Today we have another article contributed by Kosmo. For about a billion years he worked at the same big company, but over the last few, he’s jumped to a couple of new places. I find it refreshing that his work isn’t about the money – he really focuses on quality of life.
About a year ago, I decided to hunt for a different job. It was a conscious choice to get away from an environment that had turned negative. I spent the first week putting out some feelers. On December 21, I initiated contact with my friend’s employer. I accepted an offer on January 8. Looking back now – did I make the right decision?
My team had been thrust into disarray at the old employer. Layoffs had decimated the group, and I had been moved to a new team. I had gone from doing very interesting work to being assigned to a project that management had estimated as three months of work but looked it would be a six-month wild goose chase. The future looked dreary.
I walked away from some money at my old employer. If I had waited three months, I’d have collected my annual bonus. A few months after that, I’d have vested in the retirement plan. It wasn’t a fortune, but it wasn’t an inconsequential amount, either. I had initially decided to suck it up and wait until I had collected that money. Eventually, I got overwhelmed and decided that I shouldn’t delay any further.
The initial plan was for me to come into the office on my first day, do the necessary HR tasks, meet some people, and take equipment home. Then I’d be WFH until further notice.
There was a blizzard forecast for that day. I packed a suitcase and checked to see where the local hotels were. There was an inexpensive one close to the office. I had plenty of clothes, and enough electronics to get through the night. I was prepared.
There were three other new hires that day, including another team member. Three of us quickly worked through the paperwork, with barely a question between us. The fourth person was a woman in her twenties, and she had quite a few questions about concepts that the rest of us considered to be routine matters, such as out-of-pocket maximums on insurance and 401K matching. It made me think back to the times when I was in a similar position, and it made me feel quite old.
The boss decided to change the schedule a bit. We’d meet a few people, and then we’d load up our cars and hit the road so that we could get home before the blizzard hit. I live fifty miles away, and the other new guy lives about forty miles away, so it was very much appreciated. I loaded up a laptop, docking station, and monitor. After a quick stop to get some nuggets and fries, I was headed west on I-80.
My wife immediately had a positive impression of my boss, since he had shown some empathy and common sense on day one. It was the only on-site contact he’d had with me for months, and he willingly cut the day short.
My new company runs pretty lean, due to the size. This means that people tend to have a broader set of responsibilities, rather than having a more specialized role. The bread and butter of my old role was eliciting software requirements from people within the functional business areas, as well as coordinating system testing. My new role also has those tasks, but additional responsibilities such as running the RFP (request for proposal) process.
At previous companies, the RFP process is something that would have been handled by a project manager or management. While I was still learning the ropes, I was given an RFP to run with. Thankfully, I was also given a co-pilot – the friend who had recruited me to the company. The two of us worked with high-ranking people in various business units to drive out high-level requirements. Then we engaged various vendors in a process that culminated in on-site visits from some of them.
This was an entirely new process for me. In the past, my projects had often done the entirety of the development in-house, and when we used a vendor, that vendor had usually been determined before my involvement. I typically hate starting conversations with strangers, so this was definitely outside of my comfort zone. The process ended up being less nerve-wracking than I feared, mostly because everyone wanted to be my best friend and was very accommodating. That happens when you have money to spend. It ended up being a lot of fun. I had to come out of my shell a lot because I was often the person organizing and running meetings.
There are two types of people – people who want to focus on a specialized role, and people who want a lot of variety. I’m the second type, and I knew this would be what I would be getting into.
The change in industries was pretty dramatic. After more than twenty years in insurance and financial services, I was shifting to the food industry. My boss took a risk by hiring someone with no manufacturing experience. My only manufacturing experience was a summer making toys for Ertl in the mid-90s. I had at least a basic understanding of the food industry, since I grew up on a dairy farm. But I went off to college – becoming the first college grad in my family – specifically to get away from the farm. I hated the hard work, long hours, and often terrible working conditions. Imagine my surprise when I landed back in the agriculture sector a quarter of a century later.
I had – and still have – a lot to learn. In one of my first meetings, someone mentioned FSMA, and I dutifully jotted down FISMA, an acronym I was familiar with. I quickly realized that they were talking about the Food Safety Modernization Act, not the Federal Information Security Management Act.
I’ve learned about food safety, warehousing, shipping, animal nutrition, and even a few things about gas chromatographs. I’m leaps and bounds ahead of where I was, but feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. I’ll be a key player in a major project that will kick off in 2022, and am looking forward to learning even more.
My new company is about a tenth the size of my previous company, which in turn was significantly smaller than the huge company where I spend most of my career.
My employer isn’t tiny, but it’s small enough to be a lot more nimble. There is far less red tape than I am accustomed to. I can request access to something and have it granted within an hour or two, instead of having the request kick around for a week or more. When I call the help desk, I reach an actual human. One of my calls was completely resolved in seventeen seconds – no exaggeration.
Since the building is smaller, the parking situation is better, especially for those of us who arrive at 7:30 AM. This will become more important in the winter when I won’t need to traverse a huge frozen parking lot.
The downside of a smaller building is that there’s no on-site cafeteria. There are a multitude of restaurants nearby, though. I hit KFC (Famous Bowl) and Subway (Ham, American cheese, mayo, onion) pretty often. There’s also a gas station (Kwik Star) that has some legit food. Hardee’s is on the other side of town, unfortunately.
The right choice?
Did I make the right choice?
Remember how I mentioned that I was on a project that I feared would turn into a six-month wild goose chase? I’ve been in contact with friends at the previous employer, and I’ll admit that I was wrong about that. The goose chase lasted a year. Overall, people are overworked, lots of good employees are leaving, and morale is abysmal.
Are there some negative aspects of the new job? Certainly.
For the days when I’m in the office, I more than doubled my commute – it’s fifty miles. But it’s only two days most weeks, so it’s not terrible.
The dress code is business casual. I really, really like my Wranglers and Asics. This is the first time in almost twenty years that I can’t wear jeans and a random t-shirt to work. I miss this and plant the seed into the minds of execs whenever I get the chance – that a more relaxed dress code will make the company more appealing to IT professionals. Maybe something will change a few years down the road. For now, I simply realize that it’s a pretty minor complaint and that I have a good gig.
I can say, with zero hesitation, that I definitely made the right choice and have zero regrets.
Very interesting article, Kosmo. I’m glad you’re happy where you are and that you’ve settled in nicely. I’ve known quite a few people who stayed at old jobs for the reasons you mentioned (bonus/401k) and they ended up getting terminated just before bonuses were handed out or they became fully vested in their 401k. There are just never any guarantees, especially when new management comes in.
I’m not sure that was a huge short-term risk in my case, simply because they had already cut pretty close to the bone. But the possibility crossed my mind.
Losing the bonus was a bit annoying, because it was a bonus for a prior period of time. The work to achieve those goals had already been done, and the company had already reaped the benefits. Those who were part of the layoff actually did get the bonus (good for them), but people like me who left voluntarily before the payout date did not.
In the end, the worsening quality of life made the decision for me. I just needed a mental reset.
It is surprising you never mentioned money in regards to switching jobs. That’s usually a big part of the decision. You said you left money on the table at the first employer but not whether the long term outlook for increased pay was better with the new company? But that’s not any of my business anyway, I do hope the opportunity is there for you to grow your income over time. Its not the biggest factor in job satisfaction but it is a factor.
I’m making a bit more money at the new job. I don’t have the numbers from the old job in front of me any more, but when I did the break-even calculation, I believe I’d make up the lost money in about two years.
So my financial trajectory really doesn’t change, and, in fact, is a bit better long term.