For me, it was a conference in October last year that I began to detect the first hints of unease.
The Graphorum conference in Chicago seemed to be going well. I was the CTO of my own consulting company and had a joint venture with another group that was just beginning to come together, and both knowledge graphs and property graphs were the big news of the day. Attendance was reasonably good, and there were lots of conversations that looked like they might end up turning into potential consulting opportunities. I heard a lot of 'Work is good, we're staying busy' comments, yet there was a slight air of desperation there, people not quite adding "but ...".
I've been in the Information space for a long time, and have weathered the 1987 recession, 1991, the DotCom bust and the Great Recession. After a while, you begin to pick up on patterns that fill you with dread, and to me, the economy to me (at least for the AI sector) was flashing red. By December, the growth in information sector jobs, which has been booming through much of 2019, dropped to a crawl, with only about 2000 IT jobs added that month. By January, even after good numbers overall, IT was about 10,000 jobs in the hole according to the ADP jobs report, and February was getting worse.
There's a common misconception out right now - that the recession was due to Covid-19. It wasn't. We were already heading into recession territory even before then, though the Coronavirus made things dramatically worse. Several potential consulting gigs became ghosts, with variations on the same theme:
"We want to hire you, but we're waiting for funding. We're re-evaluating our spending priorities right now. Your rates ... yeah, I know that we happily paid them last year, but the C Suite's frozen all budgets. I'm sorry, Kurt, but my company just let me go - good luck, and if you hear about an opportunity, let me know."
And then the closures began, and the lockdown and companies began shedding jobs in earnest. Late cycle in Technology is a dangerous place to be for anyone, but especially for independent consultants. Projects are winding down, and consultants, who are often called in early on projects to help get them on track, are in comparatively little demand regardless of their expertise. Even people in analytics face this problem, perhaps worse this time around because the fairly intense demand for data scientists that began around 2016 had cooled considerably by Fall 2019.
From a consultant standpoint, though, this is a make or break type of situation. There are options, but you have to be nimble and be willing to hustle to survive. Here are five things that you can do, especially given the age of Covid:
- Stay flexible. Compensation's going to take a hit, because money's scarce, and people (and companies) are going to become very risk-averse. One of the advantages of being a consultant is that you're not necessarily looking for a full-time position, and hiring managers will appreciate people willing to meet them on compensation for a four to six-month project.
- Promote and educate yourself. Start writing a regular blog or doing a podcast, put yourself out there as an expert on Linked In and elsewhere to people looking for webinar panelists. Write or teach a class. Volunteer on projects. In many cases, businesses and organizations often get their start during recessions because people were more willing (or more desperate) to jump outside the box. Start an open-source project or take classes to gain proficiency in new computer languages or skills. Explore hobbies that you either didn't have the time for when you were busy or that you've wanted to pick up.
- Network. We're in a temporary barter economy. Trade some consulting time for a bit of equity, for an exchange of services or for a position on boards of advisors. The economy will eventually improve, and that investment in goodwill can often pay remarkable dividends.
- Stay Engaged. It is easy to get overwhelmed during a recession, to want to sink into despair. Your sense of self-worth is usually at its lowest during such times, and the Coronavirus hasn't helped matters much because it's meant that people are still largely cooped up in their own houses with other family members, so personal dramas get amplified. The best thing that you can do is to focus on your strengths and to buttress your weaknesses.
- Reflect. Recessions are natural inflection points. They usually mark the end of one business cycle and the start of another, and invariably the new cycle will be different from the one you just left. Why? Because recessions usually occur when a certain way of doing things is no longer economically viable. This is a good time to take stock about where you think the economy is going, and more importantly, what you want to do within that economy. I started gearing my own efforts more towards data journalism even before the recession began, both because I think it's going to be increasingly important and because, to be honest, I feel it's a way to better teach others how to thrive in this new world. Ask yourself what you'd really like to be doing in five-years-time, and start laying the groundwork to make that happen beginning now.
Ultimately, the key to surviving this latest recession is to see it not as the end of something, but rather, the beginning of something else.
Leave your comments
Post comment as a guest