With the exception of a period from late 2014 through mid-2020, I have been a contractor in the IT space for most of my post-Army life. That was not necessarily how I wanted things to be, but it has been the reality nonetheless. In the parlance of the industry, I eat what I kill, and when I am not working, I am working on advancing my skills and improving my desirability to potential customers. In addition to training organizations (of which there have been many), I have contracted to (directly or through agency) Microsoft (and Microsoft Canada), HP, Rakuten, and many more, including charitable organizations and pharmaceutical companies and even to other IT companies. While I have never been laid off, I have been terminated. Two months into the pandemic, I was terminated from a company who were making big claims that they would not be laying off employees… at the time they were positioning themselves to be placed on a Gartner Magic Quadrant (which we knew), and were also in discussions with IBM to be purchased (which we did not know), so laying off employees would have looked bad.
I say all of this to point out that for most of my life, I have worked without a net. I never knew job security, and was constantly aware that I was only as good as my last few contracts, and the recommendations and endorsements of those I have worked for and with.
Over the last ten days, after seeing the warnings coming from business news predictions, I have seen my LinkedIn and Facebook feeds explode with messages from friends, former colleagues, former students, and so many others to whom I am connected by fewer than three degrees of separation that they have been laid off. The largest number of these, based on my more than fifteen-year close connection to the company, are from Microsoft (and Microsoft subsidiaries, especially but not only Microsoft Canada). However, I have read these posts from friends and associates at Alphabet (Google), Amazon, SalesForce, Spotify, and Goldman Sachs. According to a Time Magazine article, these six companies account for about 52,000 layoffs (These Companies Have Announced the Biggest Layoffs in 2023 | Time). I cannot help but think that January of 2023 will long be remembered as one of the hardest in the history of the IT industry. (Note that some of these layoff numbers actually date from November 2022)
I have been asked by several people about these layoffs, and I have been asked from a couple of different positions. It is interesting to see how different peoples’ biases or points of view can see the same situation.
One friend said to me ‘You must be relieved that you are not affected by these layoffs, and that you are still safe and marketable.’ To think that an IT Professional would be unaffected when suddenly there are fifty thousand fresh faces looking for work or contracts is very short-sighted. Of course I am affected by them, and of course I am not safe.
Another friend asked me if I felt vindicated that people who got jobs that I might have been rejected for in the past are now looking for work. Absolutely not! I am the best candidate that I can be, and when I go after a role, I either get it, or I do not. I can think of at least three cases where the person who got it instead of me was not better qualified in my opinion, but they got the job and I did not. Past having a drink and moving on, I bore no malice past that. In each of those cases, I would end up working with the person who beat me out, and in one of those cases I have expressed multiple times over the years (we are still friends) that in retrospect, they were better suited for the role than I was. Whatever happens, the competition ends when someone is hired, and there is never any grudge or spite. I am never happy to hear that someone lost their job.
I have been used to eating what I kill but I know a lot of friends who are not, and when I see them post that they have been laid off I worry that they will be wondering not only about what to do now, but how they will put food on the table? What happens if they don’t… or cannot… or nobody else… or whatever internal dialogue they are having that is eating at them because the corporation that has employed them for years – in many cases for decades – from which they were certain they were going to retire from no longer has room for them. It has to be a terrible feeling of fear, doubt, and of loneliness. I feel sorrow and sympathy for every one of them who is now looking for work… and is competing for the same job as everyone else on their team who was laid off. This fear is compounded by the fact that each one of these new job seekers is looking for one of 52,000 fewer available jobs.
I have said many times over the past twenty years that job security is an anachronism. Gone are the days of employers showing loyalty to employees, or vice versa. Which came first? I do not know. I do know that it is sad, but it is the reality of our modern world. As a child growing up in the 1970s-80s I do not remember any of my friends’ fathers losing their jobs or changing companies. It might be that we the children did not discuss these things, or that the parents did not discuss these things with their kids, but in my circle (coming from a reasonably privileged background) I would bet it hardly ever happened. Things have changed, and I am sure that every high school student knows somebody whose father has been laid off at some point in their career. Wishing things were otherwise is pointless, and refusing to accept and face the harsh realities of life is dangerous. This is the world we live in, and anyone not willing to adapt to it will be left behind.
I feel horrible for every one of the nearly 52,000 who were laid off, and I truly hope you all land on your feet. The eat-what-you-kill life is not for everyone, and I admit that were things a little different then I would be much happier gainfully and consistently employed. Yes, I can take off and go on vacation whenever I am between contracts… if I have saved the money, and know that I am not coming back to another famine cycle in the feast-or-famine circle that has been much of my life. Do not envy me, and know that I have always envied you. Now that you are down, I pray for you to recover so that I can resume my envy of your stable careers.
Good luck to all of you.