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Big Tech Laid Off Thousands. Here’s Who Wants Them Next

Remote work. Competitive salaries. A streamlined hiring process. They’re all perks being offered to prospective tech workers from an unlikely employer: the US government. 

Soaring Silicon Valley salaries, perks, and stocks have allowed Big Tech companies to lure the industry’s top employees for years while government jobs sat open. But as companies like Meta, Amazon, and Google have cut jobs or slowed hiring, government, nonprofit, and smaller companies are now seizing the moment and looking to catch the attention of out-of-work technologists. The US Department of Veterans Affairs is seeking tech workers to fill 1,000 roles. They’ll work on solving problems like modernizing benefits software and revamping medical appointments scheduling. (“Silicon Valley isn’t the only place for tech innovation,” the department’s information technology office tweeted last month.) Big Tech’s losses could be a boon to these employers.

“It’s a very interesting confluence of events,” says Charles Worthington, the VA’s chief technology officer. “There’s this increased interest in public service. There’s obviously new headwinds in the tech industry that are leaving more people needing a job. And then there’s these great opportunities at the VA.” 

Nearly 1,000 tech companies around the world have laid off more than 150,000 tech workers this year, according to Layoffs.fyi, a site that tracks publicly reported job cuts in the industry. Meta cut 11,000 jobs and Amazon 10,000 in November. Smaller cuts at companies like Lyft, Snap, and Stripe have shown that uncertainty is widespread in the tech world.

But tech jobs make up just a small slice of the US economy, and experts say recent layoffs are a high-profile outlier occluding a strong job market still hungry for workers. So, tech workers are turning elsewhere for opportunities, and they’re increasingly looking for jobs in nonprofits, smaller startups, and government. The jobs don’t all come with access to swimming pools or flush stock options, but these employers hope they can woo the influx of talent, now that there’s less competition in the private sector. And their stability could become a big selling point. 

“People are taking this moment of uncertainty as a way to pause and reflect on what they’ve been doing and see if there’s an opportunity for them to work on something different,” says Jessica Watson, the chief experience officer at US Digital Response, a nonprofit that helps governments with digital expertise. It has seen more applications for in-house roles and more interest in government tech roles. 

Some governments have long struggled to secure top tech talent and younger workers. The divides in the private and public sector extend beyond the US. In the UK, public sector pay has fallen to a 19-year low, making competition with private industries harder. But in China, some young workers are ready to leave behind a volatile tech industry for greater security. Finland’s government was so eager for tech workers to join the country’s industry that, in 2021, it gave foreigners 90-day visas to try out life in Helsinki.

As uncertainty grows amid declining tech stock values, more young people may consider the shift, too. US Digital Response cohosted a job fair in December planned in response to the recent layoffs. Ten state and city governments from around the US came to make their case to the prospective workers. The state of California is looking to hire nearly 2,500 tech workers, according to Matthias Jaime, deputy secretary of technology and innovation for the state. San Francisco is advertising government roles that require only one day in the office per week. But in addition to convenience, regular hours, and pensions, those recruiting for more government and nonprofit workers are advertising a fuzzy, warm feeling that comes from making a positive impact. “I think it is a super compelling mission,” Kurt DelBene, chief information officer with the VA, says of working in the department. “You’re basically delivering to people who have made their commitment to all of us, the biggest commitment they can make, by being in the armed forces. And they deserve our support.” 

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