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Should I take a SWE job in government or keep trying to get back into tech after layoff?

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Entry-Level Software Engineer [SDE 1] at Amazon7 months ago

Hi Taro. I got laid off in April from AWS. I interned at NASA JPL and I am considering going back fulltime and continuing to apply to tech companies. I don't have an offer but I am hopeful I would be able to connect with a team since I interned there one year and have 1.5 YOE at AWS. I have some concerns about joining JPL, because they are prototype and research focused.

  • They don't have many production systems or serve customer traffic.
  • They also operate mostly in small and independent groups so the engineering standards can differ a lot. The research group I interned at had poor engineering and code quality compared to AWS.
  • The engineering environment is different than corporate. Some technologies and experiences missing at JPL that are common in tech are pipelines (CI/CD), TPS, tickets, oncall, debugging large and distributed systems, customer traffic, metrics, operational reviews.
  • JPL pays poorly and has slow growth. You can be there 10 years and make less than an SDE-1 in FAANG.

I don't have any visa issues. Finances are not a problem. Currently I have very low expenses and good savings because I didn't RTO and I am living with my parents. I have 1.5 YOE at AWS and 3 years of internships before that. I see the market picking up so I am tempted to keep trying for a tech company.

Another thing to consider is that there is a lot of inertia when you join a job. I will have little time to look for other jobs in the first few months because I will be busy onboarding. I will also have less time to look for jobs and study for interviews.

Please give advice :)



  • 4
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    Career Coach • Former Head of Engineering
    7 months ago

    Since you're covered on the two biggest short term issues (Visa and Finances), I think you can be more selective about where you invest your time. However, the opportunity in front of you doesn't sound that bad from my POV though.

    • Learning to prototype quickly can give you a huge advantage as many early stage companies are in need of MVPs to gather data and validate. Large companies have R&D arms that need this as well. Of course, it would be a big asset if you choose to build your own SaaS in the future.
    • If JPL is missing those core capabilities, you essentially have a greenfield to play with. Sure there might be some red tape that won't let you stand up CI/CD on day 1, but you can easily demonstrate value of doing it since the baseline is essentially zero
    • Don't worry about career progression / career model if this is not your long term gig anyways. As long as there's enough for you to do and learn within 1.5-2 years, that's more than enough. Although 2 years seems long given it's double your entire working life so far, but on a 40 year time horizon, it's only 5%.
  • 1
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    Entry-Level Software Engineer at Looking for job
    6 months ago

    You need to keep up your work rhythm, the longer you stay unemployed the fasters it's going to disappear. Even a crappy SWE job is way better than staying unemployed.

  • 0
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    Tech Lead @ Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero
    6 months ago

    First of all, it's friggin' NASA. Sure, it's not a software-first technology company, but I'm sure there's tons of brilliant people there. If you had a great experience there as an intern and you're confident there's awesome engineers you can learn from, then NASA JPL seems like a wonderful place to fill in your career gap while the overall macro improves.

    In fact, your financial security is actually a reason you should take opportunities like these:

    • My approach is generally to optimize for learning instead of compensation; however, this advice isn't applicable to everyone as some may have a burning need for top-of-market TC.
    • In your case, you can easily take a compensation hit in exchange for optimizing your learning/minimizing the jobless period.
    • Every month you spend grinding LeetCode and hoping to land a FAANG-level job again instead of working alongside talented people to grow beyond SDE 1 levels is a massive time loss.

    If you focus on learning and just becoming an incredible engineer, your TC eventually catches up - Trust me. I talk about this in-depth here: "If my main goal is compensation, would it be wise to learn blockchain tech since it will potentially be the tech of the next couple decades?"

    I also recommend the masterclass we gave on career direction if you haven't seen it already: [Masterclass] How To Choose A Good Company And Team As A Software Engineer