Tales From The Git Keeper: Ain’t No Rest For The Overworked

When we are navigating through life, we often hear about the importance of boundaries. Boundaries come in different forms: ownership, intimacy, and work/life balance. Here is one of several cases where my work/life boundaries were crossed in the course of my employment.

Background

I was on a team as a sort of floating engineer working on some architectural designs rather than specific features or operations. My manager requested my help on an urgent project for 2 weeks and assured me it would bump me up the list for promotion, something I’d been working toward for the past 6 months. The catch was having to put aside some of the architecture work but I thought it would be a nice addition to my highlight reel.

In another part of my life, a close friend was going to be married 3 weeks from the day I was asked to help on this project. I had accepted the invitation and booked my flights several months prior as well as sending out the usual out of office calendar notices.

Incident

They didn’t warn me that I’d be working with someone who didn’t know the system. Instead of 2 weeks, it was 2 weeks of me working and 1 week of me undoing the mistakes of my coworker. As the deadline neared, I had increasingly detailed documentation of the remaining work and release plan so someone else could pick it up. I lived under the assumption that work would bend to my vacation plans, not the other way around. Until this conversation:

Project Manager: Hey, so is this going to be done by tomorrow?

Me: That’s not up to me. I have all the changes lined up and the validation scripts ready but I can’t make anything else go faster.

Project Manager: And you’re going on vacation?

Me: Yes…

Project Manager: Too bad we can’t cancel that, huh?

Me: No, my friend is getting married so it’s immovable.

Project Manager: Ah… well, let’s see what happens tomorrow.

My manager had been coaching me on not being so angry at work (gee, I wonder why that kept happening) and I knew if I indicated any emotional response to this, I’d be getting a stern talking to (this manager was a jerk). So, on the outside I just vaguely smiled and went back to work but on the inside I was calling this shithead all kinds of names and preparing to quit if they tried to make me stay.

I did go on my vacation and I did meet my deadline.

Aftermath

You might want to know what happened to the project, the promotion, and the project manager. Here’re the answers:

  • The project manager was fired for incompetence.
  • When I returned from vacation, the project was delayed and didn’t need me to work like crazy, under threat of losing vacation beforehand.
  • 4 months later my manager informed me that my work to this project “didn’t count” towards my promotion. He remains a jerk to this day, or so I’ve heard.
  • The walking incident of a coworker had been ejected from the team. It turns out he wasn’t only ignorant of the system but of how to do anything.
  • The only part of the project that worked without completely destroying all other integration points was the piece I implemented. It’s not because I’m a superstar developer. It’s because the team was all new randomly hired people except for me and one other guy. They had no chance.
  • My documentation was passed along and worshiped as the only documentation for the entire project that described how to validate anything.

What Did I Learn

  • Shit rolls downhill: Despite my intense irritation with the project manager, I saw he was under a lot of strain to get this project done. He was being asked to make a lot of personal sacrifices to make this thing happen. So when he implied that I would need to make sacrifices too, I wasn’t surprised but I didn’t think he’d cross that line.
  • Never trust your manager when his ass is on the line: Until the sudden foray into the project, I didn’t know anything about it. After getting back from vacation, I gained more context on what was happening. Apparently, there was this political battle between two directors and one of them was mine, trying to make a point about the effectiveness of his team. I got pulled in, not because it would benefit my career, but because it would benefit his.
  • The real deadline is when everyone else is ready: I had accepted the deadline given to me because I didn’t know anything about the project when I was enlisted. What I found out later showed me there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that any other team was going to be ready by the deadline. The fact that my work made my team ready was just an excuse for the asshat director to throw shit on other teams. It didn’t matter that I did the work, did it well, and did it on time.
  • A pattern emerges: Now that I had a history of Hail Mary passes, guess who came knocking at my non-existent, open-space door at the next crisis? That’s right, asshat director. So I started saying ‘no’. And then I changed teams. And then I quit the company. Sometimes my old coworkers tell me he says he’ll hire me back anytime. I hope he’s not holding his breath.

When To Quit: Motivations And Fears

Have you ever been alarmed at seeing your coworkers leaving your company in droves? Or hearing about it at other companies? Should you be quitting too? Here I’ll go over factors that impact whether to quit and how to determine if your fears of quitting are justified.

space rocket launching
What quitting looks like to me represented with a photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Read The Signs

If you’re not one of those people constantly on the look out for another step up, you probably don’t think of quitting your job regularly. Here are some signs that might tell you it’s time to consider it:

  • You dread going to work or come home feeling really drained regularly.
  • You don’t feel emotionally invested in your work.
  • You haven’t changed positions or jobs for the past 5 years.
  • When people ask you what you like about your job, one of the first or only things you say is:
    • I really like the people.
    • My manager never puts any pressure on me.
    • I mean, the benefits are good.
    • I can’t complain.
  • You wish you could learn new skills on the job.
  • You keep telling yourself you’ll get that promotion next year.
  • You remember how your team was so much better before.
  • People start telling you about other great positions (not recruiters or managers).
  • You’re bored at work all the time.

Just because your favorite thing about your job is the benefits, people, or stability doesn’t mean your job is bad. It means there may be a lack of engagement. This leads to low skill growth and decreased desirability for future positions. If you are near retirement, this is okay. If you’re early or mid-career, this might mean you’re going to have a hard time finding another job. If you’re not engaged in your work, your work quality is probably not your best. This can lead to all kinds of bad feelings both from within, like guilt or despondency, and without, like people thinking you’re a lazy procrastinator.

But If I Quit…

There are so many reasons that come up when you think of quitting. It could be small, like not wanting to miss your favorite coffee shop, or big, like being worried about visa sponsorship. First, it’s okay to have these worries. Second, write them down and try to prioritize them in order of biggest worry. This is going to be a useful way to prioritize traits in your next job.

Example:

  1. Fear of being deported due to lack of visa support. This turns into: Confirm with recruiter and/or HR that visa support will be provided.
  2. Fear of getting a longer commute, meaning more stress, money, and time. This turns into: Ask about commuting support, work from home options, and potentially only look at companies within a certain distance of your home.
  3. Irritation at having to rollover your HSA. This turns into: Look up the HSA rollover policies and see if it’s worth rolling over your balance or just reinvesting within the same HSA.

Fears can be used to identify completely reasonable concerns with quitting. You can turn them into achievable requirements for your next position.

No You’re Biased

Let’s talk about cognitive biases. Here’s an example of an internal stream of thought along with some biases identified within it:

Okay, so this job isn’t going as well as you thought but you’ve already spent the time and effort to get it, why not give it a little more time? [Loss Aversion]. On top of that, you’ve contributed so much code, documentation, process, and team development effort here [IKEA effect]. Is it really that bad? It would be much nicer if things stayed the same, right? [Status Quo Bias]. After all, this is a great job because you chose to take it[Choice Supportive Bias]. In fact, you have this job and there are tons of people that would want it [Endowment effect]. Certainly, all your coworkers seem to like it here so you should too [Bandwagon effect]. They all understand that this company works a certain way and that’s how we stay successful [System Justification]. In the end, it’s going to be so hard to choose from all the available jobs that you might as well stick with this one [Default Effect].

First, what’s a cognitive bias? In short, it’s an irrational way of thinking that leads to decisions or actions not based in reality. Here’s another way to think of it: your brain is doing the best it can to ensure your success and sometimes that means making decisions based off of fear instead of reality. How do you combat this when this happens unconsciously?

In general, you can counter biases by broadening your view and working to look at things objectively (note: this isn’t easy). Let’s see some examples:

  • Endowment effect and Choice Supportive Bias: You think your job is great because it’s your job. Counterpoint: First, any job could be your job, which means any job could be great. Second, your job isn’t unique. There are other jobs almost the same as your current one. So, is it so scary to leave your job for another that offers you the same status?
  • Loss Aversion: Also known as the Sunk Cost Fallacy, you tell yourself you’ve already spent so much time and effort here that you don’t want to leave that all behind. Counterpoint: What about the time and effort you’ve spent on your career? You’re not leaving that behind. Or the time and effort you’ve spent building a network with your coworkers? That also stays. The effort put to your job isn’t lost, it’s just a piece of a larger whole that is your career.
  • IKEA Effect: This sh*t is yours. You built it with your bare hands over multiple late nights and with extreme sleep deprivation. You can’t just leave it. Counterpoint: The thing is, you’re going to ideally retire at some point and there goes your work. Know that you can’t hold on to it forever. Secondly, think of all the work you’ve ever done in your entire life. Your work contributions are not limited to this specific job and those contributions don’t go away after you start working in another segment of the limitless pool of work that needs to be done in this world. No one can take your achievements or accomplishments from you even if you quit your job.
  • Bandwagon Effect, System Justification, and Status Quo Bias: These ones are interesting because they are all related to the fear of being different, standing out, and going against the norm. This can cause fear of social rejection. Counterpoint: Broaden your view to include not just your coworkers and bosses, but all workers in your sector. Do they think your job is great? Take a look at Glassdoor. Is your managerial structure great or abusive? Is it really worth keeping the status quo when only some people think your job is the best and your managers are driving you into the ground?
  • Default Effect: This one is also interesting because it could signal another problem. On one hand, you could be lazy. Or, you could be immobilized with stress when thinking of changing jobs. If you’re just lazy or thinking that it will be fine if you do nothing, you can try to broaden your view and collect data on your job vs. others to get a more objective perspective. However, if you are in a job you don’t like and can’t change because of anxiety, you might need to get help from someone who can coach you through the change.

In all these cases there are a few generic ways to gain objectivity:

  • What would you say to a friend in your situation?
  • What would you say to a stranger in your situation?
  • Ask your friend to look at the data you’ve presented and see what they conclude (try not to lead them to a decision)
  • Ask a stranger the same you asked your friend
  • Whether good or bad, there are tons of posts on Yahoo!Answers and Reddit by people trying to figure out this very thing

Why ask strangers and friends? The difference can be useful because you might be able to see the biases in action with the differences. Additionally, friends know your strengths and weaknesses better than a stranger so they will respond in a way tailored to you. A stranger doesn’t know you and will give the most general answer.

Where do I find this stranger? You’ll unfortunately want to reach into your network and find an engineer you used to work with, an old boss, someone you met at a networking event, or even a career coach if you’d like a more formal evaluation.

The bottom line is that your brain is going to try to protect you when you are stressed. Sometimes the decisions made in a time of stress are not the best long term so work on collecting more information to support them.

ISO: Another Pond

Here are a few reasons why you should always be considering changing jobs.

  • Does your current position build skills on the job that will make you more appealing to the market? If you’re using 20 year old technology or you haven’t learned anything new in the past few years, you might be hurting your career by staying.
  • Do you have benefits supporting continuing education? Some companies pay for master’s degrees or additional certifications.
  • Are you supported in trying new roles? Maybe you don’t want to be an engineer and instead want to try out project management. There are companies that support this transition and others don’t.
  • Promotions. Every place has a different way of promoting. If the job you’re at doesn’t have a good promotion track, you can look for a place that does.
  • Money! When you change jobs, there’s a new opportunity to negotiate a higher salary than you currently have. In the tech market, you can expect a 20% salary increase or more with each job change. That really stacks up after a few job switches.
  • You can grow your experience and diversity of thought by being in a different work environment.
  • Even if you’re not looking for a job for yourself, by finding out about potential new jobs you can be a great resources for friends and coworkers who do want to switch. When you do favors for others, they tend to return them. This could lead to an even better opportunity further down the line.
  • Do you want to travel the world? Some companies offer relocation benefits for internal transfers to international offices. You could live in a different country every few years and round out back at home if you want.

Show Me Numbers

I’ve mentioned being objective and rational a lot. Numbers and hard data make it clearer whether you benefit from quitting. Here are some numerical data you can collect and compare.

  • Money: what do you make now vs. what you could be making
  • Happiness: This might take a little work. Count the number of days when you’re happy or not. You can also check out some mindfulness practices here. Think of what your ideal is and compare.
  • Skills: List the skills you want to learn vs. the skills available to learn at your job.
  • Location: Measure the commute times between your current workplace and what your ideal commute times would be. You can also measure parking costs or time on public transit.
  • Family: Compare parental benefits if you’re planning to start a family.
  • Benefits: Look at health benefits, 401k, stock awards, commute reimbursement, fitness benefits, or anything else you have or are missing.
  • Networking: Consider the people you are working with. Do you want to have more or less experienced people? Do you want more diversity in your workplace?
  • Future: Do you want to move to another country? Does your current position support that or have other options like remote that would let you travel?

Taking these pieces of data and putting them into “current position has” and “want but current position doesn’t have” will help show the gap between your current and ideal position. Prioritize them and determine what you would jump ship for.

This Is Fine

It is okay to like your job and want to stay. In fact, it’s great if you’ve found a job where you think you’d like to stay for a long time and feel has the right setup for long term career growth. That is an enviable position. Potentially even more enviable than someone who’s “conquered” the FANG interviews and probably has a stupidly high salary. Everyone chooses their own path and because you’re the only one who reaps the benefits, it doesn’t matter what the rest of the world is doing. Happy quitting (or staying and enjoying your current job).

Tales from the Git Keeper: It’s My Party and I Can Uninvite You If I Want To

choose-the-high-road-my-dearshit-rolls-downhill-c2146
via https://www.someecards.com/

Background

I had told my manager and his manager (my skip manager*) that I was quitting. I gave them a date and they told me to sit tight while they hash out the details with HR. I gave them a date 1 month out and described the work I intended to complete during that time. I was anxiously awaiting their verdict. I got the impression they might require that I leave immediately, which would incur a significant financial penalty to me due to the terms of the work contract.

Meanwhile, the team brain trust (my skip manager and a senior engineer) had been planning an all day team offsite to craft our road map (i.e. be told what we should do). This was to build hype for our technical challenges and build team cohesion. Also, there would be free lunch.

Timeline: I told my managers I was leaving on Friday. The team offsite was on the following Tuesday. We were asked for our lunch selection on the previous Wednesday.

Conversation 1: Direct Manager

Timeline: Monday, the day of nail-biting anxiety over whether I’d be asked to leave immediately

Manager: We had the discussion with Skip Manager and HR.

Me: And…?

Manager: Well, you can leave whenever you want and you will keep getting paid until next month. You won’t have to pay back the $X for breaking the contract.

Me: That’s amazing! I didn’t even realize that was an option.

Manager: I was surprised to. About the offsite though: I think Skip Manager is going to talk to you and encourage you not to go.

Me: I guess that’s his decision but why? Wouldn’t that be unsettling to the rest of the team?

Manager: Well, he says it’s to give you an extra day off since you won’t be involved in it but it might be because he doesn’t want your interference. He’s very concerned about any morale impact it might have on the team.

Me: Okay… so, what is he going to tell the team? And wouldn’t be suddenly not being there be more of a morale impact?

Manager: We’re not going to tell the team you are leaving until next week so I don’t know what he’ll tell them.

Me: Overall this is good though that offsite thing is weird. Thank you for your help.

That went really well for the quitting part. I personally felt I would be able to help the junior engineers on my team with brainstorming during the offsite but it’s not my circus anymore. Still, Skip Manager’s choice seemed more morale damaging than having me there.

Conversation 2: Skip Manager

Timeline: Later Monday

Skip Manager: As you know, we’ve discussed your departure.

Me: Yes, Manager mentioned that.

Skip Manager: Glad to hear that. Anyway, about the offsite: why don’t you take that day off? It’s not going to be relevant for you after all.

Me: If you think that’s best. I would be happy to contribute my experience from past work or not if you’d prefer.

Skip Manager: Great, so what will you tell the team why you aren’t going?

Me: Um… I could say I’m sick?

Skip Manager: No, I don’t want you to lie.

Me: Er… okay… I have to go see the doctor and since I will have the time I can bump my appointment up.

Skip Manger: Great, go with that. Bye.

Recap: Skip Manager gives me less than 24 hours to come up with a reason why I suddenly can’t come to work tomorrow that isn’t a lie because he decided I shouldn’t go to his stupid planning party. Oh, and make sure it doesn’t give away that you’re leaving. And who’s going to eat my BLTA?

Conversation 3: The White Lie

Timeline: Tuesday, day of The Offsite

Dear Team,

I just found out that there’s an opening at my podiatrist’s office tomorrow and I’ve been waiting a few weeks to see him. Since it’s midday and may take a while to do x-rays, I will have to miss the offsite. Have fun and I look forward to the great ideas coming out of it!

Alacritical

This wasn’t a complete lie since I did have to go to the podiatrist to get fitted for some foot related problem. They weren’t sure if they’d need to x-ray. It didn’t have to be Tuesday though. It also took 30 min. Still not a complete lie.

Conversation 4: Human Resources Lady

Timeline: The Friday after The Offsite

Me: Thank you for all your help with negotiating me leaving the company!

HR Lady: No problem, I was happy to help… by the way, how did the conversation go with your managers?

Me: Well, Manager was pretty clear about it and made sure I had some choice in when I left. I wanted to stay a bit to make sure I didn’t leave anyone with garbage to deal with.

HR Lady: Yes, he mentioned he expected that from you. What about Skip Mansger?

Me: Manager gave me a heads up but Skip Manager asked me not to go to a team offsite, which is fine, but I really didn’t like that he asked me to make up a reason the day before why I couldn’t go.

HR Lady: *tsk*, I told him I recommended he not do that. He asked you to come up with the reason? *shakes head*

Me: He also asked me not to lie and I managed to come up with something reasonably truthful but I didn’t like cleaning up his mess. Still, if that’s the worst of it, I’m happy with how this turned out.

HR Lady: I’m glad it worked out and feel free to reach out if you need anything.

Even HR thinks Skip Manager is a little crazy. That makes 3 of us (HR, Manager, and myself). By the way, I gave the HR Lady a gift basket to show my appreciation. I like to reinforce good behavior.

Things I didn’t do that were suggested:

  • Instead of making up a white lie, tell my coworkers that I’m leaving and Skip Manager banned me from the offsite
  • Send the “can’t make it” email but attend anyway
  • Refuse to not attend

Since I had been generously offered pay without having to work, I considered being the scapegoat for Skip Manager’s convenience a fair trade-off.

What did I learn from this?

  • Managers don’t have to listen to HR and HR gets irritated about that too
  • Sometimes managers can’t find a good rationalization so they make you do it
  • I will never know who got my BLTA

*A skip manager refers to your managers manager. Also known as: senior manager, grandfather manager

Title reference

Exit to Stage Left: Thoughts on Quitting

Is quitting the easy way out? I think quitting can be hard and more effort than sticking with something that’s just okay or tolerable. There’s a lot of stress and formalities to go through to quit a job and even more so if you want to stay on good terms. Here I’ll talk about different ways to quit a job or team.

Clarification: For the purposes of this post, by “quit” or “quitting” I mean the voluntary resignation or termination of employment by the employed individual. I am not talking about lay-offs or other involuntary termination of employment.

Stages of Quitting

I think of different stages of quitting as the different points at which I can engage my current employer in discussions:

  1. I’m thinking of quitting or am interviewing for other companies.
  2. I’ve decided to quit but have no set date on when my last day is.
  3. I know the rough day I want to quit and I’ve started casually removing personal items from the office.
  4. It’s the day which is the minimum amount of notice my company requires before quitting.
  5. It’s my last day.
  6. I’m gone.

When you start talking to your employer about quitting depends on your relationship with your direct manager, your company policy on resignation, and the terms of your contract. I have primarily worked at “at-will employment” shops so, technically, I could email my manager from my bed and say I’m never coming in to work again. I have never been in a situation where that has needed to happen but I always check to make sure it’s an option.

Factors of quitting

  1. Your finances, health care, next job, etc.
  2. Your manager/employer
  3. Your coworkers
  4. Your HR department, if you have one
  5. Your legal obligations

Each of these factors can impact when you quit, what your life is like before you quit, how much notice you are obligated to give, and how you feel about quitting. When making a plan to quit, I would recommend assessing the risk presented by each of these factors. Any rules you fail to follow can compromise legal contracts and may result in financial consequences. Any human involved may become unreasonably emotional or you may find yourself needing to defend your decision to quit against unexpectedly intense interrogation. On the other hand, your managers could see that you will be more successful elsewhere and wish you the best. This has happened.

Approach 1: Burn the Ground and Salt the Earth

In this approach, you will wait until your last day or the day after your last day to leave. This will greatly inconvenience your employer for several reasons:

  • Your work is in an unknown state and your manager or team needs to pick it up
  • Your manager needs to explain to his managers, perhaps while being raked over coals, why you left so suddenly. He also has to report this to HR.
  • HR systems need to suddenly destroy your access to everything, stop your pay, not let you pass go, and take that $200 away from you.
  • Your team is suddenly less one person without warning or explanation. This is disruptive to team productivity, road map, and morale. Also, you won’t be able to make that ping pong tournament.

I would not recommend taking this approach unless you never plan to work for that company again and potentially any companies affiliated with that company or that could be acquiring or acquired by that company. That aside, before you plan on taking this option, make sure it is viable. Some contracts will specify a penalty for leaving without notice and others are “at-will”.

Approach 2: I’ll Stay but Do Very Little

In this approach, you’ve decided to follow the cultural or prescribed “notice” before leaving. Let’s call this 2 weeks for the sake of simplicity. You give your boss your 2 weeks notice and then you decide you won’t give anything more to your company than you already have. This involves some level of not doing your job ranging from not taking on new projects to spinning in your chair for your remaining time.

I don’t recommend belligerence but at the same time, if your company is sucking the life out of you, keystroke by keystroke, maybe toning down the amount of effort you put into it isn’t a bad thing. Going back to the factors that affect quitting: you’ve taken care of legal requirements and the HR department by following the rules. The HR department might be notified of inappropriate behavior and flag you to not be hired again. That leaves you, your manager, and your coworkers.

If you are leaving for medical or urgent personal reasons, sometimes the company will make an exception on the 2 week notice rule without any penalty to you. It will still be disruptive for your manager and your team but as long as people can rationalize something, they tend to be okay with it. Now, if you are stuck with them for the full 2 weeks remaining, you will be subject to the emotional reactions of your managers, your coworker, and yourself.

What does this mean? In some cases, your manager will ask you to lie about why you are leaving to your coworkers. In other cases, your manager will ask you to say nothing and then say who-knows-what behind your back after you leave. I consider these to be some of the less pleasant cases. This means that your manager has chosen to treat you as a risk to be mitigated and now you’re supposed to do what he says. However, you’re already leaving, right? Of course, you’re not obligated to lie for your managers but you’ll see similar consequences of openly going against them as in Approach 1. Even managers I thought were on my side the whole way have shown me a new, less appealing side of themselves when I quit.

Approach 3: I’d Like to Quit, Please

If you want to minimize the amount of bridge burning and water under the bridge or other bridge related metaphorical garbage from piling up, you can give your management a heads up that you are considering leaving. I don’t recommend doing this more than a month ahead of when you plan to leave. If you give them a heads up with more than a month, typically you are asking them to change something for you or it’s so much time they can’t do much with it so they ignore you. This will map to about stage 2 or 3 in the stages of quitting I’ve listed. Either you’re getting prepared to leave or you’re actively interviewing and have a date to quit by.

This strategy opens up possibilities for negotiation. In Approach 2, you might get some push back from management but you’ll end up burning a lot of goodwill that would otherwise make them want to change the workplace for you. In this approach, you are stating your desire to leave with ample amounts of time and they may be able to accommodate changes you need to stay.

This can be good or bad. It can be bad if you weren’t prepared for them to give you a counteroffer. So be prepared for counteroffers and come up with a list of things they would have to change for you to stay. If these things are “double vacation time”, they probably can’t meet that and it will give them an understandable reason why you are leaving. If you are able to give reasons that you know the company can’t accommodate, it somehow makes it easier for them to accept you leaving. If you can’t provide a good enough reason, they tend to be bitter and passive aggressive. This isn’t a “rule” but a tendency I’ve noticed.

Here is an example of a conversation where an employee tells a manager they are leaving:

Employee: I would like to discuss my career path.

Manager: Okay. What are you thinking of?

Employee: I’ve looked at opportunities here and where I want to be in the future. I don’t see myself achieving my goals here so I am planning to leave.

Manager: Oh, this is sudden. I didn’t expect this. Is there anything we can do to make you stay or is something in particular wrong?

Employee: I’m want to become a fullstack developer and all the opportunities here are for backend development. I know there are some front-end teams but I really want to learn from senior fullstack developers I work with day-to-day. Since there aren’t any people or teams like that, I’ve decided to move elsewhere.

Manager: I see. I don’t think we’d be able to find a senior fullstack developer to keep you here. Do you have a job already lined up?

Employee: Not yet but I’m waiting for a few different responses on interviews and I’d like to leave in the next month.

Note that the employee provided a reason why they wanted to leave and showed that they researched whether or not their current position could accommodate that. If you don’t show you considered making your current employer work, your manager might become defensive and passive aggressive saying things like “we could have made a place for you here but I guess it’s your career.”

Make sure to focus on things you want rather than things your employer doesn’t have. Saying “you don’t offer enough autonomy” can put people on the defensive and you’ve shut down the possibility for a productive conversation. Instead saying, “I’d like to work on a team with more freedom to experiment and less pressure to deliver” is you talking about yourself and typically people can’t tell you how you think and feel. This is part of Crucial Conversations if you’re interested in more behind the psychology of these types of conversations.

There Will Be Bullshit

Whenever there’s an event that can be emotional, it will be emotional (a play on Murphy’s Law). When quitting, you might see managers who you thought were reasonable start showing their bad side. Coworkers who you thought were almost your friends start being stand-offish and acting superior. Be prepared to see negative emotional reactions from coworkers. This doesn’t always happen but it’s better to consider it before. If you consider it beforehand, you are less likely to feel bad or overreact in the moment.

The “bullshit” can extend quite far. If you are doing an internal transfer, your managers can take action to block that transfer if they are displeased with you. Some companies require a testimony to good performance from your old manager before transferring so unfortunately, they can hold your fate in their hands. If you are quitting the company, this won’t be a problem. If it does come up, it’s tricky to get out of the situation unless you have some level of proof that you are actually a good performer (ex. past reviews, feedback from coworkers, projects that went well). With this, you might be able to go to HR and claim your move is being wrongfully blocked. I haven’t tried this before.

Odds and Ends

What do you say to your coworkers

If you plan to be working with your coworkers during this time, it’s good to think up a cover story. I’m not saying it doesn’t have to be true but it does have to be palatable and consistent. People tend to stop asking or thinking about something if they get closure.

Examples of palatable reasons with closure:

  • You are looking for different challenges to broaden your industry experience
  • You are looking for a hybrid position where you can be a manager and designer at the same time
  • You are looking for a position closer to your family
  • You are looking for a position that will allow you to pursue further education while working

These are all things that give a good reason why you can’t be here and also don’t convince someone they should also leave. Even if you have a good reason, people will start saying things that indicate they think they are superior because they feel suited to their current position. This is them rationalizing why they aren’t leaving or “sweet lemon/sour grapes”. You may also hear some passive aggressive comments from managers about you leaving. It’s an unfortunate side effect of working with humans.

Keeping in touch with coworkers

If you like your coworkers or might want to work with them again in the future, feel free to offer to stay in touch with them. I recommend LinkedIn as a good way to stay in touch. If you want to be more personal, ask them if they’d be okay adding you on Facebook as a friend. I stay away from asking for personal emails or phone numbers though there’s no reason not to offer or accept them. Just keep in mind that they could steal your rewards points.

The only thing to be careful of is any anti-poaching rules in the company you are quitting or the company you will work for. If you are planning to stay in touch with coworkers in order to pick them off into your new company, there is sometimes a grace period of several months to a year where you cannot do this. The consequences are usually against your new company, who will not appreciate that you brought those consequences down upon them.

Can I keep this?

Your company almost certainly has rules around company property, both intellectual and physical. Make sure you return any tracked items. In terms of intellectual property, you could be considered stealing if you downloaded anything company related onto your personal computer or any mobile device. In several companies I’ve worked at they have a device policy where they can claim any device, personal or otherwise, that has ever had company data on it. If you work on sensitive information and are allowed to use personal devices, this might apply to you.

Save Before Quitting

Before you start talking to your manager about quitting, make sure to collect and print or save externally all the documentation you may need if your manager decides to terminate your employment immediately. I was escorted out of the building the first time I mentioned I was quitting and this is how I prepared for it:

  • Print out the following pieces of information if accessible:
    • Proof of employment (employment verification and immigration purposes)
    • Last Paystub (employment verification and immigration purposes)
    • Employment contract
    • HR department phone number
    • Contact information for your health plan provider and any other benefits providers
    • Employee Resignation or Termination guide if there is one
    • Your manager and skip manager’s name and contact information
    • The emails of anyone you want to stay in touch with at work
  • Clear all your temp data, browsing data, and cached data from all your work devices
  • Ensure at least 1 other person on your team has access to every resource you have access to. Not required but nice to do.
  • If you still have stuff at work, make sure you have enough bags or boxes to get it out of your building and a way to transport it home
  • If you are using a public transit card funded by your employer, you will need to give that back. Have a backup fare if you took the bus to work that day.

You can do all of this without alerting anyone that you are quitting unless you’re careless in the print room about leaving your print job unattended.

Good luck quitting!

 

 

Tales from the Git Keeper: No Professional Growth for You

This is a post about wanting to grow as an engineer and having my management block me from doing so.

I frequently go to tech events for networking, learning, or some mix and I’m an active member in several online tech communities as well. I came across a tech event that was being advertised in several of my groups and it turned out that it was in the same city I worked. I had just started at the company I was working at a few months before and hadn’t yet encountered conferences as part of developer growth. I was about to find out what the organization I was in thought of that.

Firstly, I thought I should make sure the content of the conference was relevant to my company in an effort to convince them to sponsor my attendance or at least let me take that day as a work day and not a vacation day. I collected the following data about my organization and company goals:

  • My company at the time had an company Town Hall describing how moving to “the cloud” (AWS in this case) was going to help them go global.
  • My organization at the time was working on reducing the overhead of devops in their service maintenance and was looking into solutions for implementing Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment
  • The organization needs to maintain both their on-premises datacenter and new AWS clusters at the same time.
  • The organization wants to move to building a platform instead of a product.

The bold words are meant to prepare you for the next segment of my proposal.

Second, I tried to relate the content of the talk to the organization goals. These are some of the titles of the talks scheduled at the conference:

  •  What does it take to build an enterprise SaaS product?
  • I may need hybrid cloud, but where do I start?
  • DevOps in an immutable world
  • Serverless and Containers: a Match Made in the Cloud
  • Building a Notification System at Scale
  • From Infra Ops to Platform Development: T-Mobile’s Approach to Cloud
  • Does your SaaS automate enough?
  • Not Your Mother’s Cloud: Best Practices for Enterprise Hybrid Cloud – from On-prem, Cloud, Containers, and Beyond

I’ve highlighted some terms in case it wasn’t clear that just the titles of the talks directly related to what my organization was advertising to be it’s goals. If you had, for some reason, built a heuristic function to rank conferences on how relevant to your organization they were based on your organizational goals, I thought this conference would rank pretty highly.

Thirdly, I tried to quantify the cost of this so I could be transparent to the company what I was asking for. Here’s what I got:

  • Cost at the time: $345 for a single ticket
  • Duration: 1 day
  • Location: Across the street kitty-corner to my office building (I could see the conference building from my desk if I chose to stand up)

As a finishing touch, I noted that my company was listed as one of the Gold Sponsors of the event. That’s right. I was asking to attend a nearby event at relatively low cost to learn about technology related to the goals of my organization that was sponsored by my company. Let’s see how that went.

[Instant Messaging]

Me to direct manager (DM): Hi DM, I’m really interested in this tech conference that’s across the street from us and sponsored by us. You can find the info here at http://www.notareallink.com. Do you think I’d be able to either get funding to go or be able to go without taking time off work?

DM: That looks great! I think we should try to send more people to that conference and even I want to go. It looks really relevant and it’s right nextdoor. I will talk to our director to see how funding for conferences work.

That went really well. I didn’t have to negotiate or bargain at all. Unfortunately, my direct manager, DM, at the time had only started 2 weeks after me and was optimistic that such a prominent tech company would of course sponsor sending its employees to go to a conference they themselves are funding. Sadly for both of us, he was wrong.

[A week later]

DM: I brought up the conference thing at our manager strategy meeting.

Me: How did that go?

DM: Well… I tried asking about it and then our director said it wasn’t important so we’d talk about it at the next meeting.

Me: I see… well, I bought my tickets because early bird pricing was only on until 2 days ago.

DM: That’s okay, at the very least our Sr Manager said we can’t fund it but we can look the other way if you go on your own.

Me:… I’ll do that.

Okay, so that wasn’t the best news but there’s still hope that they might reimburse my tickets and possibly send a few other people, right?

[Another week later]

DM: So, I asked about the conference again…

Me: Ah… that sounds like it didn’t go well.

DM: Well, I was a little surprised by the response. The director said we would need to make a case for its relevance and we’d consider sending people but we’d have limited budget.

Me: Does he know we’re sponsoring this?

DM: He didn’t seem to care.

Me: Awesome.

While both my manager and I remained confused at the lack of investment my organization had in its developers, I carried on and made sure to give ample notice to my managers and teammates that I would be out all day for one Wednesday to go to the tech conference next door. Tickets sponsored by myself.

I thought that was it. Sure, it was disappointing that the company wasn’t supportive of professional development but at least I would be able to go and not lose a vacation day. A week before the event, I overheard a manager say we were doing a mandatory all day off-site the following week. Knowing I had sent out my notice of my absence a month before, I was sure it wouldn’t conflict with my plan to go to the conference. Just in case, I sent a reminder to my managers:

[Email]

Me: Dear Managers, The agenda for the conference is up and can be found here: http://www.notarealsite.com. Some of the topics are fairly relevant to our organization, particularly those about migration from on-premises to cloud and hybrid cloud. If there is a talk that you’d like me to attend, please let me know and I will try to make it.

Skip Manager (SM): That conference conflicts with our all day off-site that I was planning to schedule tomorrow. Do you really have to go to this conference or can you go to another one?

Me: Given that this one is very close (across the street), only one day long where others on this topic are typically 3 days long, and I’ve already paid for it, yes, I will have to insist on going.

[Time Passes]

SM: I’ve rescheduled the off-site to the day after. The talk on hybrid architecture sounds good to me.

Not only was it a bit of a struggle to get people to tolerate my going to a job relevant conference, they also try to stop me from going because in favor of plans that don’t really exist yet. So much for the CEO’s proclamation that the company “attracts and develops top tech talent”.

I ended up going to the conference and enjoyed it greatly. I wrote up notes and made sure to send them out to my teammates and managers. No one cared. I didn’t go for them though so that’s fine by me. As for the offsite, it was rescheduled and delayed two more times before they eventually decided I no longer needed to attend. I’m glad they had all that hammered out before they asked me to cancel my conference attendance.

Tales from the Git Keeper: Don’t ask questions; just get in

This post is just a story about a terrible manager.

I was working at a large tech company and had been there for several years. I was the expert in the area I was in across 4 different teams due to my tenure. I had just been assigned to a new manager who wanted to enforce his new rule.

At this point in my career I was losing patience with the repeated broken promises of management, the flood of incompetent hires as part of the resource tripling recruiting campaign, and the dilution of expertise that left me in charge of any problem that was too hard for anyone else to solve. As a result, I was pretty irritable. This new boss decided he’d put me back in line by isolating me from my peers and being the only point of contact I had.

Very frequently this type of conversation occurred via instant messaging:

Boss: Are you free?

Me: Yes [Internally: Uh oh]

Boss: Come to room 203. Don’t speak; just listen.

*Boss immediately logs off*

Here are the options I considered:

  1. Don’t go.
  2. Go and don’t speak.
  3. Go and speak anyway.
  4. Immediately quit.

If I went with 1, the following would happen:

*Boss walks up to my desk*

Boss: Why didn’t you come to the meeting?

Me: I was paged and had to prevent the loss of several million dollars to the company so I couldn’t go.

Boss: This was a really important meeting I wanted you to be at. Next time ask someone else to do the investigation.

*Boss walks away without waiting for a response*

I hated working for this guy.

If I went with 2, this following would happen:

Nothing. Yep. He just wanted me to be there for no particular reason apparently.

If I went with 3, the following would happen:

*Meeting concludes*

Boss: I told you not to ask questions. You need to really focus on listening to others.

*Immediately walks away without waiting for acknowledgement of this statement.*

I really hated working with this guy.

I eventually ended up leaving his team. I never got the chance to explain to him why this behavior was bad because he never let me speak. He was very surprised when I told him I was leaving and was confused that it was so unexpected. Maybe he needs to focus on listening to other people more.

You might be wondering what the deal was with this. I can explain.

This manager had a grand plan for everything and played a long game. Often in order to create the outcome he wanted, he’d plan out a multi-month or year long campaign to manipulate entire organization into a particular position. In a lot of the cases when I was asked to be in a meeting without an explanation it was one of two reasons:

  • The manager needed an engineer to be present who was known to be competent in order to scare the other managers into less bullsh*tting. In these cases I would often be called upon to confirm a specific technical detail in a misleading concept to force another manager to agree to take on work or admit responsibility for something. Over time this would lead to transferal of ownership of entire services.
  • The manager was parading me in front of the senior management or engineers to advertise my broad level of influence. This was part of my boss’ plan to make his organization look really technically strong and to buy as many promotions from other teams as possible. He looks good when he promotes engineers to senior positions and in exchange he’ll play the same game with other managers.

Did that actually work? I mean, he looks really capable to his superiors when he takes on projects saying that the other team was incompetent and promises greatness with his growing army of senior and principal engineers. On the other hand, he was known as a bully among other managers and a cancer to any project he took on by other engineering groups. He refused to allow you to defend yourself or your team in meetings and he overloaded his engineering teams with so much inherited work that nothing ever got done… unless it would get you promoted and contribute to his army of highly skilled workers. Oh, and by the way, his promotions were a lot of behind closed door deals with other managers so they weren’t always qualified.

Why did people work for him? If you were one of his chosen few that were to be promoted, he would fiercely prevent anyone from distracting you from your promotion projects and only put you on things that would gain you notoriety and promotion points. If you were a career climber, this was the manager for you. I actually like doing a good job and helping others when help is needed so he and I did not get along very well.

I’m sure there are many things you can take from this. I’ll give you this one: there can be methods to the madness of the most inconsiderate dictatorial managers if you’re willing to sit and listen to what others are saying.

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Random from the internet: http://www.funtube.gr/eikones-dont-ask-questions-just-get-in/