For those of us not buried in sheets of global economic data — i.e., most of us — media speculation of an oncoming recession may seem like a vague and undefined threat. It’s difficult to make heads or tails out of the stream of fast-breaking news about financial predictors, benchmarks and overall anxiety. With all of this muddled information, it’s even more difficult to think about what we’re supposed to do about it.
Recession warnings are back and worse than ever. A couple of weeks ago news broke about the U.S. bond market experiencing an “inverted yield curve,” an event that has historically preceded every single recession in the last 65 years. This event follows some indicators that a global economic slowdown may be approaching. Despite the assurances attempted by the POTUS, omens of a financial downturn persist.
Note: The plot shows the time series of the term-structure slope, measured by the spread between the yields on ten-year and two-year U.S. Treasury securities. The shaded areas denote official periods of recession as identified by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Source: Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago
Source: Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago
No business sector is completely immune to the ill effects of a recession, but some are better positioned to endure the slump. Industries related to basic human needs, like healthcare and food, tend to suffer less adverse impact. So do areas of specialized and necessary service, like auto maintenance.
Internet businesses have their own track records of success and failure. The dotcom bust of the early 21st century weeded out a lot of well-funded startups. The “Great Recession” of 2008 wasn’t quite as hard on tech as it was on real estate, but it was still a struggle. Over the last decade, technology has been in another cycle of high investment and expansion, but those who still remember the past clearly may feel edgy about the bubble’s chances of bursting again.
What about web developers, software engineers, and programmers? Does their experience and expertise make them more likely to weather the storm of a financial downturn? There are a lot of factors at play, of course, and never an ironclad guarantee of a positive outcome. But some business conditions give computer programmers a distinct advantage in times of economic uncertainty — as do certain skills and traits that developers can obtain and build upon.
For starters, every business and organization must have a presence on the web; it’s no longer something that’s just “nice to have.” Entire functional circuits that used to be conducted in person — browsing a factory showroom or getting government information, for example — are mostly performed online. Web development is now a basic operating expense, yet the field is just new enough that not everyone can do it. In fact, there’s a massive shortage of developers — according to Code.org, there are more than 500,000 open computing jobs in the United States alone. This demand isn’t recession-proof, but it’s certainly recession-resistant.
Similarly, individual consumers need advanced technology in their lives. Our demand for the most up-to-date technology (and the people who can provide it) remains strong, even in times of economic paucity.
Nevertheless, a recession usually requires that companies trim excessive spending from their operating budgets, including tech and web development. In doing so they seek to maintain a healthy online existence with fewer hands on deck, meaning that those who seek to survive cutbacks need to be in charge of a broader range of responsibilities.
Most current reports regarding a future recession indicate that it’s probably not going to happen overnight. Of course, it’s all unpredictable. Even if a future recession is more a glimmer in the distance than a floodlight in your face, it’s a good idea to prepare for it early while the warning signs are still precautions. But don’t panic. You can’t control an international fiscal catastrophe, but you can manage your personal situation.
For a web developer or software engineer, this means learning all one can about the programming languages and practices in highest demand. Effective, full-stack learning programs give you a deep dive into the world of coding — and also help you build a knowledge base, so you are better-prepared to learn future technologies as they emerge.
Web development is the most significant “horizontal” industry since the invention of the telephone — everyone needs it, and those who learn it can work in several different fields. Maximize your chances by taking in as much as you can. Networking and self-marketing are equally important tools in distinguishing yourself, but having extensive coding skills is indispensable.
In times of economic distress, those making personnel decisions seek fewer people to do more. Economic balance is always a guiding principle in business, but much more so in a fiscal crunch. Companies and clients stop thinking in terms of luxuries and add-ons and focus on the essentials they need to survive lean times.
With a little foresight, perseverance and openness, web developers can make themselves essential more easily than most other professionals. If the experts are right about a looming recession, a developer’s personal initiative and skill set may be their lifeboat in the storm.