A friend of mine who has a very fine job recently asked me, and a couple of other friends, how we decide when to take a new job. The issue came up because he was made an out-of-the-blue offer from a company he knows, but he isn’t looking and has, in fact, only been at his current job a relatively short while (less than two years).
It’s a good question, and since I made another jump early this year I thought I’d go through my list to review…
My current job is, I hope, a dream job. I don’t think there’s only one, but when I left my previous full-time gig, I made a list of the companies I wanted to work for. There were two companies on it: SpaceX and Disney, and SpaceX was far and away the #1. So I sent a resume, and about eight months later I started here.
That approach has, however, been an anomaly. It was actually fun to go remember why I take new jobs. For one thing, I can tell you, I’ve never left a job for more money (in fact a few of my moves were definitely pay reducing). I find that interesting. Here’s how the rest of my career path went, chronologically:
- College Job (graduated, also left under strange circumstances)
- Consulting Job (Lots of good years, but ultimately left due to bad management)
- Consulting Gig (left due to project completion)
- Consulting Job (same company, great gig… left for family/relationship reasons)
- Full-Time Gig (completed project milestone, didn’t stick around due to bad manager)
- Full-Time Gig (completed project milestone, bad manager; probably could have sued them)
- Consulting Gig (back to previous company, left for dream job and as project was wrapping up)
I worked odd jobs before and during college. The only non-technical job I ever worked was a very short (days or weeks) period working for my cousin while I was 15 or 16 helping him deliver produce. After that I got a side gig in high school helping an insurance salesman organize his accounting database (I wish I could remember his name), and then I went to college.
I worked in the Xavier University computer labs; I remember the day I got the job… I’d applied through some usual student work program and I’d been in the computer lab all the time (being a major, that’s what we did). The guy doing the hiring didn’t know me by name, though, and since I was always there and never in my dorm room he couldn’t reach me by phone, so it took a few days until, by chance, someone called me by name within earshot of him, and he said “YOU’RE Chip?… You’re hired!” and that was that.
Why I LEFT that job was far more exciting. I’d moved around in XU’s IT department and had taken over the student ID systems by my senior year. We did some really cool stuff — we interfaced with bank and telephone company systems, and school systems like the library, food systems, and post office… we installed bar-code tech and two forms of mag-stripe interfaces. My boss was proud of this work and invited me to interviews with newspapers and around campus to show off our work. At the same time there were people coming into the shop learning to game the system… now to be fair, the openness with which my boss was sharing information probably led me to share too much, but someone started a fake-ID scheme and when they asked me if I knew the guy and what I’d told him it sounded kind of bad. I still claim I didn’t do anything wrong; I didn’t know there were fake IDs going around — I would print off novelty IDs for my friends with high school photos and such on them, but those were never meant for fake identities. Police were involved; the school was wary, so they gave me my degree and I decided to head on out.
Next I went to DC to visit some friends for a week or two. Found a high school friend who needed a roommate and another friend (the roommate’s older brother) who was hiring data people at KPMG. I got a job and a roommate and things were good. This job was awesome for years. I met some of the best people here and had some fantastic jobs and clients. Worked with NASA, traveled to a lot of Air Force and Navy bases, got to work on the US Senate floor (underneath it, actually), worked in San Francisco for 18 months. Awesome job. But eventually politics ensued; our team, who was completely full of awesome people, was broken up (which I think was a huge management mistake, but that’s me), and I was put under a guy who didn’t care about the clients, or the work, he just got a power rush for pushing people around and squeezing clients for money. No thanks. We spun off KPMG Consulting, and I waited for the stock payout and bailed.
I went out on my own for a while; independent contracting is a pretty neat gig, but it takes legwork, and I preferred being focused on the job. I took some great clients, met some great headhunters, and ultimately worked for some neat places. Most of these short gigs ended because the projects were complete. I spent over a year at First Energy where we had one of the most successful ERP implementations I’ve ever seen. Did some gigs in between for the Post Office, and a handful of smaller companies.
Eventually though, I got a call from my KPMG people (who I think were now BearingPoint or maybe Deloitte — same company many names)… previous idiot manager was no longer, there were some cool projects coming up and they needed help again, so I went back. This time things went well for a while, and I was attached to some long term clients — mostly the Air Force, which was still awesome work (the new fighter jets were coming online, for one thing, and we got to play with some really neat technology). We ran some successful projects for years… this was also the highest paying job I’d ever had. But personal life was more important… the kiddo graduated high school and went to college, and the lady friend wanted to be nearer family, so we packed up and went home. I looked for ways to keep the gig, but I had to take a different job.
I landed at my first full-time non-consulting gig ever. It was nice… consulting is fast paced with lots of change and not a lot of stability. That isn’t always bad — it’s exciting and can keep you engaged and not bored, but it’s different. My job here was to set up a Data Warehouse / Business Intelligence project from scratch. It took me a little over a year, but we had a full stack data warehouse, decent user acceptance and a nice set of dashboards and reports, and one of the most well-documented projects I’d ever implemented (yeah, I’m proud, it happens). I could have stayed, but at this point, with the project complete, there was some more management upheaval and my boss was super paranoid (about what exactly, I wasn’t sure). There was a new CIO who was completely disengaged with the IT staff, the previous Director of IT (whom I liked) left under awkward circumstances, and, well, the fallout just didn’t look promising. I’d made a few friends and really liked a lot of co-workers, but having completed what I set out to do, and not wanting to get bogged in politics again, I left.
The next job was EXACTLY the same. Literally, every sentence in the last paragraph applies except the specifics about the reorganization. With some cool teammates, built a great new data warehouse, some cubes, and we got through a Business Intelligence tool selection. But again I was dissatisfied with the writing on the wall. There were some definite limitations on what we could implement, a paranoid boss (more rightly so this time I guess), great co-workers but no real prospects for improving. At this point in my career I’d started back to grad school, was playing with Kaggle on the side a lot, talking at local SQL and Data Mining users groups, and wasn’t in the mood for my career to stagnate. I approached my boss about moving to a different team or finding something else to do in the company and he fired me on the spot (he told HR I had resigned, which I very clearly had not done; I probably should have sued them, but HR figured boss man was toxic and they should give me a decent severance and let me find something more fulfilling, so that’s what I did).
At that point I decided that any job I took I had to have the right attitude. It was either a dream job, or it was just something to pay the bills. Not that I couldn’t enjoy the latter, but I wasn’t going to break my back for something that wasn’t awesome. I made my list, applied to SpaceX and then went back to consulting. I took a short job at the company I’d left previously (paranoid boss had left, CIO was being let go, and a guy I really liked had taken over the director of IT position… things were WAY better this time around).
That was always going to be a short gig, and while I really liked everyone (many of whom were the same people I liked before), when SpaceX called it was a no-brainer. (Actually I was a bit brained about it, because the personal vs. professional life balance question weighed heavily). The consulting wasn’t going to last another six months, and SpaceX was an amazing opportunity, though, so the decision wasn’t really that hard.
And here I am.
The phrase “employees leave managers, not companies” seems to ring true now that I revisit my history, but a parallel problem is that when companies hire for projects (I’ve almost always been brought in to kick off specific data projects), they blithely expect a team who had to be strongly creative and inventive when setting up a new technology to fall quietly into a maintenance role that is much less challenging and interesting. I was only once ever asked in an interview the “typical” question “what would you say is your biggest weakness?”, but I had an answer: I will get bored if you can’t keep me challenged. That has had equal footing in many of my moves, and probably why I survived consulting for so long.
So far that doesn’t seem like it would ever be a problem in my newest job; maybe I’ll retire from here, maybe something else will happen. I’ll try to keep you posted.
PS: This article just popped, quoting Elon Musk, which helps explain why I like it here:
“Don’t use acronyms or nonsense words for objects, software or processes … We don’t want people to have to memorize a glossary just to function” at work, and, “If following a ‘company rule’ is obviously ridiculous in a particular situation, such that it would make for a great Dilbert cartoon, then the rule should change.”
When I complain about managers (), sometimes this is what I mean. The number of Dilbert moments I’ve seen astounds me. I mentioned some of that in my last work post, but that new companies are addressing this head-on is one of the many reasons I hope this remains a Dream Job.