When Camerin Thompson graduated from UC Berkeley in 2017, he assumed he would be working at a Los Angeles media company. He majored in media studies — skills he says primed him best for a marketing career — and in his free time acted in school plays, called alumni to fundraise for the university, mentored freshmen as a resident assistant in the dorms and served as a peer-advisor for African American students.
However, the first job he took after college was at the San Francisco tech company Salesforce, working in customer success and, later, customer marketing. At first, he loved it, and speaks fondly of working near the barista stand to chat with colleagues in his downtime. The building was buzzing with energy, and Thompson was in his element.
Remote work, however, interrupted the flow. Working from home, he noticed he was uninspired by the day-to-day grind without his colleagues to keep him company. The realization was clear: Thompson thought to himself, “I’m too much of a creative to be marketing tech.”
“I see work as more than just popping in nine to five, get a paycheck, then live your life,” said Thompson, who is 25. He recently transferred from a customer marketing role at Salesforce to one in brand management at Masterclass — a company that, though technically still part of the tech industry, excites him because it’s at the intersection of media, entertainment and education. “I see work as an opportunity to really impact, change and shape the world.”
In Microsoft’s 2021 World Trend Index report, 60% of respondents between 18 and 25 say they merely survived or outright struggled through their last year of work. Only 16% of these Gen-Z workers say they feel engaged on the job, and only 14% say they can bring new ideas to the table. According to research from the people analytics firm Visier, resignations for tech workers, specifically, increased 4.5% between March 2020 and March 2021. The only industry with a similar resignation rate was health care, with a 3.61% increase in resignations over the same time period.
In other words, data suggest that young tech workers are walking away from their jobs at some of the highest rates in the world.
It’s a trend that 25-year-old Sujude Dalieh had been noticing as she navigated her career path. After getting a bachelor’s degree in physical chemistry at UC Berkeley, she worked in data science, product development and venture capital all before the age of 24. The tech industry sucked her in. She realized that, looking at her experience and those of her friends and colleagues, the ability to pivot to different sectors of the industry when a job didn’t inspire her anymore was crucial to her happiness. She also realized that pivoting, and building a diverse skill set by doing so, made her an even stronger applicant when she went for her next role.
Now, in addition to her VC job, Dalieh is building an app called Gajo with five co-founders who also have diverse backgrounds in tech. The app, initially inspired by the founders’ similarly chaotic early careers, aims to help young people draft a cohesive narrative out of disparate technical skills and diverse resumes. It’s set to launch in February 2022.
“Right now, resumes are just education, work experience and volunteering, but it doesn’t really explain why you’ve been doing it,” she explained. The Gajo platform, on the other hand, asks members to illustrate their “journey” between jobs, often with cute emojis and short descriptions, to show a career path conducive to Gen Z’s approach to work. “On Gajo, pivots have explanations, whether it’s pivoting between careers, different internships or anything.”
The Examiner spoke with four young tech workers who have pivoted within the tech industry — or, in one case, left it — and found that their main motivator is a desire to align values with work. The size of their paycheck, flexibility of schedule and the size of their team all took a backseat, they said, though all noted that some attention must be given to such practical matters in the expensive Bay Area. “It’s like a game of lever pulling — how much of a pay cut am I willing to take to make sure I’m doing more fulfilling work?” says Thompson (in the end, Thompson actually says he got a slight pay bump when he moved to Masterclass).
The switch for none of these workers was abrupt. Shayan Chetty, a 24-year-old former contract recruiter at Facebook who left to pursue a veterinary career in April, explains that she considered being a veterinarian since her freshman year of college. Annam Quraishi, a 24-year-old budding entrepreneur employed as a surveillance analyst, has been building her entrepreneurship portfolio through college-run accelerator programs, internships, mentorship opportunities and consulting for over four years.
Many young people expressed feeling at odds with the pressure to portray “stability” by traditional definitions and the pursuit of the careers they really loved. The pandemic was enough to push some over the edge, while others, like Quraishi, continue to pursue a more gradual shift.
“I’ve had two, parallel careers at the same time since undergrad,” Quraishi explains. “I don’t want to say I have a double life, but it’s almost as if I do: In the job where I am now, I don’t use hardly any of my entrepreneurship skills, but I have my own thing where I focus on startups. A lot of young people in the Bay are in that same situation.”
Chetty puts the balance in simpler terms. For her, passion outweighed work-life balance or pay, leading her to switch from a manageable, 40-hour weekly schedule at Facebook to markedly busier and less lucrative one where she will be working as a vet tech and attending school simultaneously. She had spread herself too thin, she says, double majoring in psychology and economics in college, working a diverse range of internships, and eventually, choosing Facebook for convenience and stability.
“I lined myself up to be able to do everything without wanting to do anything,” says Chetty. “But right now, I’m 24. I can do whatever I want with my life. If a job truly makes me happy, that’s what I’m going to do.”