Priya Natarajan, a seasoned software engineer, was restless this year and looking for the next step in her career. She wanted two benefits: a job where her technical skills could be put to good use in a field that could have “a big impact on the world,” she said.
Natarajan, 36, chose medical care. In July, he left Amazon, where he had been for nearly 14 years, to join Optum Labs, a research arm of UnitedHealth Group, a large health insurer and provider. During recruiting, he became convinced that the company was committed to being a leader in using data and technology to improve healthcare.
“I liked the story,” Natarajan said.
In a reordering of the market for tech workers, more tech professionals are looking beyond well-known Big Tech employers to companies in many other industries that offer increasingly challenging opportunities.
The dispersion of talent beyond the major tech companies, say some analysts, should be welcome. “If this transition redistributes skilled tech workers to other sectors of the economy, that may very well be a healthy development,” said Tim Herbert, director of research at CompTIA, a technology education and research organization.
The trend had been going on before, according to recruiters and labor analysts. But the restart of employment in the tech industry, they say, is accelerating the change. Alphabet, Amazon and Meta not hiring? Well, JPMorgan Chase, Walmart, and UnitedHealth need tech talent.
For the first time since the dotcom bubble burst two decades ago, the tech industry is facing an economic downturn.
After frenzied growth and hiring during the worst of the pandemic, the tech sector is in reverse. Growth has fallen and stock prices have plummeted. Layoffs, hiring freezes and recruiting slowdowns are the order of the day at a growing list of well-known tech companies, including Meta, Twitter, Alphabet, Amazon, DoorDash, Lyft, Snap and Stripe, as well as in venture-backed startups.
Still, overall employment in tech occupations grew this year, to a record 6.39 million in November, according to government statistics reported this month. That was slightly more than the previous month and a 12% increase from November 2021.
Today, most tech jobs are at companies outside of the tech sector in industries like banking, retail, healthcare, and manufacturing, whose operations are becoming increasingly digital. These top companies, unlike their Silicon Valley counterparts, did not embark on manic hiring during the pandemic. But they continue to invest in technological skills.
“Almost every company is going through this: they need tech talent,” said Lori Beer, global chief information officer at JPMorgan.
If the economy goes into a recession, employment in tech occupations will also be affected. There are already signs of weakness: November online postings for tech jobs fell below 288,000, the first month this year that it was below 300,000, according to a CompTIA analysis of data from Lightcast, a job analytics firm.
Some labor market analysts anticipate a decline in employment in tech jobs, especially if the economy weakens further. But history suggests that any recession would be short-lived. There have been ups and downs, but job growth in technology occupations has nearly doubled since 2000, when 3.33 million Americans were employed in technology occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
After the dot-com bust, the unemployment rate for tech jobs topped the national level for a couple of months in 2003. But for most of the last two decades, the percentage of unemployed tech workers has been about half the national. unemployment rate. In November, the unemployment rate for tech workers was 2%, compared to the national average of 3.7%.
JPMorgan’s top executives have warned of economic turmoil, deal making has slowed and investment banking revenue has fallen sharply this year on Wall Street.
Yet despite the economic uncertainty, Beer said, the bank continues to invest selectively in technology skills, hiring people with expertise in cloud computing, machine learning and artificial intelligence, data science and cybersecurity.
JPMorgan has more than 55,000 tech workers, up from 50,000 before the pandemic.
Recruiting has been easier, Beer said, due to downsizing in Silicon Valley. There are more candidates available, she said, and there are fewer competitive offers for job candidates. And the wear has been cut in half.
“There is a flight to safety among tech workers,” Beer said.
After years of placing tech workers in jobs at well-funded tech companies and startups, Sherveen Mashayekhi, CEO of Free Agency, is hearing more clients express interest in jobs at big companies in other industries like American Express, Albertsons, Nike and Walmart.
“They may have been interesting to some people in the past, but in this environment they are interesting to everyone,” Mashayekhi said.
Walmart has been a recruiting winner. Over the past few years, the retail giant has steadily developed its e-commerce and grocery delivery service, supported by more than 20,000 engineers, data scientists, and technology product managers.
Then in March, Walmart said it would hire an additional 5,000 tech workers around the world. At the time, it seemed like an ambitious goal. “It’s no secret that Walmart isn’t the first brand you think of when you think of technology,” said Randi King, a senior technology recruiter for the company.
But the tech job market now favors Walmart. King said the company had been able to fill many of those 5,000 job openings by attracting talent away from Silicon Valley stalwarts and startups. Part of his pitch: the services and features he performs will reach millions of customers.
“It’s been an incredible time in recruiting,” King said.
Brandon Mohajeri is one of Walmart’s recent hires. A computer science graduate from Chapman University in Southern California, he moved to the Bay Area in 2016 to work at an online fashion startup. He always imagined that his next step would be to join a blue-chip technology company. But when he started looking for a new job a few months ago, those companies weren’t hiring.
The more I looked, the better Walmart looked: a big company adding tech workers and eager to hire you. “It checked all my boxes,” she said. “Is it a place where I can contribute? Are there smart people I can learn from?”
Mohajeri joined Walmart in October as a product manager in its e-commerce unit. If the economy worsens, he thought the retail giant, as a provider of essentials, should be positioned to weather a downturn.
Walmart seemed “a smart choice at a time when people are more picky about spending and focusing on the essentials,” Mohajeri said.
As technology professionals move to other industries, they find new frontiers: new problems and intriguing data sets.
Natarajan, the software engineer, said she had enjoyed her years at Amazon and admired the company. But at UnitedHealth, she joined a growing body of 36,000 technology workers, more than 10,000 in the last three years, focused on health care.
What he found particularly compelling at UnitedHealth was the opportunity to help leverage data drawn from the health group’s vast pools of billing, clinical and demographic information to improve care.
“Data will be the driving force for healthcare innovation going forward,” said Natarajan, who is now vice president of architecture at Optum Labs.