Should I take my old job back?
September 21, 2012 6:54 AM   Subscribe

I left a good job at a bigger corporation early this year to join a startup. Nine months later, I'm not sure it was a good decision. Is it a bad idea to go back to my previous job?

I am a software developer. I worked at a bigger corporate company for almost five years, and left at the beginning of this year to join a smaller, flashier, up-and-coming startup. Now that I've been here for a few months, I feel like I might have made a bad decision. The main problem I had at the old company was that I was bored of working on the same thing for so long. The new company doesn't have that problem. The product is more exciting, both to talk about and to work on. It's everything else about the job that I don't like as much.

I took probably a 20-30% pay cut (hard to say exactly considering part of compensation is stocks and bonuses) to join the new company, with the possibility (a pretty strong possibility, I think) of making a lot on stock if we go public. I'm not sure how I feel about this now, it's not really clear one way or another which will be better in the long term. Pay isn't the biggest concern though, sure I'd rather make more than less, but I can support myself comfortably on either salary.

Mainly, I spend less time with my family, more time commuting, am under more stress, and generally I feel uncomfortable. People talk about working at Apple under Steve Jobs, and how that made everyone nervous, because if Jobs decided he didn't like your project, he might just cancel the whole thing. I feel sort of like that (even though I might not be able to justify it). I think I'm less happy than I was at the old job.

This morning, I talked to a former co-worker who's still at my old company about getting my old job back. I expect the old company to give me a job offer, probably even with a small raise from my old salary, in the next few days. If they do, I'm not sure if I should take it. Will I immediately go back to being bored working on the old project I left? Will this look bad on my resume if I want to leave the company again in a few years?

I could also throw out a bunch of resumes to other companies where I know people, and I could probably get interviews and job offers, but I'm not sure I'd find anything better than what I've already got as possibilities. I'm at the "hot startup" now, and have the comfortable corporate job as an option, what else would I be looking for?

Part of me wants to give up software altogether and start with something completely different, but I have a family to support and a $3,600/mo mortgage to pay, so I feel like that's off the table until I could pay off the house.

What would you do? Stay at the startup until your stock vests? Go back to the old comfortable job? Try for something completely new one more time?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I read this article last night - it seems relevant here. It's ok to not swing for the fences.

Also, as the veteran of many start ups, I can tell you that the odds of you hitting it big in an IPO are much lower than you think. Much lower. The options should not even be part of the decision criteria, unless the company has already filed for an IPO, or you have inside info about a potential near-term buy out.

Of course, safe comfy jobs in a big company are neither as safe nor as comfy as they once were. So there is that too.

Ultimately, nobody here can make the decision for you.
posted by COD at 7:11 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm moving the opposite way; keen to get out of corporations and back to small development environment.

You dont give much information about what you dislike about your new role, or what you are finding difficult but I wonder whether you are finding the cultural change a challenge? Working in a small development company is more chaotic, less secure and much more involving. In my experience finding you have less time and less boredom is typical!

I dont know about your specific circumstances but I wonder whether you need to change the way you are working. If you are acclimatised to the constrained roles common in a corporation then the freedom and flexibility of a small company can be intimidating and difficult to understand. To take one problem you specify; if you are concerned about the viability/security of your project then you may well be able to approach the decision makers directly in a way which you couldn't in a corporate environment. My experience of working in smaller companies is that you are much more in control of what you do, and have much more ability to participate in decisions which are critical to your work than in a more structured organisation. You also have more possibilities to get involved in different areas is you do want to change/transform your role and take your career in a different direction.

posted by BadMiker at 7:21 AM on September 21, 2012

Starting up a company is always going to be harder work than working for a company. What you should investigate is "are there any customers?" As a developer, you may be kept in the dark about the number of customers the company has and that is crucial information. A good start-up will be signing up clients early and be adding good traction all the way through.

Knowing about demand might help you steel yourself against cravings for job boredom. There is probably a way you could remain involved without needing to constantly be in the office now that you've done nine or ten months for this group.
posted by parmanparman at 8:20 AM on September 21, 2012

Seconding COD, it's a personal decision about what you value more.

Me ? The quality of life loss outside your job that you describe would be a real deal killer for me.

The blue has covered folks leaving academia to work for GOOG, but there is also a lot of churn between places like MSFT and FB - people want to join "fast new sexy" only to realize it isn't right for them. (A bit too lazy to google up links for this, but it's been covered in news stories before)

Sounds like you've put your foot in the water (startups, fast new sexy) and are finding it isn't right for you. Yet OldJob isn't quite right for you either. Are there other non-startup companies you'd consider working for ?
posted by k5.user at 8:23 AM on September 21, 2012

...but I'm not sure I'd find anything better than what I've already got as possibilities.

But you don't know, right? There is no harm in throwing out some resumes. The worst that will happen is that the job market will be as exactly as you expected and you won't get any good offers. The best outcome is that you will get better job offers.

I'm at the "hot startup" now

If you don't like the "hot startup" thing, then don't do it. I get the impression that you feel like you should be liking your job because it's a startup company, and startup companies seems to be all the rage these days. Don't force yourself into liking something if you don't like it. Realistically, startup companies have a lot of growing pains, and many of your friends who don't work for a startup company aren't really going to understand this, all they see is the "cool" factor. You are the wiser person for knowing this and have experienced it first hand.
posted by nikkorizz at 8:47 AM on September 21, 2012

Imagine you are driving down a road and you ull off down a sideroad because that might get you somewhere quicker. After a while you start to have doubts about whether it will. At that point you have a choice, double back to where you came off the highway or keep going and hope your doubts are worong and this is the better road. You will have to resolve which of the roads you have more faith in, or which of the jobs you are happier in, before deciding to keep going or turn back. But you also have to bear in mind, there are other roads.
posted by biffa at 8:50 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Size doesn't matter.

Hell, I've been through an IPO and got almost nothing out of it, financially. Day One, people were looking through Porche brochures but a few days later those were in the trash bin as we all wondered where the bottom lie. (Company went from private -> NYSE -> penny stock -> absorbed by Eurpean company in less than three years.)

Part of the hotness of startups is the work environment. Its always push, push, push. Cut corners, encure massive technical debt, skip documentation, skip unit tests, skip sleep, skip anything except shipping on time.

Very exciting but not a good place to build good habits, code-wise and process-wise.

OTOH, big companies often don't like people messing with how they do things, either. Want to introduce Dependency Injection or Agile? Good luck with that. You'll have to overcome massive inertia and turf wars, not to mention delicate egos riding out their days until retirement.

The key is to find a company (or even a departement) that is trying to do better all the time. Those will be good people, and you really want to work with good people who want to get better. After that, the product is largely irrelevant.
posted by trinity8-director at 11:37 AM on September 21, 2012

You've already contacted you're old company so not taking that offer could burn that bridge. Something to be aware of. You've already "broken the glass" in case of emergency. If you don't take your old job you will return to the start-up without that safety net.
posted by French Fry at 12:11 PM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think the new job will get more comfortable but less interesting with time. That's how these things tend to work.

Yes I've seen an IPO fizzle and make next to nothing, but I've also seen one go through the roof and make me serious money.

When you've got the offer on the table from the old company, tell the new company that you aren't happy with the amount of stock/options you have, and need (say need not want) a more significant stake in order for this to be the right investment of time for you and your family. If necessary, you can mention the offer you have, but don't mention that you approached them first. They may increase your ownership enough to make it worthwhile to stay. That would also mean that they value you, which is a good thing. It costs you nothing to pull this when you already have somewhere to jump to.

Obviously if you do get a good counter offer you can ask the old company to match. It's kind of an auction process that decides your true market value, and exposes which place actually values you more.
posted by w0mbat at 1:25 PM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Can you telecommute a couple of days a week?
posted by anon4now at 7:05 PM on September 22, 2012

Part of the hotness of startups is the work environment. Its always push, push, push. Cut corners, encure massive technical debt, skip documentation, skip unit tests, skip sleep, skip anything except shipping on time.
Very exciting but not a good place to build good habits, code-wise and process-wise.
-- trinity8-director

I've worked at startups like this, and I've worked at startups where lots of seasoned pros brought the best practices of each company they worked for and the habit were better than at the big companies (and a heck of a lot less bureaucratic--meaning they make you follow the rules even when they don't make sense). You can learn a heck of a lot from working at the latter, if you can find it.

You can lesson your commute by moving. But he important thing here is that you sound like you are not that happy where you are, and aren't necessarily that enthusiastic about going back to your old job. Of course in the present economy we don't always get what we want. But you are starting from a solid base--you have a job and have a chance at your old job.

So I'd recommend looking around. Don't just send out resumes but talk to contacts--other former employees, friends, alumni, salesmen who you've worked well with who might have some ideas. Your present and previous employers can be your backup plan.

Of course if the company is about to make it big you should wait, but as has been said, unless you know otherwise, you can hope for it but dont' expect it.
posted by eye of newt at 11:27 PM on September 22, 2012

(habit/habits lesson/lessen dont'/don't, etc, it must be getting late)
posted by eye of newt at 11:31 PM on September 22, 2012

« Older Midnight Cowboy Snacker   |   How do you deal with people who make insensitive... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.