How to Recession-Proof Your Career in Tech in 2021
In the post-pandemic world, your career trajectory and opportunities might look a whole lot different than they did at the end of 2019. If you were already looking to pivot out of a bad job and into the tech industry, the pandemic has probably shifted things into high gear. Being able to recession-proof your career by learning to code likely sounds even more appealing right now.
March 2020 saw “some of the most volatile trading days in history” according to Forbes, and the fallout from the pandemic meant 26 million Americans filed for employment in just 5 weeks, the highest number since the Great Depression (NPR).
It’s enough to morph your dream of learning to code into a more immediate necessity. We’re already in the thick of it, but you can still take steps to “recession-proof” your career by learning in-demand skills.
In this guide, we’re getting specific about tech skills that can make you adaptable to a changing economy (and what you can use them to do).
Table of Contents
- Why are tech skills recession-proof?
- What coding skills are most in-demand right now?
- What about soft skills?
- What if you don’t want to be a developer?
How Can Tech Skills Recession-Proof Your Career?
Believe it or not, Skillcrush was actually born out of the Great Recession of the late 2000s. In 2009, our CEO, Adda Birnir, was seven weeks into a new job at a digital agency…when she was called into a conference room and laid off along with almost a dozen colleagues.
“There I was,” Adda says, “laid off, with no real job skills to speak of, left staring at a $300 weekly unemployment check and the worst job climate in our nation’s history.”
But an important detail stuck with Adda. Of the dozen-plus people who lost their job that day, the company’s web developers were NOT part of the group—a fact that inspired Adda to start her career recovery with one small step: she learned to code.
“It wasn’t easy.” Adda says. “But my decision to gain a clear, marketable, technical skill changed everything.”
And THAT’S why we suggest learning tech skills to “recession-proof” your career.
Is it really possible to be “recession-proof”?
I put “recession-proof” in air quotes because I think it’s wishful thinking to believe that you can protect yourself 100% from any possible economic crisis, since there’s no way to know exactly how the chips will fall.
Still, there are still jobs available despite the health and economic crisis — especially tech and tech adjacent roles.
I spoke with Sarah Petrova, a software engineer at Intel & Co-founder of Techtestreport, who said, “To be honest, the tech industry hasn’t been hit really hard and a lot of tech companies are still actively hiring.” It makes sense, considering tech skills can be so helpful during crisis situations.
Of course, some tech companies will fail in any economic downturn. “The best way to find the right job isn’t to search an industry, but to look at the companies that are hiring,” suggests Steve Cooper, CEO of NextUp Solutions. “There are growers and shrinkers in every sector, and the growers need tech talent bad.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Web developer jobs are slated to grow by 15% between 2016 and 2026, a rate the BLS describes as “much faster than average.” That’s an average you want to be on the upside of.”
While there’s no way to know for sure what form a crisis or recession will take, a great way to “recession-proof” your career is by learning adaptable tech skills that are in-demand across industries.
But, if you’re new to tech, what skills should you learn?
What coding skills should you learn if you want to recession-proof your career?
When someone hears the term “tech skills,” coding and computer programming are often the first things that come to mind. Knowing how to code is a rock-solid skill foundation for any kind of tech career (and a huge supplement to any career skill set, really). But “coding” is a pretty nebulous term. There are a lot of coding languages out there, and if you’re new tech, where should you even start?
There’s no magical coding language that anyone has to start with. Picking a language (any language) and learning it is what matters the most. In the process, you’ll learn programming fundamentals. Those foundational concepts will help you better understand the next programming language you pick up (and the next). Learning more will become that much easier, and you can always add more to your repertoire as needed.
And, although it might seem like there’s an endless catalog of languages to choose from, there’s a pretty clearly identifiable group of languages that are best for new learners.
Here’s a list of coding languages that you absolutely can’t go wrong with, what they’re used for, and exactly what kinds of jobs and salaries these skills can lead to.
The Basics: HTML, CSS, and Git
First off, there are a couple of basic tech skills you’ll need to know to work as a web developer, no matter what area you specialize in. These are skills you can learn in months or weeks, and they’re the place to start if you want to begin coding.
Even though these are foundational skills, they’re still useful! In fact, you can get hired to do projects using just HTML & CSS.
HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) defines the parts of web pages to the web browsers that visit them. HTML determines which part of the page is a header, which is a footer, where paragraphs belong, where images, graphics, and videos are placed, etc. It’s a foundational web skill that can be learned in a matter of weeks, and—when paired with its sister language CSS—is enough to qualify you for paid freelance work.
CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) is HTML’s sister language. It’s used after the parts of a page are defined and specifies the page’s style. Page layouts, colors, and fonts are all selected and implemented through CSS. In other words, if HTML is the foundation of a house, CSS is the interior and exterior decorating decisions. Like HTML, CSS is one of the web’s most basic skills and can be learned online in weeks.
Git & GitHub
Git is a version control system that developers use to manage and store code all in one place. When you know Git, you can also use GitHub, a web-based repository that allows you to manage files, showcase your projects (which can help you get hired), and work with teams.
What It’s Used For: Front End Web Development
This includes uses like:
- Back end (or server-side) web and mobile app development
- Desktop app and software development
- Processing big data and performing mathematical computations
- Writing system scripts (creating instructions that tell a computer system to “do” something)
“Python is a great language for generalists as you can do so much with it,” Petrova says. “Just a basic level in Python can get you ahead of your competition applying to the same position.”
If you’re interested in managing data, Python is a good skill to pick up. “This continues to be a hot field,” says Cooper, ”even though the job titles keep changing. ‘Data Scientist’ has given way to ‘Data Engineer,’ and this is the job that turns all those billions of data rows into decision-enabling information.
What It’s Used For: Back End Web Development
PHP (which stands for Hypertext Preprocessor) is a scripting language used in “server-side” (back end) web development. PHP is commonly used to request server content—for example, a PHP script can make your three most recent blog posts appear automatically on your site’s front page. PHP scripts can also involve conditional (if/else/endif) statements that direct your site to change its display and add content from your web server as needed, based on user behavior. And if you’re interested in WordPress development? PHP is the language of choice for creating custom WordPress plugins.
What It’s Used For: Back End Web Development
Ruby and Ruby on Rails
Ruby is “a dynamic, open source programming language with a focus on simplicity and productivity.” In other words, it’s free to use and its users are allowed to study, change, and distribute the language to anyone and for any purpose (that’s the open-source part), while its syntax is designed to mimic non-machine language as much as possible (the part about being focused on simplicity and productivity.
What It’s Used For: Back End Web Development
Other Tech Skills to Help You Recession-Proof
Below are a few other skills that came up when I spoke with hiring experts in the tech industry. These skills could be worth looking into if they fit with your other specializations or are particularly compelling to you.
SQL (Structured Query Language), is often used to manage large databases. According to Petrova, “having just basic skills in SQL can be a decider in if you are getting hired or not.”
Check out these 25 Ways to Learn SQL Online (they’re all free).
More and more of the work we do in tech these days lives in the cloud. According to Cooper, “In addition to building the software and designing the data structures, someone has to determine how the software will run in the cloud, how many backup versions will exist (software and data), and where they’ll reside.”
Learn more here: What Exactly is a Cloud Architect and How Do You Become One?
What the heck is DevOps? “A new version of software gets automatically tested and deployed every few seconds in many environments,” says Cooper. “This is no longer done by humans, but by software itself.” A DevOps engineer is the person “who can design the pipeline that pushes new software into production automatically without breaking what’s there.”
And DevOps is a growing area of expertise. A SlashData report of over 17,000 developers found that almost 60% of them were working on at least some DevOps.
Where to Start Learning Coding Skills
Soft skills that developers need (especially during a recession)
I spoke with developers and hiring managers working in tech, and many of them mentioned that soft skills can make all the difference in finding (and keeping) a job in uncertain times.
Being comfortable freelancing allows you to earn more money on the side, or quickly pivot and keep making an income if a recession puts your full-time job at risk.
Freelancing might seem risky compared to being salaried at a company, but it actually means that you have the tools to help yourself if you can’t rely on your employer.
“The willingness to freelance will definitely land you on your feet — especially for marketing roles and the occasional creative work we need with content or graphics, we rely on freelancers,” says Sean Nguyen, the Director at InternetAdvisor. “Everyone is worried about them, but they’ve got an innate adaptability and the flexibility to source their income from multiple clients, so they’re not living and dying with the employer.”
And freelancing is the best way to start using brand new skills (that’s why we strongly encourage all our students to take on small freelance jobs right out of the gate).
Being able to communicate well is always important, especially in the tech world where people skills can really stand out. Petrova says:
“Unfortunately many really good programmers are a pain to work with. Having solid communication skills and the ability to find your role in a team can go a long way. Many recruiters, myself included, see this soft skill as a deciding factor of whether we hire you or not.”
If you’ve spent months building up your tech skills, it can be easy to forget how important it is to work well with others, not just on your solitary projects. Golda Manuel, CEO of Leksi, says, “Work environments consist of diverse individuals with varying backgrounds, and it’s essential to get your points across during meetings and influence others when needed.”
Always Be Learning
In the tech industry, change happens at a lightning-fast pace. Tools are always evolving, programming languages are coming in and out of favor, and, most importantly, people’s needs are always changing. That means it’s standard for developers to learn new skills on the job — not just as beginners, but throughout their whole careers.
Showing that you’re willing to learn can help you get hired too. According to Manuel, “For me, if a candidate’s skills don’t exactly match the job description, I will still consider them if they show enthusiasm to learn.”
How do you prove that you’re a lifelong learner? Your portfolio or personal site. “You can demonstrate this skill easily by having an ever-growing portfolio of personal and professional projects,” Petrova suggests. “They don’t have to be super complex, but a well diversified project portfolio signals your willingness and ability to learn something new and to get comfortable with the uncomfortable.”
Can you still recession-proof your career if you don’t want to be a developer?
If coding isn’t what lights you up, you still have options. There other areas of tech you can get started in to withstand economic downturns, including web design, UX design, and digital marketing. If you want to recession-proof your career without spending your days coding, those are the jobs for you.
Learn more about adding these skills to your repertoire:
- How to Start a Web Design Career
- How to Start a Career in UX (User Experience) Design
- How to Start a Career in Digital Marketing
Another option to look into is tech support. With more and more consumers browsing websites and using apps and other digital tools, there is a need for specialists to help them out with bugs and other questions. As of this writing, there were over 350,000 customer care jobs listed on in Indeed for the U.S. alone, with an average salary of $55,833 (Indeed).
Remember, you don’t need to learn everything on this list (or even half of it) to start to recession-proof your career. Starting with the basics (HTML, CSS, and Git/GitHub) will get you on the right path, whether you want to work in web design, web development, or even digital marketing or tech support. Wherever you end up, know that you can always learn new skills that will set you up to adapt to a changing economy.
This post was originally published August, 30, 2019 by Scott Morris. Revised on May 11, 2020 by Randle Browning