Don’t Be Afraid of Leaving that Safe Job at a Big Company

If you are fortunate enough to have spent a few years at one of those big, safe software companies (and you know who they are), you might have given a thought to whether you could try a startup. I’m here to tell you that you can do it, and it’s not as scary as you might have imagined. A new job in a smaller company, where you can do so much more and learn new technologies can be very exciting. One critical point that many big company folks don’t consider, and the one that pushed me to try a startup: there isn’t really that much risk with a startup, because you can always go back to that large boring company if it doesn’t work out.

In this blog post, I discuss some of the issues related to leaving your job, and what you might want to complete before exiting that cushy but possibly tiresome job (take a deep breath, it will be okay). Remember that the big company was a startup once, and now maybe it’s lost some of its mojo.

Why leave

At a smaller company, instead of being focused on a narrow piece of an important project, you can see the whole product, how people might use it, and influence the entirety of everything being built.  Perhaps you also want to work on UI design, instead of just the backend - this can be really stimulating and freeing.  Or maybe you’re tired of using that painful source control system from before the dawn of the internet, and want to learn the latest open-source hotness.

Working on a new team with virtually unbounded potential (it’s a startup!) is an exhilarating experience. Think about how much fun it will be to leave your old job, without even bothering to read your latest review.  Face it, you’ve already devoted too much lifespan worrying about whether you get a B+ rating this quarter vs an A+ last quarter!  I left without even reading my last review, and it was a really liberating thing to do. I highly encourage this.

You should consider what is better for you and the company. A company benefits if their employees are excited and engaged. Zappos even pays employees to quit! If they try to talk you out of leaving, you have to think about what is best for you in the long term - 3 more years at your big company, or the vast new world that awaits you.

How to leave on good terms

You want to leave your old job on good terms, not just because it’s the professional thing to do, but also because you might want to leave open the option of going back. Most importantly, finish your project, or at least get it in good shape to hand off to someone else. The handoff should be a positive experience for both you and the other person. This might involve updating the spec, briefing the team on how your system works and how to address problems. Ideally you can hand it off officially before your last day, so your replacement has time to ramp up on the outstanding issues and can consult you as necessary.

As a general rule, you should train others on the team how your components work - even if you aren’t leaving. When you leave your project behind in good shape, you’re doing right by your team and set yourself up for a comeback if it becomes necessary, or maybe even just score yourself a good referral for your next job.

A startup is not forever…

One of the great things about a startup is that you’ll know in a reasonably short amount of time if it’s going to work out. I’ll bet most startups only last a couple of years before giving up or moving on to success. During this time, you can treat the startup as the true learning opportunity it represents. Maybe you’ll find out you really love finance or improving business practices, and not coding as much. In the worst case, the new venture fails or you see it’s not a fit for you, but you got paid to learn lots of new things while having a ton of fun stretching your wings.

A startup that doesn’t work out is still a grand adventure, full of great learning opportunities. It’s not the end of your career if it doesn’t work out.

So, what if it doesn’t work out?

If the new job doesn’t work out because of choice or circumstances, then there are still a lot of good things that can happen. You learned something about yourself - how you adapt to a new team with new challenges and opportunities. You had a chance to experiment with ideas, technologies, people, projects, and roles.

You can always go back to a stable job. Don’t forget, you left that big company on excellent terms, and if you go back, you’ll be bringing back new experiences, capabilities, and perspectives that can improve the bigger company’s aged ways. Your startup experience will make you worth so much more than before, even to your previous company.

OK, what now?

So what are you waiting for? Don’t be a freakin’ coward!  😛  There is no better time than now to be looking for a special company that’s building something cool, maybe something secret that will change the world when it comes out. Maybe you’ll be brave enough to give yourself a chance to dream and strive and move the world yourself!

If you are looking for something new, even more exciting than version 7B of your widget, more fulfilling than refactoring the message queue for your distributed enterprise app, Ivy Softworks is a fantastic place to start your search.  Join us!