember why. Then one day, Ben hired a grad student from Columbia named Thom. Thom showed up every morning and sat down at his SGI to start some coding. Back in 1996, HotJobs wasn’t a full time thing. It was just a website that we created while we looked for the Internet homerun. In the meantime, we took on various consulting projects, and one of them was a member directory for the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives, an organization of some of the smartest people on the earth. The project was initially subcontracted to Charles — but Charles was shady. He missed deadline after deadline, and when he delivered the software, it didn’t work.

Thom looked at the project description, sat down at a computer, and started coding. He coded and coded. I sat there massaging a data file. He coded. The hands of the clock spun around like a bad movie. And we worked throughout the night, and in the morning, the project was finished. The result was a Windows executable on 3 1/2″ floppy that contained a searchable database of the Dana membership.

It was clear to me at this point that Thom had a rare level of dedication. It was clear to me at this point that I could work with Thom.

As HotJobs grew, the code that was written by Earle and Max proved to be inadequate. We didn’t have a true database, but rather, we had a flat file that was scanned each time a search was executed. But we had ordered a box of the Oracle database, which had been sitting in the corner of 24 West 40th Street for several months.

Thom opened the box one day.

A few weeks later, HotJobs.com was running on Oracle.

We didn’t actually pay for the license for quite some time.

Earle and Max eventually left for various reasons. Contrary to what they might say, they had very little to do with HotJobs and the other products. I don’t begrudge them. We are all fortunate.

Thom finally graduated from Columbia with a Master’s of Science in Computing. As his graduation date approached, he mulled a number of job options. And we sat and had one of conversations. “If you stay, I’ll stay,” he told me. I had considered leaving as well. “I’ll stay.” We didn’t realize it at the time, but it was a pivotal day in our lives.

Technologists came and went, as is the nature of any company, but a start-up in particular. But some stayed. JBAshowed up in a suit. I haven’t seen him in a suit since (jba and I actually dressed up in suits on our first day in our PhotoShelter offices as a joke. Thom was supposed to wear one too, but he didn’t). JBA stayed. It was clear to me then, as it is now, that I could work with JBA.

The people that stayed. The people that mattered: Declan, Sara, Darren, Jen, Emily, Nabby, James, Tim, Frank, Celeste, George, Kelly. There were others that mattered, and many that didn’t. That is the nature of any organization, and for anyone to tell you any differently is false.

In 1997, Richard decided that the business was growing at a promising rate. He pulled some of his recruiters from his agency, and made them sales people. We started filling up the 12th floor, and were forced to get the 14th and 16th floor to sustain our growth.

Dimitri was brought on board to head up the sales and marketing effort.

At some point, I was no longer involved with the business-side of the company. Companies grow, and at a certain point, you just can’t have your hands in everything. You can’t know everything that goes on. You cede control despite your ego.

We hired Chris Z as a programmer. He was a very talented kid from Minnesota (Chris informed me that it was actually North Dakota) with a nerdy giggle, and crazy stories from the mid-west. He convinced Thom of the benefits of using a shared library, which brought our executable sizes down considerably. He eventually resigned, upset with the lack of autonomy he was afforded. I have heard that he was resentful of our later success (Chris writes: I wasn’t ever resentful (and still am not) of the success of HotJobs — rather, I’m happy that I was able to contribute to whatever degree to something that ended up pbeing so successful. Things ended up working out fine anyhow). I always liked Chris, and wished that he had stayed on board.

Chris Z was the first and only person that I’ve seen light a fart with my own eyes.

Chris Olson was a former Swedish Gymnastics National Champion. She was an intern, or something like that. She had a twin sister. ’nuff said.

Marc was the perennial summer intern. He wa a little older than the average summer intern owing to a few years spent at the Curtis Institute of music being a violinist, but eventually he found himself at Princeton pursuing a double degree in engineering and computing. His desk was a filing cabinet because we had no room for a desk. Jyang commented that he had no ass. He was the “No Ass Boy,” and Thom christened him “nabby.” Sometimes when “nabby” is drunk or beligerent, he refuses to answer to “Marc.”

Speaking of interns, the interns….Max is now pursuing his PhD at MIT in computing after starting a few companies including TheSpark and some dating site. He is probably most known for the auto-generation of a scientific paper that was accepted by a journal for publication. The whole thing was a farce, unbeknownst to the publishers. Adam is/was pursuing his PhD at Columbia in computing. After working on several projects, he found himself gainfully employed at a little company called “Google,” and I hear he’s doing ok…Marc loves Charisse…Ponyboy is pursuing a PhD at UNC studying epidemiology, or something of that ilk. He’s on his way to helping cure AIDS. No joke…Jen IMs Thom…Mark D now works at HotJobs…I have no idea where Naila is…

The week of our Super Bowl commercial, ABC did a profile on the company. The little company that could. A little after 5pm EST, the piece aired, as Thom, JBA, Alfred, and others huddled around the luminescent glow of our screens as we monitored the network traffic. A few seconds after the piece aired, the traffic spiked on all the machines, flatlined, then all the machines shut themselves off. This could be referred to as a kernel panic.

We had an office panic.

As the broadcast hit the central and pacific time zones, it was clear to us that we did not have enough horse power for the Super Bowl. We frantically ordered a few more expensive SGI machines. And by the time Super Bowl sunday rolled around, we walked around the offices with our cocky attitudes and nervous anticipation.

Kick-off finally came around, as did our commercial, and once again, we witnessed the machines flatline, and hit loads that we didn’t know existed. I vaguely remember a load somewhere around 250 on one of the machines. As a point of comparison, a typical load on my computer is about .01.

We had an office panic.

I remember yelling at everyone. I remember outlining steps that we were going to take. I remember people doing the best that they could. A roomful of kids, and I was the oldest at 26 trying to manage the onslaught of traffic following a Super Bowl commercial.

The site was barely accessible due to the traffic that the ad generated. Thom sat down and re-architected the entire site. Distributed computing. A week or two later, he had rewritten the back-end architecture. More hardware was ordered, the site was usable and scaleable, and we vowed that we would never fail a Super Bowl showing again.

We never failed again.

The company kept growing and space was at a premium. We tried splitting up the technical staff by taking some temporary office space, and Thom and I decided to give up our office and sit in the server room. The server room was perhaps 12 feet by 25 feet, and filled with noisy airconditioning units to cool the machines, but like any HVAC system, they only kicked on periodically. The temperature in the room swung by at least 15 degrees multiple times an hour. Thom and I bought noise cancellation headphones, and sat in there for months.

In the fall of 1999, HotJobs went public (ticker HOTJ) on the NASDAQ. JBA and I went to the data center just in case the site received a traffic spike. The opening bell rang, and the stock opened at $8. There was no spike in traffic. We walked across the street to eat some Thai food. We hung around the data center for a few more hours. I headed back to the office. The stock closed around $8.

As the year 2000 approached, we spent a considerable amount of time preparing for Y2K. George, our CTO, had an outside firm audit everything that was going on, and on December 31, JBA and I were once again seated in the data center watching a simulcast of the ball dropping in Times Square. We uncovered a few minor bugs as the clock struck 12, made some fixes, then went to Red Rock West for a rockin good time. JBA likes to call it a “modern classic.

We acquired new office space — two huge floors on West 31st street. We hired and hired. We got the obligatory foosball table. We brought in middle management. We acquired a company. We created new products. We were one of the top 30 most trafficked sites on the Internet. We opened offices in different states and countries.

Then the bubble burst.

HotJobs wasn’t a vaporware company. HotJobs had a real product with real revenue and real profits. But we weren’t immune to the effects of a bear market that had no tolerance for dotcoms. With our backs to the wall, Richard asked Thom and me to spearhead a 6-week development of a product aimed at recruiting agencies. We gathered our team, and did it. But it wasn’t enough.

Our round of massive layoffs began in the Spring of 2001. I was the Senior Vice President of Engineering with a staff of 50. I had to lay-off many of my staff that had worked for me for years through thick and thin. Richard was replaced by Dimitri as CEO & President.

It was a temperate April night, and I sat in my office around 7 or 8pm. Thom had left as had most of my staff (Thom comments that he was actually there. Dimitri had sent Dave to summon him for a fake meeting, where he eventually told Thom the real reason after Thom accused him of being suspicious). Dimitri buzzed me to come talk to him in his office. I made my way up the stairwell to the next floor and knocked on his door. He waved me in.

We made small talk, as we always did. We didn’t like each other. I didn’t think he was a good manager, nor a good person. And yet we were both successful because of our combined efforts. I acknowledge that much.

And then he told me that I had basically exceeded my capabilities, and that he was looking to take things in different direction. He told me that he thought I should go to business school. And finally he told me that he was exercising my employment contract.

Dimitri effectively fired me from the company that I helped to start.

Daryl, the head of HR came to escort me out of the building. I surrendered by ID, keys, etc. I was not allowed to take any of my belongings, nor touch my computer.

Getting rid of an employee takes a coordinated effort. Julie was asked to escort me. She declined. Declan was called to terminate my accounts. He screamed his staff with tears in his eyes, “don’t touch a fucking thing.” You never forget the people that stand up for you.

I walked into the cool air of West 31st street and hailed a cab on 9th avenue.

Please sir, I want some more!