Layoffs and the Senior Developer job market

“layoffs and senior developers” in white, turquoise, yellow and light blue letters on a black-grey background, evoking the idea of an IDE.

The last days have been tough in terms of news coming out of the tech world.

The companies with layoffs

A couple of weeks ago Salesforce announced a larger layoff. Whenever I have contacts in a company announcing this hits closer to me. As was the case with Salesforce.

Over the the second half of 2022 we had already seen layoffs repeated over and over again. The most notorious stories on how they were handled came out of Twitter, as seen in the news.

And then in these last days it just accumulated (I’m writing this on January 21, 2023). My own timeline was flooded first with another round over at Wayfair. Then Aiven and Clue popped up in the news. This was followed by Microsoft and ultimately, Google.

This stopped me short in my tracks. I have contacts and ex-reports at Wayfair and Aiven and was immediately worried for them. Google — that’s the company I worked for. I feel this, hard.

What layoffs mean for the job market

As an IC you might primarily discuss what the layoffs mean for job security and your trust in companies as a whole. Questions I hear from my community are “can I trust the next company I’m working for?” or “should I build up a side business just to be sure?”.

Now, this is tech. Salaries are high to begin with and most will find another home in a short time. I know Twitter engineers who already have their next gig lined up. The (senior) kids will be alright.

As managers, we unavoidably think about the larger forces in the tech job market. And as evidenced time and again, tech bubbles that burst have an impact — but less of an impact in comparison to industries with precarious jobs.

The fallacy of market forces assumptions

Many colleagues now go all in in their hiring, when they are hiring. “These days it’s easier to hire a Senior Developer!” 😊 Naw, my friend, I disagree.

Senior+ Developers have always had options, and plenty. The demand for their expertise has, with the exception of two Corona-affected years, risen for the last decade. “Every company is a tech company now”. True true.

So, in fact, I predict that hiring Senior Devs will remain challenging or even get harder. Why?

Good signs for people that build/hold the business

In mass layoffs in the current climate companies hold on to two kinds of staff that they see helping the business go through hard times:

  • Senior+ Developers
  • experienced salespeople

Of course, nobody is safe from layoffs. As Gergely Orosz brainstormed, sometimes the selection of candidates for layoffs has neither rhyme nor reason.

Nevertheless, if there is a system, managers would opt to keep the staff that can easily upskill themselves and to a degree run without their support. That means they think about staff that knows the business and its demand (yes, as a software engineer you need to know your business!).

Sales has become even more essential. If you don’t have means to sell and generate cash flow favor will not be on your side. Loans are getting expensive and venture money is drying out.

What Senior Developers look for

That effectively means that Senior Developers will still be able to jump ship easily. But they will jump ship for three things or a combination of both:

  • a better environment/culture, i. e. learning and development opportunities
  • a better title/more responsibility
  • more money

Most folks I talk to only go with the third option if the salary is substantially higher. Developers are people with a high level of emotional intelligence; this is not surprising.

So, as a company, you have your choices ahead of you. Option 2 will inevitably lead to a title inflation, if it is taken too much. Option 3 is a valid choice and looking at German salaries, we have at least some movement upwards. Perfectly fine.

Investment into what matters most

If I were you, however, I would invest into option 1 regardless of any other factors. Trust your people, invest into their progress, cultivate a culture of belonging, hire from underrepresented groups and foster their growth.

And most importantly: see them as humans, not as human capital. A working relationship is not a personal relationship and can be severed at any given time. For the time you spend together, though, set and live good values.

You know, with that you might just weather any dire phase. Because you have built your business on the factors that uphold it — the people who work on it.

If you are a developer looking for signs of a good culture, I suggest you put the business through its paces. Here is a collection of questions you should ask the hiring manager.

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Franziska Hauck is a people strategist and leadership coach with a focus on tech. tech (people) {code} is her hub for all things human in tech.

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Franziska Hauck - tech (people) {code}

Franziska Hauck is a people strategist and leadership coach with a focus on tech. tech (people) {code} is her hub for all things human in tech.