It sounds like you got burnt out. When you "code until the sun comes up" you neglect basic human necessities like sleep and human contact. When you think only about the company and the product vision, you lose your sense of self. Your sense of self becomes your work.
I used to work at a startup where this was the case, but I've since changed. I love my work and my co-workers and I think they all work extremely hard, but I go home every night at 6:30. I cook for myself. I take salsa lessons. I read. And I work on my own projects.
Interesting work at companies comes with ebb and flows. Sometimes you work on things you don't like, sometimes you get bored, but if you keep your mind fresh and sane you'll come up with things to work on that are meaningful and interesting.
>> You haven't yet discovered that any business -- any real business that is-- is going to get to the point where you actually have to do work. Automate away everything you can, but there is still going to be work.
>> If you're bored doing work, and only interested in the exciting stuff, you're never going to be happy in any job beyond 6 months or so
There's a lot of truth in this. When I did network administration I would job-hop. The first 6-12 months at a place were always full of stuff to do, and the things you did made each department fall in love with you. Rebuild a server that's been flaking out for 2 years? Fix some application the other guy could never get to work? Roll-out a new system for X? Upgrade to the latest firewalls/switches/whiskerdoo?
But then after that, it's like time stands still. There's nothing left to innovate, nothing exciting to do. Sure, there's stuff to do but who wants to actually do it? Maintenance is no fun.
Later, doing QA at a my first software job, we had a developer with that mindset. He'd flesh out an app and use whatever the latest libraries and tools were. The first demo would amaze everyone. He'd come in late and leave early. By the time we started beta testing the product it turned into a huge mess. I took on the not-so-glamorous job of fixing the whole thing. And instead of quitting (like I wished he would), he'd stick around and the the boss would give him a new project to work on. Starting the cycle all over again...
>>Eventually, those discussions stopped. Shots were called in private meetings and passed down.
This is terrible, and would also make me want to quit. Because if you start as part of the decision making process, and over time stop being invited to those meetings, that means you are no longer trusted or important enough to have any say in those decisions. That would be insulting, to say the least.
Something very similar happened to me at a startup a few years ago and it took me a long time to realize what had happened and why I felt so terrible about it.
Even though my title, salary, and perks were still the same, it was a de-facto demotion. Important parts of my compensation (involvement, agency, sense of ownership, diversity in work effort) were just inadvertently phased out as the company I helped grow was big enough to support product managers who could do just the most rewarding parts of my job but not actually code or anything.
I think (hope) there are things that one can do to guard against this from happening, and just being aware of this phenomenon is valuable.
Important parts of my compensation (involvement, agency, sense of ownership, diversity in work effort) were just inadvertently phased out
That's a neat observation, and a pattern I've seen before. As the company (or team, within a larger company) grows, it's possible to lose some of the things you most value about your job -- without even realising it.
The company and management have the best intentions at heart for you, the team and the product -- but is this an inevitable side-effect of growth?
Also, the reason I became a product manager in the first place was because I found the specific stuff you mention invigorating, and coding became a distraction from it; I wouldn't diss all product managers with the same brush, it's just an unfortunate trap that if you're a good engineer then people probably don't think you want to be more product-focused, and don't want to lose your coding contributions.
I don't even mean to diss product managers. I realized that I basically am a product manager who also happens to be an effective technologist. I just have to find a job that lets me be both and realize that my needs may diverge from the needs of my employer, and that's OK.
It would be criminal negligence if I didn't mention Michael O'Church's seminal work on this issue . There is surprising depth and complexity to the power dynamics in companies, both large and small. What you've discovered first hand is that, unfortunately, politics determine the fate of nations and companies alike.
Michael O'Church might have some interesting things to say, but when he extrapolates pages of meaning from a cartoon that's just trying to be humorous, it says more about Michael O'Church than anything else.
I enjoy Michael's descriptions because they provide a conceptual understanding of very profound evolutionary principles. As someone who understands the difficulty in simplifying evolutionary psychology for non-experts, I sincerely commend him for his work.
I would classify Michael's work as an introduction to applied evolutionary psychology, using corporations as a case study. If you'd like the reasons behind why his work is valid, I'd recommend starting with Richard Dawkins' Selfish Gene followed by The Extended Phenotype. The sections on game theory are particularly insightful, as they describe how competing strategies reach equilibrium in a given environment. You will find the strategies described are quite similar to Michael's classifications, thus shedding much light on corporate environments.
Whoa! Given all the reference Michael makes to MacLeod's hierarchy, I'd just tacitly assumed it was a well-known model in organisational studies. I guess the "I should really read the original work" pangs I occasionally have when reading Michael's stuff can go away now...
Is it humorous because it's true or humorous for some other reason? Take Dilbert. A lot of Dilbert comic strips are humorous because they have a grain of inspiration from reality, so people can actually relate to the ludicrous situations, and thereby understand and laugh, even if only sardonically at times. I think this falls into that category.
I don't think we should disregard the ideas in this napkin comic just because it's a napkin comic. We should disregard it if it has no grasp on reality. But when one reads books like The Corporation and also experiences life in the corporate world, some of us can't help but nod our heads depressingly. It's why we quit.
The political is one (valid) way to look at experiences like that. Although there really wasn't anything as conscious as political scheming going on.
For me, it was mostly a lack of mindfulness, both from me and from my manager, about what was going on as the dynamics changed. I'm sure that if I had said "hey, it's important that you don't take this kind of work away from me" before it was too late, it would have worked out much better.
Having personally encountered this, I can attest to the sentiment that nothing will cause you to lose your motivation quicker than being in a situation such as this. I'm amazed that so many people do not realize that this is demoralizing and will destroy the quality talent that you have.
This is the primary reason I moved from development to product management. At many companies, developers are seen as implementers only, and the ideas should come from a different group. Not saying it's right or wrong, it's just the mentality you'll find. Instead of fighting the mentality, I adjusted my career to take advantage of it. I still love to code and solve engineering problems, but I do it outside of work now. It would be wonderful to find a job where one can do both "definition" and "delivery" but those opportunities/companies seem to be rare.
No, this is the difference between being employed by a company that values bottom-up input and being a corporate drone. If you're going to be treated like a drone you might as well get the stability and steady (as well as possibly bigger) paycheck that BigCo pays.
I hate this cop out response. It's just not true. There are plenty of transparent companies that value the input of their employees and clue them in as to whats going on. There doesn't have to be a top-down decision making process that runs through the hierarchy. Especially when there are only 10 people at the company.
Serious question -- have you taken vacations? Real vacations -- not the kind that turn into "work from home" days? And multiple days/weeks in a row? And for those stuck in a similar situation, does a 2-3 week vacation help at all?
I'm finding myself in a similar situation, about not working on my own side projects enough. The only time I've got anything done personally is when I took off 2 weeks around the holidays (and since it was holiday time, I didn't feel the need to keep "checking in" to the office, as there wasn't much going on). But normally I'll only take a day or two off at a time, which doesn't seem long enough.
> Serious question -- have you taken vacations? Real vacations -- not the kind that turn into "work from home" days?
No. Almost never. But I've thought about this extensively (before I quit as well as after), and I do regret not taking more real vacations.
But something made it just feel not okay. I probably have myself to blame more than anybody, but whenever I took vacations - even weeklong vacations (which was rare), I found myself checking in often. I was always near a computer. I felt obligated, and had strong loyalty to the company and my coworkers. Everybody worked extremely hard. Days off to take care of important things, or when I just needed a break - always became 'work from home days'.
For me, that does the trick. When I say vacation, I mean it. Go somewhere where you do not know anyone, stay away from computers, from books that are related to technology resembling work, from thinking about solutions to problems you have left behind. Go to a country where you do not speak the language.It is amazing how refreshing this is. Try it.
If you cannot afford that - I have been in that situation - take a hobby at home you have never taken before (build a table, a chair, whatever you would like to do. It also did the job for me.
If you're in a similar position and this resonates with you, do yourself a favor and just quit. Seriously. Stop waiting for things to get interesting. They won't. It's so easy to get stuck.
If you're good at what you do, you'll find a job you love immediately (if that's what you're looking for). As developers, we're fortunate to be in extremely high demand. Life is too short to be bored. Work on interesting things.
Working at a single place for 10 years and having 0 connections to other companies is not going to put you in a good place to find a job. I imagine they would struggle to find a job regardless of whether or not they quit.
agreed. I'd add the condition that it sorta depends on who you're working for.
10 yrs at Google will be viewed differently from 10 yrs at at&t. The former will still leave you with a good chance, but probably at salary level nobody could match. The other one, you better never lose that job without starting your own company.
It depends on your experience and career trajectory. You have a lot of firm specific knowledge, which makes you more valuable to the firm but if you're using an internal stack maybe the only people who value that knowledge are the company you're working for. That's a bad bargaining position. And if you've been at the same company for nine years and have not been negotiating aggressively for raises the whole time there's an excellent chance you're underpaid because job hopping every two years is really the only semi-reliable way to get a 20% raise.
That's a negative signal as well: it shows that you job-hop frequently, get bored easily, and can't commit to any one company. In some companies (particularly startups) that's fine, in many it's the kiss of death.
I think that what hiring managers want to see is that you fully exploit the opportunities available to you. That means that if you're in a good employer and given a lot of responsibility, you stay. If you're in a dead-end job where you're not learning anything, you leave. If it's a good company going through a rough patch, you stay. If it's just a bad company, you leave.
Oftentimes that means you'll have stints of varying lengths on your resume: you may have a few of 1-2 years when starting out to find your footing, then a longer stint of 4-5 years at an industry-leader, then a shorter stint at a smaller company where you're given more responsibility, then a startup, and so on.
I don't know about this. So far I've left jobs with nothing lined up 4 times. That's every time. So far, finding work hasn't taken more than a couple months of dedicated searching. Maybe I've gotten lucky, but it hasn't seemed that difficult. Uncertain and scary at times, yes. Actually difficult, no.
"If you're good at what you do, you'll find a job you love immediately "
Wow, really? Many (not all, though) of the people I know who are really good at some things also don't like the politics of working in companies/jobs at all, so finding a job they 'love' is near impossible. If you're leaving one job because of your own issues, you'll be taking those wherever you go.
If you want to keep it up you should overlay something that says "I used to want to work at airbnb" but leave the rest. (Doesn't matter if you still want to work there or not saying "used to" doesn't mean "I won't still").
Leaving this up makes you seem like the jilted guy with high school puppy love. Not very attractive to other "women" who want to possibly date you.
The only red flag is that he has waited around when he lost creativity, and even that is not red - at least he had the courage to quit.
It is a job of the employee to be creative (talking about design, of course). But it is the job of employer and investors to make an environment that challenges the employer. If they are unable to do that then any really creative employer will (or at least should) leave.
@OP: good luck!!! I wish you well on your path, wherever it takes you.
> It is a job of the employee to be creative (talking about design, of course). But it is the job of employer and investors to make an environment that challenges the employer. If they are unable to do that then any really creative employer will (or at least should) leave.
Well, that sort of goes back to a common theme in software companies: Are the people being hired as creatives or are they being hired to implement someone else's vision?
My experience is that in most roles you're likely to be being hired for the latter - and having intelligence outside of the ability to do your assigned task efficiently is strongly discouraged in them.
I've been bored before, so I hear you. But, I guess I'm kind of surprised that you chose to jump into nothing rather than parlay your way to something else. Seems a little impulsive. Impulsive is a red flag, despite what many on HN think (you can be impulsive, but you better be brilliant too).
Now you've got to explain a gap in your res to a potential employer (should you choose to go that route). The employer is going to hear "I got bored" and think "maybe he'll get bored here, too."
As for my sabbatical, it is true. I'm on one after spending my 20s earning enough to justify it. I'm not saying it was time well spent, but I got a lot out of it (dealing with corporate BS and powering through boredom to produce value teaches you a lot). It is also an easy narrative to tell.
Best of luck. I know you're a clever fella (maybe brilliant, too --- time will tell) and I'm sure you'll figure it out. But, this might end up being a very different lesson than you originally anticipated.
An experienced developer does not lack for job offers. You can spend your entire life taking people up on those offers and never get around to doing your own thing. For most people on Earth, historically, that's not a bad place to be: it beats the hell out of starving. But if you have the luxury to do it, I think it's less impulsive than you imagine.
> An experienced developer does not lack for job offers.
I won't suggest that I know whether or not the original poster made a good decision, but assuming that an experienced developer will have job opportunities on tap is naively short-sighted.
The current market in the Bay Area won't last forever. A lot of people today either weren't around in the late 90s or have chosen to forget what happened. In a matter of months, lots of developers went from having a seemingly unlimited number of high-paying jobs to choose from to collecting unemployment.
Even if the next down cycle isn't the same as Bust 1.0, a lot of the angel and VC-backed startups in the Bay Area currently eager to pay six figures for even mediocre talent aren't going to survive, and when they're replaced by fewer and fewer startups, many developers will be ill-prepared.
> you chose to jump into nothing rather than parlay your way to something else. Seems a little impulsive. Impulsive is a red flag
Sounds impulsive, but doesn't have to be. It's possible to make that jump after long and thorough consideration. It took me years and a couple of jobs before I finally dared to quit and start my own thing. Not everything I did with my own thing worked out well; spent a lot of time finding my own way, wasted a lot of time, made almost no money in my first year. I did some freelance work, now working on a bigger freelance gig, but I'm really hitting my stride now, and can't wait to go back to my own projects.
I'm not a natural entrepreneur. It took me ages to make this step. Nobody in my extended family has their own company; they all work for a salary. Nobody likes this kind of risk, but I love it. I love the freedom and the uncertainty. I love the risk.
It was a tough decision, and it still seems impulsive compared to a steady salary, but it was the second best decision of my life. (The best was marrying my wife, but that one was surprisingly easy.)
You say, "after spending my 20s earning enough to justify it" like it's a distinguishing mark. It seems to me like Loren has enough savings to say he has "earned enough to justify it" too. Just what do you think makes your situation different? If nothing, I think you should at least be consistent in your appraisals of your and his situations.
Earning enough experience and savings (just shy of a decade in quant finance). I claim those years do make a difference. I further claim this time off sounds like lost time rather than experience building.
Everybody gets bored and frustrated with work. Up & quit after a year and sell it as wisdom on HN? Fuck that.
I tend to be fairly transparent and vocal. Sometimes it gets me into trouble, but usually it works out for the best. If a potential employer asks why I left my job (which I entirely expect), I will be straightforward. Heck, I'll even send them a link to the blog post.
I'll tell them how I don't think sticking to what is easy is the best approach to building a successful business, even though it feels safe. I'll tell them how I think it's important to always be moving, and take calculated risks to push forward. I'll tell them how I learned (from mistakes) that it's okay to release an impefect product - because trying to get it perfect on the first time around will kill you.
I told my past employer all of this. They disagreed. And that's fine. They were smart guys, and they worked hard. Everyone has their own methods and ideas. We just weren't the right fit. But I'll try hard to make sure the next employer is.
I think in the long run you'll be fine. Red flags are a lot less important than ability to solve the company's problems. As much as it pains me to say it, once you move out of the startup arena into large company territory time off matters even less because most people who will interview you know very little about specific technologies and just want the hiring phase to be over with. Some won't even ask you about your time away from work. Those that do will give you a "heh, that's interesting" and move on to the next question.
Generalizing is usually pretty pointless but if I were banking on getting a programming job, were debt free, and okay with not being especially picky about what company I work for after the experiment should it come to that, I wouldn't worry too much about possible red flags.
In life you have to prioritize things. If your highest priority is running your own business or taking time off from work to try something new, then your next job after that really has to fall down the priority list. You can't have everything assured and hope to be successful. Edit: MOST PEOPLE can't have everything assured and hope to be successful. Of course there are exceptions to every rule, but most of the time you do have to experience trade-offs to be successful. I'm not advocating taking huge risks, and most of the time there are smart ways to mitigate risk, but in the end I think a lot of people are arguing you should mind your red flags and try to stay focused on getting your dream job after the hiatus. I'm simply saying that isn't realistic if you want to focus on being successful in a different line of work. I've always believed you can really only be truly committed to one career at a time.
It could be viewed as a red flag, but should you be interviewing this person, you'd likely not hear the story framed this way at all. The folks he leaves behind, should you pursue a reference, would probably also have a different version.
I've been in a similar position for the last 3 years (of a 9 year stint at current company), and your story does resonate with me. I am bored at what I do all day long and have lost the passion for doing any sort of programming in my free time. I've considered leaving a few times, but I always take a look at what sort of openings are out there before I hand in my notice, and the answer is: "there are none".
There has been one programming position advertised in the city I live in in the last 3 years. That company has since closed - as I suspected it would (the entire team of 10 was Polish guys and gals and as it turns out they just wanted a presence in the country and farm out all the work back to Poland). Programmers in the US are totally spoiled right now, as there is a huge demand for them, but its not the same elsewhere. A number of other software businesses have also shut down or retreated back to their base.
Life may be too short to be bored, but its also too short to become penniless and homeless in a few months after quitting because you couldn't hack it anymore in a dead end job.
Loren, if you're interested in some projects, I've got a nonprofit science foundation. If I have money (or better yet, if you're interested in doing the fundraising), I'd like to develop some much-needed open-source scientific management software. It would be great to have a project lead for such a thing. In my wildest dreams, I'd like to see it spun off as a for-profit that delivers the software in an enterprise edition (with the main software tree maintained by the nonprofit).
I think there are a lot of unsolved ideas - like zero-friction data upload from instrumentation - possibly running on different platforms, wiki-like annotation and record keeping, setting up protocols with timers, and a uniform notification scheme that can be pushed out to a mobile device, etc....
I could argue this either way but I think in the end there is little creative way to explain why you left that either doesn't make you sound hard to please, or as if you knew you were going to get axed in the near future, or you were asked to resign.
(I'm trying real hard to find a spin but can't..)
Otoh, I sold a business and everyone criticized me that I had nothing else lined up to do but I realized that I wouldn't be able to line something up to do while involved day to day in legacy enterprise. (Of course that was not the same as I wasn't looking for employment.)
This doesn't make any sense to me. Why would you quit without another job lined up? You must have a ton of money already saved to cover the rent and feed the children. Or live with your parents. I couldn't just quit my job without having other work lined up.
That's not a great position to be in. The company you work for can let you go at any moment whether or not you have something lined up, and if that's not something you can tolerate then you might want to start working on it (either by increasing your saving or by reducing the out of time it would take you to find another job).
"Why would you quit without another job lined up? "
If you make the decision in your head that you are going to quit then it's quite possible your work and your attitude will decline and either co workers or management will have a negative view of you by the time you do quit. In a sense this is similar to why many performers go out while on top (thinking of Seinfeld as one example) instead of waiting for ratings decline. You don't want to just be going through the motions.
That's a fair point, but with this approach one is left with a gap of unemployment in their CV. Unfortunately, even in today's economic climate, a gap in your CV is still seen as a negative to many employers.
This is what I do. No one has ever asked me to clarify start and end dates.
That said, I'll never just up and quit a job now. Did it once, and those were some of the most stressful months of my life. No matter how crappy a job is, it doesn't compare to watching your hard-earned savings decline and facing the real, terrifying possibility that you won't make rent/mortgage payments.
Along the lines of what PG said yesterday (which I commented on) regarding telling smallish lies (had to do with getting funded and how investors jump to conclusions) this is probably a case of "turnabout is fair play, eh".
In other words if the person reading the resume is going to read (incorrectly) into the situation and penalize you for leaving it's ok to fib a bit in order to prevent them from having that wrong impression (which you can't correct if you don't get the interview).. A case of who draws first blood.
I've never had anyone ask about the gaps in my CV. Never. I've been unemployed after the dotcom crash. Nobody cares. Last year I messed about on some of my own stuff. Everybody thinks it's fine. They just want to hire me.
Admittedly it's possible that my CV looks a lot more attractive than the average CV, but personally I wouldn't know why. It's possible the job market in Netherland is better than in the US, though.
> Why would you quit without another job lined up? You must have a ton of money already saved to cover the rent and feed the children.
If you've got children, you hopefully also have a spouse with his/her own income. I'm fortunate that my wife makes enough to pay the entire mortgage on just her income, so my money goes mostly to child care and various extras and luxuries. With a bit of savings we can make it for quite a while.
If you're maintaining a family on a single income, then yeah, that kind of step is rather irresponsible. But if you live on your own, you'll have your hands free for anything.
Sounds in many ways like your management, instead of empowering you with autonomy, purpose, and control over your projects took it away. Developers should call the shots on a number of things. This doesn't always mean running to use that cool new language you've been itching to use or to pick up that piece of technology you've been dying to try, it means being able to feel like you're the one in charge of the things that you're doing. If your team's voice is no longer heard and no longer takes part in the discussion of a project until after it is decided, you're only along for the ride. It's a tricky balancing plan, to both include new ideas and have the organization solidify around common methodologies, but one that needs to be taken. Otherwise, your "boredom" becomes a moral issue and you lose the people who crave stimulation.
Even for employees, startups are hard and take commitment. It's not for everyone, in fact it's probably not for most. People seem to have this idea of lavish Zynga style life styles. It's not. It's really really hard work. You still have to do as you're told. Everything is always going wrong. You still have to be responsible for your productivity. In fact you have to do a lot more. You cannot just hide.
As startups are not anywhere near a guaranteed job, downturns are really hard on morale, but you have to stick through it. Why do you have to? Because commitment. If you aren't ready for that kind of commitment, then early stage start ups are not for you probably.
As an employee you will more than likely not end up making as much as you would elsewhere in the long run. What do you get out of it then? Depends. I think it's worth it because I learn a lot and because my contributions really make a difference. Even if I don't have input in the broader direction (actually a good thing), I know my value.
> People seem to have this idea of lavish Zynga style life styles. It's not. It's really really hard work.
Yes, I absolutely agree with you. But in this particular case, I didn't leave because it was hard. I left because it was easy. Too easy. I wasn't challenged. The work I was doing was mundane and repetitive, and I didn't feel like what I was working on was important (or fulfilling). My productivity was great. I excelled. I made an effort to contribute in every way I could. But at the end of the day, I was just another dev.
But at the end of the day, I was just another dev.
This. A thousand times.
At every company I've EVER worked for, I eventually had this exact same feeling. Even as the lead engineer, team lead, tech lead, or whatever other "top developer" role I've held, I always feel like this. And I always eventually quit too.
It's gotten worse in the past few years. I can barely make it one year before I feel like "just another dev", become completely de-motivated and start heading for the exits.
I've realized, at age 31, that I am a shitty employee and I always will be. I'm not supposed to work for other people. It doesn't really make me happy. It doesn't matter if its at a startup or a Big Co, I always feel like "just another dev", bored and ultimately like my potential is being cut short.
In the past year, this was sort of an epiphany for me. I have to follow the beat of my own drummer, be my own boss, make my own destiny. Will this bring me to self actualization? Will this be what I'm looking for? Or, will I feel empty once I get there? I have no clue, but I've got to find out.
Thanks for sharing your story, Loren. You're in good company. Good luck with figuring out what's important to you.
You're not a "shitty employee". Maybe you are just not in the right role. Most companies I've worked for consider developers to be just cogs that type code into computers all day. Many developers are just fine with this, but some of us want to do more. Like I said in another reply, the way I fixed this was to change careers and move over to the product management side. Unfortunately, I kind of had to leave development behind to do that, but in the balance, I've found the product side more rewarding.
It would be great to find a place where you could do both, but my understanding is these roles/companies are very rare. I suppose you could start your own company and then you'll definitely be doing it all, but that's kind of a risky way to get job satisfaction.
Slightly offtopic. I would love to hear more on how you made the switch happen. I sort of understand OP's perspective on the whole deal of people who work with code being considered to mere cogs and am also thinking about a switch.
This thread is pretty old, but I'll reply in case you're still reading. Here's the path I took, might not work for everyone:
1. Went back to school for an MBA (which I wouldn't recommend doing)
2. Found a typical "code monkey" job at a company where I was super-interested in the product and felt I had lots of good ideas. Work way up to some kind of tech lead position.
3. Network/established great relationships with the product team at said company. Provided constant input/ideas on the product, knowing most of it would be ignored (that's OK).
4. When I learned an opening on the product team appeared, jumped on in with full force. By then, the right people on the product team all knew/trusted me, and it was a pretty straightforward move. I was basically moving back down to a non-leadership level but I was willing to accept that.
Process took about 4-5 years, including the MBA. In retrospect, I wouldn't recommend the MBA unless you are trying to transition ENTIRELY out of tech/software.
I think it's also because there's no career path. Sure, the pay is good, but you feel like in 15 years you're still going to be in the exact same role. Whoever you're going to work for, they're going to want you as an engineer.
The only thing to look forward to are starting your own company or becoming a CTO, but let's face it, a very small percentage of people are going to ever actually do that. Some people look forward to that big pay day, but it turns out that's not too realistic for a ground-level engineer anyway.
I think in other types of role people look forward to the next step in their career, whatever that step might be. As an engineer, you just look forward to becoming an older engineer.
> I always feel like "just another dev", bored and ultimately like my potential is being cut short.
I always had that too. Especially about the potential; I knew I could do so much more than I was showing at all the companies I worked for, but I had no idea how to show it.
I quit and became a freelancer. Messed about with my own projects for a bit, did some small freelance work, and now I'm at a big freelance job at a company that's larger than any I'd worked for before. And from day one, I'm contributing beyond what I normally contribute. I'm taking on leadership roles that I normally wouldn't. I make more strategic decisions than every before.
I don't know if it's that this company has just the right culture for me, or maybe it's that ultimately I'm a freelancer and my own boss, and therefore I feel far more responsible for my work. I want to sell myself and keep selling myself through my work. Or maybe it's because starting my own company forced me to step way outside my own comfort zone; I have to negotiate contracts, hire an accountant, decide how to invest in myself; I need to think business, and that doesn't come naturally to me, but I do it. And maybe that's what gives me the confidence to take more charge, take more initiative, and keep moving forward in my every day work.
And I've got plans inside this large company (my client) beyond my current project. I see ways in which I can mean more to them, help them with more fundamental organizational problems; I see ways in which I can make myself more valuable (and thus more expensive) to them.
Whatever it is, I love it so far. And when I stop loving it, I'm free to do something entirely different. I'm my own boss.
That said, I don't think my unhappiness working for others has anything to do with other people making me feel that way or with my competence or the competence of others. Heck, I'm VP of Engineering right now at a company doing 10s of millions in revenue and growing like crazy and I still feel like something is missing.
My realization is that it needs to my skin in the game to not feel like I'm "just another dev" or perhaps more generally, "just another cog in the machine".
Working for someone else, I don't see how I could ever reach the level of personal risk, reward and gratification that it has taken me a long time to realize I need.
I can't escape it at someone else's startup or someone else's big company. I bounced from job to job, year after year, thinking it was just culture or not enough responsibilities, or too many responsibilities, not enough money, or too much money. These were all wrong.
I had similar motivations for leaving a startup a few years ago. Not because it was easy, the work was quite challenging, but I think more because of the lack of involvement with creative input for the products I was building.
I was "just another dev".
I think this is an important lesson for any company building software, you'll lose top talent if you just treat them as some kind of fungible code churning cog.
The main benefit for working at startup is supposed to be working on interesting things. The author no longer felt that he was working on interesting things. This is very different from thinking the work was too hard.
I've felt like this at every company I worked for, and not just at startups. At the start, I'm learning tons of new stuff, solving new problems, growing a lot of lots of different ways, and that gives me energy to put in way too much work. Eventually that slows down; I've seen those problems before, it's just another feature on some thing I've already worked on, and it starts to feel repetitive.
I just need something new every once in a while. I thrive on change, apparently. (My brother doesn't; he's been working at the same company forever.)
The problem is: I never get around to my own projects; when I started at a new job, all my energy goes into that. When it turns into an old job, that extra energy is gone. I never have the surplus energy for my own stuff.
"As startups are not anywhere near a guaranteed job, downturns are really hard on morale, but you have to stick through it. Why do you have to? Because commitment. If you aren't ready for that kind of commitment, then early stage start ups are not for you probably."
I feel like working for a startup in this way is for suckers. I've seen it so many times: You work really hard on a project and either the startup goes under or it gets bought out and you get a very small percentage (this almost never happens, however).
If I'm going to make that kind of commitment and take that kind of risk, I might as well start my own company. The risks are almost the same and the payout is much higher.
Yes, you may learn a lot from the experience, but does it have to be at the expense of your mental health and self-worth?
I have approx 6 months salary saved. I used to have more, but some home emergencies meant I had to eat into some of my savings recently. The government here decided that pursuing austerity for years without end was the way forward, and began implementing all sorts of new taxes, so I get paid the same as I did 4 years ago, but bring home approx 20% less. Same government policy has forced countless local businesses to shut down, meaning that there are very few job openings (programming or otherwise) available for the last couple of years. So I could quit now, manage approx 6 months payments and then stand a very good chance of still having no job. That or stay where I am and post about how my life sucks on HN.
I once got hired in a startup my brother was in. I relocated to a new town (the capital), and got the chance to work in the development team with my brother and another guy I also knew very well. Things were awesome, and I couldn't be happier.
After awhile though, my motivation started declining quickly, and I found it hard to get up in the morning. By that time, I had almost stopped entirely doing projects when I got home. I just didn't feel like coding in my spare time anymore.
So, what went wrong? I loved my coworkers, it was exciting being in a startup, and I was somehow involved in the decision making, but, I just felt bored. Just, a complete lack of motivation. After awhile with this, I decided to quit, since I was going to start at university anyways. As the author of the post said, I also immediately felt relieved. I got my programming joy back.
What I've learned from this is, that I either
a) want a job were I do trivial stuff (like, working in a super market), and don't code since I prefer having a joy for coding as it is a thing I love dearly, rather than just getting payed to do it. or
b) be my own boss, be it freelance web developing, or, running my own startup. When it's my goals on the line, I get much more motivated.
I've had plenty of shitty jobs, and also had good jobs. This is what I've gathered from my (short) experience (I'm only 20 atm, but been working since I was young). This may also just be me, seeing as I get bored very quickly, and loose my motivation if I'm not feeling like it.
There is a fine tactic regarding pacing yourself as a developer/engineer - and this is part of it. I think this really helps stave off boredom, especially the kind that might lead someone to want to quit. Sometimes this isn't possible, such as when you're being micromanaged, in which case, it's clear the employer has no interest in you growing your skill, learning, or becoming more valuable.
It's more complicated than that, it also has to be "not along the lines of business of your employer".
That phrase can mean different things for different employers. If you work at Morgan Stanley then doing a social bookmarking tool in your spare time is probably fine, if you work at Intuit then doing an iPhone game is probably fine. If you work at Google then everything is potentially problematic, as Google has a knack for poking its head into any line of business imaginable.
Heh. Me too. I suppose at any given time there are a certain number of people in the same boat so this shouldn't feel like so much of a coincidence.
Interesting post (and fellow Crossfitter, too!). Kudos on building up that much of a savings runway, though I'm finding that some level of time pressure is helpful in driving me forward faster to find my passions.
Personally, I found it hard to focus on other things outside of a demanding job. And I loved my job, so it wasn't hard to get sucked in. I had a forced leave due to an accident, and that really helped with evaluating priorities.
You sound like me a year ago. I quit a toxic job without anything else lined up (though I had a couple years of savings to live off). I worked on open-source stuff and little side projects for about six months, but I began floundering.
I wound up at https://www.hackerschool.com/ in February, and it was exactly what I needed. Most other students were in weird transitional phases of life as well. Check it out if you start struggling by yourself. I got a new job through them, so everything fell into place in the end.
It's amazing how much I find myself in your story. I am too in same shoes, working at a startup and I'm so burned out that i have neglected all of my side projects due to lack of energy or modivation. I havent quit yet, but every 6 months i go through re-evaluation of where I am and where I want to go. For now until the end of year, I keep pushing hard at work hoping for the best.
Good stuff. Been in this position a few times and I feel for you. Glad you're in a better place. One piece of advice, if you can take a little time off between gigs, I would do it. Keep spending time doing things you want to do before jumping in with another company. Also, be picky about your next job. Now that you have some experience under your belt, you will have some options.
I can relate to this post, but I pause at the contrast between this:
"I was given work to do and I did it well. The work wasn't interesting anymore, but it was easy." - "It was just so comfortable."
"I had plenty of ideas for apps and projects, but couldn't bring myself to build them. I was drained."
I understand feeling of being drained in a job with uninteresting, but stressful or time-consuming work, but not so much in a job that sounds extremely comfortable and flexible.
This combined with the "secretly hoped something horrible would happen" bit reads to me as a sort of mid-career crisis - tunnel vision seeking for some big catalyst that will make everything better, for a while at least.
I expect the author is going to be just fine in any case, but I don't see this as a problem that really necessitates an all or nothing approach. I feel like the tales of quitting, working out of a car, betting the house and whatnot is overly romanticized in general and among startup culture in particular.
I don't understand the mindset of "oh, I'm just going to cook and do things and write some code sometimes". I mean that in an envious way -- it sounds nice. But I just can't think that way for some reason. I didn't grow up with a lot of security so not having money come in is really stressful for me, even if I have savings.
I have seen that happen to myself. The motivation, the desire to pick yourself up and get to work drops.
The largest factor IMO is the people you work with ie Your boss, your teammates etc. This can make it or break it. Everything else comes and goes in time slices. I do not expect work to be interesting all the time but with great co-workers I at least expect an interesting hallway conversation or the spark to a new idea.
For me it was the Sr/Jr Engineer thing that killed my desire. I found that somehow my age/years of work experience came in the way by a highly regimented old world overlord. I figured it was an unhealthy environment that cared 2 hoots about what was happening in the world outside. Most of them had come from a school that thought sticking faster CPU more memory and larger disks was innovation while it was just evolution. Packed my bags and hopefully will never miss a thing :)
When I read the post, I thought the same thing... It's almost as if I felt like I was reading my own blog (if I kept one). I have always strived to find meaningful work where I feel like I can have a positive impact on the world. About 3 years ago, I took a job at a startup where I was sold on the story that it would have a meaningful impact on the health/wellness of others. I took on new roles and responsibilities easily as I really wanted the idea of the company to succeed. However, as I learn more and more about the true intentions of the founders, I realize that it has nothing to do with impacting the health and well-being of millions, but all to do with making money.
> However, as I learn more and more about the true intentions of the founders, I realize that it has nothing to do with impacting the health and well-being of millions, but all to do with making money.
That's not a great situation to be in. Are you still working there?
Yes. I made a lot of sacrifices to my programming skills to take on other roles and responsibilities to move the company forward. Now, 3 years later, I'm finding it tough to leave. I wish I could just jump ship, but having bills to pay is a huge motivator to maintain the status quo.
You're right... It's like asking, "what's the difference between Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny, and a for-profit company that improves the well-being of people?" ...nothing, they are all figments of our collective imaginations. (no offense to those HN readers who still believe ;-) )
I think many of the companies get started with good intentions, but we all know what the road to hell is paved with, right? What can be done to fix this?
I think that anything in particular can be done about companies caring about profit and little else. What can be done is changing the world for the better via (smart) state policies, some of them incentivising companies to do good (or at least less harm), others changing the world explicitly (like various social programs, the labor laws etc.). That's obviously hard and messy since it involves politics, but hey - people on this forum are supposedly all about hard problems and changing the world :) (usually, they're also about making millions of dollars in the process, but that, since it doesn't make you look as attractive, is usually left unspoken).
Wow - unlike other commenters, I think you deserve plaudits for not letting your work define you and going after what you are passionate about and believe. Will it make you financially wealthy? Maybe not (altho many articles seem to show chasing passion does have financial reward), but it will provide satisfaction. And that's hard to buy.
In fact, if you're up for some fun and continuous self-motivated challenge, I might have something for you that might be right up your alley. Not a coding thing or startup thing at all. Drop me a note if it interests you.
Something similar happened to me. I'm graduating in Law, but coding was always my passion - I did not want to go to university and study IT, because I always loose interest in something if I'm forced to study/do it. So I started coding five years ago as a for of relaxation. I loved it and learned all day and night. But had somehow to pay for my university, so first started freelancing. Two years ago I started part-time work for small webdesign agency. At first it was challenging, then more and more trivial tasks, almost none work... I become unproductive. Literally they were WEEKS I had nothing to do. So about two weeks ago, I quit. The first night I was thinking about how I'm going to pay for my textbooks, my rent, how I'm gonna live. Then I felt something I've almost forgotten - passion. I think passion and inspiration come in most critical moments, and especially when you got aim and you can decide yourself how to reach your goal. So an hour later, I started diving deep into NodeJS, Backbone, go over some tutorials I've been holding for months. Started writing new tutorial for my blog. Answered questions in GSAP forums. Helped people. Now I feel alive. As Max Payne said "I don't know about angels, but it's fear that gives man wings"
Seems like a legit reason to leave. Personally I would've used the position I was currently in as leverage in finding new employment, though. It seems to me that you're in a better negotiating position if you don't need the job because you already have one. I'm sure you have your reasons, though. Did you think that staying on the job while looking elsewhere would've impacted your performance? Was it personal stuff maybe?
For a long time I thought I wanted to work at a startup, but it turns out that what I want just sort of correlates with being a startup. As long as I can be creative and build things of value for real people while improving my skills without being micro-managed, I'm happy.
I wanted to work at a startup because I saw it as the fastest path to personal growth. I'm sure it's possible to grow in big companies, but I did some analysis and decided that a smaller company was the best bet for me. Small team means big responsibility and many hats. And I have to say, I learned a ton while I was there. I don't regret it for a second.
Too bad the company got bureaucratic. But it seems to be the nature of things. Startups are born, they grow, they get big, and inevitably they get boring because 1) maintaining legacy code & doing incremental changes is never as fun as green-field development 2)having customers mean proving you can be reliable, and that comes with doing hard work - providing customer support, fixing bugs. Snazzy new features give way to doing what the market wants.
I'm glad you made the leap to quit though, because it does sound like you were genuinely bored. While I agree a life guided by curiosity and experiments is the right pursuit, I personally don't think that luxury will always be available to us ALL the time. Sometimes, we just have to put up with doing boring tasks...
I don't think you are doing yourself a great service by playing the "it's not you, it's me" game with your ex company. This is nothing wrong with leaving after a short time and even writing about it. But significant accomplishments often take more than a year and have a lot of tedious and stressful intervals. Or to put it another way: opportunities that are certain to take less than a year and certain to not involve tedium and stress are rare.
If having a great job that you love and pays well were easy, everyone would be doing it. Jobs suck, unless you're lucky and a big risk pays off. And it's not burnout. Most tech jobs are just fucking boring, and nobody can get excited about technology after being mind-fucked all day by it. My suggestion is to get a non-tech job.
Be careful about this assumption if you are working at a small startup. I recently changed jobs and was not eligible for health insurance for the first month in my new job. I thought "Oh, that's fine. I'll just pay for a month of COBRA coverage." When I went to apply I was told that COBRA only applied to companies with at least 20 employees and that I should use my state's equivalent of COBRA instead. When I went to apply for that I was told that it applies to all companies, but it is not available to people who leave their job voluntarily.
I ended up having to get a short term individual insurance plan instead. It's a bit of a risk because if a major issue related to a pre-existing condition flared up, I would probably not be covered. It's my understanding that when the new health care laws take effect next year, it will help absolve much of the risk that comes from using an individual insurance plan.
Sell the truck, get on down to the marinas, walk the docks, ask around, moorage in arrears gets good glass sailboats for the cost of getting them out of there. The Sacramento Delta, `Delta Time' might get you some free anchor out.
Invent new rPi, Ardino sol-powered black boxes for mariners?
I learned that my strengths were different - almost the mirror image - of what I had imagined them to be, and the direction I needed to take was very different than my education and career to date. Briefly: more creativity, more words, not so much numbers/analytics. It was a big surprise.
I have followed their advice, and while it's difficult to turn one's career on a dime, I'm happy with the results so far. What I'm doing "feels right," and I'm much better at it. I think about this every day.
Your aptitude profile will be different than mine. At this point, I've referred about a dozen friends to the center. Some have got value from it, others haven't. The ones who benefited the most were those who were open to making changes. (Some people will spend $700 and then throw away results that don't fit their self-image. That's a waste.)
I specifically recommend JOCRF to apparently intelligent people who have a hard time settling down in a career, or say they are bored. Perhaps they don't "know themselves" well enough - that's where the test helps.
It feels great to feel what you are feeling. I recently graduated out of a college that I didn't like too much and now I've moved cities and working on stuff that I really want to. I guess breaks like this are necessary to keep the mind fresh.
I don't dislike the company nor am I bitter... I am simply no longer interested.
Fwiw, when they did not hire me originally, they said they wanted to keep in touch - and they kept their word. They reached out about 6 months later, but I was already living the startup dream at that point.