How can African tech talent build greater resilience during the global tech downturn?
After years of growth, the global technology sector entered a downturn in the second half of 2022, thanks to a combination of inflation, rising interest rates, and faltering supply chains.
As a result, companies that just months before hadn’t been able to hire fast enough suddenly had to shed jobs en masse.
In fact, Crunchbase estimates that there have been nearly 160,000 layoffs among US tech companies so far in 2023 (in addition to the 93,000 that were lost in 2022). In Europe, meanwhile, tech startups laid off some 40,000 workers between March 2022 and March 2023.
Many of the companies behind these layoffs also have operations in Africa, meaning that the continent hasn’t been spared the impact of the global tech downturn. With funding and investment now more difficult to come by, the worst may not be over either.
But that doesn’t mean skilled African tech ecosystem workers can’t build the resilience necessary to ride out the current downturn and come out the other end thriving. Whether they do so by expanding their skillsets, starting their own businesses, or (for those who remain employed) finding new ways of adding value to the companies they work for, it is possible to acknowledge the very real difficulties of this period while also seeing the potential for new opportunities.
Growing out 21st Century skills
One of the most important things any tech worker can do right now is build out their 21st Century skills. That’s been important for a while, especially as linear career paths become less and less common. A few years ago, for example, someone might have started out in the product operations team of a company before becoming a product specialist, product manager, and then head of product. While that occasionally does still happen, an employee may be asked to fill different roles in their time with a company and develop skills accordingly.
But developing diverse skills is even more critical if you’re looking for a new position (or are likely to be in the near future). More particularly, tech workers should look to build the most transferable skills possible.
For candidates looking for work, those transferable skills mean a much wider range of potential positions. Those that are still in employment, meanwhile, can fill another position within the organisation if theirs is no longer tenable.
At the same time, developing an entrepreneurial mindset is important. For some workers that may mean starting their own business. And there certainly isn’t any shortage of available inspiration on that front. Some of today’s biggest tech companies, including Airbnb, Square, and Uber were started in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. Even if the business doesn’t turn out to be a runaway success, it’s something a candidate could use to show a prospective employer that they have a greater business understanding than other prospective employees.
But you don’t necessarily have to build a business to demonstrate an entrepreneurial mindset. Participating in bug bounty programmes or building your own portfolio website, for example, shows prospective employers that you’ve kept your skills sharp while looking for work.
Those still in employment, meanwhile, can demonstrate an entrepreneurial mindset by looking for and identifying new revenue opportunities for the companies they work for. You’re a lot less likely to be laid off if, for example, you’ve helped the company land a new client or identified a new sector it can pivot into.
Take care of your mental health
As important as practical steps are in surviving a tech downturn, it’s vital that workers look after their mental health. The first step on that front is to acknowledge the gravity of the situation. Having been laid off before, I know how big of a loss it can be. So let your grief out. Don’t try and hold it in.
It’s also important to be realistic about the situation. Chances are, you aren’t going to find a new job in five days. Even three months may not be realistic, in some instances. Having come to terms with the situation, it’s also important to lean on your support networks. Go to the friends and family that you can trust and be completely open with them. As the work of renowned researcher Dr Brene Brown has shown, embracing vulnerability can be vital to building resilience.
At the same time, hold your boundaries. If someone asks you how the job search is going and you’d rather not say, there’s nothing wrong with saying something like, “I’m not really in the right headspace to talk about that right now.
Can we talk about something else?” If distraction is what you need most at that moment, there’s nothing wrong with it.
Over time, you’ll find that this helps remind you of your worth. So, even if you do have to rebuild from a lower salary, you’ll be less likely to feel that you can’t get back to where you were before.
This too shall pass
While it’s incredibly difficult to do in the thick of it, it’s important for tech workers in Africa and around the globe to remember that the current downturn won’t last forever. New companies will start and they’ll find new ways of funding their growth. And when they do, the workers who’ve built professional and personal resilience will be at the top of their hiring lists.