I’m not a fan of ‘XYZ took our jobs’ rhetoric.
The blame for jobs going to favorable exchange rates overseas, or to desperate undocumented people was always with the people at the top of any given company—driven by an impossible rush for permanently, exponentially increasing profit.
For the last decade, it’s been increasingly clear that outsourcing isn’t just for physical mechanical labor and tech support anymore—content work and tech jobs are also getting downsized in favor of workers who are easier to exploit. And now in the AI boom, robot replacements are even coming for their creators in layoffs.
Catherine Thorbecke noted via CNN:
“Chegg, an education technology company, disclosed in a regulatory filing last month that it was cutting 4% of its workforce, or about 80 employees, “to better position the Company to execute against its AI strategy and to create long-term, sustainable value for its students and investors.”
And in late April, file-storage service Dropbox said that it was cutting about 16% of its workforce, or about 500 people, also citing AI.
“Some 212,294 workers in the tech industry have been laid off in 2023 alone, according to data tracked by Layoffs.fyi, already surpassing the 164,709 recorded in 2022. “
This article published in July, right at the halfway mark of the year.
In case you were thinking ‘Well everyone’s feeling the pinch’, here’s a wake up call from the same article:
“In January, just days after Microsoft announced plans to lay off 10,000 employees as part of broader cost-cutting measures, the company also confirmed it was making a “multibillion dollar” investment into OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT. And in March, in the same letter to staff Mark Zuckerberg used to announce plans to lay off another 10,000 workers (after cutting 11,000 positions last November), the Meta CEO also outlined plans for investing heavily in AI.”
Of course some people choose to embrace the blinders being handed out. ‘It’s not about who AI will replace, but about who can use it best—you want to be the person who uses it well’! Here I thought nerds were supposed to be good at math and reasoning, but I’ve been wrong before.
If a bot can do the work of say, 5 dedicated, trained, 6 figure engineers, and all of them put in the extra time on their own to learn how to use it to the best of its ability—that still leaves 5 people with a nice letter and severance pay that won’t go as far as you might hope. Learned tech folks are in the exact same position as the creatives supposedly so far opposite them in that if/when they can be pushed aside for cheaper, faster, inhuman alternatives, they will be. It just took a little longer to have a finer point put on it.
How long does it take to pack up your career, shift gears, and roll into a completely different aspect of it, by the way?
Some important things to remember in the wake of these losses in layoffs, if you find yourself ousted:
It’s not your fault. You thought you went into an untouchable field, just like everyone who signed up for an automanufacturing gig way back when. It is possible to make the best, most logical choice for the knowledge you had at the time, and still get shafted by someone who wants your salary to buy each of their racehorses its own yacht.
Join a union. Yes, really. Every profession has one, and in light of sky-high cost of living everywhere every profession needs one. At time of writing a small fry at McDonald’s costs over $2 with tax. That isn’t getting better any time soon. Link up with your fellow laborers and increase your bargaining power as much as possible before it’s too late.
Get political. I can’t imagine that AI, or even just generative AI is ever going to be illegalized, but that’s not what I mean anyway. Pay attention to whose donations are coming from where, and how that might sync up with your last raiseless promotion, or verbiage in your new employment contract that you’ve never seen before. Just keeping your head down and doing your best is no longer a safe option—if you don’t want to watch your livelihood be driven into irrelevance while you fight for scraps, start watching your office, your city, your state, and above.
Meanwhile if you’re on the shafting side of things… could you at least not post phony platitudes about how grieved the layoffs made you on LinkedIn? Crocodile tears are an industrial pollutant.