Recent grads send in hundreds of apps in unfamiliar, shrinking market

Briana Morris knew the job hunt would be difficult this year. A college senior and computer science major in Tampa, Florida, she started sending out job applications around the time that massive layoffs began to hit the tech industry from top to bottom. 

Her total number of applications: 500. She tracked them on a spreadsheet. 

“Competition is very fierce,” said Morris, 23. “I really want to break into the cybersecurity field, and they don’t have a lot of entry-level positions.” 

It’s a new reality for college students and recent graduates who hoped to enter the tech industry, watching as tech giants and startups went on hiring sprees over the past few years. Now, though, they’re applying for tech jobs at possibly the worst time in years, as nearly every part of the sector from streaming services to robotics has laid off people or frozen hiring. 

Hiring in tech, information and media is at its lowest level since July 2020, according to a report Thursday from LinkedIn, which cited “a painful recalibration of a sector that saw massive hiring gains throughout the pandemic.” 

That recalibration has shattered some people’s dreams about where technology is headed, as cryptocurrencies have crashed, self-driving cars have sputtered and the virtual-reality metaverse has struggled to take off. 

About 91,000 people have lost their jobs in the tech industry this year, according to an NBC News tally of layoffs at companies that cut 100 people or more. 

In interviews, some would-be tech workers said that given the industry turmoil, they’re shifting plans at least slightly by entering adjacent fields or seeking areas of minimal risk. And they’re girding themselves for a potentially exhaustive job search. 

It’s not the job market some expected when they started studying computer science. 

“The current state is really rough,” said Owen, 22, who asked that his last name not be used so as not to disrupt his job prospects. 

He graduated with a computer science degree in December 2021, a time he now sees as “the beginning of the end” for the most recent tech boom. He said he also submitted about 500 applications before starting a job this month as a software engineer at a small company in the Atlanta area. 

“It kind of made sense if you look at it with hindsight,” he said of the wave of layoffs. “But as a hopeful new grad, you don’t realize it until it’s already happening.” 

But he and others also said that they weren’t especially pessimistic yet. Even as big bets on ideas such as crypto have disappointed tech investors, other innovations in robotics or artificial intelligence have caught the interest of newly minted computer scientists. 

“There’s always some new fad, and that fad is always dying at the same time,” Owen said. 

Morris, who graduates this month from Western Governors University, said she got to the third round of interviews with a cryptocurrency exchange but turned down an invitation to continue the interviewing process, spooked by turmoil in the sector, including the collapse of the  exchange FTX. The firm she interviewed with later announced layoffs. 

Cryptocurrency jobs have been hit especially hard. The number of crypto job openings posted in November was 36% lower than in October, and 54% lower than the number in November 2021, according to LinkedIn. 

“I was super happy I didn’t follow through with it,” she said. Instead, a large financial institution offered her a cybersecurity job — her first offer — and she jumped at it. Cybersecurity, she said, “is pretty stable.” Cybersecurity firms have also had layoffs, but the sector is still growing quickly, CNBC reported in June

Tech jobs have had wide appeal in recent years not only because of high salaries and the stories of some employees striking it rich but also because of the industry’s relatively laid-back culture and often  generous perks, such as on-site yoga classes, laundry service and free meals. 

“The culture is a lot more relaxed than other industries, and the pay is as good or better than other industries,” said Rafay Kalim, 22, a senior at the University of Toronto. 

Kalim said he’s been thinking about moving to New York or Seattle after graduation and has considered working at major American tech companies, which often help non-U.S. citizens obtain visas, but he said that may be less likely now. 

“My biggest chances of getting a job in the U.S. kind of tanked,” he said, because of the recent layoffs. “In my future, if I want to go to the U.S., that depends on the recovery of these companies.” 

With an immediate tech recovery uncertain, he said he’s weighing a position in finance as a trader, even if the culture in finance is a stark contrast. 

It doesn’t help the chances of young software engineers that there are a lot more of them than there used to be. 

At colleges and universities, interest in computer science soared during the most recent tech boom. The number of U.S. students majoring in the subject jumped from 37,015 in the 2011-2012 academic year to 135,992 a decade later, according to surveys by the Computing Research Association, a group for professors and industry technologists. 

Engineering overall has become the fourth most popular area of study at U.S. colleges and universities, leapfrogging biological and biomedical sciences and psychology over the past decade, according to a Department of Education tally of degrees granted. 

“The field is incredibly saturated with all the people studying CS nowadays,” said Steven Lam, a computer engineering major at Clemson University. 

Lam, who’s scheduled to graduate in December 2023, said he originally thought the layoffs in tech would hurt junior-level people the most. Like others entering the tech workforce, he said he’s been scouring sites such as Reddit, Blind and LinkedIn for intelligence, and he said his current impression is that the layoffs are falling the hardest on mid-career engineers who demand higher salaries. 

He said he doesn’t have a specific area of tech he wants to work in, although there are a few sectors he said he’s leaning against — including cryptocurrency. And he has some time before he graduates. 

“There’s lots of doom and gloom in the industry with all the layoffs going on, but I don’t think many people need to worry about it,” he said. 

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