Remember when programmers were considered untouchable in the business world? Apparently times are changing fast. Big Tech companies like Meta, Microsoft, Salesforce and others have recently cut tens of thousands of jobs, and many have not missed the coincidence with the arrival of artificial intelligence (AI).
In other words: is the choice of Big Tech to fire and send all these people home more the result of a contingent crisis or strategic planning?
Big Tech, a clear trajectory
The estimate is creepy: from the beginning of 2022 in the technology sector they count more than 280.000 workers made redundant. To this is added un 50% decrease of job postings for software developers compared to the previous year. But what does AI have to do with all this?
According to an analyst note from Morgan Stanley driven by Brian Nowak, AI is becoming a major productivity driver in the technology sector. Tools like GitHub Copilot of Microsoft are able to increase the productivity of engineers the 55% while other AI-powered software reduces the need for large sales teams.
What about programmers? Big Tech between "efficiency" and automation
Big Tech companies are not just shrinking: they are knowingly cutting jobs also to focus on automation. Urs Holzle, engineering manager of Google, said the company will use it to find "more efficient" ways to work.
The same refrain also from Meta, which has imposed a hiring freeze in the last six months. The head of the financial sector of the company, Susan Li, repeats his boss Mark Zuckerberg's mantra: this is "the year of efficiency". Which at this point sounds like "we can do the same things, or even more things, paying less people". Or much less.
What does all this mean for the tech sector?
It means that while AI can lead to increased efficiency and productivity, it also reduces the need for new hires. The first "ax" of layoffs in Big Tech companies involved data entry, translators and Customer Support: a "synchronized" massacre that already sounded like a desired streamlining, and not a necessity.
Now we are already at the stage where programmers, once considered safe, may find themselves facing a new reality. Then it will be the turn of other jobs, even of the "white collars", who now seem untouchable.
Some experts, like the journalist Aki Ito, hypothesize even "the end of programming as we know it". Certainly AI will not completely eliminate the need for human workers in the tech sector, but it will slow, or even stop the growth of employees altogether. In other words: the jobs cut by this wave of layoffs will probably never come back.
The future is uncertain, but all is not lost
Despite concerns about the impact of AI on the world of work, it's important to remember that innovation also brings new opportunities. For sectors that abandon human labor new sectors will emerge e new jobs. Some irreducible optimists even venture a general increase of employed people in the short-medium term, and who will be able to adapt or acquire skills related to artificial intelligence (starting from the "trivial" prompt engineering) will be able to seize these opportunities.
Ultimately, the arrival of artificial intelligence in the Big Tech sector is a sea change that only time will be able to quantify. However, one thing seems certain: the figures "cut" in recent months will not be restored.