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As Job Cuts Continue in Silicon Valley, Workers Face a New Reality

The layoffs of recent years have burst the bubble of inviolability surrounding Silicon Valley.

November 23, 2022
13 minutes
minute read

When Ryan Stevens joined Meta Platforms Inc. as a product operations manager for WhatsApp in August of 2021, he was excited by the opportunity to help shape a messaging app used daily by 2 billion people.

He also figured that tending to a service that touches so many people would translate to a degree of job security. That belief was shattered when Stevens awoke around 3 a.m. earlier this month to an email from Meta management, informing employees that layoffs were coming. After tossing and turning, Stevens, 39, received another missive at around 6 a.m.: He was one of more than 11,000 workers who had lost their jobs.

Stevens, who lives in San Jose, California, with his wife and young child, said that he is not excited to be part of such a large, immediate pool of laid-off people who are all looking for tech roles at the same time. "That gives me a lot of anxiety," he said. He believes that the industry is in the midst of a cyclical reset and is open to focusing on something "a little smaller" until things pick up again.

The layoffs of recent years have burst the bubble of inviolability surrounding Silicon Valley. According to Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., tech companies have announced 31,200 job cuts so far this month - the highest monthly total since September 2015. Companies such as Meta, Twitter Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. have all slashed their ranks, or said cuts are coming. On Tuesday, HP said it planned to cut as many as 6,000 positions over the next three years. This story is a reminder that even the most seemingly untouchable industries can be susceptible to change.

As the pandemic took hold, many tech workers lost their jobs. However, the industry soon rebounded, and workers are now bracing for a more prolonged downturn. The accelerating layoffs have left many workers feeling anxious about their prospects, especially as the job market becomes flooded with other recently terminated candidates. Even the tech giants are slowing or freezing their recruitment efforts, adding to the sense of uncertainty.

Firings are on the rise, nearing pandemic-era levels. This is a worrying trend, as it indicates that employers are becoming increasingly hesitant to keep workers on staff. With the economy still in a fragile state, this could lead to even more job losses in the near future.

"Although people will still be hiring in 2022, the job market will not be as favorable for candidates as it was in 2021," said Peter Walker, head of insights at Carta.

This downturn has been different from the dot-com bust of the early 2000s in that it has prompted now-mature firms to tighten their belts. When Meta slashed jobs earlier this month, the first major round of layoffs in its history, the company didn’t consult managers about which employees would be let go and left the decisions to the highest-levels of leadership, according to an internal memo. As a result, the company lost some top talent, including people who had been recently promoted and had received stellar performance reviews, according to one recently terminated employee.

The worker said that, despite the chaotic nature of the layoffs, he thinks Meta is still not as lean as it needs to be. He went on to say, “If I had to make a bet, I think there’s more pain to come.” The company declined to comment.

The recent job cuts at Meta have left some workers scrambling to find stable ground. After joining the company in January, Zoha Pajouhi, a machine-learning engineer, had to choose between working on the company's augmented reality efforts or virtual reality recommendation algorithms for the Facebook app. She chose the latter, figuring the company would be unlikely to make cuts to its core business if times got tough. However, after losing her job earlier this month, Pajouhi is second-guessing her decision.

As she continues her job search, she's noticing a change in the market. As an engineer in a highly sought-after field, she's used to getting approached by recruiters on a regular basis. Since losing her job, she's reached out to recruiters who had contacted her in the past, but they've been slow to respond. Those who have written back say they have few positions available.

As the tech layoffs continue, many people are feeling anxious and uncertain about their future. Pajouhi said that it can feel like we're all in the same boat, and also competing with each other.

Some workers see their layoffs as an opportunity to work on a side passion. Brandon Harper launched a startup in January 2021 called Everloom, a family history and ancestry platform, built during nights and weekends while working as a senior marketing manager at Meta. Harper considered quitting to pursue the project full-time but, as a new father, decided it was too risky. Then, earlier this month, he lost his job at Meta. Harper is now pursuing his startup full-time.

Harper, 35, decided to focus on Everloom rather than looking for a new job. To help pay the bills, he applied to Funded Not Fired. The program, started recently by the venture capital firm Day One Ventures, has pledged to give 20 laid-off tech workers $100,000 apiece to pursue their startup ideas. Day One says it has received 1,000 applications so far.

Harper, who has a 10-month-old son and lives in San Francisco, said that being laid off felt like a sign that she had some time and space to explore what she could do. She said she was excited about this next chapter in her life.

Other laid-off techies are determined to take their time finding the right fit. Marc Weil, an engineering manager who lost his job at Stripe Inc. earlier this month, plans to use his severance package to "spend some time trying to find the next role instead of scrambling to find the next thing that just ticks boxes." Weil, who is 35 and lives in Boulder Creek, California, is hopeful that he will be able to find a new job that is the right fit for him.

An Amazon employee recently lost their job because the team they worked for was eliminated. This person, who requested anonymity to avoid jeopardizing a severance package, has 60 days to find another position at the e-commerce giant. For the time being, the employee doesn't plan to put much effort into finding a new job with Amazon or elsewhere.

"I'm finding LinkedIn to be a really depressing place right now," the person said. "I really don't want to be job-seeking at the moment. I just want to enjoy not having to work at Amazon anymore."

Recruiters are seeing some positive trends in the job market. Laura LaBine, chief talent officer at LaBine & Associates, said she is hearing from companies that are searching for engineers in biotech and life sciences, as well as analytics and data science.

Neil Costa, founder and CEO of HireClix, a recruitment marketing agency, said that technical skills remain valuable in an economic downturn. He is representing a retailer that is trying to hire software engineers for its e-commerce business, and he sees an opportunity more broadly for smaller firms to scoop up talent.

Brandon Moore lost his job as director of business development at artificial intelligence startup Artica last week. He's already had several job interviews and is optimistic he'll find employment soon. However, he questions whether the scale of layoffs in the Valley is necessary.

"The leaders of these businesses are trying to send a message to the market that they'll do whatever it takes to control the sliding stock prices," said Moore. "But they hired all of these people for a reason initially, and they'll just have to rehire them."

Stevens' search is also well underway. He is focused on finding a role that is critical to the business.

He said that he is focused on finding something that he can get involved in that will make him feel valued and that he can have a real impact with.

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