Job Search: Looking for a Plan B – News

Computer science students face anxiety in a shrinking big-tech job market and are desperate for alternatives



By Natasha Singer and Kalley Huang

Released: Wed Dec 14, 2022 10:46 PM

As a 10th grader in Seattle, Annalice Ni wanted to develop software for a well-known technology company like Google. So she went to great lengths to meet the internship and other resume criteria that make students attractive jobs for the biggest tech companies.

In high school, Ni took computer science classes, did an internship at Microsoft, and volunteered to teach programming to younger students. She studied computer science at the University of Washington and received coveted software development internships at Facebook. After graduating from college earlier this year, she relocated to Silicon Valley to start her dream job as a software engineer at Meta, Facebook’s parent company.

Then, last month, Meta laid off more than 11,000 employees, including Ni.

“I was very frustrated and disappointed and maybe a little scared because all of a sudden I didn’t know what to do anymore,” 22-year-old Ni said of her unexpected setback in her career. “There’s not much I could have done, especially in college, more than I’ve already done, better than I’ve already done.”

Over the past decade, the prospect of six-figure starting salaries, perks like free food, and the opportunity to work on apps used by billions has drawn young people on college campuses toward computer science — the study of computer programming and processes like algorithms – have stormed across the United States. According to the Computing Research Association, which tracks computer science degrees at about 200 universities, the number of students studying the subject more than tripled to nearly 136,000 from 2011 to 2021.

Tech giants like Facebook, Google, and Microsoft fueled the computer education boom by offering software jobs for students as a route to lucrative careers and the power to change the world.

But now layoffs, hiring freezes, and planned recruitment slowdowns at Meta, Twitter, Alphabet, Amazon, DoorDash, Lyft, Snap, and Stripe are sending shockwaves through a generation of computer and data science students who have spent years studying for the biggest careers improve tech companies. Tech executives have blamed a faltering global economy for slowing employment.

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In addition to prompting recent graduates to find new jobs, the cuts have created uncertainty for college students seeking high-paying summer internships at big consumer tech companies.

In the past, technology companies used their internship programs to recruit promising job candidates and offered many students the opportunity to return as full-time employees after graduation. But this year, those opportunities are shrinking.

Amazon, for example, hired about 18,000 interns this year and paid some computer science students nearly $30,000 for the summer, not counting housing benefits. The company is now considering reducing the number of interns by more than half for 2023, said a person with knowledge of the program who was not authorized to speak publicly.

Brad Glasser, a spokesman for Amazon, said the company is committed to its internship program and the real-world experiences that come with it. A meta spokesperson pointed to a letter to employees from Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s chief executive officer, announcing the company’s layoffs last month.



Hiring plans are also changing at smaller tech companies. Roblox, the popular gaming platform, plans to hire 300 interns for next summer — almost doubling this year’s numbers — and anticipates receiving more than 50,000 applications for those positions. Redfin, which employed 38 interns this summer, said it canceled the program for next year.

There are still good jobs for computer science students, and the field is growing. Between 2021 and 2031, employment for software developers and testers is expected to grow 25 percent, creating more than 411,000 new jobs, according to forecasts by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But many of these jobs can be found in fields like finance and the automotive industry. “Students still get multiple job offers,” said Brent Winkelman, chief of staff for the computer science department at the University of Texas at Austin. “They just might not be from Meta, or from Twitter, or from Amazon. They will come from places like GM, Toyota or Lockheed.”

College career centers have become sounding boards for anxious students poised to enter the tech job market. Career advice centers are increasingly looking for a plan B.

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Some students apply to lesser-known technology companies. Others seek tech jobs outside of the industry, at retailers like Walmart, or at government agencies and nonprofits. A high school diploma is also an option. “This particular class was a lot smarter than previous classes,” said Hazel Raja, senior director of the career development office at Pomona College in Claremont, California. “Even those who have secured job offers still make sure they network and engage in on-campus recruiting opportunities.”

Helen Dong, 21, a senior major in Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University, completed two internships at Meta in 2021 and 2022. She was therefore surprised at the end of this summer, she said, when she did not receive a job offer from the company. Meta’s recent layoffs prompted her to apply for non-tech jobs at automotive and financial companies. Last month, she posted videos on TikTok advising her colleagues to adjust their job expectations. “I majored in computer science so I could get a lot of offers and do some banking after college,” Dong joked in a TikTok as she sang along to “Reduce Your Expectations to 0.” In this job board, she wrote at the end of the video: “Be thankful with 1 offer.”

In interviews, 10 college students and alumni said they were unprepared for a job decline at the biggest tech companies. Until recently, these companies competed fiercely to hire computer science majors at top schools — with some students receiving multiple job offers with six-figure starting salaries and five-figure signing bonuses. An entire genre of TikTok videos had sprung up dedicated to young techs touting their job perks and annual compensation, with at least one highlighting a $198,000 package, complete with stock options and relocation expenses.

Dozens of people who have recently been fired or had their tech job postings canceled have posted details of their plight on LinkedIn. To make recruiters aware of this, some have added the hashtag #opentowork to their LinkedIn profile photos.

One of them is Tony Shi, 23, who studied computer science and economics at Western University in London, Ontario. After graduating earlier this year, he began working as a product manager at Lyft in August. In November, the transportation company laid off about 650 employees, including Shi.

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Now he has a tight deadline to find a new job. Shi is Canadian from Waterloo, Ontario and was granted a visa to move to San Francisco for his job at Lyft. With the visa, he has 60 days to find a new job. He said he has become more sensitive to the businesses and balance sheets of potential employers. “I have to be a bit more risk averse. There’s no way I want to be fired again,” he said. Rather than take a company at its word, he added, “Now the product needs to make a lot of sense.”

Some young graduates didn’t get a chance to start their new tech jobs.

Rachel Castellino, a statistics student at California Polytechnic State University, worked to get a job at a big technology company. During college, she did an internship as a project manager at PayPal, received a data science grant funded by the National Science Foundation, and started a data science club at her school.

22-year-old Castellino knew she had to work hard to pass company technical interviews, which typically involve solving programming problems. Last year she spent much of the fall looking for a job and preparing for coding assessments. Four days a week, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., she studied probability concepts and programming languages. Still, she said, the interview process was brutal.

In November 2021, Meta offered her a position as a data scientist, scheduled to start in December 2022. Last month, Meta rescinded the offer, saying: “I worked so hard for these interviews. It felt really good to earn something high profile,” she said. “I had so much to look forward to.”

The setback was discouraging. “I was upset,” said Castellino. “It wasn’t good to hear.”

As for Ni, she now sees losing her dream job as an opportunity to broaden her career horizons. Over the past month, she’s applied to mid-market tech companies and startups that she finds innovative – potential employers she hadn’t previously considered.

“I’m exploring opportunities that I haven’t had before,” Ni said. “I feel like I’ve already learned a lot.”

– This article originally appeared in The New York Times

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