Sunday, March 2, 2014

Time to Change Jobs?

It sucks to be laid off. On top of the emotional response to being rejected and discarded, you have to begin a job hunt from a standing start, while simultaneously finding ways to keep food on the table. It's better for both your ego and your wallet if you pick the day of your departure and move directly to a new job.

When is it time to change jobs?

Change jobs ASAP if you think the management is leading the company in the wrong direction, if they are mistreating you or other employees, or if they want you to do something illegal or unethical. There is no future in such a job. Even if you stay, you'll either get fired (because managers can tell when you think they're leading the company to trouble), or the company will fold (because the managers led the company to trouble).

Change jobs if your employer is working you 60 hours every week and they aren't paying you a salary-and-a-half. There are lots of companies where employees work a reasonable number of hours. Most companies that make you work long hours don't pay any better than average. Why give them your life for nothing? Yeah, every job has crunch time when a deadline looms and you gotta put in the hours. I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about companies who think all developers should work 60 hours a week because the founder worked 60 hours a week at Microsoft back before the IPO and got rich on stock options. Stock options are not all created equal. Most expire worthless.

Change jobs if you aren't challenged by what you're doing, and you like to be challenged. HOWEVER, be mindful that you will continue to discover new and better ways to use whatever tools you're using for five years or more. Folks just out of school very often think they know all they will ever need to know by the time they are 25. This is so totally not true, but you won't realize it until you're 35 or 40. Find an old hand you respect and ask them. They will say the same thing. You will just have to trust them until you feel it for yourself.

Don't change jobs if you are really happy where you are. Happy matters a lot more than rich. That's my advice. HOWEVER, don't confuse mere comfort with happiness. It's easy to get comfortable, thinking you know everything in the world about some mature product written in some old language, and that you can set the cruise control and be employed for life. But your company may suddenly drop that mature product, and then where will you be with your out-of-date skills and no relevant industry experience?

Change jobs if what you're doing at this job won't help you get another job. I interviewed a software engineer once who had never written any software. He administered contracts of the third-party companies who wrote tests for the software written by other third-party companies. He'd been in this job long enough to forget his CS classes, and had gained no relevant experience. Needless to say, he didn't get the job. I sat near a software engineer who wrote code for a ridiculously small microprocessor for embedded devices. It was so small, its program counter was a feedback shift register, not a counter (fewer gates). Branches and jumps could only target every 16th storage location. There was no macro assember that could emit code for this processor, so you coded it in by hand in hexadecimal bytes. He worked at this job for five years before getting disgruntled, and found he had zero relevant experience anywhere else on the planet. I am personally one of the planet's leading experts on functional RAM testing. Guess how many jobs there are in that field.

Change jobs if you are being paid less than friends make for the same work. HOWEVER, don't change jobs because you heard that's the way to pump up your salary. If you are underpaid and have hot skills and are just a couple of years out of school, job-hopping might work for you once or twice. But in the long run, you can't pump your salary infinitely high. HR directors meet in groups or exchange emails or subscribe to reports that tell them what software developers with so-many years experience are making. The only things that will improve your salary in the long run are visible accomplishments, years of experience, and having a variety of very up-to-date skills.

A little humility goes a long way when thinking about changing jobs. Don't change jobs because you heard a story on the internet that some guy one year out of school is pulling down $150k. It doesn't mean that you can get that much (even if you believe stories you read on the internet). Freakishly rich companies like Facebook and Google do pay better than regular companies. Facebook and Google are correspondingly more fussy about who they hire. You may not make the cut, even if you think you're a smart guy.

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