For many months, the tech sector has been experiencing intense change, spanning layoffs, re-organizations, and budget strategy pivots. Now, a few months in, many of us have likely either been directly affected or worked closely with someone who has. As a community leader in the tech space, I want to take this opportunity to share some of my own perspective, for the benefit of those who may find themselves in a difficult place. I invite the community to also weigh in. The more we share and compare experiences and recommendations, the stronger we are.
There’s truly a confluence of events going on right now. Much will and has already been written about this particular moment. Restated simply in my own words, we are through the pandemic, but we experienced a huge growth surge in all things tech. Now we’re on the other side of it, and we are dealing with it. Seemingly all tech companies are facing a combination of heightened demands to achieve profitability, rapid spikes in interest rates, and slowing sales motions. Most notably, a lot of earlier stage companies or companies with investors involved have incredibly different expectations on them today compared to a year or two ago. Until recently, the emphasis had been topline growth with long-term trends toward profitability, and the market responded well to that. Needless to say, there has been a big shift in short term profitability expectations, and it’s impacting the tech sector quite a bit.
We now find ourselves in the midst of tech sector economic ripples. Every company is going to address it. Every person is going to feel it, and we all will navigate our own way through it. This will be hard, especially for those professionals who have never experienced anything like this. A lot of younger professionals wouldn’t have any reason to have had this happen. We’ve been in such a growth mode for so many years that this is really a rude awakening, and it’s personally hard to navigate. We all need to use a mix of common sense, smarts, and all the empathy we’ve got. While a layoff feels incredibly personal, we have to rise above that and recognize that it’s actually not personal. Like most tech sector cycles, this cycle is a step or two back to take us many more steps forward.
To me, this feels very similar to tech adjustments that we’ve experienced before, going back to my own personal experiences in the early 2000s and again around 2008. The early 2000s, known as the “dotcom era,” gave us the term “irrational exuberance.” You saw a lot of growth on growth, and it was relatively easy to raise money, relative to the past. Professionally, for most in the tech sector, it was easy to change jobs. People were tripping over themselves to seize what appeared to be frequent and unlimited upside opportunity. There was a kind of hyperactive energy that eventually ended, quickly and aggressively, for many people, myself included.
In my early twenties, I was getting promoted every year. A lot of my friends were changing jobs regularly. I remember vividly being put in situations that were unrealistic given my limited experiences, skill set, and professional background. Things were moving fast, to the point where I’m quite sure customers were not receiving the value exchange the tech providers and consultants were promising.
In October of 2000, I went from being a rising player to laid off along with most of my teammates. This stung, as I was the 89th employee at a company that grew to about 1000+ employees in just a few short years. We even experienced an IPO! All kinds of exciting things were happening. Sure, there were “growth concerns” and business hiccups along the way, but my experience was that we always found our way up and to the right.
“There is no better trusted place to step forward than within and among the diverse professional community you call home.”
Then, overnight, most of the company’s personnel was let go. It was nothing short of shocking, and certainly a difficult personal experience for me, but time has given me perspective on it, even appreciation for having gone through it. Many important lessons were learned––namely, that a career trajectory isn’t always a straight line up, but if you work hard, keep up a strong network, and actively work to put yourself in a good position (working with good quality people, smart solutions, healthy industries, smart financial governance), when you zoom out from a moment like then and now, all historic signs indicate that the trends are truly up and to the right.
Once I was laid off, I was on a journey. I took time to evaluate my interests and the unfolding new market. I took stock of my skill set, my network, my experiences, and what I liked and didn’t like about where I was and where I had been aiming to go professionally. A lot of my now newly available work friends, who decided to stay in industry, ended up taking a step sideways or even back with their next job, specific to role and compensation. Many ended up going to grad school, or pivoting completely to another industry or profession.
For me, after much self-reflection and market research, I chose to stay in industry, but retool myself, shifting from technologist roles to business operating roles. I found a path forward. The client I was working with asked me to come onboard to help them transition away from the company I had worked for. The original contract was for two to three weeks, and I ended up being there for about five and a half years as an hourly contractor. Along the way, I earned my MBA part-time during my nights and weekends. At the same time, I upped my industry network, and developed what I viewed as next-level experiences and skill sets. As that pullback faded, I found myself better organized, more focused, and more qualified for the next step in my professional journey.
When I look back, community greatly helped me, shaped me, and motivated me through unplanned, uncharted times. In that sense, I was developing a passion around all things community, even back then. I was not afraid to admit that I needed help. I was also not afraid to admit that I needed to work on my game. My solution was to actively look around for people with experiences to learn from. I leaned into my network for ideas, feedback, and guidance. I have always been a big believer in having your own personal board of directors, in always surrounding yourself with trusted, diverse thinkers, people that have no reason to give you anything other than unfettered, honest feedback that supports you.
If you’re one of the many who was recently laid off, you remain in control. I say that from personal experience. This is a setback surrounded by opportunity. Back up and really think about where you are, what you’re curious about, where your passions lie, what your requirements are, and don’t be afraid to knock on doors. Don’t be afraid to get into conversations. You now have that precious time and space you lacked before. To think. To share ideas. To explore opportunities. Like 2000, this is a wonderful moment for many people to ask “Am I where I want to be? Is this really an area of personal passion?”
And there will be lots of opportunities. There are interesting migrations and paths that people are going to find that they wouldn’t have thought of or pursued before. I view this era’s tech layoffs as much like picking up a rock in a thriving garden. We’re going to see a tremendous amount of talent moving. To new industries. To emerging roles. To classic industries taking on technology like never before. I suspect, like I did in 2000, that a lot of tech employees are going to find their way to their previous customers. We’re already seeing a lot of hiring in banking, retail, and in pharmaceuticals.
It’s a hard experience to go through, personally, but look for the upside and the opportunity. Push your network to help you. They will. Most of all, don’t be afraid. I don’t know anyone I have studied or personally look up to who has it all figured out or has experienced a straight up-and-up journey. There is no better trusted place to step forward than within and among the diverse professional community you call home.