Knowing When To Quit

We’ve all been there. You have a nice, comfy job where you know the ropes. You might think that you’ll stay there until you retire, but that’s not really the world we live in. Jobs are no longer permanent and if you leave too early or too late, you can put yourself at a disadvantage. If you stay too long, your knowledge may become stale, whereas if you leave too quickly, you may look like a job hopper. It’s also possible to leave a job where the problems can be fixed or to stay at one where they cannot. So you have to come up with a set of reasonably objective criteria for when to leave a job and you need to do it before you are emotional about the situation. You also need to start looking before you are out of work. We’ve built a list of suggestions for just this sort of thing.

“If every day you’re going into work and you hate your job you either need to change your job or change your job.”

It can be hard to make the decision to quit a job. You are probably around your coworkers at least as much as you are awake and around your immediately family. That can be a hard bond to break. Nevertheless, sometimes you must get out of a situation that can become unfavorable for you. Sometimes opportunity knocks too and you’d be crazy not to go.

Episode Breakdown

08:58 When the environment becomes toxic.

“You may still enjoy your job even if it’s toxic.”

If you regularly are getting into arguments with coworkers, subordinates, or management, it’s probably time to go. You can’t really fix other people and if the situation isn’t being corrected, you’re better off looking for other work. Environments are also toxic when you are required to work so much that you have no life outside of work. Don’t count it as toxic if you are pulling the whole team’s weight. That’s leverage if the higher ups know it, so long as it doesn’t go on forever.

12:39 When there is no upward mobility in responsibilities.

Odds are good that you would like your career to continue developing. Whether that means you get to work on more difficult code, get to manage people, or get to mix responsibilities other than pure code into your job, it’s probably still something you want. A lot of companies don’t promote from within, for various reasons. But they’ll promote from outside. It’s dumb, but sometimes you have to shift companies to improve your career. Many companies have a bit of a ceiling on how far up you can go. This is especially true of smaller companies, as the next level above you may be the owners.

14:57 When you are given responsibilities beyond your skill or pay grade.

“It’s very easy to pidgeon hole yourself too early.”

If you’ve been there for a while then they may be grooming your for a promotion, this isn’t the time to leave. However, if you’ve recently started and the expectations are higher than is common for your level you might be in a situation of poor management. If they promote you quickly or ask you to apply for a higher position which you might not be qualified to do you may be getting yourself in over your head. Moving up the ladder to quickly prevents you from being able to ask questions and make as many mistakes.

21:00 When popular managers get removed in your chain of command.

Mergers and acquisitions seem to drive this a lot as do turf wars. When management that you and many other employees really like are suddenly let go, that is almost never a good sign.

“You can’t necessarily tell the skill level of the team with the manager in the way.”

There are some things it might mean. They weren’t doing their job and everybody liked them. This means the next person comes in with a mandate to clean house. They were doing their job and they lost out politically anyway. This means the next person will come in and mark their territory, possibly at your personal expense. They were doing their job and the company needed to decrease headcount. They start with the more expensive managers, and then cull their people.

24:22 When your salary doesn’t go up faster than inflation.

“The official inflation rate is 2-3%”

The price of everything is going up and the inflation rate is calculated in exclusion of food, fuel, housing, etc. The things excluded from the measurement of inflation are the things that should concern you. If your salary isn’t growing faster than inflation, your spending power is decreasing year over year as you become more valuable to the company. Your company knows everything is getting more expensive, and if your payrate isn’t increasing, it tends to mean that you don’t provide enough value or it isn’t recognized.

27:29 When your skills are getting stale and you can’t take on side work.

Everything in tech and especially software development is changing rapidly. If you aren’t learning new stuff, it can be really difficult to find a new job if your job goes away. Your company may really like old, stodgy technology, but companies have to realize that they can’t make a rule of sticking with old tech forever when they don’t keep employees around for a very long time.

If you aren’t learning new technology at work and are unable to pick up side projects to learn new things, you are putting yourself at extreme financial risk. If a company does not want to move towards newer technology, that’s ok. However, you should consider not staying there because that company isn’t thinking enough about its future. You may well find that future suddenly ceases to exist when you are counting on it.

34:15 When you are being forced toward “dead-end” skills.

If a company is forcing you to learn deprecated, old technology because they are stuck on old stuff and can’t find people to replace their attrition, this can be a good sign that you need to leave. It’s one thing if they are wanting you to learn enough to maintain something while it is being ported to newer technology where they can actually find help, but it’s far worse if you are being forced to not only move to dead technology, but implement new functionality in it.

You may still be able to get very high paying work in “dead” or uncommon technology afterward, but don’t do this if you aren’t willing to have that result. This sort of thing tends to happen because companies focus too much on the near term future and not at all on the long term. Eventually their tech stack is dead or near dead, they can’t find programmers to replace the ones who die/retire and so they force their current employees into using the old stuff.

40:33 When you need to pivot your career.

If you are hurtling past 35 or so, there are lots of places that won’t take you seriously as a developer coming in. It’s age discrimination, but you can go bankrupt before you can get them to stop doing it. Companies that act this way also tend to be startup bubble companies to whom you don’t want to tie your family’s fate in the first place.

“If I see a foosball table, that’s an anti-pattern.”

You may need to try for a managerial or architect role to put you in a better future position, especially as you start to get more family responsibilities and less desire to work long hours. It can also be easier to jump to a different technology stack if you switch jobs at the same time. This is also required if you want to switch to a different type of company. For instance, if you want to go from working at a corporate job to a startup, you’ll pretty much have to.

48:50 When your life circumstances change drastically.

Becoming a parent may make your current job untenable. This can also be an issue if you or someone close to you has major health problems and you simply can’t do your current job.

There are laws to protect you in many of these instances, but at the end of the day, if you can’t do your job and provide value, you need to move on. This can also happen when some of your personal responsibilities go away. For instance, if you don’t particularly like your job and you just paid off your student loans and can live on less. This can also happen if you have a side business that is starting to pick up. You may need to change jobs just to be able to go part time.

51:41 When you get written up.

“They show the cards in their hand when they do that.”

If this happens and you get demoted, lose privileges, or are put on an improvement plan, start looking. Yes, they’ll tell you that they are trying to fix the problem. It’s not in your interest to believe them. Whether it was deserved or not is irrelevant. Either you aren’t capable of doing the job, are not motivated to do the job, or you are being brought in trumped up justifications as a prelude to letting you go. You are far better off to control the timing of your exit instead of having it done for you.

55:24 When the company is acquired and a big change in direction is coming.

You don’t have to necessarily bail out immediately if your company is acquired, but you need to leave as soon as you can if you start seeing warning signs. When you start seeing new management and lots of new rules and policies, that means your company isn’t being acquired as a valuable asset, but is being absorbed.

This can actually be good if the acquirer is a company with a better culture than your previous employer, but it isn’t good if they aren’t. A lot of times when a company is acquired, people who want to hire their employees are on the lookout for people who are looking for greener pastures, so it’s not a bad time to make a move.

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Tricks of the Trade

Remember that your employment is an exchange of value. You aren’t obligated to stay in a bad job any more than you are obligated to stay in any other bad relationship. Ultimately, if you do not provide value in excess of what you cost, you can expect to eventually get cut loose. And if you do provide value in excess of what you cost, you can expect to get cut loose eventually as well. That’s just the nature of the game. You are obliged by market forces to try and get your compensation as close to the value you provide as possible and your employer is obliged by those same forces to try to get it as low as possible. You both have to do your part, or you suffer (causing your employer to suffer), or the employer suffers (causing you to eventually suffer). Whether we like it or not, we have an obligation to not break the mechanism of price discovery, because doing so creates really dumb decisions.

Editor’s Notes:

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