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TL;DR

Working at Mega Corp for 15+ years, somewhere in EU. We build high-tech stuff to automate factory production.

Moral concerns about what customers do with my products. But I may lack the technical skills to change jobs and a "safety net".

First years, first concerns

At the beginning, we had only "innocent" (?) customers. Then, more customers appeared, sometimes companies often considered "evil". Some of them are in Global Fortune 500, some of them aren't, use your imagination. Every time I expressed my ethical concerns with colleagues/bosses, I received various justifications and excuses (full list removed due to spam filter, but they boil down to "not your/our fault", "we all have a family to feed", "your concerns are hypocrite").

I think some of them are cheap alibis, especially the usual "we are like hammer makers, not our fault if...". Broken metaphor because we don't build hammers, but complex products that must be heavily customized for each customer. I don't do that customization, but if there is a problem, I must help the customizer to resolve it.

Anyway, I swallowed them and thought about this "problem" only every now and then. Sometimes I stood up and protested (typically alone. Even unions, usually so loud, stay silent about it), sometimes I lied down and cried quietly in a corner, but in the end, every time I went back to nodding, doing my job and often going the extra mile, to see my paycheck increase.

A couple of years ago, a defense company arrives

I.e., weapons. Not a company that does illegal stuff: weapon factories are 100% legal... they "just" build machines that kill people (Usual reply: "But modern, high-precision weapons are designed to kill far less people!". They are still designed to kill. The prosecution rests).

I was taken aback, but I suspect it was not the first one.

"Don't worry! Company X will use our products only for civilian projects!".

But then company Y came, and Z, and W, and now my direct bosses confess that they can't know everything about them and for what they use our products, there are too many layers in-between. But again, those concerns were "forgotten" because of other matters, e.g. a certain pandemic...

Then 2022 came...

... R attacked U, and as usual, some people "rediscovered" that wars exist. Mega Corp announced "We love peace, we condemn R and this war, we support U, and we... OMG, look at the figures of the military industry around the world! hooray for our weapon-making customers!".

So my concerns came back and the alibies above were repeated again, "tailored" to this conjuncture:

  • Si vis pacem para bellum, weapons are not evil if used by the "good guys" for "defense/prevention/deterrent"
  • You did not refuse to solve that problem affecting (insert "evil-but-non-weapon" company here) N years ago, they kill more people than wars

etc

This time, I feel that my concerns are stronger and they are affecting my wellbeing - especially because the current ones are "piling up" with the old ones and with the sense of guilt for all the times I buried my face ignoring the elephant in the living room. But I see elephants, rhinos, hippos and blue whales in every room...

I thougt about changing jobs, but I'm afraid I trapped myself in a corner.

Job offerings in my area are not good as Mega Corp, and/or they require technologies I don't know or I know poorly. Books don't make instant experts, you need time and resources to practice - a luxury I may not have. The same for moving, possibly abroad (Or are these just other alibies? Laziness?)

At the moment I'm the only source of income for the family. I don't have a lot of spare money. My S.O. has no moral concerns, so is reluctant to support my "funny midlife crisis". While the family would probably accept to move and/or lower their standard of living because of "Force Majeure", they probably would not accept it for a "whim". I understand them, but I am also disappointed because they have taken me and my job "for granted" for years (but again, even that could be my fault).

I'm not young, carefree and enthusiast any longer. I'm afraid of failing.

Conclusion

I feed ridiculous in asking "What shall I do with my life?" on a website, to random unknown people instead of relatives, friends or unions... but, too late, I'm asking it right now!

(Sorry for the wall of text. Feel free to mock me, scold me, downvote, close, I may deserve it. Please, no examples of "don't be afraid of failing" from movies - screenwriter is on their side - or from "famous people who succeeded against all odds" - remember the survivorship bias. And sorry if I omitted details about me, my family, my country and Mega Corp: I don't want to be easily recognized).

Possibly related:

even if, so far, I never refused to work on a project, even when related to (insert "evil" but "non-weapon" company here).

but that person looks younger.

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    You have two options, rationalise it, or quit. I don't think there is anything in this stack for you here. If you want to explore the ethical dilemma that you are faced with, maybe something like this would be received well on Philosophy SE. Aug 24, 2022 at 8:03
  • But nothing is stopping you from trying else where right. Till you get the job you can continue in this company.
    – chendu
    Aug 24, 2022 at 8:27
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    You need to exit this company. It may take you 2 years. Or it may take you 5 years. But you need to put a plan in place at the very least, otherwise, you'll be back here 5 years from now complaining about the very same thing. Aug 24, 2022 at 10:12
  • It is important to realize that any change in employment will result in a lower income - for a while. It is possible to recover that income, but you might not. If your family is not on board with having a lower income, that will complicate the switch. But being far more satisfied with your work is worth it. This is all stuff you have to work out with your family.
    – David R
    Aug 24, 2022 at 14:30
  • Thanks to everybody for your kind replies and advice. But now that the question has been Closed, I don't know if it makes sense to mark one of the existing answers as "accepted"... Aug 25, 2022 at 12:38

3 Answers 3

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Your concerns about your work are valid. We all want to work somewhere that aligns with our personal goals and ethics (can't imagine many vegan's working in abattoirs for example).

You probably have more skills and knowledge than you realise, and looking to change jobs with experience under your belt is much easier than getting your first job.

Firstly, could you work remote? If you are reluctant to move, which is understandable once you're settled with a family, you may find that there are 100% remote jobs out there that might suit you. Or ones which are happy with only occasional trips into the office.

Secondly, you need to think about your transferable skills. Know one lower level programming language - you can probably pick up another pretty quickly. Given presentations on your job? That works anywhere etc. Plus when hiring, attitude and willingness to learn are big plus points during an interview.

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There are three possible routes: 1. Change your views so that it is Ok to create tools that are used by arms manufacturers among others. 2. Live with it. You don't have to like it. 3. Don't live with it.

Doing a job and beating yourself up for it isn't good for you in the long term. Not doing the job will impact your family in a major way that they will find unacceptable. Changing your views will probably be unacceptable to you.

I'd recommend that you do two things at the same time. a. Don't worry about it. Because worrying doesn't have any positive effect on anything, it doesn't help with anything, and will have a negative effect on your mental health. b. Look for a different job that isn't in conflict with your ethics, and that is at least close to your current job in terms of money, fun, job security. And when you found it, you give notice.

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Ultimately, we cannot tell you what is right for you to do. Only you know how far the feelings of antipathy towards some customers goes and what you're willing to live with in return for a job. Having said that, it is clearly an awkward situation when both employer and family expect you to put up and shut up, and it's not likely to be tenable in the long term. Some thoughts:

  • is your current job as secure as you think? If you've expressed concerns about specific customers in the past, even if it didn't lead to an actual refusal to work or moving to another project, it will have been noted and may become relevant either for promoting others ahead of you or for putting your name first when downsizing comes up. Management clearly don't share your ethics or concerns.
  • is your growing level of unease affecting your performance? It almost certainly is, even if you don't realise it. Do your managers give you clear, timely and accurate feedback, or is it likely that the first you will hear about it is when one of them suddenly has a major problem with you?
  • would you be more content for the time being if you had at least a plan for moving on?

The worst of all worlds is to remain unhappy and feeling morally compromised at MegaCorp, only for it all to end suddenly via PIP or redundancy in any case. So, unless it's really intolerable and you feel you need to get out now for your sanity's sake, start assembling the information that you will need to make a move that doesn't disrupt the family too much, and putting out feelers to as many potential employers who meet your criteria as you reasonably can. You don't need to tell them why you're looking, only that you want a change. R Davies' answer picks up how to go about that.

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