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Yes, You Still Need to Hire Dev Talent in a Downturn. But You’ve Got to Get Better at It.

Hiring Developers

Yes, yes, the economic news is looking… not great. Tech darlings are laying off people at an astounding clip; more than 100K workers have been laid off to date this year (and it’s only mid February)! And there’s been a 63 percent drop in startup funding raised in the final quarter of 2022 compared to the same period a year earlier, according to Crunchbase.

And yet (you knew this was coming, right?), 💩 still has to get done. 

There may be fewer jobs for awhile but for technical experts, there will always be jobs, period. That’s good news for technical employees. Employers, however, may wonder what the best way to organize and engage a dev team in a downturn would be. A mix of contractors and full time employees? What’s the best balance? Or is it one or the other? Agencies or individual freelancers?

“As the headlines continue to be fraught with layoff news and the first few months of 2023 aren’t looking so rosy, this is the perfect time to think about dev teams in the context of uncertainty, tight budgets, and the unrelenting, omnipresent need to make progress.”

The good news?

You can get the dev team you want – and the results you need – if you’re deliberate and clear-eyed about the configuration that makes the most sense for your projects and priorities. 

Long-term hiring

There are two general ways to think about the roles you might need to staff: 

The full-time generalist

These are the devs who can work in multiple languages, can be flexible with tasks, and willing to jump into new areas and learn new things. Full-time generalists are a great option when you need to maintain flexibility in your projects and frameworks. These capable pinch-hitters can join a team and get the job done – but their utility doesn’t end there. New strategy or focus change come down from on high? Not a problem. Unlike specialists, a generalist can be transitioned to another team or project when needs and requirements of the business change. 

The full-time specialist

If you’re sure there is a long-term direction or technology firmly in place, full-time specialists can be really valuable assets with little need for massive ramp-up. They can make a huge impact because of their expertise – often in very short order. They deliver very high quality work quickly – which can be what you need to get a project out the door.

The challenge can be if and when the direction changes, which can happen in response to hyper-dynamic market conditions or economic uncertainty. We’re seeing that now with machine learning experts getting laid off. Why? Machine learning and artificial intelligence is considered a bet on the future – but when times are tough, companies often forgo these risky big swings in favor of the sure(er) thing. 

Hiring for new initiatives

There are two ways to think about how to staff the new initiatives – in addition to hiring full-time employees:

Individual contractors

These staff members can be specialists or generalists but either way, they’re probably best deployed to work on the more peripheral projects that truly need to get done but never seem to be completed. Need to stand up Salesforce? Rolling out a new integration? They’re the right team members – proficient, hardworking, short term – for the programs and projects that simply need to be checked off a department’s to-do list. 

And if you like what you see in terms of talent, fit, results, and work ethic, you can always extend an offer to convert to full-time once budgets shake loose again. (Just remember that working for you is also a “try before you buy” situation for them as well – so try to make the experience a good one by being considerate, respectful and, dare I say, fun).

🔖 Related read: 8 Best Sites to Hire Freelance Developers in 2023


Sometimes it makes sense to bring in an agency, even though it is often more expensive. You do get what you pay for – agencies are a perfect option when you need to get a set of contractors and get a project or initiative done with multiple team members, which is one reason why IT staffing agencies are doing incredibly brisk business at the moment. And unlike an individual contractor, there’s a bench to pull from if one of these team members needs to take leave or quits. What’s more: these teams have typically worked together in the past and have a solid rhythm down so your capacity for impact improves exponentially. Their established dynamic works in your favor.

On the flip side, unlike an individual freelancer, agencies often come with their own culture, way of working, and preferred tool set, forcing clients to conform a bit more than they would otherwise. Maybe, for instance, an agency team doesn’t typically use Slack or perhaps they’re used to delivering a completed project a couple weeks after receiving an assignment (when your dev team works more iteratively). That’s less than ideal. And it highlights a positive of choosing an individual contractor who, in addition to costing less, will probably be more motivated and amenable to learning something new to stay in the game. 

Plan now, benefit later

No one knows for sure what the future of the economy holds – but the signals are increasingly volatile. If you plan astutely now, you can determine what makes the best sense for your business, spend wisely and maintain flexibility. Sometimes full-time positions make sense – especially when there’s a committed strategy and projects are forthcoming. But if the business is evaluating its options, markets, customers and/or solutions, exploring contractors – either agencies or individuals – is an option that gives flexibility, capacity, and impact in one fell swoop. 

Taking a beat (or two or three) to think your hiring plan through now will pay off consistently down the line.