Where Have All the Devs Gone?

Last week another 3 million Americans filed for unemployment insurance, bringing the 8-week total to 36.5 million. Before COVID-19 took hold, unemployment was at a 50-year low. Now it’s at its highest point since the Great Depression.

Labor shortages are a given. This is an unprecedented disruption in manufacturing and in shipping; crops go unharvested; the supply chain in shambles.

But like we said a couple weeks ago, for some tech and entertainment companies things are looking, perversely, pretty darn good. With much of the world stuck indoors and everything from commerce to community happening online, tech companies are doing great. Apple, Microsoft, and unsurprisingly Slack made great strides over the past couple months. 

And everyone says the Apples, Googles, Amazons, and Facebooks of the world are hiring like gangbusters, shaking hands and offering substantial salaries to eager young techies ready to pave their futures with gold…well, we’re overstating it a little bit, but you get the idea.

You’d think — or we did, anyway —that there’d be employees lining up to take open positions. Especially fully remote positions at a small, growing company with really interesting work. So where are they? We’re in that very growth period the pundits are talking about, and because our team is fully distributed and always has been, we can cast the net wide for new talent.  

But they’re not there. It’s an odd sensation to know that in a time more people are out of work than at any time since the 1930s we’re holding money out shouting and yet

Where are the developers? 36.5M people out of work, and we’re struggling to find them. We decided we probably shouldn’t speculate about why they’re not there because honestly, we just don’t know.

But at the risk of doing exactly what we just said we would not do

Here’s the thing: Not all “tech” is created equal. And deciding that because Business Insider tells you the tech giants are hiring means there’s a huge tech boom in all verticals is dangerous. Amazon is getting a boost for the same reason Jeff Bezos is on the path to become the world’s first trillionaire — COVID-19 is very, very good for a very, very small subset of industries.

Slack’s growth over the past 60 days has been astonishing because they couldn’t have invented a better advertisement for their product than a near-global lockdown that requires workers be able to engage in productive, real-time communication over the internet. Zoom has gone from being “that thing that isn’t Skype” to a tool so ubiquitous musicians are using it to make videos and beloved comics are reuniting for live comedy fundraisers to benefit COVID-19 charities. Tech boom.


But Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, Lime, Patreon, Bird, and Zume have all laid off significant portions of their workforce. Tech bust.

And for everyone else, a huge unknown. Much like our missing developers — unknown. Maybe when we write the history of these weird days we’ll figure it out. Until then we’ll keep posting stapling Have You Seen Me signs to telephone polls and hope a dev or two wander by.

Stay safe, everyone.

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