After six months of searching-and-not-searching for management-level jobs in tech, I am done. I have done what society demanded of me. I have pursued what I thought needed to be pursued. I valiantly pushed on toward a goal that should have been mine but never was. I have given my time, my energy, and my youth for a white-collar world that will never stop gorging on people like me.
I am done.
Growing up in India, I did everything right. I excelled in math and science. I gave up my dreams of becoming a writer in favor of a stable, steady engineering job. I followed the path set down by men like Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google. I completed my master’s at a top University of California school in a field that promised to place me in the frontiers of change — robotics and artificial intelligence. I found a job in the self-driving industry and worked on AI that claimed to make the world a better place. And then reality struck me on the head, forcing me to look up.
In total, I worked in the AI industry for four years. The result: absolutely nothing. None of the products I worked on ever reached the people they were supposed to help. Tech leaders and evangelists enjoy preaching about helping society and serving the ones who need a leg up. But after observing their actions and not just their words, I learned that it’s all a facade. There is no scope for those who want to work on socially impactful products. The current tech universe is centered around investor happiness, futuristic demos, and making executives richer than their wildest dreams. It has no place for ideals or idealists. For a while ,I hung on with my eyes willfully shut, because it was the only way to pay the bills and hold on to my work visa. But everything changed when the effects of COVID turned the tech industry upside down.
By the time I was hit by the layoffs in Summer 2023, I had already survived multiple ordeals similar to other young workers: switching to remote work during the pandemic after only a few months of experiencing the old norm, having to support my family when businesses everywhere ground to a halt, being forced to live away from my home when wave after a deadly wave of COVID hit my country. All to hold onto a pointless job and a dehumanizing visa. I’m sorry to say that even after I got laid off, I didn’t wake up at once. After all, it’s hard to let go of the dream one’s entire life has been built on. From July to December 2023, I applied to 500-plus companies, interviewed with less than five percent of those, got led on by recruiters, went through multiple rounds of interviews with a few companies before they yanked those jobs out from under me to give them to someone who came “highly recommended.”
It’s 2024, and the layoffs have continued into the new year. Optimism dictates that I wait around and keep trying. The next role must be lurking just around the corner. In the beginning, I had taken an inside view of the whole situation. I am terribly smart, a good leader and so, so capable. I must be able to get a job soon, right?
But zooming out, a different picture greeted me. I decided to learn from AI and look at all the available data. There are hundreds and thousands of others in the same laid-off boat who are just as capable and just as in need of the very same jobs. Some in more desperate situations than mine. Whenever workforce reductions begin, the companies go for the middle management — the product, program and project managers, those whose roles are not tied to the “core” business, whatever that may be. History repeats itself and in the quest for “lean” organizations, those in charge of people, culture, and other intangible benefits, get placed squarely in the line of fire.
If these organizations stopped to look at the way history tends to play out, they will see that by cutting out the “non-essential” staff, they are spreading the work out onto the already-burdened shoulders of the “essential” ones, people who may have neither the will nor the skill to take on managerial tasks. Among the survivors, burnout is high, fear of the next layoff tangible in the air, resulting in an anxious and less motivated workforce. Organizations and leaders have lost respect and trust. A good lesson would be to look at what happened at companies in the 1980s and ’90s after mass layoffs around the appearance of new technology. Shareholder profits and short-term goals can and have pulled companies under in the past.
Currently, for many of those who got laid off software roles are the only way to rejoin the tech industry and get a visa sponsorship. But I’m tired of being told what to do and being forced to work on products that create no real impact. There is no guarantee that the next company wouldn’t throw me under a bus the first chance they get. The modern tech company has successfully shifted the risk and responsibility from the employers onto the fragile employees. Executives take zero responsibility for a worker’s well-being and are then surprised when people defer from putting their hearts and souls into their jobs. They forget that the only way to ensure a “productive” workforce is to make the workers feel happy, safe, and cared for.
Right before the layoff, I nearly ended up digging myself further into the corporate grave. I got offers from some of the best business schools in the U.S., but something always stopped me from taking them up on their offers. Once I even paid to hold a seat, but fate/destiny/an-evil-layoff prevented me from starting the course. I was lost, confused and more than a little stunned by the way things had turned out.
At that time, my friends helped me find a way out of the fog. One friend consoled me by saying that she never pictured me remaining in the corporate world anyway. She believed in my ability to create, to think differently, and to forge my own path. She helped me let go of my misconceptions and loosely held visions of the future. That conversation led to days and months of thinking, overthinking, and ruminations about the future. I found that it was easier to figure out what I didn’t want and didn’t have any further need of: the tech industry. And with the dawn of the new year, I finally found the courage to let go.
I am tired of tech, its inherent hypocrisies, and its everlasting hooplas. I am sick of being forced into doing performative actions to prove my worth. I am done being treated as a diversity candidate and having to convince powerholders that I am worthy of their time and money. I am done with being viewed as a risk and too young and too foreign. I am frustrated that even after so many decades, the rot in Corporate America remains too deep to be flushed out. I am, simply, done.
Moreover, I refuse to give up on all that I have gained in the past six months: my health, my sanity, my creativity, my freedom. I refuse to be forced into the office for the sake of presenteeism. I refuse to give in to the demands of emotionally insensitive, profit-minded, short-sighted leadership teams. I refuse to look the other way when the underlying problems with a company and its culture refuse to be addressed. I refuse to be treated as a second-class citizen and eyed as a potential “mom.” I refuse to assimilate and conform and become “an organization man.” Because try as I might, I know they will never truly accept me or treat me well.
I have thought long and hard about what I want to do next. What my future should look like. What my ideal job could be. How would I like to spend the rest of my time on this precious but burning planet?
The answer is simple and the one right in front of all of us: to do things that make one happy. Of course, the jump to self-employment and being my own boss is going to be hard, but ultimately better for my mental and physical health. I found that I enjoyed doing freelance and consulting work that is self-sustaining. I like having the time to volunteer and being an active member of the community. It feels wonderful to benefit others in a way that is visible and tangible. After escaping the confines of the archaic 40-hour work week I have no intentions of willingly putting back on the shackles of white-collar employment. It’s true: once you see the rot, it’s really hard to unsee.
I know that not everyone can walk away from their jobs. I admit that I may be one of the lucky few who can. Working in tech provided me with one huge lasting benefit — a kind of financial freedom I had never known before. My years in tech helped me build a modest nest egg that now gives me the dignity and confidence to dream of a better life without seeing myself as a burden to my partner. I will always be grateful for that.
Besides, I’ve also learned that it’s okay to plateau. It’s okay to slowly build a stable and steady life. It’s okay to not want what others want. It’s okay to make your own mistakes and choices and not give into the pull of the system. It’s okay to not pursue constant growth. It’s okay to stop living in fear of being left behind.
I feel eager to get started on the next phase of my life. Of course, this is just one of a multitude of choices I could be making. But I choose to take the path that feels right. The one that beckons and comforts. The one that aids my family, friends, and my community. The one that gives and does not take. The one that lets me pause and breathe. I choose to lean on my privilege and the support of my family. I choose to ignore the demands of corporate feminism and allow my partner to take care of things for a while. I choose my mind, my body, and my peace.