So tomorrow I start at Unicycle. It will be the second job of my career as a software engineer. After about 4 years at Target its a big change of pace. I'm going from a huge fortune 50 company to a small startup where I'll be like the 3rd or 4th engineer(depending on when the other new person starts). This change has had me reflecting a lot for the past 2 weeks so I wanted to take some time to write about burnout, reflect on leaving target, and talk about taking a break between gigs.
Thoughts on leaving Target
But things eventually changed. 2020 was a hard year, for obvious reasons, and when 2021 rolled around I expected things to get better as the “new normal” started to really set in, but they didn’t. I was working way harder than I had been prior to the pandemic, leading a team, mentoring multiple engineers at once, helping product grooming the backlog, and generally running myself ragged.
Leadership had committed to too many priorities for the amount of engineering bandwidth they had. As part of a larger web initiative we were trying to migrate the cart & checkout portions of the site to a new architecture while simultaneously trying to build new features for cart & checkout on the old architecture. I think this would have been overly ambitious for most engineering teams, but ours was particularly disadvantaged because we didn’t have the depth at the senior & lead level to be attempting this. Upon reflection I think this really set me up on a path towards rapid burnout.
For a while I told myself it would all be worth it once I got promoted to lead engineer, or that if I kept grinding maybe I would get a raise along the way to make it worth it, or that I wasn’t ready to start interviewing yet. I saw friends of mine on various teams that made up web leave for better opportunities, they had realized something that would take me a few more months to grasp, that the grind wasn’t worth it and that we could be making more money in a job we were happier with.
If you’re reading this and find yourself in a similar situation It might be time to seriously consider look for a new job yourself. If you’ve got even a little bit of job experience as a software engineer then the market is hot right now, dust of your resume and go for it! I was pretty anxious when I started interviewing, but I’m so glad I worked past that anxiety and went for it. I’m getting ready to start a new job working with a group of talented folks that I’m genuinely excited to work with, that could be you too, you just have to go find it. At the very least you could probably make a lot more money putting in a work environment similar to what you currently have.
Taking breaks between jobs is fantastic you should try it
One of the things that really made me feel validated in my decision to join Unicycle was my the fact that the engineering director encouraged me to take a break before starting. I wasn't going to do it at first, I even emailed Unicycle to tell them I would be starting the Monday after my last day at Target. Thankfully they were very flexible with me and emphasized the fact that my start date could be flexible, so I ended up giving myself a 2 week funemployment break between jobs. To me this seems to indicate that I’m moving to a company much more concerned with their employees well being, one that is more mindful about burnout, even though it’s a startup.
I'll admit the idea of not having a job for 2 weeks was a little scary at first. I was worried about being able to keep my budget intact during the gap between my last target paycheck and my first Unicycle paycheck, but even with that anxiety taking this break has been worth it. I can be a bit of a workaholic so I think this downtime was an important lesson for me. I was really tempted to fill the time with a bunch of activities and side projects so that I wouldn't "waste" it, and I did spend some of the time doing projects like working on this blog, but I realized that I didn't need to put all this pressure on it. I'm still not perfect at it, but I'm beginning to really understand the value of rest. You don't have to always be working on something, you've got to balance out the drive and ambition with periods of rest to take proper care of yourself. So while I didn't accomplish all the things I would have liked to during these 2 weeks I still had a great time. I migrated my blog to nextjs, went a saw Venom 2(which was so bad in the best way possible) during the middle of a random Wednesday, and recorded some music with my friends. I chalk that up as a win! If you are in a position where you can take a break between jobs I highly recommend it.
And so after 2 solid weeks of rest, relaxation, and reflection I'm feeling pretty good, I'm feeling recharged a bit. I’m really excited to be moving into the next phase of my career, and while I was dissatisfied with my experience at target towards the end, I have no regrets. I learned so much these past 4 years, I grew in ways I didn’t imagine were possible before I worked on target.com and met some fantastic people along the way. Leaving was bitter sweet, but it was time for something new, so tomorrow I start at Unicycle.