Riding Out the Bumps

With the economy full of potholes, it’s the resourceful, the tenacious and the sociable who will enjoy the smoother road.

Remember the good times, when employers showered us with stock options and BMWs as hiring bonuses? Well, the bad times are what you need to gauge the good times. Auntie’s no Al Greenspan, but even she knows that the economy’s hitting a rough spot and things are getting a little bit bumpy. Plus, you know it’s bad when your 401(k)’s value is now less than what that kid at the McDriveThru window makes and your options are so far underwater that the Cousteau Foundation won’t mount an expedition to find them.

When you think about it, good times are as inexplicable as bad times. Can anyone really explain why the last few years of the old millennium went so well for the U.S. economy in general? Nah. We can describe the symptoms and the effects of good times, but no one (except for a few daring individuals who make infomercials and will provide you with The Infallible Path to Wealth for six easy payments of $73.64) has all the answers. That’s why macroeconomic theories are theories, not laws.

This ex-supermodel humbly suggests not wasting time thinking about the “why.” Stuff happens; live with it. Instead, let’s deal with realities and the effects of economic potholes on all of us humble—yet surprisingly attractive—MCPs. So, what happens when good times aren’t so good?

If you’re an IT staffer at a company affected by the recent downturn, the so-called “efficiency experts” may be lurking around cubicles. And they’re most likely targeting IT departments that haven’t successfully made the case for IT as a revenue-generating source rather than simply “overhead.”

If you’re in management, Auntie says now would be a really good time to pull out all the stops to save your job. And if you’re an IT grunt, find ways to show management that you should be the last person to lay off. This often means not giving management any excuses to dump you. Keep your customers happy, your credentials and skills current, and pay more attention to the soft skills we often neglect while we get the job done—you know, interacting with colleagues? I’ve seen too many cases when the ax falls first on those who haven’t a clue when it comes to human interaction.

What about when resource-intensive projects get shelved? This is a big hit to contractors. A project like a Windows 2000 migration or a Web portal launch can produce dozens of opportunities for consultants. But if large projects are put off for a quarter or two, the local consulting population takes the hit. What to do?

Well, there are two types of contracts: project work and staff augmentation. Project work pays more and is more interesting than system admin or user support work. But as project work dries up, contractors have to decide whether to ride out the low demand or suck it up, take staff augmentation contracts and make less.

With IT an integral part of how businesses make money, we may be facing a period where there’s less work to go around. If you have to lower your expectations, remember that reduced options are a lot better than none.

About the Author

Em C. Pea, MCP, is a technology consultant, writer and now budding nanotechnologist who you can expect to turn up somewhere writing about technology once again.

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