Talent Spin-off

Employment trend

NeXT's personnel roster may have shrunk over the past several years, but dedication to the NEXTSTEP market remains unflagging, even among the company's dearly departed. As salespeople, system engineers, and programmers move on from the company, many ex-NeXT employees are remaining in the community, making their way into niches in consulting, development, and sales within the third-party market.

Some, like John Pierce, president of Alembic Systems International, have even gone on to lead companies. "[This kind of pattern] is common when you have a new technology and you're creating a new market," says Pierce, formerly NeXT's district sales manager for the Rocky Mountain region. "And it's not just a job market, but a market of opportunities. There's a lot of money out there to be invested, and that will only increase. The people in the know are taking advantage of it right now."

NeXT considers this emerging trend to be an indication of positive growth for its market. "It's a sign of really good health for any computer company when people can find growing opportunities within the market," says Ron Weissman, NeXT's director of corporate marketing. "In emerg- ing markets, entrepreneurs cause growth. It certainly happened with Apple."

Although the NeXT community is more solid than the Macintosh community, Pierce says, it's facing a more fundamental paradigm shift, which takes longer to happen. "A lot of people don't understand that, but I've learned that you should never say never," he adds.

Pierce moved to Alembic, a value-added distributor of third-party NEXTSTEP software, because it presented an "interesting challenge." Since arriving there last September, he's concentrated on the company's profit centers, leaving the systems-integration game behind to develop a distribution and support business for third-party products. Alembic provides global distribution for NEXTSTEP software, adding services like a training center based in Denver and a technical-support hot line for all of its offerings.

"People like the idea of one-stop shopping a place where they can call a 1-800 number for everything," says Pierce. "We add a lot of value to a sale, and third parties and customers like that."

Some ex-NeXT employees left because they felt they could do more for the company by working in other capacities. For Anne Sawyer, one of the developers of NeXTmail, leaving NeXT offered the opportunity to pursue her interests in the end-user community. "I felt I could do more toward NeXT's success by working outside of the company," she says. "Developing NEXTSTEP applications for the medical community, which is a personal interest of mine, seemed like a good opportunity for me as well as NeXT."

In her role as senior technical architect at Systemhouse's Object Technology Center (OTC) in Boulder, Colorado, Sawyer designs and develops frameworks, kits, and protocols for the company's object repository a core set of reusable objects that are used as the foundation of many OTC projects. Much of the technology she creates is deployed for Systemhouse's medical customers, ending up in software like an electronic patient chart and physician's tool kits that track patient care and help physicians measure the quality of their service.

NEXTSTEP takes the menial tasks away from developers and lets them concentrate on solving the hard problems, Sawyer says. "I've worked in other environments, and I love NEXTSTEP."

Siamak Farah echoes Sawyer's sentiments when he explains how he left NeXT to pursue a career as the president of a software company but returned after a mere five-month hiatus. Currently NeXT's district sales manager in Los Angeles, Farah started out working for the company as the district sales manager for New Jersey. After nearly four years, he left to head Step2, a company that develops dbPublisher, a database-publishing package. "If they didn't do NEXTSTEP, I wouldn't have gone," Farah says. "I wanted to help NeXT from outside the company. When I talked to Steve about resigning, I said, I'm still working for you, I just happen to not be on your payroll.' "

At Step2, Farah worked to reorganize the company, fleshing out its sales force and increasing revenues. "I always had a development or management job prior to working for NeXT. While working there, I gained sales and marketing experience and, at Step2, I could use all my energy throughout the spectrum I could use several different skill sets at once," he says.

He also helped direct the company's NEXTSTEP development efforts, demonstrating an alpha version of dbPublisher at last year's NeXTWORLD Expo. "In order to focus on NEXTSTEP, I even changed the company's name from DCS to Step2, as in the step after the next step," Farah adds.

Eventually, though, he felt that Step2 was spending too much effort on its Windows and DOS projects and wanted to work more with NEXTSTEP. "It's not enough to sit from afar and hope NeXT makes it," Farah explains. "I want to be in the trenches."

Others headed into the third-party market for more personal reasons. "I was just very tired emotionally," says Kris Younger, formerly a system engineer at NeXT. "It's a really cool place to work, and I have extremely fond memories of it because of all the friends I worked there with. But a lot of people burned out it happens very easily there because of all the emotional energy that's required."

After a brief stint at Pencom, Younger ended up at Anderson Financial Systems, where's he's working on the development of WriteUp, the company's word processor.

"It's a small company, so I do all kinds of things all together at once: a little engineering, a little marketing and advertising, and a little sales," he says.

Despite a desire to pursue other interests, these ex-NeXT employees express a fundamental sense of commitment to NeXT's technology and desire to take part in ensuring its success. "I believe in NEXTSTEP . . . and I enjoy working in the NeXT community they're heady people," says Alembic's Pierce.

by Paul Curthoys