As the financial crisis plays itself out across global markets, pink slips are flowing like Mountain Dew at a WOW tournament. And while it's only natural to feel apprehension about IT job security, some are discovering opportunity in the wake of unemployment.
When Robert Fleming was laid off from his job as an IT administrator for an Ottawa software firm two months ago, he went through a period of three weeks doing nothing but trying to cope emotionally to his situation. Then he followed the time-honored advice of experts. "I made looking for a job my job," he said. Even so, he found he had plenty of time left over to spend with friends and family.
Good thing, too. In the end, he got his current job -- working the help desk at a government agency -- from his mother's hairdresser's son. "I was visiting my mother, and she came home from the salon and said, 'I think I have something for you,'" he said. "It's six degrees of separation out there, and your opportunities can come from unlikely places."
Laid off. Downsized. Words that are heard often these days. That you would devote a significant amount of your time to finding another job -- as Fleming did -- is a given. But even the most aggressive job hunt won't take all your waking hours. There are only so many jobs ads to answer on Monster.com and Craigslist. Only so many recruiters who will take your calls. So to ward off what Fleming calls "the utter crazies," most unemployed IT workers are finding other outlets for their physical, intellectual, and emotional energy.
1. Get Smart: Learn New Skills
David Christiansen wasn't technically laid off, but the writing was on the wall. Christiansen, who writes the TechDarkIT.com blog -- which he calls a "corporate IT survival guide" -- had an IT position at a Portland, Ore., company that was struggling.
Budgets were being cut, projects canceled, and little by little his department was getting chiseled away. For reasons he still can't figure out, he was allowed to stay. But there was -- literally -- nothing to do.
Having had a deep-seated ambition to work for a startup, he decided to learn more leading-edge technologies. "I'd literally show up in the morning with a book and study all day," he said. Among other things, he taught himself Ruby on Rails, which helped him land his current job as senior software developer at the Collaborative Software Initiative, in Portland. "There are so many opportunities to pick up new skills -- classes, books, Web sites -- no one has any excuse for not refreshing their capabilities," he said. In fact, he wrote "Slacking Off During A Recession" for his blog, in which he recommended that IT workers take a little time during their current workday to learn new skills that will actively advance their ability to survive should there be a layoff.
Marketing guru and author Seth Godin also recommends slacking. "Become an expert. For free, using nothing but time, you can become a master of CSS or HTML or learn Python," he recently wrote on his blog.
2. Jump-Start A New Venture
Hyatt. Burger King. FedEx. And, of course, Microsoft. What do these companies have in common? They were all started during recessions. Which illustrates the point that for Type A people, there's probably just one way to fill up those days: Keep working. Although there's less seed money, and venture capitalists are being tight with the purse strings, opportunities with Web 2.0 technologies, new handheld devices, and other innovations are bountiful.
The tools you'll need to build your empire are plentiful, and many of them are FREE. Investing time and earning sweat equity could be the path to your next job -- or even independence.
3. Get In Shape
Long hours behind a desk can lead to flab, fatigue, and mounting stress. The best remedy is physical activity, but who's got the time when deadlines loom and the BlackBerry never stops blinking?
After being laid off from his long-time job at Liz Claiborne, Tom Reeve -- who had been a senior IT manager in charge of planning and implementing new technologies and business processes -- decided to put an emphasis on his health. "I'm in the habit now, if I don't go to the gym every day, that I really feel it," Reeve said. "I've focused on changing my lifestyle, so hopefully when I go back into the workforce I will have gotten into a much healthier daily routine."
Although he's also spending more time with family, his sons are well into the teenage years, "and progressively want less of my time," he said. Still, they've taken small family trips and engaged in activities of mutual interest, like history.
Reeve is looking for an executive-level IT position, and, "fortunately for me, I can still wait it out a little bit more. So I've enjoyed the stress-free time." Reeve said he looks younger, feels younger, "more like 35 than 49," as well as rejuvenated. "I'm ready to go back to work when I find the right situation," he said.
4. Spend More Time With Friends, Family
Mike Boyarski has a much more relaxed attitude toward his now-free days. He received a generous pension when downsized from his job as director of partner relationships for a large Silicon Valley company. He's taking his time looking for work. "I'm not going to jump at the first thing that comes my way," he said. "I have the time to wait for the right opportunity." In the meantime, he has lots to keep him busy: two small children, aged two years, and four months, respectively.
"I'm spending a lot of time hanging out with them, going to the park, really enjoying myself," he said. Because he and his wife have always been conservative with money, they were prepared for such an eventuality. Boyarski estimates he has six to nine months he can spend in this fashion "before worrying."
5. Volunteer To Help Others
Phil Freeman was a quality assurance manager at NetApp when reorganization forced him out in early February. He's currently doing all the right things to dig up opportunities. Networking. Answering ads. Talking to recruiters. But to fill what would otherwise be empty days, he's also doing a lot of volunteering.
He goes down to the senior center at the City of Sunnyvale, in California, where he lives, and helps organize and supervise activities, serve meals, and otherwise do what he can to help. "It's energizing," he said. "Helping other people is the best way to keep your mind off your own problems."
It's also a good way to put your new skills into practice. If you're learning a new programming language, or honing your MySQL abilities, taking on a project that forces you to apply what you're learning in a real world way might look good on your updated resume. It will almost certainly feel good to have acquired new knowledge, and to have helped someone else in the process.