Why call it The Lossless Leader? An engineering leader is someone who inspires their team, communicates well, grows their people to become leaders themselves, removes blockers or painful aspects of their team’s day-to-day, delivers on product requests and so much more. In tech, lossless compression is a technique that does not lose any data in the compression process; it reduces the size of files without losing any information in the file so quality is maintained.
Combining the two: Leaders aren’t perfect. Sometimes they manage to not “lose any data” in the process of leading their organization, and other times it may seem like they’re losing it altogether. We’re naming this column The Lossless Leader because we all admire those leaders who strive to stay true to who they are and the people they serve (their team). They admit fault when necessary, learn from their mistakes, sometimes flourish in difficult situations — all while not losing themself along the way.
“I work at a well-known company. It’s a great product. In fact, I constantly receive messages from past coworkers asking for referrals. From the outside looking in, it looks like the place to be.
But … I’m not really learning anything. The work itself is fairly easy. There’s no sight of a promotion or means for a fair compensation increase in the near future. Should I stay because I love the product and people, even though I don’t really love the work I’m doing and have a fear of slightly stagnating career wise?”
I’ve had the luxury to work with many great engineering leaders (and some not so great) that I’ve learned and gained experience from. I can think of a handful of leaders that had a pivotal role in my career progression — they gave me advice, put me in position to do more, push the limits on what I could do, etc. I can also think of a smaller number of individuals who were the catalyst for career shifts that I may have never thought I would do, but had to because I simply no longer enjoyed my job.
That being said, there are, of course, highs and lows within the span of anyone’s career. We have the privilege of being in a well sought out (and well compensated) industry. Now, what is the worth of said privilege if we do not leverage it to continue to pursue happy, fulfilling life experiences?
This column is my attempt to pay it forward. From my very high highs to my somewhat incredulous lows, I can lend some perspective — and hopefully help one or two folks that are on the pursuit of (career) happiness.
Please enjoy the classic B-52s “Roam” track as you read. Fair warning: It’s very ’80s.
One interesting thing that happens when you put in your two-weeks notice, announcing to your team that you are leaving the company, is all of the sudden, your colleagues who are also unhappy start expressing to you that they are not just unhappy, but they’re extremely unhappy. It happens every time, trust me. It’s quite fascinating.
You think to yourself — where did all of this come from, I had no idea X was bored or Y was unhappy with their compensation? Am I the only one with the courage to leave? Or am I unhinged for leaving, given no one else is?
People you would have never guessed, especially on your last week as they know you’re outta there very soon, will send you a Slack message — “Hey! Do you have time to chat on your last day? Just want to pick your brain.” This message turns into a meeting where they ask: Why are you leaving? And what was the interview process like?
All of this is to say, you’re probably not the only one who has such feelings toward your job at the company you’re at. Other have similar sentiments — they’re just unlikely to act on them.
We’re probably actively working or actively thinking about work for the majority of our waking hours. I’ve made the conscious decision to seek roles where I could learn or grow more vs. the alternative, which would have been attempting to climb the corporate ladder. That’s a skill in itself, but not a skill I necessarily thought best served me at that time.
But here’s the gist: Even if you’re at a great company, working on a product that is loved by millions of users, if it’s not working for you (or serving you), then it’s not working for you. Simple as that. And that’s OK. Repeat that yourself: It’s OK to want something else. It’s OK to seek other experiences even if most of your peers are not willing to do so (but are likely thinking about it as well).
My advice would be to start interviewing. You may find that you actually don’t like what you see out there and decide to stay. Or you may find something that piques your interest, and ultimately decide to leave. Just having the courage to interview is a feat in itself — a feat that most people are incapable of. Interviewing is hard and the more you do it, the better you’ll be at it. Even if you decide to not leave, be proud that you took the steps to put yourself out there. Fear is the mind killer. Don’t let fear get in the way of new experiences, more compensation, career growth, etc.
Now, let’s talk a little bit about the financial benefits of leaving a job. I would be remiss if I at least didn’t put these crucial points out there:
There are plenty of data points that suggest that you are actually losing money if you stay at the same job for more than two years. And given the current state of the tech industry, you’re surely going to find yourself with a compensation increase that will beat anything you’d receive at your year-end review. To complement this point, the job market isn’t the same job market of our parents, or our parents’ parents (of course); there’s less and less stigma associated with leaving a company after a couple of years. As a hiring manager myself, I’ve put little-to-zero weight into someone leaving a job after a short period of time; it’s a bit old school to think otherwise.
As for reasons to stay, well … there is a cost that will be paid for pivoting to another job. Being the new kid on the block isn’t easy, but it’s short lived. Do consider if you’re in place life wise to be OK with this short-term discomfort. If you are, then risk the short-term discomfort, for a potentially long-term gain.
A successful career consists of a series of building blocks that you stand on, grow on. Since you noted in your question that you work at a company that is well admired by many, you may have a fundamental block from the experience you’ve gained there. Take these experiences on to your new opportunity; use it to build on.
Roam if you want to, as The B-52s say.