Arnav Gupta

Arnav Gupta



I was in USA, (specifically San Francisco and other parts of Silicon Valley) for the larger part of last month, and I talked to over 25 people, mostly Indian (but not all) and mostly working on big tech (but not all as engineers). Here's a thread on the "vibe" I got

First off, the famous perks and "playground in office" myth of most tech companies - got the most first-hand experience this time around, because I literally got myself invited to a bunch of companies to have free lunch most days (Uber, Google, Salesforce, LinkedIn and more)

Even companies which historically are not part of the "free lunch" culture (the non-valley originated ones like Amazon, Microsoft), have offices in SF/Bay Area with lunch and perks not found elsewhere. SF tech offices truly do pamper employees in a different way.

The one company among big tech which is very visibly tightening its belt, and most employees are feeling very grim about, is Meta. Taking food from office home in take-away boxes is banned now, bringing guests to lunch is not allowed. Super high cost cutting

Met at least half a dozen people who have gone on some or other official trip to NYC, or EU, or somewhere, on some pretense because "travel budgets are going away, using it while it lasts". The fact that wasting employer's money leads to mass layoffs is a bit lost on them.

One aspect of working in big-tech, that too in US, is something that awed me a lot - and now with shows like Silicon Valley, the terms to describe it are also fairly mainstream. "coasting", "rest n vest" and being "checked out"

Almost without fail, every person I talked to, is very dispassionate about their work. Pandemic, (and with it, close brush with death and existence) has gotten more people question the "meaning" of anything and everything. No one cares about their work anymore it seems.

I met with friends, former co-workers, former students too. Many whom I knew to be very passionate about their work, and also 10x productivity type folks as well. And I figured talking with many of them, in the setting they are, it is not even possible actually be productive...

...even if they wanted to be. Heard instances of people going through "manager on leave", "getting permission taking 2 weeks", and "to many meetings and PRD keeps changing" one too many times, to have finally given up and resigned to the fate of not working productively

This is the first time I am coming back from a trip to SF (and this is the longest I stayed in the city, and talked to so many more people, including those who went for Tech Crunch disrupt) without even 1 conversation where I felt like "wow they are building something cool!"

I have gone usually around the time of major conferences and events like Google I/O or Github Universe before, and have invariably met people super pumped up about something they are building, eager to show it, excited to talk about it, at least *believing* they can change...

... the world. That was all missing this time. Even at TechCrunch Disrupt, there were grad school students who had come in the hope of "networking to get some alpha in their job hunt".

Jobs have totally dried up. And this was before last 3-4 days brought another trance of large layoffs Talking to some EMs (across multiple companies) - everyone's been strictly told "zero headcount" No one is hiring Teams that really need people too have been forbidden to hire

One particular dynamic in some senior folks who have moved from India off late - and heard similar story from 3 different folks - when they went initially, during COVID and WFH, they got cheaper rents. But leases are about to come up for renewal, and asking prices are 2x now.

The problem though is - many had moved in with a job, with the plan that their partner would find a job too, very soon, and then being double-income would be easy to manage costs of living in US. But by the time H4/L2 employment authorisation took place, tech winter started.

And anyone who is trying to get jobs in mid-senior positions in engineering management, or product management, there literally has been 0 vacancies in the last 6 months Running a household with kids, on single income, with 2019-era SF rents coming back, is getting people worried

Another thing I heard from multiple people - and there's been enough talk about it on Twitter + mainstream news too - is about the H1B stamping issue. So bunch of folks who moved from F1 to H1 recently, (or renewed an H1), are stuck in US and cannot come back

There are people who haven't met family since COVID (with even relatives lost to COVID). Because if they return, they cannot go back to US because there's a 2 yr wait to get their passports stamped. It is quite weird system I guess. They can continue to stay in US though.

Also found another interesting divide in opinion between staying in SF vs staying outside in Sunnyvale/Mountain View etc SF, right now, is in quite bad shape. Offices are still a lot deserted. And homelessness at it's peak. So past 6pm the city turns into zombie apocalypse.

It is a meme now that parking your car in SF means you'll definitely get your windows broken in. Upto a point where some are keeping windows open - so that it doesn't get broken in. Regardless, some still dauntlessly staying on in the city, because 'suburbs are dead'

I mean well yeah, staying outside the city, you need to have a car, and the nearest shop/restaurant/Target would be 3 miles away. No clubs, good places to eat, nightlife, pubs. Fairly dead. Yes.

Quite a wide spectrum of how people are spending / saving money though. Found one category of people - those earning $300-400k, and still saved up less money than someone with similar experience in India (who'd be earning 70L~1cr)

Found another category, who are absolutely on the other end of the spectrum - husband going to wife's office because free lunch. Roommate packing up food from office fridge. There are folks literally living on Google's kitchen supplies and spending $0 on food at home.

This is literally a culture now - with work-from-anywhere and all, not having to go everyday to office. There are whatsapp groups between friends/flatmates where someone share's their office lunch menu for today, and packs some back if others ask them to!

The one place where people seem to be actually really seriously working, and not being part of these shenanigans is FB/Meta. There are folks who have been asked to give weekly updates since last few months. Meta employees saying they feel a lot like being in PIP already.

Will add a few things more here - some of you are misconstruing this as "people are sad in life" in general in US. That's not really the case. Work life balance for most people is great. On WFH days, there's like 6-7 hours to yourself to do your own things.

People do start and end days early at work. Occasional 6pm or 9pm meetings, with cross-geo India/EU teams are considered extremely unwelcome Ind-USA cross-geo teams prefer the other way round, 7am in US, 7pm in India. People are using the WFH freedoms to travel too

Being dispassionate about work means - you can be passionate about other things in life. I was there during Diwali. People do dress up, and have better parties on Diwali that most people in India do!

Weeks are not exhausting. So literally every weekend can be a long coastal drive, or a hike, or a quick trip to Vegas, or Grand Canyon. Post WFH, many companies allow working from 'any office' in there return plans. So people go to whichever office has the best lunch menu now ?

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