The majority of software engineers will have likely never really needed to worry about where their next pay check might come from. Having an in-demand skill in a growing sector has historically meant that finding a new coding job is normally fairly easy, however, could 2023 be the year to change that?
Whenever you turn on the news or flick through Youtube, it is hard not to find some reason to question how safe your job is. With a potential global recession about to hit, you might be wondering, how recession-proof are software engineering jobs? Typically, my answer would be that regardless of the economy the majority of software engineers will simply keep on coding, however, as COVID showed us, we live in a strange time
In an already difficult-hard-to-recruit industry, it is easy to assume that software development is a recession-proof career, however, if you are not keen on simply leaving your employment status to fate, the next question is what can you do now to help recession-proof your career? Within this guide, I will look at some practical ways to handle any potential bad news that might come your way. If this sounds good to you read on 🔥🔥🔥
When you are trying to determine how recession-proof you are, one of the first things to consider is the health of the company that you work for. Is the company profitable and making money?
It does not matter if you work in reception, you work at the board level, or you write code. If the company you work for is not making any money and can not afford to pay its bills it could go bankrupt. No matter how skilled a worker you might be, if you work for a failing company you might be at risk.
If this is a genuine concern for you, in a lot of cases, the company's profit and loss status can be checked online. If the company is a publicly-traded company, e.g. it is on the stock market, your company will need to release quarterly reports. You can even use financial tools like Simplywall.st to get a company report. This report will include things like a valuation, future growth potential and financial health outlook.
In the UK, if you work for a private limited company, you can head over to Companies House and use the search register tool to see your company accounts.
If you are really worried to the point you might leave your current employer, you could consider unofficially asking your finance team or the CEO for reassurance, however, just be aware that if there was an issue, it is not very likely anyone would confirm anything, as it would create too much uncertainty within the organisation. If you work in a job role that you might not be happy in and you have serious doubts over the potential for that company to survive a recession, you may decide to use this as the tipping point to get you to search for a new job 🤔
A company filing for bankruptcy is a pretty rare situation. The odds of this happening to you are not impossible but slim. The majority of companies will be able to weather these financially tough times, however, this does not mean that a company will not need to downsize in some way.
When a company is not as profitable as it needs to be, a more likely scenario is that it will need to reduce its headcount. In down-sizing, to maximise your chances you are excluded from the redundancy process, you should aim to work on the most valuable project at your company.
If you work on a revenue-generating project, or, a pre-paid project, the chances of headcount being downsized on your project are slimmer. In bad times it is even more important that a company will not want to rock the boat. No company will want to compromise the golden money-making goose. If your project has funding, you have a good chance that life will likely continue as normal.
On the flip side, if you are currently not assigned to a project, or, you work on a non-essential project (OPEX), you may find yourself at a higher risk compared to other teams.
If there is a possibility that you can get yourself transferred onto a more essential project, that could be a way to increase your recession-proof-ness.
Obviously, these are just general principles. You can work in the best company on a money-making project and still find yourself in trouble. No matter if you follow all the other tips in this guide if the company fails there is little that you can do. When undertaking this check, your only real options are to evaluate how likely this outcome will play out and leave ahead of time or commit to staying and determine the strategies you need to master for when the bad times hit...
Which types of developers would be most affected by a recession?
When a company is considering a reduction in headcount, typically the software engineers will be one of the last teams to be axed. The reason for this is simple, companies will typically want to keep the highly skilled roles which are also hard to recruit. This does not mean that developers are bulletproof. Developers are expensive resources, and unfortunately, sometimes developers will also need to be axed. When this happens, how does a company decides which teams to let go?
When the software engineering head-count needs to be reduced, typically, entry-level and junior software developer roles will be the ones most at risk. This makes sense, as hiring good quality experienced people is harder than hiring junior people. A recent study called Age Differences in Job Loss, Job Search, and Reemployment found people in the age range of 35-50 are more likely to be kept compared to the teams within the 25-25 bracket.
It takes a long time to recruit and train a developer to get up to speed with all your internal systems and codebases. There are a lot more hidden costs in getting rid of a skilled worker compared to a non-skilled worker. When the economy kicks off again, if you have no developers, what will they do?
How do you prepare for a recession?
When it comes to trying to make yourself recession-proof there are factors outside of your control and factors inside your control. Even though the outside factors might be very scary and all the talk by the gossip mongers, my advice is to ignore them and focus on the things you can control. The advice on how to prepare for a recession is mainly universal advice:
*Emergency Fund: If you are made redundant, your biggest fear will likely be, how will I pay my bills? Answering this question is simple, have an emergency fund. If you pick up any good finance book, like The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey, one universal recommendation is to have an emergency fund. The usual advice is to have somewhere between 3 and 6 months worth of living expenses saved in cash. This means that in a worst-case scenario, you have some leverage. When there is talk of a recession, this is a perfect time to review your spending habits, cut down on anything needed, make sure you spend less than you earn and make sure you have enough savings to get you through any bad times.
Make sure your income is diversified: Another reason why you might be so worried about being made redundant is that your lifestyle is completely dependent on your job to fund it. If your only income source is your salary, you will always be susceptible to being made redundant whether in a recession or not. There are plenty of videos on YouTube and articles on how to start a side hustle out there. If you can diversify your income streams, again you will be less impacted by any sudden changes in your career.
As a developer, the simplest way to diversify your income stream is to start doing some freelance work in your own time. Granted this adds a lot of extra work to your life, which is definitely hard to manage at times, however, getting into the habit of finding work, building a reputation and establishing useful contacts are valuable skills to have at your disposal in a pinch. Sites like the ones listed below make it very easy to get started with freelancing today:
Build your brand: After you have some financial boxes ticked, the next area that I recommend that you focus on is how to reduce the risk that you as an individual will be the last person that your company will want to let go of. This is where I think your personal brand comes into the conversation.
When I use the term brand, that does not mean that you need to become famous. What I class as the process of building your brand, simply means that you stand out within your company as someone who is valuable.
To recession-proof yourself you need to make sure you are one of the most valuable employees in your company. You can start doing this by following some simple rules
Be the person to nominate yourself for crappy tasks
Ensure you understand all areas of your codebase, even the ones you do not work on
Learn to master the basics of other non-developer roles. Can you do some level of project management, run morning stand-ups, plan a backlog, and use JIRA?
Establishing a positive reputation will mean that the chances of you being cut during head-count loss, will be decreased.
Get ready to find a new job: Regardless of how great you are at your job, there is still a chance you will find yourself becoming unemployed. Here again, preparation and skills matter. When there are fewer jobs and more people looking for work, employers will have a greater choice in filling that role, meaning it will be harder to pass a job interview.
To find a new job quickly, you will need to be able to stand out compared to other job seekers. The easiest way to find a new job is via your network. If you can get a recommendation by someone you know, that is by far the simplest route. If you need to go head-to-head with the world, the next thing to focus on is your brand. In this context, your brand improvement efforts needs to be public-focused rather than internally focused. To minimise the transition time it may take you from being employed again after you are made redundant, you need to make sure that you are prepared to find a new job today, how can you do this?
Make sure your CV is up-to-date and it reads well. If you want to create a good CV, send it to some recruiters and ask them for some feedback. If a recruiter can make some money from you, they will also happily help you
Have a good LinkedIn profile, get recommendations and rankings
Make sure you have an online portfolio. This could be a portfolio website, some medium articles, a great StackOverflow reputation, a YouTube channel, whatever.
Some of these tasks are easier than others. Building a StackoverFlow reputation, or a YouTube following will take time and effort. Time you may not have. Other tasks, like building a portfolio website and writing some medium articles can be done with a few weeks of hard effort. If you want to recession-proof yourself, I recommend going with the quick wins at the start
- Make sure you have your own GitHub and you make active contributions to it. Personally, I aimed to have at least 100 projects on my GitHub to show off. I did this by committing and completing a 100-day of coding challenge to help me get to this level.
The bottom line is that to create a standout personal brand, you must be willing to do things that no one else in your company is willing to do. If you have the best portfolio website, LinkedIn profile, or GitHub profile, you will automatically be ahead of a lot of your competition!
Historically, the main reason why software jobs have tended to be recession-resistant is that finding good talent is hard. What with the great resignation and the quiet quitting movement, the simple fact is companies will not want to get rid of good people unless things are really bad. Recessions end, and when a company gets rid of people it hampers future growth
Following all these tips will not mean you will be saved from redundancy, however, these tips should help you spot the warning signs that potential storms might be coming while giving you some actionable steps to help you either find a new role or, to ensure you are less likely to be affected by it. Happy Coding 🤘