Should I stay or should I go now? Software engineering career edition!
August 23, 2014 10:40 PM   Subscribe

I'm a software developer, working my first "real job" out of grad school. I'm on a fixed-term contract with my employer. The contract that pays the lion's share of my salary is ending, potentially without a direct transition into a new/connected project. While I wait to hear from management about what this means for me, I'm trying to put myself in the best position to succeed moving forward. This is new to me, please halp!

My manager has framed the impact of the coming change as "reaching out to other projects to find work for [me]." This is not without precedent in our organization -- one of my coworkers wrapped a big project almost a year ago and has been receiving monthly contract extensions since then, splitting his effort among 2 or 3 projects. I've received unanimously positive feedback, positive reviews, and raises, so I could see the same thing happening to me. Another manager definitely wants some of my time, but I'm not sure if he'll be able to take me on full-time on the timeframe I'm on.

My goal is to stay with my current organization. I love my coworkers, I get to work on really awesome projects, and I get to work with some amazing hardware/software that is pretty much unique and having an impact on some very interesting parts of the world. We also have really great benefits, which is not to be undervalued. However, I have to acknowledge that if they can't pay me, they'll have no issue letting me go at the end of my contract no matter how much everyone likes my work.

The responsible thing to do is to start looking at other positions so I won't be caught flat-footed. The good news is, the thing my team made has received some high-profile media coverage in industry press, and a lot of people who can vouch for the quality of my work are considered significant in our field. I'm in a city that, while no San Jose, has a pretty healthy market for development talent. I'm pretty sure my skills and expertise are in demand right now. Step 1 is to leverage my connections to get my resume in at some places that look like they might want me. If somebody makes me an offer, I'll have to do some careful calculus re: the value of my current gig's perks vs. potentially more stability and pay elsewhere.

How do I keep my head in the game at work while also moving forward with the job search, though? I can already feel myself checking out a bit, since the project is winding down. It's hard to rally the same enthusiasm for a dying project as a fresh one, but I realize that if I don't keep impressing my management, I'm shooting myself in the foot.

Have any of you navigated a situation like this before? Given my goals, anything I should be thinking of that I've not mentioned thinking of?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Start saving more cash now, so you have an emergency fund for when they let you go.

As far as reaching out to other groups to find work inside your organization, be sure that you are doing that also. It might be your managers job, but its your career, and your best interests don't align.
posted by TheAdamist at 4:00 AM on August 24, 2014

If they want to keep you, they will.

Look for new work, and start connecting on LinkedIn. Since you now have experience and a graduate degree, recruiters should be knocking at your door, so chat with them.
posted by pmb at 5:08 AM on August 24, 2014

If they want to keep you, they will.

Maybe, if they get sufficient funding to cover your hours or if they have another open position in some other part of the organization that fits your skills. I've seen plenty of good, valuable people laid off after their contract ended in spite of the organization doing everything they could to keep them. So I would be preparing for that possibility just in case.

Nthing all of the other advice here: beef up your emergency fund, look for new work, and reach out to your network.
posted by jazzbaby at 6:52 AM on August 24, 2014

Look for new work and don't be too fussed about having it show around the edges. Not only do you actually need to know what your options are, but your employer will respect you more if you act confident of your options.

Don't worry about being a little "checked out" on your project. This is a normal occurrence, for all sorts of reasons. Keep working as best you can, but don't guilt yourself over being a normal human being.
posted by mattu at 6:55 AM on August 24, 2014

You have pretty good intuition about what you should be doing, you should need a little more focus.

1) Make a list of your accomplishments at the company to date. Compile any information that can prove your contributions. This 'company work portfolio' will help refresh your memory, boost your confidence, give you ideas of which other managers could use your skills and help you pitch your skills when the time comes.

2) Don't sit back waiting for your manager to announce 'what's been decided'. You have a great track record- awesome! Another manager appreciates you- great! You need more of that; with your above portfolio in mind, look for other managers who could also use you part-time, so that you can puzzle together a (roughly) full-time role moving forward. Don't let this fall on your manager alone. Make it so that other managers are coming to your manager to inquire when you'll be available.

3) As you inquire around for other projects, make sure you have everyone's updated contact information, especially people you might contact after you leave if it ever gets to that. Don't start asking about referrals until it's clear you're leaving though. In which case, this will come in handy:

This Checklist is Key to Leaving Any Company Successfully

Externally, in parallel, and not from the office:

4) Make sure your LinkedIn profile and resume are updated (use numbers/info from the portfolio above)

5) Based on reactions in the press/social media/etc. about projects you worked on, draw up a shortlist of local companies who need your skillset and would definitely recognize your current/previous work AND that you would actually want to work for. Reach out to one of their dev managers to ask for an information interview. Tell them that you're not actively job searching but that you might need to soon, and since you're impressed by what their doing, you'd like to learn more. If you can, tailor your message as much as possible to be about them; they're more likely to talk if they have something to brag about. People love telling their stories; you just need to let them.
posted by jshare at 7:00 AM on August 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Companies, or divisions of companies, that derive most of their business from contract work are notorious for (a) laying off huge swaths of people when their contracts expire and (b) being so firewalled that internal transfers are the exception rather than the rule. Yours may be an exception, but don't assume that just because it makes global business sense for them to keep you on, that they will in fact be able to get out of their own way to accomplish this. Especially if it's a large company. Especially if it's a defense contractor. On the one hand, you sound like you're likely to find something quickly if you do get let go; on the other hand, if you're not employeed you'll probably be tempted to take the 1st offer you get, whether it's a good fit or not. My advice is to (a) prepare for the eventuality that you'll need to find a job and then (b) go ahead and look, but selectively. Maybe you'll find a permanent position that's even better than the one you have!
posted by mr vino at 7:20 AM on August 24, 2014

I'm also a software contractor, and it may be worth it to do what I do, when I'm nearing the end of my contract - pay your phone bill way ahead if possible, so you have a few months credit on it. Even a couple of months would be good.

When job searching, a smart phone is the best thing to have. Hell, even a dumb mobile phone is a good thing. With your skillset, you should be snapped up right away. If not, though, at least you don't have to worry about that being shut off, or having an inability to pay the monthly charge, if money gets tight.
posted by spinifex23 at 11:57 AM on August 25, 2014

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