Workplace

Is tech's hot job market flaming out?

The Great Resig … never mind.

A group of people around a dying campfire
The days of three competing offers for a tech job might be coming to an end.
Photo: Will Myers/Unsplash

In the last two weeks, Netflix, Meta, Robinhood and Uber all initiated hiring freezes or layoffs. Privately backed startups like Cameo and Mural laid off big chunks of their workforce. And Amazon, Alphabet and Apple joined Netflix and Meta with disappointing earnings reports and corresponding stock sell-offs.

For the first time in nearly two years, the narrative around Big Tech’s latest boom is starting to look shaky. And with it, software engineers and tech workers who’ve gotten used to the thrill of a white-hot job market are starting to ask if their halcyon employment market is fading. Could the extraordinary hiring efforts of companies like Meta — a company that was battling to hire as many engineers as possible only a year ago — have accidentally necessitated a correction in the opposite direction?

In some ways, the answer is yes. The days of three competing offers and doubling salary for most engineers who so much as glance at a new job might be coming to an end over the next few months as some tech companies slow hiring.

But it’s still comfortably safe to assume that every decent engineer will always have a good job available. While specific companies and industries will have to reckon with investors shifting their expectations, the underlying trends that have made tech jobs reliably well-paying and consistently available are only going to continue.

Experts at recruiting firms Robert Half and Kelly Science, Engineering, Technology & Telecom told Protocol that they feel confident that demand will remain stable. And recruiters for large tech companies and startups alike — granted anonymity because their employers would not allow them to speak on the record — said that while individual financial circumstances of specific tech companies concern them, they remain confident in the overall job market.

“Let’s assume that late last year going into early this year, that was a 10. I’ve been recruiting for seven years; I’ve never seen anything like that in terms of competition,” one recruiter told Protocol. “Whereas now, it’s probably still like an eight or nine. So there is a slowdown, just compared to how hectic things were like six months ago.”

"I think the revenue outlook is ambiguous, so people are going to assume the worst and start pulling back on spending, if you will. And as people do that, in general across the economy [it] will have this ripple effect. I think that you'll see more tightening,” Will Price, a founder and general partner at Next Frontier Capital, told Protocol.

But even with that tightening, the overall unemployment landscape in the United States still heavily favors workers. The Department of Labor announced last week that in March, the number of available jobs hit the country’s all-time record (11.5 million), meaning that The Great Resignation is far from over.

Those numbers are even more favorable for software engineers and cybersecurity professionals, whose unemployment rates sit somewhere between 0.1% and 0.6%, according to Ryan Sutton, a district president for Robert Half. Sutton considers any unemployment rate between 2% and 4% as exceptionally favorable for workers, meaning that numbers even lower indicate persistent demand.

“It really comes down to the continued pent-up demand that existed before the pandemic, coupled with companies restaffing to catch up to the growth rates, coupled with The Great Resignation, especially with the most in-demand skills, like emerging technologies, cloud engineering, web architects, database administrators,” he said.

For Sutton, the hiring news at companies like Netflix and Meta has more to do with individual companies’ financial circumstances and issues: Netflix’s password-sharing and user-licensing problems, for example, or Meta’s need to maximize its efficiency.

“The traditional trends that tell us the talent demand indicators — average number of offers per candidate, how long it takes us to get a candidate placed, percentage of counter-offers a candidate is facing on a regular basis — those three buckets, we’re still seeing it,” he said.

One former Facebook recruiter said this is actually an advantageous moment for savvy recruiters at companies battling a decline in their stock value. “You are going to make 30[%], 40%, 50% investment there by joining at an advantageous time. You’ll say, ‘Hey, I know our stock is this price: If it rebounds in six months, that means that you are going to make quite a bit more money,’” he said.

That same recruiter said that the tech companies that have remained very aggressive in their strategies and aren’t battling investor doubt are also going to be able to capitalize on this moment by trying to hire those who’ve been laid off over the last few weeks. He cited companies like DoorDash, where he’s seen recruiting and hiring remain very competitive.

“If I'm gauging on a scale of one to 10 in terms of how concerned I am, I’m probably at a four right now, and it was at two yesterday. There is some concern, but I think for the most part I don't see any dread,” the same recruiter said. “Ask me again next week; I might have a different answer for you. I want to keep my finger on the pulse here, but I’m not in a panic.”

With additional reporting by Sarah Roach.

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