Reddit AMA: COVID-19 Tech Job Hunting, and More

The other week, we hosted a Reddit AMA (on /r/cscareerquestions) in which we discussed everything from the tech market during the COVID-19 pandemic to more generalized career advice. It was quite fun, but for those who couldn’t attend, we thought it would be a good idea to pull out some of the more illuminating questions (and longer answers) for your review. 

Quick note: We’ve edited some of our responses for grammar and spelling (the occasional typo slips through when you’re typing fast) and added a few links for more context, especially to our COVID-19 related content.

How do you foresee the pandemic affecting small, medium, and large tech companies in the short term (within this quarter), medium term (within this year), and long term (by next year May)?

Excellent question! And a complicated one to answer, obviously, given how we’re still in the early stages of this pandemic (hope you’re staying locked down and safe, BTW). Here’s how things might potentially break down for tech companies:

The Largest: The biggest tech firms (the Googles, Microsofts, and Apples of the world) have been migrating toward a cloud/services paradigm for years, and this crisis will just accelerate that trend. For example, you’ve probably seen reports of how Azure is currently wrestling with a massive load from customers and clients; meanwhile, Facebook is trying to keep its services running in the face of huge traffic spikes (and declining ad revenues). 

Longer-term, these huge firms are more insulated from economic effects of COVID-19 because of their huge cash reserves, and it’s likely they’ll continue to need cloud architects/backend developers/database folks to help them not only deal with the huge amount of new demand, but also to help these companies pivot to where they need to go.

The Midsize: This is tougher to foresee. From preliminary conversations I’ve had with midsize companies, the ones that focus on the cloud, e-commerce, etc. have more work than they can handle right now, especially with the added complication of having their employees work from home. 

If this crisis drags on, those companies that provide cloud services to businesses and consumers might not see a huge impact on business. However, those firms with “live” operations (i.e., they have a physical storefront or presence, or their end-user product involves some kind of in-person or face-to-face interaction) will probably need to shift their model a bit in order to survive. For many of these firms, funding is also a problem sometimes.

The Smallest: This is the trickiest. Obviously, many startups run on a shoestring budget and face a lot of economic headwinds. If they’re “Uber for X”-style firms that depend on physical interaction, they could have issues with a customer base that’s locked inside. However—and this is a big “however”—what we’ve seen in previous recessions and downturns is that they tend to breed significant numbers of startups that do well. 

Post-2001, and somewhat post-2008, you saw new businesses using the downturn to stock up on everything from talent to cheap office furniture, in anticipation of when things return to “normal.” So longer-term, you could see some startups and small firms using this downturn as an opportunity to launch the business, get stronger on the talent and office front, etc. But as with anything startup-related, cash flow is an issue.

Are companies going to be more open to remote after all of this blows over? Is America going to be more open to taking in European applicants for remote?

Great question! Before this whole COVID-19 thing erupted, our most recent Salary Report showed that 93 percent of technologists wanted to work remotely, but only 60 percent had the chance to do so. That percentage has obviously changed (not every technologist is working from home, but it’s a virtual certainty that a majority are) and I suspect that businesses will find their previous concerns about remote work were perhaps a bit unfounded.

That being said, there are a lot of team leaders out there who feel that face-to-face is an essential part of workflow/Agile, and they’re still not going to be comfortable with their teams trying to transition entirely to remote work, especially if they’re trying to iterate quickly on a particular project. So while I could see the percentage of remote workers creeping up after this overall, I think there will still be lots of development teams out there who will want to revert to the way things were in the name of what they view as increased efficiency.

The European-applicants part of your question is interesting, as well. Remote work certainly opens doors to companies considering candidates who aren’t geographically proximate; however, companies may also retain some of their longtime concerns about workers unable to collaborate as effectively from different time-zones, etc.

It was already difficult to break into the tech industry as a recent grad or someone without a degree but with no experience. Now with this change how do you see people being able to get in at all? How is this going to impact us and do you see us fitting in anywhere?

I think there’s going to be more opportunity than you might think. We crunched some data related to tech job postings between February and March (which is the best we can do so far, in terms of comparing a non-COVID period to a COVID period), we found that the postings in many cities actually increased month-over-month, right into the initial COVID-19 lockdown period. Here’s a breakdown of some of the cities in which we’re seeing the most action on that front.

Those technologists who specialize in a variety of areas, from cloud architecture to e-commerce to front- and back-end development, are going to find all sorts of opportunities in the near term. Businesses need technologists who can help them structure and build out networks of employees reliably and securely working from home; they’ll need to set up e-commerce portals now that brick-and-mortar stores are closed; they’re going to have new ideas for apps that will need to be built.

One big thing to keep in mind, which I also brought up a bit earlier: Recessionary environments see some of the biggest upticks in startups gearing up. Midsize businesses also take advantage of what’s going on to stock up on talent and resources they’ll need for when the economy turns around. Here are some of the positions where we’ve seen the most upticks in hiring and demand; as you can see, there’s going to be a lot of infrastructure-related needs (along with systems analysis, engineering, and the like) for some time to come.

What changes are you seeing in skillsets posted on your listings, given the current global situation? What type of people are companies needing right now?

As you might expect, a lot of companies are undergoing radical shifts in their operations in order to adjust to the pandemic (and everyone being quarantined at home). That’s leading to a couple of different short-term trends:

E-Commerce: A number of companies are spinning up or refining their e-commerce portals as fast as they can. This means they not only need web developers, but also database folks skilled in SQL and the like.

Sysadmins and Similar Roles: Most companies’ tech stacks have undergone an incredible shift overnight. Whereas sysadmins and others could once deal with having most employees consolidated on a single network in a single headquarters (or distributed across a few offices), now many are facing a distributed, remote workforce. That comes with reliability and security issues. Companies are in need of sysadmins who can wrangle systems, keep them running, and prepare workforces for remote work; you’re also seeing a need for cybersecurity professionals who can not only ensure these distributed networks are secure, but also guard against the spike in phishing and other attacks we’re seeing (lots of COVID-19 subject lines, etc. to entice folks to click on malware).

Systems Engineers and Analysts: This situation is forcing many companies to truly analyze internal systems, their cloud capacity, whether they need to re-architect some aspect of their current setups, etc.

We recently did a breakdown of the top 31 jobs we’re seeing trending at the moment. There haven’t been incredible swings in any particular job—folks needed cybersecurity experts before this crisis hit, for instance—but you’re definitely going to see an increased need for infrastructure-related technologists at this juncture.

How much more difficult will it be for new grads to find entry level jobs, do you think?

Hi! Great question. While it’s a very fluid situation out there right now, I don’t think it’ll be appreciably more difficult for those who have the skills that employers need; and right now, it’s clear from the data that employers need a variety of technologists. For example, new grads who have a background in application development, systems engineering, and data analysts could have their pick of positions. In many cities, there’s also been an uptick in hiring despite COVID-19… and a healthy portion of those postings are inevitably targeted at more junior roles.

So that’s the good news. Right now, COVID-19 is forcing a seismic adjustment among many companies; in a quarter or two, once they’ve readjusted to meet this new paradigm, we’ll have to re-analyze and see which positions are taking precedence over others.

For more COVID-19 content, check out the COVID-19 Jobs Resource Center.