“You have two different paths for tech workers,” Pollak says. “One group opts for a flight-to-safety approach and goes to recession-proof companies and industries. And another group will throw caution to the wind and take a big risk and start their own businesses.”
In general, the labor market for tech talent remains strong. In August, the unemployment rate for technical occupations in the US was 2.3 percent, according to the Computing Technology Industry Association, significantly lower than the US unemployment rate of 3.7 percent that month, which is itself low by historical standards. According to figures released by CompTIA earlier this year, there are an estimated 8.7 million techies in the US.
At least some of the recent layoffs are less a symptom of a major downturn in the economy, but more a response to overcrowding by tech companies during the unexpected boom they experienced during the Covid-19 pandemic. “We were far too optimistic about the near-term growth of the Internet economy in 2022 and 2023,” Stripe CEO Patrick Collison said in a memo to staff about the company’s layoffs. Mark Zuckerberg cited his own misreading of the Internet pandemic in his memo to staff about job cuts at Meta. “Many people predicted that this would be a permanent acceleration that would continue even after the pandemic ended,” he wrote. “I misunderstood this and I take responsibility for that.”
The hiring pauses at companies like Amazon, Apple and Alphabet can also be seen as signs of sober restraint, not a major crisis, said Rucha Vankudre, senior economist at labor market analysis firm Lightcast. “Everyone is looking ahead, seeing prices rise and trying to cut costs,” says Vankudre. Companies, she says, are “trying to be measured more.”
The bigger picture may not be so reassuring for people who have been laid off and are now struggling to find a new job quickly or are at risk of losing their work visas. But tech workers have a tradition of working together to help fellow techs after layoffs.
“There’s a common identity to being a tech worker,” said Nataliya Nedzhvetskaya, a graduate student who researches sociology and worker activism at UC Berkeley and a member of Collective Action in Tech, a volunteer-run project to promote tech. workers to unite. “There is a precedent in this industry for information sharing [and] a culture that values transparency.”
Tech workers trying to mitigate the impact of layoffs have formed groups on LinkedIn for employees recently fired by Meta. They started and distributed a Google sheet of possible opportunities. And they’re boosting each other’s posts on LinkedIn and other social platforms to boost their audiences and grab the attention of hiring managers, not firing staff.
There is also some institutional support. Coda, an online documents startup, hosts lists of company alumni to which laid-off employees can add their details. Collective Action in Tech has published a guide for those who have been fired from Twitter, with tips to help employees understand their rights and how to communicate securely, for example by using Signal.
That wave of support is helping some tech workers to stay calm, even as the headlines about layoffs pile up. “There is a lot of uncertainty and people recognize that there will be a lot of fluctuations,” says Nedzhvetskaya. But while people are understandably concerned about job losses, she says, she doesn’t see a “full-fledged panic.”