Assessing how much your job is at risk
Generally speaking, tech workers in finance fall into four categories. Business-infrastructure folks handle everyday IT needs. Networking pros are focused mostly on connectivity and latency issues. Datacenter administrators must be skilled in heavy transaction volume, grid computing, and virtualization. And some IT workers and developers support proprietary trading activities.
The financial crisis will affect the last group the most in the near term. That's because the bulk of job losses from the likes of Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, and others will come from shuttered lending units -- thus, IT folks solely supporting these lines of business may be at risk.
Coming from a position of strength
The upside is that most of these at-risk financial IT workers have specialized financial skills that will continue to be in high demand from financial companies of all sizes on the prowl to pick up this talent. Such IT people have been eagerly courted, making the supply low; the financial crisis may give second- and third-tier companies a shot at this talent pool, and perhaps for less money than in the boom times. Such highly valued skills include working at the application level on algorithmic trading programming, complex event processing specific to a trading environment, order management, derivatives trading, and evaluation applications.
Although their skills are not easily transferable to other industries, "these are valuable jobs that you're not going to see going out the door," says O'Dowd. "Business analysts won't be going anywhere, either."
O'Dowd also predicts IT workers in business infrastructure, networking, and datacenters have at least a year of job security, as finance firms work through the heavy integration process caused by the current wave of consolidation. It'll take some time before these firms figure out their needs from here on out.
But after that, all bets are off. "Once they've evaluated their ongoing needs, you might see a spike in layoffs at lower-level IT positions," O'Dowd says. Still, O'Dowd contends such IT workers shouldn't have a problem finding work -- if not in finance, then in outside industries. "IT folks in the financial services industry deal with firms that demand the greatest amount of performance, scale, volume and speed," he says, "and they have the ability to see things in worst-case, stressed scenarios -- there may be a premium for folks like that."
That premium, though, may not be as rich as in the financial sector, warns Robert Half Technology's Estes. Salaries and benefits likely won't be the same.