The Student News Site of Sonoma State University

Sonoma State Star

The Student News Site of Sonoma State University

Sonoma State Star

The Student News Site of Sonoma State University

Sonoma State Star

    Layoffs in the tech industry continue, students face a shrinking job market

    The mass layoffs of tech workers in 2023 have continued into the first months of the new year. What does this mean for students pursuing careers in tech?
    An+empty+Sonoma+State+computer+lab.
    Tess Wilkinson
    An empty Sonoma State computer lab.

    Science and Technology made up 20 percent of undergraduate degrees awarded for the 2022-2023 school year according to the Sonoma State website. The tech industry saw record profits during the height of the pandemic, but now, students with goals to pursue tech careers are navigating a different economic pattern. 

    Dr. Robert Eyler, a Sonoma State economics professor, said for future graduates who intend to jump into a tech career, the current trend could easily slow down the number of available job openings, thus making the job market more competitive.

    He said of the overall economy, “Because the job losses are relatively new, and there is still job growth on the net, nationally and in California, we have not really seen that dynamic negatively affect the economy but it may be coming.”

    So far in 2024, over 31,000 people have been laid off by tech companies, according to layoffs.fyi, a startup company that tracks layoffs in the technology sector. NPR writes that 2023 was, “The worst 12 months for Silicon Valley since the dot-com crash of the early 2000s,” with over 260,000 tech jobs lost last year. 

    The Washington Post quoted Amazon Chief Financial Officer Brian Olsavsky, who said, “Where we can find efficiencies and do more with less, we’re going to do that as well.” This business tactic means understaffing and overworking employees to boost the company’s bottom line. Tech company stock prices have increased as a result, according to The New York Times.

    Blake Marshall, a fourth-year computer science major at Sonoma State and engineer for Apple said, “Like all industries, the tech space is subject to the simple laws of supply and demand. The COVID-19 pandemic led to an enormous spike in digital traffic globally as people quarantined and broke away from their usual habits to cope with being isolated from the outside world.”

    Marshall explained that while this increase in digital activity led to a surge in hiring, the layoffs are in large part due to the world returning to normal activities and engaging less with technology and tech companies experience less profit as a result.

    Marshall said he is not at all phased by the layoffs. “The COVID-19 pandemic was simply an abnormality that led to a temporary boom. Things reverting back to normal is in no way a reflection of the industry’s strength or a glimpse at future projections. In fact, despite layoffs, many companies continue to employ more people than they did prior to the pandemic.”  He believes the panic surrounding the layoffs is unnecessary.

    David Sielert, a Sonoma County resident and Senior Development and Operations engineer for World Wide Technology, said, “The layoffs have made the job market prohibitively competitive. In contrast, I was receiving multiple requests to interview during the boom of the last few years. After I was laid off last June, I noticed that the market had become very much an employer market.”

    Sielert says, “Job postings were getting hundreds of applications, job requirements had gotten much stricter in an effort to trim the pool of applicants, and interview rounds became more numerous, often five to eight rounds of interviews in order to land a role.” 

    Sielert was among the many people who were laid off from the tech industry in 2023. “That layoff devastated me. It took six months to find a new role,” said Sielert.

    The layoffs are also a result of some tech companies like Meta, Apple, and Google investing more in artificial intelligence, and decreasing other areas of production. AI enhancing human productivity in the workforce, and even potentially replacing certain human tasks, has been a recurring conversation for centuries, as was seen during the Industrial Revolution, and even earlier. 

    Marshall said he is not concerned about AI interfering with his goals, and quoted Erez Yereslove, the senior vice president at Globality, to explain his views on AI in the workforce, “‘The evolution from paper to pencil to calculators and then to spreadsheets did not replace mathematicians. It only made them more valuable.’”

    The reality of the situation is— no occupation is invulnerable to AI. As scary as this sounds, it has never made me reconsider my decision to pursue a career as a software engineer,” said Marshall.

    Luis Galvez Diaz, a third-year Computer Science and bi-disciplinary Mathematics major at SSU said, “From my understanding, the tech layoffs seem to be happening due to economic effects from the pandemic and weak consumer demand.” 

    Galvez Diaz is also not concerned about AI replacing human roles in the tech industry anytime soon. “Everyone seems to be hyping AI, but the reality is, AI is not as smart as people are making it out to be. Currently, AI’s ability to learn is slow and it’s going to take a whole new learning system for AI to be able to catch up to the way humans learn to do tasks,” he said.

    Galvez Diaz said hearing about the tech layoffs as an undergraduate in computer science is daunting, but he says he remains optimistic. He said his goal after graduation is to pursue a software engineering job in tech or finance. “I think as an undergraduate student, my biggest concern is just getting my first experience in the field since the jobs are very competitive. Layoffs are just a sign to work even harder,” said Galvez Diaz.

    Sielert said he also has not experienced AI as a risk to employment. “I do not see AI replacing workers. AI code generation services, like Copilot or Tabnine, are strictly prohibited at all of the corporations I’ve worked for, due to the possibility of leaking intellectual property or code that would provide threat intelligence to bad actors,” he said.

    While Sielert shares the perspective that the industry-leading tech companies have increased stock prices with mass layoffs, he said, “Smaller startups, like the one I was laid off from, have had a lot of venture capital funding dry up since the Silicon Valley Bank debacle.”

    While students in the computer sciences and related studies continue to navigate this trend with hope, success in a competitive industry often comes at a cost. Marshall said he is balancing multiple roles, including President of the Computer Science Club at SSU, and fulfilling dual roles at Apple as a Campus Leader and an iOS engineer. 

    Marshall said, “There is seldom reward without risk,” when speaking on the sacrifices he’s made to achieve his goals, including many sleepless nights. “There are, in fact, enough hours in the day if I don’t sleep. As a result, I have very little time to spend with friends or family, or even to just enjoy the little things in life. As unpleasant as it may sound, I believe that it will all be worth it in the end. The way I see it, the work that I am putting in now will open doors for me later in life.” 

    Marshall said his goals include further developing AI. “I have a number of ideas related to AI in the medical technology industry that I would love to implement. Starting a company and turning my ideas into a reality would truly be a dream come true. I believe that my ideas can revolutionize patient care and improve the lives of billions,” he said.

    Sielert’s advice to students and upcoming graduates pursuing a tech role is, “Be a lifelong learner. Many roles I see now require a bachelor’s degree, but a master’s is preferred.” He said for students pursuing a developer-centric role, “One of the secret handshakes,” in the hiring process is to, “Know your data structures and algorithms.”

    Dr. Eyler’s advice is,  “Be patient, and be willing to take a job that you may not think is a home run job, but is just sort of getting in the door and trying to show your worth and working up the ladder. Especially in a more competitive job market, sometimes just getting in the door and getting to know people is the best you can do.”

     

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    About the Contributor
    Tess Wilkinson, Staff Writer
    Tess Wilkinson is a fourth year Communication major at Sonoma State.
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