The 2009 tech career planner

Better plan now to survive, and thrive, during the recession

The economy is in trouble -- everywhere. Even outsourced providers are nervous. Already under stress, IT staffers see their jobs getting more and more difficult as they must do more with less, all while wondering if they'll keep their jobs at all.

That's why you need a plan for your tech career. The worst thing you can do is give up or panic. Although tech jobs are under increasing pressure, the reality is that the technology jobs market overall is still doing better than the market for other types of jobs. That doesn't mean you're immune from layoffs, stagnant salaries, or increasing workloads, but it does mean you have more options than many other workers -- if you're willing to be flexible.

Bad news on tech jobs

There's plenty of data to support the fears that many tech workers have about their job security and ability to make ends meet. For example, more than 50,000 tech workers lost their jobs before the financial meltdown hit, and more jobs are in danger.

That trend translates to income pain for even the survivors. According to the Computerworld 2008 salary survey, bonuses for IT workers rose only 0.2 percent from 2007 levels. At a time when 3 to 4 percent salary raises are failing to keep up with inflation rates that are rising above 5 percent, those dwindling bonuses are making tough times even more challenging for IT professionals.

And stress levels are up. That same Computerworld survey shows that only 14 percent of respondents did not feel more stressed than a year earlier. Shrinking budgets are one reason. "Companies are in the mind-set of not spending in the next 3 months and increasing only 1 or 2 percent in the next 12 months. That's quite a change from last year when it was between 7 and 8 percent," notes Steve Minton, vice president of worldwide IT markets at IDC.

Having desirable tech skills is key

The United States and Europe appear to be especially hard hit, though the downturn is being felt worldwide. Still, tech workers might consider moving to China, Canada, or other stronger markets where the demand for IT skills -- and the opportunities to develop new ones -- remains good. A move abroad may also give you more than technical skills: It can make you more appealing to companies that have global teams, an increasing reality everywhere.

To remain competitive, IT workers need a combination of the 30 essential basic skills -- including, according to one survey, strong ethics and morals -- and abilities in emerging recession-proof areas where demand remains high, such as security, VoIP, and wireless. And don't forget about not-so-hot areas that are critical to companies' abilities to keep running: Cobol skills can be great job insurance, for example. Also, look to certain skills that have been hot for a while and, thus, tend to be neglected, such as open source, .Net, and Java.

Certifications also can help, especially management ones. But beware: Certifications are not equally valuable. Some are simply expected -- and may be necessary to even be considered for a job -- while others are superfluous. That's especially true for technical certifications; outside of security and networking, they're not proving that valuable. Those that tend to give you an edge involve management and business-specific training -- skills that business managers more easily understand than technical ones.

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From the IDG News Network

This story, "The 2009 tech career planner" was originally published by InfoWorld.