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InfoQ Homepage News Panel: Surviving the Downturn

Panel: Surviving the Downturn

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A panel of hard core developers, including Ted Neward and Jeffrey Palermo, assembled at TechEd 2009 has discussed the current economic difficult times and expressed their opinion on what a developer needs to do to remain employed.

The panelists were:

  • Eric Hexter (EH), software consultant, Austin, Texas.
  • Ted Neward (TN), ThoughtWorks.
  • Rachel Appel (RA), software consultant, Microsoft ASP MVP.
  • Aaron Erickson (AE), Principal Consultant, Magenic Technologies.
  • Jeffrey Palermo (JP), CTO of Headspring Systems.
  • Moderator Bryan Von Axelson, a solutions advisor for Microsoft US Partner Group.

The following contains the key points expressed by the panelists covering 5 major topics.

How do we survive the downturn?

TN: A corporate IT developer employed by a company who is in a business other than software should show that he understands what the company’s business is about. Programming is a commodity skills these days, so in order for someone to be remarked he needs either to be the best programmer around or to have additional skills. 

JP thinks that a good programmer is always going to be hired if he loses his job, while TN and RA think that it might not be the case if he lives in an area where there are not many software companies around to benefit from a large job offering.

JP considers that programmers should not be happy with just learning and mastering a single language, and they should broaden their perspective considering multiple languages and watching the industry trends.

Quality should play an important role

RA considers the developer should show that he is not just writing code but he is concerned about the quality of the code he writes.

TN sees a benefit in the current economic circumstance. He considers there are a number of programmers who should not have become programmers in the first place. They don’t have any passion for this, they are not really interested in doing it right and they mostly produce low quality code. As a result, the present economy will force them to do something else.

Projects that still matter today

EH mentions there are still government projects going on, but their requirements are higher being more concerned with quality.

TN considers that many businesses are still asking for software but they are more cautious with their funding trying to make sure their money is spent wisely.

AE has seen projects which took 4 months to go through the legal procedures because the beneficiary wants to check each line of the contract. Also, nobody does porting projects these days.

JP: Many business have a budget for software projects but are holding the decision to start them to see how things are evolving.

Technologies that will matter in the near future

TN suggests developers to learn something that is trendy today, that is required by companies or that is futuristic. The important thing is to keep the eyes open and learn things in advance. He nominates F# as a good candidate.

AE suggests doing something that one can be passionate about even if it is not so well rewarded.

EH: one should learn something that is important but it is missing from his list of skills plus improve the quality of what he is already doing.

JP emphasizes architectural skills which open the doors on various projects. Technologies may change but the ability to take a business problem with its context and constraints and coming up with a solution will remain regarded as highly valuable.

Learning other correlated skills

RA says that she does database administration work.

AE: consulting opens the eyes to what other businesses are doing allowing the consultant to learn more and, in the process, raising his value.

JP: learning server administration and network administration is helpful.


The conclusion of the panel is that developers need to keep learning new skills, they need to keep their eyes open to see the changing trends and follow them and they need to get prepared ahead of time.

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