More than 100,000 workers at U.S.-based tech companies have been laid off in mass job cuts so far this year.
Google announced plans to lay off 12,000 people in January. That same month, Microsoft said it was letting go of 10,000 employees. Meta has also made sizeable cuts to its workforce, slashing thousands of jobs in four rounds of layoffs that started in November 2022 and continued through May 2023.
"It was like constant water torture throughout the year, with big tech layoffs happening nearly every month," Megan Slabinski, the district president for global talent solutions at recruitment firm Robert Half, tells CNBC Make It.
But less has been said about what happened to the thousands of people who lost their jobs in these massive staff cuts.
Some laid-off employees immediately found new jobs at smaller software firms and internet companies or continued their careers outside of tech, pivoting to consulting, health care, finance and other industries eager to recruit top talent who might have otherwise stayed at larger tech companies.
Others — relying on their severance packages, savings or a different source of income — are taking a break, recovering from the stress and shock of being laid off.
Bobby McNeil had been working at Amazon Web Services, a subsidiary of Amazon, for just over one year when he received news that he would be part of a company-wide layoff in January.
"It was a dream to finally be working at a top tech company, my time at AWS was incredibly valuable," says McNeil, who was a senior technical lead sourcing recruiter for AWS. "Even though I've experienced layoffs in my career [at other tech companies] before, being laid off again was still shocking."
The 39-year-old remembers scrolling through LinkedIn almost in a daze, and seeing a deluge of posts from other tech workers across the industry who had also recently lost their jobs.
McNeil wanted to start working right away but thought jobs at tech companies might be more competitive given the recent spate of layoffs.
So, he turned his attention to recruiting roles in other industries. After a few weeks of networking and submitting dozens of applications, he landed a contract gig as a talent acquisition partner at a Fortune 500 company. (McNeil declined to share the name and industry of his employer so he could speak freely about his work situation.)
"If this experience taught me anything, it's that it's easy to take the skills you have from working in tech and leverage them to land an even better job at a non-tech company, whether it's in the finance industry, the government sector or health care, just as a few examples," he says. "The transferable skills that you gain from working in the tech industry can be really valuable in other fields."
Experiencing a few layoffs throughout his career has also shown McNeil the importance of untangling your self-worth from your job.
"It's good to find value in what you do, and it's good to work hard and be a devoted employee, but your identity shouldn't be tied up in what you do 40 hours a week," he says. "You can find self-worth in other aspects of your life, whether it's a personal interest or entrepreneurial pursuit."
When Melissa Zlatow first read the email announcing that she would be one of the employees losing her job as part of Meta's first round of layoffs in November 2022, she thought it was a joke.
"I opened the email at five in the morning on my day off in Los Angeles and I was like, 'This can't be happening,'" says Zlatow, who had been a principal UX researcher and strategist at Meta for seven years. "None of us were expecting it."
Her first instinct was to connect with other affected colleagues on Facebook. "The fortunate thing for me was that I had a community to fall back on," Zlatow, who chose not to disclose her age, says. "I found out that there were also a lot of high-performing, influential directors and vice presidents who were laid off, so I was in good company."
She continues: "I think I went through all stages of grief in the week [following the news], but seeking people who were also laid off, and being able to work together to navigate things like severance and health insurance was a big reason why I was able to move on quickly and healthily from the layoff."
Zlatow's experience gave her an idea: What if laid-off tech workers had a safe space to connect, vent, share job leads and work with each other?
Weeks after she lost her job at Meta, Zlatow built a business incubator to connect laid-off tech workers with startups, career coaches, management training and other resources.
"One of the things that happens after a layoff is there are suddenly an influx of people with brilliant minds and a lot of time on their hands," she says. "It was really important to me to gather people interested in solving specific problems and do hackathons and brainstorming sessions."
She also started speaking at tech conferences and workshops about UX design, artificial intelligence and other takeaways from her career, to mentor and inspire young professionals. "Being able to help others got me out of my rut," she says.
The layoff has enriched Zlatow's personal life, too. She moved from San Jose to Chicago in July, became a certified advanced underwater cave diver and is in the process of getting her paragliding license.
Zlatow decided to take a full year off before committing to another full-time job, recognizing that this is a privilege that not everyone has.
After her layoff, Zlatow spoke with her financial advisor to determine how long she could go without full-time work. She wanted to focus on her health and try things she "wouldn't have the luxury of doing while working in a corporate grind," she says.
"I wasn't ready to jump into something new without finding a mission I didn't fully believe in just for another paycheck after working in tech for so long," she says.
This past year has made Zlatow reevaluate the next chapter of her career, which may or may not be in the tech industry.
"It's been a good reminder that working in tech isn't the end-all-be-all," she says. "The gold standard has changed: Five years ago, working at a big-name tech company was an ideal to aspire to, but the layoffs have shown me, and others, that you can have an incredible impact on the world in so many other ways."
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