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COVID and What It Means for Tech

christiankastner profile image Christian ・6 min read

I wanna start with a disclaimer about the nature of this posting, how this is really just gonna be a cobbling together of a few different sources to make sense of our current state of affairs. I hear wind from so many different people about how the COVID epidemic will unequivocally reshape our lives. Collective work spaces are going to disappear, apocalyptic views of the service industry, the coming recession, and so on. Through all the noise of what's going on and the bluster of online prognosticators waxing messianic, I wanted to take the time to do my own research and use the blog format as a platform to make sense of what's going on for myself, as well as for others.

First, How the Virus Affected Me

I'd just graduated from a software engineering bootcamp in January feeling really positive about launching my new career as well as envisioning where I'd want to end up two/three years down the line in the field. The job market is always tough for the upstart fledgling so I tried not to expect too much of a response from companies. Flatiron, my bootcamp, had really drilled it into us to prioritize relationship building over cold applying. And a month and a half into searching there was some wins as well as hurdles, but the beginning of March was where the reality of COVID came into perspective.

And as soon as I knew it the search for a position became less important to considering the safety of my family and the almost surreal feeling of a world come to a halt. It was really an odd moment where the feeling of losing a shot at an internship or junior dev position were outweighed by a nationwide existential threat.

It's now been over a month since that point and my family and I have gotten fairly used to the shelter-in-place order. I'm still on the lookout for opportunities wondering what effects COVID will have on tech.

The Obvious, Working from Home

As shelter-in-place orders are in effect, working from home is a necessity. Luckily for software, most IT professionals and developers already work from home. Digital Oceans 2019 study gathered that 86% of global IT professionals work remotely in some capacity. Notably, this does not segregate between percentage spent working remotely. Almost 50% of this statistic primarily work remote, while the other 50% have the ability to work remote, doing so for roughly half their schedule or during necessary emergencies.

Interestingly enough, the same study found that over 75% of remote workers started doing so in only the last 4 years. It's hard to make any firm predictions about what this statistic shows, it does, however, indicate a resiliency of tech in our current state of affairs.

The study also delves into measuring connectedness to an office culture when remote. This will definitely be an interesting factor to come into play in the case that primary remote tech work increases because of the inability to share an office or communal space. Additionally, remote workers reported higher levels of burnout than their in-office counterparts. Digital Oceans advice for administrators was to help "support these workers to ensure they feel included, avoid burnout, and maintain a positive work-life balance." This might be crucial given the likely rise of remote work even after strict shelter-in-place orders are loosened.

Recessions and Tech

So although the line of work devs do is well suited to ride out COVID, what does the economic toll of COVID mean for jobs? There's many already assured of a recession to come, where economic downturn is already happening and flocks of people are turning towards unemployment as layoffs are widespread. Industries that rely on a normal level of consumerism are getting hit especially hard.

Whether a sustained economic downturn is on the horizon, the only indication of how tech will fare is from the last great recession of 2008. For the most part information is good. Big tech weathered the housing ripples of the housing crisis as evidenced by reporting from Forbes, Fast Company, and Tech Crunch. Big tech companies like Google, IBM, Microsoft, and so on didn't see any major financial upheaval in the years following 2008. Larger tech companies have the financial grit to take loses while still continuing to invest in R&D. They do so preempting when the market swings back from recession like down turns.

However, the reporting is less clear with respect to start ups. 2008 saw what was ostensibly the beginning of the start-up as we know it, and tech crunch reported that the amount of start-ups increased 25% every year regardless of the recession. However, tech has weaved itself tightly in almost all areas of life. All of which will foreseeably see an impact from the massive unemployment and impacted industries from COVID and the recession seen to follow.

What about Devs Themselves?

Furloughs and layoffs are an inevitability and are already being felt across industries, tech included. What I was curious about was how exactly this shifting work force would play out? Do companies disregard senior level employees in favor of new hires to cut costs or overlook the burgeoning workforce in favor of candidates that are tried and true?

As it stands, the Washington Post reports that companies are now attempting a "wait and see" approach to the crisis. Because the current predicament is so new, although it feels like a dream lasting years now, companies will try and hold onto essential workers in case of a snapback in the economy. So the companies that can hold onto essential workers will most likely do so.

In the case that the economy does not snapback, nascent job opportunities will be hindered and students who were emerging onto the job markets in 2008 were reported to have felt the effects years later. Job hunters at the time reported having to take work with pay cuts or switch careers entirely, according to this report.

This is certainly unfortunate to read myself given my own emergence onto the job market. However, the industry itself is resilient and the need for a website or app doesn't seem to be going away any time soon. It was hard to make any sense of who companies seem to value more, (between more or less experienced employees) it just seems that being a valuable employee is first and foremost. Adding appreciable value to the company you work at is most likely the best indicator of job security. That being said, always have mechanisms in place in the event of unforeseen circumstances.

Finally, The Areas of Tech Are Seeing a Rise

The clear answer to this seems to be in the areas of teleconferencing, telemedicine, virtual entertainment, and other areas. I've seen numerous urgent calls for devs in telemedicine apps and the atmospheric rise of Zoom in the public awareness. It's likely that apps prioritizing digital communication will see a boom in demand.

Additionally, Forbes article on tech referenced above advises to seek opportunities that coincide with the current of the times. It's sad to say but world events tip the scales in one direction, favoring certain things over others. So being successful in a time like this requires a perception of where need lies and filling that.

It's even interesting to think that large tech companies might see a larger rise given the job security they offer employees. This comes from an article by the Verge.

Concluding Remarks

The unfortunate answer after all my internet perusing is that no one really knows what lies next. There's lots of contradictory accounts of what the market will do, how it will affect the world, and what things will look like months or years down the line. I'm trying to stay hopeful and do what I can. Although this is an inconvenient time to look for employment, I'm looking to help in the areas that need it most.

Thanks for reading. Stay healthy.

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Christian

@christiankastner

Software engineer particularly interested in creative coding and machine learning.

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