Layoffs Broke Big Tech’s Elite College Hiring Pipeline
Eva Xie did it right. She went to the highly competitive Bronx High School of Science in New York City and then MIT, where she studied math and computer science with a specialization in artificial intelligence. After her first year, she landed a coveted summer internship at Facebook and was invited back to Menlo Park the next summer—traditionally a good sign that a student would later be offered a full-time job.
But in summer 2022, warning signs appeared that Xie’s future might be derailed from its well-charted trajectory. Rumors swirled inside the company that Meta, as it was now known, might institute a hiring freeze. Xie and her fellow interns weren’t worried, assuming the established pipeline that saw the company take its pick of students from elite colleges was a permanent fixture.
The interns were wrong. In an early morning email last August, Xie and the rest of her overachieving cohort became among the first to be affected by a wave of hiring freezes and layoffs in tech that would go on to claim hundreds of thousands of jobs over the coming months. Meta was sorry to inform them, the email said, that unlike previous years, it would not be extending successful interns guaranteed return offers of full-time jobs before they went back to school.
That fall, when Meta announced 11,000 layoffs, the company didn’t exclude its high-achieving interns. “They laid off everyone who just started, including those who got the highest ratings during their internships,” Xie says. That included MIT grads just ahead of her on the conveyor belt, which has, over the past decade, regularly brought new talent into the industry.
In recent months, many former interns and recent grads have found themselves among the thousands of people laid off at the major tech companies. That has prompted many soon-to-be grads like Xie, who once assumed they’d easily slide into employment at one of tech’s marquee names, to rethink the value of these companies, their own prospects, and in some cases, what they want from their careers.
Meta spokesperson Andrea Beasley did not respond to WIRED’s questions about its internship program, instead pointing to CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s blog post announcing layoffs, which said the company overexpanded during the pandemic.
Amazon, which hosted about 18,000 interns in 2022, is considering reducing its intern class by more than half, according to a New York Times report. Amazon spokesperson Brad Glasser tells WIRED the company is “excited” to host interns in 2023 but is still finalizing its plans. Google, which laid off 12,000 people in January, will be hosting interns next year but has slowed hiring and will not be bringing on as many people as in previous years, according to Google’s director of intern programs Andrea Florence.
Claire Ralph, director of career services at Caltech, where about 40 percent of graduates go on to work in tech fields, has found herself counseling students worried by the recent retrenchment. “Caltech students are high achieving, and so they are often anxious. Certainly the news is the focus of their anxiety right now,” says Ralph, who also lectures in computer science.