VA Linux ex-programmers
lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Jul 31 07:23:00 MDT 2002
"Same job. Different cubicle"
With the promise of stock riches now a distant dream, VA Linux's former
programmers keep the open-source faith.
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By Sam Williams, salon.com
July 31, 2002 | In 1999, when 22-year-old Linux developer Michael
Jennings accepted a job with the promising, albeit slightly obscure, West
Coast start-up company VA Linux Systems Inc., he had no idea he would be
participating in one of the biggest roller-coaster rides in Silicon Valley
"To be perfectly blunt about it, I had no idea what an IPO was or what
stock options meant," admits Jennings.
Three years and $1.4 billion in evaporated investors' money later, Jennings
can no longer feign ignorance. Like a farmer who has seen a tornado from
the inside, Jennings recalls the company's historic first day of public
trading with a mixture of bemusement and awe.
"None of us expected it to be nearly as big as it was," he says, drifting
back to Dec. 9, 1999, the day NASDAQ investors turned Jennings and many of
his co-workers into momentary paper millionaires. "I don't think even the
president of the company knew it was going to be such a massive deal."
That was then, of course. VA's soaring stock price -- propelled by almost
every major investment fad of the late 1990s: dot-coms, b2b, open-source
software -- would soon come hurtling earthward. By the end of 2000, the
company was outpacing the NASDAQ collapse. Caught between plummeting market
share and an investment community clamoring for profits, VA Linux dumped
its core hardware business in the spring of 2001. In October 2001, after
posting a quarterly loss of $290 million, VA Linux laid off the bulk of its
technical staff, including Jennings.
One could forgive Jennings a moment's bitterness. Since leaving VA,
Jennings has returned to his native Lexington, Ky., where he now works as
director of engineering at N+1, a Linux services and training firm with no
immediate IPO prospects. Asked to dish dirt on the company that pulled him
west, however, Jennings, like many of his former co-workers, can only shake
his head and wax nostalgic.
"VA was, without a doubt, the most incredible team of people I'd ever
worked with," he says. "Laid-back. Fun. Interesting projects. The managers
and V.P.s were all very approachable. For the most part, they treated the
engineers just like peers.
"We were all a big group of friends."
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