Navigating the 2022-2023 Tech Layoffs
With more and more tech companies tightening their belts, reducing headcounts, and preparing for an upcoming (or already underway) global recession, I thought it would be a good idea to write down my thoughts on the best way to weather these times.
Like thousands of others, my role that I had been at for nearly three years was made redundant recently. This can either be a time of stress, confusion, and depression, or it can be a time of rest, rejuvenation, and future-gazing.
Take some time off, if you can
For many highly driven individuals, the end of a tenure at a company can lead immediately into the stressful world of reading recruiter emails, preparing for technical interviews, and trying to find the right match for your next role. But if you can, it's a good idea to take some time to relax and reflect before immediately jumping into another gig.
This is of course dependent on your ability to maintain your finances during this period. In the tech world we are often blessed to receive significant severance packages and even several months of health insurance for those of us in countries without national healthcare, but in the worst case scenario I hope you can take at least a week or two if not several months to reset your brain. This is likely the longest vacation you'll have for several years.
Redefine your skillset
Now is a time to think about not only what you have been working on but what you would like to work on and what types of skills you will need for that role.
My specialty for the last decade or more has been Ruby on Rails, and more generally full-stack web development as a whole. However I have some background in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and signal processing. Even more niche areas such as quantum computation are fascinating to me so I'm spending some time building up these other skills alongside reaffirming and expanding my knowledge of engineering for the web.
This is also a great opportunity to think about the direction of the industry as a whole and what skills you think will be in high demand over the next five, ten, or even twenty years. Things such as large language models and crypto are obvious areas that have become popular recently, but try to picture what may be even further out on the horizon.
Focus on your body
As tech workers we are strapped to our computers most of the day and this isn't always conducive to proper health. Some people are very good at managing this through standing or walking desks, or by taking breaks for running or other workouts, but many of us also fall into a routine that is not ideal and some time off is a great opportunity to develop a healthier relationship with our bodies.
Personally I'm trying to focus on weight loss and mobility. I, like many others, put on some excess fat while working from home for the last three years, and it is impeding my ability to go for long runs like I used to do all the time. I would also like to stretch more as I'm approaching 40 years old and my body doesn't bend like it used to.
Some forced time off is an excellent opportunity to reexamine and change our daily routines, both what we consume and how we move.
Work on a side project
Almost every engineer I know has at least one or two ideas that "if they had the time" they would love to build an MVP for. This could be anything from a passion project related to one of your hobbies, to a fun little iOS or Unity game, to that potentially billion dollar startup product. Another option is to find some open source projects to contribute to which will make your online presence more robust as well.
Regardless of what it is, now you've got the time. I wouldn't start hacking on it immediately on the day after you have "the call" with your director or whomever, but if you are someone who genuinely likes programming even as a hobby then here's that free time you've always dreamed of.
At the bare minimum it will keep your skills sharp, maybe force you to learn something new, and add another line to your CV. At best you may have a new full-time job as a startup founder.
Preparing for the job hunt
When you're sufficiently rested and ready to start looking, the first step is to update your professional presence.
Your resume or CV is the most obvious first step and you should take some time to really think back on what you achieved at your last company. Be quantitative when talking about impact but don't be afraid to include some so-called "soft" skills like being a part of the interview or onboarding processes. I've been described as "extroverted for an engineer" which is something that I feel sets me apart as it is comparatively rare in the software world.
Additionally you should make sure your LinkedIn, Twitter, and personal website are up to date and representative of where you've been and where you'd like to go. Your public GitHub or GitLab are other great places where prospective employers or engineering partners can see your open source projects and contributions.
Make your next move
When you're ready to start applying for your next job, it's time to start actually opening recruiter emails and LinkedIn messages. Reach out to your friends and professional network to see if they have any openings.
Keep a running document with the names of companies and your contacts in them, preferably organized in some way such as business area (HealthTech, FinTech) and your status (Applied, Waiting, Interview Scheduled).
Decide what kind of interview process you're comfortable with. Larger companies often have intense live-coding exercises that are meant to "weed out" candidates, whereas smaller companies may be open to no-code or take-home exercises that are much more forgiving and in my opinion a better way to see if the company and candidate are a good fit.
There are tons of books and websites meant to help people get better at interviews. A few that I can recommend are Cracking the Coding Interview, System Design Interview, and LeetCode.
Most importantly, try to relax and not take things personally. Getting laid off is rarely ideal but it can be a great time for resting and making sure your next role is the right one for you.
This is a weird time in the tech industry, easily the worst we've seen since 2008 or so, but everything always bounces back and with the right mindset you'll be ready to hit the ground running when it happens.