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Stay or go?

I find myself facing a difficult judgement call at the moment in work. I'm in a situation where I was hired specifically to do a large project. This project will be done in Java / JSP even though I'm primarily an ASP / VB kinda guy because management doesn't want to be dependant on the Microsoft platform.

The project has been delayed time and again (I'm 14 months there now) and at this stage I don't know if I have the energy or the inclination to successfully complete it when it does finally begin. I've kept myself busy in the meantime by taking on some low-brow web work for the company which I postively despise facing each morning.

One of Joel's sabbaticals sounds great right now to my weary mind and outlook.

To factor the get-up-and-go argument, the job market for the Internet industry is not that great at the moment, causing me to second guess the wisdom of quitting. I really feel I need a break before heading into a new project/job but is that more an emotional response than a logical one? Is it better to stick it out?

All of this has tied in with finishing college and a slew of projects to complete. Needless to say, the thought of learning JSP / Java and all that spec writing for the oncoming project on top of everything else fills me with dread!

I feel it would be worse to being the project and quit, than to quit before beginning. Naturally in this confused state, I'm beginning to wonder if I'm up to the task in the first place.

While all this sounds like an agony aunt letter (!), I'd really appreciate eveyone's advice on this. Have you been in a similar position? What did you do? Is it better to get the experience than quit to refresh?

Anon (considering the topic)
Thursday, April 18, 2002

I think a main question is the state of your finances.  That leads to stress too, especially when you have a relationship.  However, if you're a citizen of a socialist country like Germany, things aren't so bad if you leave the job.

I think you need to take a vacation first, to unwind and think.  Like on an island if you can afford it (travel ain't expensive now).  At night, think about your strengths and weaknesses, and come to honest decisions.

I did something similar, and eventually played some politics so that I'd come in 3 days a week.  The best thing is, I have the productivity of 5 of me now.  And I look forward to work, am losing weight, softening my sharp points, curing cancer, etc.

Thursday, April 18, 2002

My advice: quit.

It sounds to me like you have a large project, for a company that has not proven itself reliable, in a technology you are unfamiliar with. I predict a frustrating time for you if the project ever really does materialize.

Matt Christensen
Thursday, April 18, 2002


No offence but Germany certainly isn't a socialist country (I'm German).

Germany has a so-called social market economy but that doesn't make it a "socialist" country ;p !

Patrick Ansari
Thursday, April 18, 2002

> No offence but Germany certainly isn't a socialist country (I'm German).

To some Americans, there are many "socialist" countries (France, the UK, Canada, ...). I don't know about Germany, but it's to do with things like unemployment insurance and/or welfare, universal access to health care, higher taxes, state-supplemented pensions, that kind of thing.

Christopher Wells
Thursday, April 18, 2002

Quit today.  Money isn't important if you're not happy and dreading going to work means you're not happy.

Personally I'd rather wait tables and have fun rather than spend 8 hours a day wishing I were somewhere else. 

Thursday, April 18, 2002

>To some Americans, there are many "socialist" countries (France, the UK, Canada, ...).

What a terrifying statement to read.

A socio-political system that forbids the private ownership of property is vastly different from one that supports social programs through the taxation of a free market economy.

Thursday, April 18, 2002


You hit the nail on the head.

Patrick Ansari
Thursday, April 18, 2002

>  What a terrifying statement to read.

I don't mean to make a big thing of it, nor say that Michel is American ... it's a way in which language varies, from place to place and person to person. For what it's worth, I might use "communist" to describe "no private property".

Christopher Wells
Thursday, April 18, 2002

This sounds an awful lot like an infamous St. Louis project for a large reinsurance company.  Alas, I imagine there are projects going on like this all over the place.  I've only had the misfortune in my career to see two of them myself from up close.

Oh, the humanity!

Randy Holloway
Thursday, April 18, 2002

My advice is to ignore the politics, here and at work ;)
Make a list, call it "SomeNumber things that have to change or I quit". Pick two dates in the future less than 6 months away. If nothing has been fixed on your list by date 1, start looking for a new job. If you have no new job and nothing has changed by date 2, quit.
Do not waste your time being misserable.

Doug Withau
Thursday, April 18, 2002

>I really feel I need a break before heading into a new project/job but is that more an emotional response than a logical one?<

I tend to believe all decisions of this nature are emotional. We use logic to defend our emotional decisions, but we don't make the decisions entirely based on logic.

I have to agree with an earlier statement, if you afford it, get away for a while. Maybe even relocate (if you don't have too many roots) for a period of time. They rent rooms by the week in Key West, for example. You can sublet your apt. so it'll be there when you get back. THAT ought to give you perspective. Just be quick, you don't want to be there during hurricaine season.

If you know you're going to quit, try to do it on good terms. They might even offer a nice deal if you want to return. Heck, they might even let you take a sabbatical and your job will be there when you return, though large corporations are more policy than humanity driven. I hear sabbaticals are the norm in Switzerland.

Mark W
Thursday, April 18, 2002

The whole finances thing certainly does weigh in.  For instance, I'm working for my company and putting out feelers for the next job.  I don't particularly want to jump ship without somewhere to land...

another Anon
Thursday, April 18, 2002

Dealing with work stresses is important maybe you take too much on board. In this situation, I would relax about the whole thing, worrying makes no difference. Refuse to be stressed, this does'nt mean not doing the work.

I am far choosier with work now, but thats because I've toughed out a couple of dud contracts in my time, and that affords me certain luxuries now.

Good luck, do'nt get worked up about it, thats my advice.

Thursday, April 18, 2002

Doug said "Make a list, call it "SomeNumber things that have to change or I quit". Pick two dates in the future less than 6 months away. ..." etc.

I agree. I think this is good advice. If you apply it right, you can include your money concerns also. I should have used this advice myself in a job I had some years ago. I failed to follow this advice and ended up staying at a crappy job with all kinds of negatives that ended up causing me a lot of personal and physical damage for about 2 years longer than I should have. I agree with much of what many of the posters to this topic have written, but IMO, Doug's advice is the "bottom line" you should take away from it.

Oh yeah. IMO the politics thing is probably good to stay away from at work and here as well. It can be fascinating, and it's certainly very important, but there are enough *other* places to post that stuff.

F.J. Weiland
Thursday, April 18, 2002

Learning Java ain't that bad.

ASP->JSP is an easy transition.  Both suck, but that is neither here nor there
UNderstanding Both VB and Java will make your understanding of development more complete.  If you move back to the MS world afterward, it will make your transition to C# that much easier.

Don't fear learning new technologies.  THe more you know, the better you can do.

Personally, if I never have to do VB again I'll be happy.

I have to woner if you are in the right field for you.  Business Software programming is not fun if you don't enoy programming.

Thursday, April 18, 2002

I agree with the preceding advice, but add the rider that, given the current job market, this is the one time in the decade you should actually stay in the job and tough it out until you land a new job. Generally, you will find a new job faster if you're currently employed.

If you know you're going, then this gives you freedom to try to do something interesting with the Java project before you go ( since you know you're not stuck with it.) Who knows, you might end up setting it on a useful direction.

Hugh Wells
Thursday, April 18, 2002

In October of the last year I was in this very similar situation.  I decided to stick with the company and ride it into the ground, figuring the pay was decent and complete idleness wasn't *completely* horrific.  After all, I could be working in a sweatshop in some other software company.  Ended up I got laid off two months later ... got a decent severance package ... with that and the money I had saved up ... haven't worked since then.  It's really great.

If you really do feel the need to quit ... I'd recommend making sure you've got your new job lined up first.  Here in the great socialist state of Washington, we have one of the best unemployment systems in the country ... but if you quit on your own accord, you don't qualify.  In this job market it's probably prudent to look before leaping.

Thursday, April 18, 2002

Long rambling post about lots of stuff related to your topic, pick and choose what you like:

I also agree with Doug's advice, but I question the wisdom of focusing on the stuff you don't like. Definately having an "exit strategy" makes sense though.

I agree that you should stick it out, especially if your finances aren't in order and you can't afford to quit, and if you have any doubts that means they aren't. Though I also suspect you've already made your decision on some level.

I was in a job I didn't like and found another job. Didn't like that one either, so I just quit, but I was young and still living at home - that was my backup plan. Sure my mother didn't like it, but hey...

I believe Joel has a book on Learned Helplessness & Depression on his reccomended reading list. I can't reccomend that book in particular, but it may have some bearing on your situation. Maybe your problems stem from a belief that you don't have control over your situation at work. (?)

In my current job people are beginning to feel that way - management seems to have plans and there are a lot of changes but nobody quite knows what they are or how they'll fit in. That in itself can cause you to want to run under the covers, or actively engage the management in a dialogue, or both. Maybe a simple change in perspective can help.

Working in a corporate environment can be frustrating, they're such slow moving things and they move with or without you. Unless you're in a position to get things done, it can be like fighting a stampede of buffalo.

Do you mind if I ask what it is you're escaping to? There was a line in the Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy I've always loved. "No, that's just perfectly normal paranoia, everyone in the Universe has that." I believe the desire to escape is a perfectly normal human tendancy, at least, in modern society. I'm not sure too many native peoples had this desire. Look at the lottery.

Finally, you might be having problems because you're identifying too much with your job (see the family v. work thread). If you identify yourself with other things, friends, family, hobbies, etc. it might help take your mind off of the work stuff. On some level this is related to escapism, but finding some other expression, some other release, and not expecting to find release at work might be a healthy attitude.

Best of luck to you!

Mark W
Friday, April 19, 2002

> The project has been delayed time and again (I'm 14 months there now) and at this stage I don't know if I have the energy or the inclination to successfully complete it when it does finally begin.

This sounds very familiar to me, I had the same thing happening to me at my last job. I felt really bad when I secretly began to look for another job, but I must say I have not regretted doing so. I changed jobs 9 month ago, yesterday I met a colleague from my old job and learned the project still has not been properly started. I would have gone crazy if I stayed.

Start looking for a new job in earnest today (if you have not already done so). I don't think you are in a hurry to quit, though, the project will probably need much more time to get going for real, so it might not make a big difference if you quit today or in two month time. Take your time to check out your alternatives. It is a good thing to be able to look and apply for jobs without the desperation that comes from being unemployed. It puts you in a much more relaxed postiton, which also shows in job interviews and the like.

Have fun,

Jutta Jordans
Friday, April 19, 2002

I have similar problems  here.

Working on a large project - problem is, my immediate management don't realise how large it really is, and upper management can't just choose a course of action and stick to it - instead they're chopping and changing every few weeks.

We've wasted months and months writing code that doesn't see the light of day. Then it's resurrected. Then cancelled again. Now resurrected once more while the 'priority' job I was doing up til yesterday is now put back six months and *another* cancelled project suddenly needs to be out of the door yesterday.

When I point out minor problems like the cancelled code is incomplete and untested it's like I've farted in a church.

Even our resident contractors are getting demoralised, which if you knew them you'd find amazing.

Coming to work every day is doing my head in, and job hunting has got me nowhere so far - seems most of the current vacancies are fictional ones made up by agencies harvesting CVs. If I had any savings to speak of I'd be quitting today even with nowhere else to go, unfortunately the mortgage has to be paid :(

Oh well. Maybe I can clear enough space on my HD to get VS .NET installed on my PC at work, and do some self-training. Clearly coding anything here is a waste of everybody's time, so I may as well stop wasting mine.

Friday, April 19, 2002

I think the thing to do is to stop worrying about not making progress. Clearly no-one else at the company is worried about it happening. Just slack a bit, watch the money arrive.

I know it's dull. Most of the contracts I turn up to are dull like this - it's essential they hire someone NOW, but the design work won't be done for months yet... and so you need to fill in some time. At least you have net access - I've been in the same situation with no net access, no email access...

If the corporate environment is one of not caring, you just have to not care as well. It occaisionally bothers me: Peugeot are running a TV advert at the moment, and one of the lines in the song is "What have you done today, to make you feel proud?" and unfortunately I go home pretty much every night with the answer "nothing".

I could kill myself trying, but we have managers whose jobs are writing email. They aren't going to stop and let us do actual /work/ anytime soon. We have directors who just don't seem to care very much about their departments, just their jollies and catered lunches.

They don't want to write this software. I find it hard, as a non-employee, to justify wanting to write it any more than the management structures here. You usually find the "customer" doesn't want the software either... Oh, the customer who /pays/ for it is very keen on it turning up. The actual user customers, the ones that actually go near it rarely want it.

Just don't stress. Faff about, play, kick back, watch money arrive. One of the things contractors do a lot is have a money clock: it sits in the corner of the screen counting up in money. You can cope with almost any amount of tedium if you can see that clock ticking up... you're sitting there, trying to understand how some 900 page document written by a non-IT person relates to anything in the current project; you can't ask them for a precis because they're in meetings from now until October, they can't write complete sentences even... but you do get to watch those little digits tick round...

If you're on unpaid overtime and someone is wasting your time, then you have something to complain about. Otherwise, you're doing your job - your company has just decided that your job is to keep a seat warm, albeit at great expense to them.

I think in the modern world it's tricky to find a career that's actually fulfilling. So find something to do on the days off that's fulfilling and creative and challenging. It's fine and actually fairly normal to have your weekdays filled with tedium and boredom as long as the weekends you go have fun.

Katie Lucas
Friday, April 19, 2002


Thanks to everyone for their advice. The plan of having an exit strategy is a good one - first step there would be to finally finish my updated CV / website. At least that lets me get some perspective on my achievements / failures over the last few years and puts me in a good position if I do decide to go.

Doug: a list is a great idea. It smacks of Oprah a bit maybe (and doesn't sit too well with my Irish pessimism :), but would be a good way of laying out a positive direction to follow.

I'm going to get some space by switching to a 2 day week (management won't have a problem as they save some cash in these uncertain times) and it will let me concentrate on college studies for a while (end of year projects coming up!).  Once I get that weight of my shoulders maybe I can more objectively look at the situation.

I'll let everyone know how the situation played out down the line!

Anon (considering the topic)
Friday, April 19, 2002

> Needless to say, the thought of learning JSP / Java and all that spec writing for the oncoming project on top of everything else fills me with dread

Next, as a programmer, you should be wetting your pants being able to learn a brand new skillset.
Something is very wrong with your picture.

Yea, take a vacation.  If it hasnt started in 14 months, it is not an urgent thing, no matter what they say.

Also, dont put the entire burden of a doomed project on youre head. Just do your part that is asked of you.

Your working a TWO DAY week??
That's unheard of!

Saturday, April 20, 2002

>> Your working a TWO DAY week??

I'm only getting paid for those two days. That's not necessarily unheard of - it's called part-time ;)

It's benefical to a small company when they haven't really got enough outside work to pay for a full-time position at the moment. Without the other project in the pipeline, I'd be canned in a minute...

Now normally it'd be a *very* bad thing to allow yourself to be put to a 2 day week but it does suit me for a month or two for the reasons outlined above...

You're correctly - normally I'd be delighted to learn Java (actually I do admit to liking it on the side ;) But it's not a black and white issue all the time you know...

Anon (considering the topic)
Sunday, April 21, 2002

My last job (before my present one) was as a contractor at a .com, fixing bugs in a system that they were in the process of rewriting from scratch, in a new programming language (moving from ASP to JSP/Java), on a new OS (moving to Solaris from NT), and with a new database system (moving to Oracle from SQL Server).

As a very junior contractor, I was not able to present sufficient visions of doom to management about this plan, so when my group had largely eliminated the large bug backlog, and when I had no interest in rewriting a system from scratch with unfamiliar tools, my contract wasn't renewed.

Despite being out of work for four months after that, it actually worked out pretty well for me; my current job pays better (by a large enough margin that moving to California was easily worth it), is more stable, and is more fun. And it doesn't snow in San Diego.

Dave Rothgery
Monday, April 22, 2002

>>>It's fine and actually fairly normal to have your weekdays filled with tedium and boredom as long as the weekends you go have fun.<<<

A lot of people can't live like that. I can't live like that. Spending in the area of eight hours a day in a state of boredom can easily ruin entire weeks or months for me.

When I think back on some the months I spend in the "boredom zone", I have a hard time remembering much else than the boredom. It's an energy sapper that'll tap all the creative juices out of you. At least that's how the boredom zone worked on me.

My advice? Do something today. Make social commitments to that accord by telling friends and family you're in the market for something new. This will in turn increase your momento in getting to the promised lands of Somewhere Better.

David Heinemeier Hansson
Tuesday, April 23, 2002

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