With tech layoffs mounting by the week — including as many as 10,000 at Amazon, according to one media report — Seattle area workers and employers face a loaded economic question.
Do the cuts represent a temporary adjustment to a post-pandemic slowdown? Or has an industry that almost single-handedly fueled the Seattle area’s economic boom over the last decade finally peaked?
In either case, the layoffs have punctured the Seattle-area tech sector’s image as unstoppable.
“I think it definitely has an effect on the psyche,” said one Seattle Amazon worker, referring to a report Monday by The New York Times that the company is considering 10,000 or so layoffs. The worker, who asked not to be identified because they weren’t authorized to comment, added that staff was still waiting to hear whether the reported layoffs were underground and which teams would be affected.
Amazon hasn’t commented on The Times’ report, or a similar report Friday by The Wall Street Journal. But the cuts, if confirmed, would be only the latest in a series of layoffs and hiring freezes in the Seattle-area tech sector.
Microsoft, Twitter and Redfin all recently have made cuts or intend to make cuts in their Seattle-area workforces. Plans by Facebook parent company Meta to slash 726 positions in Seattle and Bellevue were confirmed Monday by the state Employment Security Department.
Economists say the recent layoffs were likely inevitable.
After enjoying stunning growth in demand during the pandemic, many of tech’s biggest players are now grappling with a return to more normal demand coupled with the impact of higher interest rates and the looming threat of recession.
“It’s not necessarily surprising that some of that demand has diminished and wasn’t necessarily sustainable in the long run,” said Anneliese Vance-Sherman, an Employment Security Department regional economist who covers the Seattle-area job market. “And here we are.”
Some tech companies have blamed the cooling housing market for cuts. Seattle-based Redfin, a brokerage and listing site, announced this month it would lay off 862 employees nationwide, including 75 in Washington, and shut down its house-flipping business. That followed an earlier cut of 470 jobs nationwide in June. Redfin employed roughly 6,500 workers late last year.
Economists and other market experts caution that it’s too early to know whether recent layoffs portend a broader slowdown in the tech industry, which as recently as September was adding thousands of jobs a month, state data shows. And many of the recently announced layoffs won’t show up in state employment data for several months.
More broadly, despite the size of some recent layoffs, all job cuts announced so far represent only a tiny fraction of the region’s tech workforce. State data shows more than 160,000 workers at Seattle-area firms, and more than 190,000 statewide, at companies focused on information technology.
Amazon alone had around 75,000 workers in the Seattle area as of 2021, up from 53,500 in 2019, said Jacob Vigdor, an economist with the University of Washington Evans School of Public Policy, who follows state and local job markets.
“The most amazing thing about the Amazon layoff [report] is how small that number looks in relation to what has become the company’s gargantuan size, and its rapid growth,” said Vigdor. Even if all 10,000 of Amazon’s reported layoffs were confined to Washington state, Vigdor said, “it would only be taking their local employment head count back about a year or so.”
A hiring slowdown by Big Tech could even be good news for some smaller tech firms that have struggled to compete for tech talent in a labor market that remains extremely tight.
“Having a large talent pool is always an opportunity for us,” said Corby Casler, spokesman for Redmond-based business technology firm Denali Advanced Integration, which plans to add 25% more staff in each of the next five years and hired more than 200 last year. “We are growing, hiring and believe layoffs are a mistake.”
That opportunistic attitude is echoed by many non-tech employers that also need tech talent to manage the growing digital parts of their operations.
“If these tech companies pull back, I would love to hire some of their workers,” said Brent Beardall, CEO at Seattle-based WaFd Bank, who sees a similar appetite for tech talent at local firms that aren’t part of the traditional tech space.
The current layoffs have grabbed a lot of attention because they’re at “companies that you traditionally associate as a bellwether of the tech industry — but the tech industry has expanded far beyond those tech giants,” said Megan Slabinski, who overseas regional hiring for technology, marketing and creative roles with the Seattle office of recruiter Robert Half.
As painful as layoffs can be for individuals, Slabinski added, “letting some talent back in the market isn’t a horrible thing because the demand is still so high.”
That’s already showing up for some tech workers.
Laid-off employees at Twitter and Meta, for example, have created groups online to connect with recruiters and get leads on job openings. So far, the opportunities are coming from small to midsize companies instead of Big Tech, according to a laid-off Twitter employee, who requested anonymity because they’re seeking jobs at tech companies.
“The companies you would expect to call back like Apple or Microsoft seem to be holding back,” they said, “but companies like Remitly or Shopify are actively hiring.”
Still, Slabinksi and other industry watchers acknowledge that the Seattle-area job market isn’t what it was even a year ago.
While there are still many openings for engineering, security, networking and cloud computing jobs, employers may not feel the need to make the kind of “ludicrous” compensation offers they did in previous years, Slabinksi said.
Employers may also feel less pressure to allow so much remote work, says Josh Wong, a recruiter manager at Addison Group, a professional services firm with offices in Seattle.
Some recruiters also think hiring could slow or stop entirely at local tech startups, in part as their investors pull back.
For tech workers themselves, it all adds up to a lot of uncertainty
“I think it definitely has an effect on the psyche,” said the Amazon worker, who added that staff was still waiting to hear whether the reported layoffs were underground and which teams would be affected.
While total layoff numbers remain small relative to the broader sector, they’ve already been enough to blunt the sense of unstoppable momentum many Seattle tech workers took as a given even a year ago.
At Twitter, where entire teams were wiped out with the layoffs, those who remained are looking to leave, the former Twitter employee said.
But at other firms, the Amazon news fed a growing sense of caution among workers who in some cases had known only steady growth and endless opportunity.
At Google, an employee in the company’s Seattle cloud operation said colleagues who used to routinely scan openings at other companies now seemed more focused on keeping their current role.
“I’ve heard some people go, ‘OK, you know, I’m going to try harder with my current job,'” the employee said.
Seattle Times reporter Heidi Groover contributed to this report.