I doubt there is anyone in the IT field who hasn't been affected by the current economic downturn-either personally or through friends and family. I know scores of people laid off from their jobs but some, while still obviously upset, are taking it in stride since they are better positioned for success than others. What's their secret?
Their code-and thus their work-lives on in an open-source community, where it can easily be seen and used by many companies, not just the one who laid them off. They are open-source developers.
I'll give you an example of the difference this makes during an employment search, using employees named "Larry" and "Dmitri."
Larry, the C Programmer
Larry has worked for Giant Widget Supplier (GWS) for 10 years, writing in C for an embedded, proprietary operating system that GWS uses in its products. When Larry lost his job this past fall, he posted his resume. He quickly received a few interviews, but none have converted.
His C skills are certainly translatable to other projects and companies, but it's harder for him to prove how translatable because his ex-employer won't let him show any sample code from their products. It's their product after all, and future employers find it harder to vet whether or not his work will directly translate to their environment. (Larry is still looking for employment, so contact me if you know of anyone.)
Dmitri, the Linux Developer
Dmitri, on the other hand, is a Linux developer. His power management code has been mainlined into the Linux kernel steadily over the last few years. He's even been invited to Kernel Summit. Behemoth Consumer Products (BCP) employed Dmitri for the last three years, for work on their version of Linux that they embed in their devices. They, too, hit a rough patch, and Dmitri is out looking for work.
Luckily for Dmitri, his colleagues in the Linux community all work for companies who use embedded Linux. It's easier for him to network, and employers don't have to count on Dmitri for a description of his work. It lives in the open, in the kernel tree, for anyone to inspect. (He can even make it in the "Who Writes Linux" report that the Linux Foundation publishes every year.)