The IT worker's Wall Street meltdown worry list

Five questions about your job and your future

The only thing that seems clear today is that the US is in a recession and possibly a bad one. No one is certain what will happen next. Events are changing almost by the hour. How much help will a federal bailout deliver to the nation's financial system, which has been hard-hit by the downturn? Will more financial institutions collapse, and how far down will the stock market go? Will you have a job?

What follows is a summary, in the form of an FAQ, about what we know so far about the impact of this crisis on one of the most important of areas in tech, namely, your job.

If you lose your job will you find a new one?

It's obviously not going to be easy. The Corporate Executive Board surveyed 50 CIOs, and nearly 25 percent said they have imposed a hiring freeze, and half said they are cutting spending on consultants and contractors.

Many of the resumes arriving in human resources departments will list financial services experience. This industry accounts for 20 percent of global IT spending, says research firm IDC. And it is shedding jobs by the thousands, 103,000 jobs overall this year, according to outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

But some skills will always do well in this market. SAP techs are in demand. Financial services may shed midlevel IT managers, but Mary Price, a manager in the technology division of Russell Reynolds Associates, an executive recruiter, said she expects increasing demand for people in this sector who can integrate platforms and improve risk management systems.

Relocating may help. Unemployment may be 6.1 percent in the US, but in Northern Virginia, where there are large numbers of private sector tech jobs serving the US federal government, unemployment is 3.6 percent, up from 2.4 percent a year ago. Check with recruiters. Jill Herrin, president and CEO of JDResources, an IT recruiting firm, said last week that demand for IT talent "is extremely high."

How long will the recession last?

Let's defer to Warren Buffett for the big picture answer. On PBS's Charlie Rose show last week (transcript), the billionaire investor said: "I don't want to hold out false hopes that the -- by some magic moment, that things will turn around in a couple months because they wouldn't, Charlie. I mean, and it's a big mistake to try and mislead people. ... I don't know whether it will be six months or whether it'll be two years."

Gartner and Forrester Research believe IT spending won't drift into negative territory. IT has outperformed the economy generally, so it's probably reasonable to forecast that. Both analyst firms are looking for improvement by the second half of next year. IDC doesn't believe that IT growth rates will drop to zero or below as they did in 2002 after the bust. "The worst we would expect for 2009 is a 1 percent drop in the US and 0.5 percent drop worldwide in IT, less in telecommunications," IDC said. More on these forecasts later.

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Patrick Thibodeau

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