The recent crisis in financial markets has spread into the real world with the real world consequence of job losses and lay-offs. Workers in software development have not been immune from this problem. This is especially true for those whose work relates to financial markets where some very large firms have announced large workforce cuts. If seemingly unrelated to your job performance you have been laid off or the dagger sits over you and your co-workers, here are some hints and tips in no particular order that may help.

Don’t Panic

Losing your job is never going to be a pleasant experience, but try and keep your cool. It may feel good to vent at your former manager or co-workers who survived the cut, but it will not help you in the long run. That former manager may be a needed reference down the track. People you know working in the industry are the best source of information about job availability.

Unless you have been in IT a very short time you will remember the tech bust around 2001. Some very smart and hard working people lost their jobs, because people outside IT suddenly realised that cool ideas and lots of hype don’t pay the bills, it’s cold hard revenue being greater than expenses. From all the doom and gloom it didn’t take that long for the good times to start rolling again where talented IT people could pick and choose from job offers. That time will come again. It may not be within 6 months, but it won’t be 7 years of famine.

Keep the Network

Keeping in touch with peers and former co-workers may seem hard and embarrassing now, but it could be the ticket to a new job in the future. This does not mean constant harassment for any clues about possible work, but keep in friendly touch. The closer you are to people in paid work, the closer you are.

Skills skills skills

This may be the best opportunity to improve your skills. This is especially true if your speciality is a technology that is falling out of demand. Grab yourself a book, do a short course to either deepen your current skills or expand them out if they have become narrow and less demanded. There is no need to abandon all that you know, but use it as a base to push in a better direction.

Any new or improved skill need not just be technical. The ability to communicate or have business understanding will improve your standing in the job queue. If your written communication skills are lacking, take a writing class or maybe a public speaking class to improve your verbal abilities. It is no use being the most brilliant technical person if you cannot articulate this to people with less knowledge.

Join an open source project

Ok, so you have improved your range of technical skills by self or class education, but how do you prove it. Participating in a free software or open source project is a great way to practice your new found skills, but it also puts you in touch with other technical people and end users. Pick you niche, find a worthwhile and publicly facing project. It’s probably best to add your efforts to a project that has commercial applications and uses. Every developer can make a better text editor, but that has a very narrow audience.

Is this what I want to do?

Maybe its time for a change. Software development does have a burn out factor, and not everyone wants to be coding to the day they retire. Have you thought about moving into business analysis or sales? This could be the time to start that change. Possibly you want a complete change to raise sheep 50km from the nearest internet access point. Double and triple think before you go down the complete change path.

Go on your own

I am sure you have seen plenty of consultants come through your previous workplaces, and considered becoming a hired gun yourself. Your name on the company, pick and choose your clients and hours, the boat at the marina. It’s a nice dream, and something people try when layed off. Unfortunately its harder than it looks. It will take more than just good technical skills. Your network is all important. People that you know, and that know you. You will need not just great in depth skill, but you must be able to communicate it.

One advantage of being an IT consultant is that it is relatively cheap. A laptop, mobile phone, business cards and a good suit will all help. Mostly it is about your time and knowledge rather than specialist tools and materials.

Be good to your loved ones

Family and friends will be much needed support should time without work drag on. Don’t take your frustration out on them, they are not to blame. Someone who has gone from long hours of hard work in the office to many hours of home time may find they are confronted by family they don’t know as well as they thought or should. Don’t resist the idea to take them on a week away. Get some sun, catch fish or climb a mountain. The real world can generally wait for a week, and a happy partner and/or kids could make the real world a nicer place.