For tech professionals thinking about career change, now is either not the best of times to be doing so, or it's the perfect time to be taking advantage of opportunities.

Our current environment has thrown a wrench into the global economy, and many businesses spanning different industries have shut their doors and shuttered their windows.

Some will re-open eventually, while others will cease to be going concerns. Many companies that are still operating have, due in part to social distancing rules, ordered their employees to work from home.

But how many of those employees will want to return to their cubicles inside of brick-and-mortar office buildings after the lockdown has been rolled back?

Might tech workers who’ve gotten used to programming code, preventing data breaches and protecting computer systems from their home offices decide that now's as good a time as any for career change?

Becoming an independent consultant could, for example, give tech workers more job stability if they can freelance for multiple clients.

The good news is that there is still a lot of demand in the tech space. Computers aren’t going anywhere and neither is the Internet said Mark Aiello, President at CyberSN, which provides cybersecurity staffing services for both permanent and contract employment.

“We have a great number of clients that are hiring and taking advantage of the opportunity to figure out how to onboard people remotely,” said Aiello.

“It’s a great industry to be in. The computer is not going away, the Internet is not going away. There are always going to be bad guys out there trying to take advantage of both. So you need a whole bunch of good guys to protect you.”

Is Freelancing a Live Option for Career Change in Tech Space?

The question for tech professionals is not whether they want to be one of the good guys or one of the bad guys. Rather, the question is whether they want to be independent consultants or stay the course on their career trajectory paths.

While some experts say that the gig economy will provide opportunities for people who’d like to possibly future-proof their careers by working for themselves, others stress that it’s more important to focus on broadening their skills so that they can take advantage of career opportunities in whatever form they may come.

The Stats Say

Freelancing in America: 2019, from Upwork and Freelancers Union, estimates that 57 million Americans freelance. The study has some especially revealing findings:

  • At nearly $1 trillion (approaching 5% of U.S. GDP), freelance income contributes more to the economy than industries such as construction and transportation and is on par with the information sector.

  • Freelancers doing skilled services earn a median rate of $28 an hour, earning more per hour than 70% of workers in the overall U.S. economy.

  • For the first time, as many freelancers said they view this way of working as a long-term career choice as they do a temporary way to make money. In addition, the share of those who freelance full time increased from 17% in 2014 to 28% in 2019.

  • Skilled services are the most common type of freelance work, with 45% of freelancers providing skills such as programming, marketing, IT and business consulting.

Gig Economy: Onward and Upward

Tech professionals who are interested in transitioning to a tech career where they can work from home on a full-time basis must ensure they have the right skills to be successful.

Dr. Nishtha Langer is an assistant professor of Business Analytics in the Lally School of Management at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. As well, she has been studying a variety of research topics on IT for more than 20 years, and she has more than five years of IT experience in both India and the U.S.

“[Make] sure you have the skills that you need to work in this type of environment because there are challenging environments, there is no guarantee of employment, there could be uncertainty in the projects you are doing, and working from home means that you are traversing a lot of boundaries,” said Dr. Langer.

“My own research looks at tactical intelligence, which is basically street smarts. You should be a problem solver.”

She said that tech workers who think they might like to work from home should consider entering the gig economy. But rather than leaving their day jobs right away and jumping into a freelance or independent consultant role, she recommends that tech professionals start out by using freelance projects and gigs as a complement to their current full-time jobs.

Don’t Neglect Training and Certification Opportunities

During this lockdown period when many people are both telecommuting and self-isolating, tech workers should be taking the opportunity to brush up on their skills and to pick up new ones.

Many experts believe this will help them in their current jobs and potentially give them new skills that might lead to new career opportunities now and in the future.

“I lead a marketing group for my company and we’re a HubSpot customer,” said Aiello. “They have so many wonderful, great resources for training that are free. Some are eight-minute videos and some are full certifications that would take you 20 hours to get through it or 40 hours to get through it. How many of us have said, ‘I’d love to do that if I only had the time'? Now’s the time to do it.“

The key is to continue learning new things, noted Dhawal Shah, CEO, Class Central. But Shah, whose company helps people to find and review online courses, cautions that there is no silver bullet that will allow tech professionals to future-proof their careers through any one course.

“Make sure you’re able to learn new things and practice and basically keep learning new things,” he said.

“Online courses offer a good opportunity to do that. There’s a wide variety of these courses and many of them are free, so you can start learning new technologies, new skills. That’s certainly the first step – start learning....These courses only offer you an entryway into a particular skill or technology....It’s always good to find practical things to do such as either your own project or read somebody else’s code so that you can get better.”

Many online learnings platforms have reported an increase in demand. This demand is coming from tech professionals who are working remotely, those who have been laid off and those who need to brush up on their skills.

So said Ryan Corey, co-founder and CEO, Cybrary, a cybersecurity and IT workforce development platform that offers 1,000+ hands-on experiences geared towards developing real-world skills.

“The higher in-demand courses are in the beginner and intermediate certification courses, such as Security+, A+, and CEH,” said Corey.

“These provide foundational knowledge to earn common certifications needed in cyber and infosec roles, so they get high interest for developing the knowledge and skills needed for a job in the industry.”

Networking Opportunities

While now might be an ideal time for tech pros to build up their skills through training, it’s also as good a time for them to build up their networks.

Michael Goldberg — entrepreneurship professor, Case Western Reserve University — noted that people are quite reachable right now on the heels of the lockdown. So it can’t hurt for tech professionals to use some of their time to connect with other people — not just for job prospects, but also to be of benefit to others.

“If workers are trying to connect with folks in their school alumni network or former colleagues, this is actually a pretty good time to reach people,” said Goldberg, who as director of the new Veale Institute for Entrepreneurship recently re-launched a massive open online course (MOOC) about surviving the coronavirus as a small businessperson.

There’s also the chance for tech workers to use their skills in ways that they may not have prior to the coronavirus pandemic situation.

“There are a lot of companies or entrepreneurs or small businesses that had to quickly adapt or go online,” said Goldberg. “In my profession, you have a lot of educators. For the first time, they’ve had to put something online. There’s probably some nice opportunities [for IT workers]."

What Now?

Tech professionals with the right mix of skills and training will be able to take advantage of opportunities as they arise. What they shouldn't be doing during these uncertain times, however, is sitting still and waiting to see how things play out.

Those who invest in themselves now will reap the benefits later.

"We're all living through the three little pigs story right now," said Aiello.

"The two pigs that made their house out of straws and sticks had a great time while the other pig that made its house out of bricks didn't enjoy as leisurely a life as they did. But then when the big bad wolf came, he was very thankful that he had a house made of brick. Here's your opportunity, right now, to make your house out of brick."