Laid-off tech workers turn to LinkedIn, therapy and one another to bounce back

More than a year out from the most brutal round of tech layoffs since the dot-com bubble burst, workers are reckoning with the loss of what some saw as airtight job security in an industry that’s still downsizing.

The tech industry recorded about 34,000 layoffs in January, the most in a single month since January 2023, when almost 90,000 people were let go, according to the job-loss tracker layoffs.fyi. While the latest cuts in Silicon Valley aren’t as deep as those early last year, tech remains one of the few soft spots in a strong labor market in which unemployment has held below 4% for over two years.

“There was a time when working in tech seemed like the most stable career you could have,” said Ayomi Samaraweera, who was laid off as chief of staff at the content creator platform Jellysmack in December 2022. After about 10 years in the industry, she said, “tech does not seem safe and secure.”

There was a time when working in tech seemed like the most stable career you could have.

Ayomi Samaraweera, founder of social app Canopy

That reality has been sinking in among workers in a field unaccustomed to extended periods of deep, widespread cuts. Many of those who lost their jobs over the past year or so have had mixed experiences bouncing back. Some have returned to the companies that laid them off, some are starting their own ventures, and some have left the industry. Others remain unemployed and are turning to one another for support.

Government data released last week showed overall layoffs declining across the economy, with one big exception: professional and business services, which includes many tech jobs. In January, layoffs in that broad category hit 446,000, the most in a month since January 2023, when over half a million people were laid off.

The cuts of the past year and a half follow a pandemic period of aggressive hiring, when tech companies benefiting from low interest rates poured money into projects that they’ve since tapped the brakes on. After it launched a big push for the metaverse, Facebook owner Meta, for example, has slashed jobs and steered more resources toward artificial intelligence.

The shift has caused some whiplash for workers who spent years at big-name tech firms, many of which have long boasted some of the most competitive pay and benefits on the planet. Across the U.S. economy, average hourly earnings broadly rose in 2023 from the year before, but pay for tech workers decreased. The industry’s average annual salary dipped to $111,193 last year from $111,348 in 2022, according to the tech career hub Dice.

Google slashed about 12,000 workers (about 6% of its workforce) last year, followed by more than 1,000 additional layoffs so far this year. The job losses were widespread, and many of the people cut were mid-career employees who in some cases had served for well over a decade — or over half of Google’s entire history.

“The biggest challenge people have in that group is they’ve not written a résumé in 15 years,” said Christopher Fong, an ex-Google employee who manages Xoogler, a community of other former Googlers, which doubled in size after last year’s layoffs. Fong said that Google has since rehired some of them but that the majority are still looking for full-time work.

As part of its support services, Xoogler offers psychotherapy coaching to boost members’ confidence throughout their job searches. One in-person gathering early last year featured a slideshow presentation that reminded attendees “most layoffs are not about performance” and said, “This was not your fault.”

Some laid-off tech workers have used the change in fortunes to strike out on their own. Samaraweera used her severance to go “all in” on her own startup, a social app called Canopy that she described as a “less chaotic version of Reddit.”

The software is in a pilot phase, and Samaraweera said the path ahead remains daunting now that a seemingly endless tide of money that once flooded into Silicon Valley has dwindled. As a tech startup owner in the current climate, she said, “I’ve been lean and frugal.”

Others aren’t ready to ditch corporate life yet, even if it means working outside the tech sector proper.

LinkedIn said the share of users in tech who marked themselves as “open to work” on its platform before starting roles in new industries rose to 65% early this year, up from 56.7% in April 2022.

With large tech employers like Cisco, PayPal and Microsoft still shedding employees in recent months, the share of “open to work” techies switching careers remains elevated, at 61.6% as of January, according to LinkedIn. The company said many workers leaving tech and media have opted for marketing, project management and sales roles in other fields.

The biggest challenge people have in that group is they’ve not written a résumé in 15 years.

Christopher Fong, manager of XOOGLER group for ex-google workers

Nolan Church, a recruiter who founded the talent marketplace Continuum, said the layoff “bloodbath” affected many tech industry workers in nontechnical roles — including fellow recruiters and human resources personnel.

Some of them, Church said, will “transition into software sales because they understand tech as an industry,” adding that laid-off techies are still in the “early innings” of any future career choices.

Others who’ve taken entrepreneurial routes are trying something completely different.

Ash Yao, a former DocuSign account executive who previously worked at Tesla, launched a decidedly non-tech company after she was laid off in the e-signature firm’s 10% workforce reduction last year, which came months after a 9% cut. She used her severance to launch Kace, a line of ready-to-drink teas now distributed nationwide.

Yao said that she’d always wanted to be an entrepreneur and saw her layoff as a “sign from the universe” to go for it.

She said the experience taught her to “use those skills you worked hard to gain to build for yourself,” adding, “When you’re working for a tech company, all those hard efforts are going into their brand.”

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