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Ask HN: If I quit my job, will I ever work again?
80 points by craftsman 2641 days ago | hide | past | web | 77 comments | favorite
I'm seriously considering quitting my job. I make plenty of money, but the money isn't what's important to me. The culture is bad and I'm just not able to write great software. The skilz, they are suffering.

I can survive for a while, so I'm thinking about taking a six-month sabbatical and rebooting my career. I want to work on open source projects, learn Clojure, and finish my master's degree (not for the paper, but for fun).

So the big question is: can I emerge from the other side of this and find great people to work with and cool stuff to work on?

What would you do during a six-month sabbatical in order to find more awesomeness?

If you don't have any dependents, you should quit. I could spit out a bunch of mundane platitudes to support that suggestion, like "In life, you never regret the things you do; you regret the things you don't do" or "You have to do what you're passionate about, or you'll never be happy," but you already know those things, everybody does, that's why they're called platitudes. You already know you should quit.

Ergo, your problem is motivation. Allow me: I'm going to keep calling you a pussy over and over again until you quit your job. Of course, you won't be able to hear me because I'm in my basement and you're not[1], but trust me, I'll be saying it. Pussypussypussy.

[1]Unless you're my black lab, in which case one of us needs to get the other to the hospital.

Sounds like something http://www.awesomenessreminders.com/ could branch into.

Potential Awesomeness Reminders.

"Good morning! Did you work on [side project] yesterday? You're not going to be awesome unless you do!"

Simply being accountable to a mysterious voice on the other end of the telephone every morning might actually motivate a lot of people.

"You've been awesome all week! Don't break the chain!"


They already do it. Note the "Any additional instructions?" field in the page you linked to.

I have to upvote that one because it was too damn funny. And unfortunately for me, apparently true...for now.

Did some obscure reference in your footnote just woosh me?

No obscure reference. I probably made that joke too hard to get by making it so G-rated. Whoops.

Might sound silly at this point, but I thought there was a serious chance that comment would get down-voted into oblivion. Sure, it's at +64 right now, but what if the OP hadn't responded like he did? Good example of that Derek Sivers guy's "First Follower" principle. I'm not usually a Sivers fan (got nothing against him either) but First Follower is some real-ass shit.

with great risk comes great reward.

haha, I'll keep calling you pussy until you quit too!

I quit my job in March, 2009. Traveled all throughout Southeast Asia for four months.

A month after I returned the CTO at my old job contacted me and gave me an offer I couldn't refuse. How about that.

I like a lot of things about the job/company/people. I think I just needed to get that out of my system. Although, I would like to do more trips in the future.

My life has returned to normal in some ways, but I'm much wiser and more mature than before, and also making more (and saving more).

I can't think of any negatives about the experience. Although, yeah, quitting was tough--including all the stuff you need to wrap up (i.e. moving out, into storage, canceling subscriptions, selling car or other stuff you won't need, breaking the news to your parents, etc).

I kept a travel blog, if you want to get inspired: http://bp321.com/travels

And my top 100 photos from the trip (in random order): http://billpaetzke.smugmug.com/Travel/Best-of-Southeast-Asia...

Do it.

I'm quitting my job in March next year to travel from Thailand to Mongolia for 4-5 months (via Cambodia, Vietnam, China, South Korea). I will be leaving with the smallest rucksack possible, no computer. Not sure what I'll do after that yet, but high up on the list is to spend some time with my family who live abroad.

Funny. I am doing exactly the same thing in October. If I'm not going to be working for a while why should I pay U.S. prices to see the same old things when I could be seeing the world and saving money at the same time?

I do plan to take a laptop though because my primary goal is to use this as an intense personal study period.

I want time away from the computer altogether. I think I'll take my iPhone 3G though, for GPS waypoints tracking, and occasional email and Wordpress blog updates.

Not bringing a computer? May want to bring a TravelKey to lock down cyber cafe computers instead. (Shameless plug) http://www.travelusbkey.com/

Thanks I'll check it out.

There is a middle ground between quitting and not doing anything enjoyable.

I noticed a few weeks ago that I am always kind of tired after work, and can't do anything really useful. So I decided I'd go to bed early, and then get up at 4am to work on stuff I wanted to work on. Fresh coffee, fresh from sleeping, and not tired from work.

Then around 9, I go to work and have a normal day. I might be a little tired at work, but I'd rather have the awake-and-creative me for myself. I don't get paid enough to give them that.

I'm considering doing that myself. But it cripples your social life, yeah? That what's been holding me back. I'm single and in the dating scene.

Or do you stay up later on weekends? Or perhaps you're able to do longer days because it's more meaningful now. How do you manage?

Not sure. My willpower is limited, so sometimes I totally ignore my "routine" and sleep in to noon. (I did today.) It's 2:30AM here now, so obviously I am not going to be waking up at 4AM today :)

I am sticking with the 4am thing for two reasons. One, I like to ride my bike around 5:30 or 6-ish in the morning because nobody is out running on the trail I like at that time. (Runners are very dangerous.) If I go in the afternoon, I have to skip the trail and use surface streets instead, and a 14 mile ride takes an hour and a half. In the morning, I can do 25 miles in that time. So more exercise, less cars, and better scenery is one incentive to get up.

Another thing is that I have all my meals delivered via some service that does that, and they come at around 4:30 or 5. So I have to get out of bed anyway.

In the end, there is an infinite number of things to do that take time, but only a finite number of hours in a day. So if you are intent on setting a routine, you aren't going to be able to do everything you want. If you are flexible, though, then you might be able to.

For me, I identified, "I am tired after work" and moved things that don't require being non-tired (watching TV and sleeping) to after work. Then I moved everything else to before.

What's the service that delivers meals and are you based around NY by any chance?

I'm in Chicago, but I read about the idea in the NYTimes:


Here in Chicago, I use Organic Life: http://organiclifeonline.com/flash.html.

It's expensive and you don't get a lot of food, but everything is very good for you and I've lost about 8 pounds in 2 weeks. Lots of green vegetables, fiber, and fish. And I get steak and potatoes every so often!

I might be a little tired at work, but I'd rather have the awake-and-creative me for myself. I don't get paid enough to give them that.

Wouldn't your company notice that and complain? Most software companies I know expect their employees to give 100% effort.

I don't work at a software company.

My current job consists mostly of listening to people whine in meetings about a broken system that my team is trying to maintain. No need to be awake for that.

I wish I could go into more detail about this project. But I'll just say I spent a few hours completely rewriting this project, and my version uses no proprietary libraries or protocols, has the ability to scale linearly, and was 200 lines of Perl. The real system is too slow for our users, impossible to scale, dependent on 5-year-old proprietary libraries, and is 100,000 (or so) lines of C#.

Now you know why we charge those $35 overdraft fees.

Some software companies I know are quite unable to measure results, let alone effort.

Some companies or managers keep track of LOC, bugs/loc, commits, or even screen/keyboard activity...

If it is not automated, the managers usually keep a mental note.

He gives 100% of what's left after his cut. In any case, unless there was a seriously marked decrease in performance I doubt most people would be able to detect the difference.

Man that's a good idea, but I take it to the opposite extreme. I just can't bring myself to be an early riser, egads.

You've inspired me to give it a try sometime though. :)

I quit my job in November '09. My intent at the time was to spend 3-6 months developing new skills and reading about/learning all the cool things I'd seen on HN and pushed off until "when I have time."

Midway through, an idea that began as a learner project turned into a startup, 3-6 months turned into 9+, and I'm learning more than I ever have, and about more than just the programming topics I'd planned on.

Meanwhile, I've gone to meetups and startup events (like the Work at a Startup Day), and my personal projects -and my commitment to developing the skills to build them on my own- have been the starting points of lots of conversations with cool people from cool companies, opening doors to opportunities I'd have never had if I'd still been working at a full time gig that my heart wasn't into.

The most important thing for me has been making sure to use my time well. It's easy to squander the time, so it's paramount to have a plan and stick to it. That said, the plan can be pretty flexible since you set the schedule (assuming you don't have dependents limiting that).

My biggest concern is whether I'll be able to go back to a "regular job" after the freedom of working on my own projects on my own schedule. But I'm hoping that I won't have to find out.

Do it!

If you're young, debt free and don't have any family relying on you for support, then I wholeheartedly recommend leaving to do what makes you happy.

When my job ended this past February, I booked a ticket to Europe and spent the next four months in "mini apprenticeships" making cheese in France and the UK. I learned to milk goats and sheep, castrated pigs, sheared sheep, and improved my French markedly. There's a lot to be acquired by immersing yourself in a different culture for an extended period of time.

Before I'd left I'd received a lot of remarks claiming I was "sabotaging my career" (or something to that effect) by taking extended leaves to follow my passions. The way I look at it is that I'm doing these things while I'm young and still physically capable of doing it, at a time when I'm not prevented from doing them financially or because I have a family to support.

You could wait to start living the care-free dream when you're 65 and retired...but who knows if you'll even be around then?

I'm writing this from a hostel in Italy. I worked for a major corporation and asked for 2 months unpaid time off because the 2 weeks a year for the last 8 years of my life just wasn't cutting it. They said no and I handing in my resignation. I gave six week notice and during that time I was able to find another job that would let me start 3 months after my end date to allow for my trip. I just finished visiting Norway and Iceland which were absolutely amazing. Don't be afraid, go enjoy life a little bit.

Absolutely do it. But don't sit at home writing code. Get out and see a bit of the world.

These days most tropical beaches have wifi, so you can still do all that boring stuff you listed above. You'll just do it from a laptop while living in a grass hut and eating Thai food every meal. Trust me, it's way better that way, and it's also a lot cheaper than sitting out your sabbatical in your expensive apartment.

Step one is to head down to the bookstore and park yourself in the Travel section. See if you can make it 20 minutes into Lonely Planet's Southeast Asia on a Shoestring before you head over to the coffee shop to boot up and book a flight.

Don't worry about your career. It'll still be here when you get back. As others have said, taking six months off often just gives your friends time to find you awesome contract jobs at their companies. Chances are you'll have something lined up before you even leave the beach.

Good luck!

Hilarious. Is everybody doing this now? And here I thought I was being original!

It makes sense on so many levels. You save money, you broaden your horizons, and you shake up your thinking enough to let some new ideas out. I figure when I'm done I will have either put together a much more compelling github resume than I ever would have in an hour or two a night after work and I might even have an idea for my own startup.

I'm surprised at how many negative replies there are. I know people who have quit to hitchhike across the U.S., bike across Europe, teach music, raise a family, spend time doing construction, try their hand at day trading, get a law degree, and work in marketing, among other things. None of them have had problems coming back to programming.

You're asking if you're going to have problems finding a technical job after quitting so that you can spend time improving your skills. Are you kidding? I can't even imagine this hurting you career, and I wouldn't be surprised if you end up with unsolicited interviews if you write up what you're doing in some way (whether it's on a blog or via something like github or bitbucket). Sure, there are companies that won't hire you after a sabbatical, but do you really want to work for those sorts of places?

P.S. Good luck (not that you'll need it)!

You should quit, especially if you don't major obligations (debt, family). In 10 years you'll always regret not having done so. And definitely think you can emerge on the other side just fine- thats largely a function of how you're willing to market what you did. Its a constant fear of people to have to explain gaps in their resume, but recruiters at companies that you'd actually want to work for (e.g. ones that aren't looking for docile employees) won't care about that as much as your drive.

I spent the last 3 years working at a firm where luckily, the concept of "sabbatical" was accepted and almost encouraged in your third year. I've seen a number of different things that people have done, and given your goals, here are a few ideas that you might find relevant:

- Take a job that you absolutely would never take for the money, but want to do for the experience. Former colleagues of mine have taken eye-opening jobs working for various non-profits all over the world, had the chance to travel, and reboot. The benefit here is you get a chance to think about your career and what you might actually want to do. Take a job at another company that you're interested in, if permitted - If you're going to spend time doing stuff you can do remotely, do it in a foreign country where you can ride the currency exchange and do really cool stuff when you're not working (e.g. buenos aires, china, etc.). Mobility is priceless

  We rest here while we can, but we hear the ocean calling in our dreams
  and we know by the morning, the wind will fill our sails to test the seams
  The calm is on the water and part of us would linger by the shore
  For ships are safe in harbour, but that's not what ships are for

I believe this is from the song "Ships" by Tom Kimmel & Michael Lille, and the last line is (mis-)quoted by Admiral Grace Hopper.

I took 4 years off and worked on my own projects, even one that was a medical device. No real successes.

And now I'm working as a contractor on a web app for some company called Apple. And am contacted by recruiters virtually every day, even without Apple on my resume.

what did your resume look like before that?

I worked for IBM for four years after college, then worked for web developer at a small web-based training startup for 7 years.

My experience is that through contracting you can re-establish yourself even after extended time away. The bar is lower because the employer makes no commitment. And its likely you'll make more money in less hours contracting than a salaried job.

It also helps to know a few things that are in demand.

requesting a blog post about your experiences with the medical device

Here's a little about it.


Getting away from regular work or school is a good opportunity to reevaluate your lifestyle, or at least address some part of it that bothers you.

The work will be waiting for you when you get back. If you're in an area with active tech gatherings you can show for those and keep up your connections. Nobody worth your time would hassle you over a short break that produces some noteworthy portfolio items(like open source work or a degree).

My wife kept urging me to take the 6 months sabbatical (she was even asking for 1 year), we even had a big argument about that. In the end I chickened out.

Instead, we came up with a compromise, I quit my job and start working as a contractor while she continue doing awesome at her job.

The compromise should give me the time and mental energy to find awesomeness.

To really answer your question, my path is easier, I could just find a "safe" job later when things get tough.

To answer the last paragraph, I just love programming so much. After a stressful day at work, I need my Python as bad as I need a cigarette. I don't need a break to seek that mythical awesomeness (My definition of awesome is to finally launch a useful service for real people). I need a break to ran away from those pesky Employee Agreement contract, crappy boss, and mental drain caused by him/her.

My life at home is not different at all nowadays. Just a lot less stress.

PS: Future boss might ask, why there's a gap in your resume? I know my old one would.

Dude, my resume is almost all Gap, and it hasn't ever hurt me.

You get hired based on what you can do and how you come across in an interview. Taking time off to travel and code will improve both those things.

What happened in that 6 month gap? I built and launched [whatever].com. It's a ... built on ..., and it's cool because of .... Oh, and funny story, while I was building it on the beach in Mozambique, I actually had... [followed by some amazing anecdote about the local village chief coming in give me feedback even though he'd never used a computer]

Trust me, it's a net positive.

Yes, a future boss might ask that. I know I've asked people that in interviews. But if somebody told me 'Because I wanted to recharge my batteries, take a sabbatical, and work on cool stuff I loved' I'd see that as a huge plus.

On the other hand, if you tell me it's because you really had to see all of Law and Order, that might be another issue.

Yes, quit and it won't hurt, you'll find work in 6 months. You might even be able to get hired someplace before quitting, on the condition that your start date is six months from now.

You're probably burned out. If you use this time to do tech stuff, web surfing or playing video games, you'll be just as burned out at the end only you'll weigh a few pounds more.

My advice instead is to take a real vacation. Go to Thailand for 3 months, then go to Argentina or Brazil for another 3 months. Don't connect to the internet during this time except occasional emails back home to let them know you are alive. If you absolutely must, take your development laptop and work on things, but it's important to be disconnected. Having a laptop means you have to recharge it, find a stable source of electricity, etc. Things will work better without it.

I am doing the same thing. After finding HN a few months ago, I couldn't believe how far off track I was (I was in the M$ dev route). I'm rebooting my career, learning new tools and languages I find interesting on HN. I am so much happier now.

Hey craftsman, though I think you should quit too, but asking for such advice on HN you'll most definitely get a biased view - because everybody here is so passionate about what they do, not how much money they get paid! right?

I think there's absolutely nothing wrong with a person happily living with a corporate life. But if you are growingly sick and tired of it, then what's the point? From the sounds of it you do have a pretty successful corporate career, so I doubt it'll be hard for you to jump back into it.

If you are scared of the possibility of failure, fail faster (which reduces your opportunity cost), and fail spectacularly!

I did this. Closer to eight months for me, but it was great. Worked on my own projects, sharpened my saw, traveled to Europe, just ran on my own clock for awhile. It was an amazing sense of freedom to have no one expecting me to turn up at work at a specific time and place each day.

Eventually I got bored and got back in the game.

But it was such a good time. Really recharged my batteries and left me in a position to do much more interesting work than when I began.

Just do what seems fun and challenging and see what happens. Good luck!

Why not use the 6 months to see if you can turn it in to 18 months? In other words, create a project and try to make a living of it. A year should be enough.

Alternatively I would learn some new skill, preferably one that will increase my market value at the end of the six months (running your own business is also such a skill, even if you fail).

If you go about it in a more clever way then do what Patrick did and first build up your side line, then quit.

Just in case. That way you don't need to eat up your savings first.

I mostly just have opinion about this so I'll give you my opinion.

From the description of your current situation I'd say it's worth it to go for it (go do your thing). But I think you already know that :)

Don't you think it's worth it to risk a little, put your neck on the line a little, maybe even put yourself in a bad spot for awhile, for a chance to live like you want to? Life is living, live it and make it.

The key thing will be that YOU feel the time was spent on worthwhile pursuits, and that you convey that when a prospective employer asks about the gap. No waffling, no hemming and hawing, no apologizing. Great people with cool stuff to work on appreciate having great people who've done cool stuff along side them. Step right up!


A TED speaker Stefan Sagmeister makes it part of his career to take a year off every 7 years. I recommend watching this video before making any decisions.

This has been a great post to read. I'm also considering this to reset my career early (graduated not too long ago), switching from embedded software development for $BIGCORP to startup-esque web development. I want to do it to 1) be happier with my career (and figure it out) and 2) gain solid skills to do well at the end of the "sabbatical."

The only issue is that I've had medical work done through employer-provided insurance, which I would lose of course. However, I'd quit after the insurance has paid its share (I've already paid mine). It's a commonplace procedure so I'm not too worried about complications.

I'll probably move back in with the parents to save the cash. It won't be as bold as traveling around the world, but perhaps that is for a later day.

The culture is bad and I'm just not able to write great software. You do realize that you could solve that by writing great software, in clojure no less, on github.

You're not always going to be able to work with people with the exact same culture or skill levels. That is going to happen anytime you work at any place, including your own, where the number of people > 5 (it's my _magic_ number)

So why do people leave companies ? better money and better promotions. If you believe your master's degree will help .. do it (and get the paper) (sometimes they just do it to spend six months in Phuket)

I see you have not really mentioned about being an entrepreneur - maybe I'm reading too much Freud, but you need to think what you want out of the six months you wont be earning.

I'm a paranoid sob and hopefully my paranoia can help you. 1. Write down a plan of what you'll be woerking on. 2. Contact companies that work in this field and ask them if they would give you a job if you were an expert in the fields your going to work in. 3. Can u work alone? It gets very lonely. Figure out all the mechanics of how your going to work on your own. You'll be surprised that setting this up to be fun can be a lot of work. 4. Do it!!! at some point you have to make a leap of faith. Just be sure you've covered the worst case scenaios (ie have some back up plan) and then jump!

As long as your skills are valuable to someone you will be able to get a job.

For those that took that 6 month sabbatical (or 3 month or whatever) I have a couple questions.

Did you have the savings already saved up?

How much did you this end up costing you financially? What were your expenses like? Where did you stay?

Did you go by yourself (assuming you don't have any dependents)?

If you worked on your startup, did you have the idea before or after you left on your trip? Did you work on it the full time?

I want to do a startup, but I don't have an idea just yet.

And for those that coded on the beach with their laptop, how did you see the screen? I find being outside with a laptop I can't see the screen almost ever.

I see someone posted a link of a blog they kept, does anyone else have a journal of their trip they can share?

I work with someone who has several 6-12 month gaps on his resume. He is amazingly talented, and was taking breaks to travel and enjoy himself. He can work anywhere he likes - it's definitely not a concern to have a gap like this.

If you insist on leaving, then you can work on freelance basis.. like working on freelancer.com and Elance.com

You won't make a lot of money, but at least.. you will make money when you need it.. and you will make enough money to survive!

Just my humble opinion, I personally stay away from Elance.

Judging from his confidence (about his income and 6 months savings), Elance income won't cut it. I'd suggest local connections and Craigslist.

Why do you need to quit to accomplish your goals? Sounds like you're already coasting through a bad experience. It's a much more compelling narrative to switch jobs than to quit one and find another while unemployed.

Years ago, it used to be that $BIGCORP would look at you very suspiciously if they saw a gap in employment of more than a month or two. In this economy, it's not unusual to see good talent that's been laid off for the past year. It took me four months to get back on my feet when I got the whack in January.

I say quit, but give yourself some buffer. There's the real possibility that if you start looking for work in March, it will be August or September 2011 by the time you find something.

"can I emerge from the other side of this and find great people to work with and cool stuff to work on?"

Without a doubt. It might take a bit longer for you to find a new groove (or refind your old one) but you'll have no problem eventually getting back in the game.

Obviously a broad statement. you might, perhaps. My experience, though, has been people I've known who had this level of self-awareness and drive for improvement were never held back for very long at anything they set their mind to.

I'm taking 6 months off next year to hike the Appalachian Trail. I have a great job that continues to challenge me even after 9 years (10 by the time I start) but I just need to do something different for a bit.

Luckily for me, I asked, well in advance (9 months from my planned start date, give or take), and my company said "sure," which made the whole thing a hell of a lot easier. Not paid of course, but I'll still have a job when I return.

Without disrespect to the intelligence of anyone else on this board:

How is anyone else besides yourself supposed to answer this? Only you have true insight into your motivations, skills, desire, and ability to succeed.

There is no cap or limit to what you are able to do (okay, let's set aside physical limitations - not everyone is meant to be a football player or pole vaulter) - there is a soft cap set only by your desire to work hard.

I see what you're saying. So maybe the question for you is the last one I asked: what would you do? What could I learn from you?

Life is too short to be stuck doing things that do not make you happy. I was once told that life is filled with ladders. You approach a ladder, climb it, and when you get to the top where your skills have seemingly peaked you need to think about jumping on to another ladder. How do you know it's time to jump? Once you stop learning you know it's time to go.

I'm sure you will be just fine after 6 months.

There is nothing more dangerous to the long-term success of your career than burnout. The question you should really be asking yourself is "Can I afford not to do this?"

I've had a lot of luck so far in life with this approach: I assume I'll be successful at the thing immediately in front of me and base my plans around what I might do next.

As you can blame it on finishing your masters, I think you're not going to have reason to have trouble explaining it.

Six month sabbatical to find more awesomeness? And I'm kind of assuming you are fairly young? I would do the following:

1. Buy a round-trip (6-month) ticket to Delhi or some place that interests you.

2. Buy travel insurance.

3. Pack 1 (one) daypack. No backpack, just a small daypack. 2 pieces of underwear, minimal clothing. 1 small camera. No laptop.

4. Leave.

Think of it this way: if you are good, any place that wouldn't hire you is likely to be another place you would consider to have bad culture.

Besides that, if you think the culture is bad now, it's likely that you'll find similar settings intolerable after 6 months of sabbatical.

So the big question is: can I emerge from the other side of this and find great people to work with and cool stuff to work on?

No matter how many times this gets asked on HN, the answer will always be 'it depends' and what it depends on is 100% you.

As mentioned in other comments, 'it depends'--- not mentioned is that it depends (partially) on your age. Older is not better. 6 months probably won't hurt, a year, two years, more? Chances decline as you go.

Good luck! If I knew then what I know now, I'd rethink it through several times over. But most probably I'd do it anyways.

Thank you everyone! I've enjoyed reading every post immensely and appreciate everyone's responses.

You guys are awesome!

If you want to find great work, do that. Don't quit A to do B to get to C. Just quit and do C!

I agree with everyone else: go for it. As long as our econoomy doesn't completely implode, you'll get another job. You will have a great reason for having "not worked" (so to speak) for 6+ months -- you were working on personal goals directly related to your profession.

Me? I lost my mom in my late 20s and couldn't work for about two years due to emotional overload. When I was ready, I worried about whether I could get another job. Turned out to be no problem; people readily understood personal tragedy, and were much more interested in what I was bringing to the table than whether I'd had time off.

As Towle_ said, if you have no dependents and won't be forced onto the street due to lack of money: go for it.

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