Recent graduates are sending out hundreds of applications in an unfamiliar, shrinking market

Briana Morris knew the job hunt would be tough this year. A college senior in Tampa, Florida, majoring in computer science, he started sending out job applications just as massive layoffs began to hit the tech industry.

His total appeals: 500. He tracked them on a spreadsheet.

“The competition is fierce,” Morris, 23, said. “I really want to get into cybersecurity, and they don’t have a lot of entry-level positions.”

It’s a new reality for college students and recent graduates hoping to break into the tech industry, watching tech giants and startups go on a frenzy over the past few years. Now, though, they’re turning to tech jobs at perhaps 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 technology, information and media is at its lowest level since July 2020, a “painful recalibration of a sector that has seen huge hiring gains throughout the pandemic,” according to a report from LinkedIn released Thursday.

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

Nearly 91,000 people have lost their jobs in the tech industry this year, according to NBC News’ report on layoffs at companies that cut 100 or more jobs.

In interviews, some tech workers said they’ve changed their plans at least a little given the industry’s turmoil, entering adjacent fields or looking for areas of minimal risk. And they are preparing for a potentially exhaustive job search.

This is not the job market some people expect when they start studying computer science.

“It’s really rough right now,” said Owen, 22, who asked that his last name not be used so as not to jeopardize his job prospects.

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

“In hindsight, it made sense,” he said of the wave of layoffs. “But as a hopeful new graduate, you don’t realize it until it’s already happening.”

But he and others said they are not so pessimistic just yet. While big bets on ideas like cryptocurrency have disappointed tech investors, other innovations in robotics or artificial intelligence have piqued the interest of budding computer scientists.

“There’s always a new fad and it always dies at the same time,” Owen said.

Morris, who graduated from Western Governors University this month, said he went to the third round of interviews with the cryptocurrency exchange but declined an invitation to continue the interview process, fearing turmoil in the sector, including the collapse of the FTX exchange. The firm he interviewed with later announced his layoffs.

Cryptocurrency businesses have been particularly hard hit. According to LinkedIn, the number of cryptocurrency jobs posted in November was 36% less than in October, and 54% less than in November 2021.

“I was so happy I didn’t watch it,” he said. Instead, a major financial institution offered him a cybersecurity job—his first offer—and he jumped at it. Cybersecurity, he said, is “pretty stable.” Cybersecurity firms have also been out of business, but the sector is still growing rapidly, CNBC reported in June.

Tech jobs have gained wide appeal in recent years, not just because of high salaries and stories of some workers striking it rich, but also because of the industry’s relatively relaxed culture and generous perks, such as frequent on-site yoga classes and laundry service. and free meals.

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

Kalim said he considered moving to New York or Seattle after graduation and working for big American tech companies, which often help non-U.S. citizens get visas, but he said that may be less likely now.

“My best chance of finding a job in the U.S. is gone,” he said, because of the recent layoffs. “In the future, if I want to go to the United States, it depends on the recovery of these companies.”

With uncertainty surrounding an immediate technological recovery, he said he has taken a position in finance as a trader, even though the financial culture is a stark contrast.

The fact that there are more young software engineers than ever before doesn’t help their chances.

During the recent technology boom, interest in computer science has increased in colleges and universities. The number of U.S. students majoring in the discipline rose 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 industrial technologists.

Overall, engineering has become the fourth most popular field of study at U.S. colleges and universities over the past decade, surpassing biology and biomedical sciences and psychology, according to the number of degrees awarded by the Department of Education.

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

Lam, who is scheduled to graduate in December 2023, said he initially thought layoffs in tech would hurt juniors the most. Like others entering the tech workforce, he said he scours sites like Reddit, Blind and LinkedIn for intelligence, and his current impression is that the layoffs fall more heavily on mid-career engineers who demand higher salaries.

He said he doesn’t have a specific area of ​​technology he’d like to work in, though there are a few sectors he says he’s leaning toward, including cryptocurrency. And he has some time until he graduates.

“There’s a lot of doom and gloom in the industry with all the layoffs going on, but I don’t think a lot of people should worry about that,” he said.

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