With the recent mass layoffs in big tech, I hope to see:

  1. The decline of prestige associated with big tech
  2. A rise in technical and active optimists who set out to change the world

As of now, big tech employees are merely the corporatized version of the hackers who once inspired the tech industry, who are now imprisoned by their managers at Google or Microsoft. Everything is stuck behind red tape and profits, rather than building cool. Nowadays, I don’t believe it is uncommon for big tech engineers to be frustrated by the meaningless ambitions of their organizations. The essence of hacking away for a meaningful change has whittled relentlessly down towards finding menial bugs and fixing them.

The problem is that, so much of what is broken with big tech is because it selects for pure prestige and status rather than building something meaningful. (The same goes for university degrees.)

The world used to hold an abundance of active optimists who not only articulate and define their vision for the future but plan and work to make it better. To subscribe to the theory of “disruption” and “move fast and break things.” This contrasts sharply with today’s culture of passive optimists (prestige-seekers), who believe the future will be better, but see no reason to create it themselves and thus expect to profit from the future by being in prestigious big tech positions.

Ironically, the layoffs give me hope.

Hope that the days of building for the future have returned.

Hope that the new generation of talent is being called towards the active-optimistic mindset, who believe that settling for a middling (and quite frankly, declining) big tech job and chasing prestige promotions instead of making history is not their role anymore. That big tech represents a failure to realize the promises of tech and what it sought to accomplish, which those on the frontier now want to recapture.

Tech is shifting towards solving problems in the physical world.

Tech is shifting towards the physical atoms over the virtual bits.

Tech is returning towards physical deep tech.

The 1940s and onwards were dominated by hardware. Then, after the explosion of the internet, the 2000s were dominated by software. Now comes a different and new generation, those interested in the intersection of the two while bringing along their deep expertise from hard scientific and engineering backgrounds.

Now, almost suddenly, there is an influx of founders starting deep tech companies, tackling complex technical and scientific challenges in areas such as nuclear energy, space, aero, and biotech - all unthinkable just 30 years prior, when the mention of anything non-software sent investors running in the other direction. Nowadays, major VC firms such as a16z support such deeptech sector companies, calling it a return to American Dynamism. Companies like:

These companies will inspire the next generation.

Think future bioengineers, who look to program enzymes to generate chemicals to tackle industrial efficiencies. No more J&J. Think future materials engineers, who look to create hyper-efficient biological semiconductors (self-plug to Nanoneuro Systems). Think electrical engineers, building nanoscale therapeutic robots for the final frontier eradication of cancer.

The new generation of active optimists knows they won’t derive long-term satisfaction from spending months redesigning the UI for Google’s login page or helping Meta find better ways to sell your friend’s data. No longer is it about the prestige. It’s a problem of values and desires.

A desire to rekindle the torch of tech from before the big tech gluttony. Driven by their values to pursue a greater good and a conviction to tackle problems above their ambitions. I believe that accomplishing this will require us to expand our hardware and pure engineering skills, instead of believing that software and programming alone will eat the world.