When Do You Leave?

I've been reflecting lately.  Huge life changes will do that to you.  You know, things like: Quitting your job of 17 years without another one handy, moving to a state you've only driven through once, working at one of the big 4 tech firms, and being fired as a Dad by my own son.

So, when do you decide to make a change?

Looking back on it, there were several discrete moments where I was 'out'.

  • Philosophic Disagreement: I was still an intern when I learned the company decided to shut-down all manufacturing at our site.  This fundamentally changed the company, from being a team-oriented place where we did everythig soup-to-nuts (R&D -> Manufacturing -> Sales) to being wholly white-collar.  I was so upset I called my Dad and said I wanted to quit, to never go back to that place.  I went back the next Monday.
  • Burnout: When I was promoted waaay too fast and burnt out, at 25.  I was leading a team in America and one in India, and every single person on both teams was older than me.  I handled it....by working about 80 hours a week.  I was increasingly unhealthy and stressed, and if you look back at my blog in 2003->2004, you can see it clearly.  
  • The Deathmarch: In 2008->2009, I worked on an 18 month deathmarch project full of politics, deadlines, and impossibility.   We got it done and made it work, but I was working 80 hours a week minimum for that time.  I remember distinctly having a shouting match with my manager at 3am on a Sunday night.  I tried to get out, but I didn't try very hard.  One interview went badly and I just slumped back into my job.
  • Peter Principle:  I got promoted 3 levels up the org chart to report directly to a director.  I saw the reality of corporate middle management, and it made me sick.  It got so bad, my wife drew the line and said she wanted to hear nothing about my job ever again. (A bad sign unto itself)
  • The Pie Shrinks:  Sometimes, you have to look around and realize that every year, bit-by-bit, you're shrinking.  There are fewer people than there were, and just as much work.  Think of it like Germany in 1945:   It makes little sense to run a things the way you once did when you're just trying to stave off the Soviet Army at the gate.
Thing was, I saw the pie shrink something like 7 times before I got out.  Seventeen years  Why did I stay?
  1. Insecurity.  I've never been a "natural" at CS stuff, I went to a no-name school, my natural accent makes people think I should have a banjo instead of a keyboard.
  2. Loyalty.  I am loyal.  I was brought-up to be loyal to family, country, and (yes) company.  My father worked for the same company his entire career. 
  3. Family Circumstances.  I'm the sole income-earner and I support 4 other people.  "Risk tolerant" was not something I could be.  I needed steady income and job security.
How did I break that down?
  1. Seventeen years of experience.  People really don't care what school you went to after a few years in industry.  They care about your body of work and what you bring to the table now.
  2. There is no loyalty to employees.  It's fantasy.  Individual managers are great (and I've had many that were), but a for-profit, joint-stock corporation has nothing in its corporate charter about loyalty to employees.  In the end, both sides operate best when seeking mutually beneficial outcomes: Great work in exchange for great compensation.
  3. I got down to zero debt (thanks Dave Ramsey) and got a separation package.  
So, like most things, fear and pride were why I stayed.

Realistically, things had run their course in 2005, 2009, and 2011.  All of those were great opportunities to tie a bow and do something else.


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