While most of Washington's tech sector has sunk into heat-induced sedation, the folks over at Sprint Corp. and Nextel Communications Inc. are frenetically toiling away. As executives of the two companies wrap up a $35 billion merger, rank-and-file employees have been busy with a different task: interviewing for their own jobs.
Executives decided the most egalitarian way to staff the new company would be to put all of the positions up for grabs and let workers from both firms duke it out.
Not surprisingly, that has people from both Sprint and Nextel completely on edge.
"In many cases, there are two people filling a similar role -- one's from Sprint, one's from Nextel," said Paul Villella, chief executive of HireStrategy, a Reston staffing firm that has received dozens of inquiries from employees of the two companies who want to explore their options. "For many of them, the writing is on the wall, so they know they are going to be out of a job."
The companies have been open with their employees about how the process will unfold. The interviewing started at the highest levels of senior vice presidents and is working down through directors and mid-tier managers.
Richard P. Nespola, chief executive of TMNG Inc., an Overland Park, Kan., consulting firm that is advising both Sprint and Nextel, said this method of integration is common for smaller firms but is rarely undertaken on such a large scale. Combined, the two firms have 80,000 employees, and while there's plenty of overlap, executives have not said how many positions will be cut.
The interviewing process has caused "quite a lot of scurrying around," according to one person close to the companies, because employees don't know exactly what kind of competition they're up against in vying for their own jobs.
Audrey Schaefer, Nextel's spokeswoman, said the nervousness that abounds is a natural reaction to the uncertainty created by any merger.
"What we're trying to do is be sensitive to that and communicate as candidly and openly and frequently as possible," Schaefer said.
Schaefer went through the process herself recently. She, for one, will keep her job.
If the scene in front of Tysons Corner night spot eCitie Restaurant & Bar in any way reflects the health of the local technology economy, then things aren't looking too shabby.
At 6:15 p.m. Monday night, a line of BMWs, Mercedes and Range Rovers waited to be parked by the valet at $3 a pop, even though a spacious parking lot surrounds the building. At the door, half a dozen people stood patiently as name tags were handed out and admission fees were collected for a networking happy hour.
A one point, a man with a cigar actually uttered the sentence: "Good times are here again."
And this was a telecom gathering, no less.
Two years ago, TelecomHub events had a mood to match the funeral of a beloved great aunt. Topic A was: "How long you've been laid off." Topic B followed suit with: "Number of times your resume has been rejected."
Not so anymore. The 220 people who showed up at the organization's event this week were much more interested in discussing hot deals and new cars than career woes.
"I really think the Hub serves as a good barometer for the local telecom climate . . . and we've seen a lot of optimism," said Barry Toser, the group's president and general manager of telecommunication services for Reston-based Transaction Network Services Inc.
During the depths of the downturn, finding sponsors for TelecomHub was like "pulling teeth," Toser said. But just in the first half of this year, seven companies pledged $5,000 a year as gold sponsors.
The group's monthly meeting for out-of-work techies regularly drew 50 to 75 people during 2001 and 2001. These days, it's rare to have more than 10 or 20 people show up. (We'll wait to see what the fallout of the Nextel/Sprint merger does to those numbers.)
As for eCitie -- a restaurant that was once the epicenter of high-tech flash and then the target of scoffing disdain because of its indelible link to dot-com culture -- general manager Pepe Manrique says business is just fine, thank you.
Have we reached the Web-searching saturation point yet?
It may seem that way to the rest of us, but Mark Cordover thinks there's room for one more. Last Friday his District company, IT.com, quietly launched a search engine that's limited to information-technology products, providers and research.
Rather than rank results based on Web popularity, the site lists links based on their position in the market. So if a user searches for "firewall," the engine will come back with links to the top-selling firewall companies.
IT.com built a similar engine for the Web site of Federal Computer Week (FCW) that covers only government sites, regulations and related publications. Editor in chief John S. Monroe said people go to FCW's site to read about government news and policies, but before now had to go elsewhere to find relevant information beyond the magazine's content.
"It's making it easer for people to find the information they want from us -- and it's the 'from us,' part that's important," Monroe said. But, he added, "No one is going to replace Google."
The Center for Innovative Technology, the Herndon organization that's been through several identity crises and countless legislative assassination attempts, just keeps rolling along. Yesterday, the center named Paula S. Gulak, co-founder of Richmond-based SyCom Technologies Inc. its new chairperson, replacing Charles W. Steger, president of Virginia Tech.
Her mission for the year?
"Really defining what [CIT] is in the eyes of most people. It has been a hot potato since the time it was created," Gulak said. She thinks of the center as "the glue that connects emerging technologies at every level." So, that's a start.
Ellen McCarthy writes about the local tech scene every Thursday. Her e-mail is email@example.com