Jul 06, 2023
Tech layoffs are finally winding down
Hi folks, Kylie Robison with the tech team here. Today, I’m thinking about how quickly time flies. In 2021, there were tales of wily software engineers juggling multiple remote jobs, while Meta and
Hi folks, Kylie Robison with the tech team here. Today, I’m thinking about how quickly time flies.
In 2021, there were tales of wily software engineers juggling multiple remote jobs, while Meta and Google engaged in an arms race for top talent, turning mere idleness into a high-six-figure endeavor. The Coronavirus pandemic ended up being a money-printing machine for much of corporate America, with 52% of companies seeing a bigger profit in November 2020 than the year prior, Axios reported. Then there was the Great Resignation—workers quitting their jobs in pursuit of fatter paychecks—which now appears unheard of amidst the seismic upheaval of nationwide layoffs.
Meta has since let go of more than 20,000 employees, Google laid off 12,000, Microsoft cut 10,000, Amazon reduced its workforce by 19,000, and Elon Musk downsized Twitter’s staff by over 80%—a true industry-wide shakeup. If you’re not familiar with Austin Nasso, a comedian known for roasting techies, his joke about being a Meta employee is right on the money, no pun intended.
“Everybody’s getting laid off one by one, when I joined Meta in September 2021 I was making like 550k total comp now it’s down like 265k, I don’t even know how I’m gonna afford the mortgage payments on my tiny home in Tahoe,” he said in an Instagram Reel. “They promised me haircuts. They said free food. They said I could code for 30 minutes a day, but now I just feel like every thing is going to shit and they say Zuckerberg is replacing us with large language models!”
Indeed, the era of tech employees reveling in minimal effort for maximal gains appears to have run its course. I once attempted to write an article about this, sparked by a Salesforce staffer who drunkenly confessed to me at a San Francisco party that he does no work but still gets so much money. However, when dawn sobered his perspective, he wasn’t eager to resurrect that anecdote for an article in Fortune.
While those days seem to be over for most, and techies scavenge for whatever free office snacks they can still find at whatever offices haven’t been shuttered, a new trend appears to be taking shape. Tech layoffs are tapering off, now at their lowest since February 2022, according to Layoffs.fyi, a website that has dutifully tracked tech layoffs over the pandemic. What’s more, Insider reported that tech analysts at Bernstein Research, who tracked industry layoffs every month for about a year, have now officially ended this data series and claimed that “The Tech Job Recession is Over” in a recent email to clients.
The final curtain may not have completely descended on tech layoffs—Niantic, Discord, and Salesforce all handed out pink slips this month. But given how many tech giants sought to rip the band-aid off earlier this year by eliminating thousands of workers from their payrolls, it’s possible that the worst of the tech job recession is behind us. Also, as Insider pointed out, OpenAI has 60 open roles as of Tuesday. Then there’s the obscene $900,000 A.I. gig at Netflix that made its rounds. Could A.I. turn out to be the very lifeline that preserves engineers’ livelihoods, instead of replacing them? That would be an ironic twist!
Here’s what else is going on in tech today.
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A.I. personal life coach. Earlier this year, Google merged DeepMind and Brain, its two A.I. teams in order to better compete in the fast-moving A.I. sector. The unified A.I. group is now pursuing ambitious generative A.I. tools capable of tasks like providing life advice and tutoring, according to the New York Times. Google's efforts to use A.I. for such delicate tasks come as researchers inside the company have warned that this could cause users to believe the A.I. is sentient, the Times reported. A Google spokesperson told the Times that the data cited in the report does not represent the company's product plans.
New TikTok ban. New York City is prohibiting TikTok on its government devices due to security concerns, following a review by the NYC Cyber Command, the Verge reported. The ban aligns with federal guidelines and legislation discouraging TikTok's use on government devices. This decision adds to the growing efforts by various states to address security concerns about the app, which is owned by China's ByteDance. For instance, Montana went as far as to prohibit the app's use by the general public throughout the entire state by January 2024.
Eric Schmidt's A.I. moonshot. Ex-Google CEO Eric Schmidt is creating a nonprofit to address scientific challenges with the help of A.I., Semafor reported. Leading this endeavor are distinguished scientists Samuel Rodriques and Andrew White. Sources told Semafor that the move was inspired by OpenAI, and the majority of the funding for the project will originate from Schmidt's pocket, potentially supplemented externally. However, this initiative remains in its nascent phase.
“They have created a conveyor belt that is scooping up the data of children."
—Jeff Chester, the executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a nonprofit focused on digital privacy, in a comment to the New York Times regarding research that shows YouTube ads that may have led to the online tracking of children
The world’s biggest single investor in the stock market returned $143 billion in the first half of the year thanks to A.I. and tech, by Chloe Taylor
The new Coinbase blockchain is rife with scam tokens. Who should be responsible?, by Leo Schwartz
How a mechanical engineer ditched a startup job to become the first female CEO of a $28 billion manufacturer, by Emma Hinchliffe and Joseph Abrams
Abnormal Security’s CEO explains how ‘defensive A.I.’ will someday defeat cyber attacks, by Anne Sraders
Headspace’s CEO on what business is overlooking when it comes to mental health, by Fortune Editors
Iowa school bans books using ChatGPT. Iowa's Mason City school libraries are removing banned books under a state law for appropriate content, but administrators are using ChatGPT to help decide which ones to ban, citing the fact that they have a three-months window to do so, Ars Technica reported. However, experts doubt its reliability due to its inability to fully grasp content and understand nuance. The process involves lists of commonly challenged books and using the A.I. to filter for sexual content, which administrators used to ban 19 books from their grades 7 through 12 school library. However, ChatGPT is known to deliver inconsistent results, which creates obvious limitations for the purpose of banning books.
"There's something ironic about people in charge of education not knowing enough to critically determine which books are good or bad to include in curriculum, only to outsource the decision to a system that can't understand books and can't critically think at all," Margaret Mitchell, chief ethics scientist at Hugging Face, told Ars Technica.
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