As if it wasn’t already clear, tens if not hundreds of thousands of tech workers have been and will be laid off in a cascade caused by the flailing husk of what used to be Twitter.
To be clear, not all of the companies doing it are in dire straits. Most of them are posting record profits. Actually, Twitter wasn’t doing badly, either, until after changes started happening, which in itself is an excellent case study in how money can stand in for essentially any virtue it needs to until someone decides their atrophied virtues should be sufficient. It’s a bit like watching someone decide to stop buying gas only to piss in the gas tank and wonder why nothing is working anymore and why their dick is caught in the safety flap and have to use what little leverage that offers to keep the car moving and pretend everything is fine.
Wow, that just raised the age rating of this blog to PG-13!
So here we are, and there are a couple reasons for it. First off, if one does it, everyone else is going to do it just because they can. Second off, unionization is a looming "threat" in the industry that has actually insulated unionized teams from being purged and the industry almost certainly wants to get ahead of it. Can’t unionize if there’s no job for a union to form under.
Make no mistake, this is not an industry flailing under adverse economic conditions; this is about short-term gains and trying to wrest back control of a market that workers have finally gained a foothold in after years of wage theft, gross underpay, crunch, and various other abuses.
So what’s the long game?
No, seriously, Twitter is gone and it’s not coming back, but everyone else is aiming to hire some subset of all of these engineers back at lower pay, fewer benefits, and zero seniority because it’s cheaper and they hope that wholesale emptying out the entire industry is going to cause worker desperation. Shady businesses do this all the time: make people reapply for their jobs every couple of years. They know full well that by gutting their own companies that people very much need to eat and will eventually accept worse terms to continue to do so. Like, what are they going to do, form their own companies? Ha! You actually need startup money to do that.
Which, to be entirely fair, would be an excellent idea given the sheer amount of key expertise that Twitter alone released into the pool of free agents.
A lot of Twitter’s senior staff are some of the best minds to ever hammer a line of code. They could move into consultancy. The question really becomes what everyone else is going to do, because there’s almost certainly a bunch of trade secrets clauses in their contracts and throwing them all out on the street at once is intended to make them desperate. If any of them were entrepreneurs themselves, they probably would have already been doing that, and now is not the time to start when an income is not forthcoming.
However, when you look at the amount of expertise that’s flooded the market in a (probably successful) attempt to force it into being a buyer’s market, the answer for a lot of these folks is that anyone would be lucky to have them. Let’s ignore social media and Facebook’s own incredibly wild flailings to make "The Metaverse" happen when they can’t even make "The Metaverse" mean anything and focus on Microsoft and Google. Microsoft is largely an operating system and whatever game studios got the treatment and whoever is dedicated to Azure and Office. Let’s even ignore the game studios, because that’s an entirely different collapse in progress. What can you do if your expertise is in making operating systems? I mean you could do Linux, but the real answer is to salvage whatever transferrable skills you can and do something that isn’t operating systems, unless you want to bring that OS expertise right to another giant like Google or Apple. If you worked on MS Office, you either take that to another megacorp or you salvage your transferrable skills for something else. That said, there are transferrable skills. They could get a job doing something else. But the megacorps are betting on them wanting to work for another megacorp to put those skills to direct use. Same for Google engineers. Google is a lot more than a search engine these days. It’s an ecosystem of products that are more or less in competition with Microsoft Office, an operating system in Android and WearOS, and whatever projects haven’t reached Google’s seemingly mandatory 2-year death date. The OS folks might find jobs at the other OS company if they want to flex that OS expertise, and the bet is that they will. Twitter’s finest would be indispensable for Azure or AWS. All of these people have the skills that the market needs. The thing preventing them from just setting up their own massive company to compete with all of them is capital. If there was money to pay them all growing on trees, you bet your buttons that someone would get the idea to take all that expertise and do something with it.
But putting an entire industry out of a job is a good way of making sure that money doesn’t materialize, or if it does, it has to come from someone good enough at pitching a sale to get investment.
The smartest thing for all these workers would be to suck it up and get a job doing something else long enough to make the titans sweat, and to be fair, a portion of these folks will leave the industry, because they know there’s not a space for them that isn’t right back under the heel of these massively rich international megacorps. Others might find cushy positions in smaller companies; some of the senior staff might start consultancies; a lot of entry-level staff were probably saved from the inevitable fate of being chewed up and spat out like these large companies do. They might end up at Subway, but at least they get to skip the burnout phase. Some of the game developers might luck out in the indie sphere, taking the expertise to form their own studios that will eventually get bought up and gutted because that’s just what happens to studios now. Ultimately, though, the large companies are going to need workers and if they were stupid enough to purge the experts in their fields, they’ll either suck it up and offer them a deal or they’ll need to try to scrape together equally good talent eventually.
Which is to say the megacorps decided they were going to create an environment where everyone had to beg for their jobs and are just waiting to collect on it, but if they don’t actually get to collect on it, well, that just gets real awkward for them, now doesn’t it? There’s really nothing worse for a bully than to take away the little kid’s dolly only for the little kid to go "OKAY BYEEEE," because then the bully is left in the awkward position of being in front of God and everyone with a dolly that they, quite awkardly, happen to own. They can destroy the doll, but even that would be unsatisfying because nobody is going to care. And if they don’t do it, or find some creative way of ditching it, well, then just anyone could grab it and be happy, couldn’t they? Power plays only work when people care and it sucks to be on the back foot.
I obviously can’t speak on behalf of all of these workers, but I can speak as someone who spent a decade at a job and finally got fed up with their terms and found a new one that I’m better off at in literally every way. I did not work at any of these large companies, but if I had, that probably would have happened much sooner. There can be catharsis in leaving a job for greener pastures and quite frankly, the general reaction from my former coworkers has been a resgined acceptance, because they needed me more than I needed them and we all knew it, but they never expected me to finally act on it.
That’s more or less the case here. All of these workers have the opportunity to take their expertise to places that will be happy to benefit from it, and might end up in a better position than they had before. It’s going to be a gnarly mess for a while, but honestly, the market is not oversaturated. There are plenty of growing firms who could absorb at least some of these workers and if they’re smart, they’re going to give them excellent terms to do so. It may not be a fun slide in the lobby, but full remote work is an excellent replacement.
Ultimately, everything is going to end up more or less fine. None of the big companies are so stupid that they’re going to fold from this (except Twitter and maaaybe Facebook if we’re lucky, fingers crossed) and everything will reach a new equilibrium. Whatever gaps are left will be filled by new graduates as they always are, because, I cannot stress this enough, there is always a line of chipper kiddies to throw into the kiddie chipper to extract every ounce of creative juice and then discard the shredded husks to retail positions. That’s just how this works. The likes of Google and Microsoft are only so great to work at if you’re brilliant enough to make a name for yourself and Google and Microsoft almost certainly held onto those folks.
But, if there was any worker solidarity at all, which there isn’t, because the corporations have long nurtured a culture where there isn’t, the megacorps would certainly be left to sweat a bit over their decisions, because there is zero way they limited these efforts to simply trimming the fat and that means that if they don’t more or less get to enjoy an immediate recovery, they’re going to be left with operational deficiencies of their own design.
And that would frankly just be delicious to watch.