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At Skillcrush, we love connecting people with the skills it takes to pivot out of a bad job or frustrating career and into something better. But even though transitioning to a job you love is a very good reason to learn tech skills, it’s not the only reason. Tech skills can also be a powerful tool for keeping the job you have or finding a job when jobs are scarce.
What do we mean by that? One scary word: Recession.
According to Forbes (and lots of others), recession alarm bells are ringing here in the United States. And the effects when that recession happens? Not good. According to The Atlantic, Millenials will be in a particularly vulnerable position:
The next recession—this year, next year, whenever it comes—will likely make that Millennial disadvantage even worse…A downturn that leads to higher unemployment and lower wages will force Millennials to wait even longer to start accumulating wealth, making it far harder for them to accumulate any wealth at all. (Compound interest is magic, after all.) Their trajectory, already terrible, might get even worse.
But here’s the part where we tell you not to panic! First off, nothing’s for sure yet. And while recessions can be awful—history as a guide—they’re also inevitable. That inevitability makes them something you can actually prepare for ahead of time.
How? By recession-proofing your professional skill set, which brings us full-circle back to tech skills. Tech skills are one of the most surefire recession-proofing tools out there.
This guide breaks down what those skills are, how to learn them, AND how you can start using them to recession-proof your own job or start looking for a new one.
Table of Contents
- Why are Tech Skills Recession-Proof?
- Coding Skills
- Web Design Skills
- User Experience Skills
- Digital Marketing Skills
1. Why Are Tech Skills Recession-Proof?
Believe it or not, Skillcrush was actually born out of the Great Recession of the late 2000s. In 2008, 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,” Birnir 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 Birnir. 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 Birnir to start her career recovery with one small step: she learned to code.
“It wasn’t easy.” Birnir says. “Or fast. I didn’t do it in 2 weeks, or even 2 years. But my decision to gain a clear, marketable, technical skill changed everything.”
And THAT’S why tech skills are the key to recession proofing.
Digital-based companies (which nowadays are basically all companies) can survive on life support without most parts of their workforce…except for those workers with the skills that keep the company online. If you know how to code, how to design user interfaces, how to optimize content for the web, or any other tech or tech adjacent skills, your ability to hang onto your job (even during the toughest of times) can increase exponentially.
Looking for proof? 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.
So what are the best skills to learn if you want to start a little preemptive recession proofing? Let’s break it down.
2. Coding Skills
When someone hears the term “tech skills,” coding and computer programming are often the first things that come to mind. And with good reason. 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?
First, 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. Once you’ve learned your first programming language, learning more will become that much easier, and you can always add more to your repertoire as needed.
Second, 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 resiliently recession-proof skills can lead to.
What It’s Used For: Front End Web Development
HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) defines the parts of web pages to the web browsers that visit them. When you access a site through your phone, tablet, or computer’s browser (Chrome, Safari, Firefox, etc.) those browsers read HTML content and translate it into what you see on the screen.
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.
What It’s Used For: Front End Web Development
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.
What It’s Used For: Front End Web Development
What They’re Used For: Front End Web Development
What It’s Used For: Back End Web Development
PHP (which stands for…PHP: 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.
Ruby and Ruby on Rails
What It’s Used For: Back End Web Development
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
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’s wide range of uses combined with it’s easy to learn, English-based syntax, makes it a particularly prized and popular programming language right now.
Where to Start Learning Coding Skills
If you’re ready to start shaking off the recession blues with some coding skills of your own, you can start by checking out our monster list of 80+ resources for learning to code online. This list features free courses and tutorials for all of the languages covered above.
3. Web Design Skills
If you have previous experience in print or graphic design, then—recession or not—it’s probably time to add digital design skills to your repertoire. And even if you haven’t spent a day working in any kind of design, web design skills are a relatively quick, easy addition to any recession-proof resume.
Unlike web developers who build websites and mobile applications, web designers are responsible for creating the overall vision of what websites and mobile apps will look like. Typical web designer duties include:
- Designing web pages or whole websites/web applications
- Designing site navigations
- Mocking up mobile-first and/or responsive websites that look good on all sizes of screens
- Coding pages or sites using basic languages like HTML and/or styling those projects via stylesheets and CSS (this is increasingly part of the role, though not universal)
- Project managing, including overseeing teams and/or clients
Web Design Salary Note: Web design jobs currently pay an average of $42,145 per year. Yes, that’s considerably lower than their web developer peers, but web design jobs are also plentiful, with Indeed.com listing nearly 17,000 positions as of this writing. Web design also lends itself naturally to freelance work and working for multiple clients at once, meaning average base pay is just a starting point.
So what are the skills you’ll need to make web design happen? Here’s a list of the fundamentals.
Layout and navigation principles
Just like with print design, the layout of a website is as important as the content it presents. You need to arrange the website’s images, text, video, and menu options in a way that allows for efficient navigation by users.
Familiarizing yourself with best layout and navigation principles, like those illustrated in this UX Booth article, is key to successful web design.
Color and typography
Certain color and typography choices are a subjective part of the design process, but there’s a whole science of color choice that informs web design. And that’s why your toolkit should include color theory if you’re interested in seriously pursuing web design work either full-time or as a freelancer.
Similarly, you can’t just choose web typography on the fly. In addition to making web pages easier to read and more appealing to users, the right font size and style choices can directly affect the ability of search engines to index and rank your website.
Responsive / Mobile-first design
As of 2018, 52 percent of all website traffic is now served to mobile phones, making “mobile first design” the web design standard. This means creating your website designs with the smallest display screens in mind and working outward to bigger screens from there.
A website that looks fab on your phone’s screen should seamlessly expand into a spectacular experience on your desktop and vice versa. This UXPin article gives a look at the kind of specifics that go into responsive design—a skill you’ll need if you’re interested in working as a web designer.
Wireframing / Prototyping approaches, practices, and software
- A website wireframe is a visual map that lays out the skeleton of a website. By creating wireframes, web designers are able to visualize and plan out the way a site will be arranged, including placement of text, images, menus, videos, animated graphics, and interactive user forms. A wireframe also allows web designers to share their site plans and progress with developer teams, clients, test users, and other stakeholders.
- A prototype is a more developed website model than a wireframe. Prototypes can be used for site testing before a site’s final release. Based on where a site is in its development cycle, a website prototype can consist of anything from a mockup sketch on paper to a fully functioning digital model.
This article from Smashing Magazine gives a rundown on the benefits of each kind of model.
Design Software: Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and Sketch
The specific software program you use for web design will vary based on employers, clients, and your own personal preferences, but it’s a good idea to be familiar with these “big three” industry standards”
- Adobe Photoshop
- Adobe Illustrator
Bonus Skills: HTML/CSS
While being able to code isn’t a requirement of web design, having the skills to do some basic page builds with HTML and CSS will certainly up your chances with potential employers. Scroll back up to our coding skills section if you’d like to learn more.
Where to Start Learning Web Design Skills
Similar to learning to code, free web design tutorials abound online and are a good place to start learning the basics. You can find free tutorials at sites like:
And once you’ve gotten your feet wet with there, you can level up with a paid, instructor-led course like our Skillcrush Web Design Course. This online class is designed to be completed in three months by spending just an hour a day on the materials.
Is Tech Right for You?
Take Our 3-Minute Quiz to Find Out!
4. User Experience (UX) Skills
User Experience (or UX as it’s known in tech-speak) is a tech field that involves researching groups of people who use digital products (like websites and apps) and using the findings to improve users’ experiences with those products (aaand that’s why it’s called User Experience).
UX covers everything from the way a product makes the user feel while they use its features, how easy the product is to use, and how appealing users find the product overall. And since a positive user experience with a company’s product is not really a negotiable thing if you’re trying to stay in business, you can see why workers with UX skills will have an easier time staying employed even in a downturn than their unskilled colleagues.
But before we dig into the UX skills you can learn to pad your own recession-proofing, it’s important to note that UX jobs fall into three general buckets. Those buckets are:
- UX Research—The UX phase involving interviewing users and collecting data to be used in UX design.
- Information Architecture—This is the “UX design” portion of UX you’ve probably heard about. After user research has been collected, it’s time for UX designers to craft a strategy for implementing that data—in other words, a user experience design.
- Product Iteration Testing —This is the stage in the UX process where a current version of a product is presented to clients, users, and other stakeholders, after which collected impressions are applied to the next product version.
Specific UX jobs might mix and match these buckets (or might focus entirely on one), so UX skills can overlap, but here are the core skills for each UX speciality:
UX Research Skills
Personas are fictional user profiles used to model user groups a product is being built for. These profiles are created through research data like demographic information, interviews with test users, and customer experience metrics (search terms used to locate a website or app online, links frequently clicked on by specific customer types, time spent viewing site pages, etc). UX designers use these personas to dictate product features and UX design choices based on what would appeal most to theoretical users.
This UX technique involves creating a visual representation of a user’s “journey” with a product. The user journey model is based on the same kind of data and metrics used to create personas. The typical user journey begins with a first product engagement and (best case scenario) follows the customer’s long-term relationship with the product.
This visual chart of the customer’s experience trajectory (based on UX research) allows UX designers to identify how users engage with a product, what user needs emerge at different parts of the customer journey, and how deep of a gulf exists between intended and actual user experiences.
This is a fancy term for UX’s version of “brainstorming.” After analyzing a product’s current user experience and defining the ideal experience based on user feedback (using tools like personas and journey maps), UX designers put themselves in the user’s shoes and begin brainstorming ways to implement necessary product changes. It’s the step in the UX process where research starts to form into design.
Information Architecture Skills
Navigation and Layout Best Practices
Just like traditional design has best practices for elements like color and typography, UX design has its own best practices when it website and web application layout and design, as described in this UX Planet article. Being familiar with these best practices is a must for working as a UX designer.
Just like with web design (covered above), this is the process of creating visual wireframe models used to map out the basic structure of a website or application.
Again, see web design. Prototypes are a more fleshed out website or app model, building on basic wireframe concepts and giving users a sample version of a product that they can interact.
Product Iteration Testing Skills
This is a UX methodology where users are asked to use a product version. UX designers then observe and analyze how easy and enjoyable it is for users to complete specific tasks with this particular iteration. Usability testing gives UX designers a chance to witness firsthand how a user experiences a finished version of a product and what can be changed for future iterations.
The testing method involves exposing users to a product iteration (version A) alongside a version with a slightly different design (version B) and observing which version the user base prefers. User preference can be measured through a metric called a “conversion rate.” Conversion rates reflect the number of website or app visitors who take a desired action during their visit. By comparing iteration A with variant B, UX designers can understand which parts of their current product version resonate with users and which parts can be improved upon.
In addition to skills, knowing how to use industry standard tools is an important part of the UX trade.
Two must-learn UX tools recommended by our own curriculum team are:
- Figma—an industry-standard design tool for creating website and web application wireframes
- Invision—a powerful software tool that lets UX designers create interactive website prototypes to test with real users
Alongside these two programs, other recommended UX UI tools include:
- Axure—another prototyping tool for web and desktop applications
- Balsamiq—a User Interface design tool for making digital sketches, wireframes, and mockups
- UXPin—a full-service UX design platform for every stage of the UX process—designing, collaborating, and presenting to clients and test users
UX Jobs and Salaries
Here’s a list of seven common UX job titles, their basic responsibilities, and their average salaries:
Participating in user research and implementing findings to create a UX strategy and design
Developing product prototypes and conducting product testing
Communicating with stakeholders about the product development process and test results
UX designer average salary: $86,801/yr
Designing and user testing a product’s screens or pages
Coordinating a product’s interface and layout with an overall UX strategy
Creating interface prototypes and product style guides
UI designer average salary: $74,133/yr
Designing and user testing a product’s interaction elements
Ensuring interactions are consistent with results from user research
Creating product interaction prototypes
Interaction designer average salary: $88,124/yr
Creating and testing moving product elements, motion graphics, and animations.
Coordinating motion designs with overall UX strategy and user research
Creating product motion prototypes
Motion designer average base pay: $63,373/yr
UX researcher duties include:
Overseeing and conducting user research, interviews, and product testing
Conducting competitive analyses and researching market data
Creating user personas, user journey maps, usability tests, and surveys/questionnaires
UX researcher average base pay: $93,152/yr
Creating site maps, user journey maps, and product navigation schemes
Participating in user research and interviews
Managing data models based on user research
Information architect average base pay: $96,435/yr
Implementing interaction and motion designs into product prototypes
Providing technical advice and assistance to UX teams
UX engineer average base pay: $107,670/yr
Where to Learn UX Skills
Part of what makes it so easy to start learning tech skills is the sheer amount of tutorial information that exists online, and UX is no different than other tech fields. You get a feel of what UX is all about from sites like:
And when you’re ready to make the jump to UX pro, consider our Skillcrush User Experience Design Course—an online class designed to be completed in only 3 months (if you spend about an hour a day). Our course will walk you step-by-step through the skills listed above, as well as get you hands on with Figma and Invision.
5. Digital Marketing Skills
Think tech is all about programming and digital design? Think again! What if we told you there’s a creative role in tech that lets you make big picture plans, write clever copy, and even spend time perfecting your Instagram game?
“Sign me up!” right??
Well that’s what’s in your future if you pick up digital marketing skills. And yes, marketers with technical skills are also insulated from the ravages of recession. Marketing teams are a must if a company is trying to sell products, and marketers who know how to create web-specific content strategies and navigate digital marketing tools are a valuable commodity. So what ARE digital marketing skills? Critical things to learn include:
Data Analysis / Analytics
Digital marketers need numbers to understand whether their marketing campaigns are working. But more importantly, they need the skills to interpret those numbers in order to adjust their strategies and launch new campaigns. And, most importantly, they need to be able to explain that data to other members of their team who may not fully understand the purpose of digital marketing.
Content Marketing / Content Strategy
Content marketers and content strategists specialize in using compelling storytelling to reach new audiences. They do that through blog posts, email campaigns, guides and ebooks, and even other types of media like video and podcasts.
Social Media Marketing
Social media marketing involves strategically using a brand’s social channels to promote and sell its products. Those strategies might include anything from product promotion to channel-specific giveaways to paid ads (you’ve probably seen those on Facebook and even in your Instagram stories).
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Brands rely on traffic from search engines like Google to increase brand awareness and drive new leads. SEO is the process brands use to finesse the content they write and make it as appealing to Google as possible. The better the content, the better the search result for the most part—but there are plenty of nuances, which explains why “SEO specialist” is a full-time job.
“Paid ads” is another umbrella term for buying media placements on various channels to promote your products. This includes social media ads (like the sponsored posts you see in your Instagram feed) but also display ads (like the ones you see at the top of search results in Google).
General Tech Skills
It also helps for digital marketers to acquire some tech skills as well, especially since many digital marketing campaigns require working with a web development team. Some great supplemental skills to consider: HTML & CSS (you can learn those from our free coding camp), basic design principles and UX/UI, and photo editing basics. Here’s a full list of seven tech skills every digital marketer needs.
Digital Marketing Jobs and Salaries
Finally, if you’re wondering what kind of jobs and salaries these skills translate to, here’s a list of the seven best entry-level jobs for digital marketers:
You’ll find this role at a smaller startup, or at least at a company that’s just beginning to build a marketing team. You’ll need to be able to switch gears quickly and make daily decisions about the best way to spend your time. Depending on your company, you could do everything from writing email newsletters to proposing partnerships with sponsors to managing paid ads.
Digital Marketer Average Salary: $59,691
Content Strategist or Content Marketer
Content marketing jobs tend to attract writers and editors, but there’s more to it than that. A content strategist’s goal is to attract new inbound users and bring in new leads—or, in other words, get potential customers’ email addresses. Content marketers typically do this with content like blog posts, downloadable whitepapers or ebooks, and multimedia content like videos and infographics.
Content Strategist Average Salary: $72,742
SEO specialists need to know how to conduct keyword research and turn what they discover into an SEO strategy. They typically need to be comfortable using tracking tools like Google Analytics and Google Search Console, which they’ll be working with daily.
Average SEO Specialist Salary: $51,213
Social Media Manager
Social media managers, sometimes also called social media coordinators, do a lot more than check Facebook. In this role, you’ll set a strategy for growing and engaging a social media following, usually across multiple platforms. You’ll work closely with designers, content creators, and ad managers to share and promote content that attracts new users and helps customers trust (and maybe even get obsessed with) a brand.
Social Media Manager Average Salary: $48,147
Marketing managers are less likely to work directly on content and social media, and more likely to work on bigger picture marketing campaigns and strategies. Instead of publishing blog posts and working on SEO strategies, they’ll send sales emails, manage ad campaigns, or work with partners on marketing projects.
Marketing Manager Average Salary: $81,078
Paid Ads Manager or Paid Marketing Manager
Paid marketing managers are experts in search engine marketing (SEM), and typically run ad campaigns in three categories:
- Search: These are ads that appear in search engines, like at the top of Google after you type in a search term.
- Social: These are ads that appear on social platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram.
- Display: These are the banner ads that appear on websites and are often related to your search history, which is called retargeting. (I.e., that thing when you search for socks and you only see socks ads for weeks.)
Paid Ads Manager Average Salary: $70,857
Partnership marketers make and manage strategic partnerships. They can do a wide variety of work and might spend their day meeting with big names in the industry, talking about the company’s product at a conference, or even speaking with podcasters about ad slots.
Partnership Marketing Manager Average Salary: $81,078
Where to Learn Digital Marketing Skills
If digital marketing sounds like the perfect entre into your own recession-proof resume, you can pick up the basics for free from sites like:
And when you’re ready to really invest in your digital marketing future, try our Skillcrush Digital Marketing Course. This online class is designed to be completed in three months by spending just an hour a day on the materials, and it will teach you everything you need to know to land your own recession-proof digital marketing gig.
Scott Morris is Skillcrush's staff writer and content producer. Like all the members of Skillcrush's team, he works remotely (in his case from Napa, CA). He believes that content that's worth reading (and that your audience can find!) creates brands that people follow. He's experienced writing on topics including jobs and technology, digital marketing, career pivots, gender equity, parenting, and popular culture. Before starting his career as a writer and content marketer, he spent 10 years as a full-time parent to his daughters Veronica and Athena.