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Their lucrative job offers were rescinded. Now, the next generation of crypto whiz kids is freaking out

June 13, 2022, 11:00 PM UTC

Ashutosh Ukey wasn’t expecting this.

Less than two weeks ago, the 23-year-old was lined up to work at America’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, Coinbase. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign graduate was no crypto fanatic. He didn’t even have a Coinbase account when he accepted the offer. Ukey’s interests were more focused on machine learning technology, which he was considering a doctorate program in at Illinois at the same time as the Coinbase offer. But Coinbase and crypto offered something new. Add on the opportunity to start paying off some student loans and to work remotely, and Ukey was sold. 

What Ukey didn’t know, of course, was that before he even started, Coinbase would abruptly rescind his job offer and hundreds of others as it prepares for the bear market setting in—a move that has left Ukey feeling uneasy about working in crypto. 

“There’s a lot of potential for [crypto] to be innovative, but, as I’ve learned the hard way, it can be pretty volatile and unpredictable,” says Ukey, who came to the U.S. from India at the age of 8 and is now facing a ticking clock of 150 days to find a new employer who can sponsor a visa. “For the immediate future, I am kind of reluctant to go into crypto because it’s a lot less stable than some of the other big tech sectors and industries.”

Just a few months ago, the world of digital assets seemed to be the future for any wannabe developer. Blockchain, Web3, and crypto startups couldn’t raise cash fast enough for the amount of interest from venture capitalists. Wall Street was embracing crypto after years of hemming and hawing. And the new innovations were coming off the proverbial assembly line at breakneck speeds. Then, right as final exams at colleges across the country neared, crypto plunged. The market was already well off its November 2021 highs by then, but a shifting macroeconomic environment and the alarming implosion of algorithmic stablecoin Luna set off a cascade of sell orders that has sent the market from its $3 trillion peak value globally to less than $1 trillion today, though that number continues to decline seemingly by the minute following crypto lending firm Celsius’ decision late Sunday to pause all withdrawals.

Now, the next generation of crypto whiz kids find themselves in unexpected territory. The high-flying market that so many had banked on entering not that long ago has barreled back down to Earth in dramatic fashion, ensnaring startups and giants alike in the fallout and warding off some new graduates from working in crypto—at least today. 

“Personally, I’m not touching it with a 10-foot pole right now,” a recent University of California at Berkeley graduate, whose offer to join Coinbase was also recently rescinded, tells Fortune.

Coinbase’s decision to pull already accepted offers out from underneath candidates’ feet has perhaps had the most significant chilling effect to date on how potential crypto developers and engineers think about the market. Ryan Riahi, for instance, was set to join Coinbase come September. The newly anointed graduate from UCLA had gone through a series of interviews and assessments late in 2021 to earn an offer from the crypto exchange giant, which Riahi leapt to accept, even dropping interviews at Meta to do so. “I thought that crypto could really be the future,” Riahi tells Fortune. “And that I would work on building this future of the Internet” at Coinbase. 

“It really seemed like a top company to me,” Riahi adds. “Now, I’d probably never apply to them again.”

And it’s not just Coinbase. Days after the offer was pulled, someone from Binance reached out to Riahi about an opening. His response? “No thanks.” For now, Riahi says he’s avoiding crypto and Web3 companies altogether. It could be something that he comes to regret, Riahi recognizes. But “there’s a million and one companies to work at as a software engineer nowadays,” Riahi says, “so I’m going to stay away from crypto.”

For Zayyan Faizal, a recent graduate from Illinois who just started work as the third engineer for a crypto messaging protocol on the Solana blockchain known as Dispatch, there is still plenty of hope of working in crypto over the long run—especially at infrastructure companies that working on non-consumer-facing businesses. The way Faizal sees it, just about everything is selling off now. “It very much is a market-wide thing,” Faizal says. “Everybody’s just kind of on edge.”

The broader tech industry has indeed been undergoing its own reckoning of late. Giants like Meta, Salesforce, and Microsoft have had to slow and pause hiring in some parts of the businesses, while others such as Robinhood, Netflix, and Tesla have laid workers off. In total, there were 4,044 job cuts in tech during the month of May, compared to about 500 from January through April, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas. And job listings have fallen as well, going from 477,845 as of April 19 to 438,904, as of June 10, representing an 8.1% decline, according to TrueUp, a tech job marketplace company. 

But there’s no question crypto has been particularly ugly. Between March and June, the count of open crypto and Web3 jobs tracked by TrueUp declined 13.5% from 12,358 to 10,681, according to data from the company. Of that, Coinbase has gone from having 594 jobs open to zero. Crypto.com has slashed its openings from 808 to seven, and just announced Monday that it was cutting 5% of its corporate workforce. Celsius’ listings went from 136 to nine. And that’s likely “just the beginning,” says Michael Adler, senior managing partner for recruitment firm AC Lion.

“We’re in for a long haul,” Adler tells Fortune. “If we’re going into a recession, the stock market keeps going down, and capital keeps getting more expensive, I think there’s going to be a lot of layoffs.”

The critical factor job seekers should consider, says Adler, is this: Is there a real business model or is the company in the business of raising money? In other words, Adler suggests looking at a company’s prospects in terms of the long term and the short term. For one that’s building the infrastructure of a new Internet, something that is removed from the immediacy of Bitcoin’s 24-hour price change, the prospects are bound to be rosier than that of a company dependent on trading volumes.

Adler has been seeing some hesitation among candidates about joining the ranks of crypto companies, but, for younger ones, Adler says taking the leap now may be worth it. “If you have a mortgage and three kids, you need to make money,” Adler says. “It’s a whole different ballgame. So, if you’re coming out of school and you have a higher risk tolerance, go for it.”

None of what new grads are facing in crypto today is necessarily new, of course.

The technology may be, but the experience of entering a dissolving job market is something that 20-something-year-olds have been doing for decades, whether it be in the form of MBA students in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis or programmers like Anatoly Yakovenko in the early aughts. 

In 2003, Solana Labs cofounder and CEO was preparing to enter into the workforce after graduating from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a computer science degree. But the dot-com bubble bursting in the years ahead had some advisers cautioning Yakovenko that computer science may not actually be the best choice at the time. But Yakovenko stuck with it, landing a job in late 2003, after a voice over the Internet protocol startup he had founded failed to get off the ground, with Qualcomm—a move that paved the way for the eventual creation of what is now one of the largest blockchains out there today in Solana. 

“One of the best times to get in is right after a crash,” Yakovenko recently told Fortune. “Crypto’s probably the best choice for new grads right now.”

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