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I work as an engineer at a startup technology company in the United States, and for several reasons, such as:

  • A culture of working more than 8 hours a day.
  • A loud "open office" environment and a culture of interruptions.
  • A pay cut from my previous job, along with the dramatic increase in hours worked, effectively creating an even larger per-hour pay cut.
  • Bad health insurance and no dental insurance, but free candy.

I have decided to find a new job and resign as soon as I can. I expect this to be in a few months, to give me time for a job search and interviews.

We have a product that uses multiple platforms (Android, web, etc.). I am solely responsible for one of the platforms, and I will leave them without anyone who is able to work on the project in the near future:

  • I know for certain that the company had difficulty hiring for my role previously, and I do not expect them to have an easier time this time around. It's very hard to hire people currently.
  • The project requires a lot of specialized knowledge, it took me at least a month to begin to understand everything (although it was messy, lacked any documentation and had few comments)

I've made improvements that I hope will make the job much easier for my successor, and thus make myself view positively:

  • My documentation coverage is impeccable
  • Nearly everything is heavily commented
  • I have cleaned up the previous codebase, which was a bit of a spaghetti mess, through extensive use of immutable value types, pure functions, etc.
  • There were no unit tests when I arrived, the coverage is much better now.

How can I plan an exit that will damage my career as little as possible? My main concerns are:

  • Being labelled a job hopper in the future, as I started at this company in early February, and it's currently October.
  • Burning all of my bridges with the team at the startup, since I'll be leaving them hanging at a critical time - it's almost time to raise another round, and some upcoming sales metrics are going to be very important.
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    "Being labelled a job hopper" - How long did you have the last position? – Brandin Oct 27 '15 at 6:44
  • What's the reason that they think it is a good business? For example, they works on something nobody else do, they don't have much income now but have a good expectation, or... overoptimism? And do they feel relaxed and think they get rid of the problem not easy hiring forever when they hire you? – user23013 Oct 27 '15 at 8:07
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    Related: How can I prepare for getting hit by a bus? – David K Oct 27 '15 at 13:55
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    Seems like this bridge will collapse whether you burn it or not. – user8365 Oct 27 '15 at 17:23
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How can I plan an exit that will damage my career as little as possible? My main concerns are:

Being labelled a job hopper in the future, as I started at this company in early February, and it's currently October.

If this is your only quick job exit, then you aren't likely to get labelled as a job hopper. One instance doesn't make a pattern.

If this becomes a pattern, then you will be a job hopper. To avoid that label, by definition - don't hop so often or so quickly.

Burning all of my bridges with the team at the startup, since I'll be leaving them hanging at a critical time - it's almost time to raise another round, and some upcoming sales metrics are going to be very important.

If you are as critical as you believe, then you could possibly burn some bridges here - there's little you can do about that. Even if you aren't as critical as you believe, leaving in under a year may leave a bad taste with your boss/colleagues.

But you have already decided to resign as soon as you can. You've left things in as good shape as you can. So you are faced with letting the chips fall where they may. There's little else you can do other than giving a good notice period and acting professionally during that time.

You indicate this is a technology startup. Greater than 8 hour days, loud open office setups, lower pay, and lesser benefits are not at all uncommon in startups. As you seek your next job, you might want to look at things more carefully, so you are able to stick around longer (and hence not become a job hopper).

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    Thanks - to be clear, "as soon as I can" is allowing for the whole job search process, which will be difficult since we don't have any official PTO I can use for all-day interviews. I will update the question to mention that this isn't happening next week. – cwatkins Oct 27 '15 at 1:01
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How can I leave without damaging my career?

Be professional, give notice(two weeks) and realize two things:

  1. Any feelings of loyalty are probably not reciprocated by your company. They pay you so little because either they don't think you are worth more or they can't afford to. In either case, I would consider moving on.

  2. Staying may harm your career more than leaving. I don't think leaving this job is especially dangerous but in your case I would say be prepared to stick out your next job for a couple of years. Software Engineers are high in demand. If you are good, companies will risk that you may leave within a year of two of getting hired.

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I had a somewhat similar situation that resulted in a workplace question a few years ago: How do I resign when I know my employer will lose a big client when I leave?. Although only loosely related I think the persectives of some of the answers in there will help you.

How to handle this in future interviews

Given that you haven't regularly changed jobs in a small window of time I don't think any future employer is going to think much of this. Short stints at workplaces happen, quite a lot - and it's not something a hiring manager won't have seen before.

The most important thing for you to do is to not disparage your current employer in future interviews or positions. If you are asked why you left so soon just say something like

Although I greatly enjoyed working at x I didn't feel we were the best fit for each other.

Most interviewers won't push the point any further. However if you don't do this and instead say something like:

The culture at x had long hours and horrible benefits.

Although maybe true, I'm just remembering you being negative about your previous employer and it's not doing you any favors.

Once you have you a new position continue to remain professional about your previous employer. You very clearly hold quite negative opinions about your them but try to refrain from sharing them with others as there's really no benefit to you in doing so and it can come back to bite you in future. If you need to rant and get it off your chest keep it in your social circle and separate from your work life.

How to avoid burning bridges

The reality is that you will probably burn some bridges with your current employer - but you already know that you don't really enjoy working with them. Network with the people you work with and be as positive as you can be throughout your transition. Work hard - all the way to the end.

Also, you stated:

I've made improvements that I hope will make the job much easier for my successor, and thus make myself view positively:

  • My documentation coverage is impeccable
  • Nearly everything is heavily commented

I have cleaned up the previous codebase, which was a bit of a spaghetti mess, through extensive use of immutable value types, pure functions, etc. There were no unit tests when I arrived, the coverage is much better now.

These are the kinds of things that will help prevent you from being viewed too negatively after you have left. Potentially some people will be upset that you haven't stuck it out for the long haul (as startup cultures tend to be like!) but ultimately it sounds like you've handled the knowledge transition quite well in your day-to-day work. It's typically a lack of handover or no handover at all that is the main reason why people hold ex-employees in bad faith.

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    Isn't a handover that line manager's responsibility? – Gusdor Oct 27 '15 at 8:26
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    @Gudsor, handover is every employees responsibility when they leave. It is only the manager's sole responsibility if the person is let go with no notice. The purpose of the notice period is to do handover. – HLGEM Oct 27 '15 at 13:35
  • Saying that he worked in an quite noisy open-office environment is something he should mention. Unless he can work under those conditions. – BЈовић Oct 27 '15 at 15:05
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    @BЈовић it's worth noting that open offices can be done without being noisy and interrupt-driven. I've worked in both and it's vastly different. – Daenyth Oct 28 '15 at 12:05
  • @Daenyth Interesting. My experience with open office is quite the opposite : noisy and interrupt driver. I don't see how could it be possible to have a different setup, so it becomes the opposite. – BЈовић Oct 28 '15 at 15:57
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How can I plan an exit that will damage my career as little as possible?

Unless your resume already shows a history of job-hopping, nothing you've described is likely to damage your career (one short stint at a company isn't going to raise eyebrows; 3 or more in a row will). Your departure may be disruptive to your current employer's ongoing operations, but that's not really your concern, and it's not at all the same thing as damaging your career.

Your minimum obligation is to provide your current employer with a notice period that's in-line with whatever is stated in your employment contract or otherwise obliged according to local laws or expected according to local custom. Once you do that, it becomes your employer's responsibility to mitigate the disruption caused by your departure. They may do that by trying to convince you to stay, or by hiring a replacement, or by assigning another employee to take over your tasks when you leave.

So I don't think you need to worry about minimizing damage to your career. If you want to help minimize disruption to your current employer, then consider providing them with some extra notice time. And be willing to do whatever you can to help your successor succeed. It sounds like you've already been doing this, so you're ahead of the game.

How can I avoid burning bridges?

Remain professional and respectful at all times. Yes, your departure may be disruptive for your current employer. But that's just how business goes sometimes.

If you remain positive about your reasons for leaving (i.e. "I was offered an opportunity that's too good to pass up", not "I hate working here, and here's why..."), willing to do what you can (within reason) to minimize the impact of your departure, and professional about doing your job up until your final day, then the only bridges that get burned will be the ones your employer chooses to burn.

And odds are they won't want to burn any bridges either, because if the hiring situation is as you describe they may well want to keep the option of rehiring you open in the future.

Just stay positive, respectful, and professional, and probably everything will be fine. Or if not, that's just further validation of your decision to leave.

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