Thousands of UC Berkeley data science and computing students are preparing to graduate in May amidst a slew of technology company layoffs. Some are worried about finding a job.
Berkeley advisors are urging expected graduates to take a beat and embrace a more nuanced job market view. They’re reminding students of what they have control over in their search and what they’ve already accomplished. And they’re telling students to give themselves grace.
“This generation will have 12 plus jobs in their lifetime. I often emphasize to students that this is just the first one,” said Amanda Dillon, a Berkeley Data Science Undergraduate Studies advisor. “Students tend to really overwhelm themselves with expectations … [but] it’s just a stepping stone.”
More than 500 technology companies cut roughly 148,000 jobs in 2023 alone, according to the layoff tracking website Layoffs.fyi. That’s on top of about 161,000 last year. But, advisors say, the future isn’t as bleak as it initially appears for technical workers if students can be flexible.
‘Plenty of opportunities’
The technology industry is cutting jobs in reaction to rising interest rates from the Federal Reserve and adjustments to a post-pandemic economy, according to reports. But it matters who technology companies are laying off, advisors said, and only some of that information is known.
Experts tracking these layoffs have said many of these cuts affected non-technical workers such as recruiters. Bennett Agnew, director of external relations for the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences, noted that it’s unclear how concentrated cuts have been in senior or managerial roles and whether cuts will carry into new graduate or internship hiring.
Regardless of who is being cut, a CompTIA analysis of federal data shows the technology market is still healthy, said Rebecca Andersen, the School of Information’s senior director of student and alumni career development. Demand remains high for workers with expertise in areas like artificial intelligence. The technology unemployment rate remains low.
“Layoffs create uncertainty and that can be scary,” Andersen said. “The good news is, if we look at the overall context of the technology industry and especially technology jobs, this is still a healthy market and there are plenty of opportunities.”
An outside-the-box job search
Advisors are encouraging students to lean into Berkeley advising opportunities from one-on-one sessions to job fairs. Students should reach out to Berkeley alumni to learn about potential career paths and to network. They should also search for jobs on company websites, not just LinkedIn or other job boards.
One major opportunity: look for roles outside of the tech sector. Job opportunities in non-technology industries are increasing at a higher rate than at technology companies, Bain & Company found. To make that idea actionable, advisors ask students to think about what companies they like, where their skills can make a difference and what problems they can solve for society.
“Any company that gets large enough is going to have a need to use the data that they’re collecting,’” said Dillon, urging students to think of industries like healthcare, government and retail. “It really does align well with our mission to equip students with these 21st century skills.”
Students should also be flexible with their expectations and consider compromise, Dillon and others said. Be ready to work in an office, not remotely. Be willing to move. Understand that moving or taking a job outside of large technology companies may affect your starting salary. Maybe even consider starting your own company.
This can sound intimidating. But advisors emphasized that Berkeley students are uniquely equipped through their highly ranked, interdisciplinary and innovative education to thrive in data science and computing jobs, wherever they land.
“Many students begin their education with a specific career path in mind, but they often arrive at very different destinations, intellectually and professionally, than what they previously thought was possible. This is after all, the purpose of attending a university: to expand one's horizons,” said Agnew. “Our students will have the tools to not just participate as leaders in well-developed industries, but to create new markets and novel paradigms of technology for productivity and social good.”
Additional opportunities for Berkeley students
- UC Berkeley’s Career Center offers services like resume review, career prep and job search strategies and events like career fairs
- School of Information students and alumni can secure specialized career services
- Data Science Undergraduate Studies program students can read the latest “Data Science Career Round-Up” and join the program’s undergraduate listserv
- Join computer science and EECS student organizations, and check out talks by visiting companies
- Help make your startup dream a reality through the Accel Scholars Program, the Berkeley SkyDeck Accelerator Program or the House Accelerator