156

Background:

I work at a small company where I am the currently the sole developer. I am planning to leave on a certain date in the near future, and do not wish to reveal this information to my management until absolutely necessary.

I approached my boss about hiring a junior developer, who I planned would grow to replace me when I leave, but due to budgetary restrictions the company is unable to provide more than a below-average salary for the junior position. Because of this, we are not able to find a candidate who would be able to quickly take on my responsibilities.

I am also the only person in the company that would be qualified to interview a potential candidate.

To further complicate things, our company's clients rely on my work to meet their own deadlines and goals. I will thus be putting many people in a bad position if I suddenly depart without first training somebody on my project.

Given the circumstances, is it reasonable for me to leave without finding a replacement for my position?

  • 28
    @BenBarden Revealing that he intends to leave soon means that he could be let go before he has a job offer in hand, which is quite unnecessary. – Jonast92 Feb 4 at 17:17
  • 25
    @Jonast92 especially if he is in the USA. You don't have an official notice period, unless dictated by a contract. My ex wife was let go on the day of her notice for her last job, it happens often. – Retired Codger Feb 4 at 17:19
  • 16
    I recognize that it is not mandatory, but some people do prefer to go above and beyond what is mandatory. From the tenor of the question, it seemed that the OP might be one of them. At this point, pretty much all of the viable ways to soften the blow for the company he's leaving involve letting them know early... so I ask. That's especially the case because if they've somehow made it hard for him to tell them early, that's another reason for the OP to feel justified in just letting them deal with it. – Ben Barden Feb 4 at 17:24
  • 66
    @BenBarden OP can stress the importance of not being the sole link of the operation. He can help them understand that (almost) no one works for the same company forever and if he were to suffer an accidents of some sort, or get sick, they'd be screwed. This way he can get them to take action and if they ignore his reasonings, they don't deserve the heads up in the first place. Putting yourself at risk as a way to implement damage control for a company is absurd. Sure, help them understand the importance and help with with the process while employed by them, but don't put paychecks on the line. – Jonast92 Feb 4 at 17:26
  • 37
    Yup "I feel bad about leaving" is a common duplicate on this site. The answer is always "Don't be silly." – Fattie Feb 4 at 17:39

16 Answers 16

351

Yes it is reasonable to leave without finding a replacement. The fact that the company has not properly planned for the case of an employee leaving for whatever reason is not your concern. Also, somebody at the company hired you so they certainly can hire your replacement.

Especially if you give notice, if the company will not start to search for a replacement it's a problem for them. Besides you can't negotiate the pay of the new employee: if their offers are too low even if you endorse someone and personally write a reference this doesn't mean the candidate will accept.

  • 72
    This is the answer I would have given. After all, you could die or be severely injured and unable to work, which produces the same situation. – GOATNine Feb 4 at 19:25
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    @GOATNine: This is the right answer, but I don't entirely agree with your reasoning. Sometimes we have no choice but to do X, but that doesn't automatically make it OK to do X when we do have a choice. (Example #1: it's not usually OK to give zero notice when quitting, even though the impact is similar to a death or severe injury that can happen with zero notice. Example #2: it's not usually OK to take a sudden vacation without notice, even though the impact is similar to being out sick without notice.) – ruakh Feb 4 at 20:19
  • 12
    This question truly reminds me of a similar question, where the best answer was something in the line of: "Bus factor; if they can't plan the fact that you can disappear anywhere anytime, it's their problem, not yours." – Clockwork Feb 4 at 23:17
  • 8
    @ruakh The question isn't about right or wrong, it's about responsibility. The company is responsible for replacing lost competencies, not the employee leaving. As an employee in this very position last March, I left with the standard 2 week notice, and made every effort to train a replacement before I left. From what I understand, the program I was a part of collapsed after I left. I'm not responsible for the shortcomings of the company, or for the program failing after I left. – GOATNine Feb 5 at 12:36
  • 7
    You are a developer, not a company principle. You are hired and fired at will. You are free to leave, without constraints. If you are really concerned about the gap you leave, you could offer contract availability, say 4 to 6 hours on several Saturdays to help transition. – mongo Feb 6 at 15:19
128

Employees tend to see themselves as productive and a integral part of any organization. Should they leave, they feel as if their departure will spell doom for the past employer.

Such statement is false. Despite our desire to feel important, we're not. A company can go on without us and we shouldn't feel obligated to "help." They will do fine without you, as painful as that is to swallow. You should do as you shall do to do what you need to do to get where you need to go.

If you feel you must, go ahead and ask your manager if there's anything he/she would like you to do before you leave. My advice is leave behind a nice doc for the next person with any sort of gotcha's, username/password, or whatnot.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Snow Feb 6 at 16:11
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    This isn't necessarily true. If the business is small enough an employee leaving unexpectedly could kill the company. It's not the employee's fault of course, but it doesn't change the fact that they employee was crucial to the business' success. But with the exception of very small companies (or perhaps extremely poorly run larger companies?) this is good advice. – Clonkex Feb 7 at 3:58
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    This was described to be thusly; 1) stick your hand in a bucket of water, 2) pull your hand out of the water, 3) see how long the void you leave lasts. Just about anybody is replaceable, but the mechanism doesn't kick-in and make itself visible until the need arises. – uhoh Feb 7 at 16:03
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    @uhoh now do the same with the bucked of snow. Or honey. It's really not uncommon when some important knowledge is focused in a few individuals those leave may have a significant business impact. Especially in development where more often than not a new hire, even a genius one and with a good mentor, can't become productive until he spends enough time familiarizing themselves with the existing processes. – Dan M. Feb 7 at 17:19
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    @uhoh So according to your waterproof analogy, QuadrigaCX will be just fine, because everybody is replaceable, including the person with the single key to cold storage? (assuming the official story, but hey since you claim this holds in every situation, it must work for this one too, right?) – Voo Feb 7 at 20:31
46

You're never responsible for your company being unprepared for your leaving. Don't let guilt stop you from advancing your career.

Your company will figure something out.

  • 40
    or if they don't, it is not your problem. – emory Feb 5 at 0:49
43

I'm going to go against everyone here who just says a flat-out "no, you are not responsible."

You mentioned that it's a small company and many startups have crumbled from this type of thing.

It isn't right for the company to put you in this sort of situation, so you can probably leave them to their fate, guilt-free.

However, if they expressed in advance that you would have such a crucial position, then the ethical thing to do would be to be upfront about intending to leave (you don't need to give too much detail), and hopefully you can work together to smooth the transition in a way that works out for everyone. If you signed up for a critical role and bail, then yes, you probably should feel bad about possibly ruining multiple businesses.

In an ideal world, every company has room to increase their "bus-factor", but in reality, contrary to most of the other answers, that can't always be accomplished (or may have been considered during risk-management and found to be the less optimal route).

※bus-factor: Number of people that can be hit by a bus before your company/project is completely screwed.

EDIT
I figured out what the key themes seem to be here.
Answers and commenters don't seem to think that OP has any influence on the world or those around them.

Yes, I acknowledge that there is also a false sense of importance that many people fall into:
Despite the fact that they could quit on Friday and be replaced by Monday.
But this is a small business,
with clients who depend on OP for their OWN deadlines. OP has significance. OP matters. Some of you might matter too.
Fun exercise, think about what might actually happen if you quit tomorrow.

Another key theme seems to be that people here suggest that OP lookout only for their own personal interests.
It IS possible to act in the interest of someone other than yourself. Believe me, I did it once and it didn't ruin my life.

  • 4
    Employee's responsibility is to provide the best work according to their knowledge and standards. It's not to save the company. The company responsibility is to ensure their business continuity. Being a start-up doesn't change a bit in that responsibility. – Ister Feb 5 at 10:46
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    @Ister Employees are supposed to act, in the execution of their job, in the best interest of the business. Not just "provide the best work". No business is going to keep template replacements on standby in case X, Y, Z person leaves at a moment's notice, nor would we expect them to. That's why notice periods exist. It's completely normal to help with a transition. – Lightness Races in Orbit Feb 5 at 11:00
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit "Employees are supposed to act, in the execution of their job, in the best interest of the business". Corollary: Employees can act, outside the execution of their job, in their own best interest. – kubanczyk Feb 5 at 12:27
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    @Mars Transaction is an exchange. One was the written one: work exchanged for money. The second implicit transaction was: company supplied some opinions or feelings. Company vaguely hoped OP would on their side of exchange deliver "work here until successfully replaced", but OP can as well now supply "feeling guilty after leaving", as well as some opinions ("Nah, I think customers have other options in their sleeves" and whatnot). That will clear it too. To me it seems a better outcome in terms of both economy and ethics. – kubanczyk Feb 5 at 14:11
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    There may well be many people's livelihoods on the line. If that's the case, it's the company's obligation to ensure their livelihoods by hiring additional people or providing some financial security. If that didn't happen, its clients are responsible for having accepted the risk of depending upon it. If OP had a contract stating that their employment was mission critical and requiring XYZ notice, OP wouldn't be asking the question. In the absence of such a contract, OP is not bound by whatever terms we might imagine for it. Insurance and contract law exist for a reason. – Tiercelet Feb 5 at 17:14
26

Yes, it is completely reasonable for you to leave without having found them a replacement. You acted in good faith, you tried, they have rejected your attempts, the results are on them.

You might however try again in the vein of "what if I got run over by a bus/won the lottery?". Say you feel queasy about being such a company bottleneck, the lone resource in an important area. And that you need help, because you probably do. But don't even hint that you're thinking of leaving, since management already sounds a bit short-sighted, they could easily march you out the door in a snit.

Something else you can do to soothe your conscience is to work hard on documentation before you quit. See if you can clarify the code with some well-placed explanatory comments. If they end up hiring someone who even has no overlap with you at all, they will be utterly grateful. And it might be even more useful than any oral instructions you can impart since the effects will be more long-term.

  • 2
    + for Bus Factor – Mawg Feb 5 at 8:04
  • You didn't help in finding a replacement. You asked for a junior assistant. You leave - they're stuck with a trainee with no-one to train him. Either come clean, or stop interfering. – Laurence Payne Feb 6 at 12:37
  • I would change that vein to offering to trade an increased notice period on both sides. The basic reason not to give notice before you must is that the company could make you leave before you want to; this way you can give notice earlier and give them more time to find a replacement without that risk. – Phil H Feb 7 at 10:59
  • but any talk of notice period means you're thinking of leaving.. – George M Feb 7 at 17:57
17

Given the circumstances, is it reasonable for me to leave without finding a replacement for my position?

I think it's reasonable. This isn't your responsibility.

That being said, how much do you value your relationship with this company and do you want to maintain that relationship after you leave? If the answer is yes, then it might make sense to inform them of your plans and let them know that you'll assist them in any way you can in finding your replacement.

  • 3
    If OP is certain that the current employer is not going to fire him or make his life hard, this would be worth considering. Otherwise, it's extra risk for OP without a commensurate reward. Nobody rational would hold something like this against OP. – David Thornley Feb 4 at 19:26
7

Your employer has chosen to not have a fall-back (for whatever reason) when you are not available. This is shortsighted and could cost them.

What would happen today if you leave for lunch and get into a car accident - leaving you unable to work for several months? What happens when you go on vacation?

There is an old saying:

Your failure to plan in not a crisis on my part.

What can you do? You've already tried to bring in someone else. Beyond that, system documentation should be complete. Someone will be taking your place after you leave - having documentation will help them transition.

  • What sort of fallback do you envisage for this situation? Having a backup user99151 on the books 24/7 so they can step in at a moment's notice? An unexpected event like a car crash is unfortunate and there should be enough policy in place to handle this in the most efficient way possible, but it's always going to be disruptive: that's not really an excuse to cause disruption when you have a choice. – Lightness Races in Orbit Feb 5 at 11:02
6

It is definitely reasonable. You, as an employee, are not responsible for the continuity of your employer's business. It is not your problem if they fail to see the implications of their main developer leaving. Depending on your notice period, your employer might have enough time to hire someone and have them brought up to - a certain - speed by you. If you really care, you can discuss this when you hand in your notice and discuss this in a productive way with your employer.

But remember to set certain limits for yourself in regards to your employer trying to persuade you to stay longer in case no valid replacement can be found, etc.

  • 1
    IMO this is even better than the sf02's answer that currently has most upvotes. You may consider adding that if the company cannot find anyone for replacement during the notification period in time to enable their serious training (which is quite likely), then OP should agree with the management that most of their time during the notification will be spent on creating/improving the documentation te reduce negative impact. Again, this is not your decision to take. If you manager tells you to continue on delivery of new staff, it's their problem if as a result they end up with corrupted business – Ister Feb 5 at 10:55
6

Most answers so far see only parts of the whole.

Legally speaking, you have no obligation whatsoever to look for a replacement or, in fact, do anything at all to ensure that the company survives your departure. That is all very clearly a management responsibility. They should be prepared for you suddenly not being there, not just because you could exit the company but also because serious accidents are a thing and you could disappear for months or forever with no warning at all because of one.

Morally speaking, it is a small company that relies on you and will most likely be hit hard if you leave on short notice. Typically, the right thing to do would be to give them notice as early as possible, but from your question you have reasons not to do that. In such case, doing the next best thing would be morally right. Document everything well, make sure you don't have to leave early the days between giving notice and actually leaving, making things as easy as possible for your replacement and the clients, and the company.

Career-savy would be to burn as few bridges as possible. We have a saying here "you always meet twice in life", and in the business world that can be very much true. This is especially true about your clients. If you have a personal relationship with them, i.e. they know you by name and any troubles they would run into if you suddenly leave would be connected to your name in their minds.

Especially this last one is a responsibility to yourself that you definitely do have.

4

A lot of answers here say no. It's not quite that simple.

Once you've given notice, it seems completely reasonable to help the company find your replacement. You've said that you're the best person for that task, so why wouldn't you spend your notice period trying to ensure an orderly transition? You will be asked to, and refusing to would serve no purpose.

Do you have a responsibility to do this before your notice period? No. It's good that you've tried to subtly orchestrate matters such that the company has a head start on the replacement hire. But that's, to a degree, above and beyond, particularly as you'd have to announce your impending departure in order for everyone to actually understand what you're trying to do. Of course they won't find budget to add another you, while you're still there.

If you don't have to and/or plan to work a notice period at all, then all bets are off, and I can't help you, because this is always going to be a disruptive way to leave a business. Perhaps legal in your jurisdiction and with your particular contract, but not very pleasant for any of the people involved.

  • As I read OP, maybe too much between the lines, they ask if they should work (a) until the end of their notice period, or (b) until they satisfy all three: (b1) find a replacement dev (b2) transfer knowledge (b3) work until the end of notice period. – kubanczyk Feb 5 at 12:46
4

Can you set up an internal wiki for company knowledge? Can you start dumping your knowledge into it?

I did this in a past job after an employee left who'd been there for years. Any time somebody asked me a question, I said, "Look in the wiki." If the answer wasn't there, I put it there, or asked them to.

In your case, you may not get asked these kinds of questions, but you can make it part of your daily job: "How would I know how to troubleshoot this? How would I know where to find this?" Etc. Any time the answer isn't "I can find it in the wiki", put it there.

If you start doing this, you can leave with your conscience salved, because you're leaving them your knowledge so the next person won't be floundering.

  • Good advice. Besides the "it's the company's problem, not yours" approach, documenting how you do what you do is very useful for when they inevitably do end up having to hire a replacement after you leave. It will help ease the transition for your successor. – V2Blast Feb 5 at 23:07
  • This is what I was going to say. With one addition: Write up your job in addition to general company knowledge, i.e. your actual functions within the company. Imagine that you are writing to a very smart, competent developer, and you just need to orient him to your duties. It's up to the company to get the job filled by someone who has the requisite technical knowledge, but only you have the knowledge of your specific job. – Wildcard Feb 7 at 23:43
3

In the spirit of not burning bridges, it would good to help your soon-to-be-ex employer find someone to take on your responsibilities. It shouldn't, however, be your responsibility to drive the process. It also shouldn't gate your departure if a suitable candidate isn't found before your leaving date.

3

I think you should think of it the other way around. I assume you are about to sign a contract with a new employer and have a short notice time with your current employer. Why not inform you next employer about the situation and suggest that your current employer might ask you to stay a little longer than your notice period to hand over your work to your replacement and that you therefore, if possible, might delay the start with your next employer and/or would appreciate some flexibility at your new work the first month or so.

This way you could assist your current employer with finding your replacement (feel free to play a little game with your current employer "hmm, I am gonna be superbusy the period you ask about but just because I appreciate working with you so much I will make an effort and assist you with finding my replacement") which will improve your relationship with them, while you, at the same time, signal to your new employer that you are a reliable person that won't desert them in the future. Win-win!

2

Unless you work as the hiring manager at your company, it's not your responsibility to find your replacement. It wouldn't make sense - as a developer, you should be good at developing things. Nobody could reasonably expect from you that you are any good at finding candidates, picking a good candidate, and hiring them.

And if your company told you that you were responsible to find your replacement, that's something you would do during your work time, so you couldn't do all the other things you are supposed to do in a day.

1

Am I responsible for finding my own replacement?

Not really. As simple as that. They would not (i suppose) tell you "get ready" in case they were planning to fire you.

  • Firing an employee is usually a result of them something wrong so an employee can reasonably guard against being fired by avoiding doing bad stuff. Employees leaving is a completely normal situation and there's nothing a company can really do to guard against that. So I don't think the two situations are really comparable. – David Richerby Feb 4 at 21:54
  • 1
    @DavidRicherby Firing for cause is normally for cause. There's other reasons for dismissal. I got laid off due to a budget crunch once, and they didn't bother giving me any warning. Companies can guard against turnover by making the company a place people want to stay at. It isn't perfect, but neither is doing a good job at a financially mismanaged company for the employee. – David Thornley Feb 5 at 16:52
  • @DavidThornley At least in British usage, "fired" implies for cause, and other words would be used for other reasons for dismissal. – David Richerby Feb 5 at 16:53
  • Ok guys. Maybe it's not a matter of using the appropriate term. After all, at least here in Brazil (like here ? just like any other country, i mean) being either fired or dismissed results in one thing: unemployement. I understand the difference between both, but as we say here: it's a kick in the a** anyway. – wes85melis Feb 5 at 17:00
-2

The "standard" notice period is two weeks, but for many positions, that is incredibly short. Imagine an NFL player announcing in the middle of the season that they're retiring in two weeks. While you are not obligated to stay on indefinitely until you find a replacement, you do have a moral obligation to extend your stay some time past two weeks if you can't find a replacement. Depending on the role, that could be as long as a few months. The argument that the company should have planned around the possibility that you would leave because, after all, you could die at any moment, doesn't hold water. A fire could break out and destroy their headquarters; that doesn't mean there's nothing wrong with intentionally burning down their headquarters. There are many positions where planning around the possibility that an employee could be gone in two weeks would be incredibly onerous and would create ridiculous inefficiency. Although, if a company does find themselves in such a position, they should get a formal commitment, there's a certain degree to which there's an implicit commitment.

  • 2
    Inapplicable. NFL players work under a contract. – David Feb 8 at 0:16

protected by mcknz Feb 7 at 1:31

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