Hacker Career Advice

Layoffs Are Inevitable, but Survivable

One of my friends got laid off last Thursday. New CEO came in and axed her whole group. The next day, I met an engineer whose startup ran out of runway and couldn’t afford to keep him on staff.

And as I’m sure you’ve heard, Uber laid off about 400 (that’s a third!) of its marketing team too.

Is this all coincidence, an industry trend, a recession, or just…life?

After going through it myself, I believe that layoffs are inevitable and you should assume that you’ll be unemployed (or _under_employed) at some point in your career.

When you get laid off, family & friends will immediately serve you lines like these:

And while all of that is true, hearing it won’t make you feel any better. At worst, it’s patronizing and unhelpful.

Here’s an actionable, zero bullshit reality check for you:

You didn’t get fired

Layoffs are a business issue, not a you issue. When people ask you why you left your last job, tell them the truth.

You shouldn’t be embarrassed, ashamed, or anxious about how others will react. It’s not a reflection of your abilities or value.

You are entitled to unlimited crying time

Even in NYC, where everything has a price, crying is free. It provides momentary relief, and sometimes that’s exactly what you need.

But. Your family and friends are not required to endure this forever. Empathy does not spring eternal. And nobody wants to hire a sad sack.

Cry as much as you need to, but no more.

Who you were is not who you have to be

Tired of being a QA tester? Sick of front-end? Do you dread writing another line of PHP? Go out for something different.

Layoffs are a free pass to explore new career paths. If my dad could go from railway engineer to economist, you can switch from Data Engineer to DevOps.

Yes, it’s hard to switch careers without a stable income to rely on, but you don’t have to put all your eggs into one basket.

Search for jobs in current your field, while simultaneously positioning yourself for success in another.

You have to upgrade

Even if you worked in a “move fast and break things” situation, you probably used the same basic tools every day. In the meantime, the wide world of tech has moved on without you.

So while you could be aces with Node and Angular, hiring managers are going to ask you about React, Rust, Python, and whatever the flavor of the month is.

Be proactive and learn some new skills, even if you want to stay in the same role or industry.

You only need one offer

Unless you can afford to be jobless for a while, waiting for the “perfect opportunity” is delusional. Once you get a good offer, take it.

Don’t hold out for a bidding war. You don’t need a FAANG job, you need a job, one that pays the bills and has decent benefits.

Feast, Famine, or Freelance

Throughout 2017, I struggled to find a full-time job, but I supported myself by freelancing.

I continued to write Devpost’s weekly newsletter. I did some work for Major League Hacking. And I built a neat Alexa skill for SpokenLayer, who eventually brought me on full-time.

Employers often need flexible talent for specific tasks or projects, without the rigamarole of the full hiring process.

Freelancing is a great way to make rent and expand your network, while you look for a long-term gig.

Layoffs are like tornadoes

It doesen’t matter who you are, where you worked, or how good you were. Layoffs come in fast, with little warning, and they hit hard.

When you open your eyes, shake off the rubble, and walk outside, the first thing you’ll see is the damage. And it’ll be heartbreaking.

But, in all that mess and disaster, there’s an opportunity to rebuild and most importantly, move on.

Your layoff could last a week, a month, or more than a year. But once it’s over, once you’re back on your feet, you’ll be surprised by how little you think about it.