So you got laid off.
This is my 5th recession personally. I saved a bunch of money during the last boom, so I’m fairly well set for this one. I planned – in advance – to take some time off and sharpen up my writing skills… and learn some new programming skills.
Dig deeper into your current skillset
Now that you have a little time on your hands, you can dig a little deeper into some of the more obscure or powerful parts of your favorite programming language. For example, suppose you’re pretty good at C, but have only written single threaded applications. Right now is an excellent time to dip into multi-threading.
I’ve been digging a little deeper myself, poking at some of the object-oriented C code I have laying around. There are some blog posts under development on this topic too.
Learn a new programming language
Since most of my experience is with compiled languages such as C, C++ and Java, I decided when I finished my last contract I would learn a scripting language. PHP was an obvious choice. Given my interest in writing, learning PHP would allow me to do some WordPress hacking as well.
The project I chose was to modify an existing WordPress plugin for formatting reviews such that it could be used for formatting recipes. The programming has been interesting and rewarding, the hRecipe project has been successful in driving considerable traffic to There Is NO Box. It’s one of the most popular parts of the website, and I look forward to doing considerably more work on the hRecipe project.
Learning something new will work well for you, just jump in a go for it! If all you know is scripting, try out a compiled language like Java. It will give a brand new, and valuable, perspective on programming.
Bring some old code up to date
If you have been seriously programming for any length of time, you’re going to have to code in various states of maintenance. I look back over years and years of programming, and see code dating from the 1990s! Some of this code still interests me. Some of it’s still good. A big chunk of it could be brought up to date with relatively little effort. Build environments and Makefiles need to be updated. Dangerous or stupid code replaced. Poorly written sections rewritten.
What do you have laying around that would be fun, educational and perhaps profitable to port forward?
Do some excavation in your code archives, let us know what you find!
Learn to be an MS Office Power User
Suppose you have no programming experience.
This isn’t necessarily a problem. You are using your computer for something besides surfing the internet, right?
Even if you mainly use computers for writing letters in Microsoft Word, or for computing your budget in Excel, or perhaps you’re a graphic designer using Photoshop, whatever application you use almost positively can be programmed with scripts. For example, all of Microsoft’s products can be programmed using built-in macros or Visual Basic. And surely there was something you could have automated at your last job, if you had only had the time.
Now is that time!
If you end up starting your own business, any office automation skills you learn are going to pay you back in spades.