Why Tech, Why Now

The tech job market is reeling from layoffs in early 2023. But software development job seekers shouldn’t panic. Plenty of non-tech companies need coders.

Why Tech, Why Now

"Don't panic. It's the first helpful or intelligible thing anybody's said to me all day.” ― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Let’s be honest—anyone following tech headlines in Q1 of 2023 might have felt at least a few butterflies in their stomach. Silicon Valley Bank, which pumped millions of venture capital dollars into the titular tech hotbed, will forever be remembered as the largest bank failure in 15 years. TechCrunch reported that industry layoffs from blue chip brands like Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Yahoo and Zoom, as well as small startups, have already hit 168,243, just three months into the year. And big layoffs have led to even bigger stock buybacks—an unusual move that big tech hasn't always embraced.

If you haven’t been affected by the Silicon Valley bubble bursting, you might know someone who has. And if you recently invested in a major career change—say, leaving behind a known-quantity job to perhaps lean on a partner, family or chosen community while putting in tough hours on a new endeavor like code school—we get it if you’re questioning the timing. But we’re also here to take a page from Douglas Adams’s sci-fi classic The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to tell you not to panic.

State of Turing with Jeff Casimir, March 2023

As Jeff Casimir explained in a recent State of Turing chat, there’s some very real pain in the tech sector right now. Since the pandemic began in 2020, tech has faced significant highs and lows, and we’ve seen some of our Turing alumni lose their positions. That doesn’t feel good for them or our community. But to zoom out from the doom-and-gloom headlines and look at the macroeconomics, there’s still plenty of possibilities out there for entry-level software developers seeking their first programming jobs.

“To understand the story of today we have to start with the outbreak of COVID in 2020,” explained Casimir. “The hiring market went from great in February 2020 to total lockdown in March of 2020. Some alums who had signed job offers already saw those offers rescinded which was something we had never seen before. Almost no company was hiring in March, April or May [of 2020].”

It was a hard time for everyone, but uniquely difficult for those who had just graduated or graduated that spring. Job hunting is hard enough without also fearing for the future of humanity. In just a few months, however, fortunes reversed. The tech industry became profoundly optimistic and hiring rebounded into a period of unprecedented growth. “Quarter after quarter, we were seeing new records for the number of grads hired and the speed at which they were hired,” said Casimir. “By the summer of 2021, employment was really roaring.”

So what changed in the last two years? A lot of things. But most significantly for the tech job market, fears of inflation and recession collided with big tech’s concern about how much power workers gained during the pandemic. Advances that workers made—like increased flex time and leave to attend to family matters, the ability to work from home, as well as diversity and inclusivity programming and the rise of collective bargaining—are seen as threats by big business to their bottom line and the status quo.

Meanwhile, public concerns about inflation became a self-fulfilling prophecy. The Federal Reserve’s decision to raise interest rates to curb inflation led to an economic chain reaction that gave some of the world’s biggest companies a convenient, palatable excuse for job cuts. The dip in stock values and investor confidence that tends to ensue after mass layoffs, in turn, gave companies an opportunity to perform stock buy-backs. This strengthened their financial position and gave employers more leverage over the staff that wasn't laid off. Meanwhile, the middle class and working poor are left grappling with job loss and higher prices.

That brings us to 2023. This year’s graduates and newly minted alumni are feeling the same inflationary financial pinch as anyone else who isn’t super-rich, and they’re in the middle of a major professional transition. Turing alumni further into their careers may be grappling with—or nervous about—layoffs at their employers. Does all this bad economic news mean the code party is over? Not remotely.

“If you want a technical job in the next six months the single best way to do that is to find one at a non-tech company,” explained Casimir. “Every company has a software team. Every company is building web applications. Even a steak restaurant chain like Texas Roadhouse has a software team. Maybe one day you’ll work at Apple or Facebook or Google, if you want to, but you don’t—and you won’t—do it right now. What you really need to find is your own Texas Roadhouse.”

Indeed, Turing alumni may be in a better position than many software engineers to find programming jobs at non-tech companies because of their varied pre-Turing career experience. Someone who worked in food service or hospitality before becoming a front-end developer might have an edge working on point-of-sale systems because they better understand how employees and customers expect to interact with the UX. A former forklift operator will have unique insights into warehouse management software. A veteran may already have familiarity with defense tech which makes it cheaper and faster to train them for a back-end development role than a candidate who has never served in the military.

That unique content expertise gives job seekers a serious edge over applicants who only have software development on their resumes. “When you leverage your background and understanding and combine that with your growing technical skill you can become a really compelling package,” notes Casimir. “You become a risk worth taking on.”

Mid-career developers can feel even more confident. While it’s true that members of the Turing alumni community have been laid off, many receive severance packages in the process and find a new position within three months—often at a similar or higher salary than before. ZipRecruiter conducted a survey released in November that found that eight out of 10 techies who lose their jobs snag another gig within three months of starting their search.

Indeed, voluntary career changes during the Great Resignation just a year or two ago often netted similar results. In January of 2023, CNBC reported that people who changed jobs in November of 2022 had 50% higher wage growth on average than workers who stayed put.

After all, the tech industry may be in flux, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that finance, real estate, hospitality and healthcare are still seeing considerable growth. Business Insider noted at the tail end of 2022 that from Q1 to Q3 of that year, “60% of the top 100 employers of tech talent for the first 10 months of the year were from less-glamorous, non-tech sectors, like healthcare, defense, and banking.”

So maybe that last sector isn’t feeling as hot as it was just a few months ago. But that isn’t dampening the prospects of several 2022 Turing cohorts—we had 24 students hired in 22 days in February alone, and this inning we’ve had 22 people accept offers. That backs up Casimir’s description of what’s currently happening in the programming job market as more of a “realignment where talent is moving around than it is a disruption or a shrinkage.”

He closed the State of Turing update with the following reassurance and advice for Q2 and beyond: “Once you have a few years of experience under your belt, then there are going to be an ever-increasing number of roles opening to you for the rest of your career. All you have to do is pass a couple more assessments, graduate and go get that first job.”

Getting ready for your own job search in the tech sector? Check out these additional tips and tricks from a Turing alum.