Pandemic-Proof Tech Jobs — Who's Hiring In A Recession?

Tech gets hit by COVID-19, what industries will do well and who's hiring now?

The Corona virus has had a devastating impact on our economy. Recent reports suggest as many as 2.5 million people have already been laid off in the United States, with 80,000 California residents claiming unemployment benefit in a single day.

Self-isolation has forced rapid mass adoption of online delivery and video conferencing tools, and software engineers, designers, data scientists can all work from home — so if you're a software developer, data scientist or product manager you'll be fine... right?

Unfortunately not true. Dating app interest is down as much as 67%. Scooter giant Lime is considering cutting 50-70 people at their San Francisco HQ, with plummeting rider numbers and only 12 weeks cash left in the bank. Uber and Lyft are likely facing similar troubles, and their stock prices have been hit accordingly.

Collapsing stock prices have a larger effect than you might think — a significant portion of compensation at large tech companies are in the form of RSUs or stock option grants, many of which might now go underwater (become worthless). Take Airbnb, surely suffering due to travel restrictions, delaying its public listing, potentially letting the stock options of early employees expire.

This has a phenomenal knock-on effect — printing thousands of millionaires via IPO or acquisition is the magic that powers Silicon Valley, when the newly rich plow their gains back into angel investing in new startups and innovation. COVID-19 just broke the cycle, potentially hurting growth in future startup jobs in places like San Francisco and New York.

For B2B tech businesses, in-person events are crucial for hitting sales targets — Recode has put the economic loss in the order of $500m as more than half of US B2B marketers rely on in-person events and trade shows to drive conversions. Facebook cancelled F8, Adobe scrapped its annual Las Vegas summit and Google is planning to hold its Cloud Next event virtually. This causes a ripple effect that could depress the number of technology jobs for years.

So if you're worried about your job, or have already been laid off, you'll want to know — what companies and tech sectors will do well in the coming recession? Where will the best tech jobs be?

📞 Video Conferencing

We should all just go work at Zoom, right? Suddenly millions of people are working from home and trying video conferencing for the first time, and Zoom is the video conferencing solution du jour. G2 reported searches for video and audio conferencing were up 253% and 565% respectively. Zoom's stock is up by 200% despite a 17% decline for the S&P500 as a whole. The number of ratings on its app was up 179% according to data from Thinknum. If you're a senior software engineer or work in devops, surely they'll need your talents to keep everything running?

Not so fast — stop to think about their business model. Many of those new accounts are on the free tier, where you can make unlimited 40 minute phone calls. While fighting like mad to keep the quality of service high, they're going to have to somehow convince a significant number of these new users to pay for Zoom, and keep paying after they return to the office.

There have been increasing reports of lag and service interruptions from all major video conferencing tools, with Microsoft Teams completely falling over at one point. We've seen evidence of Zoom limiting the ability for free users to dial in to call from their phone, and Teams has been rate-limiting new free account signups.

The way these companies have responded to the crisis has been admirable — they're pretty much supporting the entire economy right now. It's a miracle with this unprecedented demand, their engineering teams managed to keep the service online at all. If you like problem solving, and want to be on the front lines of a once-in-a-lifetime shift in behavior, sign up. Just know it won't be an easy ride or a sure thing.

Grade: B — Video Conferencing has a huge opportunity, but some business model risk

🛒 Online Retail

With everyone social distancing and physical stores closed around the World, Amazon must be crushing it (come to think, when are they not crushing it?). They did indeed announce they're hiring 100,000 workers to cope with the additional demand, though it looks like many of these roles will be part-time and in the fulfillment centers, not tech jobs back at head office.

However we think the e-commerce industry is pretty safe. One Chinese supermarket saw a 250% surge in demand for online shopping, which helped it keep revenue steady despite 80% of its stores being closed. Some Chinese merchants were reporting 30-40% week-on-week growth as a result of the lockdowns. In the West, grocery delivery apps are seeing a doubling or tripling of their normal download rates. Instacart is said to be hiring as many as 300,000 'full service shoppers' in North America.

Unfortunately many small businesses aren't savvy with information technology and don't have the ability to sell online, and will need to shut down without a significant government bailout. As people get used to the convenience of online ordering, they'll likely to form new habits and accelerate the already existing trend away from traditional retail. This change in user behavior means a big opportunity for talented UX designers, front end engineers and product managers, who can help improve the user experience of shopping online, as well as systems administrators, data scientists and cybersecurity experts to keep shoppers safe online.

Grade: A — you'd have to try pretty hard to lose in Online Retail

📺 Streaming Services

Netflix's year-on-year subscriber growth in the US and Canadian markets is now expected to more than double previous predictions of 1.6%. Newly launched Disney+, as well as traditional rivals Amazon Prime Video, Hulu and HBO will likely see similar gains.

However it ain't all roses — Netflix suffers from a similar business model problem as Zoom. Because their customers pay a flat rate, if they suddenly start watching more, it means lots of extra bandwidth and engineering costs for Netflix without any direct increase in revenue. P.S. The same goes for Spotify, but worse — they have to pay out royalties for every additional song played.

There will also be a delay in production of new features while filming halts due to the pandemic — for which Netflix set up a relief fund — which will have a knock-on effect on future subscriber growth. Though they do have strong software engineering, data science and devops disciplines, much of the budget in this industry is reserved for licensing and original content.

However if you're backend engineer, site reliability engineer or systems engineer, particularly if you code in Python, this might be the place for you.

Grade: C — a good source of tech jobs, but not the golden ticket you might expect

🎮 Video Gaming

PC gaming platform Steam attracted a record number of concurring global users, netting a cool 20.3 million on Sunday 15th March. Gaming was already a hugely underrated and rapidly growing sector — eSports and Video Gaming are already bigger than the Music and Movie industries combined. 

New game releases regularly eclipse even the most successful movie launches, and a new generation of social hangout games like Fortnite are generating billions in revenue. That's without mentioning casual gaming giants, like King, Rovio and Tencent — the latter is capitalized at over $400 billion. With traditional sports games all cancelled, expect to see a corresponding rise in eSports, and Amazon-owned Twitch is seeing higher viewing figures.

Unlike the Video Streaming industry, it's possible for engineers and game designers to create new content working entirely remotely, so don't expect the pace to slow down from social distancing. Gaming companies do have a reputation for burning out their workers under constant 'crunch time' to get games done by the release date, so be careful who you work for.

Gaming is a hit driven business, so consider joining a sure thing rather than launching your own indie game. The role makes a big difference — while product designers and QA testers might have a tough time, if you're a data scientist, data engineer or data analyst the amount of big data can make this a dream job.

Grade: A+ — if you find the right company, this is industry is as close to a sure thing as you can get

🏫 Online Education

This is one of the few industries that consistently did well in all other major recessions. Thanks to school closures and support from Video Conferencing tools like Zoom, millions of teachers are en-mass learning how to effectively teach online. Online learning platform Teachable recently hit 1m+ daily unique visitors. Classting, an online K-college course management site, saw its number of classes skyrocket. Education is now one of the fastest growing mobile app categories, up by 245% in Italy (and soon, the World).

With pioneering companies like Lambda School, training software developers remotely who pay nothing until they get a job, the face of education was already changing before the pandemic. LinkedIn (now part of Microsoft) has been unlocking courses in its learning platform and giving away licenses to those affected by COVID-19. Many of the World's best universities provide their content for free to anyone with an internet connection, and there has been a corresponding rise in auto-didacts who don't need to be physically present to gain a valuable education.

With the rise in online learning catalyzed by the Corona Virus, $45m students owing $1.6tn in student debt, and calls in the US Presidential Election cycle for the Government to write off that debt, many will be actively rethinking our attachment to in-person education — many of our best and brightest will be hard at work creating new tools to support this shift.

This is one industry where you might not have to go for a traditional job search — many are making millions from creating online courses on their own or with a business partner. However if you're a software developer or machine learning expert, you'll have no problem finding a home at one of the already successful companies in the space. This is also a great space to break into tech if you don't know how to code, for example in customer success, technical support, or as a program manager.

Grade: B+ — it's unclear who will dominate this market, but a rising tide lifts all boats

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