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Ask HN: Been in dead end job for too long. Quit without offer in hand?
30 points by Wonnk13 on June 14, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 25 comments
For the last four years i've worked in what I now realize to be a very niche job that doesn't leverage any of the skills in learned in undergrad or grad school, e.g. stats, machine learning, coding and who's tasks don't generalize to any other company. I've done almost exclusively professional services and IT troubleshooting for the last two years and my skills are absolutely atrophying.

I just failed another phone screen because I couldn't reverse a string in place. I don't have a CS degree and have never really thought about algorithms. I gave them two answers, "foo"[::-1] and ''.join(reversed("foo")) though i totally get they wanted the "algorithmic" way. I have the same problem with stats- "talk about a time you used SVM/random forests/etc at your work" ... well I've never had the chance to.

All this is to say I need a major course correction asap. Looking for new jobs while working this one is insanely stressful - that phone screen was at midnight due to the fact of me being on the opposite side of the Atlantic right now. I'm considering quitting without an offer in hand.

Who has quit to take time to refocus? I'm nervous because

1. Although the pay is great, I don't have a huge liquid emergency fund. It's all in my brokerage account, IRA, 401k etc

2. My only professional experience is with a company that's not at all representative of the industry i'm trying to enter.

3. Given 2. I don't trust myself to sit at home and "reteach" myself everything I studied four years ago.




Its far easier to find a job if you have a job. Also, you will be less likely to make sub-optimal decisions if you don't have to worry about paying rent.

I don't know how many hours you work, but I have a wife, a kid, a full-time job that I drive 1.5 hours to each way + I'm a reservist. I still find time to learn new things. It would be faster if I didn't have a job, but its still doable.

If you're stressed about the fact that your career hasn't gone the way you imagined, you should remember that it isn't too late. I switched careers at 30, quite a few people do it much later than that. Just don't give up and eventually someone will give you a shot at your dream job.


> Its far easier to find a job if you have a job.

I've found this to be true on a very practical level. When I go into an interview while already employed, I have the confidence that the worst that can happen is that I will still have my job. It removes a lot of the anxiety that comes with the process of interviewing and that leads to a better experience all around.


I found the opposite after being fired (for complaining that we weren't getting paid - I was ready to quit).

I got sick of having to do dumb technical tests with every application when I had been working all day, whereas with the spare time I was able to give them a lot more attention.


yes! you see, i don't know if it's immaturity or lack of desire, but my "take home exams" always feel half assed. I'm just flat out of gas by the time i get home from the office - last thing I want to do is another exam.


In my case its maturity rather than immaturity. I have seen it all before.

Why do another one of these crappy tests when it isn't particularly representative of my job? I have code available that I can show you, talk about, discuss the reasons why I did things the way I did. I don't need to create yet another mini application rushed in two or three hours just to show you I know what I am doing, or even worse a hackerrank challenge.


I recently did this (with a very large emergency fund) and every interviewer I've met with thus far has been very confused by why anyone would just quit. I was working at a very stressful company undergoing multiple rounds of layoffs and I was tired of dreading going to work every morning. That has not been a satisfactory answer.

I wouldn't recommend it, especially if you don't have 6 months of reserves in cash.


I'm going to give you different advice.

I take time off in between every job. I have never left a job for a job that I had in pocket.

the neat thing about taking a break, is that you can focus on your own projects. You can develop your own skills. You can do all of your own research and work. it makes a good story for interviews if you have your own projects and work to explore.

if you don't have income to support taking a break, consider trying to find part-time work or just work in lower pay environment like teaching.

Igrow so much more in the months between employment. I always feel like I'm able to return to the industry has a more marketable individual, and the sorts of jobs that I've gotten have reflected that.

The only exception to this is if you have dependents. If you're just out of college and you don't have dependents then it's ok to risk your livelihood for personal reasons, and I encourage it.


Since you are not passing the phone screens easily, I would suggest not to quit before your next offer is at hand. Easier to get the next job when you are already employed. Meanwhile continue to save up money should you want to quit anyway.

Search online for interview questions in your niche of interest. Questions like "reverse a string in place" are very common interview questions and you need to get comfortable with them.

Be honest with your interviewers that you are looking for a change. You must somehow convince them that the work interests you and that you can pick it up.


Not only is it easier to find a job when you're already employed, but some recruiters even deliberately overlook you as a candidate if you're unemployed.

I wouldn't even consider leaving until you have something else in hand.


Seconded. Also, you'll have far more leverage if you already have a job - you can push much harder when negotiating salary and benefits.


My advice: don't quit. And don't stress too much about what you learned in undergrad or whatever. I learned a lot in undergrad and grad school -- very little of which translates to my day-to-day work. Don't worry about phone screens either. Like dating, it's a numbers game. Give the answers you think are good solutions, and if they disagree, then that's possibly a hint that you're not a good fit. In my experience (as both an interviewee and an interviewer), the ones who focus on algorithmic questions are missing the point. There's a lot more to being a good developer than memorizing algorithms.

Anyway, don't give up. :)


I'd like to echo the sentiment that quitting without an offer in hand seems like a risky idea. The extra time to prepare for interviews can definitely look appealing, but plenty of others here have outlined all the ways quitting prematurely could work against you, so I won't repeat that here.

Instead, since you don't have a formal CS education, I'd recommend checking out an online algorithms course like this one: https://www.coursera.org/learn/algorithm-design-analysis/hom...

Practically speaking, like it or not (and trust me, I don't), programming interviews tend to involve a lot of algorithms and data structures problems, so having "never really thought about algorithms" puts you at an immediate disadvantage compared to other candidates. Plus, gaining a grasp of the basics of algorithms and data structures is going to be worthwhile regardless as it will make you a better developer.


> Looking for new jobs while working this one is insanely stressful

So is looking for a job while unemployed, unless you have a substantial safety net.


You don't have a plan so it would be unwise to leave. You say your emergency fund is deficient, why not figure out how to grow that to a safe margin over the next six months or so? You are failing phone screens. Specifically what field within ICT do you want to pursue? What are the skills that are the absolute must for those roles? If you can't answer that, then you don't know what areas of study to target. You may find after you do a gap analysis that you only need to train yourself in a couple skills that can be incorporated in some way into your day-to-day work.

If you just leave because you're fed up and you don't at least have a plan, you're going to make things harder on yourself than necessary. You may even find after you do your homework that there's a more fulfilling career path with your same employer that you can easily transition over to.


I wouldn't quit before landing another job.

I don't think your "dead-end" job is hopeless as you think. You didn't clarify what the "professional services" entail, but if it is related to IT (as is your troubleshooting skills), then you could look at jobs where your existing skills and experience is valuable and you will able to refresh your CS skills. Maybe a DevOps job which is more Ops than Dev initially.

Sometimes the route to the dream job requires a detour.


> I don't have a huge liquid emergency fund.

The Emergency Fund is a top priority. That will alleviate much of the stress on your job search. Can you get creative on building that up? Cut expenses, take on a side-project for additional revenue?

Meanwhile, suggest you start attending meet-ups and conferences in the space you want to work. Connecting with new people often opens hidden opportunities.


Here's some ideas:

(1) Address the stress issue. Get some sort of excercise or at least take a walk after lunch. I personally don't like the "E" word (excercise) so substitute things that are fun (mtn biking, skateboarding, climbing wall, etc). Preferably with friends.

(2) Charge your batteries Get 8 hours of good sleep. Everything is sooo much harder when you're tired. It's hard to work on even a fun project when you have no energy left at the end of the day.

(3) Make learning fun Find some sort of project that interests you that stretches you some. The idea is to learn algorithms for your project not just because you wish you knew them in an interview. Let fun "pull" your learning instead of guilt/duty/whatever "pushing" you to learn.

Do not quit your job before you have another. As someone else mentioned, some places actually have a policy of only hiring people who have a job already.


I think 1. matters a lot here. If you do have sufficient funds to go by a few months, I don't see why you can't get a fresh job if you quit without an offer.

I've done this before and am in a similar phase but working on my own startup. Having free time would allow you to think about many things, relax a bit in this stressful life and relearn algorithms and work on side projects. You will be more focused and determined to pass the interview, it's like the final exam that you cannot fail.

Bear in mind it may take 1-2 month to get the job, however you may even hit the big four after preparing well. As for many people who say recruiter ignore applicants without job, I would say ignore them! Or you could approach recruiters/founders via linkedin which can be far more effective.


Don't quit, keep interviewing.

Think how insanely stressful interviewing would be if you didn't have your current job. Having a job makes it easier to find a job. So relax, be confident in your interviews, and keep interviewing till you find a good fit.

Save up an emergency fund.

You can work on polishing your skills start a personal project using new technology or a stack you're interested in moving over to.

You don't need reteaching, most jobs you aren't going to use everything you learned in school anyway.

Good luck.


After 4 years at a company you have influence. Use it to start a small project in stats or whatever. Talk to people in the business if you need to, and build something on the side that is useful for them. Use your influence to get the project funded later.


your far better off trying to do a side project in the area your trying to get into.


I agree, I worked on a few side projects last time I was seeking a new job. It not only helped me hone my skills but I also had fresh examples of my work to show off. Like they said above, it's better to find a job while you have a job.

EDIT: I re-read what the OP said about reteaching themselves. Maybe finding a mentor will help.


It sounds like a throwaway side project where he/she has to practically apply the skillset they want to cultivate would be a more useful experience than hitting the textbooks, which is how I interpreted their last comment.

It could also be useful to have even a relatively shallow body of work to demonstrate some degree of competency, given they've not been doing it commercially to date and like every right-thinking individual, doesn't enjoy algorithm-orientated tests!

@OP - personally I wouldn't quit. Depending on your annual leave/worktime arrangements could you take 1 day a week off for the foreseeable future to pursue your career change?

Alternatively could you migrate to (or even create) a more desirable role within your current employer in the meantime? If you can demonstrate a strong business case for it they might just facilitate your career change themselves...


as for the procrastination try just 15 minute blocks. usually its several hours later before you stop working on it. just setting the environment up is a huge accomplishment. the try compiling someone else's code. you could try hiring a contractor. I found a guy that codes for $8/hr part time. I pay him to do the crapping stuff so I can focus on the fun parts. I know paying out money seems crazy but if it accomplishes your goals who cares it's better than blowing it on crap.


Maybe try studying some algorithms during weekends? It will help you in interviews and will also help you become a better programmer.




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