My work had a large round of layoffs about four months ago. While the "powers that be" always plan for some attrition associated with a layoff (if they're smart), I don't believe they expected quite as many folks to jump ship as has happened.

This has led me to do some soul-searching as to whether I want to stay in my current position or start another job search. Thinking about it, and watching friends and co-workers depart, I'm struck by how personal a decision this is and how different the factors are for each person. This post is an effort by me to solidify and enumerate my thinking on this issue. I'm sorry if you came for a technical topic, try again next week, but this is an important aspect of modern software development.

My current situation is this. I'm a senior engineer at a large company where I started about 10 months ago. I'm part of a relatively young, very small team maintaining and developing a crucial piece of the entire product. I was the sixth developer on the team when I was hired. I'm now one of three developers.

In Favor of Leaving

As I look around me at work, I can see large holes in the organization where key people have left either voluntarily or involuntarily. There are several areas of our product where there is very little developer knowledge remaining.

This swiss-cheese organization is faced with a fairly major release that we're scheduled to ship before the end of the year. This is probably not impossible, but I suspect it's going to be a long haul to get there.

The biggest concern I have is actually with our mid-level management. From my level there seems to be a lack of vision and a clear lack of communication from the management at that level. It's not clear that our business line leader has a plan for how to turn this organization around.

Another concern, although not oddly the highest concern, is that I could be laid off at any point. I don't put too much weight behind this concern for two reasons:

  1. From my experience, "I could get laid off tomorrow" is true no matter where you are.
  2. When I left my previous position I thought for certain if I stayed that I would have been laid off by this point in time. I was wrong about that. Had I stayed, I would still be there.
These are all things that weigh on the "I should start looking" side. I'm leaving out the recommendations I have received from a couple of coworkers whom I respect that it's time to go. I'm disregarding these not because I don't believe them, but rather that, as I said above, this is a fairly personal choice. That person's reasons to get out might be very different than mine. Their emotional connection to the company and, more importantly, to the product, are also different than mine.

In Favor of Staying

When I consider staying at my current position, I can think of many reasons why it might be worth sticking it out. The primary one is that I generally enjoy the crowd of people I interact with on a regular basis. There are some interesting political issues to deal with (but none of them are nasty or difficult) and there's a reasonably high level of expertise in the lab.

Despite the mid-level management leaving much to be desired, I have found my local managers to be very effective leaders. I enjoy having a manager who helps to solve the hard questions quickly but gives me the rope to take care of things without supervision. I'm lucky to have that here.

Another factor on the side of staying is the large opportunity provided here. I've only been in the position for 10 months, so there's still a lot of material about the product, the organization, and the company for me to take in and learn. Also, given the "swiss cheese" nature of the organization at this point, there's going to be amble opportunity (perhaps too much) to learn new areas and cover new topics.

Finally, I really enjoy the work/life balance I've seen in this organization up to this point. It's very close to home, allowing me to maintain my bike commuting and still get home for lunch easily. The vacation policy is covering the trips I've got regularly planned with my family. And I'm comfortable taking an hour here and there to help out in my kids' school. That's really important to me.

What do I do?

I'll admit that this is not an easy decision and there's definitely risk either way, but at this point I'm choosing to hang on to my position and see if I can't ride this storm out. There are several factors that I really like about this job and there's no guarantee that I'll be happy if I switch.

But I reserve the right to change that at any moment. :)

(NOTE: this post was written several months ago but sat unpublished until now. At this point my job status has changed. More on that in later posts.)

- Jim Anderson