For starters, no, I didn’t go to the Pink Slip Party looking for a job, but for a great photo opportunity.
I had heard about the party the day before from a co-worker, who heard about it herself from workIt. Thinking that it would be a good opportunity for shooting, I decided to attend on Wednesday following the usual workday. I figured a couple hundred people would be attending the event, which was to be held at the Blue Chalk Cafe in chic Shallow Alto… err… Palo Alto. The event was organized and sponsored by a few companies, including Docent, a provider of products and services enabling knowledge exchange between enterprises, educational content providers and professional communities, sfGirl.com, and sfbayhappyhour.com.
The event began officially at 5:00 pm, but I wasn’t able to arrive until 6:45 pm. Driving into Palo Alto seemed busier than ever, and when I drove by 630 Ramona Street where the Blue Chalk is located, I realized why the traffic was so congested — everyone was attending the Pink Slip Party! After a number of circling attempts, I ended up parking about five blocks south on Ramona Street. There was a line outside of the Blue Chalk that practically snaked around the street corner; fortunately for me, I escaped the pleasure of standing in line when I flashed my camera and told the people manning the lines that I was going to shoot the event. There are indeed good things about having a camera by your side and being part of the press! I’m reminded of a line from the opening gambit of the MacGyver episode, Thief of Budapest, “It’ll get you in and out of places.”
Hundreds of people were crowded into the Blue Chalk Cafe on Wednesday evening. I would wager that, in total, over a thousand people attended the Pink Slip Party. It would have been great to have interviewed the attendees to determine how they found out about the event. I became aware of it through word of mouth, which is what I am guessing how most people heard about it. A year ago, a crowd of this size would have been reserved for a company that just went through a skyrocketing IPO. My how times have changed when Loudcloud, the company run by former Netscape founder, Marc Andressen, barely makes a whimper on the IPO circuit a week ago.
At the Blue Chalk, the the crowd was an interesting cross-section of individuals working and living in the Silicon Valley. I was able to identify three main groups of people at the party, identified primarily by what was on everyone’s name tag:
- Red Dot: Job seeker looking for employment
- Green Dot: Company recruiter seeking talent
- No Dots: Lurker enjoying the beer and atmosphere
And no, there weren’t any DoDots in the crowd. What I did see, however, were plenty of business cards being exchanged and an equal number of beaming going on between Palm handhelds. Interestingly enough, I didn’t see any RIM Blackberry devices at the event; at the Demo 2001 Conference last month in Phoenix, the majority of people were wielding Blackberries as opposed to Palms. With this crowd, Palm devices prevailed, and there wasn’t a Microsoft PocketPC in sight.
Networking was in the air, as red dots talked to green dots and green dots hawked their resumes to red dots. There were a number of people dressed to impress, either via suits or strange outfits. I’m not sure if they made the right impression on the red dots, but they certainly made for good portrait models and interesting character studies. As the drinks flowed I think less and less people were concerned with finding a job and more interested in hooking up! I figure that in the Silicon Valley, finding a romantic partner is much more difficult than finding a job! Fortunately, job seeking at events such as the Pink Slip Party can serve the double function of a matchmaking event. Green dot, red dot, or no dot — it doesn’t matter what you are when it comes to love!
Photographers and Journalists
As I began shooting scenes and people, I began to notice an increasing number of photographers in the crowd, and all of them were porting some form of SLR (single lens reflex) camera. There was one woman with a Nikon D1 digital-SLR, outfitted with what looked like an ultra-wide angle lens. Another young lady had a Canon EOS-1v or EOS-1n and was switching between two lenses, which I believe were a 70-200mm f/4.0L and a 24mm f/1.4L. I don’t know how she managed to take non-blurry photos with the 70-200, but she probably had some great results with the 24mm, which is a fine lens with an enormous aperture that allows her to take photos in very little light. I had brought along my Canon D30 and was flipping back and forth between the 50mm f/1.4 and the 17-35mm f/2.8L. The lighting situations were difficult at the Blue Chalk, due to the high ceilings and dark lighting. I cursed myself a number of times for forgetting to bring a Sto-Fen OmniBounce for my 420EX Speedlite; I won’t make the same mistake the next time I shoot an event. The young lady had a makeshift light reflector, whereas the D1 photographer had a slide-out reflector attached her large flash unit.
March 18, 2001 Update: I looked up the picture of her lens in my Canon lens brochure, and it turns out the female photographer was wielding the 70-200mm f/2.8L instead of the 70-200mm f/4.0L. The 2.8 has a smaller zoom ring than the 4.0 and doesn’t bulge at the top as much as the 4.0. Rumor has it that Canon is about to release an image-stabilized 70-200 f/2.8L. If she was using one of them, that might explain how she was able to take some good shots with that lens given the lighting conditions.
There was another guy with a film-based Nikon unit, with his flash rigged to a mounting bracket. I spoke to him briefly and learned that he had shot less than a roll of film. When I finished, I realized that I had burned through about 150 photos, the equivalent to 6 rolls of 24 exposure film. Wow. Digital, I must repeat, changes the way photography is done! Finally, I didn’t see any point-and-shoot cameras at the event, though I’m sure that some people were carrying and using them throughout the evening. Last night, after all, was a great opportunity to take some fantastic scenes, portraits, and group shots.
Along with the photographers, I noticed a number of journalists, or at least journalist-looking people, at the party. One of them, a writer for the San Jose Mercury News, didn’t want her photograph taken. Guess she didn’t want the attention of seeing her celebrity face on the Internet! All of these people were furiously scribbling notes, not on Palm handhelds, but on pads of paper. Part of me is sad that the Newton didn’t succeed, since that was (and still is) an excellent device for taking notes, either handwritten in digital ink or computer recognized. After all the criticism was leveled on the Newton after its inception, much of it warranted, the product did become quite useful and powerful; unfortunately, the negative connotation it had acquired, coupled with the Palm tidal wave, was too much for poor Newton to overcome. Perhaps those heady days, much like the days of the Internet gold rush, are destined to come again.
The media in the form of Channel 5 Eyewitness News was also on hand at the Blue Chalk, interviewing a number of red dots and green dots throughout the evening.
How far can the stock market go down? How much more pain will high-tech companies have to endure before brighter times beckon? Has the great dot-com boon gone dot-bomb? Companies around the Silicon Valley are laying off people left and right; if you’re reading this photomusing, chances are you know someone who has been recently let go at his or her company (if it hasn’t happened already to you). It might even be something on your mind at your company; have you been looking around, over your shoulder, and in meetings at your co-workers, wondering which ones will be selected to stay and which ones will be leaving?
During the great Internet years in the mid to late 90’s, companies were hiring talent as quickly as they could find them. With millions upon millions of dollars invested in these companies, they practically had a mandate to grow and expand enormously; money and revenues, they figured, would come at a later date, when the company and/or product had become a brand-name and secured its place within the marketplace. Many of these companies probably figured that ad revenue, generated by enormous amounts of web traffic, would be the ticket to wealth on the Internet. Today, these companies, if they are still around, are laying off people in droves; even established and seemingly untouchable companies such as Cisco have been compelled to reduce their workforce.
I’d like to think that as many jobs are being removed, there are an equal number of jobs becoming available. Startups are dying left and right, yes, but aren’t there more and more startups launching everyday? They might be shying away from the profile of big name former startups such as Yahoo! or Netscape, lurking in the backgrounds and and ready to make their big break — or big fall — in the marketplace. As an optimist, I believe that in these apparent dark times, there’s opportunity waiting, for those of who can identify and take advantage of it.
Attending the Pink Slip Party was an eye-opening experience. I was able to see first-hand, how the effects of the economy and stock crash have manifested themselves in companies around the Silicon Valley. Hundreds of people, many of whom were looking for jobs, came to this event in Palo Alto in hopes that perhaps, something might happen that would restart their careers. I’m not sure how many of them found what they were looking for, but I’m certain that they had fun looking. These events are great for the Valley; they bring together people from the industry, not under some competitive umbrella, but under an umbrella of understanding and empathy.
I’m hoping that these Pink Slip Parties are not going to become a common occurrence, as that would signal some pretty sad times here in the Valley; that being said, this was, I believe, the fifth Pink Slip Party in the Bay Area, which is never a good sign. Then again, everyone seems to have a great time whenever the pink slips fly… so I guess, let’s keep bringing ’em on!
Here’s a few more photos that I took at the Pink Slip Party this evening. Names have been removed from name tags to protect the innocent.