Ctrl + Alt + Delete: Tech Layoffs in the Wake of the Pandemic

There has been a surge in tech layoffs over the past few years. How has this trend affected Stuyvesant students' ambitions in pursuing careers in computer science?

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Over the past few decades, the field of computer science has earned a reputation for offering high salaries and job stability to those passionate enough to enter it. The subject is one of the most popular majors for Stuyvesant students matriculating into college, as many begin taking computer science electives and joining coding clubs while at Stuyvesant. However, in recent years, the tech industry has seen a sharp increase in layoffs. For example, Microsoft laid off 10,000 employees in 2023, and Meta laid off over 11,000 employees in November of 2022 alone. This trend has raised many concerns about the future of computer science careers for all.

Many Stuyvesant students are initially drawn to computer science because they want to hone their analytical thinking skills. “I took the Intro [to Computer Science] class last year, and it was a lot of fun. To me, it’s kind of like a puzzle that you have to solve, like you have all the parts, and you just gotta put it all together,” junior Jowita Walkup said. 

Others were fascinated by the way in which computer science bridges special interests and strong careers. “Throughout high school, [computer science] has been the tool I’ve used to create things that I loved. Creating clones of childhood games like Pokemon and Bloons wouldn’t be possible in any other major. And in the future, I would like to continue creating these cool things, whether for a job or even in my free time,” senior Donald Bi stated in an e-mail interview.

The creative benefits that come with computer science encourage students to pursue it, regardless of the risks recent technology company layoffs pose. “Well, it is concerning, but I think there will always be more [job] opportunities. Even if you do get laid off [...] there’s always new people getting hired,” junior Clemens Li said. Moreover, the field of computer science is expanding, with a significant number of new positions expected to open in the next few years. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the percentage of Americans employed in computer and information technology is expected to increase by 15 percent between 2021 and 2031.  “I feel like since [the field is] so rapidly developing, there’s always new technology being created and new [...] programs being built. [Layoffs] won't be that much of a concern, at least for me,” Li explained.

Walkup expressed that while she still hopes to pursue a career in computer science, she is concerned about the difficulty of finding future work. “[The layoffs] haven’t really changed my plans because I still really enjoy [computer science], and I’d still like to work in it,” Walkup shared. “But, it definitely is kind of scary because how am I going to find a job if this is what I want to do?” 

Recent layoffs have affected both students’ dreams and workers’ lives, and it is important to understand the build-up to these events. During the pandemic, tech companies hired more workers to keep up with an increased demand for technology as a result of remote working and learning. Collectively, big tech companies, such as Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Meta, have hired over 875,000 people since 2019. However, following the pandemic, increasing interest rates combined with decreasing demand for tech companies’ products and services led to mass layoffs. Students have suggested that many of these layoffs have been made based on the company’s economic circumstances, not the devaluation of workers. “Given the state of our economy following COVID, it might have been the best economic decision for some companies, so it’s possible it’s not necessarily the employee’s fault,” Rahman shared. 

Additionally, some believe that recent layoffs are merely a short-term effect of the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic recession. “From what I learned in AP Macroeconomics, there was a period of deflation that COVID-19 just started, causing production costs and even wages to be lower, which meant that companies were overhiring during that time,” Bi explained. As the economy slowly recovered and wages rose again, it became more costly for companies to retain large numbers of employees. As workers naturally cycle in and out of the computer science field, layoffs are less likely to occur.

It is also important to note that these layoffs haven’t affected every sector of the computer science industry. They have been concentrated in big tech companies, which laid off over 150,000 employees combined in the second half of 2022 and the beginning of 2023. This statistic provides some solace for those interested in entering the field. “The recent tech layoffs haven't really affected my plans for the future, as I’m still trying to pursue [computer science]. Many of the layoffs occurred in large MAANG [Meta, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google] companies, which make up only a fraction of the whole tech field. Many companies, like Goldman Sachs and other big banks, or just smaller tech companies in general, are still viable places to have a [computer science] career in,” Bi noted. 

The threat of layoffs in the technology industry may prove transient, but the influence of artificial intelligence on students’ future careers remains unpredictable. In 2022, 35 percent of businesses were using AI to some extent, with 61 percent of employees claiming that AI had improved workplace efficiency. While this productivity may be economical, it also brings the fear of unemployment as a result of AI integration. CEO of IBM Arvind Krishna estimates that 7,800 jobs will be replaced by AI over the next few years. Still, many Stuyvesant students support the development and future improvement of AI. Stuyvesant’s Academic Integrity Policy bans the use of artificial intelligence for schoolwork, but many students have found AI helpful for learning new programming languages and improving their coding. “[The use of AI is] definitely an unfair advantage in terms of school [...] but in the real world it would be a lot more useful,” Li said. 

Bi agrees with this assessment of AI’s benefits. “Whenever I have a question about syntax I don't understand or just want to start learning Node and React, I’m able to go to ChatGPT and make it explain the concepts I need,” Bi said. AI softwares such as ChatGPT are able to analyze and process large amounts of information at top speed and reiterate the knowledge concisely. They can be invaluable aids in students’ computer science ventures.

Additionally, though new AI technologies such as OpenAI Codex have the ability to draw from existing databases to write code themselves, many students believe they don’t have the power to threaten human coders. “AI is terrible at solving complex problems, whether that’s [computer science] or something else. I think people are deceived into thinking that AI will replace human programmers when they see ChatGPT implement some well-known algorithm. The reality is that AI can implement something seemingly complex [...] because there are millions of appearances of it on the internet. Give it a less common problem [...] and see it miserably fail,” junior Naowal Rahman said in an e-mail interview. While AI may technically be able to write a few lines of code, it lacks creativity and innovation. These uniquely human skills are vital for developing truly original code.

It is also important to acknowledge the variety of jobs available to those with a degree in computer science. Rahman pointed out that even if students don’t get a job offer in software or app development,careers that often first spring to mind when thinking of the field, a computer science degree can still be very rewarding. “Research-oriented jobs are more appealing to me now. Stuff like machine learning, robotics, and quantum computing are pretty appealing, whether in academia or in industry,” Rahman stated. Many of these careers develop similar skills in software and app development, such as problem-solving, attention to detail, and an extensive knowledge of programming.

 Despite the proliferation of layoffs in the technology industry, many Stuyvesant students have not strayed from their dreams of pursuing computer science. They still feel empowered to embrace these passions, enrolling in computer science-related courses at school and learning about real-world technology on their own time. The budding computer science field has already undergone many changes caused by everything from AI integration to the impacts of the pandemic, but soon it will face its greatest transformer yet: the passion and hard work of Stuyvesant graduates.