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How to recession-proof your engineering career

How to recession-proof your engineering career

Uncertainty — it’s everywhere in the tech sector at the moment. High-tech businesses across verticals and around the world are rethinking their employment levels, with some carrying out large-scale layoffs. To make matters even more precarious, talk of a recession has hung over the industry for some time.

These tech sector undercurrents raise a number of questions, some large in scale and others more personal. Among the latter, you may be wondering what steps you should take as a software engineer to ensure you’ll have the least possible chance of suffering a layoff.

The answer to that query is nuanced, as is only appropriate considering the non-uniform way tech firms are making labor decisions. Rather than slashing their workforces, businesses tend to be rethinking the types of engineers they retain on staff and the kinds of work they assign these employees. By following the general patterns, you can find a profitable niche for yourself.

In both the near- and long-term future, organizations will still need skilled software engineers. By learning about what these businesses will need and expect from their engineering workforces, you can claim your place in the ever-shifting tech field, even amid uncertain economic forces.

What’s the pattern of software engineering layoffs and restructuring?

It would be inaccurate to say there’s a single major pattern affecting the way technology companies are restructuring their engineering teams. One of the most common determining factors is the size of the business in question.

Small and mid-sized businesses, for example, may already have right-sized software engineering departments. These companies don’t tend to carry high overhead or excess personnel, so to keep receiving the level of software development performance they’ve become accustomed to, they’re not making budget-related cuts.

At large organizations, the picture is different, but still not uniform. Rather than simply aiming for a lower headcount, big firms are taking this moment to reallocate their resources, cutting some teams and increasing others to attain a balance that better reflects their strategic goals. Because the ideal mix of personnel will differ from one business to another, there’s no one ratio for these organizations to target.

Impacting companies’ decisions: Global patterns and new priorities

What are some of the factors affecting the ways large businesses are thinking about their software engineering teams? Some of the major motivators are larger than tech itself.

Political concerns and shifting alliances

Market forces such as geopolitical tension and the changing international relationships that accompany it are affecting the ways businesses prioritize in-house software development. Conflict, ranging from war to economic stand-offs, tends to bring shifts to processes such as silicon chip manufacturing. This could, in turn, change the way organizations balance their workforces.

The emergence of new tech areas

Other major global trends include new technology developments. The rise of capabilities such as artificial intelligence and machine learning can impact engineering teams in multiple ways. For instance, departments could both turn their attention to developing AI capabilities or using AI in the QA workflow. In either case, the ideal skill mix of employees will change.

Shifting software engineering priorities

While some of the changes to in-demand skills and software engineering structure are based on massive geopolitical forces and sea changes in tech progress, others have more to do with individuals’ personal approaches to their work. For example, leaders within tech-focused companies are discovering that the traditional model of an independent “rockstar” developer can’t deliver the same level of reliable value as a team of more collaborative engineers.

Collaboration and soft skills

Some of the most important skills possessed by software engineers in the years ahead won’t involve coding languages or UI best practices. Employees will be increasingly judged on whether they can work together as parts of cohesive team structures, becoming force multipliers for collaborative efforts, rather than force dividers.

Engineers who work in functional silos and don’t corporate well may find their skills less valued. After all, coming up with quick, effective solutions to software development challenges requires a team effort, and even the most brilliant developer can cause hitches in release schedules by failing to work with peers.

Which engineering skills will be most valuable going forward?

In an industry changing so rapidly, what can you do to give yourself the best possible chance of success and steady engineering employment? While there’s no approach to professional development that will appeal to 100% of tech employers, there are trends to watch closely.

The following are patterns worth knowing across several facets of the software engineering skill set:

Programming languages

The use of various coding languages is at an inflection point. Developers today bring a wide variety of skills to the table — but some of these are on the rise, while others are about to become outdated. Within the next decade, the popularity of legacy languages such as HTML/CSS and various Java derivatives is set to plummet.

Employees’ whose skill sets lean solely on older programming languages may find themselves struggling to find steady long-term roles on engineering teams in the years ahead. Engineers just getting up to speed in the tech sector or reskilling themselves can look to newer options such as Rust, Swift and Python to boost their appeal to forward-looking employers.

Data literacy

Data is the lifeblood of technologically advanced companies, and it has been for years. This trend seems poised to continue, with steady increases in the centrality of data to organization’s decision-making. This means every step of the data pipeline, from ingestion to cleansing, storage and analytics, will need attention from skilled professionals.

In addition to working with the various stages of data management, engineers in the years ahead will be tasked with putting data to more intensive use. This content will be the fuel for technologies such as machine learning and AI, which have begun to show their true potential in the decision-making process.

User interface and user experience design

UI and UX are poised for a revolution in the years ahead. It’s not certain exactly which skills will prove most relevant to the new style of development, especially following the mild reception of early virtual reality offerings, but the potential for major change is apparent.

Developers learning to work in 3D modeling programs such as Unreal and Unity, traditionally associated with video games, may have an edge in the future of UI and UX. Major tech industry players are currently engaged in a race to develop the interface of the future, with a heavy focus on augmented reality in addition to VR.

How will engineering teams work in the future?

Software engineering is poised to change in some fundamental ways in the future. For instance, the division between internal tasks and external consulting roles is shifting.

While today’s organizations may handle UI and UX design internally, these skills may be purchased on a contract basis in the future. This is due to the fact that design and development move in short cycles, calling for a limited-time engagement.

The engineers tasked with pushing new updates to the software through continuous deployment and integration pipelines, on the other hand, will be permanent employees. The fast pace of DevOps and CI/CD demands that these workers always be on call.

Organizations are also leaning toward a change in the way they manage their underlying systems. Many companies today run their IT around overarching platforms such as Salesforce that provide enterprise resource planning and more through vast ecosystems of extensions.

Dissatisfaction with these systems is growing due to their lock-in potential and general inflexibility. This may mean less job security for engineers whose primary expertise involves working with one platform.

The agile and collaborative engineering departments of the near future will be tied together by soft skills. Individuals with the potential to lead teams, collaborate well with peers and communicate effectively with other sections are poised for success.

What’s your niche in the software engineering world?

Reskilling yourself to fit into the newly emerging software engineering world is a promising approach, and you don’t have to wait for your employer to take action. Indeed, one of the best ways to build your marketability as an engineer is to pursue an independent project in a high-demand programming language, building your proficiency on your own time.

You can also seek out an engineering mentor in your industry and pattern yourself after their approach. It can be especially important to learn lessons when it comes to soft skills. If your mentor is a truly effective team player, you can observe the steps they take to communicate, collaborate and empathize in their daily work.

Another potential way to build some stability into your software engineering future is to work with a third-party consulting and development services firm. These businesses help out whenever organizations need assistance completing demanding projects, which means they thrive in times of internal team cutbacks. Organizations that don’t have full engineering sections in-house will rely on these third parties to right-size their efforts and provide expert services.

Reach out to Transcenda to learn how our team provides targeted assistance at any and all stages of software design and development.

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