I have a very conservative financial point of view in that if I got fired tomorrow I would want to be fine for the next year without working.
This has in the past allowed me to work on my own stuff a couple of times without much worry (although in Australia, lack of health insurance isn't the issue it is in the US).
It's very easy to get distracted and not finish things (at least for me) without the external pressure of someone pushing you to finish. YMMV.
As far as "not earning" goes, these periods of self-improvement are pretty much directly responsible for me getting the great job I have now (at Google) so I'd say it was a worthwhile investment.
Pick something you want to learn. Don't be directionless and say "self-improvement" is your goal. As long as you can reasonably afford to do it.
OT: When are we here in the US going to start listening to these comments, and fix it?
Job mobility is a great feature of an economy. When, because of health or mortgage or whatever, you can't move your brain from one job that isn't the best one for your brain or that job, to a job that is much better for your brain and that new job, that's a loss to the economy. Multiply that by however many and it's a handicap to the economy.
Another option could be to take a part-time job. A fair number of stores seem to offer health insurance for any employee working 20 hours a week. Of course, that may or may not be compatible with one's idea of a "break".
"Not the cheapest thing in the world" is quite an understatement.
And remember the context: this is someone who wants to take a year off with no work at all, and so is voluntarily giving up tens of thousands of dollars, in exchange for his own time. Yes, there are almost certainly cheaper health insurance options, depending on how much effort you want to put into the research, but COBRA is the upper bound, and takes practically no time to sign up for, which, again, was the whole point of the exercise.
Costs have been rising substantially each and every year. The number of employers willing to give even full time employees insurance has been shrinking and the cost of your employer's health insurance plan willing be quite high considering you don't have your employers tax incentives.
It's not hard to find names of employers who offer healthcare even for half-time workers, using any "search engine". I'm sure there are also companies who are dropping their health insurance plans, but that doesn't mean that all companies are.
It was awesome to be able to have time to dive into a hobby and really soak it all in. I developed some great skills that will be useful to me for the rest of my life. It was also during this time that I realized what I wanted to do next.
Here's what I've found about health insurance in the US:
1) It's not terribly difficult or expensive to get, at least, emergency coverage. In my 30s and single, I've found interesting plans for around $150 per month which cover simple doctor's visits a few times per year, with around a $10k deductible for 'real' stuff. This is very doable with reasonable financial padding. ehealthinsurance.com is the site I've used every time I've been unemployed over the last decade.
2) The whole thing about guaranteed acceptance with continuous coverage only applies when you are coming off of "group coverage" (i.e. through an employer or some industry associations, I think). Bizarrely, having maintained continuous coverage on my own now for three years means absolutely nothing if I want to change from a personal plan to a new personal plan. I was rejected out of hand for a neck injury I had over three years ago, and I'm effectively uninsurable in this state (Oregon) for another seven years!
No insurance required and it's always good care from experience.
Healthcare is the last thing you want to have to worry about if you are unemployed.
In Canada we don't, unless its really a health issue; your health is in peril if you don't treat your cavities or this kind of gravity.
NHS dental charges for the employed are as follows: http://www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/1781.aspx?CategoryID=74&SubC... - each charge covers everything for 2 months subsequently as well.
It is not much really! In 2002, I had to have surgery to have 2 teeth removed which were growing through the roof of my mouth and 4 others removed due to my jaw being too small. It required a general anaesthetic and a day in general surgery at my local hospital, two aftercare visits and one consultant appointment. It only cost me £15 (the lower rate at the time) as it was a referral to a hospital orthadontist. That was it!
You can get GOOD glasses for £30 or WONDERFUL ones for £70 on the high street now in the UK without NHS intervention. You usually get 2 pairs for that. That includes the sight test and consultation. You can also get FREE sight tests and vouchers from your employer.
The UK is wonderful place to live for healthcare!
I've paid £30 for a checkup, £400 for a root canal and crown, and £40 for an extraction before. Fillings are between £50-£150 depending on complexity. And then I hear of insured Americans who've paid $300+ for an extraction AFTER their insurance company paid the majority of the bill! :-)
We certainly have it good here. Unless you have cancer and want to get a radical new treatment, of course..
With respect to "radical new treatments", I'd rather go out with my dignity intact than hold onto some hope of some snake oil possibly working.
Adults don't get those 2 for free though, same as you.
I think the idea of taking the break to learn is a great one, but only if you have the purpose for it already decided. There is an endless amount of fascinating content on all sorts of topics available, but if I were to take a break to really brush up on a particular area, I'd want to know that when I was done, I'd be in a better position (For a particular job I want, startup idea to tackle etc.)
If it's more general though, I think it's harder to justify (of course, learning while building a personal project is a different scenario altogether!)
(1) $10K is a big deductible if anything actually happens; if there's anything serious, you should assume you'll hit the $10k.
(2) Some of the better medical offices (eg my orthopaedic surgeon) are pretty picky about what brand of insurance they take because what the insurance pays for, how much they pay, how quickly, and with how much hassle vary quite widely. My point is, insurance is not all the same. You may find the better doctors unwilling to see you depending on the brand of insurance you have.
(3) If you do something like, for example, breaking your ankle, you'll be shocked at how much stuff is not covered by insurance. So add 50% to your out of pocket estimates. This is for things like: parking at the ortho / physical therapist office ($5-$8 per visit; 30+ visits, $200), taxis to and from work since you can't take public transport ($34 / day, 6 months on crutches, $4k), drugs (typically separate from the insurance deductible for no reason but to screw more money out of you, $300), buying all OTC stuff you can get at any drug store which is therefore not covered (advil, ice packs, compression bandages, etc -- easily $200). Plus if you actually have a bad accident, you'll probably spend a couple thousand dollars on takeout, etc.
(4) deductibles reset on a calendar basis. I fortunately injured myself in march and had 8 months of treatment, with both surgeries covered in the same deductible year. If you were to hurt yourself in October, you could cross deductible years so double your out of pocket costs again.
(5) Also, you should be very careful about coverage restrictions and in/out of network bullshit. As I mentioned, I broke my ankle. When you have an injury like that, you don't want to go to a random orthopaedic surgeon. I was fortunate and Anthem Blue Cross covered UCSF so I could go to an ortho surgeon who only repairs ankles instead of a generic ortho surgeon. The difference is between someone who has treated my particular injury 600+ times vs someone who has done so a handful of times. Lots of research suggests that outcomes correlate with the amount of times your doctor has treated your injury.
My experience was a bit unusual because the recovery time -- 8 months -- was so protracted, but not unprecedented for joint injuries. Recommendation: don't break your ankle =P
tl:dr: in a worst case scenario, where you have a moderate to bad injury that spans a deductible year, your $10K can be $25K in practice. Make sure you have the cash.
As a bonus, the HSA contributions are tax deductible and if you hit retirement age with a balance in the account, you can (more or less) treat it like your other retirement accounts.
I never wrote a follow up to it, I guess in part because I'm still not sure exactly what I got out of it. I certainly improved a lot as a programmer - I'd say I worked harder on programming than at any time in my life, and doing almost all of my work in public held me to a higher standard than what I was used to. I spoke at several conferences and managed to get over my fear of public speaking, which was another goal of mine.
Most importantly, I also got to be a lot more present in my 1-year old son's life for that time, which I will never regret.
It did however take a big toll on my family financially, and I can't help coming away with the feeling that there are ways I may have accomplished those same goals without having gone to the extreme of sacrificing almost all income. I'm almost 40 now and given the historic ageism in our profession I worry a little about the kinds of jobs that will remain open to me over the next 20 years.
Anyway I think that if you're at the point in your life where you have enough money to satisfy the kind of lifestyle you want to live, but don't have the responsibility of a spouse and children, then absolutely go for it.
Still, I think it was very much worth it.
Initially, I would spend my entire years off travelling, pausing from time to time at a spot with good rock climbing. Eventually, I started adding a bit of freelance development work into the mix, and spent a few years turning that into a consulting business that meant I didn't ever need to come home.
Nowadays, when I'm on the road, you'll often find me working on my own products, which incidentally are a much nicer form of income than consulting. A lot of the things I do during these periods might in fact fit your description of self study, since there's a lot of non-programming knowledge that you need to take a SaaS business from "pile of code" to "product that pays your rent".
Overall though, I'd consider all my years of travel to be about learning. Self study, studying the world. As I said above, I'd highly recommend finding a way to do it.
I'm explicitly committing for six months, with the option to continue it six more without even giving a thought to job-hunting.
The downside is that, at the end of it, I'll be down a bit more than 12 months of savings than I would be otherwise. So compared to the "stick with my job" plan, in my particular case I'd have 75% what I otherwise would. That's assuming I don't change my consumption habits from current.
In terms of intellectual growth, I've stagnated at my current position. So the skills built by taking this route are pure benefit. There's no trade off. The alternative of getting a job where I'm both challenging myself and getting paid (likely more than I am now) is more appealing, but getting a much more solid grasp of the fundamentals seems to trump that (I've never taken any CS classes).
I figure that the investment should pay itself off financially within 5 years, as a pessimistic estimate.
As far as the actual feeling... that's an open question for me, too. The big issues I see are making sure that I follow through with my intentions. No wasting any time on HN/Reddit. I shouldn't be doing that now, even.
During that time I launched one of the first distributed computing projects and almost finished porting a console game to Java. At that point, I made the decision that getting paid is good and went back to work.
More recently, I took a month off after working briefly at Google nearly sapped my will to live. But in this case, I already had the next and better gig lined up.
(Now if any googlers are about to chime in about the smoke blown up one's patootie at orientation that it takes ~6 months to come up to speed there, I was told point blank by my manager that rule only applies to NCGs and that I was already falling short by not having come up to full speed in 2 to 3 weeks)
If you are a self-motivated learner I would highly recommend a study break. The stuff I learnt during my break helped me secure my current job. I spent most of my time learning about web development, both client-side and server-side technologies. I now teach these technologies at a local college. I also do contract web work on the side.
As others have mentioned, be sure to pick some solid learning outcomes. Map out your study goals. Give yourself timeframes and be sure to reward yourself when you meet these milestones.
I'd recommend either blogging about your experiences or putting together a portfolio of work. This will come in handy when future employers ask about the gap in your resume. Working on one or two open-source projects might also be worth while.
Learning to live frugally and within your means is also key.
Spot on! That is one of the most important things in my mind. I live very frugally but I live very well!
Eliminating all distractions has been key -- no side jobs, no girlfriends, no going out -- a period of complete focus.
Working out and exercising has been critical though for keeping my energy level up and maintaining mental clarity.
financially i didn't have any worries - i had a pile of savings, a job to return to, and my partner earns enough for us to survive on anyway. one thing i would suggest is talking to your employer about it - while they may be unhappy to have you take time off, it is also likely in their interest to take you back afterwards (assuming you're a decent programmer, which i would guess is the case if you care about learning) (although a year ago the economy was heading down, so it made more sense to give me a break then).
You are earning during this study time, you are earning through a long term investment in yourself.
I have no kids so that might be different from your situation.
You can perform self study while still working full time hours, you just need to be motivated and find the time out of your day. You need to focus on the long term goal, which shouldn't simply be 'Finish AI lectures' but something potentially life altering, 'Finish AI lectures to better my chance at a job for Y/to create Z'.
No financial earning periods can be quite challenging but if you have a job, like I had, that does not allow any time to explore yourself, I think it is worth taking time off if you are really serious and confident about doing something different. Also, bear in mind that your efforts could (will) take substantially longer to bear fruit. So, it is really important to set your expectations appropriately before taking the step forward.
As far as I can see, all successful stories are basically breaks that involved a lot of hard-work, luck and which finally materialized!
Just my 2p.
If your going to come out with a new skill set or even just a better outlook on life it's worth it IMO.
You can get a real degree in your spare time without a massive spend, working or not.
I'm doing a mathematics degree at the moment, whilst employed. No holiday/vacation required!
I would recommend that if you take time off for whatever reason, prepare for questions like these and be ready to provide a succinct and compelling explanation at the drop of a hat, because being blindsided isn't fun.
A bit of a pity.
"Why did you take the time off?"
"I was building this thing that has since been forked 200 times on Github and is running in at least a dozen shipped projects"
I often think about doing exactly this. There is so much I want to learn:
- many awesome free online courses ( http://www.crypto-class.org , http://www.ai-class.com , http://www.ml-class.org , http://www.modelthinker-class.org , ... )
- dozens of non-fiction books sitting on my shelf I have yet to read (on computer science, programming, design, UX, software project management, system administration, computer security, business, time management...)
- thousands of articles and blog posts, bookmarked in my "to-read-later" folder
I've sometimes been asked if I'd want to go back to school to do a master that would complement my engineering diploma (e.g. MBA). But I think I could learn so much more by simply taking a year off and doing self-directed learning, using all these resources... Of course, I've set aside some learning time outside of work, but it feels like I'll never catch up.
Reminds me of this great article: http://www.npr.org/blogs/monkeysee/2011/04/21/135508305/the-...
Don't mean to self promote, but you are welcome to be part of the free peer learning community on http://diycomputerscience.com/ You might actually like the 'Elements of Computing Systems' course a lot.
I studied business and landed a job as a Project Manager. Meeting developers, I felt the urge to learn to code and become a programmer. While doing Project Management work at day time, I used my evenings to practice and learn coding. I loved working with developers because I could learn from them.
But there is only so much you can do working full time, taking care of your other stuff in life and find as much time to learn and practice coding. I thing it's easier if you can focus full time on something instead of the learning being too much spread out.
So I talked to my boss and asked to work 4 days a week and have three days for learning and coding (with less salary of course). I did this for five months and my skills really improved.
After five months, it was clear for me I was ready to earn money from developing. So I stepped down as a Project Manager, had to give in some more salary and started as a programmer (junior).
It was one of the best decisions in my life.
For me, it's not relevant for the moment to stop working and study, because I learn so much working as a dev. But I can imagine myself stop working for a couple of months if I reach a plateau and want to focus and learn in a specific field.
It is a lot of fun to be able to focus on something and improve fast. So if you can afford it and you want it, I think you should do it. It's not only a lot of fun, but you probably be worth more on the job market.
A year of study is worth significantly less if the results are only in your head.
Also - working on something real can give you measurable milestones to work toward completing. (The fact is, the longer time you set aside, the more time you are in danger of wasting.)
Example: Machine Learning. I learned much more in a few weeks at a job at a Machine Learning company than I ever did trying working through Elements of Statistical Learning on my own.
Eg, at a previous job I'd saved the company $3MM/year using a technology I'd never really worked with before. With that kind of track record this company was happy to hire me even if I didn't have direct ML experience.
One I too about a year off on a startup idea I had. It did not work out, but I learned some important lessons.
I have also taken 3 months off to be part of a startup accelerator as a fellow. I did not have any product, but just spend my time working on a few experiments / prototypes and generally helping other teams wherever I could.
The ideas experimented did become my startup, which I have been working on since the past year or so. It is actually related to peer based learning (http://diycomputerscience.com/), so I am hoping that learning will be an integral part of working for me.
Unfortunately, I didn't have the wherewithal that unversity might not be for me until I was 51% done with my degree. Sometimes I fantasize about taking the past four years of debt and expenses, going back in time, and using all that money to live in Bangkok for a fraction of the rent and work on my own craft/projects for a few years.
However, given the current pace of technology, it might be a better idea to develop a discipline for continuous learning and try to fit your educational/updating needs into a conventional agenda.
As far as "not earning" goes, granted, it sucks, but consider the option of doing this while freelancing, writing a book or starting a new company... there are many, many ways to skin a cat.
Self study does not include credentials and evidence of specific work that traditional education does. If your future work is largely freelancing, this is probably irrelevant. If you are targeting work in the corporate world HR still looks for gaps in employment.
Of course survival is neccesary during that time. You could do any of the following:
1) Move home
2) Consult with a higher rate and work very part time (5-10 hours a week tops)
3) Move somewhere cheap with your savings
4) Consider going back to school or see if there's a program you can use for learning / training that will help.
I took a combination of #1 and #2, worked great.
Example: Last week I played with backbone.js & Co., this week I'm playing with the cutting edge stuff from HTML5. And next week I'll probably get another job for which I'll be able to use my new knowledge.
This applies to the theoretical knowledge as well - you can easily learn new data structures or algorithms in two weeks. Then you can master them when you have a problem that requires you to use them.
So if anyone in Frankfurt wants to hang out or have some tips on available coworker offices feel free to send me an email.
It feels absolutely great to be able to just learn for the sake of learning (but that learning can be: build a product etc too).
Now you have to secure your finances: know your burn rate, define a date in advance to start looking for work etc.
That said, it is really good to think about what you really want to do every few years.