In retrospect, it seems like it had to happen sometime. The shining, glorious, high-flying tech sector has come hurtling down to Earth.
Not that it’s been so horrible—we’re talking more of an emergency landing than oxygen masks and brace positions. But ambitions have been checked as rising interest rates brought an end to years of easy cash, a point driven home in recent earnings calls and unprecedented mass layoffs from companies that used to do everything short of sending gold-plated helicopters to snatch up graduating computer science degree-holders from the nation’s top universities.
Personally, I find it hard to feel bad. It sucks to lose a job—but if someone has to, it may as well be someone who’s been pulling in upwards of $200,000 for a few years, not to mention the obscene perks. (Notably, a friend of mine at Twitter tells me he was actually bummed to have been passed over by the Elon-o-tron’s layoffs, and the consolation of a nice severance package, a sentiment shared by 80% of Twitter’s pre-layoff workforce, according to a survey on polling app Blind.)
And beyond mere schadenfreude at the thought of a wilting Zucker-borg, I also find myself with a strange lifting feeling, a counterintuitive optimism, about the whole tech deflation. As far as I can tell, a lot of these companies haven’t done anything so magnificently good for the world in a long time. Sure, people get a lot of enjoyment from social media, but it also has the unfortunate tendency of breaking our brains, and our democratic institutions (not to mention the whole genocide thing in Myanmar). Next-day delivery is great, as long as you don’t think about the class of poorly paid, algorithmically managed workers who have to forgo bathroom breaks to make it possible.
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And none of this is likely to change. These companies’ success was centered around a few decades-old innovations—personal computing, internet connections, ubiquitous smartphones—which yielded unprecedented money-making opportunities (showing people ads on their phones is good business! And it also turns out that most of us like getting things delivered more than going shopping). But when these companies tried to use their piles of cash and engineering talent to take on harder problems, like autonomous vehicles, they were blinded by their own optimism, and came up staggeringly short. And a lot of their other plans seemed to entail simply expanding the core logic of their original product to some horrifying, dystopian degree. (Do you like scrolling on Facebook? Well then you’ll love living inside of it.)
The point I’m coming around to is that I don’t think it’s any great tragedy for these companies to finally lose out on some of their massive share of society’s investment capital and technical talent. And it also couldn’t come at a better time for the rest of us. In the Inflation Reduction Act, Congress has passed a truly mammoth stimulus for the clean energy economy. Suddenly it’s an amazing time to be in batteries or solar panels, which is also a good thing for anyone who gives a darn about phasing out fossil fuels and averting climate catastrophe. Scaling up that innovation isn’t going to solve the climate crisis by itself, but it certainly helps.
Transferring capital to those sectors is simple. And a lot of those laid off workers may be able to move over as well—cleantech companies need coders and product managers, after all. Not to mention that a lot of you tech workers are very smart and surely capable of filling the gaps in your skills. So here’s my entreaty to you, oh cast-out Meta engineer:
The world really, really needs to solve this climate change thing, or else very bad stuff is going to happen. You may be able to help. In fact, with your experience, abilities, and education, you’re almost certainly in a position to do more than most. There’s also going to be loads of money for people who help figure it out. Actually, a lot of people would kill to be where you are right now.
No pressure, though. I know there’s also going to be a big payout for whoever invents MySpace 2 or whatever. I’m sure that would be cool. But maybe helping avert climate disaster could also be fun. “Renewable energy”—doesn’t that have a nice ring to it? Already lifting a bit of that layoff gloom, right? Just my two cents here. Maybe just think about it. Take your time. But not too much time. We don’t exactly have a ton of that.
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Write to Alejandro de la Garza at firstname.lastname@example.org