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14 things to do if you are laid off from a tech job

It's a setback, but also an opportunity. Webware's Rafe Needleman and company have some suggestions on using all your new free time.

Rafe Needleman Former Editor at Large
Rafe Needleman reviews mobile apps and products for fun, and picks startups apart when he gets bored. He has evaluated thousands of new companies, most of which have since gone out of business.
Rafe Needleman
4 min read

I saw a great piece of advice in a recent story on U.S. News & World Report called 10 things to do on the day after you're laid off: "Write a thank-you note to your former boss." I like that. It can't hurt, and if your boss hears of openings elsewhere, you're now that much more likely to get the referral.

Geeks and other tech employees are a little different from the vanilla workforce, though, so I wanted to put together a list of specific things that people in our part of the economy might want to consider if they're let go. Here's the rundown.

Quoted passages in this story are from other CNET employees, many of whom, like me, have spent time among the alternatively employed.

1. Get involved in an open-source project
It's where the most interesting and influential products are being developed, and more importantly, many open-source projects are filled with people who are also connected to companies that pay their engineers. Plus, obviously, working on a development project will keep you sharp and expand your skill set.

2. Go to start-up fairs
Wherever people are pitching new businesses, be there. They're all hiring. If not now, then soon. I am partial to the Under the Radar series (I helped start them and moderate at many of them), and there are several a year. Update: I just talked with the organizers of the next UTR event, which focuses on mobility startups, and they've created a special pink slip discount: $200 off admission, includes entry to the opening night reception for even more networking. There are 20 tickets at this rate.

3. Get project work
You may not have a daily gig, but you still have your skills, and there are people who need them. Head over to a project marketplace like oDesk or eLance and pick up some work.

4. Update your profiles
Go to your pages on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter etc., and let people know you are available for new projects. While you're at it, proactively send out notes to your trusted associates that you are looking for work. As we say here at CNET: "duh."

5. Learn some new skills
No, I don't mean to learn Rails if you're a Java guy. That's obvious. I mean cooking, rock climbing, riding a motorcycle--something that you didn't have the time to do while you were an FTE.

6. Answer some questions
Scan Friendfeed and Twitter Search for people asking questions in your areas of expertise, hang out in message boards on things you know stuff about. You'll see what's going on in the industry, you might be able to help people out (always worthwhile), and you might also land a tip for a gig.

7. Get a girlfriend or boyfriend
Don't let the fact that you have no job, per se, slow you down. You can still earn some dough. You will have more control over your schedule. And you can spend some of your newfound time with your new friend, assuming this friend doesn't have his or her own 18-hour-a-day engineering job.

8. Campaign in a swing state
Hurry up, though.

9. Take some time off
"Invest a little and travel to a seaside town in Mexico, even if it's just a few days. Mexico is easy to get to, it might be cheaper to live there, and lying on a beach is certainly not a bad way to contemplate what you want to do with the rest of your career. At the very least, you'll see people who get by on a lot less than we make."

10. Move out of the Bay Area
Just a thought: This is a very expensive place to live, and the economy is heavily tilted to tech. If you have other skills, you might find a better market for them elsewhere, and it will be less expensive to maintain your lifestyle. Plus, you can continue to do project work.

11. Buy a new rig
Yes, you're going to have to do the obvious and odious task of taking a financial inventory and cutting back on your expenses, but you will also need current tools to pick up projects. You'll be more positive about working on those projects if you're doing it on a shiny new system configured just the way you like.

12. Take pictures
Put your $1,500 dSLR to use by selling stock-art pictures of household objects to Fotolia, ShutterStock, iStockphoto, StockXpert, etc. "It's cheap for people to buy images compared to the traditional stock (photo) market, but it can be lucrative over time because images sell over and over. I've made money without trying too hard. But quality standards are going up, so you can't just upload any old crap. Brush up on your model releases."

13. Volunteer
"It can build new skills (like leadership), a new portfolio. Someone capable of making their kid's Boy Scout troop turn a profit suddenly looks a lot more proactive than the shlub who catches up on reruns while waiting for Craigslist to pay off."

14. Start your own company
If you have some savings and can afford to work for peanuts (or less), it's a great time to start a company. Without the annoying distraction of a booming economy, you can focus on building a product to solve a problem you know people will have again when the economy loosens up. There is still funding, even, for early-stage companies. What should you build? We leave that as an exercise for the reader.

Related: Susan Mernit: Social media must haves for the recently laid off.