Career planningDisaster recovery

time to read 5 min | 952 words

One of the more important things that you have to remember is that you should always be ready for failure. As developers, we are used to thinking about stuff like that in our code, but this is true for real life as well.

I’m going to leave aside things like personal disasters for this post (things like car accidents, getting seriously sick, etc), because there are some ways to mitigate those (insurance, family, etc) and they really isn’t anything special in development to say about those. Instead, I want to talk about professional disasters.

Those can be things like:

  • Company closing (nicely or otherwise).
  • Getting fired.
  • Product going under.
  • Product doing badly.
  • Reputation smear.
  • High profile failure.

Let me try take them in turn. The easiest one to handle is probably a company closing down, there is very little blame attached here, so there shouldn’t be an issue of having a new job. This is also the time to consider if you want to move tracks to be an independent or entrepreneur. Getting fired is a bit harder, but assuming that you weren’t fired for cause (such as negligence of criminal behavior), the old “everyone is downsizing” is going to work.

Even in a so-so economy, there is still a lot of jobs out there for software developers, but getting a good one might require you to polish your skills, and getting good idea of what is marketable today. Note that there is a big difference between what is popular and what is marketable (as in, will land you a job). Node.JS seems to be the buzzword of the day, but knowing Java very well is probably a much better path for quick employment.

This comes back to what kind of approach you want to take. For now, I’m going to assume that the fallback position for a good developer is to get hired in some fashion, it can be a short term contract, or just be gainfully employed writing software. This is important when we consider the other things that can happen, those are the kind of disasters that strike when you are more than just an employee. If you are entrepreneur and your product is just loosing too much money, for example, what is your next path?

The easy thing is when you know that you can’t go on. Maybe a competitor is pricing you out of the market, or the bank is closing the credit line or you can’t get more client or any of a hundred reasons. You are done, and you are well aware of that. A much harder issue is when you are just doing badly. So you do make sales, but not enough to cover expenses, or just getting by. Not enough to bankrupt you immediately, but you can see it happening. Unless  something changes… So you have the option of pulling the cord or trying to get it to work, with the chance of going to actual failure.

For a startup, you usually don’t have to deal with those details, but you might just show up and the company is closing down.  In those cases, there is usually not much that can be done by you (unless you are the founder, in which case, there is a wealth of information on that issue out there).

The last issue that you need to take into account is how to deal with reputation damage or a high profile failure. That depend on what the actual issue is. If it is a high profile arrest for doing coke, it might be hard to get / retain clients. If it is a big failure that cost a customer a lot of money, you might be dealing with legal consequences as well as the actual damage with other customers.

We can simplify how we look at this if we treat it all as the same thing, just a basic setback to zero (or negative). The issue is how to recover and move on. At this point, the issue is what sort of future you want? Setbacks like that are a great reason to do some thinking about where you want to go and what you want to actually do.

The conservative choice would be to find a job as a full time developer of some kind, since that at least give you a steady paycheck for the duration. More complex can be the decision to do contracting, either on a short term (at worst you can be a Word Press consultant and install that to people) or longer term projects (which require you to actually sale yourself). Hopefully you won’t be doing someone’s else homework, at least not for long.

Note that actually being able to recover from a disaster properly require prior planning. Do you have resources to survive a duration with no money? Can you handle (mentally) being out of work? Are you running on the razor’s edge of a single disruption in money flow causes an utter collapse. If that is the case, your disaster planning is going to focus on just getting reserves to handle any hiccups, versus actually managing an actual disaster.

Oh, and of course, you need to consider the cost of disaster planning. It is all very well to build a bunker to survive atomic war and the zombie rampage, but it isn’t that good if it also bankrupt you on its own.

The general recommendation is to stay current, so it would be easier to hire you, and have some idea about what to do if you wake up one day, and for whatever reason, showing up for work is not going to happen.

More posts in "Career planning" series:

  1. (24 Jul 2015) The immortal choices aren't
  2. (22 Jul 2015) The age of least resistance
  3. (27 Oct 2014) Mine
  4. (23 Oct 2014) Disaster recovery
  5. (22 Oct 2014) What is your path?
  6. (20 Oct 2014) Where do old devs go to?