When feelings about a programming job are extreme, either good or bad, you know what to do. When you love your work and can’t wait to start coding each morning, it’s clear that you should stay. When things are horrible—I mean down right awful—most developers will do their best to abandon ship as quickly as possible. However, when you’re simply comfortable, you might not know what to do.
Sometimes you need to make a change and you don’t even know it. Here are a few hidden signs that it is time to leave your job.
If you have the skills but you just aren't seeing the success you deserve in your career, then do check out our Simple Programmer course “How to Market Yourself as a Software Developer”.
Hidden Signs That It’s Time to Leave Your Job
Sunday Night Blues
Does your mood take a turn for the worst every Sunday after lunch? Do you live for the next vacation? Does talking about your work put you in a bad mood? If you answered yes, then you might have a case of the Sunday Night Blues.
The Sunday Night Blues are when you feel great on Saturday mornings but consistently feel bad on Sunday afternoons. These bad feelings come up with thoughts about the coming work week. The Sunday Night Blues are like having a case of the Mondays twelve hours early.
I knew someone that had trouble sleeping on Sunday nights. They would worry about their job and all the things they had to do that week. Over time, it just became the new normal.
This state of mind has become so common that a lot of people feel it’s natural to not enjoy work. The vast a majority of people don’t like their jobs, so it’s become a cultural norm in a way, to assume that you shouldn’t enjoy the work that you have. In reality, this is a hidden sign that it could be time to leave your job.
Most hide the symptoms caused by Sunday Night Blues from themselves because it can be hard to break social norms. “I can’t just quit,” you think. “Everyone else is holding on, and besides, what else is out there for me?” This mindset encourages a vicious cycle, and it can get to the point where doing what you enjoy can seem out of reach, so you do nothing to change it.
Making a change has a lot to do with one’s mindset. In fact, there are a few things you can do to deal with this hidden sign after it’s been revealed. Try to see your job in a different way. As a learning experience, try finding what it is about your current job that is dampening your mood. At least then you’ll know more about what you don’t like or can’t stand.
Check in with yourself from time to time. Remember where you’ve been and where you’re going. Look on the bright side of things. Pay attention to the signals your body is sending you. In the end, remember you can always start down the path to a new job that you’re excited to go to each week.
The Burning Firefighter
Is the sky always falling? Do you rarely have time to think about your next few days of work let alone your next career move? Are you constantly under pressure to complete the next task?
You may be a burning firefighter if you have so many different fires to put out that you begin to feel like you're on fire yourself, metaphorically speaking. In the workplace, a “fire” is something that comes up on which you must drop everything else to focus. These fires are typically unexpected. As Software Developers, fires can start for many reasons: bugs, release dates, tech demos, sales pitches, or investor meetings, just to name a few.
This can normally be explained away by saying, “Hey, we’re a startup. This is just how we work.” It’s either code or go out of business and lose your job. Other times, fires come up with companies that want to push aggressive release dates, launch buggy code, or have overly demanding customers.
I saw this a lot with friends while working in Silicon Valley. It’s a big part of the startup culture. Eight hour days quickly balloon to 10 or 12 hour ones. Sudden hour increases can happen in larger companies as well when they have looming pressure to create the next big thing.
Consistent firefighting is a hidden sign that it’s time to leave your job because it’s deceptive. In the moment, it can be fun. You’re always on your toes, no two days are the same, and you get to be the hero. The real problem, however, is that being a firefighter is good until it’s not. When the fun stops, you’re left feeling burnt out.
By noticing early that you’re always on high alert, you can do some things to preemptively address it. If you’re constantly being pulled away from your work to fix bugs, it can be tough to get other work done. If you notice it earlier, you can ask the higher ups what task is more important. Remember it’s ok to push back and even say no. If all else fails, your hidden sign might turn into an obvious sign that it’s time to leave.
The Plateau Effect
Have you mastered every aspect of every position of your job? Do you know the answer to every technical problem you face before it’s asked? Have you been doing the same exact job for years and years?
The plateau effect is when you find yourself no longer being challenged by your work environment for long periods of time.
Plateauing happens when you stop doing deliberate practices, which can happen in a few ways: You master a large percentage of your job, gain the rewards of doing so, and become complacent. You want to gain more responsibilities and continue to grow, but are being blocked by some outside force, for instance, “the glass ceiling.”
For instance, manual testers can find themselves never picking up new skills, doing the same job over and over again instead. At first everything seems fine until the job becomes commoditized or a developer automates a high percentage of your work.
This can be a hidden sign you should leave your job because it feels too good to be crushing it. To be four steps ahead, knowing what’s going on and how to fix it, gives you a misleading sense of authority and security. People are coming to you for answers, answers that you know inside and out, and overall your job is extremely easy to handle. Most of us are complimented for doing an amazing job even if we’re doing the same thing for years. It’s normal to want to avoid the unknown and stress.
However, failing to continue to learn puts you in a very difficult place when markets change. Your programming skills can become so outdated that if they’re no longer needed. You’ll have a difficult time catching up to others who’ve been learning along the way. This means that new opportunities will go to them first.
So if you take a hard look in the mirror and realize that you might have plateaued, one suggestion would be to try and become a continuous learner. Be on the lookout for new growth opportunities. Pick up side projects that will help you learn something new. Always be curious about the world. Look at other industries for cross pollination. Talk to higher ups about taking on more responsibilities.
I understand that we normally have to prove ourselves before taking on more responsibilities. If that hasn’t happened in a while—and you still find yourself in a position that doesn’t allow you to utilize your skills to the fullest—then it’s time to start considering other options.
The Grass Isn’t Always Greener on the Other Side
Remember that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. Before making the choice to leave, see if you can do anything to change your feelings about your current job. Try to take a different mindset and see your work in a new way. You could also try to change positions or ask to do more of the type of work you’re passionate about.
For example, my first job out of college was in customer support. I had just graduated with a degree in Computer Science, so this wasn’t the job I had expected to be doing. After a few months, I was able to work with others in the company to move out of customer support into a QA role, a job that was more aligned with what I wanted to do from day to day. I later leveraged the experience I gained in manual QA to become a Software Developer in Test.
You don’t always have to leave your current company to start doing more of the work you like.
What You Should Do If You Think You Should Move On
The first thing you want to do is make sure you’re ready. You wouldn’t jump out of your plane before you had a parachute, right? The good thing about knowing you want to change positions before actually changing positions is that you can plan your departure.
One of the best things you can do is market yourself ahead of time. That means writing blog posts, building up your network, contributing to open source projects, and all the other stuff talked about here on Simple Programmer. This sets you up to be ready to make the leap at any time.
Let’s say that for some unfortunate reason that’s not the case. You need a job now, and no one knows your name. I would recommend that you stay at your current job and use your nights and weekends to find other opportunities. The last thing you want to do is leave your job only to have no other source of income.
Switching jobs can be an overly emotional experience. Making a big show of your departure is rarely the right thing to do. You don’t want to burn any bridges. One of the few things that you can take with you from job to job is your reputation. That’s why it’s important to try and leave on the best foot.
Uncover Your Hidden Signs
“I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.” — Steve Jobs
So what about you? Is your current job what you’d want to spend your last day of your life doing, or have you spent far too many days in a row dreading the work, receiving nothing of value from it? If you’re still finding joy in your programming work, then I encourage you to keep doing it, to keep finding ways to make it enjoyable and worth getting up for. If not, then it could be time for a change.
Life’s too short to do things that you hate. The things you choose to do to make a living take up the majority of your time. For most people, one third of their lives is spent working. That’s 202,356 hours for the average person who lives to be 70 years old. Let’s be honest; as a Software Developer, you’ll probably work a lot more than that.
Hopefully, this article has helped those of you in a rut see that it might be time to seek out greener pastures. Again, if you’re loving what you do, congrats; keep doing that. If you can’t stand what you’re doing now, why not try to change it? Either way, know that you have options.
What parts of your job do you like right now? Let me know in the comments below.