Being laid off in 2023-2024 as an early-career developer

When the tech industry wants to squeeze you out

March 26, 2024 · Felipe Vogel ·

Recently I wrote an upbeat how-to on job networking. Now comes the part where I pull back the curtain and tell how the job search really went.

Don’t worry, it’s not all depressing. I’ve waited for weeks to publish this post just so that I have some good news to share at the end.

Note: This post’s title specifies “early-career developer” only because I’m speaking from my own experience, not because only early-career developers are having a hard time. It’s a tough job market for everyone in tech, even job seekers with decades of experience.

Backstory: from teacher to developer

For context, I used to be a schoolteacher. In 2019, after a sudden move back to the U.S. (Kentucky) from an overseas teaching position, I found myself earning a pitifully low salary of $32k/year and inundated with medical bills from my wife’s chronic illness.

I didn’t even enjoy my new job. The frequent late nights spent planning and grading, the emotional drain of managing classrooms full of teenagers all day, the nagging feeling that in spite of all the effort I wasn’t actually helping these kids… it was too much.

It was time for a career change.

So I quit teaching at the end of the school year, got a remote customer support job in the COVID-fueled e-commerce industry, and taught myself coding in the evenings and on weekends. After a year and a half, in February 2022, I got a junior developer job (also remote), and the following year I was promoted to mid-level.

Meanwhile, my salary went up and up. Here’s a chart showing my gross pay since the beginning of 2020, when I was still a teacher:


Did you notice the gap near the end? That’s the story of this post.

No one is safe from being laid off, and I’m not an exception

In early 2023, my company had a 19% RIF (reduction in force, i.e. layoffs). Of my cohort of four junior developers that had joined the previous year, I was the only one who wasn’t laid off.

I was shaken, but also bolstered in my belief that I’m special. I felt I was a great developer, and that would keep me safe from being laid off.

Fast forward to November, and… I was laid off. The immensity of this second round (44% RIF) was some consolation in that I didn’t feel singled out. But at the same time, I felt uneasy seeing how all of my former junior colleagues were still looking for a new role after so many months. Plus, I’d actually started applying for jobs two months earlier because I saw the layoffs coming, and I’d gotten no responses from dozens of applications.

Still, I clung to the belief that I’m special and I’d have an easy time finding another job now that I could make my job search public and fully focus on it. After all, my previous job search in 2021 had been pretty easy, and that was when I had zero professional experience as a developer. How hard could it be this time?

I was in for a big disappointment.

It was rough. Here are some low points:

My job networking by the numbers

Backing up a little bit, job networking is what turned the tide and helped me start getting interviews. I described my process in a previous post, and now I can share more on the results.

I applied for 18 roles that I networked for, i.e. where I didn’t submit a cold application. These were mostly in December and January, months 4 and 5 in the 6-month search. The networking that I did can be divided into the three broad types below (which you can see represented visually further down, if you want to skip the verbiage).

Note that I applied only for remote positions, because there aren’t a lot of in-person developer jobs in my area (central Kentucky), and in-person salaries here tend to be lower anyway. For anyone living in a tech hub, it’s a good idea to do in-person networking too, such as attending local meetups.

In total, of these 18 attempts, 8 got me a recruiter screening, and in 5 of those I went on to further interviews. Two of these led to job offers: the one I accepted early out of caution, and the one for my current role. Here’s all of the above visualized in a diagram built with SankeyMATIC:

My 2023-2024 job search visualized in a Sankey diagram

I should also mention that cold applications yielded a grand total of one recruiter screening, after which I was ghosted by the recruiter. I cold-applied to over a hundred jobs, so that’s a pretty terrible success rate. Granted, most of those applications were low-effort and done only to satisfy my state’s unemployment requirements, but there was a sizable minority into which I put genuine effort, including painstaking answers to “Why are you applying?”-type questions, and even a few cover letters.

Just for fun, here is the above diagram with cold applications added in:

My 2023-2024 job search visualized in a Sankey diagram, this time including a huge segment representing cold applications

By the way, this contrasts starkly with my last job search in 2021. It’s funny to look back at my blog post about it, where I wrote:

Over two months, I applied to seven companies, most of them startups. I got a first-step interview or recruiter screening at six of those companies, and in five of them I moved forward to next steps.

The crazy part is that those were all cold applications 😳

Unless I was an incredible candidate back then in a way that I now fail to recall (or recreate), clearly the job market has changed a lot since two years ago.

The good news

Enough with the doom and gloom. I’m happy to announce that I got a job at Kin Insurance as a full-stack Rails developer.

Now I can finally stop job hunting, and focus on progressing my career in more productive ways.

What’s next in my career?

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