Latest tech layoffs: Twitch, Duolingo, Citrix parent ditch hundreds of workers

Happy New Year!

Last year's tech layoff spree isn't over, with live-streaming site Twitch announcing today that it's laying off 500 employees, around a third of its staff. The biz isn't alone in letting people go.

Twitch CEO Dan Clancy confirmed the cuts on Wednesday after Bloomberg broke the news the day before, which Clancy described as a disappointing leak and led him to apologize to employees "for all the anxiety that it caused." 

Clancy said Twitch was taking the move in a continued bid to adapt the business, efforts which have been ongoing over the past year. "It has become clear that our organization is still meaningfully larger than it needs to be given the size of our business," the CEO said. Which is corp-speak for it thinks it over-hired, like so many other tech businesses in the COVID-19 pandemic, and is now swinging the ax.

"For some time now the organization has been sized based upon where we optimistically expect our business to be in three or more years, not where we're at today," Clancy continued. "As with many other companies in the tech space, we are now sizing our organization based upon the current scale of our business and conservative predictions of how we expect to grow in the future." 

Clancy claimed his platform "remains strong," and said it had paid out more than $1 billion to streamers in 2023.

Twitch, which was acquired by Amazon in 2014, was caught up in some of the mass layoffs at the cloud goliath in 2023, which involved more than 27,000 people losing their jobs. Twitch cut 400 positions during Amazon's second layoff round of that year, which took place in March.

As part of its efforts to ostensibly get costs under control, Twitch announced plans late last year to shut down services in South Korea, citing untenable network costs that made it more expensive to operate under Seoul's regulations than in other countries. Services in Korea will end late next month, Twitch said in December. 

It's long been known that Twitch has trouble turning a profit; whether or not these changes will help make it less of a financial drag for Amazon remains to be seen. 

The layoffs come the same day that Amazon itself told employees it planned to cut several hundred roles from its Prime Video and MGM Studios divisions. Mike Hopkins, Amazon's SVP for Prime Video and Amazon Studios, told employees in a note published by the Hollywood Reporter that the move was being made to increase investments in profitable areas. 

Amazon, we note, also plans to start serving ads via Prime Video from the end of January unless customers pay an extra $3 a month for a new ad-free tier. 

Duolingo swapping contractors for AI

Language-teaching app Duolingo has confirmed to The Register reports it laid off around 10 percent of its contract workers at the end of 2023, a move that's been reported as being made to clear the room for more use of AI in its courses.

Duolingo has made no secret of its love for AI, with one of its features, Max, using GPT-4 to generate longer-form conversations for users. CEO Luis von Ahn also described Duolingo's use of generative AI as "helping us create new content dramatically faster" in a shareholder letter [PDF] late last year.

Despite those moves, Duolingo tells us it's "not swapping the expertise of human experts for AI." 

The biz said it frequently offloads contractors once a project is finished or a role is no longer needed. The company told us that, while some of its contractors' work ended in 2023, "others have begun new contracts in different functions or areas of the company."

"Most contractors are hired for discrete projects," a Duolingo representative told us, and that "when the work is completed, the contract ends." Duolingo still has a 40-person learning and curriculum team that will continue to design the company's courses, and that process won't change. 

Of course, that doesn't have anything to do with the translation work and other more menial tasks contractors provide, which the company was less specific about. Duolingo did tell us it uses AI to "speed up certain tasks" like generating sentences for courses, creating lists of acceptable answers to translation questions and handling error reporting - all tasks which sound suspiciously like things humans have traditionally done.

"AI is a tool we are using to increase productivity and efficiency, to add new content and improve our courses quickly so that we can continue to teach to higher levels of proficiency," we're told. 

Then again, sometimes different PR people say different things - like what a Duolingo spokesperson told Bloomberg of the layoffs. "We just no longer need as many people to do the type of work some of these contractors were doing. Part of that could be attributed to AI," it was reported. ®

Are there any more layoffs you're aware of in the IT world? Please do let us know in confidence.

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