Unless you've lived in a cave for the past several months, you're aware of the carnage that headlines such as "Sluggish Tech Spending Affects Cisco, Microsoft, Oracle" document. Indeed, the past year has been ugly for many involved in technology. Whether you work for a fledging dot-com or have money invested in tech company stocks, you've certainly felt the results of the recent downturn.

The Triple Q, whose name derives from its QQQ ticker symbol, is an index-tracking stock, which means that it tracks the Nasdaq-100 Index's performance. The stocks that make up the Nasdaq-100 include technology bellwethers such as Cisco, Dell, eBay, Microsoft, Oracle, Sun, and Yahoo!. Investors who want to mirror the Nasdaq's returns can simply buy QQQ shares.

However, the Triple Q hasn't performed well in the past 12 months. In fact, QQQ shares are down more than 65 percent from their all-time highs, a reflection of the downturn of most technology stocks and a weakening economy.

So what does this have to do with you? A lot. When the market tanks, things become difficult for startup technology companies. New companies can't easily tap capital markets for the critical funding that they need to survive. People working for small technology companies have seen thousands of layoffs in recent months, and the storm certainly isn't over.

Numerous factors have contributed to the significant slowdown in tech spending. Companies have pared their budgets, allocating money for mission-critical projects only. This trend has hurt not only the large technology companies, but hundreds of smaller companies as well. Because of spending reductions, many IT departments have felt squeezed, finding themselves unable to maintain infrastructure spending levels and facing hiring freezes and even layoffs. Such developments' effects are huge for just about anyone reading this article. Indeed, this is a tough time for many IT workers, and your ability to handle this downturn sensibly could make a tremendous difference for your future. Having said that, let me share some advice that will help you weather the tech-market downturn unscathed:

  • Know what this downturn means. Conditions are rough out there, but we're not experiencing a depression by any means, which is important to realize when dealing with an employer or a potential employer. Jobs, raises, promotions, and other benefits will probably be tougher to come by than a year or two ago, but they're not out of reach. If you're qualified and competent, don't be afraid to stand your ground and receive full value for your skills.
  • Consider going back to school. Slow economic times present excellent opportunities to further your education. A couple of years ago, thousands of students left school early to pursue "instant millions" working for the dot-coms. Now that stock valuations have returned to earth, those opportunities—if they exist at all—aren't as appealing. School, whether full-time or part-time during evenings or weekends, has become more attractive.
  • Certification is more important than ever. Some people have asked whether certifications will become worthless because of the downturn. Nothing could be further from the truth. Because jobs and raises will be tougher to come by, you need to do everything you can to give yourself that extra edge over others in the industry. For the same reasons that you might consider going back to school, pursuing additional certifications is a pretty smart decision.
  • Last but not least, watch the market. You don't have to subscribe to The Wall Street Journal or watch CNBC all day, but you should have a general understanding of how the economy is doing and how technology stocks are performing. Becoming informed greatly reduces unpleasant surprises. If you watch the Triple Q, you monitor a number that reflects your industry and can affect your career.