Tech community rallies to help out laid off Thinkific employees
Social media was abuzz after the Vancouver company laid off 100 staff.
When Sumeru Chatterjee logged into work at edtech platform Thinkific on Tuesday, March 29, he had no reason to expect the bombshell that was coming. He put in half a day’s work and then, just after lunch, the stunning news hit: Thinkific said it was laying off 100 employees—around 20 percent of its total workforce—as part of a plan to ‘realize efficiencies.’ Chatterjee’s position, head of content and community, was not spared. He, along with many of his direct teammates, would soon be unemployed. Their last day with the company would be March 31.
At first, Chatterjee was shocked and surprised. But he immediately got to work doing what he does in any taxing situation. “When I'm stressed, what I do is build communities and make connections. So it was almost like an impulse reaction to pull together a Slack channel, bring all the alumni that were getting laid off into a safe space and activate my LinkedIn network, those kinds of things,” he says.
On LinkedIn, Chatterjee made a request. “If your company is open to hiring incredible Canadian folk across Product, Eng, Marketing, CS etc, please drop a comment below. I will personally amplify and cross-post your open roles and help you find some amazing candidates,” he wrote.
The response to the news, and Chatterjee’s efforts and impulses, has been astonishing, to say the least. Within a day of the announcement, local and national firms like Klue, Unbounce, Wealthsimple and Clio had already reached out to help former ‘Thinkers’ find new roles. Chatterjee’s LinkedIn post alone has more than 500 Likes, 190 comments and 60,000 views.
‘Have never experienced this.’
Chatterjee’s experience is a snapshot of the way the entire tech community has rallied to support the former employees of Thinkific, one of Vancouver’s most promising and well-known tech firms.
“I'm stunned by how close-knit the Canadian tech ecosystem is and how helpful and kind folks have been,” Chatterjee, an immigrant who’s lived in India and the U.S., said online. “I worked in Silicon Valley for 6 years and have never experienced this.”
While he may be pleased by the industry's response, he has to take some credit. He’s served as both catalyst and facilitator for talent hungry companies looking to scoop up free agents. Chatterjee independently set up ThinkificAlumni.com, a website to help make it easier for hiring companies to scout Thinkific talent. Thinkific, for its part, developed the original spreadsheet showcasing staff that Chatterjee is leveraging, but his website also spotlights new work opportunities and resources.
It’s not the first time a segment of Vancouver’s tech sector has experienced significant layoffs. Josh Nilson, CEO of East Side Games, recalls multiple rounds of cuts in the gaming industry. He says the community has typically rallied together to do job fairs, as was the case in 2013 when PopCap Vancouver and Quicklime Games studios both shut down.
However, “COVID is different,” he says. “In-person events not happening is huge in times like this.” At the same time, Nilson notes a few silver linings right now. “Lots of people hiring,” he tells me, and everything is remote. As much as we all have Zoom fatigue, everyone is just a Zoom call away from an interview or job offer.
‘A wake-up call.’
When Chatterjee reflects on the situation overall, he says it’s a wake-up call. “Tough moments like this are a good opportunity to rethink work,” he says. “Like when COVID happened, people rethought their relationship with work, and a lot of good things came out of that, right?” Organizations shifted to remote work, he explains, and previously taboo topics like work-life balance and mental health came to the forefront.
“That was a shock,” he says, “but the shock was an opportunity.” These layoffs are another opportunity to rethink work, he believes, and have led to a revelation or two for some of his former colleagues. “Many people who were laid off aren't actually looking for jobs because they're like, ‘Wait, this made me realize that I actually don't want another job. I actually want to work for myself.’” And honestly, that’s the type of realization you might expect from a professional whose job it was to empower entrepreneurship.
For others in Chatterjee’s group, the situation has turned into a reminder to personally invest in a network and community outside the company you work at. “You know, I guess the blessing in disguise here was that the Vancouver tech community—it is that community for us, right? Now that we need the community, they’re there for us.”
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