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Background: I recently graduated from college with a Software/Computer Engineering degree. Right after my degree I started working at a consultant firm (about three months ago). Our firm usually gets projects in the Automotive, MedTech or Defense industries. The last mentioned includes working with weapons. I told my then-to-be boss during my job interview that I am reluctant to work in the defense industry and working with weapons directly is a big 'no-no'.

At the time my boss mentioned that a lot of his employees share the same view and that it wouldn't be a problem since "the demand for computer engineers outweighs the supply".

Fast forward to today and it turns out that most of our clients don't want to hire a green 'straight-from-school' consultant. The only projects that don't have this prerequisite are those involving weapons!

I am noticing that my boss is getting more frustrated by the day (not with me personally, we get along just great) since he's under pressure from his bosses to make a profit. My boss has told me, when I expressed reluctance to working with a weapons project:

"If you don't take on this project, we might have to fire you. You can only pick and choose depending on what's on the table. Right now this is it. If enough time passes and a newly hired consultant isn't put on a project, then his/her employment is terminated since keeping him/her on without a project can't be justified."

I know that if I start with the project it will be a step ladder for future projects, but I won't give up my morals. However, I really like my company and get along great with the people here (other than the weapons aspect I can see myself doing a long-term career here).

When I tell him "No, I won't take on this project" how can I make sure that my relations stay good (either as a continued employee or when I need him for future reference for my next job application)?

Edit: What I need help with is mitigating the bad blood that can come between me and my boss due to my decision. I want to make sure that my utmost respect for my boss is mutual (and in the long run beneficial for future work - no matter if it's at the present company or another).

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What I need help with is mitigating the bad blood that can come between me and my boss due to my decision.

I don't think there is anything to mitigate. I see no evidence he has a problem with your position; I suspect he admires your principles.

There is going to come a point when he has to fire you. You will make life much easier for him if you can find a new job before that happens (and I am pretty sure he will give you a decent reference). You will make life a bit easier for him if you tell him that you understand if you haven't found a job, but he does fire you.

In most cases, I would advise against telling anyone you were looking for a new position; in this case, I suspect he will be relieved (and is quite likely to push back a bit harder against pressure to fire you before you've found a new position).

It's doubtful that your ethical stand will negatively affect forward references. You seem to have a good boss, so it's likely that your work ethic will be positively reported rather than your personal ethic.

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    @vikingsteve : Because he did good work on the internal project he was assigned to, and because it's not the OP's fault that the employer only has projects that the OP had told the employer he wasn't prepared to work on before they hired him. – Martin Bonner Nov 21 '17 at 10:09
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    @vikingsteve And because it sounds like his manager has a good opinion of him. – MissMonicaE Nov 21 '17 at 14:43
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    @vikingsteve Where does it say that he's never been on a project? They must have had some non-military projects at the time he was hired, since they said his preference wasn't a problem, but things have changed since then. – Barmar Nov 21 '17 at 15:32
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    @Barmar You are spot on. I don't know any specific numbers other than that, in general, a minority of the project offers have come from the defense industry. This is to some extent still the case, but what has changed is that a lot fewer companies in other industries are welcoming towards "fresh/green" developers. I get a sense/feeling that my manager was unprepared for this, seemingly rapid, shift in demand. – ledwinder96 Nov 21 '17 at 15:49
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    @ledwinder96 To be clear: do you have actual project experience at this company or none at all, save for an internal project? (Good of you to reply to comments by the way, but we also encourage you to add any relevant info that you add to comments to your question.) – Lilienthal Nov 21 '17 at 21:00
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Your boss has already answered this for you:

"If you don't take on this project, we might have to fire you. You can only pick and choose depending on what's on the table."

You either take what's on the table, or look for employment at other companies that meet your moral expectations.

You can pretty much assume that since there's a weapons project on the table now, there's going to be more in the future and you'll be faced with this situation all over again.

If you really can't work on these projects, it's implicit that you can't work for a company that involves itself with these projects.

As for mitigating the bad blood between you and your manager, I'm not sure there's much you can do. It sounds as though he has respect for your ethics (and did from the start), but the business has to follow the trend in projects and there's nothing he can do about that.

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    I agree - the nature of working for a consulting firm is that you'll work with a range of clients across various industries, and not all of them are morally unambiguous (fossil-fuel energy? mining? pharma? banking?). You'll continue to have this problem. – strmqm Nov 20 '17 at 16:16
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    Moral objection to tools/weapons is all well and good, but as a straight-out-of-school graduate with no experience and no projects to put in you portfolio, you will eventually have to choose between a self-imposed political disagreement or food. Your boss has been more than accommodating with you, but at the end of the day consulting firms can only work with the contracts they have, and you don't have enough pull to pick and choose – Thomo Nov 20 '17 at 22:36
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    This is what we call a "bad fit." +1 – jpmc26 Nov 20 '17 at 23:04
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    @Thomo Your boss has been more than accommodating with you: summarizes the issue entirely. It's not the duty of the employer to create new work for an employee. This is another case of about 90% of the questions on this site: learn to live with it, or find new work. – DevNull Nov 21 '17 at 0:35
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    If you leave with a gracious "This job isn't a good fit for me, so I'm moving on, but I really appreciate everything you've done to accommodate me" I don't think there will be any bad blood. – MissMonicaE Nov 21 '17 at 14:42
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You can only pick and choose depending on what's on the table. Right now this is it.

Third option: Put more stuff on the table. When there is a risk that you get fired because they don't have any projects for you, then try to come up with a project yourself.

See what business your company is doing in the other areas and check if you have any idea how those could be improved. You might also prove your worth by proposing an internal project which improves the company processes. Internal projects are a great way to "earn your wings" because failure won't have many external consequences. They also improve your visibility in the company because your name will be associated with a software which will stay in use in your company (projects usually get forgotten after they are completed).

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    Thanks for your answer! I have been working on an internal project since I started here. But just as Snow pointed out, it's a matter of how long I can keep on doing that. Sooner rather than later I'm gonna have to start earning some bucks for the company. – ledwinder96 Nov 20 '17 at 16:22
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    As a consultant... the only reason to have OP in the company is to make a profit. At the end of the day, OP provides $0 for the company even if OP is improving internal services. Typically on downtime, it's fine for consultants to improve internal processes... but if it's ALWAYS a downtime then it's definitely time for people to be let go. – dphil Nov 20 '17 at 17:24
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    @dphil, I don't think it's that black and white. You can contribute to profitability even if you aren't directly billable. I once worked at a consulting company with an engineer who built a tool which we used while working on client projects. This tool greatly improved our efficiency when building bespoke solutions. This allowed the company to be significantly more profitable yet this engineer never worked directly for a client or on a client project. – cdkMoose Nov 20 '17 at 19:15
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    @dphil If your argument were true, then HR departments wouldn't exist. IT departments wouldn't exist. Heck, management that isn't customer facing wouldn't exist. Internal work still provides value that helps the company make money. – jpmc26 Nov 20 '17 at 23:05
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    Some consulting/contracting companies will keep proven consultants on the bench for a short time between contracts, doing internal work. But not indefinitely. One of the trade-offs you make when going the contracting/consulting route is understanding this. (Note in the US the typical "at-will" contract offers only slightly more job security than this - mostly via higher costs to the employer to handle bullet-proof paperwork when getting rid of an employee, which leads to slightly more reluctance to fire during a slow down. Consulting/contracting firms are just more up-front about it.) – davidbak Nov 21 '17 at 2:27
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Happily, there is no problem here:

  1. There is a huge amount of work around for competent software engineers at the moment

  2. These days it is normal that software engineers move often. It is unremarkable. When you say bye to a boss, or conversely you let someone go - it's like having a cup of coffee. Nobody is annoyed or surprised.

  3. Of course, you never want to work on weapons.

  4. As someone has said in the comments, once you do one project on weapons, you're a "weapons person", you'll fall in to that field. Don't start.

  5. Military work has only moderate pay at best, just move on.

So,

"I need help with is mitigating the bad blood that can come between me and my boss..."

Fortunately it is a non-issue.

You'll say "oh - best if I leave this company. it's been awesome thanks!" And that's it.

Note that conversely if Boss wanted to get rid of you (for any reason), Boss would just politely say "Oh sorry, this role is over as of Friday - thanks for your time!"

He wouldn't worry that "you'd be mad at him".

You have no concerns at all here.


To try to answer your literal question:

"How to maintain a good relationship with boss .. when I leave?"

You're language could be like this ...

You know with the weapons project, I realized what you've said all along was right, I'm just not suitable for the company. You were right! As you said, I can't really pick and choose, it doesn't help anyone. Really, you were correct I've learned a valuable lesson. Nevertheless, it's been really incredible working for you - and aren't Stevie and Jane great! - I'm so thankful for all the technical and career advice I've gotten from you. Thank you!

It always pays to be polite to folks who are/were senior to you. Notice you can rather turn it around and "thank" boss for suggesting it.

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    I believe (and correct me if I'm wrong) that your point of view stems from being an established and experienced developer. But given my lack of experience (as of this point I have 3 months worth on an "in house" project), do I really have "no concerns at all"? Maybe I'm being pessimistic, but I believe that if I want to have a new job in the next 5 minutes I'm going to have to be noticably different from all the other engineers on the market! Right? – ledwinder96 Nov 22 '17 at 15:18
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    dude, I recently hired (we were so desperate) an (admittedly truly brilliant) guy OUT OF THE MIDDLE OF COLLEGE, ie he HAD NOT EVEN FINISHED THE DEGREE, for a really really AWESOME salary (come to think THE GUY WAS A TEENAGER OFFICIALLY) and then he LEFT because (of course) he got much more money elsewhere (after I think 8 or so? weeks) Heh! of course that's just one anecdote. But, yes, quite simply, you are being pessimistic, you'll get a job in a flash. – Fattie Nov 22 '17 at 15:21
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    30 year software professional here. I understand the lack of votes, since this isn't a general answer, but this is in fact the answer. I've done a lot of defence work in my life, but I once drew the line and turned down a job offer that would have had me helping make smartbombs. I've never regretted that decision, and never been a day unemployed, in the 20 years since. If you don't mind relocating, there's plenty of work out there, probably with a raise in it for you. – T.E.D. Nov 22 '17 at 20:32
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    Software engineer here, left university with a degree 5 years ago and couldn't find a job for 12 months! I couldn't afford to leave home or buy a car so any job had to be within 2 hours on public transport of which there were simply no jobs for graduates. Landed on my feet since through a stroke of luck but anyone who tells you that you should have no concerns has a very narrow view of the world and is likely very lucky to live somewhere where there are more jobs than applicants. This is not the case for everyone! – Lord Jebus VII Nov 23 '17 at 17:48
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    I would take most of these comments on how lush the software engineer market is with a grain of salt- It really depends on the market for the type of software you're in & the number of other candidates you're competing with. As others mentioned in this thread, it's possible to be out of work for some time before finding a new position, yet for others (Depending on their skillset when working in the wide software industry) it can be very easy to find new work. I'd completely disagree with the notion that "no one is annoyed with quitting or letting someone go" - That's just a ridiculous thought – schizoid04 May 22 '18 at 21:45
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You've been cheated. They told you it's not a problem so you would sign the contract, probably dismissing other offers at that time. Now there is no other way than taking on those projects, sure. They either knew about it when hiring you or they now don't care. They don't have to, it's a business deal, take it or find another job.

You could also ask if you can get involved in the project finding process, helping to find more projects in the desired industries, usually customers like talking to someone who is not just repeating empty phrases but actually knows what can be done.

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    There is no reason to presuppose they lied or don't care. It is entirely possible that the hiring manager simply did not consider that the OP's inexperience would be problematic in finding contracts. – jpmc26 Nov 20 '17 at 23:08
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    Consulting/contracting outfits have different arrangements with their employees and the company and employees have different expectations with each other, than in the "traditional" employer/employee setup. And it is incumbent on the employee to know this before signing up. OP was not cheated. This is the way the business works. E.g. suppose I'm a C++ guy, currently working on a C++ job through a company that mainly has Java clients. In that case when my current position at the current client is over ... so's my job unless I convince someone I can also do Java... (This is hypothetical.) – davidbak Nov 21 '17 at 2:32

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