Career burnout. Now what?
October 26, 2016 3:06 AM   Subscribe

I have serious career burnout. After an exhausting and stressful decade of working at two of the highest profile, most competitive tech companies anywhere, I'm quickly reaching the point where I just can't stand it any longer. I'm stressed all the time, and I'm starting to think it's becoming dangerous for me to have this much stress at this time in my life. Trouble is, I can't seem to decide what to do next. Snowstorm after the jump.

What I can't stand about being an employee at these kinds of places:

1. Stack ranking. 'Nuff said.

2. Massive annual reviews that require you justify your continued existence and full of "feedback". Plus the management pushing to give "critical feedback" on your friends and colleagues.

3. The endless push to "grow", to get to that next level

5. Just way too competitive, especially when it comes to the younger generation now coming up through the ranks.

6. Pressure to always do more than is asked (like everyone else is doing)

7. Constant rushing. Working 8 hours/day + commute means I'm always rushing -- in the mornings, to get my kids out the door so I can get on the road. In the afternoons, to race home and take the kids to an activity. SICK of rushing everywhere! Of course, I love being at those activities with my kids, but I just hate the rushing! It's really the commute here that kills me.

About me:
1. I don't care one bit about having a prestigious career or climbing a ladder. I'm a builder. That gives me satisfaction, and I do love what I do, when I can just focus on that and not deal with the politics, pressure or competitiveness in these environments. Senior status? Management? Been there, don't care.

2. Financially, in very good shape. I'm mid-40's, very reasonable mortgage with great interest rate, and have over 7 times my income in retirement savings.

3. I exercise, eat well and keep myself pretty healthy.

4. I have a terrible fear of money and taking leave of my career entirely for a serious chunk of time isn't something I would do

5. BUT - I often fantasize about working in a hardware store locally part-time and publishing small apps (that I wouldn't expect to make money, but would keep my skills sharp, could list on my resume, and keep my career alive). Unfortunately, it just doesn't pay the bills as I have kids and my wife doesn't make nearly as much as I do.

What Do I Want?

I want to slow the hell down. I want to spend more time with my kids and not just be rushing around all the time -- meaning part time work, 32 hours/week max. I want less stress. I want to come home and not always be thinking about the upcoming reviews, or long-term plans, or annual goals that are 3-6-9 months out but still need to be constantly considered to make sure I'm successful in these highly competitive environments.

The rub? I also need to make more than what I would make just working part-time in a hardware store and publishing apps on the side.

Some things I've considered:

1. Find a smaller local, less competitive company that needs engineering expertise. And ideally, building something meaningful. Problem: most are looking for entry-level ("Junior"), and thus far less expensive, engineers who they know will also give them 50-60 hours/week with just a little bit of pressure, or free snacks.

2. Part-time local contract work. Problem: Most are looking for a solid 40 hours/week, if not more because they're bringing on contractors to meet a serious/risky deadline.

3. Suck it up. You're a father. Do what's necessary to support your family. Problem: Yes, of course. I get that. And that's why I've lasted as long as I have. But, we're pretty well covered at the moment. It's very unlikely we would ever lose our house -- unless there was a cataclysmic financial crisis that lasted for years and years. Could happen, but then we're all screwed. And I'm not going to buy gold, but thank you, Glenn Beck fans, for that suggestion. I also think that just maintaining the status quo will have some sort of long-term serious health consequence, and I'm no good to my family under those conditions.

4. Work in that hardware store, publish those apps, make less than you need and see if it buys you happiness. Problem: it would be dramatically less than we need to keep up with life in an expensive city, with a mortgage and two kids, so it really doesn't seem feasible.

5. Use sites like e-lance to bid on projects and work independently. Problem: No way. From what I've seen, you're always bidding against people who are willing to work for less than minimum wage, often in other countries. There's just no competing against that, nor do I want the pressure of fixed bid contracts.

I've been kicking around 1, 2, and 4 for months. Wondering what other options I might be missing.

Thank you for reading, and for whatever guidance you may have!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (30 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
there are certainly companies out there like you want; you just need to find them. for the last few years i've worked half time (alternate weeks) as a software engineer. i earn enough to live on, and every other week i spend doing what the hell i want. this is for a small company that provides "geophysics consultancy" (i should add that i started full time and only changed after several years at the job). i remember someone at the second job i ever had doing the same.

the problem is, how do you find something similar? i suspect it's not a coincidence that this particular company is run by a bunch of academics, rather than "entrepreneurs". also, they're east coast (and rural). somehow you need to really broaden your scope. network friends of friends? and look at companies that are not purely web-based. everyone needs databases, websites and apps these days - it doesn't have to be a valley startup.

reading your question again, big differences between us are: i'm not a father, my partner also earns a decent wage, and our cost of living in santiago is probably way less than yours. can you change any of those?

the only other piece of advice i can give is that as a general rule i used to try and accept whatever came my way, without worrying too much about the future. maybe that's a result of privilege (being white, male, well educated makes life less risky), but where i am now is also a result of various decisions (like moving to chile) that i don't think you could plan. in a sense you've chosen to dig yourself into a hole. one way to get out might be to be a little more random...
posted by andrewcooke at 3:26 AM on October 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

Something that's worked for people I know who work in other industries who hate their industry (mostly finance/accounting) is to go and be the accountant/money guy in a company that isn't specifically geared to that industry. It's a variant on #1 - have you only been looking at other local tech companies, or more generally for who needs engineers (even if they've only got a couple or a small team)?

You get different culture problems ("no one understands what I do or why it's important!"), but since it sounds like the stuff you're burnt out on is stuff that's relatively specific to tech, it might be worth seeing who else needs what you can do, even if they're not obvious companies/industries.
posted by terretu at 3:27 AM on October 26, 2016 [9 favorites]

The thing about those retirement savings is that you'll never get to use them if you drop dead of a heart attack. You're missing out on the present in order to save for the future.
posted by Grunyon at 3:50 AM on October 26, 2016 [10 favorites]

Suck it up. You're a father. Do what's necessary to support your family
I don't think this has anything to do with money.
posted by fullerine at 3:54 AM on October 26, 2016 [6 favorites]

4. Work in that hardware store, publish those apps, make less than you need and see if it buys you happiness. Problem: it would be dramatically less than we need to keep up with life in an expensive city, with a mortgage and two kids, so it really doesn't seem feasible.

So why stay in the expensive city? Sell your expensive city house, pay out the mortgage and buy somewhere rural where the people are not packed in so tight.

The only reason it took me 40 years to get out of the city is because I was born and raised there. Buying a house on a huge block in a small country town and moving here without any real plan is the second best decision I ever made (the first was marrying ms. flabdablet).
posted by flabdablet at 3:58 AM on October 26, 2016 [12 favorites]

A few thoughts:
- are there lower stress roles in your current company that you could move into? For instance, are there profitable legacy products that need maintenance and small feature development? This kind of brownfield work is often not very prestigious, but (a) if you find the right product it can last for a long time if you become the go to guy for it and (b) it's a distinct niche in its own right to maintain products well - if you can do it for one you can do it for another
- could you reduce the time you work to say, 4 days a week. This can be a win-win because you immediately reduce your cost to the company by 20% but they retain a lot more than 80% of your value because of your embedded knowledge of the products and processes
- if those options won't work where you are now, do keep looking elsewhere. It can take time but there are definitely large and small companies that need technical staff but don't have the extreme stress of "cutting edge" tech companies.
posted by crocomancer at 4:12 AM on October 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Take a breath, then underline all the assumptions in your post, and there are many of them. No doubt a few of them are spot-on, but each one should be interrogated for its validity before you act (or don't act). For example, your number 4. Work in that hardware store, publish those apps, make less than you need and see if it buys you happiness. Problem: it would be dramatically less than we need to keep up with life in an expensive city, with a mortgage and two kids, so it really doesn't seem feasible. Your prevaricating language at the end suggests that you know this is an unproven assumption but you are trying to stick to it for some reason. Do you assume that an expensive lifestyle equals a good lifestyle? What are your parameters for a 'good lifestyle' beyond the ability to consume goods and services? Is your role in the family one of earning a high income so others can spend it? These are the tough questions I hope I'd be able to ask myself.
posted by Thella at 4:27 AM on October 26, 2016 [10 favorites]

Can you start by downsizing your house? If you can get a less expensive home that you can pay off, with that plus your retirement savings, what are your remaining expenses?

Cut your other expenses, too. Then all of a sudden you're in great shape financially, and you don't need to make as much money.
posted by J. Wilson at 4:40 AM on October 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

One of the things about being under massive stress for a long time is that it makes it harder to make decisions about how to best get out from under that stress.

Two questions:

1. What's your wife's take on this situation? Can she see that you're burned out and is she supportive of a change in the status quo? This is important. Do you think she'd be on board with a little change (like, you getting a job with, say, 2/3 the hours and 2/3 the pay); or a bigger change (the hardware store/app scenario, and staying in your current house/neighborhood); or an enormous change (pulling up stakes and moving to a small town)?

If you haven't discussed it or don't think you could discuss it, there may be some stress you're not acknowledging here about the state of your marriage, and when *that* is high stress, it can feed into your misery at work too. So, something to meditate on.

2. Another possibility not discussed so far: take a sabbatical. Ask your current manager for, say, 3 months off, to downshift and focus on something else. That will give you time to decompress and get a clearer sense of what the right longer-term resolution is.
posted by Sublimity at 4:43 AM on October 26, 2016 [15 favorites]

Look into what flexible working policies your employer has that could enable more time with family - for example working from home some days (at the least saves on commute), or even reducing your hours. For example, Amazon is experimenting with some teams on 30 hour work weeks.
posted by JonB at 5:07 AM on October 26, 2016 [6 favorites]

If you could do the same thing you do now in a better environment, would you still like it?

Look around and see if other firms or agencies interested in consultancy are available, and in interviews ask specific questions about the environment and work/life balance, and watch their reactions carefully.

There are plenty of firms that don't aspire to the .com grind and look to make a product and deliver services without obliterating their staff.
posted by nickggully at 5:46 AM on October 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

I agree you should consider taking a sabbatical - the way you describe your options does not suggest that you're thinking very clearly about them and some distance might help.

How do your savings compare to you *expenses*? If you've saved 7x your salary you must have significantly lower expenses than your salary; I'm also guessing that you're in a sufficiently high tax bracket that you would take home a much larger percentage of your salary if you took a significant pay cut. How much income do you actually need to cover your expenses? (Do you know how much you're actually spending and on what? That would be useful to know.)

In addition to talking to your family about cutting expenses (either drastically or in smaller ways) are there expenses you could cut that don't affect your family at all? Like, do you have a car with a car payment and comprehensive insurance, and could you trade that in for something cheaper (or no car at all)? Do you eat lunches out on work days? Do you have any kind of expensive minor vice that you would be willing to cut out (fancy booze, collections, hobbies, etc.)?

You might want to check out Mr. Money Mustache - you might not find his way of thinking appealing at all but it's a useful counter to the way you're thinking right now, IMO.
posted by mskyle at 6:05 AM on October 26, 2016 [5 favorites]

You're very stressed, which I think is causing you to overlook the many positive factors at play here. You have built a great resume, you work in a lucrative field which has allowed you to build a nest egg, you have a career with good job prospects that can transfer to other locations. You and your family presumably don't have health or financial needs that require you to stay in your job or location. If you own a home, your mortgage is above water and the home is in a good resale market. I can't be the only person who read your post and felt envious of the many possibilities ahead of you. That isn't to say you're not facing a serious dilemma, but I think if you can get a break from the constant stress and the intense corporate world you're stuck in, you'll see you're in a very privileged position. And as someone who has been the partner, remember that a less stressful job could give your wife a happier, more participatory co-parent AND give her the freedom to pursue her own goals. I've also been the kid of two career-focused parents and while the financial security was immensely helpful, I hated being "blamed" for the reason my parents were so stressed. They chose their jobs, I didn't, and I probably would have chose jobs that allowed them more time at home.
posted by areaperson at 6:07 AM on October 26, 2016 [6 favorites]

I don't care one bit about having a prestigious career or climbing a ladder. I'm a builder. Same here. There are dozens of us. DOZENS! The good news is we can become specialists in our area, and since everyone else is trying to move up and out eventually we will be the most experienced people in our roles.

I think the main source of your issues is this: 4. I have a terrible fear of money and taking leave of my career entirely for a serious chunk of time isn't something I would do and this: I also need to make more than what I would make just working part-time in a hardware store and publishing apps on the side.

It sounds like a lot of your issues are caused by internal thoughts on working and money. And that's okay. Modern life tells us that we should be obsessed with money, and that it's the responsible thing to do. And concern for finances is responsible – up to a point. But it's easy and very common to become unbalanced and overly obsessed with money, and that leads to all kinds of stress like what you are experiencing. So it seems that even if you took a lower-stress job, you might not really relax and might remain stressed over finances (“am I earning enough?”, etc). As the adage goes, “wherever you go, there you are.” I think you need to reevaluate your relationship with money or no amount of career change will give you the life you want.

The good news is it's possible to be very financially secure and also not be obsessed with money. At least, I consider myself very secure and not money-obsessed. Not that I'm a retired billionaire Zen master or anything, but I think that having a healthy balanced attitude is possible for someone in your situation who already has substantial savings. I work at a 40-hours-a-week consulting job, and it’s *extremely* leisurely. Not because it’s so easy – many of my peers are stressed out – but because I am financially secure enough that I feel comfortable prioritizing life and family over work. I take long breaks to go to the gym and I spend lots of time hanging out with our 3-month-old before 8 AM and after 4:30 PM. I even had a 5-week stretch where I was between contracts and not working (and therefore earning no income), and instead of being stressful it was pretty leisurely (if boring) because my wife and I know our finances can handle it.

My first advice is to read /r/financialindependence a bit. (that subreddit can be kind of intense sometimes and lots of people there are obsessed with just retiring early, but there's much more to it than that so read it with an open mind and discard the stuff that doesn't apply to you like investing all your money in real estate 😳.) One of the paths of financial independence is to 1) have enough saved and 2) be sufficiently disciplined in your spending so you aren't ruled purely by bringing in money. Then you can choose whether to work and what kind of work you do. That sounds like the sort of situation that you would benefit from – having a path to accumulating enough money to support your family more or less indefinitely, but since you are a builder keep working for enjoyment and to bring in some money so you don’t have to be obsessively frugal. In my case, we are decades away from being financially independent and I do have to work, but during my 5 weeks off I turned down several roles that required traveling away from my family. Our spending is under control, we have a clear path to getting to retirement, and our worst-case scenario of both of us losing our jobs still leaves us with plenty to live on for long enough to find other jobs. If we both lost our jobs we can always go back to working our asses off in intense companies, and it sounds like you could too, and our best-case scenario is we keep earning money but work at a pace that doesn’t stress us out or take us away from family. That’s not a bad worst-case or best-case. (I realize we are super fortunate and privileged to be in that situation, but I also don’t think that I’ll make the world any better by not taking full advantage of our good fortune).

Second, I wonder if you could work at a more leisurely pace and it would be fine? It’s been a few years since I moved from being afraid and stressed all the time to focusing on life over work. Now I question useless meetings and try to plan my day so I can work on important things at the pace I prefer, and I think my productivity has gone up or at least stayed the same. No one has said anything about my performance in that time and multiple clients have brought me back despite my leisurely pace. I work for a consulting firm that handles sales & contracts and takes a cut, and that cut is worth it to me so I don’t have to worry about those unpleasant parts. To me it’s reasonable to realize that in many cases the stress comes from our own internal worries and not just from our environment. Now, if you are working at a high-stress place this might not work, they might hassle you for your priorities. But maybe your first step should be to assertively prioritize life over work and see if it really affect you, or if it’s all fine? And if your company can’t handle it then maybe that’s the push you need to leave to go to a place where you have more control and can prioritize life over work. Like I already said, as long as you’re working you can always go back to working your ass off, maybe the first step is to try out prioritizing life over work and see if that works for you.

And I’d reevaluate those 40 hr/wk contracting positions. 40 hours per week, if you stick to it and only work those 40 hours and don’t do unpaid overtime, can be really leisurely.
posted by Tehhund at 6:10 AM on October 26, 2016 [18 favorites]

You complain about the commute--have you asked about remote work? Even if it's against official policy, your manager might have some flexibility. Could be anywhere from taking a day a week at home, to coming in only for important meetings, to giving up your office entirely.

Have you complained about the evaluation process? Again, your manager might be able to partially insulate you from company policies.

Have you figured out in detail your financial goals and the income you need to meet them?

Have you talked to people in your network about what you're looking for?

You've been at this for a while. Nobody has been paying you out of charity. You know that you have bargaining power. The things you want are completely reasonable. There are lots of companies, large and small, that provide them. Somewhere there is a workplace that meets your requirements and is looking for somebody like you.
posted by floppyroofing at 6:13 AM on October 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

You sound like you might be a good candidate for a smaller company-- there are definitely some out there who'd rather have one experienced developer than three junior devs. Have you looked into women-owned tech companies that aren't on the VC path? Or tech companies that focus on the non-profit market? Or a government job? The dotcom refugees that escaped to government jobs have told me it practically feels like a paid vacation in comparison.

Try looking on Glassdoor to get a feel for companies that are praised for work-life balance, and also check out reviews for companies in women's publications. (It's SUCH a cliche, and I could rant for quite a while about this, but there are currently more discussions and ratings and other life-balance issues in the XX side of the biz.) Aso check out Third Path Institute for resources on finding career paths that have better work-life balance.
posted by instamatic at 6:28 AM on October 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

When you've been at a company that is supposedly "best and brightest" it is really easy to get into a circular thinking pattern that makes you believe if it's such a rat race there it will be awful everywhere, or that the problem is your lack of drive or any number of things.

I went from a relatively prestigious "dream job" in a crazy-targets-race company that was dysfunctional to a lower-status job at an organization that is also quite lovingly wonky in its way, but entirely different. I am still racing from job to pickup to activity and actually working as hard if not harder than I was before...but I am not a bundle of insane stress.

Your question made me think hard about the difference and I think, among other things, it's that where I am now, my work isn't the way the entire organization defines work supports the goals of the org, but it's not where the DNA of the mission resides. So the people are separate from the results. Results count, but it's cleaner.

I don't know if that makes sense but it seems like a really common midlife move. I suggest looking for a role where what you do is needed but peripheral to the main work of the company. They will be thrilled for your expertise and just be glad the things you build work.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:33 AM on October 26, 2016 [5 favorites]

Have you thought about becoming a research engineer for an academic institution? They pay, while not great, is liveable, you get to do interesting work and it's a more relaxed environment if you're not on tenure track.
posted by gadha at 7:11 AM on October 26, 2016

The obvious answer is don't work for a highly competitive, stack ranking type employer. If your locale only has companies like your current employer or smaller companies that only hire junior talent, move.

There are companies everywhere that hire experienced developers that don't have cut-throat company cultures.
posted by LoveHam at 7:22 AM on October 26, 2016 [7 favorites]

Part-time local contract work. Problem: Most are looking for a solid 40 hours/week, if not more because they're bringing on contractors to meet a serious/risky deadline

Assuming you can resolve any commute problems or work remotely, the contract work is very much what you are looking for: you get to build stuff and not have to deal with the same kind of politics. Yes, your jobs tend to exist at the whims of budgets and such, but you're insulated from the corporate feedback/achievement system.
posted by deanc at 8:19 AM on October 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Do you have to stay in the expensive city you're in. I mean mortgage rates are great everywhere in the country right now & for the money you most likely have invested in your home there you could get a cheaper home somewhere else.

I live in where-the-fucksville in the Midwest. A hell of a lot of Tech jobs exist out here in the fly over states too. Do they pay what you'd get paid where you are now, no, but then housing and every other cost is way cheaper here.

What I'm saying is there are jobs out there that would fit your requirements, they may not be in the city you're in right now, you may want to look at moving to get the options you want.
posted by wwax at 8:42 AM on October 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Problem: most are looking for entry-level ("Junior"), and thus far less expensive, engineers who they know will also give them 50-60 hours/week with just a little bit of pressure, or free snacks.

This is true of the most startuppy startups who can't afford to actually pay salaries and know they won't get anybody any other way. As someone who just finished a boot camp and has been doing a ton of job hunting until a couple weeks ago, it is emphatically not true of literally anywhere that's actually got real funding or profitability. There are tons of jobs out there for people who know what they're doing already. If right now you can't possibly consider making less than you make now without it being a hardship, consider being open to relocating. The midwest's full of companies, including a fair number of Fortune 500 kind of size places, that are a lot more stable, more moderate about their expectations, and where you don't need to make nearly as much to afford a nice-sized house within a reasonable commute.

Yeah, a job like this will usually expect 40 hours a week, but a lot of places will allow some flexibility of schedules and telecommuting that can make that 40 feel a lot less tedious. And if you get home with energy--I mean, I am not a young kid and I put in a 9-5:30 yesterday, plus commute, then went to dinner and the movies last night, then ran to the grocery store afterwards, because I didn't feel totally wiped out when I left work for the day? So, yeah, work stress matters as far as how many hours feel like too many.
posted by Sequence at 8:52 AM on October 26, 2016 [6 favorites]

A smaller company sounds like one potential option if you like working in tech but don't like the hamster wheel.

However, if your real dream is to work at a hardware store and build apps on the side, there are definitely ways to do that. There may be some downsizing required, and possibly even relocation, but if you're already looking into a dramatic lifestyle change, why not go all in and pick a place you've always wanted to live as well? Especially with a safety net (7x annual income already saved for retirement?? HOLY COW MAN) the size of the one that you have.

I don't agree with all of the advice on the blog, but Mr. Money Mustache has a lot of really interesting breakdowns of cost of living and how to use your money in the most effective and no-nonsense way to make sure it's working for you. There's also a lot of great information in there about strategies for maintaining the most important parts of your lifestyle without throwing away unnecessary money on them. This might be something to check out if you're interested in taking a closer look at your finances and seeing if you can make your dream a reality.

Note: I'm not sure how old your kids are, but if one of them is late into high school, you may want to hold off on the "load up the car, kids, we're moving to the mountains/beach/desert/plains/forest/whatever!" party until they've graduated. I moved a lot growing up (Navy kid) but I never felt worse for anyone about having to move than I did for the girl who transferred into our school in her senior year. BUMMER.
posted by helloimjennsco at 9:56 AM on October 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

You want to find a job in a company that is a user of tech but not a creator of tech. Banks and insurance companies come to mind, but there are lots of others. They probably create some software and web pages, but it's not their core business or core competency. You may have to take a substantial pay cut. In my area (CT), most new hires who are not actually management will get less than $100K. Top pay once hired varies a lot.

Big profitable companies (S&P 500) pay more than small, marginally profitable companies.
posted by SemiSalt at 10:37 AM on October 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've been pondering the same thing for about a year now. I can totally relate on the cutthroat annual reviews, competitivity, and the resulting stress.

Nthing take a sabbatical at first. You'd be surprised what a month can do for your mental health; two is even better, three is optimal. You'll start getting antsy around three, because by month two your mind will be refreshed enough to have started coming up with new ideas after having made some realizations about your core values. That first month off is a whammy for the core values when you're in the sort of mindset and stress you're in now. You want to have enough time for the numbness followed by a rush of all sorts of things, to let it settle and get truly rested. An overload of stress is a buildup and a sort of damming that we don't fully realize until the dam no longer needs to hold. (Or until burnout hits, but you do not want that.)

Then start looking: smaller places, sell your strengths. You're likely at an expert level, plus you very likely have a bunch of businessy skills (call it "business analysis" if you like) that will be valuable anywhere. When you interview, use those values you realized to take a good hard look at the way places talk and how – especially if – their companies actually reflect those values. Don't make any hasty decisions. Young'uns have youth, vitality, and lower salaries, yes, but they don't yet have well-honed communication skills, negotiation skills, expert analysis skills, et cetera and so forth. You can and will find smaller places that value those.

As others have also said, keep in mind you can move, too. Obviously this would be done with your partner's enthusiastic agreement! It's the sort of thing that can take a year or two to decide on, so again, no hasty decisions. You're in a good place, and you'll make it. Reach out to other colleagues, or more specifically ex-colleagues you might still be in touch with. Chances are they've found better work-life balances and would be happy to put in a good word for you.
posted by fraula at 10:58 AM on October 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think another option might be networking with some of the " smaller local, less competitive company that need engineering expertise" you talked about in your question to see if they would be interested in a more senior engineer working part time instead of a junior engineer working 50+ hours a week. I have a close friend that works in a different, but similar enough field who was able to do this recently Her argument was that she was probably just as effective in 32 hours as a junior employee is in 50, and requires less supervision/training. Small companies that only employ an engineer or two might be equally if not more interested in having your expertise part time instead of someone less experienced full time. It's likely this set up will be less money than you currently make, but more than a hardware store.

Talk to some of these companies, especially ones you have some sort of connection to or relationship with and see what they say.
posted by mjcon at 11:05 AM on October 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Having been there, done that in stressful jobs in super expensive city 1 and 2 (London and NYC) and enjoyed the hell out of both, I suggest moving away from expensive city to other excellent but cheap city. Come to Portland, Maine! Beaches, culture, countryside, super foody, Boston a couple of hours away for big shows, no crowds, kid paradise, and Supercoollady, Batgirl and I live here on one not massive salary. Seriously, ditch the expensive city and live.
posted by merocet at 6:58 PM on October 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

I just left Microsoft for all your same reasons. I am not working (or I should say, not getting paid) and my main goal is to achieve the mental space I need to figure out what to do next. I do recommend taking significant time off and not forcing yourself to do anything except what you'd prioritize if you didn't need an income: spend time with your kids, don't rush anything, sit and THINK, keep being healthy, etc. But it took me a long time to get to this decision and what helped was talking to several people who had left and hearing about their experiences, good and bad. I could have also found a better work situation instead, but I figured after 25 years I earned a break.

A few comments on your statements:
Problem: most are looking for entry-level ("Junior"), and thus far less expensive, engineers
Do you know this to be true because you've already tried to find a job or are you just reading job postings and casually talking to people? To find the senior level jobs at any company, you need to keep networking, meeting people, talking to people, and getting your name out there to get more contacts. Sure they may be fewer than the junior ones, but they are out there, and experience counts for a lot. Make a list of all the contacts you've worked with, especially those who've moved on, and start making a list of people to talk to and companies to check out. Have coffees, have lunches. You can do this while you're still working. The truly motivated folks are doing this All The Time even if they're happy.

Part-time local contract work. Problem: Most are looking for a solid 40 hours/week, if not more because they're bringing on contractors to meet a serious/risky deadline.
I have friends who consult with contract firms at part-time hours. At the senior level there are companies looking for "architects" to come in and give advice and essentially consult without doing the 40hrs, and it's a good fee. Again, you need to find those situations by talking to people and making connections.

tl;dr: If you want to find a situation you love, talk to people and then talk to more people. Don't get discouraged. Time off is good too.
posted by girlhacker at 12:27 AM on October 28, 2016

I would just look for a less competitive / status driven environment. I work in software and we are hiring for all skill levels all the time. If anything, we are not looking at all for junior / entry level engineers. And our engineers come and go as they please and have the option to work from home at least once a week. There are so many good software gigs out there. Any half decent recruiter should be able to find you a good fit in no time.
posted by jasondigitized at 12:40 PM on October 28, 2016

Massive annual reviews that require you justify your continued existence and full of "feedback". Plus the management pushing to give "critical feedback" on your friends and colleagues.

I hope you realize that this system is designed specifically to make sure most people do not stay long term. The idea is that you become so consistently good and positively reviewed that you move up in the organization. Otherwise, your longer tenure just means you become more expensive while plenty of mid-level people would like to rise to your level, and there are lots of other more junior people who want to get a chance to get on the competitive ladder and move up until they, too, have enough and leave.

My point is: the system is designed so that sooner or later, most everyone is expected to make a lateral move. This is your time. A sucker's game can only continue to function if there's a new supply of suckers available to take part. The company is waiting for you to either quit, sign up for a cage fight for another more senior position, or to have you let go to make room for the next batch. This isn't personal. It's the way the system is designed to operate.

So lateral elsewhere. The thing is that at your level, you're going to have to accept the reality that managerial/senior-architect roles are going to make you a more appealing hire than applying for a position as a developer simply because there are lots of people looking for developer roles. You need a job where you are seen as a valued source of expertise and knowledge, not a "production cog" in a machine always looking to optimize cog output.
posted by deanc at 7:34 PM on October 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

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