Every morning when I check my social media feed, I've seen more and more messages like this:

Due to the current pandemic affecting everyone globally, developers and testers have seen their jobs disappear overnight when companies have to lay off workers for their businesses to survive.

Another trend of messages I've noticed come from those who still have their engineering and QA jobs, but have received salary reductions and are starting to look elsewhere. They feel stressed and overworked because they're doing the work of those who got let go while making less money. A developer friend who works in a startup that reduced half of the engineering department told me she's doing the work of at least three of the people who the organization let go.

The job market is slowly recovering in many places across the globe, but it still seems like people are still in the market for work, unable to find something that fits their talents. With more and more people getting laid off from all types of jobs, it's becoming increasingly difficult to find a suitable position elsewhere, regardless of whether it's your choice or your former employer made the choice for you.

Everybody's in a different spot in life right now, but in the bigger picture, we're all in this together. We're all on the same boat.

Still, that doesn't mean you have to stay there.

Now is the time for you

Right now, life is distracting. Every day we're reminded of what's happening and how much everything changed in just a few months. Our attention is pulled in a thousand directions - often away from what would benefit us the most. I continuously see messages from people saying that their productivity has tanked since this entire situation erupted.

Regardless of what's going on in your world, there's one thing that I believe could propel you to come out better than ever out of this current situation - improving yourself and getting prepared for what's next for you.

At this exact moment, it's a perfect time to level up your skills. Yes, life is distracting at this moment. But it's also the best time to get things done because everyone else is distracted too. If you place those distractions to the side and focus on adding something new to your skill set, you'll have little to no interruptions from others. Now is the time for you to do that thing you've thought of doing for so long.

Why upgrade your skills during this time?

Taking the time to upgrade your existing skills and add new ones for your career helps you stand out from a crowded field of developers and testers seeking the same positions as you. These days, it's especially true with a highly competitive IT and testing industry and more job seekers for fewer vacancies.

It's tough for both new testers and developers trying to break in for their first jobs in tech and engineers with years of professional experience under their belts. Many recruiters these days have to sift through hundreds of applications for a single role. In some cases, adding that one extra skill in your resume can be the difference between getting hired or having your resume shoved aside.

It might feel like your career will never be the same. But there will come a time where things will return to a sense of normalcy. When that time comes, you need to be ready to jump in head-first. It's up to you to demonstrate that whatever development or testing job comes up, you can fill in those shoes with no problems.

Even if you do have a job at this time, it's still beneficial to improve your skillset, especially if you're seeking a salary increase or a promotion. The common consensus between economists indicates that wages have stagnated all over the world. Staying stuck in place limits your earning potential. You can't expect your organization to give you a substantial raise if you don't offer more than you do now, so it's also a great time to boost your abilities for your benefit.

So what can you do?

Everyone's path for gaining new skills is different, but I've found that you can start with three steps to get you on the right track.

1. Focus on you - only you - and figure out what you want

It may seem obvious that knowing what to do is the first step, but it's surprising how many people falter in the beginning. It's not that you don't know what to do. Usually, it's that you have too many ideas on what to do. The choices become overwhelming, and the fear of choosing the wrong thing keeps you from moving forward. Choosing one goal early in the process helps guide you where you want to go. Here are a couple of ideas for developers and testers:

  • If you're a manual tester and want to learn automation, focus on learning the basics of programming or how to use an automation framework.
  • If you're looking for a new job, find a gap in your abilities and fill it to expand your employment opportunities.
  • If you have a job and want to improve your earning potential, find ways to increase your career value, like becoming ISTQB certified.

Remember that whatever you choose here isn't set in stone. If you feel like the choice you made won't benefit you, you can always choose something else. Just make sure you're not running away at the first sign of struggle because that will keep you in the same place you are now - which I'm guessing you don't want to be in.

The other crucial element of this step is to focus on what you want. It's easy to fall into the trap of paying attention only to what others expect from you, or what others would think of you. That line of thinking is one of the most dangerous traps you can fall into, and I'd bet it's most responsible for killing people's dreams, more than anything else.

That's not to say that you need to neglect everyone else around you. You still need input from people who might be affected by your decisions, like your spouse or close family members. But if there's something you feel strongly about doing, you need to focus on yourself first so that you can focus on everyone else better later.

2. Take one step right now

Whatever the choice you make, think about the one thing you can do right now that would have the most significant and immediate impact on your goal. The path to every goal has a series of steps, and some of those steps you can take action on at this very moment.

Acting quickly serves you in many ways:

  • It'll get you on your way towards your goal now, even if you're still worried about being able to do this thing.
  • It'll motivate you to take the next step toward your target because the road ahead will seem less difficult to traverse.
  • In some cases, it might give you a sign that you shouldn't do this now, so you can find something else without losing much.

Your first step should be something relatively small that you can do in the next couple of minutes. For example, it could be buying a book or course that gets you started on learning that new skill you want. For job seekers, it could be sending your resume to a few companies you've had your eye on, or doing more research on what you need to find a better position.

The key is to do something as soon as you can so you can get moving. If you don't start moving, it's really easy to become paralyzed due to inactivity. By taking one step forward, you break that pattern, and it makes the next one a little more attainable.

3. Work on your goal for 30 days

Taking one step is excellent to start gaining some traction towards your goals. But one step alone won't take you far. You'll need to do more than a single action if you want to acquire new skills. Ideally, it'll be something every day, no matter how big or small.

An excellent way to get moving and stay moving is to work on your goal every day for the next couple of weeks. As developers and testers, many of us are familiar with sprints at work. Set a personal sprint for yourself. In the next 30 days, carve out some time for leveling up your skills.

Here are some of the things you can do to improve your development and testing skills every day:

  • Read a portion of a book or view part of a video course and take notes on what you learn.
  • Build an application or set up a test automation framework to showcase your abilities to potential employers.
  • Find an open-source project that you can contribute to with bug fixes or writing automated tests.

At this point, be aware of your constraints. If you don't have much time to improve existing skills or obtain new ones, don't set out a plan to work a few hours on it every day. It'll end up with you throwing your hands in the air and giving up quickly. A great strategy that has honestly changed my life is what's known as mini habits.

Instead of thinking you have to spend hours working towards your goals daily, you should think of the least you can do every day to move forward. If you can do more than the absolute minimum, that's fine, but do something every day. The secret sauce of this strategy is that it helps you avoid the frustration of feeling that you didn't do enough, and instead focuses on celebrating even the tiniest of wins that keep you coming back every single day.

If this strategy sounds useful for you, I highly recommend reading the books Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results, and its follow-up, Elastic Habits: How to Create Smarter Habits That Adapt to Your Day, both by Stephen Guise. They transformed the way I approach my work and learning.

My story and how this article came about

The reason why I'm writing this is that 2020 has been pretty rough when it comes to my career and my goals. Everything has changed quite a bit for me in the past few months due to the current pandemic and its impact across the world.

In January 2020, I decided to leave the organization I had worked at for almost five years. During the months leading to that decision, I felt like the role I was in wasn't going to serve my career moving forward. I felt stuck and, despite looking for additional ways to provide value to the company, I didn't feel like any change would happen within the existing structure. It was time for a change.

I didn't want to jump immediately into another full-time job for another organization. I planned to return to freelancing and consulting, which I had done successfully in 2014 and 2015. In early February, I let my network know that I would become available to help on a contract basis. Almost immediately, I lined up four projects for the upcoming months. I had a plan of action, and the outlook looked positive for my new path.

In March, the COVID-19 pandemic exploded around the world, and all of those projects I had in my pipeline vanished just as quickly as they came.

"No problem," I thought. "I'll just start looking for other projects." But that was much easier said than done. It turns out that finding any kind of remote contract work became almost impossible.

As more people got laid off or furloughed from their jobs, more people began seeking the same work I was hunting. Not only were they looking for those jobs, but they were willing to do it for much less than before they lost their previous jobs. I know the value and experience I can provide to those who hire me, and I'm not willing to slash my rates by over 75% just to land any job, as some responses indicated. I didn't want to be involved in a race to the bottom.

Still, it was incredibly stressful to find myself out of work for as long as I did. At this point, I fell into a deep funk, quite honestly bordering on depression. I couldn't find any suitable work, and I felt paralyzed about what to do next. I had a ton of ideas floating in my head, and I didn't know where to begin.

At around this point is when I started taking my own advice. The first step was to focus on myself and what I wanted to do. Did I really want to spend my entire days looking for scraps of work in an increasingly crowded field because I felt like that's what was expected of me?

Deep down, I knew I didn't want to do that. I didn't want to spend so much time and energy trying to compete with others who undervalue their work significantly. I felt it would take a while before things got to normal with organizations looking to hire developers and testers. That's when I decided to focus entirely on me and do something I wanted to do for a long time - write a book.

I had the idea of writing a book about TestCafe for a while, but never took the first step towards making it happen. When I decided to focus on me and what I wanted to do, I started to learn what it took to write a book. I never wrote a book before, and it's not as simple as writing a few pages and publishing it somewhere. There was a lot of research on what I would write about and how to go about it.

I spent some time every day working on something to make the book project come to life. At first, it was researching TestCafe deeper and deciding what to write. I needed to write the book in a way that made sense for both beginners and people familiar with the framework. Next, it was figuring out what tools to use to write and publish the book. Then I began reading a lot about marketing to learn how to spread the word effectively.

Every single day, I took some kind of action to move forward. It was exhausting, trying to balance the acquisition of new skills, making progress towards the book, keeping Dev Tester going with fresh new articles every week, and keeping my personal life in balance. However, keeping track of what I could do, even if it was a tiny win, steered me toward my goal.

I'm proud of the results of the work I put in. I finished writing my book and will release it soon, which I hope helps many people who want to learn about TestCafe. I also learned a few new skills that I'll put into use not only for future work but for myself and new products that I'm building soon. This period taught me that I have something to offer and that I can do it independently.

Three months ago, I was in a rather dark place with my career and didn't know what would come out of it. But deciding on what I wanted to focus on for myself and not for others, taking a few initial steps, and working on the goal every day - it honestly transformed my life.

I'm not writing this story to boast or impress anyone. I want everyone reading this to know that now is the perfect time to work on yourself. When this crazy, turbulent time passes by, and the world gets back to normal - and it will get back to normal, despite how things may seem - you'll be farther ahead than everyone else around you. The reason is that you took advantage of this time of crisis to do something about it.

Start now.