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First some context: I graduated college 3 months ago near the top of my class in Computer Science. Instead of going on to work at Google or Facebook or some similarly interesting company (like many other top performers in my class), I decided to take the first opportunity that came to me and work locally. I had a lot of reasons for this - no travel, burnt out on 60+ hour weeks, really needing a job out of college, etc. The job did not sound difficult, but I wanted a job and I was assured that the work I'd be doing was "more difficult than it sounds."

The first day I arrived at work, I was told what I'd be doing for the duration of my employment and frankly, it turned to be exactly as (non)difficult as it originally sounded.

Having been there three months, I can say my time was spent in a 70-30 split. 30% of the time, I did painfully trivial work. For all intents and purposes, their idea of programming amounted to filling out x and y values on glorified CSS sheets. The other 70% - and the part that really gets to me - was spent doing absolutely nothing. For the first few weeks, I would make rounds to my supervisor and the other developers asking - eventually even begging - for some task to do. The answer was always "sorry nothing yet, hang in there." Eventually I gave up on that, as it was clearly going nowhere.

Now, after accepting a much more interesting and (hopefully) fulfilling job elsewhere, I gave my 2 weeks notice, because I believed it was appropriate to do so. I mentioned that if they did not need me to stay for 2 weeks, I was okay with leaving early, though internally I was hoping they would simply let me go. That was on Monday, and they have not made any effort to take it further. In fact, they've done just as little acknowledging of my existence as they've done the entire time I've been here. All my files are in their git repo - in practice all I need to do to leave is hand in my key.

So, my question is, given that I'm doing exactly no work right now (and no one has any desire to give me any), is it inappropriate for me to tell them tomorrow that I've changed my mind and will be leaving immediately? If so, what's a good way to say it? I don't want to insult them, but I will not be putting my time here on my resume, nor will I be using them as a reference (how could I? I've done no work).

Please note that I can start my new job a week early if I want to, so time off isn't an issue. My main motive for wanting to leave early is simply that it borders on physically painful to be forced to waste such inordinate amounts of time.


Update: I spoke with my boss today, and basically said something to the effect of "I have no tasks, is it really necessary that I stay?" He seemed surprisingly fine with letting me go, but told me to talk to his boss, which I did. His boss did not seem too thrilled about the idea of me leaving, but there's a chance that he might go for it. I'll have to see what happens.

I also feel inclined to respond to everyone's different opinions. Hopefully the way I handled the situation was professional enough; it may not have been but that's in the past now. In response to the assertion that I should have used to the time to develop new skills: I did. I learned quite a lot while here, no thanks to any tasks they gave me to do, but there's still two issues I had with using this time. First, I could not make anything and therefore I still was not producing anything valuable to my resume, and whatever I made still would not have looked as good as true professional experience. Second, after a while (especially now), that has become difficult to do. Not having the freedom to actually code anything makes learning about a language progressively more difficult (and less fun).

As to why I took the job... there really isn't a good reason. This isn't a start-up, it's a moderate size company that does work so boring that when I explained what the company did on interviews (not even what I did) some interviewers laughed and didn't even bother to ask why I wanted to leave.

It's hard to explain exactly why I took the job - I asked myself that quite a bit - and I think the simple answer is that the offer came at I time when I was really burnt out on school, and I really just wanted something easy. In fact, I got the offer before I had really done any job hunting. On one hand, I could have started off somewhere better to begin with if I had waited, but at least by taking this job I had income while looking, so I don't think I actually regret taking it.

So, in conclusion, thank you everyone for the help.

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Not all companies have kick start kits for fresh employees. Having some slack time and trivial tasks the first weeks/months is quite common. I would have spent some more time and what a great oppurtunity to study new skills or similar. –  Petter Mar 26 at 22:07
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Congratulations! You now have two paid weeks to brush up on whatever you need for your next job! Use them wisely. –  kba Mar 27 at 1:06
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While I agree that first couple months could be boring with no tasks to do, but it seems you've lost your respect/passion for this company or position, and they are indeed valid concerns (out of curiosity why did they hire you in the first place when you weren't needed?). Your issue is no doubt repairable, but I can tell you've got your eyes on another job. Use your final two weeks to brush-up the skills necessary for your next good, act like a grownup (DON'T WALK OFF THE JOB, IT'S UNPROFESSIONAL), and most importantly, DON'T BURN YOUR BRIDGES. Good luck! –  theGreenCabbage Mar 27 at 14:53
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Since they are not giving you anything to do, make some work. Learn something new, make a little app that does something interesting to you. –  Bill Leeper Mar 27 at 16:37
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Someone from my office accepted another job, gave his two week's notice, but after a couple of days just left (badge and security fob we just found on his desk the Friday afternoon). He's now the butt of many office jokes, and I have personally told people at nearby conferences when they ask if I knew him that he doesn't have a good reputation at where I work. If you have any care of what other companies in the area think, I wouldn't do it... people talk, and word could get around that you're "that guy that just left." –  bhamby Mar 28 at 13:09

10 Answers 10

PLEASE DO NOT WALK OFF YOUR JOB! Seriously.

Stay for your two weeks' notice period. Doing anything else will be seen as unprofessional. In fact, it would be unprofessional. It sets a bad example for your co-workers, and ensures that your old bosses will remember nothing else about you than that. The world is too small for you to do that, even if it doesn't seem like it to you now.

If you genuinely have nothing to do, and you have internet access, spend your time doing some online reading / tutorials / etc for your next job.

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Great answer. It's a good excuse to learn a new skill on paid company time –  Shantnu Tiwari Mar 26 at 22:17
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Thinking about it now with a little bit of distance (I may have been a little bit rash after 8 straight hours of wasted time), you're right. I shouldn't burn this bridge, I've already been surprised once at who knew people from this company, and even if the people in the branch I worked in aren't going anywhere, the company itself may still be known in some circles. –  ThatGuy Mar 27 at 0:02
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I've been at a company where a junior developer gave 2 weeks notice, and then asked if he could start training at his new company a few days early. The managers said no, but he went anyway. They then complained about how unprofessional he was for months. –  JBCP Mar 27 at 21:07
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@ThatGuy I've been in a similar position before, and Ollie has it right. Take the time to learn a new skill. I spent two weeks learning Python when I had absolutely nothing to do at work. Turned out to be a great use of my time -- a very helpful new skill and, of course, a resume booster. –  asteri Mar 28 at 14:01

I agree with Ollie; however, I'll provide you with a story.

I've been at this for quite a bit longer than you. A couple years ago I decided I needed a change of pace after having worked with startups for many years and signed on with a pretty large company in financial services. They had 1,000 developers alone and this was about as different to my previous work experience as you could possibly get.

The interview was a grueling 8 hours filled with such questions as "design an object model for a monopoly game - don't worry about syntax." and the famous "round vs square manhole cover" one. Fun fun fun /sarcasm. Not once did they ask me a question about the language I code in.

Day 1: I was tasked with logging into the machine and ensuring my email worked.
Day 2: I was asked to help QA with a sql query - simple select.. didn't even need a join.
Day 3: I was asked to write an app for QA to test a web service. This took 45 minutes. QA was thrilled and didn't need any other features than what I gave them.
Days 4 through 10: my boss had absolutely nothing for me to do so I read various news sites. I checked in with him once every morning just to make sure.
Day 23: I am now confident I could work for msnbc or foxnews.
Day 30: I decide to start a new company and begin designing the software for it. My boss, whom I still check in with daily, still has nothing for me and seems completely unconcerned about it.

.....

Day 85: The team I'm on (20 people) has delivered their "product". Apparently they had taken 6 months to add a single web page to a customer facing app that collected some billing information. The tables were designed by another team. The actual billing system was also maintained by several other teams. This team's sole responsibility boiled down to about 200 lines of HTML, 1 style sheet and 400 lines of C# code. A pizza party is thrown by management as this represents the first time that team has delivered something on time. Ever. I try not to puke.

In the meantime I've designed a new software system I'm planning to sell and have written about 10k lines of code for it. (side note: I did this on my own laptop that I brought in, not their machines).

Day 90: about 100 developers are let go due to the mortgage crisis. I fully expected to be walked out. Somehow I wasn't, instead they gave me a "performance" raise of 20%. I was barely able to stifle the laughter until I was out of earshot.

Day 95: My boss' boss says I've done such a wonderful job that they are promoting me to a new team, "that QA testing service was pure gold!" he says... This means I move my desk about 10 cubes to the left and 20 back. After moving my effects I ask my new manager what he has for me. He says, and this is a direct quote, "Probably nothing for awhile. We pushed our stuff into testing yesterday and likely won't hear anything back for 2 months. So do whatever you want."

.....

Day 165: I stopped bothering to ask my boss if he has anything; I figured he would let me know. I've completed my application and actually made a few sales. They are large enough to replace my considerable salary, so I give my two weeks notice. Boss says don't worry about coming back in as it's doubtful anyone would notice so they would still pay me the two weeks. I wonder, aloud, how long the direct deposit of my checks would go on if I simply stopped showing up. He looked at me and pondered for a moment before saying, "That's actually a really good question.. Probably awhile."

====================================

Yes, that's a completely true story. The point is you actually had an option with what to do with your time had you stayed. The best thing to do, imho, would have been to just play with stuff. Build something and see how it works. Identify a need, within the company if possible, and solve it. There are very few companies out there that will give you that type of PAID free time and you don't need to just sit there.

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In this case it was all about attitude. I didn't try to "hide" my screen from anyone walking past, nor did I make constant furtive glances around me. Our cubes were the half height ones and the rooms were pretty large: about 400 cubes to a room. Had a manager walked up and actually made an inquiry I would have simply said that I was doing research then immediately asked if they needed me to take care of something for them. The thing was absolutely no one cared what I was doing. –  Chris Lively Mar 27 at 0:18
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A lot of contracts (here in the UK at least) say that the company owns anything done on their time or on their equipment. Some even try to claim things done in your own time although I've always crossed out that clause before signing! –  Tim B Mar 27 at 7:46
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+1000. Well done for taking control of your life while still remaining professional towards your "employer". –  Nomic Mar 27 at 9:12
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This is pretty dangerous, a lot of contracts will state that your employer own the IP of your product you are now selling, especially as it was developed during working hours. It's good to hear something good came out of this for you though. –  Joe Mar 27 at 11:36
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@zkent: Ya just gotta know how the game is played. I used to work for a small 'local' contracting house that was acquired by a big 'national' firm. The 'local' was pretty loose about things, with a pretty relaxed non-compete. When the 'national' came in they wanted everyone to sign their 'standard' non-compete/slavery contract. I said, "Cool - but I need to have my lawyer look at this first". "Fine, fine", they said, "just turn it in when you can". At the end of the week the guys from corporate left. The local office staff never asked for it. I never signed. :-) –  Bob Jarvis Mar 28 at 11:39

The other answers are correct in that walking off can be unprofessional in some scenarios.

However, the questions asked was "do I need to stay the full [notice period]"? And the answer to that is no, there is no requirement to stay the full notice period (or more generally, to do any work against your will). There may be some small penalties for not working the notice period (you certainly won't be paid for any of that time, and you'll lose any benefits that would have accrued during those days, and so on). But you are not obligated to work the notice period if you'd rather not.

So then on to the subject of professionalism. Walking off can be unprofessional or not depending upon the exact circumstances. For instance:

  1. If you've voluntarily resigned and there has been no misconduct on behalf of your employer (paying you to sit around and be bored is irritating, but it is not misconduct), then it's unprofessional.

  2. If you've been dismissed against your will and asked to serve your notice period, you have the option to choose if and how much of the notice period you would like to work. It is not unprofessional to walk off because you got a new job offer. In some locales (Australia, for instance), you are entitled to walk off and still receive benefits (but not wages) for the full notice period in this situation.

  3. If you've voluntarily resigned due to serious issues with your employer (think egregious safety violations, verbal abuse, etc.), then it's not unprofessional to walk off. Immediately removing yourself from a dangerous or abusive environment is the right thing to do.

Based on your question, it sounds like you're clearly in scenario #1. So walking off might not be the best idea. But if you've got an offer from another company and they want you to start immediately, you could always just bring the subject up with your boss and say "I've got an offer which requests my immediate availability, and we both know that I'm not really doing much around here; can I please end my notice period early?". Probably they'll go along with it (most employers know better than to try to keep someone who really doesn't want to be there).

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I strongly feel that if your employer (as most employers do) insisted on you sign an "at will" employment agreement, then your employer has not just agreed, but INSISTED that you may resign or be let go "at will" and no notice period is required. Such agreements are very standard, and state very clearly that you should neither expect to be given, nor be required to give any notice at all, and then usually end with a "please do". In my limited experience, employers live up to their part of the agreement and rarely give employees any advance notice of termination. So, assuming that your HR department made you sign the same papers that every other HR department makes everybody else sign, then you specifically do NOT have to stay the full two weeks (but please do).

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2 weeks' notice isn't related to at-will employment. The notice is generally to give the employer a lead time to look for a replacement, or have you train an existing employee to be your replacement. At-will termination is just that. –  Brian S Mar 27 at 16:53

It's your call whether to serve the notice period, per the other good advice given here. I would factor in their response(/lack of response) to the following suggested thing you should do before you leave:

Google used to give 20% time (to a few), but your employer gave you "70% time" (admittedly with no guidance, supervision or goals, which is demoralizing).

Why on earth did you not put that time to constructive use, figuring out which of their other problems needing solving was of interest to you, then learning some new skills to apply to that?

If your job was so trivial it could be automated by a monkey, or 30% of a monkey (as it sounds), then...

Suggestion: throw together a presentation for them on what bits they could/should automate, and what the productivity benefits/cost savings would be. (If their senior management don't even care to listen to that, then yes you're wasting your time, and the notice period sounds wasteful. But still, check in all your code and get them to sign off that you've done everything they expected.)

Motivation: This should give them something to remember you fondly by, and maybe even some future century when the Clue Train stops there they might even implement bits of it - but don't hold your breath.

I read a great checklist once of 'traits good employees have, or should aspire to' and the one struck me the most was 'always be thinking how to simplify/automate/obsolete your current job'.

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While I certainly agree, this doesn't answer the question being asked. Perhaps it should have been asked in the past, before he got to this point, and then this would be a good answer. –  thursdaysgeek Mar 27 at 16:53

My situation was rather unique, so it may or may not apply here. I had a new offer and I could start in 1 week or 5 weeks. I had an already planned vacation and I could not start the new job and then leave for 2 weeks.

I was also not doing much, we hadn't had any real work in some time and my current workload was fairly light. So I asked permission to give only 1 weeks notice.

They were not super happy, but knew I was leaving anyway and I assured them I could do some extra work after leaving (I was already remote, so doing some work evenings and weekends was no big deal).

Since they understood my predicament they let me go with the 1 weeks notice.

I should ad that this didn't burn any bridges and they even threw me some paid contract work here and there over the subsequent year or so.

Your situation sounds like you would be fine asking, but since they are not really working with you now, they may not agree.

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I have hired people in the past. One thing I always take note is if that individual is employed, what kind of notice (delay until they can start) they give.

If they ask two weeks that's good. They follow up with their obligations, I can trust they will do the same for me and this speaks well for their professionalism.

If the person just cuts and runs generally that makes me far more weary of their behavior at the beginning. It could be their situation was that bad and lack of notice wasn't unreasonable, but I'll be more watchful for ques that could indicate a job flipper or unreliable person. Now if they go longer (which does happen) It's a mixed situation... usually a plus on professionalism to take the time to train their replacement or see a project through, but I watch to see if they are actually interested in the job or just chasing money...

TLDR, in your situation you should probably serve your full notice time.

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I want to disabuse you of the notion that you won't have to let anyone know that you ever had a position at this company. There are plenty of good employers that will require you to strictly account for all of your time over the last n years, providing references to corroborate your account. For example, the e-QIP guide, section 6.3.6, demands that you:

  • Enter information for all of your employment activities, including unemployment and self-employment beginning with the present and working back 10 years. There must be no date gaps.

This is required for positions of public trust in the US federal government, its contractors, etc.

Don't assume you can keep your past employment a secret. Even if your intent is not to deceive, failing to disclose a complete employment history could be misinterpreted easily. You should volunteer the information and have a ready explanation. That gives you control over the situation instead of making a harmless bit of history seem significant by its omission.

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I think its clear that "professionalism" dictates that you do your best to work the two weeks notice, however I feel it should be mentioned that "at will" employment works both ways. I had a recruiter explain to me that the definition of "at will" meant that either you or the employer can terminate the employment at any time, for any reason.

From this, he warned me that once you put in your two week's notice, there is nothing stopping the company from walking you out of the building immediately. I had this happen to me once and I had negotiated a starting date for two weeks with my new employer and they weren't ready for me to start early so I lost two weeks of income.

So be ready to 1) support yourself for two weeks or 2) start new job early if able.

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Also, as @zkent said, they can say great you're giving two weeks notice, but we don't need you so we're going to go ahead all call it done. Plenty of perfectly legitimate reasons this could happen: IT person with access to cause harm to company, DB admin that could cause harm, HR person with sensitive access to information, salesperson who might try to poach customers, programmer with sensitive software that he might try to backdoor, access to safes/building codes, access to tills, ability to adjust timesheets, many many more specific possibilities.... –  PsychoData Mar 31 at 15:55

Please don't walk off early. As others have mentioned, the world is pretty small and your reputation can follow you around. Plus, if you leave on good terms, your manager may even offer to be a reference for future jobs. (Every job I've applied to has asked for references.)

In your last week or so, spend your spare time learning whatever technology your next job will require, hacking up some personal project you've always wanted to do, or reading good books on software engineering (like Code Complete). It's only 1 week - don't let it get to you.

Now, this next part doesn't answer your question, but I feel I have to blurt this out:

I also graduated from a good computer science program about 4 years ago, and my first piece of advice would have been to start off with a good company (Google, Facebook). I started off with a "big company" then went into the startup world, and now am at a big company again.

My experiences have led me to believe that, although you may learn more and do more at a startup, the reputation that a name-brand company gives you pays off in the long run. (It's ironic, and it's not fair, but that's unfortunately how the world works.) Also, you gain an idea of different management styles and professional practices (non-engineering stuff) at big companies.

Now, another reason to first join a name-brand company - just take a look at the featured startups on AngelList. What do they list as their qualifications? That's right - name-brand companies and top universities. Even startups themselves, although claiming to be more nimble and less cruft-ridden than big companies, rely on them for recognition. So if you ever move into the startup world, you would be much better at attracting investors/clients with Google or Facebook on your resume.

Another piece of advice: Find "hard" work that utilizes the most out of your CS degree. I was also in a position modifying CSS elements, but those jobs are going to quickly be dominated by non-CS degree holders. (There are now "boot camps" which teach people with no CS experience web/mobile development in 8 weeks, and such.)

Just some food for thought - you seem like a bright young person, so use your time wisely!

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