One night in December, Thu Dang, a college student in Minnesota who is majoring in data science, arrived in New York City to attend her future employer’s holiday party. The company, a high-tech start-up, brought it to the event ahead of its July start date and put a lot of effort into the evening’s theme: the Netflix series “Bridgerton.” There was a ballroom, an open bar, and an elaborate clue-by-clue scavenger hunt. Everyone came in costume. The night ended with karaoke that lasted until 2am.
It was a high point for Dang, who had come a long way from his home in Vietnam. There she was, at a glitzy party in the world’s most glamorous city, preparing to start a job at a company whose mission she truly believed in. She had made it. But she was also nervous. The tech industry was teetering, and she wondered if the future she’d wagered on would survive. “I was very concerned to see the layoffs at Amazon and Meta and a lot of small startups,” she recalls.
It turned out that Dang was right to be concerned. In the new year, the company laid off some of its staff and called to say it was indefinitely pushing back its start date. For Dang, who is studying in the US on an international student visa, it wasn’t just the loss of her dream job – it meant she now faces the prospect of having to leave the country. If she doesn’t have another offer by the time she graduates in three months, she will have to return home to Vietnam.
While Silicon Valley has cut about 100,000 jobs in the last six weeks in regret for its pandemic-era hiring spree, much of the focus has been on those who suddenly found themselves without work in the middle of their careers. But the hardest hit are those who haven’t yet entered the industry: college students and graduate students who dreamed of landing lucrative tech jobs once they’ve completed their degrees. On Handshake, a top job board for college students, entry-level software jobs in the tech industry dropped 14% last year. And the few vacancies that are being filled now tend to be highly specialized engineering positions. “With budgets tight, companies are focused on finding the right talent for specific roles, and most of the time, it’s a senior-level person,” says Zuhayeer Musa, co-founder of tech salary site Levels.fyi.
Job prospects at Big Tech are so bleak that career counselors, even at elite universities, are encouraging students to consider jobs at smaller companies and in less sought-after sectors like manufacturing or government. “There’s still a lot of opportunity, and we try to get students to focus on how their skills can be used in other settings,” says Sue Harbor, executive director of the career center at the University of California at Berkeley. “It’s typical of students at a top school, and especially a top engineering school, to always want to look for the best company. That’s the part where we’re working with students – not lowering their expectations, but adjusting them. “
Several top engineering schools told me that many Big Tech giants had been conspicuously absent from their career fairs since September. This means competition for the few remaining spots is fiercer than ever. “There are so many other recent graduates still looking for jobs and a limited number of junior positions available,” says Jenny Koo, who lost her job offer at a technology company after completing her master’s in computer engineering in December. “Setting myself apart is really important. I’ve been using my network a little bit more than the last recruiting cycle and I’ve been studying for coding tests again.”
The good news for aspiring engineers like Koo is that outside of Silicon Valley, the economy is strong — and many industries unaffected by the tech crisis still want programmers. Many non-technical employers, in fact, are jumping at the chance to recruit the kind of talent that is often snatched away by Big Tech. On the Handshake job board, government agencies are looking for 36% more entry-level software workers than the previous year, and the construction sector is looking for 28% more. In a survey conducted by Handshake last summer, just over a third of the Class of 2023 said that due to the economy’s uncertain outlook, they were open to working in sectors they had not previously considered.
“I’m finding that students are turning to organizations that have IT functions but aren’t in the technology industry,” says Laura Garcia, Georgia Tech’s director of professional education. “It doesn’t mean you can’t work for Amazon one day. It could mean, how can I take a side step and get a similar skill set that would be valued by Amazon, just in a different industry?”
But this shift in thinking could be bad news for Silicon Valley in the long run. Given the seismic crisis in technology, some students are rethinking their dreams of working for the Amazons, Googles and Metas of the world. Previously, the tech giants were seen as safe bets, largely because they were. Layoffs were rare: once you were in, you were in. Of course, you had to work hard, but in return the company took good care of you. That’s part of why, after the financial crisis, the Valley overtook Wall Street as the destination of choice for the smartest students at the best schools.
But now, in the current round of layoffs, students have watched as tech companies oust thousands of employees — sometimes via middle-of-the-night emails that left them with no chance to say goodbye to their co-workers. After that, it’s hard not to see Big Tech in a different light. Suddenly, in the eyes of Gen Z, technology appears to be as unrelenting and unreliable an employer as banks for millennials coming of age in the Great Recession.
“A student might initially want to go to a FAANG company, but after witnessing a few layoffs or job cuts, that doesn’t seem so stable anymore,” says Christine Cruzvergara, director of education strategy at Handshake. “We know from our data that this particular class is really looking for stability.”
In last summer’s Handshake survey, 74% of the Class of 2023 said job security would make them more likely to apply for a job – nearly double the share of students who said they wanted to work for a well-known company (41% ) or a business in a fast-growing field (39%). In times of turmoil, it turns out that young entrepreneurs worry about the same boring thing as older generations: a steady income.
Dang, the student from Vietnam, is among those shaken by the sudden precariousness of technology. A year ago, if she could choose between a job in the industry and a job outside of it, she would have taken the role in the industry in a heartbeat. Now, she says, technology doesn’t seem as glamorous to her as it once did.
“It feels so good when everything is just right,” she says. “You get free food, free everything. A big paycheck. But with the layoffs, now I know that no matter how hard we work, they can still cut us off overnight, you know? That’s something that worries me about tech.” ”
Aki Ito is a senior correspondent for Insider.