I think you may have skimmed over an important point wrt layoffs. Consider the reddit layoff earlier this year – they announced they would be cutting about 90 people out of a total employment of 2,000. WHY THE HECK DOES REDDIT NEED 2,000 EMPLOYEES? Especially when 99% of the labor is done by unpaid volunteers (the oldest trick in capitalism’s book)? Now, I’m not the kind of sophomoric tech bro who claims they could reimplement reddit in a weekend – I get that reliability and operating at scale are hard, but 2,000 employees? And they can’t even make a decent app?
More telling, if you look back a couple of years, in 2021, reddit announced they had snagged a $250M investment, and was going to use it to grow the company from 700 employees to 1,500 employees. I don’t know the numbers, but I bet that reddit in 2021 was as difficult to operate as in 2023, and the 700 employees were doing just fine.
That’s not really an unreasonable number of employees. Big companies have lots of departments. Big tech platforms have lots and lots of components. Each component has a whole team of people to work on it. Then there are people to coordinate between teams. Then there are product managers and project managers. Then there are HR people, lawyers, security, accountants, customer service, sales, and so on and so on.
If you want people to be working 40 hours or less each week, with reasonable PTO, then there are going to be lots of employees.
I think your thesis is “they are big because they are big”, which is just a tautology. Consider Craigslist, which has about 50 employees, but an intentional policy of staying private and small. Also, while I have no idea what’s going on inside reddit, I doubt that they were able to run for years and years at about the same scale as today with half the employees simply by working them to death. And I know that they didn’t double their number of employees because they cared about the hours per week the average employee was working.
Craigslist is a lot less complex architecturally than Reddit. That means you don’t need so many different engineering teams for different components. It’s so simple an app, you really just need one team. Craigslist doesn’t even really need frontend engineers since they just go with some boring standard HTML that never changes. Craigslist also doesn’t need a whole army of sysadmins and devops people to deal with cloud biz.
Craigslist never works on new features and changes. It’s frozen in time. A lot of teams at Reddit are exclusively working on new stuff. Craigslist only needs people to fix bugs, which there aren’t so many because they’re polishing the same exact stone for years without ever adding anything new and unpolished.
Craigslist is not aggressively pursuing growth. They don’t need huge sales teams and all that biz.
And being big because you are big is not a tautology. It’s a fact. When the load gets bigger, you need a bigger truck to carry it in. If Craigslist needed to add 10 engineers to develop a new features, they’d probably have to add at least 2 other people just to manage it. Small companies you can have one business person take care of everything. Bigger company, you need a whole HR department, with different sub-HR departments in different offices. You need receptionists, accountants, cafeteria workers, etc. The more employees you have doing what your company does, the more employees you need who simply provide internal services to support them.
That principle scales, and you end up with 2000 people at Reddit.
If Reddit had kept its original codebase, with no new features, and no attempt to grow, then yeah they could survive with a much smaller number of employees. They aren’t doing that.
I see that Rym mentioned liking Inventory Tetris in this episode. Have you checked out Dredge on Steam? Inventory Tetris is a big part of it. It’s ostensibly a fishing game where you harvest fish and salvage, selling them for money, upgrades, and to complete various quests. But there’s a sinister, and some miight say Lovecraftian undercurrent to what’s going on. Like going fishing after dark is bad news.