And you thought technology

stocks

were volatile. Scads of tech mutual-fund managers are shopping their skills in a seller's market, playing their own version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?"

Last week Abel Garcia

left

Waddell & Reed

, where he'd managed the

(UNSCX)

United Science & Technology fund for more than 16 years, to help run

AIM's

struggling

(GTTCX)

Global Telecommunications and Technology fund.

It was a surprising move by one of the category's graybeards and highlighted the wanderlust among tech managers. After the average tech fund rang up a stunning 135% return in 1999, many highly paid tech-fund mangers cashed in their boosted resumes for, well, even more cash. About one in 10 tech funds have lost part or all of their portfolio management team over the past five months. And that doesn't include a healthy number of growth-fund managers who jumped ship after riding fat tech weightings to eye-popping returns last year.

Tech specialists "have become a very sexy commodity," says Philadelphia-based fund consultant Burt Greenwald, even though many tech funds are down 30% to 40% over the past month.

This list, covering just the last five months of tech-manager trading, doesn't include last year's highest-profile tech defector, Ryan Jacob. He left the

(WWWFX) - Get Report

Internet fund last June to start his own firm and fund. Fellow Internet fund manager Alexander Cheung, whose

(MFITX)

Monument Internet was the top Net fund in 1999, followed suit last month.

It also doesn't include growth managers like Erin Sullivan, who left the tech-heavy diversified fund,

(FDEGX) - Get Report

Fidelity Aggressive Growth, to start her own hedge fund. Hedge funds are unregulated, pooled investments for high-net-worth and institutional investors. (Note to the many readers who have written in, asking where she and her new fund can be reached: We don't know.)

As you might imagine, recent highfliers are among the plundered funds.

(NGTIX)

Nicholas-Applegate Global Technology, for example, led all funds in 1999 with a stunning 494% return. Since then, the institutional fund has lost two of its five-member management team. In February, Emmy Sobieski joined a New York hedge fund, and in March, Aaron Harris defected to

Villanova Capital

, based in Conshohocken, Pa.

And

PBHG's

(PBNOX)

New Opportunities fund, which last month boasted an

800% one-year return before small-cap tech stocks started crashing,

lost portfolio manager Frank "Quint" Slattery, who left to start his own money management firm. Slattery also managed PBHG's

(PBHEX)

Select Equity fund.

Fidelity

, known for its tech acumen, saw its cupboard raided the most.

Michael Tempero

left

(FADTX) - Get Report

Fidelity Advisor Technology in December for

Harvard Management

, the nonprofit money-management arm of Harvard University.

Then in February, Andrew Kaplan

dropped the reins at

(FSPTX) - Get Report

Select Technology and

(FSDCX) - Get Report

Select Developing Communications to take a job with hedge-fund shop

Pequot Capital

, and in March, Dylan Yolles left

(FSCSX) - Get Report

Select Software and Computer Services for

Capital Research

, advisor to the

American Funds

.

These managers, many in their 20s and 30s, are simply (and understandably) hopping onto a gravy train after a year that can only be called boffo.

"They're in it for the money, and their valuations have soared with their sector's," says Jim Lowell, editor of independent newsletter

Fidelityinvestor.com

. "Anybody who tells you they just love the market is full of it."

Lowell estimates that a tech-fund manager with a decent track record and reputation can easily garner $3 million to $5 million in salary from a fund company. That's because only a known manager can bring credibility and investor dollars to a new fund without a record.

And there's no shortage of those, as the number of funds in the tech category is on the verge of doubling. By

Lipper's

count, there are some 80 technology funds. Since Jan. 1, 25 new funds have launched, and even more have funds in registration with the

Securities and Exchange Commission

, says Jonas Max Ferris, whose

MaxFunds.com

Web site tracks no-load stock funds.

Morningstar's

count doesn't include many of these new funds, nor any of those in registration.

Many funds in registration might wait out the current tech volatility and try to launch over the summer. If so, they'll need managers, so turnover could keep rising. Many fund companies might go the cheap route by hiring an analyst -- a portfolio manager in training -- to run a new fund. But demand could spike anyway because so many tech managers are leaving the fund world altogether for the proverbial greener pastures of hedge funds.

"I suspect there are quite a few headhunters calling tech managers and making offers right now," says Jim Folwell, an analyst with Boston fund consultant

Cerulli Associates

.

Compensation could easily hit double-digit millions for those who head hedge funds, which typically charge 1% to 2% annual fees and take 20% of a fund's gains off the top. The risk, of course, is that if a hedge fund is underwater, there's less money to go around.

Managers joining hedge fund ranks include Fidelity alumni Sullivan and Kaplan, Nicholas-Applegate's Sobieski, and former

(PRMTX) - Get Report

T.Rowe Price Media and Telecom manager Brian Stansky, brother of

(FMAGX) - Get Report

Fidelity Magellan manager Bob Stansky.

On the other hand, tech-fund-manager turnover could drop if tech stock prices stay rocky and investors stop investing in the funds at a record pace.

Given the market's current shakiness, it appears that managers who shopped their skills from January to March might be the best market timers around.