Pink slips and amber ale

The dot-com crash paves the way for a recruitment 'bash.'

ONE THING YOU have to say about dot-commers—the fabled twenty- to thirty-something “knowledge workers” whose meteoric rise and fall has fueled everything from the unparalleled expansion of productivity to the stratospheric housing costs in Seattle and other high-tech meccas—they know how to throw a party.

A year ago, it was the torrent of venture capital and IPO investments that had the microbrewed amber ales and flavored vodkas flowing freely in trendy nightspots like I-Spy. This year, it’s the flurry of pink slips raining down on the New Economy like confetti from a burst balloon that’s keeping the party going. In a twist on last season’s VC schmooze scene, Seattle Networks hosted the area’s first such soiree last week. Tuesday night the spot was I-Spy, the downtown club that served as the site a year ago for Loudeye Technologies’ IPO bacchanal. Compared to that celebration, the attendance and enthusiasm indices were both down by more than the Nasdaq, but there was still plenty of faux euphoria and genuine bonhomie to go around. And while would-be recruits outnumbered recruiters by 10-to-1, cards were still being exchanged faster than at a penny-ante poker game.

The unofficial dress code for the evening was “studied casual,” with tailored black leather or brown suede jackets dominating and piercings limited to discreet, tasteful silver ear and eyebrow rings. But footwear was the real giveaway: Ferragamo shoes and (hopefully) imitation snakeskin boots were all polished to a spit shine. Apparently, the object was to look at ease with the ups and downs of the IT employment marketplace, to look willing to work but not ready to settle. Only the most desperate wore suits or carried leather portfolios full of r鳵m鳠under their arms.

THE 40 OR SO recruiters were distinguished from the rest of the crowd by holographic-foil ID cards. But the effect was all but lost in the subdued light of the cavernous club, and more than a few wanna-be employees could be heard complaining that they couldn’t locate their quarry.

One group of five recruiters from bSquare, a B-to-B software design firm, came in a company uniform of monogrammed chambray work shirts and khaki chinos. Huddled together near the hors d’oeuvres table before fanning out, they looked like dancers from a Gap commercial waiting for their cue. An executive from reveled in his anonymity at this event, while admitting that the Renton-based high school reunion site also had a team of identifiable “hunters” in the field. “The last one of these I came to, I wore a branded shirt and I got mobbed,” he said.

Cliff Dickford heads up the recruiting effort for a Bothell area start-up working on developing polymer-based switching equipment for high-speed optical telecommunications networks. He said the company, which he did not identify by name, currently has 20 employees, “16 of which are PhDs in polymer chemistry.”

“I’m actually here recruiting recruiters,” he said, “because I don’t think I’m going to find many PhD polymer scientists here.”

Not all the recruiting at the party was being done by small start-ups. The list of sponsoring companies on the lookout for hungry programmers, network administrators, and designers included Voice-Stream Wireless, Attachmate, and, ironically, Loudeye Technologies (which had just announced layoffs of 50 people, or 18 percent of its staff, on January 9) and Walt Disney Interactive, fresh from the shutdown of its division.

While last week’s get-together was a first for Seattle, the idea has been floating around other technology ghettos for some time. New Yorkers, always on the cutting edge of cultural mayhem, have been partying like it’s 1999 since the summer of 2000, at a time when the bursting of the dot-com bubble had not reached Puget Sound.

That was before’s sock-puppet puppy was bitten or Priceline’s stock had hit the bargain tables, and only about 30 avant-garde dot-bombers turned up for the inaugural event at the legendary Rebar pub in lower Manhattan. Similar events have been sprouting up around the San Francisco Bay and Silicon Valley for the past few months, so the idea’s migration to the Emerald Triangle was inevitable.

The initial attendance for the Seattle Networks event (co-sponsored by Seattle was good—an estimated 400 or more job seekers and onlookers crowded the alleyway entrance to I-Spy. But an hour later, the crowd had thinned to half its original size. Fritz Lang’s silent classic Metropolis ran continuously to the accompaniment of DJs spinning ’70s disco and R&B classics, while increasingly well-lubricated ex-stock-option millionaire wanna-bes commiserated about the breaks of the game.

Typical was Mark, who declined to give his last name. “I’m a PM [product manager]. I used to work for Microsoft. Then I worked for a dot-com for, like, six months, left in October, and basically I’ve gone around looking for work since,” he said. “A year ago, people were fighting over me. Now . . .” His voice trailed off as he gestured toward the half-filled room.