At the beginning of COVID, I lost my job. It was hard, but I navigated through it with what seemed like most people around me and then landed another job. At the beginning of 2023, I was laid off. The feelings I had when I lost my job the first time were different. Because soon after losing my job, when I recognized those feelings of hopelessness, I accidentally started Virtual Coffee. During the pandemic, it felt like we were all in this hopelessness together, which somehow brought hope. We were still able to push each other to grow, to regroup, and to affirm that, yes, indeed, it does suck. This time around, things felt different. I recently had a conversation with some people who have been in the industry far longer than I have, and we talked about hirings, firings, and being indispensable. You’ll get the highlights of that conversation.
The Evolution of Tech Hiring
The hiring landscape is different than when I started in tech in 2019. There have been a lot of bootcampers and self-taught folks who were given promises of fortune and a better life only to find empty promises, rejections, and the question of whether or not they should even keep trying to find a job or to return back to their previous life. The influx of juniors, paired with not enough junior-level jobs has been more than frustrating; it’s been devastating. On top of that, we’ve seen a huge shift in tech with new trends dominating the conversation from web3 to ai, and it’s hard to figure out what basket you should put your eggs in. The tech landscape is as much about the art of adaptation as it is about innovation.
The Current Job Market
There is a large supply of people looking for work in tech. There is a decreased demand for the jobs that we saw a couple of years ago. Two years ago, before I was laid off for a second time, we saw aggressive hiring. We were starting to see recovery from the pandemic, and teams were hiring tons of people at higher-than-normal salaries. If you expect hiring today to look like hiring two years ago, you’re going to be disappointed.
Shifting Employment Dynamics
Over-hiring has led to companies losing faith in existing employees. Ideas we had two years ago have become outdated more quickly than ever before. This also means that you won’t see the same perks we saw during that time. You can’t demand remote work, or signing bonuses, or educational budgets. You won’t get thousands of dollars to upgrade your home office.
Two years ago, you had the upper hand if you were applying for a job. It was a hiree’s market. Now, it’s the company’s market, and I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon.
It’s complicated, as you’ll see below. There’s an increasing number of jobs, but there were vast layoffs last year. That’s all to say that it’s not impossible out there. You just have to be strategic in your approach.
In 2023, over 240,000 jobs were lost in the tech industry, a 50% increase from the previous year, including companies like Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Yahoo, Meta, and Zoom. We saw startups in various sectors laying off employees or even shutting their doors. Here’s the monthly breakdown for layoffs in tech last year:
- January: 89,554
- February: 40,021
- March: 37,823
- April: 20,014
- May: 14,928
- June: 10,958
- July: 10,589
- August: 9,545
- September: 4,632
- October: 7,331
What seems like dire circumstances if we just look at the data above, might get a little more positive if we dig into the numbers a little more:
- Projected net tech employment in the U.S.: 9.4 million (CompTIA’s 2023 Cyberstates report).
- Projected net new tech jobs: 272,323.
- Number of postings by U.S. employers for tech job openings in 2022: 4.1 million.
- Estimated direct economic output of the U.S. tech industry: $1.97 trillion, representing 8.8% of the national economy.
- Median tech occupation wage is 103% higher than the median national wage in the U.S.
- Number of tech business establishments in the U.S.: 582,120, a 7.5% increase year-over-year.
- Projected growth rate for tech jobs over the next decade is nearly twice the national jobs rate.
- The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that employment in computer and information technology occupations will grow 15% from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations.
- Indeed currently has over 1.5 million tech jobs posted in the U.S. This suggests that there is a high demand for tech workers. LinkedIn currently has over 2.5 million tech jobs posted in the U.S.
We could dive further into the data and what it means, but I’m less interested in making predictions and understanding the data for this post than I am in talking through some of the things we can do today to improve our chances of getting hired and staying hired. What’s the most valuable code in tech? Adaptability.
The Importance of Adapting in Tech
I’ve seen many well-meaning people out there giving terrible advice on finding a job. They’re giving advice based on what they know from when they tried to get hired. It’s outdated. And if there’s one thing I know about this industry, it moves fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. People saying it’s a great time to get into tech should always follow that with, “but it’s going to be hard.” It’s hard to keep a job these days! Adapting to the tech industry’s evolution isn’t just a skill; it’s a survival strategy.
Keeping Up with Industry Demands
Last year, I was on a plane that was sitting on the runway. Something was wrong with the door. It had “slipped.” A maintenance person came to check it out, and they tried to pound it back to where it needed to be with a wrench. At the very least, this problem needed a hammer. As you might expect, we were de-planed and had to be moved to a plane on the other side of the airport.
You have a toolbox that you use to do your work well and be efficient. This advice isn’t just for new folks coming into tech; it’s for anyone who wants to keep their job. If you refuse to learn the tools that allow you to do your job well, you will become “outdated,” and it will be increasingly hard to find a job.
Think about it like this: Many or most of us in tech use Git and GitHub. For those who have been in the industry long enough, you can remember the time before those “tools” were in your “toolbox.” What if you refused to learn how to use them because you couldn’t see the value or you didn’t think they made you more efficient? You’d likely have a hard time finding a job right now. In fact, most companies assume that you know how to use these tools and don’t even list them on job descriptions.
One of the reasons people enjoy being in tech is because there’s always something new and shiny. It’s constantly changing, and growing, and challenging us to improve But if we’re stubborn and refuse to change and grow, we can’t expect companies to want to employ us. I know a lot of people out there believe that anyone can learn anything if given the right amount of time. Time is limited, though. You need to stand out in the same amount of time as many other applicants.
This is not a career where you can go to the office, do your time and clock out. This might not be the popular thing to say, but if you’re behind, you will have to put time in to catch up. The reality is that if you don’t, someone who is doing that will be there to take your job.
This is an opportunity for juniors to take your job.
For juniors, it’s good news that some people refuse to adapt to change. You can focus on adding a new skillset to your toolbox and prove that you can do the job more effectively than someone who refuses to grow.
Along with that, there is an increasing number of jobs in the office. Because many people have become accustomed to working remotely, many job seekers aren’t prioritizing in-person locations. Juniors, working on location could be a great way to get your foot in the door.
No matter what, it’s important to remember that tech careers are less about walking a defined path and more about navigating a dynamic landscape.
No one owes you a job. If you aren’t performing, if you’re not growing, if you’re not making the company money, you can’t expect to stay employed. Don’t get me wrong, I wish that everyone in tech could keep their jobs, and everyone transitioning to tech could find a job, but we are doing a disservice to everyone if we don’t provide realistic expectations. We have to be honest about the challenges facing people looking for a job and trying to keep a job in tech right now. And with so many people looking for jobs in tech right now, there’s definitely someone who is ready to replace and outperform you.
We cannot expect to have all the same things that we had a couple of years ago. And we might need to work harder to get the same things we used to have. Nobody said it doesn’t suck, but understanding the present situation can help decrease frustrations.
Navigating the Interview Process
Hiring is a risk. You have to go on 4+ interviews not just to prove your abilities; it’s so they can decide if it’s worth it to trust you. They’re investing in not just your salary for the year, but for years to come. They’re determining whether or not you will make a good teammate. Do you fit with the current team? How long will it take you to be a productive team member? Will you be a positive influence or will you bring the whole team down with a negative–or worse yet, an entitled–attitude? This is your opportunity to build a relationship with the people who are interviewing you.
One of my favorite interviews was with a future teammate. We were chatting about building community, and we disagreed with the approach on to how to build community. We both shared our approach in a respectful way, asked questions, and responded to each other. My favorite interview was a disagreement. But with that disagreement, we learned that we could trust each other even when we disagreed.
Every interview is an opportunity to prove that you are the best person for that position. It is nearly impossible to prove that you’re the best person for the job if you’re applying to 70 jobs. Is it possible to get a job after cold applying to 70 jobs? Sure, but the odds are not in your favor. To prove that you’re the best for the job you often have to be your own marketing, sales, and engineering team. It’s a lot, but there are people out there who are willing to do all of those things and to do them well. So you can lament that you’re required to acquire new skills to get the job, or you can learn the new skills and market and sell yourself into an interview.
Each conversation builds trust and helps the interviewers understand if you’re a good fit for the job. Sure, interviews bring out anxiety in the best of us, and they certainly can be frustrating. But don’t forget they’re about building relationships with other people.
Demonstrating Value in Interviews
What you’ve done in previous jobs is both important and irrelevant. It’s important to prove you can tackle complex problems, that you can work with others, that you are able to grow and improve, that you can self-motivate.
Once you’re on the team, you have to prove yourself all over again. You have to prove that you can be a team player, that you’re willing to listen, willing to support your teammates, willing to understand the needs of the organization, and willing to do what’s necessary to advance the mission of the team and goals of the organization. Proving your worth in tech means showing not just that you can keep up, but that you can lead the way.
The best way to keep your job is to be indispensable. That’s kind of been a theme of this blog post, but I want to specifically talk about it here. How do you become indispensable? Well, you work on a team that is clearly bringing in money for the company. I’ve heard this advice a lot recently, but I’ve also seen so much push-back from people. I’ve seen a lot of I shouldn’t have to prove my value.
I’m going to disagree here. If you want to keep your job, you need to prove your value. How can you expect to be paid if you’re not bringing in money? As a community builder, I understand that it can be hard to demonstrate the monetary gains brought in by some of your activities, but that means that you might need to reprioritize.
What is the company’s focus right now? How can you work towards those goals? How can you work across teams to support the goals that lead to revenue?
Maybe you’re on a project that was making the company money and was a focus last year. Is that still the focus of the company this year? If not, find a way to get transferred to the team that is making money.
To be indispensable in tech, be the solution that everyone relies on, but nobody wants to replace.
Instead of asking yourself, what are the things that will get me fired, ask yourself how you can be indispensable? You need to be the linchpin on your team. To be clear here, you don’t want to be a bottleneck. You want to make your influence know at all levels. Understand what makes money and how you can contribute.
To be indispensable, you should be so expensive to replace because you:
- carry institutional knowledge,
- lead and mentor,
- impact the decisions made on your team,
- do your job well and ship features that affect the company’s bottom-line.
Build Your Reputation
Your reputation is a huge part of getting hired. Yes, it’s hard out there, but if the majority of the content you’re putting out is negative, and you’re not sharing how you’re working to improve, then that’s what people know about you.
How are you demonstrating your credibility? How are you showcasing what you can and will do? How does what you’ve done in the past demonstrate that you’re the type of person someone would want to work with?
Joe Previte has had one of the best job-searching strategies I’ve seen out there. His documentation of the interview experience builds his credibility and reputation both with employers and anyone who’s reading about it. You can check out some of his posts here:
One of the biggest piece of advice I hear is you should have built your network and engaged in communities so you can reach out when you’ve been laid off or fired. Although I agree with that, there’s a caveat there.
In the conversation I recently had, one of the people there said there are two types of friends. Friends that you want to empathize with you when you’re going through something hard-like a layoff-and friends who motivate you to get up, regroup, and to stop feeling sorry for yourself.
When we talk about communities, it’s similar. If you’re using your communities to be the first type of friend and they’re never pushing you to grow, then you might be building the wrong type of network for job searching. In the same vein, if you’re using a community to lament to-thinking it’s the first type of friend-and you’re not showing that you’re willing to put in the work, then you might inadvertently be building a negative reputation within that community.
Community members who see folks who only want to talk about the negative, constantly ask others to help with their takehome tests, and don’t show growth at all, are creating a reputation as being someone who will hold back the rest of the team, who will negatively impact the business, and would not be someone that they would recommend.
If you find that you might be in that category, it’s time to change the narrative. When I lost my job, I contacted someone in tech I consider a mentor. He said something to me that went something like this: self-assess. What are your strengths, what are your weaknesses, where can you improve? If you want something to change, you can change yourself.
Now, I know that there are caveats to all of this and it’s a very complex topic. There will be exceptions to everything I’ve said in here, but there’s also a lot of truth that impacts the majority of us. I saw some of the smartest people I know in the industry get laid off last year. That’s scary. The fact is that you can do everything right, and still get laid off. But you can reduce your chances by learning and growing, building your reputation, being a positive presence in your networks and communities, and becoming an indispensable team member. Just remember, Although layoffs are a professional setback, they can set the stage for personal comebacks. And everyone loves a good comeback story.