Tech giants are feeling the squeeze with a tidal wave of redundancies across the sector, but what does this mean for careers in the field? We spoke to two careers experts to find out why the sector is still worth pursuing and where the new opportunities lie.
It’s been a challenging few months for the tech sector, with some of the biggest names in the industry – from Meta to Microsoft, Twitter to Amazon – slashing jobs in their droves. Macroeconomic challenges, plunging ad revenues and an over-hiring splurge during the pandemic have all contributed to the crisis, with firms struggling to keep up with the large-scale growth seen in 2021. According to Layoffs.fyi, more than 106,000 job cuts have been made in the tech sector so far this year.
This might sound unnerving for anyone looking to pursue a career in the field, but there are some silver linings. We spoke to Collette Johnson, mentor and coach at Cambridge Judge Business School (CJBS), and Cecile Gani, Tech and Entrepreneurship Lead in Employer Engagement at the School, to find out where to look for the biggest opportunities, why tech is still an exciting sector to enter and how the Cambridge MBA can help you stand out in an industry feeling the squeeze.
Finding success with startups
For Johnson, one of the biggest opportunities to come out of the current crisis is in the startup field, “The changes going on mean that startups and scale-ups will have the ability to recruit people that were out of their reach previously, leading to accelerated growth,” she says.
She predicts an explosion of new startups from those let go from the larger firms, leading to further opportunities. “We anticipate seeing bursts of innovative organisations growing from these people coming together to drive product companies and startups,” she says. “I think it offers a lot of opportunity and real excitement for those looking to move into tech.”
Smaller firms have long been a key entry route into tech for Cambridge MBA students; while giants such as Meta, Amazon and Shopee have all taken on former graduates, the sector is diverse, and the class of 2020/21 alone took up roles in more than 100 international employers.
These smaller firms don’t only offer an alternative entry path – they provide significant growth opportunities and often offer a chance to take on higher levels of responsibility from the get-go, says Gani.
“Entrepreneurship and early-stage startups offer extremely valuable experience that you can later leverage in companies of any size,” she says. “Mid-tier companies also offer the best balance of pay, progression, impact and lifestyle.”
The rise of tech sub-sectors
It’s not just startups and scale-ups offering opportunities, with a number of tech sub-sectors set to undergo large scale growth in the coming years. Johnson points to burgeoning industries such as blockchain, crypto, climate tech and ed-tech, while Gani says AI, cybersecurity, enterprise software, software as a service and biotech are some of the biggest areas to look out for.
“What makes tech such an exciting space is that new areas are sprouting up all the time, and that means the opportunities are endless,” says Johnson. “It’s about looking at where the seedlings are sprouting and positioning yourself towards that.”
In terms of particular roles, former Cambridge MBA graduate Damien Eklou says it’s important to differentiate between tech specific positions and more general functions within the sector. After graduating in 2019, Eklou took on a role as Marketing Science Lead at Meta (then Facebook), before becoming Head of Growth at hospitality startup Tabist this year.
“For those with a tech background, I believe product management and software engineering offer huge opportunities,” he says. “For non-tech backgrounds, these areas are still accessible but will require more work to understand the basics and remain competitive in a market that’s getting more sophisticated.
“Other areas involve strategy and operations, marketing, and finance, where people with non-tech backgrounds can enjoy a great career.”
In light of the recent crisis, he advises students look at the roles that were cut in the highest numbers and take this into consideration when deciding where to focus their attention. “I think the recent events mean people in the tech sector need to think carefully about the type of career they choose, and also have a good understanding of the macro events that are driving these changes by the companies and their stakeholders,” he says.
“I believe these challenges are temporary events and that the big tech companies will still rebound, but my advice is for MBA students to re-assess where their value will be most appreciated within the sector.”
Leveraging your networks
So, once you’ve decided where to focus, how can you stand out from the crowd in a sector under strain? Eklou points to a number of ways to get ahead and says the skills he gained on the MBA were fundamental in helping to carve out a path in the field.
“The Cambridge MBA was very helpful because it gave me the credibility to be invited to an interview at Facebook,” he says. “It taught me skills in reaching out to people in my network and leveraging connections on LinkedIn; I was referred for the role by a Facebook employee I reached out to on there.”
He says leveraging networks can be beneficial not only in terms of finding out about specific opportunities, but also gleaming advice from alumni and learning about the sector more generally. “I believe the strength of the Cambridge MBA lies within the strong network of MBA students,” he says. “There’s no better time than now to tap into this network and reach out to alumni who can provide information and recommendations for positions in their teams or others’.”
Gaining tech-savvy skills
It’s not just the MBA itself that offers networking opportunities and a chance to stand out; Cambridge is the home of ‘Silicon Fen’, with more than 1,600 startups giving the city a status as one of the largest entrepreneurial eco-systems in Europe.
“In Cambridge, you’ll embed yourself in Silicon Fen and live among tech entrepreneurs that go in and out of the business school daily,” says Gani. “Deep tech is especially strong here due to inventions by the university’s researchers, so there are lots of opportunities to help you stand out from the crowd.
“As part of the MBA, you’ll complete four different real-life projects, which you can choose to enhance your tech profile, and your project mentors will be local (and sometimes serial) tech entrepreneurs. You’ll hit the job market with some practical experience already, which will give you a firm advantage.”
That makes it a great way to move into the tech sector if you’re new to the field (in fact, 82% of the 2020/2021 MBA class changed employment sector).
Gani says most of the teaching on the MBA also addresses tech topics, and students can choose electives specialising more in tech in their second and third terms. “We also offer training in public speaking, pitching and interviewing, as well as tech-specific workshops and digital and product bootcamps to teach concepts that will enable students to speak confidently with tech people and impress an interviewer,” she says.
“It’s hard to predict exactly the job market a year ahead, but it’s a safe bet that people with a fresh Cambridge MBA will retain their relative position on the job market compared to those without.”
And if the stats from last year are anything to go by, there’s plenty of promise – 91% of 2021 MBA graduates were employed within three months of leaving, and more than 20% were in internet/e-commerce or tech.
Still many opportunities in tech
So, while it might be a tough time for the sector, there’s no reason to give up hope. “I believe tech is still a great field to get into – nothing can stop tech from evolving and transforming, and it’s inherently part of human nature to solve issues,” says Eklou.
“Technology is still where value-creating innovation happens and is not going anywhere,” says Gani. “The UK tech sector is large and diverse, supported by top-class VC and technical infrastructure, and it’s full of opportunity. Google Ventures just announced new investment in Europe. There are shifts happening within tech, but opportunities exist,” she says.
“If you have a curious mind and want to be at the forefront of what’s happening in the world economy; if you’re always thinking about how to do things better; if you like working with smart, interesting inventors and innovators; and if you never want to be bored, then tech is still a great field for you – even in spite of the current challenges.”