But in Silicon Valley, the job market isn't quite so grim — not just despite the coronavirus pandemic, but perhaps because of it. Even as the rest of the economy tanks, these are reasonably good days to be hunting for a mid-level white collar job in web development or tech support. Think about it: We're all online more than ever. We're shopping on Amazon, watching live concerts on Facebook, storing ever more photos on Apple's iCloud, and searching for baking recipes on Google.
Collectively, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, and Alphabet make up nearly 40% of the market value of the Nasdaq. Sure enough, all five tech titans are hiring by the hundreds, if not the thousands, in California alone. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg recently told CNBC that the Menlo Park-based social media giant plans to hire 10,000 people this year in product and engineering.
Size Matters Now
Experts say this particular economic downturn is favoring giants with the cash reserves to wait out a temporary revenue drop or who can pivot to expand in markets with more potential for profit.
Take, for example, the online video market, which is exploding right now thanks to the pandemic. Facebook's offerings in the market include Livestream, Messenger, and most recently, Messenger Rooms, which allows up to 50 people to chat at once.
Microsoft declined to comment for this story, but on LinkedIn, which the Seattle software giant owns, Microsoft listed nearly 300,000 jobs worldwide at the time of this article's publication. Amazon has hired 175,000 people in its fulfillment and delivery network just since March, but the media focus on its retail and warehouse operations often obscures the fact that the Seattle-based company also employs armies of software developers, technical project managers and the like. Amazon is looking for more than 3,000 people in California alone currently.
Beyond the biggest names in Silicon Valley, medium-sized tech employers are also looking to hire.
"While we have not increased our hiring in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, now more than ever, we remain committed to attracting top talent across key areas of our business," wrote a spokeswoman for Genentech, the South San Francisco drugmaker owned by Roche. "So far this year, we have filled more than 1,600 positions and currently have over 1,200 roles open across many areas of our business, including research and development, manufacturing, sales and marketing and IT."
According to a spokesman for VMware, the Palo Alto-based software company has more than 300 openings in California and more than 1,400 globally. VMware's vice president of talent acquisition wrote recently, "Our hiring efforts are focused on supporting VMware’s five strategic priorities: App Modernization, Multi-Cloud, Virtual Cloud Network, Digital Workspace and Intrinsic Security."
Santa Clara-based Intel has posted more than 700 jobs on its website, more than 70 of which are based here in California.
It's Not All Full-time or Stable Work
For years, Silicon Valley's biggest employers have hedged their hiring bets by splitting payroll between full-time employees and contractors.
Here are the top five hiring categories in the Bay Area over the past eight weeks on Santa Clara-based Upwork, an employment platform for white collar gig work which posts more than 8,000 freelance jobs a day worldwide:
Graphics and Design
Web and Mobile Design
"We're seeing a lot of activity around web development, around video production. Technical support is a big one. So there's a lot of activity where, you know, people are young trying to deploy, install and maintain technical systems for their business," said Hayden Brown, Upwork's president and CEO.
Brown adds that, in 2020, it doesn't make sense to draw an arbitrary line between Silicon Valley and the rest of the economy when it comes to tech.
"Increasingly, almost every company is becoming something of a digital business," Brown said.
All of that said, your employment security depends in large part on the stability of the company you work for, as the pandemic appears to be most lethal to companies that were struggling before the onset of COVID-19.
Shirley Deng was laid off in April, when the Palo Alto-based, no-fee payday lender startup Earnin gutted its marketing department.
"Stable is like a relative term," Deng said ruefully.
Now, Deng would prefer to work for a bigger company. She owns a house in Hayward with her fiance, and he’s still working, but paying the mortgage could become a concern in about six months.
"A lot of good companies that I might want to work for or envision myself with are holding off on hiring now. Like tech companies have hiring freezes unless it's a very technical role, where it’s like engineering or developer," Deng said.
The numbers back up Deng’s assessment of the market. You can see who's hiring and who's letting people go at Layoffs.fyi, a tracker set up by Roger Lee, the co-founder of Human Interest, a company that helps other companies set up retirement accounts.
Deng is confident about her prospects even as she's sober about the need for the economy to take a hit to protect those most vulnerable to the coronavirus pandemic.
"I have a grandma who's 97 this year and I would be heartbroken if she was exposed and had any complications due to [COVID-19]. My fiance also has a vulnerable immune system. So I understand why we're staying home. But on the flip side, you know, as I'm job hunting, good companies that might have had positions that I wanted to apply to that are on hold," Deng said.
This Port in a Storm Might Not Last
Skeptics worry that what we’re witnessing in Silicon Valley is a temporary uptick before bad times settle in.
"It certainly seems like an odd time to try purposely to hire new people. Why? Why not just wait?" asked Rachel Massaro, who directs research at the Silicon Valley Institute for Regional Studies at Joint Venture Silicon Valley.
According to the institute, Silicon Valley’s preliminary March unemployment rate of 3.1% represented a sharp increase over February's rate, but it's still significantly lower than in the summer of 2009, when unemployment peaked at 10.5%.
"It’s possible a lot of these data points, a lot of the indicators that we're looking at, will have a lag time," Massaro said. "In a few months, we'll get a better understanding of the influence of the crisis."
Right now, those Silicon Valley companies on the downswing — Airbnb, Eventbrite, Lyft and the like — are taking a hit because what they do is directly impacted by the pandemic. But as the economy as a whole sinks into recession, the current winners in Silicon Valley may not be able to sail above the fray for long.
“Tech is not a monolith,” said Stephen Levy, director and senior economist of the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy in Palo Alto. “The group of people who are hiring is fairly narrow, and in some cases, short term.