Tech industry’s instability puts students on edge

With major layoffs from Google and Microsoft, USC Viterbi students are rethinking their future in the industry.

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Alphabet, Google’s parent company, announced last Friday that it’s planning to cut around 6% of its workforce. The company joins a wave of massive layoffs made by other powerhouse tech companies like Microsoft and Amazon, a trend that began last summer and continues into the new year.

In a staff memo sent out November 20, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said he was taking “full responsibility” for cutting 12,000 jobs.

In light of the layoffs, USC Viterbi students are rethinking their future. As spring graduation rounds the corner, many students worry about finding a job in an industry they once thought to be secure.

“Tech is seen as such a budding field and it’s seen as the future. And yet, all of these layoffs are happening and it’s a little confusing,” said Hallie Faust, a double major in both computer science and business administration.

Since the dot-com bubble in the late 1990s, tech has been growing steadily. That expansion saw yet another boom during the COVID-19 pandemic. With an unprecedented uptick in reliance on remote work and education, the industry flourished. According to regulatory filings, Google’s workforce grew by 68,000 employees during the pandemic.

But as post-pandemic realities set in, as well as talk of a potential recession, companies are having to reassess.

In turn, Viterbi students, who once felt confident about landing a lucrative position in the tech industry, have been trying to read the signs and weigh their options.

Computer science and business administration major Patty Srising sees herself as particularly vulnerable, given this new reality.

“I’ve always thought the tech industry is already extremely hard to break into as a woman of color,” Srising said. “It’s an industry that’s dominated by dudes, and even they’re getting laid off, so it’s a bit concerning.”

While the recent layoffs were relatively equal in terms of gender, less than a third of technical and leadership roles in the industry are held by women according to a study by Deloitte.

“Going forward, there’s a lot of new developments in technology, so there’s always going to be jobs in the industry,” Srising said. “But since skilled people in companies like Microsoft are getting laid off, it just makes me wonder, will I make it?”

Seeing the recent layoffs as a sign of precarity, some students have already begun to change their plans.

Mark Ray, a masters student studying green technology engineering, said he wants to pivot to a doctorate degree instead of pursuing a career, since his faith in the job market isn’t very high.

Ray believes that buying some time could provide opportunity for growth.

“There’s never a bad time to learn and take on new skills that make you more marketable and more capable for jobs to come,” Ray said.

But for others, the signs are not at all clear. For Olivia Fortson, a freshman intelligence and cyber operations major, the recent layoffs do not reflect long-term instability in the tech industry. But she does think the changes may weed out students who are going into the field primarily for financial reasons.

“One of the things I’ve noticed is that some people just choose computer science because it gives you that guarantee of ‘okay I can work anywhere I want, good salary, six figures,” Fortson said.

But, according to Fortson, there is enough evidence to warrant thinking twice about pursuing a tech job.

“I think this is causing people to rethink their choices about whether they’re passionate about what they really want to do or whether they just think it’s going to land them a job as soon as they come out of college,” Fortson said. “Personally, I’m not very worried because I know I love what I do, and USC has so many career services that I don’t feel that stressed about it.”

Seventy two percent of Viterbi’s class of 2021 landed jobs in their sector. Over the last years Viterbi has expanded its artificial intelligence programs, a field that Google has given more attention to recently.

“I think we’re all going to be okay. I think us tech people are going to be okay,” Fortson said.