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Laid off from Microsoft or Amazon? Seattle's still full of opportunities

Getting laid off is hard. But between job openings and startup opportunities, losing a job can be the beginning of a new journey, especially in the Seattle region's tech economy.

Layoffs at Microsoft and Amazon total 28,000 nationally. In the Seattle region, where both companies are headquartered, more than 3,000 people will lose their jobs.

These companies are responding to economic uncertainty — it's getting more expensive to borrow money and stock prices are declining. That means companies that may have over-hired in recent years now have to tighten the belt by about 5%, according to Michael Schutzler of the Washington Technology Industry Association.

But there are still tens of thousands of open tech jobs in the greater Seattle area, Schutzler said.

“If you’re a tech worker, and you got laid off by a big company like a Microsoft or an Amazon, or any of the others, you’re gonna find yourself gainfully employed in less than 90 days,” he said. “That seems to be a national average now. People are turning over into into other wide open jobs in the tech sector within three months.”

Within a company like Amazon or Microsoft, areas of emphasis are constantly in flux, Schutzler said. Right now, these companies are expanding their Artificial Intelligence operations, even as other parts of their operation deflate.

The tech economy as a whole is even more diversified, he added.

“The second largest software employer in downtown Seattle after Amazon is Starbucks. They’ve got close to 7,000 software employees at Starbucks. They’re huge. Starbucks has been competing for years with Amazon for talent. And so if Amazon’s letting people go, then other companies that are competing for talent, in the health care sector, in the retail sector, in the manufacturing sector — all of which are technology-driven these days — this is a boon for them because they’re gonna be able to get talent they haven’t been able to get.”

But there are some challenges, Schutzler said, considering many people who get laid off may lack the skills to fill available positions. But the variety of tech skills mean there’s probably a job out there for most people.

People who don’t fit in the new positions — or choose not to take those positions — may decide it’s finally time to start a new company that they control.

Heather Redman is a Seattle-based investor with venture capital company Flying Fish. She looks for companies that focus on machine learning and artificial intelligence.

“There will be a lot of startups created out of this downturn in the tech economy,” she said. “And there’ll be some great companies.”

During past downturns, new waves of startups have typically led to the region’s next economic boom, Redman added.

The big question for her is: “How do we make sure Seattle gets its fair share?” Redman said the key is making sure people don’t want to leave and launch their startups somewhere else, like Boise or Bangalore.

That means addressing issues like homelessness and the high cost of housing, Redman noted. It also means addressing visa issues that could drain the region of valuable visiting talent.

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