Development Jobs in a Down Economy, Part 3
The unemployment rate
has nearly doubled in the past year and a half, jumping by nearly 20%
in just the time I began this series of columns.
I of this series was published, the United
States Bureau of Labor Statistics announced the January 2009
jobless rate as 7.6% (up from 7.2% the month before).
With the publication of Part II,
the February data became available, jumping that figure to 8.1%.
As I write Part III (this column), I have the March figures before me,
showing unemployment now at 8.5%, the highest in over a quarter
century. According to BLS, the last upward spike in the
unemployment that reached 8.5% was in December 1981. That spike
continued for another year, reaching a peak of 10.8% before it finally
reversed course. More soberly, this current spike has twice the
angle as the 1981 spike (that is to say, it is taking only half as long
to go from 7.6% to 8.5% now as it did then).
Pretty depressing sounding.
Then why is it that I am receiving more calls from job recruiters than
in recent memory?
Part of it is that an overall figure of 8.5% can be rather
deceptive. The U.S. job market is not a homogeneous
environment. The biggest differential is job type: Farming &
Construction is seeing a whopping 12-15% jobless rate, whereas
management and professional occupations are seeing only 2-3%
unemployment. Also, location makes a big difference. The
overall rate is below 5% in places like Wyoming, Nebraska and North
& South Dakotas, but exceeds 12% in Oregon and Michigan. And
if you are really good at what you do, you will always be more in
demand than others in your field.
But in my case, it's mostly because I am a Macintosh (as opposed to
Windows or Linux) software developer that I am getting these
calls. But more about that in a moment.
Are You in a
Forget about the country as a whole for the moment. The question
can be asked: Are you *yourself* in
What does it mean for an individual to be in a recession?
Essentially this: If disaster struck and you lost your job, would you
be able to find a comparable job in a reasonably short period of time?
If willing to relocate, software developers, QA and other engineering
support would likely do better than others in this current economic
climate. However, most employers find little reason to offer top
salaries, considering the increasingly larger pool of talent that
becoming available by layoffs. Supply & Demand is at work (as
always), and as the supply of potential engineers grows, the price you
have to pay them goes down. This also discourages good talent who
are considering other opportunities. Since many unemployed people
would be happy to take any reasonable salary, employers see bargains
everywhere. If you don't wish to be a bargain, then you're likely
to hang out where you are until things turnaround.
However, Apple developers and QA people (who are willing to relocate)
can find work tomorrow. Why is that?
The Mac Factor
I led off this column with depressing statistics, and even if the
software industry is less impacted, it is still pretty rough. And
recessions have a habit of spiralling downward. Once one business
experiences trouble, it cuts back on discretionary spending, causing a
decrease in business with its clients, which in turn perpetuates the
cycle, radiating the cutbacks outward. And companies experiencing
financial difficulties are not in the best position to hire.
In January, Microsoft announced its net income falling 11% (with Zune
revenue declining by a whopping 54%), and has been forced to announce
additional layoffs of 5,000 people. In April, Microsoft's jilted
dance partner Yahoo announced more job cuts (on top of the 2,600 they
already let go in 2008). AMD's revenue dropped by a third in
January, and the entire semiconductor industry appears to be in
free-fall. Intel had a tough April, with its revenue down 26% and
its income down by 55%. Managing any profit at all, or at least
to break even, is a major achievement. Google managed to do it,
squeaking out a 6% revenue increase in April.
And then there's Apple!
In January, Apple announced its jaw-dropping Q1 numbers, breaking all
company history with best ever revenue and best ever profits. In
Of course, that was just a fluke, right? After all, it was
Christmas, and people spent their last money on the holiday. Any
gain so big in Q1 will be paid for by poor performance in Q2.
Surely Apple would soon join the ranks of the others getting spanked
financially. There is no way Apple can continue profitingin
this way in such an economy. When the April figures come out,
there will be a reckoning, and we'll just see the faces of all those
smug Mac fanatics then...
Yeah, well guess what?
Q2 2009 was Apple's best non-holiday quarter in corporate history: a
record $1.21 Billion in profits (up 15% from 2008) and record $8.16
Billion in revenue (up 9% from 2008). Apple retails stores also
seemed immune from the economic decline, with sales actually going up
from $1.45 Billion to $1.47 Billion.
For Mac bashers looking for the worst news in these numbers, let me
save you time: sales of Macintosh computers themselves declined,
although only by a meager 3%. But before you Mac haters try to
make too much of that, note that the Windows market shrank by 7%,
meaning that the Macintosh marketshare actually went up with this
decrease! Despite the sales decline, a higher percentage of
buyers are choosing Macs over Windows now. Hell, even Apple's bad
news turns out to be good news for them.
As Apple continues to prosper, and businesses that have dealings with
Apple (whether directly or indirectly) continue to do so. As
various enterprises find that that their Macintosh-related work is
prospering relative to everything else, that's where they'll be
concentrating greater effort. Add to this the already low numbers
of qualified Macintosh engineers, and you find that the need to hire
Mac people continues to exist.
And that's just the Macintosh platform. Let's not forget the
incredible explosion of iPhone development, which Cocoa/Mac OS X
developers are already competent to perform. Windows and Linux
developers do not have this benefit. Worse still for PC
engineers, it seems all of Asia is mass producing inexpensive options
for Windows and Linux work. If an Indian or Chinese Windows
developer can be paid a fifth of what an American equivalent can be,
this recession is just making offshoring far more compelling.
Interestingly, there are very few Mac development sites in Asia, and
they are not nearly as plentiful (nor as competent) as their PC
Now this is not to say that state-side Macintosh engineers have not
been hit by this recession. They certainly have. And more
are likely to be hit in the near future. But what I am saying is
that Mac people in this hemisphere are much less likely impacted.
And this is good news. And eventually this recession will
end. I don't know if that will happen this summer, next summer or
three years down the line. But at some point it will turn
around. And when it does, I firmly and sincerely believe that
Apple will come out the stronger for it. And for that reason, if
you wish to tie your horse to some fence post during this economic
downturn, Apple' fence post is about as good as you're going to get.
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