97

My situation:

  • 32 years old
  • Modest salary as a software dev ($45k)
  • $50k in savings
  • Just under 6 years experience as a developer

I never did the whole 'travel the world' thing when I was younger. I would like to take a few years out now to do so. I have found some countries I would like to stay in, most with living expenses (comfortably) at $1,000 a month or less.

That would last me a little over 4 years, so I'm thinking of doing it for 3 years, and then having the leftover $10k or so as a safety net whilst I get back into working.

My question is... would anyone want to employ me at that point? I have almost 6 years experience as a developer right now, almost 2 years of that as 'full stack', with a fairly diverse skill set. I feel I can (and have) easily obtain a position right now, and don't want to jeopardise that.

I would intend on continuing with development when I'm away, by contributing to open source projects, working on my own apps, etc. But it would not be full time, maybe for 10 - 20 hours a week. I also do development work on a voluntary basis for a charity, so would continue with that.

18 Answers 18

113

would anyone want to employ me at that point?

Surely. Maybe not the first company you apply to, maybe not the best company in the area, or maybe not the company you target. Maybe you will need to accept a "lower" position temporarily after returning, until you come back up to speed.

Of course, the details are too specific to be clarified now.


A middle ground solution would be to do some freelancing while traveling, besides the contribution to open source projects. In that way, you do not have X straight years of total unemployment. I guess that this approach would increase your chances of employment in front of picky recruiters / companies.


The concept (sabbatical) you are talking about is not new. It is actually a big thing, and companies are fully aware of it.

| improve this answer | |
  • 76
    The problem with freelancing while traveling the world is that most countries won't let you do that legally on a tourist visa, or be willing to give you a work visa. Lying to immigration about only doing touristy stuff while visiting and getting caught, will likely end with you being deported, banned from returning, and having to answer yes to questions like "have you ever been kicked out for violating immigration rules" which will make getting visas to almost anywhere else in the world much harder in the future. @amcdermott 's suggestion of looping back to your home country is much safer. – Dan Is Fiddling By Firelight Jul 16 at 14:43
  • 4
    I have heard of people sailing around the world regularly flying home to work for 3-6 months, then flying back to their boat to keep going, to avoid that issue (or because they can't work remotely, like a nurse). – Azor Ahai -him- Jul 16 at 18:55
  • 20
    @DmitryGrigoryev - virolino suggested "...middle ground solution would be to do some freelancing while traveling..." @ Dan correctly pointed out that in many cases, you'd be in a country on a tourist visa which expressly forbids work. That's the illegality. The risk may be low (though people do get barred from places for digital nomad activities, you see stories sometimes), but the illegality remains. The open source idea is great, though -- you're not working, so you're not breaking any visa restrictions, it keeps the skills up to date, and builds profile for the work return. Win*3 :-) – T.J. Crowder Jul 17 at 10:04
  • 9
    @DmitryGrigoryev - I think Dan's flagging it up was entirely appropriate and useful to the OP. "Travelling" in this context implies visiting foreign countries, which you usually do on a tourist visa. And the OP specifically said "travel the world." Getting a work visa in most places is much, much, much more difficult than a tourist visa. – T.J. Crowder Jul 17 at 11:01
  • 3
    @DmitryGrigoryev As TJ said, digital nomadding as as suggested is typically illegal, has serious consequences if you're unfortunate enough to get caught at some point, and is often suggested by people naively unaware that there's anything wrong with doing it.. Immigration check points are probably the most likely point for that to happen either by admitting to doing it (by accident or in ignorance that it's illegal); or if a customs officer wants to see bank records for you to prove that you're funding the trip via savings and sees your work payment incoming. – Dan Is Fiddling By Firelight Jul 17 at 13:36
42

In your position, my concern would be how quickly IT moves. Look at how different tech stacks were 5 years ago and the new tools and frameworks being released.

As a hiring manager my concern is "has this guy been out of the game too long... he has plenty of experience behind him, but will he need time to ramp up ... am I better off hiring somebody with 6 years experience who hasn't had that 3 year gap".

I think you'll get a job when you come back. How current your skill set is should not be the only factor hiring managers consider when assessing candidates. There will be organisations who will look past the career break and be impressed by your experience, work ethic, intellect, personality, attitude, cultural fit etc. It might take a while longer or you may take a salary cut in the short term - but you'll definitely find something in your chosen field.

Have you considered a best of both worlds approach? Given you have a decent breadth of experience under your belt, why not alternate 6 month long contract positions with 6 month breaks. It would allow you to keep your skills current while still taking long breaks and seeing the world. Since you would only have short stays in each orgainsation you wouldn't need to worry about office politics or that pain-in-the-neck project manager. In addition, since contract rates are typically higher you could travel for longer or have a bigger nest egg when you are done.

| improve this answer | |
  • 3
    You could look for fully remote work - which is more prevalent now that everybody is working from home thanks to COVID. You'd have an advantage if working from a location with a low cost of living since you could undercut other candidates and still live like a king. Alternatively, totally immerse yourself in the country and get a job with a local company. Look for global recruitment agents you can work with or check forums etc. for the country you will be visiting to get recommendations for local ones. – amcdermott Jul 16 at 11:07
  • 7
    Another idea would be to start your own company and product. Something you've wanted to build, and something that you contribute to that could even make money. I think a lot of tech companies would understand trying create your own product. – Keith Jul 16 at 21:21
  • 2
    @Keith Wouldn't that go against the spirit of a sabbatical? – Ave Jul 16 at 23:25
  • 16
    It should probably be noted that unless your company is selling software development as a service, or their main product is software itself, the pace of change of technologies is way slower. The whole idea of changing frameworks all the time sounds ludicrous in many places outside the web/mobile development bubble. – Gnudiff Jul 17 at 6:05
  • 6
    At any given time, most software developers aren't up-to-date on most tech stacks -- there are too many, and it takes a lot of time to become skilled in one, and most development teams only use a handful. As a result, most tech companies expect when they hire someone that the person will have to ramp up on the specific stack. (And if some stack really does take over the world in the next three years, to the point that many companies simply expect it, then -- no problem, you can spend a month or two learning it when you get back.) – ruakh Jul 17 at 22:45
37
+100

I will take my example to explain to you why it is not necessarily a good idea, unless you have resources:

I am 48, I learned assembler on an Atari 800 when I was 12. After spending my teen years cracking games, I started to make games at 17.

Over time, I became very knowledgeable about assembler, C and C++, then I eventually specialized in 3D rendering.

I worked on very successful titles (if you ever picked a game controller in your life, you know a few of them) but then I became tired of being the guy staying until 3-4am at the office.

I decided to stop and do other things (mostly play music).

I easily got back in the industry, but mostly because of past credentials; the reality is that a lot of things had evolved and required some effort to catch up with. Not just programming, but also build processes, documentation, organization, etc.

I hadn't realized how fast things are evolving while I was in the midst of it, but the moment you step out that train, you realize how fast it is going.

Since I was doing management, it was ok, but I knew it would require some effort to keep up to date. And, without practicing more gaps started to appear in my knowledge. I started to become detached from the low level 3d stuff, forgetting the maths, then not be interested in stuff that I didn't have to, like the build processes, etc and little by little I lost touch with a lot of things. I gained insight on other things, like business and finance, but some of my tech skills were gone forever.

I eventually became interested in other things (we built an adult streaming site and then financial software); today I'm using C#/F#, I wouldn't be able to compile a C++ file without making mistakes, I have no clue about quaternion maths anymore, and I don't even know what the latest graphic cards can do, etc. And, honestly, I stopped caring because there is no way I would be at the top of these things anymore. I had the luck to start at the beginning of home computing, and pick everything along the way but this advantage was now lost.

Eventually, my interest shifted toward projects in which I have equity, so I never invested time to catch up, but I experienced first hand going from expert to having no clue in a few fields in a matter of years.

If you do anything that's bleeding edge, even a holiday puts you back. If you do office applications, most likely you'll still be able to perform without problem. But you may not be attractive for companies: when you get back, there will be younger programmers than you, ready to work longer hours and for less money, and they will have comparable experience. Personally, I never wanted to go back into the race, but if you want to, let me warn you that it will be tough.

If you do this, I believe you need:

  • to settle for projects which are not very aggressive
  • or, have special skills that companies want you for, even if you spent the last 3 years fishing
  • or, have enough financial resources that you have time to catch up

Your experience may be different. Mine involved a lot of luck and good timing, and it's not something I'd invite you to rely on.

| improve this answer | |
  • 3
    It's definitely not the most healthy job, but management is not fun in the long run and personally I found it a lot of frustrating than programming. You're constantly stuck between financial reality and a team that is trying to have a normal life. At times, you will need to translate tech and financial issues to people which are completely deaf to situations outside of their sphere. When I started code I didn't understand why management made what looked like non sense decisions, but once you understand the situations outside of tech, it can be difficult to reconcile that with your teams. – Thomas Jul 18 at 16:38
  • 3
    If you work in a large company, things can go crazy very quickly: for example I had to have a team work overtime to make a product we had no intention to sell just because the publisher had promised a certain number of releases to shareholders for a specific date, also a classic is to deny milestone payments to external companies to push them into obedience due to lack of cash. Or threaten third parties that your company will not use their product anymore unless they add what we want for free, etc.. That was daily life in 2 of the top game publishers. I could write a book about it... – Thomas Jul 18 at 16:41
  • 6
    "the moment you step out that train, you realize how fast it is going." Perfect description of the velocity the game industry goes at. Though I don't think the gradual shift from programming to management is necessarily a bad thing - someone who has decades of software dev experience has valuable understanding of what works and what doesn't, even if they are not up to par with current tech. I think that in general, the game dev industry is breakneck for everyone involved in the development process, programmers, artists and managers alike; there might be healthier opportunities elsewhere. – oldmud0 Jul 18 at 18:51
  • 4
    This story made me cry, it brought scary realization that time is the most brutal force of nature. Yonger developers need to take this as cautionary tale, one day you just wake up and realize you aren't young anymore, I went through this phase and it left me destroyed, uncertain, empty and whats more important frightened of future, sometimes it is very scary to look forward, especially when slowly you get up there in years. – ImmortanJoe is censored and mu Sep 1 at 20:47
  • 2
    I am sincerely happy for you, and glad that there are people not afraid to speak up. – ImmortanJoe is censored and mu Sep 1 at 20:50
29

In my experience, this is a very uncertain area. I've had places that wouldn't hire me with 2 years missing experience, even though I was going through college for that industry at the time. I've also been hired without any professional experience, but I had to prove my ability with a test or mini-project. I've also had employers that wouldn't hire me without being 100% convinced I was living in the area.

Unfortunately, I've been laid off many times and have spent a lot of time looking, so I've run into a wide range of responses to things.

The Bad News

The most likely problem you'll have is people not believing you are in the area local to their office. I spent 20 years trying to find a job that I would relocate to. It took me actually relocating to make it happen. And it didn't really happen until I worked as a temp/gig worker and could put the job (and it's location) on my resume.

If you spend a couple years on the road, you'll likely not have any permanent address, which will be counted as a negative for many employers. HR unfortunately has a tendency to be overly cautious and make bad assumptions. Don't be deceived, unless it's a small company, HR is the first place your resume/CV is seen at the company, not the actual hiring manager, so HR will toss your application or resume/CV for literally any reason. Even in a small company, if the hiring manager has a large amount of applicants and you don't have anything on your resume/CV for 2 years, they'll also throw it away. Many times, managers just don't have the time to get specifics for "the why".

The Other Bad News

Some places will refuse to believe you can remember any job related task past about 6-8 months ago.

Programming is very problematic this way, since this is very much an area where "if you don't use it, you lose it" happens. Even people with years of experience have trouble remembering how to do something they haven't done in a year, let alone 2-5 years.

I used to worked as a computer tech, and even 2 years was too much for one employer. They seemed to think that the technology "just moved too fast" for me to keep up without having a job, even though I was going to college for it at the time and, really, things hadn't significantly changed.

More Bad News

If you take any jobs during your travels, or even if you don't, you'll likely get questions about why you "left the industry" and "want to get back in". I got those questions when I switched from computer tech to programmer, as if they weren't related in any way. Just make sure you have a good answer and most people will understand. Unfortunately, some won't. Maybe those aren't the employers you want to work for anyway, but reducing your potential employer pool can be disheartening.

The Really Bad News

Financially, you aren't prepared. Just 2 years ago, I moved halfway across the US and spent around $15k in rent, food, gas, other bills, and more while trying to find a job. I was living in just about the lowest rent I could find, eating as little and as cheaply as I could, and not paying for anything that wasn't absolutely necessary. This was only 6 months, too. Not only do you have to consider the time to find a job, but also the time before you get that first paycheck, local fees to get your car registered, and more.

You'll likely spend considerably more money than you think you will. Not only while traveling but also when you start looking for work again. There's always stuff you don't expect or will "add up" quickly. If you don't have a budget down ot the penny, you really don't know how much you'll spend, and even if you do have that budget, you aren't likely to stick to it. There's just too many things that pop up to account for now. You might be able to account for your morning coffee, but what if you meet some really great people and spend the whole day eating and drinking coffee with them, or they take you on side trip to a special locale that most vacationers never see?

All this depends on your locations and destinations, and you could easily spend more time looking for a job than I did. I had just left a job to do the move, which I had been in the position for nearly 2 years, with a total of 6 solid years of employment at that time. Unfortunately, you aren't likely to find a job quickly, unless you know someone or your old job is willing to take you back.

And since you haven't been working, you won't be able to claim unemployment benefits. You'll have to rely 100% on your savings and anything you can get from your family, which generally isn't good for family relations.

Suggestions

Yes, I've been pretty negative about your idea, but I think you can still do it if you are careful.

There's a lot of remote work around. Some of it is steady and some is temp/gig/contract work. I know you want to do a major vacation and just have fun, but keeping a tie in with the industry will help you later. Most of the negatives I mentioned earlier will be easier to answer and some won't matter as much, if at all.

Yes, you'll still get questions about why you moved around so much and why you became a gig/temp/contract worker & now want steady employment (yes, that's definitely a question I've been asked), but you'll have better answers than "I wanted to backpack for a couple years". I'm not saying that's a bad answer, I'm saying some employers will think it's a bad answer.

Getting short term gigs can help you with finances as well as keeping the connection. It can also open connections. My first job after moving was only for 6 weeks, but they liked me and I think they would have brought me on full time or at least had me for other temp jobs if I hadn't landed a full time job.

I've heard of some companies using remote "gig workers" as a sort of test to see if you are worth becoming an employee. It's not common, but it happens. It's more common that you are an in-office temp-to-hire where they judge you, but businesses are learning that the "old ways" aren't always relevant anymore. I've worked plenty of temp-to-hire jobs that had no intention of hiring, they just had better results in getting responses to their job descriptions if it said it had a chance for full time work. But I think I'm getting off topic here.

Conclusion

With a little more preparation, savings, and work, you taking time off work is absolutely doable. Just don't make too many assumptions about easily coming back to work. You'll likely have to work hard to get a job again.

Edit:

As Tonny mentions in the comments below, make sure you don't violate your Visa(s) in the various places you visit, as working or even volunteering may violate it. You might still be able to work on an open source project while there, but to be on the safe side, it might just be easier to take that as part of your planned vaca, instead of the "work" part.

| improve this answer | |
  • 8
    Important point. This is what I thought when I read "10k safety net" – Michael McFarlane Jul 16 at 20:52
  • 4
    An interesting perspective, that doesn't mesh at all with my experiences from the other side: I couldn't care less about an employee knowing the current framework or language du jour - I want someone who I believe will be capable of learning new things on the go, has solid basic knowledge (data structures, computer architectures and co don't change very quickly) and fits well into the team. Hell the last two people I was involved in hiring, had never written more than a toy program in the language we were using. Also.. large number of applicants in CS? – Voo Jul 16 at 21:49
  • 1
    @Voo, I've been in interviews that the manager said there were dozens of applicants. I've also gotten rejection letters that stated a hundred or more applicants. Some of this was in "smaller" cities, of 250k, where the opportunities were limited and the amount of trained or experienced people was massive. I've also heard from recruiters that liked my resume except I didn't have the 1 tech they wanted, so they couldn't even interview me. I'm glad to hear that more employers are willing to train, but that's definitely not the case everywhere. – computercarguy Jul 16 at 22:59
  • 4
    @Voo, For the last two people you were involved in hiring, how many resumes did your HR reject? – Stephan Branczyk Jul 16 at 23:26
  • 1
    I don't think the relocation thing is as bad as you make out. I was hired (from the western US) for a job in Europe, a neighbor's kid is working in London as a game artist, and I've known several others to do similar moves. – jamesqf Jul 19 at 4:07
16

I know for a fact this is possible --or at least was --because I had a coworker/mentor who did this several times in his career. Every few years he would take off work, and stay unemployed until his savings ran low. In my view there were several factors that made this work for him:

  1. He was exceptionally good at what he did.
  2. He had no dependents, lived modestly, and didn't spend much. Nor was he planning on a lifestyle change in the future (no plans for marriage, or kids).
  3. He stayed on the cutting edge of the field, even when he wasn't working.
  4. He had an in-demand skill set, in a good job market.
  5. He was willing to travel or change location for work.
  6. As a front-end/UI/UX specialist, he was able to sell himself on the strength of his portfolio, not just his resume. (In other words, he was able to show off samples of his work that proved his expertise.)
  7. He was ready, willing and able to wait for the right opportunities to come along.

In my opinion, pre-pandemic, any competent IT professional could have done the same, subject to the above. But under current conditions, who knows what the economic state of the world will be by the time your sabbatical ends.

| improve this answer | |
  • Could you please explain #6 a little better? – Snowman Jul 18 at 12:53
  • @Snowman Being able to show someone something you've done, rather than just tell them about it, provides more convincing proof that you can do what you say you can do. (Resumes obviously may be subject to exaggeration.) That said, I have a significant amount of code publicly available that's very easy to examine and run, and I have no evidence that anybody who's employed me has ever had more than the barest glance at it, if even that. – cjs Jul 19 at 1:59
12

Yes, you can take 1-2 year sabbaticals and come back.

I have done just that 3 times.

The last time, after 2.5 years off, was the most effort - it took me about 1 year of part-time learning to refresh my skills to a more modern toolset - and I found a job with a big organisation using (partly) 5+ year outdated software stack in the meantime. I then moved to a new-tech-stack job after just over a year. Your basic talent for development and your ability to learn is not likely to go away. Since we need to be constantly leaning in this profession anyway, the burden of learning before "comeback" or during an "outdated" job is normal and should not cause you any trouble.

| improve this answer | |
  • 2
    Do I have this right: You took 2.5 years off, then you spent 1 year part-time learning, then you spend 1 year working in an outdated stack, and then you were finally able to get your career back on track? – stannius Jul 17 at 13:39
  • 1
    The year of part time learning was simultaneous with the first job - as the phrase "In the meantime" indicates. They only had a partially outdated tech stack and the job was VERY well-paid. I took 2.5 years off between jobs. Old job ended 2015, new one started 2017. I have not considered myself to have a "career" since .. well probably ever really. I have jobs. Some good some bad. I used to be a contractor - a gun for hire, so I guess I am not too fussy? – kpollock Jul 20 at 15:18
  • 1
    @kpollock Sorry, the structure of that sentence was so complex with parentheticals and hyphentheticals that I had a little trouble parsing it. There is a huge difference between what I wrote (2.5 years not working at a cost of 2 years getting back on track) vs what actually happened (2.5 years not working at a cost of 1 year off track, but only slightly and well paid). – stannius Jul 20 at 18:14
  • 1
    @stannius: It's quite possible to have an interesting career (well, interesting to me - tastes differ) without working with the latest fad toolset. I make a good living doing mostly C (with additions like CUDA), and have even dealt with a bit of Fortran in the last couple of years. They may seem "outdated" to some, but there are employers who'll pay well for people who can deal with them. Or consider that COBOL programmers are currently in demand: cacm.acm.org/news/… – jamesqf Jul 21 at 3:53
  • 1
    @stannius, sorry, maybe speaking German for the past 5 years has made my English sentence structure even more complex or confusing. Learning German was one thing I did during the 2nd year off. That first job was in German (nobody there spoke English!). I actually had 3 decent job offers, all interviews in German. I would definitely advise anyone to budget a year to learn another language. – kpollock Jul 21 at 8:28
10

Definitely do it!

I did the same thing at 29 back in 2001 and I have never regretted it. The only thing I regret was coming back home.

Have a look at videos/blogs on "digital nomads" - maybe you can pick up remote work and extend your travels.

| improve this answer | |
  • 26
    This is not even a real answer, more like "wish you well" comment. – Davor Jul 17 at 11:59
  • 10
    2001 was the dot com bust and then maybe when you came back (late 2003/2004 ?) the economy had just picked up : so your timing may have been fortunate – StephenBoesch Jul 17 at 15:40
9

To answer the question, yes. You should be able to walk back into a job after a 3 year break.

The development industry is fast moving, but not in the way everyone is suggesting. New tools are released all the time, but the way we build software rarely changes.

A lot of tech companies have old tech stacks. They don't update for the fun of it, or when something new comes out. In 3 years, most established companies today will still be using the same frameworks and libraries.

After 3 years, it will only take you about a month to get back up to speed. Maybe allow 6 months to get a job. - just because it's harder to get a job if you don't currently have one, and after 3 years off you will need time to adjust.

You don't even have to let anyone know you took a 3 year break.

*On your resume you don't have to list specific years... you can just list the number of years you were in your previous positions.

- Update Following Comments -

*I am assuming US/UK. I know several devs in both countries that do this without problems.

However, I would suggest something else for your resume. I don't see this as a '3 year break'. You are travelling, contributing to Open Source, and doing volunteer work for a charity.

I see nothing wrong with listing that as: 'Open Source / Freelance Developer' and then explain about the work you did in that period. No need for a gap in your resume, no need to call it a 'break', and it's up to you if you mention you did it while travelling.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    I still get asked frequently to work on projects with technology that's 20+ years old. 2 to 3 years ain't nothing. – GrandmasterB Jul 17 at 4:35
  • While I agree with the answer (+1), could you say for which countries the last sentence holds? It does not hold in my country.. – guest Jul 17 at 7:43
  • @GrandmasterB technology being old doesn't mean that it's not changing. JS is old, but being out of the loop for the last 4 years means you'd be pretty lost in the current ecosystem. – Davor Jul 17 at 12:02
  • 1
    I'd warn against siloing yourself in old tech. Sure there are very well paid jobs for even ancient languages like Fortran, Assembly, and Cobol, but do you really want to do that position forever? Even C#, like my current position, is old but it's not dying yet, and they keep coming out with updated versions. Programming is definitely "use it or lose it" when it comes to knowledge, and 3 years is a long time to remember all the tips and tricks people use just when using an IDE, let alone a language. – computercarguy Jul 20 at 16:04
8

Not withstanding the current economy/lockdown...

Yes, you can do this. I would just keep your time away to less than two years.

I stepped away from the field myself for about 1 1/2 years. I was considering a career change and returned to school full-time. In the end, I changed my mind and returned to Computer Science. I had a part-time programming job for about 6 months at the end of it. I was able to return to the workforce, though with a pay cut of about $5000. During the job search, there are some companies who will automatically not consider you without a current job. Just keep searching, though, and you will find someone who will hire you.

If this is a dream of yours, do it when you have the opportunity. Just make sure you keep a frugal budget during your time away.

| improve this answer | |
7

Since you are free, think about moving to a nice and cheap place like Thailand, Malta or Portugal. Amid covid and political instability I would consider learning sailing and eventually buying a small yacht to live on it while travelling. Many digital nomads do like that these days. You need to make a larger first investment, but then you have almost zero travel and housing costs. Try maybe to save another 20-30k, buy a small jacht, fix it up (while taking all the necessary exams and save more money if you can) then you are good to go. Than you can work 2-3 days a week just to cover your costs, while travelling and living in beautiful places. You don't even need to stick to coding, you can also do additional stuff like photographing, making youtube videos, dropshipping, etc.

The most important thing is to decide, what you REALLY want to do in your life. You want to become a millionaire? Or just enjoy life? Do consider than you won't live forever, so chances are if you spend your "first" 20, 30, 50 years getting rich, than you will never really enjoy the fruits of your hard work.

I wish I could do that, but with kids and family and destroyed back it's hopeless :-(

| improve this answer | |
7

I had a similar experience as you, starting in 2018. I was 31 at the time. With about seven years of experience and a somewhat similar salary as you, for certain reasons, I went from the US to Japan for a year and taught English.

When I went however, I did not know that I would go back into professional software development (although I had a long-term goal of doing so for non-profit reasons), and I did not know I would ever live in the US again.

So I just want to share my experience with you:

For certain reasons, I decided to poke back on over to the US once the one-year contract was up. So I came back in 2019, and - here's possibly the most important part for you: - it was by the grace of God that I did not become homeless. It took several months to get another real job.

There were different reasons this happened - some will be more applicable to you than others - but I want to list a few below:

  1. I was too foreign when coming back to the US. Even though I was still fluent in English, I lost some of my fluency, and I spoke it in a way that sounded very strange to native speakers. My mannerisms, body language, and so on were quite foreign at this point. When potential employers interviewed me, even though they knew I was a returning expat, I think they looked down on these differences. When a native-born American acts very non-American and speaks English funny, other Americans' perceptions can be affected by it.

  2. Personal baggage from overseas. I simply had bad luck, and your mileage may vary. The company that I worked for in Japan was very, very corrupt and evil. My students suffered, and I suffered. Just to be clear, the hours/workload itself was not a problem. However the degree of deceitful manipulation that company used was unreal. Some of my family betrayed me as well, and I was isolated (partially because of the company). So coming back to the US, even though I smiled, acted professionally, and so on in front of employers, I think there was still some sort of subconscious vibe that employers could still pick up on.

  3. I got rusty with software, and my skills were out of date. Personally I had usually only worked with "traditional"-ish companies and had never worked with cloud computing or with containers. This was a big deal apparently. Plus I didn't realize I'd go back into professional development, so I went several months without doing much development at all, and I got rusty.

  4. Personally I feel I wasn't boastful enough in the interviews. Employers say they want someone who is humble and willing to learn, but then it seems like you have to tell them that you're the greatest programmer that ever lived. Not that you're good, not that you're great, but that you're almost perfect - which is just simply not true for anyone on this earth. This is related to point #1, as I think point #1 fed into it, but I feel it's a slightly different issue as well.

  5. When I came back to the US, I knew exactly which state I wanted to live in, and I looked for jobs specifically that would allow me to live in that state. Without saying which state that was, it definitely has a tech hub and should've been able to employ me. When I finally did get a job, it was only after I temporarily gave up on this goal. (However I did later get permission to move back and work remotely, and I think the COVID situation helped with this.)

  6. There were probably other reasons as well.

So that said, I got interview after interview after interview, passed test after test (though failing a few at least), advanced to later stages, and so on, but I never actually got any of the jobs. There were many final rounds and such, but no cigar.

What finally happened was a friend of mine living in another state got me a job with his company, and I temporarily gave up on the state I wanted to live in. (Though praying about it and everything, I eventually got permission to move back.) And when I was at a higher rank than before and then suddenly having to learn Azure, Docker, Kubernetes, and so on - well, Azure's okay to learn, but Docker and Kubernetes were unusually difficult to get up to speed with. Part of that was because Docker and Kubernetes are primarily associated with things like Linux and Python, and we were a Windows/.NET shop trying to do this with C# and such, and that makes it far more difficult to find good information online.

(By the way, a few of the videos in this playlist are extremely beneficial in learning things like Docker and Docker-Compose. They're still coming at it from kind of a Linux/Unix, Python sort of direction, but unlike many somewhat similar materials, these videos are extremely clear, helpful, and useful, and they are not riddled with missing or bad information like a lot of other materials are. There was just one later video about Docker Cloud or something which got outdated, but the Docker-ish ones before that are great!)

So........ That said, the positive was that I got a software developer rank higher than what I had before, far better pay, everything. And when COVID hit, my job survived uninterrupted. The company I work for now is infinitely more moral and better to work with than the one in Japan (and so was the last IT company, before I went over there).

So the end of the story worked out great, and I do think God had something to do with it and with keeping me off the streets in the meantime. But the journey to that destination was very, very difficult, and it almost made me sorry I ever came back to the US.

Japan was wonderful! The company was a problem, but that was that one, very specific company, not the norm within the country. And the other parts of being in that country were wonderful. If I had worked for another company instead, it would've gone much better.

But when I came back to the US, it was a different experience. A foreign country had treated me like a citizen, and my country of citizenship treated me like a foreigner.

Now everything's great though! But be warned!

| improve this answer | |
  • 3
    "My mannerisms, body language, and so on were quite foreign at this point". Please give some examples. – HenryM Jul 17 at 19:21
  • 2
    @HenryM For example, bowing to everybody was the hardest thing in the world to stop doing. And most of the time, I didn't even realize I was doing it. Also continually nodding while somebody was talking, continually behaving almost like I was astounded by semi-random stuff they were saying, etc. These were all habits I picked up in Japan. – Panzercrisis Jul 17 at 19:27
  • 1
    Interesting because I have noticed the 'astounded by semi-random stuff' in anime. That said maybe saying ,'um hmm' and nodding is a US version of this. Where I'm from in the U.S. it's normal to say that stuff at random to indicate that you're listening. – HenryM Jul 17 at 20:24
  • 1
    This is NOVA, by the way. Avoid them. They treat their customers badly as well, and I didn't know about any of this until I was actually over there. I've heard Berlitz is good though, but I haven't tried them myself and can't say for sure. – Panzercrisis Jul 20 at 13:24
  • 1
    Interestingly enough many of the things that worked against you are the reverse of the things that worked in favor of my coworker, as listed in my post. It goes to show that this path isn't for everyone. – Chris Sunami supports Monica Jul 20 at 15:47
7

You definetly can, but getting back won't be easy. There are many breakthroughs happening in technology in ridiculously small window of time, even on management and economical side not just hardware-software side. And when you will need income again, you'll find yourself searching job in almost unrecognisable industry. You might as well start from zero in different field. You will end up in no mans land, you won't be fresh, clean slate at that age to start from zero because of baggage but you also will be too out of loop for domain expert or guru. Taking breaks in fast paced fields is generally bad idea, not just tech. This situation happened to friend of mine who worked in biochemistry and pharmacology. He took 2 years off when he was 29 and went through very bad yet easily avoidable financial setbacks because of that. This is anecdotal experience but I hope someone finds this useful.

| improve this answer | |
3

Before doing anything further: consider Planning Fallacy.

When they asked a group of people when they were 50% certain they'd complete a task, and another group of people when they were 99% certain they'd complete a task? Only 13% of the first group met the deadline, and only 45% of the second group did.

Which Goes To Show: Even when you're thinking as cautiously as you can, when you're 99% certain you're planning conservatively enough... you're still too optimistic on average.

Then they did a followup with 3 groups:

  • The A group was asked to estimate how long something would take
  • The B group was asked to estimate how long something would take, best case scenario
  • The C group was asked to estimate how long something would take, worst case scenario

... guess what they found: the results for the first two were almost identical.

Which goes to show: when you plan something, you're generally making your plan assuming everything goes absolutely perfectly, in a best-case scenario.

(Suddenly, the 'only 13% of people met their expected deadline' in the first study makes sense - things rarely go according to a best-case plan.)

I never did the whole 'travel the world' thing when I was younger. I would like to take a few years out now to do so. I have found some countries I would like to stay in, most with living expenses (comfortably) at $1,000 a month or less.

That would last me a little over 4 years, so I'm thinking of doing it for 3 years, and then having the leftover $10k or so as a safety net whilst I get back into working.

Yeah, this sounds like 'Group B' thinking. Before going any further with planning on this, I'd encourage you to join 'Group C'. Start trying to imagine everything bad/disruptive/costly that could occur on your sabbatical and figure out what it would cost. Because, like that first study shows... that's the only way you're going to get a close-to-real estimate for what you're looking at.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    What a great answer! Thanks, this has really made me rethink some things... – Cloud Sep 2 at 11:16
2

Generally: Yes.

You: Not.

It is possbile to take some time out, particularly if you are reaslly good in a field and keep up with technology ANd if the time out is used i.e. to try something out.

Your problem is this:

Modest salary as a software dev ($45k) Just under 6 years experience as a developer

This is a not junior developer with not exactly an amazing salary, unless we talk of a place like india. Which means that you are not taking some time off on the height of your ability - you basically kill your career and will THEN try to come back to people that are having more experience and are demonstrable way more hungry than you. This is exactly the time you build a career out of a job - or realize when you return that you are stuck in a corporate landscape.

Unless you come back into a SUPER hot market - no, you are basically back to being a junior developer.

I would basically offer you an internship, not a position. ALL of your knowledge will be seriously outdated in a couple of years. You do not say you keep up in your plans - which is realistic, but why should I hire you and not a guy with a year experience in CURRENT technologies?

| improve this answer | |
  • This. Experience can not only be forgotten and go stale but turn into employment deterring baggage at some point. Op will have to re-enter playing field as junior in his 30s which will be very hard. – ImmortanJoe is censored and mu Sep 1 at 21:15
  • It is particularly hard because he is BARELY out of Junior grade NOW. It looks terrible if you make SOME progress and the first thing you do is - take off and let your career slide. – TomTom Sep 1 at 21:37
  • 5
    Life is ironic isn't it ? You spend your physically able and capable years building career only to become too old to travel and have fun with your paycheck. – ImmortanJoe is censored and mu Sep 1 at 21:56
  • Thanks for the responses! Could I mitigate this issue by working on personal projects & staying current while travelling? – Cloud Sep 2 at 11:20
  • 3
    @TomTom Do I ? Yes there are people in 60s and even in 90s as capable as yonger people. But they are rare statistical outliers. I am in my 30s and my possibilities are very limited compared to my 20s despite that i earn almost seven times more. These limitations vary, in origin they are social, cultural, but mostly physical. E.g if I commute with skateboard my feet will ache (physical) and I will burn bridges at my job (social). To assume that one will enjoy travel in late 40s as much as in early 30s is pretty naive – ImmortanJoe is censored and mu Sep 2 at 21:36
1

Sure this can be done. I think it would not be called "retiring" but more like "sabbatical".

It even seems popular to do this these days.

Some people combine the traveling with working part time on a blog or long distance software development.

| improve this answer | |
  • 2
    Hm. As user gnat likes to mention, what if somebody would answer "sure this can not be done"? Do you have proof for your answer? – guest Jul 20 at 14:05
  • @guest I have done something similar. I know several people who have done something similar. You can find lots of blogs online of people doing such things. – mathreadler Jul 20 at 14:50
  • 1
    Okay, thank you, so please add this to the answer! – guest Jul 20 at 14:56
1

I spent several decades away from my home country, freelancing in 15 countries on 3 continents. Would that be an option for you?

Even is you had no vacation, you would still have 52 weekends = 104 days a year to explore the country, plus evenings for bars & restaurants, etc.

If you do choose that route, I advise you to live like a native - don't live in a chain hotel, stay away from expat bars & upmarket supermarkets, etc.

You will inevitably make friends, who will invite you home, show you around on the weekend, etc. Learn the language wherever you can!

Be aware that, while you don't plan it, you might meet a life partner who does not want to leave their home country.

And, as someone said in comments, keep up the pension payment. The god news is that most countries have reciprocal state pension arrangements, so you can transfer "years paid" (rather than amount paid, in my experience) back home when you return.

| improve this answer | |
1

Yes you can, and in my opinion you should consider taking few years off. Risks described by other answers are very real, and you are in spot where you "must" be building career. But bitter truth is that if you want to have fun in life then this is your last train. Age will by no means stop you from travelling but it will impose huge limits on how you experience stuff, what you can do, where can you go and how long can you be active. If you want to travel you want to do some crazy, awesome stuff, traveling world in your later years won't be nearly as good as enjoyable as earlier in life.

Having to go through slight hardships in finding job is totally worth having fun one last time imho. You don't want to spend [second] best years sitting in office.

| improve this answer | |
  • This is some sad reality, life is about tradeoffs, sometimes ugly ones – Ruth Steiner Sep 7 at 15:55
1

To answer your question yes it is possible and people do it all of the time.

The problems I see when returning are:

  • Losing touch with the technology. This is mitigated by looking for companies using older tech when you get back. Not all companies want to use the latest and greatest so they will be more willing to consider you as a candidate
  • Losing touch with the working world. If you spend 2 years essentially on a vacation you will most likely have problems adjusting to getting up early to work. Companies know this so they will probably feel that you'll be late to work and suchlike. Mitigation of this would be to adhere to schedule when you are away such that you get up at a normal time and go to bed at a normal time. This might dampen the reason you actually want to do this sabbatical though
  • Some companies refuse candidates with gaps in employment. I worked at a company (finance UK) where it was a hard requirement to have no gaps in employment of more than 3 months over the last 7 years or less if you had less experience. You could mitigate this by freelancing during your time off as some companies will count this as working
  • In a post CoViD world I see more remote jobs. What affect does this have on you returning. Well previously you could come back to somewhere where there are less candidates than jobs and you'll eventually find something. An example of this is answers here mentioning doing this in the past. I think you'll find tech jobs now are much harder to apply for even locally as a high amount of these jobs will be migrating to LCOL countries

I would look to see the reason you want such a long time off and combined with travelling the world. What can you do right now in your daily routine to satisfy these demands that's less dramatic. That might be working less hours per day or maybe even working part time. In terms of travelling you might want to take more vacations in the year or move to a company that allows that. You can look at the FIRE movement if you just want to stop working and build yourself a path to early retirement.

If it's because you want your life to go back to when you were younger then you need to learn that running away from everything won't cure these problems. In fact it'll make you want that lifestyle so bad as your 2 years will fly past.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    Tech world is ruthless, step out for year and someone will take your seat before it gets cold. There are thousands ready to replace you, especially when more jobs become remote and outsourceable. Also last paragraph was brutal, "maturing" is code for anticipating ones own aging and death at this point. – ImmortanJoe is censored and mu Sep 3 at 21:32
  • Last paragraph is unnecessarily offensive. – gydorah Sep 5 at 23:28
  • @gydorah I've tried to make the last paragraph less offensive but still get the point across. – Dave3of5 Sep 7 at 7:48

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .