I’ve only held three full-time software development jobs since graduating from college, including my current one. The second one was supposed to be my big breakthrough, my time to shine and become part of a well-oiled team of kickass programmers.
That was not what happened.
What actually happened was six months of frustration that ended with me sobbing in my car. This is a story about ignoring red flags, feeling like an outsider, and how while desperate unhappiness drove me to seek a better employer, refusing to sacrifice my personal time (and my refusal to see the warning signs) got me fired from it.
Missing the Warning Signs
Two years into my first job out of college I became immensely unsatisfied with my current role. I was the only programmer on a group of non-technical people, and not having a team to work with was really getting to me. I just wasn’t happy in my work. I felt that I needed to find another job before my sanity suffered, and so I started sending out applications.
The first company that contacted me, a small four-person team, set up a phone interview which went well enough. The CEO of this company told me that they were a Microsoft shop, and that they were looking for a young developer that could slot right into their team and “hit the ground running.”
He asked me why I wanted to switch to a different employer, and I told him that I was sick of working by myself and wanted to work in a team environment. He stressed that his shop was very much a team that worked together on all their projects.
I asked him what the work hours were like, and he told me they were a strict 40 hours a week, with occasional Saturdays for bug fixes and emergency changes. He said that when those emergencies came up, I’d be expected to pull my weight like the rest of the team.
I asked about salary, and he told me that he was willing to pay me $X. I told him that I was already making that at my current job, but he said I should be glad to take $X because I would be “doing what I loved to do.” I countered at $Z. We finally settled on $Y, somewhere between $X and $Z, and he emailed me the offer sheet for me to sign.
Did you catch all the red flags? I didn’t. I was so blinded by my dissatisfaction at my current job that this new opportunity seemed like a great improvement: I got to work in a team, I got a raise, and I got an office. It seemed like a dream come true.
My wife was not convinced. From her perspective, I’d gone from a cushy job in a huge multi-national to a position where I was much less secure in my employment. We’d just bought a house and had a 1.5-year-old son, and I was going to risk their financial safety simply because I was unhappy? Not only that, but I was going to take the first gig offered and not even look for others? How selfish I was.
In hindsight she was absolutely right, but at the time I didn’t care; I was desperate to get out of my current job. The same day I concluded the phone interview and got the offer sheet, I submitted my two weeks’ notice.
That’s Just Part of the Job
The first day at the new office went really well. The CEO was very nice, and my teammates were quite knowledgeable about their work. The building had a kitchen, fully stocked with coffee, soda, water, and snacks, and we were free to take whatever we needed at any time. We also frequently went out to team lunches, which were quite wonderful; it was something I’d never gotten to do previously.
The first few days were pretty nice. After that, though, things started going downhill.
The boss began calling me into the office on Saturdays. Usually he would tell me this on Friday afternoon, which immediately cancelled any plans I had made for the weekend.
The first few times this happened I just went to the office and did my work, but as it started happening more regularly I started pushing back, requesting more notice so that I wouldn’t have to keep cancelling my plans. He never did give me more notice, and refused to offer compensation days during the week. I was OK with doing occasional Saturdays if there really was an emergency, but I was needing to come to the office every weekend and was receiving no compensation for it. He told me it was “just part of the job”, and that didn’t sit well with me.
About three months after I started working in this new position, I realized that I was always the first one to leave the office. I had a wife and small child at home, and didn’t want to miss time with them. But everyone else, even the people that had families, were working 10 or 12 hour days, 6 days a week, every week. I simply refused to sacrifice my personal time for the benefit of the company, and so I was always the first one out the door.
They never said it out loud, but I got the distinct feeling that I wasn’t really part of the team because I didn’t stay late. My noticing this triggered another horrible realization: I was yet again an outsider, trapped back in the hell I had tried to escape from. I was on a team, but not a part of it.
For the time being, I continued to work there for two reasons: because I was the sole breadwinner for my household, and because it had been my idea in the first place to change jobs. I had put myself and my family through some big changes, and now I felt that I had to lie in the bed I had made.
Silence was the Right Choice
One day, I was summoned to the building’s conference room where the CEO and two other employees were waiting. I was asked to close the door behind me, and was promptly told by the CEO that I was being let go, effective immediately.
I don’t think I said a word for a good five minutes; my brain was short circuiting, unprepared to deal with what had just happened. I meekly asked why, and they said that I wasn’t a good fit for the team, that I didn’t mesh well, and that I wasn’t ready and willing to share the workload. They said that I would still receive my last paycheck, but that I needed to gather my things and leave.
I asked if I could have done anything differently, and they said yes. They said that if I was able to make some changes, they would keep me on. They’d thrown a lifeline to me, and now willed me to grab it and hold on. But the lifeline was threaded with thorns, and it was painful to grab, so I refused it and didn’t say anything.
I mentally criticized myself for staying silent. You idiot! Say something! You can still keep this job that you gambled your family’s safety on! Just say you’ll change, that you’ll stay late, work weekends, whatever they want. Go on. Say it!
I couldn’t say it. The fact was that I was not willing to put in the extra hours, not willing to come in on weekends, not willing to sacrifice my personal time for the benefit of this company. They saw it as not wanting to be a team player; I saw it as attempting to retain my sanity. All of this “be like us, or else” bull was just not something I was going to do. In the back of my mind, I knew that my silence was the right choice.
But in the moment, I felt like a failure, more so than I ever have before or since. This huge risk I’d taken was now backfiring, and my family would be the ones paying the price.
I left the conference room, gathered my stuff, and headed out the back door to the parking lot. I had worked a grand total of six months in this new position.
I shuffled to my car, tossed my things into the back seat, and tearfully called my wife to tell her I’d been fired. It was one of the most humbling conversations I’ve ever had. I had to admit to the person I loved most that I’d been a fool, that I’d been blinded by my desperation, and that now the entire family had to scramble to make up for my mistake. My illusion of invincibility was now totally, irrevocably shattered, replaced by guilt and regret.
I was very lucky that I was only out of work for two weeks before I got hired at my current place of employment. It was only after working at my current job for a year that I realized that being fired from that company was the best thing that could have happened to me in that situation. I was glad to be gone from there, and wondered why the hell I’d ever thought working there was a good idea.
What about you, dear readers? Did desperation cause you to take a job you ended up regretting? Did your team need you to work extra regularly, did you do it, and how did that work out? Let me know in the comments!
About the Author
This article was written by Matthew Jones, an ASP.Net and Microsoft-stack lead developer who loves programming and teaching. He has his own blog. see more.