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Laid-Off Tech Workers Are Bracing for a Difficult Future

Written by Kevin V. NguyenPublished Dec. 18, 2022 • 8:00am
Google employees gather for free champagne and food as Mayor London Breed speaks to the crowd at the new Google office location at One Maritime in Embarcadero on April 27, 2022. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

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Breakups are never easy—some you see coming a mile away because the signs have been there all along. Others might come as a complete surprise. Sometimes a new person just comes along and turns your life upside down.

Either way, what’s true about breakups recently in the Bay Area—where tech is king—is that layoffs are the new normal. After over a decade of unfettered growth, the party in Silicon Valley appears to be over. 

Major firms are faltering under a mix of excessive spending, overzealous goals and fears of a looming recession.

Since January, The Standard has tracked nearly 24,000 layoffs in San Francisco alone. The bulk of those layoffs came in the month of November when some of the city’s largest, most famous employers like Salesforce, Stripe, Twitter, DoorDash and Meta (formerly known as Facebook) all announced cuts. 

“I watched us hire at such a high rate last year, and then it suddenly paused,” said a technical recruiter at Google not authorized to speak publicly. The search engine giant is also reportedly in the process of culling jobs in response to its slowest revenue growth since the start of the pandemic. 

People are reflected in the window of the Nasdaq MarketSite in Times Square on July 30, 2018, in New York City. | Spencer Platt/Getty Images

“Companies like ours used to be thought of as recession-proof, but you just don’t know anymore,” they said. 

What future awaits tech workers now as the herd thins? 

“Salaries not adjusted for inflation, more competition for less spots or an announced hiring freeze after you’ve already applied,” said a corporate employee at Gap Inc. who has been hunting for a new job after their company’s own recent downturn. “Everything changed so fast.” 

Technology Isn’t Going Away

The promise of a six-figure starting salary and the prestige of working on world-changing apps led Justin Liang to pursue a career in software engineering after graduating college in 2015. 

After working at a startup for four years, he landed a coveted role as a senior engineer at Meta. But two years after the pandemic shuttered offices, the company began tapping the brakes on an array of perks that once made it one of the most attractive employers in the country. Then in November, Meta laid off 11,000 employees, including Liang. 

Meta has confirmed it plans to cut more than 11,000 jobs globally as part of a major restructuring of the tech giant. | Joshua Bratt/PA Images via Getty Images

“I think it just goes to show that nothing is meant to go up forever,” said Liang, who plans on using his severance package to take the first extended break of his career.

Despite the news of mounting layoffs, he still feels confident that his skill set will be in demand. 

“We might not be in the golden age anymore, but technology isn’t going away,” Liang explained. “Companies will still have a need for talent to build and sell their products. There’s probably just going to be less room for negotiation.”

Ahmed Banafa, a professor of engineering at San Jose State University, is preaching a similar mantra to his recent grads and mentees, who are navigating the job market amid a wave of layoffs. 

He said the early 2000s dot-com bust and 2008 financial crisis were actually worse situations than now, and pointed to how companies like TikTok are still hiring while their competitors shed jobs

The midday sky reflects from a recently opened Amgen building in South San Francisco. | Benjamin Fanjoy/The Standard

“There are actually more options today if you look,” Banafa said. “Non-tech companies are always adding digital initiatives to their lines [of products] and services. My advice is to be flexible and willing to move if needed. Be open to learning new skills and just get your foot in the door even if it means going somewhere for less money.” 

The data supports his argument—headlines might be bleak, but tech employees aren’t exactly left out in the cold. 

According to nonprofit business research firm CompTIA’s monthly snapshot of information technology (IT) job postings, the amount of open positions last month is still higher than pre-pandemic levels, though it has been trending down since openings peaked in February and March. 

California ranks first in the U.S. for tech job postings. Among the top metropolitan areas in the country, Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Jose were all also in the top 10. 

Try not to take it personally’

Program manager Vivan Thai got the dreaded calendar invite from her previous manager and a HR worker at Equinix in September. 

Vivian Thai was laid off by Equinix in September. Upon receiving her notice, she immediately started looking for new work. | Courtesy image

“It was a really awkward conversation,” Thai said. “They just read from a script and sent me on my way. We had just done our Q4 plan a few days before, too.” 

“A lot of people think [layoffs] are because of budget cuts, but sometimes it’s just new leadership that wants to shake things up,” Thai said. That month, then-Equinix CEO Eric Schwartz left the company to helm another. 

After getting her layoff notice, Thai scrambled to find a new job. She posted about her layoff on LinkedIn and reached out to her network, advertising she was looking for new work. Before her last day at Equinix even came, she accepted an offer at Snowflake, a data cloud company that went public in 2020.

“Not everyone likes to put [their layoff] out there, but I highly recommend you be open and honest about it,” Thai said. “Your friends and colleagues are going to be the ones who end up helping you the most.” 

Korry Scott is a digital producer who has worked in the ecommerce industry for two decades. She went through her entire career without ever being laid off until getting two notices in two years—one at the beginning of the pandemic and again in November. 

“It’s hard, but you have to try not to take it personally,” Scott said from Colorado, where she is using the time off to reconnect with family. “When you look at how widespread [the layoffs] were, I think it was going to happen to me no matter what.” 

Nick Kephart of Merge works in the office in Salesforce Tower in San Francisco on June 30, 2022. | Juliana Yamada/The Standard

She said her last company cited a looming recession as the main reason it had to reduce staff. 

“Before that, it was a ‘reassessment of priorities’ due to Covid,” Scott said. “I just feel like these companies jump the gun on these things, but for better or worse, they will protect themselves first.” 

Going through two layoffs has seen Scott adapt. She says she’s become more financially responsible and is now thinking about how to sharpen and update her skills to best avoid the next downturn, when or whatever that might be. 

“I’d like to not keep changing jobs,” she said. “I’m starting to look at opportunities outside of tech too. I need some more stability.”  

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