8 Ways to Recession-Proof Your Programming Career

They finally said it – the “R” word. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research the U.S. has been in recession since December of 2007.

It’s a bit anti-climactic, seeing as we’ve been hearing about the financial crisis from every major media source for months. But stock indexes continue to slide and the unemployment numbers are getting worse.

So in this age of uncertainty how should someone react who simply wants to collect a few greenbacks in exchange for their brilliant programming acumen?

You could hide under your imitation Aeron and hope no one notices, or you could start pursuing ways to recession-proof your career.

1. Volunteer to Lead a Big Project
The opportunity to lead a project may not be available to everyone, but if you have serious concerns about losing your job it’s a sure-fire way to make yourself almost irreplaceable.

No manager in their right mind would fire the technical lead of a big software project. And if your manage isn’t in their right mind, it’s probably time to find another job.

2. Show Up Early, Leave Late
I’ve talked about how crunch time should be the exception in software projects. But desperate times may call for some extra hours.

I know, I know…it sounds like you’re giving in to “the man,” but let’s be honest: your company has more to worry about right now than keeping you happy. Realize it’s only temporary, and a better way to spend your time than looking for a new job.

If you were a manager forced to layoff 10% of your team, who would you let go?

3. Start a MicroISV
Build it or buy it, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you begin generating recurring income that will sustain without your day job.

The average U.S. recession lasts 10 months and we’re supposedly 12 months into our current situation. If you were laid off next week how long do you think it would take you to find a job? A month? 2 months? 4 months?

How much would an extra $1000 or $2000 per month help during that time?

MicroISVs are a fantastic way to create recurring income that weathers tough economic times, especially if you have a niche product and you’re ruthless about automating everything.

I recently wrote about the challenges of launching a microISV, but I’ll be talking more about how to get past these difficulties in a future post.

4. Moonlight
If you have the chance think about taking on side work.

Right now companies are cutting costs and letting go of their $125/hour development shop. A lot of contract work is out there looking for mid- to low-cost providers. Keep your feelers out for contract work.

While moonlighting is not a sustainable option, if you start during a recession you’ll find that one of three things will happen:

  1. You’ll get so much work you’ll be able to quit your job and consult full time. Lucky you.
  2. You’ll make some money and won’t get laid off. When the recession is over you can buy an iPhone, a Kindle, and go to Cancun.
  3. You’ll make some money and get laid off and be really glad you have the extra cash.

5. Become a Popular Blogger, Author, Speaker, Podcaster, etc…
In good times and bad, being a superstar is a good way to keep your job.

It’s hard to fire a developer with 10,000 podcast listeners, not because she might say bad things about the company, but because co-workers look up to her as an alpha-geek. Fire her and morale will take a big hit.

6. Become a Trainer
It’s generally accepted that recessions boost college enrollment. But companies that perform technical training also see a jump as laid off workers go back to the classroom to update their skills.

Back in 2001 I worked with a consultant who was a developer when times were really good, and a trainer when times were really bad. He did a little of both during the rest of the time to keep himself interested, and  maintain his skills in both arenas.

If you have the gift of teaching, now is a great time to pursue it.

7. Write Technical Articles
Not only do technical articles help with your alpha-geek status (see #5), but you can make a little coin along the way.

Surprisingly enough, articles for programming magazines can bring in several hundred to a thousand dollars each, depending on length.

Check out one of these directories for a magazine that matches your skillset.

8. Work for a “Recession-Proof” Company
Granted, no company is completely recession-proof, but sectors like health care, pharmaceuticals, defense, government, and consumer staples do well in good or bad times.

Boring programming jobs? Indeed. Stable in a recession? You betcha.

Coinstar, and companies like it, do well during recessions because people start cashing in their unused change.

Walmart, Target and other discount retailers also fare well, since consumers tend to ease back on luxury items and head to the discount stores.

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#1 8 ways to Recession proof your career - No - Your Friendly Neighbourhood Infidel on 12.11.08 at 3:04 am

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#2 Kevin Jenkins on 12.11.08 at 8:00 am

Great post Rob,

However I think you need to include growth stage technology companies amongst those you listed in the relatively recession proof group. Why? Because they are venture capital funded so they don’t depend on sales profit to sustain them. And the very cool thing about being funded is that means they are hiring. That’s what the money is there for. Growth! In fact, growth stage software and internet technology companies are taking advantage of the slow economy to upgrade their talent corps with quality IT specialists who have been laid off. The most exciting thing about this is that these are the types of innovative companies that developers thrive in! So there are plenty of ‘interesting’ opportunities for skilled developers.

To this end, I just wanted to say that as a tech recruiter based in Los Angeles whose client portfolio is predominantly Saas, web 2.0, social network & web portal companies… I have not experienced a slowdown at all. I get new requirements everyday.


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#4 Sam McDonald on 12.11.08 at 4:37 pm

I am a huge fan of your the MicroISV part of your post. I find many other developers doing freelance in their free time to make some extra cash. To me this makes no sense. Why not work on something small that can make money every month of one time work?

#5 47 Hats - MicroISV Digest on 12.16.08 at 12:54 am

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#6 Ted Smythe on 01.12.09 at 11:19 pm

Despite the slow down 1000s of companies have posted jobs on http://www.startuphire.om the job data base focused on VC backed companies.

Job seekers can get notified when a new posting is added which meets their search criteria such as location, technology, role, investor, VC etc.

Twitter users can get the daily Hot Job Twit of the day.

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#8 Kevin Godden on 02.11.09 at 4:25 pm

All very good Ideas I think, it is very refreshing to read some positive ideas about how to deal with the current environment as there is so much negativity about!

Now I’ve just got to decide which items to act on, as I don’t reckon I’ll be able to do them all! 😉

#9 Recession Proof Your Programming Skills - Nick Berardi’s Coder Journal on 04.16.09 at 11:31 am

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#12 Recession Proof Career on 06.04.09 at 5:17 am

Just wanted to add a small tip on creating a recession proof career. It would be a good idea to plan out your career or business by considering government contracting. This is a very lucrative financial opportunity that can help you stabilize financially and increase your income flow if it is done the right way.

If this is something that you are interested in to put an end to your financial worries, get yourself registered with the Central Contractor Registry which is a federal clearing house for vendors and small businesses too. Also identify a product or service that you can supply to the government and which the government needs in order to get a contract.

You can win such billion dollar contracts and secure your career or business better even during this phase of recession.