The “it” in the title for this blog is the recession, and the but is a big one — namely, that unemployment will probably continue to rise into 2010, and will still probably exceed 10% overall. Brooking has graciously made a video of Bernanke’s keynote, entitled “A Year in Turmoil” from Bernanke’s 9/15/2009 keynote one the one-year anniversary when the financial situation turned into a recognizable crisis when the government decided to allow Lehman Brothers to fail.
What does all this mean? I think it means that the ongoing mantra “Sit Tight” still applies to IT Professionals who remain employed, and that “Look Harder” does likewise for those of us in IT who are looking for work. As we already know, but will be forced to experience, the end of a recession occurs when various economic indicators (growth/shrinkage in inventories, changes in business postures, bank lending activity, and so forth) flip from negative to positive, even though this doesn’t translate directly or immediately into more tangible signs of recovery.
For ordinary IT professionals, real recovery occurs when the number of jobs being created finally exceeds the number being lost, so that demand for our services actually goes up. In the meantime, those mantras I cited in the previous paragraph remain in full force. Economists call employment a “lagging indicator” because it trails behind other market trends and activities, including those that generally mark the end of a recession.
As to when a noticeable recovery might get underway, look at the timing this way: if Bernanke is right, and unemployment continues to rise into 2010, we have to hope that a net gain in jobs shows up as early as Q2 of that year. That means at least six more months of keeping on keeping on before we can tell if things are improving in any way, instead of not getting too much worse. No wonder consumer confidence is depressed. Why shouldn’t it be?
In trying to understand current conditions, it’s sometimes interesting to turn back the clock to see what was forecast for the period we’re currently occupying. To that end, I found this 14-month old set of predictions from ComputerWorld (7/18/2008) pretty interesting “Study: IT jobs will drop in 2009.” Conducted by Goldman Sachs — itself on a bit of a roller-coaster ride in the last year as well — the study makes some interesting observations and predictions. Let’s take a look at how these have withstood the moderate test of time in the interim:
- IT jobs, in particular jobs for IT contractors, were projected to experience a pinch/reduction. Careful attention to the Employment Situation summaries for each month in 2009 shows this to be both true and painful, especially to those caught in that very pinch, which has indeed affected contractors, service companies, and in-house IT staff across the board.
- Hardware outlays were projected to drop significantly. This one gets a mixed result, thanks to real and definite cutbacks in new hardware outlays for desktop PCs, servers, and all kinds of infrastructure gear. But Windows 7 seems to be stimulating interest, and may still bring some modest relief to the hardware sector before the year is out. That said, I don’t see any big corporate adoptions occurring until late 2010 or perhaps even into 2011. We’ll see!
- Cloud computing generates lots of interest, but not much traction or deployments. Here again, I see mixed results in that although adoptions and implementations haven’t been as aggressive or pervasive as they probably would have been in better economic times, they haven’t been exactly moribund either, contrary to the Goldman Sachs prediction that uptake would be very slow in 2009, mostly because CIOs and execs don’t “get” the value of cloud computing. Not so, says this sector, which is one of the few relatively bright technology spots shining on the IT landscape right now.
What kinds of trends did you expect to see for 2009 and IT employment/activity? What turned out as you expected, and what didn’t? Post here to share your observations of what remains a dicey situation, where “stay put” remains the mantra for those still lucky enough to have jobs in IT.
I got back from a business trip this morning to learn that my Mom, aged 90, passed away peacefully in her sleep last night. She spent the last year and a half of her life in an assisted living facility in Fairfax County, VA, after living with me and my family for just over two years in the home (with “mother-in-law wing”) we had built to care for her in her declining years.
I’d like to take this opportunity to remember her to all of you. She was a ferociously intelligent woman who did her best to take care of her family, and I’ll always be grateful to her for ensuring that I got such a good education. She graduated first in her high school class, and also at the top of her class in nursing school. She served in WWII with distinction, and attained the rank of Major in a mobile army surgical hospital, following the Army through Northern Africa, into Sicily, and then on to France. When I was a boy, she took a job as the school nurse in the Heidelberg American School system in Germany, in part to keep a closer eye on me and my sister. She always encouraged my love of learning and language, and I owe much of what I am today to her care and attention. I will miss her terribly.
Mom was also a multiple cancer survivor: after being diagnosed with colon cancer in 1987 and learning to live with a colostomy (at which point she quit smoking), she was then diagnosed with lung cancer in 1989 (at which point she had the upper lobe of her left lung removed). She managed to survive for 20 years after those medical misadventures, and remained cancer free until her dying day. If anybody wants to remember her, I’d ask them to make a donation to the American Cancer Society in her name.
Though times are tough, and jobs are tight in this era of recession and downsizing, new job opportunities do still pop up from time to time. But with the consequences of a bad choice even more negative than usual — as in “What happens if the new job doesn’t work out?” with no place else to land in view — it’s also vital to do your homework in checking out the company or organization that’s offering any position of interest.
This realization came home to me yesterday, as I met my “old buddy Earl” for lunch at a nearby Mexican bakery/restaurant for lunch. As we caught up with each other, he told me about a California-based network management company that’s recruiting technical sales staff, with an interesting and heavy emphasis on both sides of that equation (that is, they’re looking for people with strong sales backgrounds and experience, but also with equally strong technical skills, knowledge and experience). He asked me to check them out to see what I could learn, and what I thought of his prospects if they should make him an offer. In trying to assess their viability and promise, I found myself looking at various aspects of their public presence, history, and offerings. “Hey!” I thought to myself “This would make a great IT Career JumpStart blog!”
Here’s a checklist of items and questions to work through that I found myself examining yesterday in providing some feedback to Earl about his situation and potential prospects with this company:
- Look at third-party product reviews or evaluations, preferably from well-known and -respected publications. Find out if they’ve won any best product, best in category, or other relevant industry awards.
- Visit the company Web site; draw your own conclusions about the quality, quantity, and kind of information available there. Pay special attention to press releases about recent financial results, earnings, sales, and other evidence of financial health and well-being (or otherwise, as the case will sometimes be). As a writer, I find trolling through white papers and other lengthier documents pretty informative about a company’s professionalism, thoroughness, and interest in providing useful information to others. You may also find this interesting, or may dig into aspects of the company where your own expertise is more relevant.
- Check out the company’s executive staff and board of directors. Do you recognize anybody, or their affiliations? Do you know anybody? If so, such persons could be great added information resources.
- Check the financial news sites (Business Week, Bloomberg, Financial Times, and so forth) for mentions of the company. If any are available, are they largely positive? If not, why?
- Visit Linked In (or other similar business networking sites) and see who’s active from the target company. Also, check with your own network to see if anybody has links into the company. Follow whatever information leads you can develop this way.
- Read job postings from the company carefully. What do they tell you about company culture and work ethics? See any unusual sets of requirements or combinations of skill sets? Try to decide what these things can mean (my old buddy learned that the VP of sales at his target company wanted candidates to come armed to their new jobs with rolodexes stuffed with potential sales candidates to try to boost sales: what does that tell you?).
A lot of this stuff will help you do due diligence if you decide to go ahead with an interview, so this effort is far from wasted. It can also help you make the call about whether or not the company is doing well or poorly and what kind of future or equity prospects a position there might mean. If you do your homework well, you’ll be able to steer clear of the turkeys and steer into the hot prospects. As for my old buddy’s potential situation, the jury’s still out, as he tries to separate out some mixed signals and decide if some negatives he’s turned up might or might not be outweighed by numerous positives he’s also discovered. Whatever he decides, I wish him luck! You, too, for that matter…
In a survey conducted by Dice and reported in Windows IT Pro on August 13, you will find a list of the most difficult skill sets or positions to fill in today’s IT job market. This list makes for interesting reading (and you’ll also find a list of the ten top technology markets in this story as well, for those pondering their chances of finding a job, here or there, depending on whether or not relocation is an option for those looking for work). Here’s the list of top skills as reported in the story:
- Active US Government Security clearance, military or civilian
- Project Management
To me, it’s interesting to see the mix of developer, professional, and topical area specialties that this list represents — especially SharePoint, which appears to be gaining significant mind and market share in IT of late. Be sure to check out this story, where you’ll also find a list of the “Top 10 Tech Metro Areas” (which kicks off with the stimulus spending capitol of the US, the DC/Baltimore metroplex) as well.
Hidden in the recent BLS employment situation summary and in this story (Women gain as men lose jobs) in USA Today on 9/3/09, not to mention other demographic trends (see the US Census Powerpoint Hispanic Population of the US) lies an interesting observation: white men no longer rule the world, not even in the US. In the relatively near future, they won’t even predominate the work force by the numbers. In the longer term, they’re likely to become just another one of the major demographic elements of an increasingly diverse and heterogeneous population and workforce.
Lots of readers outside that particular demographic (to which I belong) may be thinking “It’s about time!” And indeed, it probably is if our society is ever to move beyond the many ingrained advantages granted to and prejudices emerging from this heretofore unchallenged group. As the members of my generation (baby boomers) also move inexorably toward retirement and shuffle off the scene, so will the last great big cohort of working white males in this country also fade from predominance.
What do we face in the future? A workforce where women outnumber men, if only by a slight margin, but which should do more to help establish parity than all the rhetoric and activism in years gone by. A workforce where the aggregate “minority” population represents the majority, and where the former majority becomes just another high-ranked group in a solid plurality. And I also hope, a workforce where an increased sense of harmony and cooperation with others replaces the too-often lingering sense of entitlement and privilege among members of my diminishing and dwindling demographic.
All I can say is “It’s about time!” in echo of the sentiments of all the other groups taking an increasing share of the working population. The process of diversification should be interesting to watch, and to learn from.
This morning the US Bureau of Labor Statistics released the employment numbers for August, 2009. These numbers aren’t especially good: they reversed the modest trend from June and July during which time the unemployment rate remained relatively unchanged at around 9.4 percent. The August numbers show a loss of 466,000 jobs which increased overall unemployment to 9.7 percent, and included jumps in unemployment rates for adult men (to 10.1 percent), whites (to 8.9 percent), and Hispanics (to 13.0 percent). The total number of unemployed persons reported rose to 14.9 million Americans.
I don’t see many glimmers of hope for IT professionals in these numbers, either. Table A-11 “Unemployed persons by industry and class of worker, not seasonally adjusted” shows that the information category has experienced unemployment of 358,000 up from 144,000 in August of 2008, which represents a jump in unemployment rates from 4.2 percent (2008) to 10.7 percent (2009). For those IT professionals who may be classified under the heading of professional and business services instead, the corresponding figures are equally grim: 961,000 in 2008 (6.9 %) versus 1,560,000 in 2009 (11.0 %). Ouch!
What’s my verdict for the present situation: “sit tight, and make no sudden or rash moves” remains the watchword for the foreseeable future. Though we may have seen some indicators that the recession has bottomed out, it still hasn’t helped to turn the IT employment situation around just yet. Hang in there, because it looks like we might still hit the 10-plus-percent values this fall that economists predicted for the trough of the recession. I sincerely hope we see some reversals in the employment declines, especially for the industry and worker categories related to IT, not only because that’s where I work (and you, too, most likely, if you’re reading this) but because IT is so often the engine that helps to drive recovery and improvement forward.
As a baby boomer myself, I can’t help but be sensitive to continuing reports or complaints about age discrimination for job seekers over 50. But in talking to technical recruiters and reading recent reports on boomer job search and unemployment woes, I’m not completely convinced that a single-factor explanation of “age discrimination” is sufficient to explain the genuine phenomenon that older workers take longer and have to work harder to find new jobs. According to the AARP (as quoted in this MSNBC careers story) the average length of unemployment for workers 55 and over is almost 30 weeks, while it’s under 22 weeks for their younger counterparts.
Here’s what other factors I believe may be involved, thanks in part to my research and thanks in part to a conversation with local technical recruiter Steely Dipuccio of Accountability Resources I had last week:
- Boomers have been in the work force for a long time (even those who, like myself, have changed careers in their 30s or 40s) and thus also tend to earn (and want to keep earning) higher salaries. It’s well documented that those who make more money also tend to take longer to find work (the old pre-recession maxim that “it takes a month of search for each $10K you wish to earn when looking for a new position” has certainly increased, perhaps even doubling). Some lowering of expectations can offset this phenomenon to some extent, but be warned: Dipuccio notes that hiring managers are wary of seasoned professionals who accept serious pay cuts to find work, because they expect them to bolt as soon as something better (or higher paying) comes along, for good reason.
- The longer IT professionals stay in the same job, the more likely it is that they’ll find their skills and knowledge outdated or irrelevant when they go seeking new work. This is age independent, but does affect older workers more, because they’re more likely to have been in positions for more years by virtue of age. The best counter for this phenomenon is a cover letter and resume that focus on recent and relevant learning, training, skills, knowledge, and experience, backed up by talking the talk, and walking the walk if and when you get into an interview situation.
- As workers get older, they become more set in their ways and less flexible in what they’re willing to accept. Dipuccio observed in our discussions about job search that “flexibility is the most important characteristic a prospective employee can bring to the search process and the interview these days.” We older folks may have to work more at being flexible than younger folks, but awareness and attention to this need can help to remedy this defect.
If you’re in the over-50 category and looking for IT employment (or thinking about changing jobs) you’d do very well to keep these things in mind as you work through the job search process. Don’t rely too much on Web 2.0 to lead you to your next position, either: Dipuccio reports (and I concur) that the best jobs still get filled by word of mouth and personal relationships, often without ever being posted online or advertised in print. Though online social networks can help with the job search process, the old-fashioned personal network remains the best pathway to a good job, even for tech-heavy IT in this always-on Internet age.
In her own most recent blog on August 24 entitled “Remember to grab those certification perks,” fellow certification maven Anne Martinez of GoCertify.com offers some good advice about checking into the privileges that rank sometimes prefers. That is, you’ll often be eligible for various types of special information access (password-controlled Websites or forums, publications, and so forth), discounts on products or trade show attendance, inclusion in directories or online listings, and so forth, once you earn certain certifications.
How do you know if this means you? Dig into the information that the certifying body provides to tout its certifications, and/or to explain their benefits. Once you earn the credential, as with the old American Express ads, you get all the “rights and privileges” (yeah, right! ;-)) that pertain thereto. In some cases, that means a monthly magazine and a one-time shot at free software, but in other cases, it can mean discounts on products, training, or trade show attendance. You won’t really know what’s what until you check–so check, already! Tell ’em “Ed sent me!”
Speaking of other good old ideas on technology, I stumbled across a couple of articles on LAMP recently that reminded me this potent combination of Linux-Apache-MySQL-and-scripting-languages-like-Perl-PHP-or-Python is still alive and kicking. In the wake of Sun’s acquisition of MySQL (and the infolding to Oracle) it’s interesting that Sun’s interest in and commitment to LAMP continues unabated. In fact, rumors are swirling that a Sun-sponsored LAMP certification may be in the offing (you can already take a LAMP test from Indian ISO 9001 company ExpertRating, and of course numerous certs already address other LAMP components individual, especially Linux, MySQL, and PHP).
For those IT professionals and organizations seeking Web server technologies that are both sustainable and maintainable, LAMP is certainly worth a close and careful examination. If you’re unfamiliar with this concept, you might start your investigation with the Wikipedia “LAMP (software bundle)” article, or dig into the various references cited therein (the External links section also includes some good stuff as well). Certainly, the O’Reilly ONLamp website merits a visit, and you’ll find numerous books dedicated to LAMP as well, including:
- James Lee and Brent Ware: Open Source Development with LAMP… (Addison-Wesley Professional, 2007, ISBN-13: 978-0201770612)
- Eric Rosebrock and Eric Filson: Setting up LAMP… (Sybex, 2004, ISBN-13: 978-0782143379)
- Jason Gerner, et al: Professional LAMP… (Wrox Press, 2005, ISBN-13: 978-076497237)
Those already familiar with this technology should be cheered to learn that more credible and substantial certification in this area may be in the offing. Those to whom LAMP is new should probably dig into to see if there’s something of potential interest or use in this combination of open source technologies.