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The Nomadic Developer: Surviving and Thriving in the World of Technology Consulting

This chapter from Aaron Erickson's book, The Nomadic Developer, provides specific strategies for keeping your position as a technology consultant, even when times are bad.
This chapter is from the book
  • Keep your sanity and avoid living in fear when tough economic times inevitably occur.

Like clockwork, the economy will go through boom and bust cycles. Many people fondly remember the dot-com bubble—and not so fondly remember the dot-com bust that followed it. In Silicon Valley, you even see bumper stickers such as, “Pray for Another Bubble.” Hope is well and good, but it isn’t the best career strategy if you want to have some semblance of sanity when the news media is pounding fear into your head via dreary economic prognostication headlines day in and day out.

This chapter provides specific strategies for keeping your position as a technology consultant, even when times are bad. Although there are no guarantees in life—you could perfectly apply all these techniques and still be laid off—it does not hurt to do everything you can to maximize your chances of getting through the downturn with your job and career intact.

Reality Check: Avoid Fear and Greed

There will be times in your career—particularly as a highly coveted technology professional—when you feel invincible. When times are good, recruiters are calling you every week, and it feels as though the wind is at your back. It is easy to assume the good times will last forever. For a time, in the late 1990s and the first three months of 2000, such thoughts were helped by numerous magazines telling us that there was a new economy, centered on the Internet, created by software developers. This “new economy” would be impervious to the economic cycle, and the world had changed forever.

  • In 2000, we went from a wild sense of enthusiasm in the first three months of the year, until the dot-com bubble crashed, at which point the enthusiasm quickly turned into a sense of doom (see Figure 6-1).
Figure 6-1

Figure 6-1 From boom to bust in six months.

If you let your sense of how the world was doing be controlled by the cover stories in the business press, you went from a sense of wild enthusiasm—a world where software people would be hailed as masters of the universe—to a sense of total doom—where it would be hard for competent software developers to find work flipping burgers. For most people, the story all seems very overblown, in both directions, thinking about it in hindsight. The world of technology did not become a utopia during the boom, nor did the sun stop coming up in the morning during the bust.

We humans have a tendency to romanticize the good times in the past and demonize the bad times that, as we read from the business press, will occur in the future. The sober reality is that the truth is neither: The good times are probably not as good as we remember, and the bad times will almost certainly not be as bad as we fear.

Surviving in the technology consulting business requires making good career decisions. If you assume that every upcoming bump in the road is going to be the ruin of the company you work for, you will likely put yourself in a worse position by possibly jumping ship and leaving perfectly good consulting companies for jobs that might appear to be stable but really are no more secure, and often substantially less secure, than jobs in consulting. Making good career decisions depends on not overreacting to the news and getting jittery when headlines are making it seem as if the world is in imminent danger of ending. It means not succumbing to the fear and greed that recruiters and others will try to use to take advantage of you.

  • Survival Strategy #1: Avoid making decisions from a place of fear or greed. You really do have nothing to fear but fear itself.

The consequences of fear, in particular, go beyond leaving a company too early. When software developers are operating from a place of fear, they cease to communicate bad news to the project manager, thinking that being the bearer of bad news will lead to being removed from an engagement. This leads to project managers, who might be operating from fear themselves, not communicating bad news to the project sponsor. This leads to the sponsor miscommunicating to his or her board, or worse, to his or her customers. This, of course, leads to something worth fearing: a client potentially failing because of fear. It should not be a surprise that fear—and the poor decision making that results from fear—kills more technology consulting companies than recessions do.

In this respect, surviving means using your head, not your heart, to evaluate your current and future prospects. When times are good, it means moderating your prospects and being realistic with yourself. And when times are bad, it means working hard and doing things to increase your marketability, but still continuing to think of both the short-term and long-term implications of your actions.

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