The Tech Sector and Unemployment

Good software engineers are good because they are constantly learning, constantly trying new things, and are constantly ahead of the curve.

The New York Times ran an article this week titled “Once a Dynamo, the Tech Sector Is Slow to Hire” that focused on the struggles of some in the tech industry who are having difficulty finding new work after being let go from their jobs. For everyone who has experienced a job loss in this economy, including me, it’s a sad fact that finding new work can be difficult even in the best of circumstances.

So why are recruiters constantly asking me if I know any “good people”? Shouldn’t there be plenty of them out there? It’s not that simple, as I’m certain that the market for engineers varies wildly depending on where you ask the question, so someone in Corvallis may not be finding any job offers while a recruiter in Seattle may be at wits end finding people to fill their positions. As the author writes,

The chief hurdles to more robust technology hiring appear to be increasing automation and the addition of highly skilled labor overseas. The result is a mismatch of skill levels here at home: not enough workers with the cutting-edge skills coveted by tech firms, and too many people with abilities that can be duplicated offshore at lower cost.

However, the very next paragraph suggests another potential reason:

That’s a familiar situation to many out-of-work software engineers, whose skills start depreciating almost as soon as they are laid off, given the dynamism of the industry. [Emphasis mine.]

This last sentence is what I have a bit of trouble with. It’s true that the tech industry is fast and, given the pace of mobile, is getting ever faster. But the pace of tech means that an engineer’s skills start depreciating even while they are at their jobs. The skills needed to succeed in the industry change quickly, and if you aren’t learning then you’re stagnating. If you’re stagnating, then when it inevitably comes time for your own search you may not have what the recruiters are looking for.

Got a good job writing C++? Hopefully you also know some Java, or better yet some Python, Ruby or some other higher level scripting language. Do you do databases? If so, then it might interest you to look into the current debate over NoSQL and see if that affects your marketability as an engineer. If you do find yourself out of work, then it’s the perfect time to make sure your skills are not depreciating by learning some new ones.

When my position was eliminated in July last year, I decided I wanted to learn Android. I wrote a simple app that integrated with a service I loved; that app is now used by over 10,000 people daily in the Seattle area. I knew my web development knowledge had holes, so I learned Django. I read developer blogs constantly to get back to the bleeding edge of technology. I still do.

Even in Seattle, the tech sector hasn’t regained the energy it had before the crash. It may never. But the demand for good engineers is still there. By keeping pace with the industry, and constantly learning and trying new things, you can help yourself get ahead of the others looking for that next opportunity.

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