Elon Musk, Person wearing black gloves cutting sandwich. Blue alien with black eyes holding up hands

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‘This was like a giant meme to him’: Elon Musk had sandwich made for him, talked about aliens during all-hands right before laying off workers

'It’s over for us.'


Eilish O'Sullivan


Posted on Mar 9, 2024   Updated on Mar 9, 2024, 2:05 pm CST

The future of the tech industry may not be as bleak as one would think, laid-off tech workers speaking at a South by Southwest (SXSW) panel on Saturday in Austin reassured their audience. A few of whom were tech workers who had been laid off themselves or fear being laid off soon and are curious about the road ahead. 

Carmen Kiew was laid off from Twitter in 2022 in a pretty callous—albeit too familiar for many tech workers who experienced layoffs in recent years—way. Kiew recalled being “out and about” and trying to get into her email, only to find herself locked out of her account. She was one of the more than 6,000 Twitter employees to get laid off since Musk acquired Twitter in 2022. 

Kiew touched on what the “vibes” were like after Musk took over Twitter, which she said she would never call X, as it’s now known. Kiew said half of her colleagues were enamored with Musk, fangirling over him during a “meet-and-greet”-esque event. Kiew said she, along with the other half of her workplace, knew it was “over” for them after seeing how he trivialized the job. Musk himself has called the layoffs “painful,” but his demeanor right before carrying them out showed otherwise.

Kiew herself witnessed the infamous moment Musk walked into Twitter’s headquarters with a sink in hand. She also recalled an all-hands in which Musk talked about aliens while someone made a sandwich for him in the background. She said Musk treated it like a “giant meme,” even though people’s livelihoods were on the line. “This guy does not care,” she revealed of her inner monologue at the time. 

For Kiew, working at Twitter was a big part of her identity; she introduced herself to people as “Carmen Kiew from Twitter.” Now, she’s thankful she was laid off. “It’s weird that a layoff can build confidence, but it really did,” she shared. 

Kiew is now director of strategy at Codeword Agency and said she’s happier than she was at Twitter. 

Alex Whedon, CEO and founder of Jenn AI, was laid off from Meta and similarly called the layoff a “blessing.” 

Whedon turned to freelance work after being laid off and said he enjoyed it more than having a full-time job. Whedon said that, through freelancing, tech workers are able to diversify their portfolios by working with different companies, have the ability to specialize so much more, and can prioritize the priorities of the entire industry rather than the priorities of a singular company. Joe Lazer, head of marketing at A.Team, said tech workers feel more noncommittal than ever, with 73%, according to a survey, not wanting to have a singular employer due to past trauma their previous employers inflicted on them when parting ways. 

Jon Swartz, a MarketWatch reporter, said Musk normalized the idea employers can slash their workforce and “can go to a barebones staff, which was followed by Meta and others.” Swartz said another reason for tech industry layoffs is that tech companies overstaffed themselves and now have to course-correct. Lastly, Swartz said the pivot to artificial intelligence also played a role in the layoffs. 

But Lazer encourages highly skilled tech workers to use AI to their advantage. “You won’t be replaced by AI, but you will be replaced by someone who knows how to use AI,” Lazer said. He then told the story of a worker at his company who “played around” with AI out of curiosity and how it led to a promotion. 

“There’s such an opportunity there that you shouldn’t be scared away from, even if you aren’t a coder,” Lazer said.

Lazer said workers who are using AI “are seeing their hourly rate increase by 16%.” “They’re extremely optimistic about what this technology will mean for their careers,” Lazer added.

The panelists also shared advice for tech workers who think they are about to get laid off. “While you have this job, start looking on crafting your story,” Whedon said, encouraging them to take up a side project that they can work on and talk about “at the next place.”

“So many people in tech don’t realize the upward mobility they do have,” he added.

Whedon said he was able to triple his pay by jumping from job-to-job. “If you feel like you’re at risk of getting laid off, and you could be doing more interesting things, you could be making more,” he said, “start working toward that now. Don’t waste your time.”

The Daily Dot reached out to Musk’s team via email.

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*First Published: Mar 9, 2024, 2:30 pm CST