On Changing Jobs

An apprentice recently sent me an e-mail:

For the past month or two my work has been a not fun and I’ve been very unhappy. I felt like I was being mismanaged, being setup for failure, thrown under the bus for things that were out of my control, and the lack of on-boarding really hurt my ability.

Two friends have asked to join their companies and I have interviewed but have not completed them. The company I am at is pretty good and it would be a positive step in my career but I’m quite miserable. I was working 14 hrs/day for a few days out of the week and a min of 9/10 hrs. It just caught up to me.

Then my boss quite and now I’m being managed by people in [redacted]. They discovered my work hours and cut it back to a normal day, sprints push back when feature creep happen, but I still have that bad taste in my mouth. Things have gotten a little bit better but the idea of working with my old boss from a previous company is tempting. Plus the code I’d be writing would be relevant and not just for profit.

Do you have any advice?

He later told me my response to his question was blog-worthy, so I thought I’d publish it for posterity.

Here are my observations:

1) Burnout is a very real thing. If you’re doing 50-60 hour weeks, that can be a fairly good sign of mismanagement. It’s good that you aren’t doing this anymore, but obviously that alone isn’t going to determine whether or not you’re happy.

2) In terms of money, most people ultimately work for someone else’s gain. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a job where you aren’t the source of another person’s dollar. In terms of having an impact on the world around you, whether or not you’re making the impact you want to make is something only you can decide for yourself. That said, I can definitely appreciate working for a cause you believe in and I very much think that’s an idea you should consider further.

3) Working for people you interact with mostly online or with a significant time difference can definitely be challenging. (Some other thoughts on that here.) It sounds like your new managers are at least trying to make circumstances better. Not all managers do that. Just something to consider. If there’s anything they haven’t improved that you think could stand improvement, try to approach them about it in an open and honest fashion.

4) There is definitely a “grass is greener” bias when it comes to your current job versus a prospective job, especially when friends are involved. (Side note: working with friends isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.) The trick is learning to recognize that bias in your own thinking and to judge each job as objectively as you can. One method that’s helped me is making a list of pros and cons for each job that I’m considering, current and prospective. This forces you to really consider what matters to you.

5) Every job change is a risk. It’s possible the place you’re going to will be worse in some aspect, be it personal happiness, job security, or something else. There are many things you won’t necessarily know unless you actually make the job change. Make a point of asking as many questions as you can of prospective employers during the interview process to get a sense of what working at a new job would be like. This may give you food for thought.

6) If you do decide to quit your current job, I would definitely avoid doing so before you have a new job lined up complete with an official offer letter. Also, depart from your current job as amicably as you can. You never know what bridges you may need to cross again; burning them can limit your options in the future.

7) To paraphrase Cal Evans, if you’ve tried to make positive changes in your job such that you can be happy, to little or no effect, you’re ultimately left with only two other options: a) suck it up, get on board, and do your job to the best of your ability; 2) leave. Again, that’s a choice only you can make.

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