There have been some interesting articles and posts online recently discussing the current global economic situation and the effects of this on the software development industry. Many of these posts and articles outline steps developers can take to raise their value in their current organization or to make themselves more appealing to a potential new employer or client.
As of this writing (Monday night, 12 January 2009), JavaWorld's front page "Editor's Choice" highlights the current economic state of the software development industry with features such as the 2009 Tech Career Planner and a link to the 2009 IT Survival Guide. The 2009 Tech Career Planner states some things that I have observed myself such as the job market in our industry seeming to fare better than others, though it is still under significant strain. It also features links to other interesting articles on improving one's career opportunities.
In IT Salary 2009: Survey Says Modest Declines, James Maguire compares mean salaries for last year for several types of software developers to mean salaries for the current year. The numbers cited there are provided by Janco Associates. Of course, salaries do have some correlation to location and these study results appear to be an aggregate of multiple cities in the United States and Canada. This is more evidence of stagnant salaries in the industry.
A similar article, IT Salaries Take Tiny Leaps, appeared in ComputerWorld in late 2008. This article discusses the constriction of the industry and the effects from that: tightening compensation and lengthier hours.
With the mounting evidence of the impact of a global recession on the software development industry, what is a software developer to do? It turns out, not all that surprisingly, that a software developer should probably do the same things in these troubled times that he or she would (or should) do even in better economic times.
Rob Walling's blog post Eight Ways to Recession-Proof Your Programming Career outlines eight approaches for developers to "recession-proof" their career. The suggestions include items on several similar lists such as presenting at conferences, writing technical articles and blogs, and working longer hours when the work needs justify it. These are things that seem like good ideas for anyone at anytime.
Years ago, when I was between jobs, I took advantage of that time to write my first software development article published by an independent third party. Before that, I had thought about writing an article, but could never seem to find the time, energy, or (most importantly) motivation to do so. However, the satisfaction gained from writing that first article directly led to my interest in writing additional articles and in presenting at different conferences and eventually to writing a blog. Those few weeks between jobs kick-started me into doing something that I love which also benefits my career. I also realized that I could have started being more involved earlier in my career and did not need to wait for an employment crisis.
We are repeatedly reading stories of organizations having a difficult time hiring staff. In the blog posting Hiring During a Recession: Where Have All the Good Candidates Gone?, the blog author postulates that the best developers are staying put with whatever job they currently have rather than interviewing for a new position.
In the thread If the economy is so bad, where are all the qualified applicants?, Grig Larson states that they have applicants who don't even pay full attention during telephone interviews, don't show up to scheduled interviews, and don't seem to care about the interviews when they do show up. Whether in interviews or in daily work activities, most of us do appreciate others showing interest in what they do and in demonstrating basic courtesy and signs of mutual respect.
These firsthand accounts remind one of the importance of being enthusiastic, confident, focused, and polite in interviews. More importantly in the long-term, they remind one to learn new skills and constantly work to improve oneself. In short, we are reminded to do the types of things that benefit ourselves and our employers/clients in good times and in bad times.
The 2009 IT Survival Guide referenced earlier recommends that IT professionals consider certain actions for strengthening their careers. There are links to resources such as The 30 Skills Every IT Person Should Have (some of these don't apply to software development, but some are very applicable), Hot Tech Certifications in a Cool Market (outlines which technical certifications/credentials are most likely worth the cost and effort), and How to Keep Your Tech Career Afloat.
It is safe to say that most of us look forward to a better economic environment and more plentiful opportunities for all. However, when trying to find a silver lining in the current situation, one benefit may be the reminder that there are many things we can do to improve ourselves for the our own benefit and for the benefit of our employers and clients. Most of these actions and behaviors are things that are good ideas at any time, but it sometimes takes times like these to remind us of the value of these activities.