How to Quit Your Engineering Job (the right way)
3 things to consider before leaving your job
I gave a virtual talk yesterday. It was for a career mentorship app called Taro.
Rahul Pandey, one of Taro’s co-founders, hosted the event. He often invites engineering leaders at well-known tech companies to give guest talks for Taro.
So when a member asked Rahul if I could come speak at one of Taro’s monthly live sessions, I jumped at the chance.
To prepare for this talk, I browsed around Taro looking for questions and I noticed one theme. Many Taro members were thinking about quitting their jobs.
So I centered the talk around three common questions I saw about quitting. They include:
- Whether or not you should leave your job
- How to prepare to leave your job
- Whether or not to ask for a severance package before leaving
Let’s address each of these in turn.
Should You Quit Your Job?
Before you quit, reflect on why you want to leave in the first place. Every “dream job” has tedious parts. Make sure your decision to leave is not an emotional one, and you’re leaving because of a fundamental issue you can not resolve at your current company.
I left Netflix because I couldn’t switch into a product manager role. There was no formal process supporting this transition, which is a structural issue I could not resolve at Netflix.
However, I often hear reasons for quitting that aren’t fundamental issues with the job. For example, if you don’t like your manager, you can resolve this by switching teams and staying at your current company.
Understanding why you want to leave will shed more clarity on whether it’s the right move or not.
Also, quitting is a financial decision. If you have to cut vacations, move away from friends and family, and say no to more social events because you can’t afford it, then those negatives may outweigh the negatives of your current job, and you should stay.
You should also consider the impact leaving will have on others as well.
Someone with multiple kids reached out to me a few months ago with questions about leaving their job. However, I found out they were the sole bread-winner in the family, and their spouse was a stay-at-home parent. In this case, leaving jeopardizes their role as a “bread-winner”, so they have more obligations to consider.
If you’re torn about leaving or staying, the following questions can bring clarity:
- Why do you want to leave your job? Why can’t you fix this in your current company?
- Do you have any obligations to others? Will quitting jeopardize your ability to fulfill those obligations?
- What difference will an extra year’s income make to your life quality?
On this last point, an extra year’s income has less impact the further you are in your career.
When you start off, the difference between no savings and your first 10k in savings is huge. But if you had 100 million in savings, there’s nothing you can do with 101 million that you can’t do with 100 million.
So if an extra year’s income from staying won’t make much of a difference, then that’s more reason to leave.
How to Prepare to Quit Your Job
So you want to leave your job and you know you will be OK financially after quitting. What should you do now to prepare to quit?
I recommend collecting more assets on the side. This includes things like:
- building an audience on social media
- creating digital products (like courses, pdfs, checklists, templates to sell)
- expanding your network
- producing a content library
When you leave a job as a W-2 employee, the only thing you have to show from the work is your savings. The reputation you build over the years fades as you lose contact with former colleagues. You don’t own your work either so you don’t have any IP.
Try to fill this gap while you still have income. One of my favorite examples of someone who did this successfully before quitting is…Rahul Pandey of Taro himself!
Example: Rahul Pandey and Taro
Before starting Taro, Rahul Pandey was a Stanford CS alumni working at Pinterest and Meta. He quit corporate in January 2022 and in April 2022, he launched a career mentorship app called Taro.
Almost immediately Taro caught on fire. Taro has 4.9 stars on the App Store, and 300+ glowing reviews.
And just 3 months later in July of 2022, he ended up getting into YCombinator. So how did he succeed so quickly after leaving?
It turns out that Taro’s success was 2 years worth of preparation in the making.
While he was at Meta, Rahul grew his social media presence. He filmed over 200+ career advice videos and amassed over 72k subscribers on YouTube before quitting. He also had substantial followings on LinkedIn and Twitter as well.
He also leads multiple engineering communities. He has a “Tech Career Growth Slack group”, a community of 12k+ members interested in engineering career advice which formed the foundation of Taro later.
He also has a newsletter with over 20k+ subscribers interested in career mentorship. Both of these communities are major assets because they’re an instant audience for any future product he builds.
Lastly, he has passive income. He has a course on LinkedIn Learning, he taught classes at Stanford on Android development, and makes some extra income from his YouTube videos as well.
So if you look at his startup success, it came from all the work he had done for the last two years.
Imagine if he quit his W-2 job and tried to go straight from Meta to Taro without any of these intermediary steps. It’s hard to imagine he would have the success he has today.
So if you’re thinking about leaving, here are two exercises to help you on your entrepreneurship journey:
- Try growing to 1k followers on any platform of your choice: LinkedIn, IG, Twitter, YT, Medium, or TikTok by posting every day for 30 days straight.
- Try making at least $1 from the internet before you leave. This could be through selling courses, PDF’s, e-books, coaching or consulting calls.
Should You Ask for a Severance Package?
In my opinion, if you’re planning to quit, you should try to ask for a severance package before leaving for one simple reason: if you don’t ask, you won’t get it.
You might be concerned it will make the relationship with your manager awkward. But you’re actually doing them a favor.
When layoffs come, upper management will mandate each manager to cut a set number of people from their team. If you volunteer for the layoffs, you’ve made your manager’s job easier because now they don’t have to decide who to cut.
It might be good for your teammates as well because otherwise the manager may lay someone off who didn’t want to leave.
Also there’s not much downside to asking. The worst case scenario is they fire you, but then you’d get the severance package you were looking for. And if they don’t give it to you, that’s the same as leaving voluntarily without asking anyways.
When it comes to negotiating a severance, I’ve seen two main ways of driving the conversation:
- Using the pandemic as an excuse
- Using a bad performance review to speed things up.
Regarding the pandemic, one line you can use if your company implements a back-to-office policy is,
“I’ve relocated during the Pandemic, and I’m not coming back to <x location>, and I would like to discuss a severance agreement.”
Someone told me they used this line when they were trying to get employees back into the office. They got a severance right away.
Second, if you’ve had a recent bad performance review, consider speeding up the process by asking for the severance package upfront since most people don’t get off of probation anyways. See this article for the script I used for that.
Regardless of what you say, keep two things in mind:
1) Don’t blame anyone
2) Don’t come off as demanding
Here’s an example script I might use where I focus on neutral observations, feelings, and needs instead:
“I’ve been feeling very burnt out. A lot of it is due to career issues where the team’s goals aren’t aligned with my own career goals. And it’s only diverging further over time.
All I want is to feel more fulfilled in my career. You’ve been an amazing manager, and I’m so thankful for everything you’ve done for me. But at this point, I can’t find the career fulfillment I was looking for in my current role, and I don’t think there’s much you can do as a manager to fix it.
I know the company is focused on cost-cutting right now through the layoffs, and I wanted to discuss volunteering to be a part of these layoffs and the severance package with it.
That way, the company can save money, you find a better fit for the team sooner, and I can focus on the career fulfillment I’m looking for, a win-win situation for everyone.”
Lastly, timing is important as well. If you want to leave, time the exit near the 1st of the month as opposed to the 31st of the month because employee benefits are renewed on a monthly basis.
If you leave on the 1st, it’s like getting a full extra month of benefits. But if you leave on the 31st, your benefits may end the very next day.
Regardless of what you choose to do, my final words of advice is to act with urgency if your career is not going the right way. If you stay an extra two years at a job you wanted to leave, and did this over five jobs in your lifetime, that’s ten years of your life doing work you never wanted to do.
Also consider this metaphor I use to make hard life decisions.
Imagine yourself driving down a road. If you realized you were going in the wrong direction, you would never keep driving down that road.
You would stop and U-turn around as quickly as possible.
Yet often in life we know we are going down the wrong life road. And yet we continue to drive down those wrong roads for years at a time.
If you are willing to stop and U-Turn immediately while driving a car, then you should act with that same urgency while driving down wrong life roads as well.
So here are some final questions for you to ponder:
- What career roads are you going down?
- Which of these roads are the wrong direction?
- How many more years do you want to keep driving down this path? What can you do to U-Turn and start going in the right direction this year?
I know life is uncertain right now. But you should recognize that this is an exciting time in your life as well.
I promise you will look back on this time as a pivotal moment in your career. This is the moment when you take control of your life and stop letting life just happen to you.
I hope this advice helps you get back on the right career roads as quickly as possible. I’m rooting for you!
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