I’m a serial tech job quitter
Should I shake it off like Taylor Swift?
Taylor Swift has had four boyfriends and one job in the past four years. I have had one husband and four jobs in the past four years. We should swap advice and become two fully committed adult women, but as I’m unlikely to qualify for her impossibly beautiful and famous girl squad, I’ll tell anonymous strangers on the internet instead.
My passion is for writing embedded software for robots and things that could be robots if you gave them wheels or a face. It’s one of the most heavily male-dominated fields in tech, and despite being frequently mistaken for a teenager, I have had a track record of intimidating men.
In my first job, my manager ignored my suggestion that we run linux on our embedded system until another manager chastised him for using Windows. The project had a driver problem in the last week, but I resolved it before the deadline. This irked my manager. He thought it would not have been a problem if we had used Windows. He called me “too opinionated” and that I — not the other manager — had bullied him into using Linux. I was miserable.
Desperate to leave, I took job number 2, where my title didn’t indicate that I was a developer. The perception of intimidation continued. Apparently I terrified one of my co-workers by politely asking him to stop interrupting me. Despite this, it was an improvement over my previous job because I had managers who listened to my ideas and encouraged me to try new things. However, when I applied for an open developer position at the company, I didn’t get it. It went to an outside applicant with no work experience.
Though I loved the work and managers at job number 2, my dissatisfaction that my job title did not reflect that I actually wrote code pushed me to move on to job number 3, which was for a small startup where I was the primary software developer.
My manager had no software development experience. He coded in an undocumented, procedural style that led to 3000-line main functions that made collaboration and maintenance nearly impossible. I modularized the code, converted it to work with modern chipsets, and put it in a version control system. Anticipating that this was a lot of change for my manager, I scheduled weekly meetings to bring him up to speed. He didn’t think the meetings were necessary and skipped most of them. Unfortunately, this meant that he was unable to add a feature on his own when I left on vacation. Upon my return, he told me that I was too intimidating and needed to chill out. He excluded me from planning project details so that he could continue using his worst-practices.
Tired of taking MOOCs and working on personal projects at work until I was allowed to make a contribution, I moved on to job 4. When interviewing for job number 4, I made sure that the job title reflects that I write code, verified that the company has a commitment to open source, and that they prioritize testing, pull requests and code reviews. I’m optimistic about job number 4, but in the back of my mind, I worry that my perceived intimidation will ruin this job as well.
I could have changed my personality. I could have not suggested Linux at job number 1. I could have let my co-worker speak over me and accepted my inappropriate job title at job number 2. I could have not attempted to introduce better practices at job number 3. But this would have led to dissatisfaction in my work and working environment. Great developers strive to improve themselves, the product, and the quality of the code. I do not want to forgo contributing my knowledge and abilities simply because I am a woman and might intimidate my manager or co-workers.
I’m jealous of all the software developers and engineers who are happy in their first jobs, while I’m still searching, but a recent XKCD gave me hope. The author, Randall Munroe, tallied the number of times he left something in his life based on whether he should have stayed or should have left sooner, and the left sooners far outweighed the should have stayeds. So far this has been true for me as well, and I consider myself lucky that my skills are in demand and I have options. Maybe someday Taylor Swift will meet Mr Right, and I’ll find a place where I belong.
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