PALO ALTO, Calif. (CNN/Money) -
How much has Silicon Valley changed in the three years since the Nasdaq peaked on March 10, 2000? How about completely?
For a statistical look at the financial suffering since then, have a peek at CNN/Money's review by Justin Lahart of just how far we've fallen. Here in the eye of the hurricane, however, numbers don't tell the whole story.
It's best told, in fact, by reflecting on how the whole tone of the place has changed.
Three years ago it wasn't at all uncommon for people at parties here to talk about nothing but business, their stock options and their jobs. The few folks who worked for non-tech companies (like Clorox, Levi's, or Bechtel -- all big employers around town) pretty much stayed quiet.
If you weren't in tech, you had no rap. Come to think of it, a whole lot of people who worked even for stodgy old companies had learned by the spring of 2000 to talk the Internet game. Wells Fargo, an old-line bank if ever there was one, had a robust online banking effort, for example. (Still does, for what it's worth.) They were talking the talk too.
It was a time of inflation. Salary inflation, title inflation, housing-value inflation. Everyone was rich and smart. People who'd never risen beyond the vice-president level were CEOs of start-up companies. Inexperienced managers were vice-presidents and VCs, perhaps the least experienced business people of them all, were prophets.
And then there was the media, adding to the din. Upside, The Red Herring, The Industry Standard, eCompanyNow -- all were plying the tech waters. Just as it was a good time to be an Internet marketer or a first-year MBA with a focus on finance, it was a great time to be a journalist. Jobs were plentiful.
It's all changed now. Obviously. People talk about all sorts of things at parties now, like sports and movies and, just sometimes, foreign policy. People whose only high-level management experience was as a VP with heretodaygonetomorrow.com are hard-pressed to find even a director-level job now.
VCs are hibernating and doing their darndest to stay out of the press. Entrepreneurship has been left only for the hearty few who are willing to put up with the abuse it takes to start a company at a time that capital is scarce.
What about the Internet? Interestingly, it's still here. One of my big themes during the bubble was that one day we wouldn't talk about an Internet "industry" anymore because the Internet simply would be integrated into everyday business and life.
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And that's what has happened. A few standout "Internet" companies like Amazon, Yahoo! and eBay remain. But the companies that have excelled at selling Internet software -- Microsoft, IBM and Oracle -- are the same ones that thrived before the boom.
Online journalism certainly survives, but it tends to be sponsored by "old" media, like, um, a leading financial magazine and the world's greatest television news network. The Red Herring and the other above-mentioned publications are gone today.
People often ask me the mood of the valley. It's not good. Jobs are tough to come by. Lots of people are holding onto the ones they've got for fear of having to find another.
Housing prices are still too high because enough people made enough money to keep them that way. The national economic malaise hurts Silicon Valley as much as anywhere.
And if anything, it's finally sinking in that those of us who were here between 1995 and 2000 or so witnessed the golden age of Silicon Valley. Any student of history knows a region doesn't ever get two golden ages.
At least the weather still rocks.
Adam Lashinsky is a senior writer for Fortune magazine. Send e-mail to Adam at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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