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I will get my PhD in software engineering somewhen next year. After that, I plan to leave academia and work as a developer in a small to medium-sized company. Before that, I plan to travel around the world for more or less a year. Now, some people told me that this will significantly lower my chances to get a (good) job, since:

  • I did not do any "real" work so far and will even stay away from "real" work one more year
  • I'll be one year older
  • I'll do nothing during this year

So is this really true? I think it's a great opportunity and I want to definitively use it. I also think that it's not too hard to explain to a potential employer that you were abroad for 1 year to see the world. Or am I wrong in my opinion?

  • This isn't a dup, but the concepts are related: workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/16816/… – thursdaysgeek Dec 3 '15 at 22:46
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    A recruiter whose opinion I value greatly once told me that in his experience there were only three "acceptable" reasons for long spans of unemployment. Illness in the family ("I had to take time off to take care of my wife / husband / father / mother"), education and taking time off to travel the world. Apparently people love to hear about how their potential employees trotted the globe :) – Francine DeGrood Taylor Dec 4 '15 at 1:18
  • A PhD in software engineering? What does that entail? Or you mean a PhD in Computer Science? – Jack Dec 4 '15 at 4:14
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    Possible duplicate of Handling a Gap in Your Résumé (Travel experience) – gnat Dec 4 '15 at 5:07
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There are a few sides to this:

  1. In a year's time, who is to say what state the economy will be so that the demand for developers where you live would be higher or lower than it is right now? That is a big factor that depending on some historical time frames some could be useful and some could be rather bad. Trying to find work as a developer in 2001 may have been rather hard while the late 1990s could be much easier. There is also the potential for there to be another year's worth of graduates looking for work so that could also impact how good you appear given that you are a bit older than others looking for the same job, particularly if they just did a Bachelor's and go into industry while you have a PhD and probably spent more time in school I'd suspect.

  2. What kind of work would you want and how would you feel if you were the hiring manager? "Yeah, we got a possible developer that spent the last year travelling. Does that sound like he'd be a good fit here?" where for some places it may work well and for a lot it wouldn't. They would wonder how sharp are your skills, how long would you take to produce something useful in the role, what kind of other things may you do later that could upset timelines?

  3. Aside from the, "I wanted to see the world," do you have other stuff you'd bring up as assets for having done the trip that relate to the job? For example, would you state that you have experienced other cultures by taking this trip? Would you seek to find contacts and see how IT is done in various places around the world in this trip? There are different ways to use this as seeing it merely as burying your skills for a year doesn't really paint the real picture here.

I also think that it's not too hard to explain to a potential employer that you were abroad for 1 year to see the world. Or am I wrong in my opinion?

Which way are you wanting to slice this? To state it, is not hard, true. Just saying the words and nothing else is what you state that could be rather myopic.

To not have it change how an employer would see you and judge you for it? That is where I suspect you may be missing something here as what if there are 4 other applicants just as good only the other 3 are all more recent graduates? This is what you will be competing against in a year when you job hunt don't forget. The key question is how well can you sell that you are still a great fit for the job and are good to go even though you spent a year away from development?

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That's a tricky one. In general there is nothing wrong with taking a year off to travel. In some respects it helps since it will broaden your horizon, expose you to different cultures and demonstrate that you are not a couch potato, that you can organize and improvise and that that your are comfortable with risk and new situations.

If you ever want to do it, it's now or never. Once you start working, it'll be a lot harder.

On the other hand it will make your job search more difficult. How much more difficult depends on the circumstances. If you went through the academic track quickly, the extra year is not going to be much of a problem. If it took you a long time, any extra time will put you dis-proportionally more at a disadvantage.

Your primary method of getting a job should be networking. Ideally you have used your Ph.D. time to build a lot of connections (through papers, conferences, professional associations, standard bodies, forums, etc.). It's very important to not let that lapse too much while you are travelling. Make sure you stay at least casually connected. If you don't have a strong network, be prepared to spend some serious time and effort to build it either now or when you are back.

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I personally would feel it a better idea if you did it after your BS degree than the PhD because the PhD already puts you at a disadvantage as far as getting an ordinary dev job and the year off makes the skills more rusty for the specialized high level stuff you might have done in the Phd. But that ship has sailed.

However, that said, if you can time it so that you return to looking for a job around the same time that new grads are also looking for entry level jobs (because companies tend to cluster their new hire job hiring around the times when entry level people become available), you will probably be fine but it may take longer to get that first one since you won't have the resources of your university helping you (like the interviews at school job fairs earlier in the semester)

However what you might want to do to make things better is to work on personal projects or open source projects during your year abroad so that you can show your skills have not gotten rusty. You might also want to plan to be able to handle at least 6 months of unemployment after you return form your trip. You could also consider freelancing which can be done remotely. So you could schedule yourself to work at projects 2-3 days a week and tourist the rest of the time. You would get some experience, you would keep your skills fresh and you would still be able to tour around the world.

You could also consider looking at some of the big companies that hire a lot of grads each year and get an offer and ask them if they would consider holding it for the next year. This won't work with small companies but it could with a large company that always hires every year.

You will get that first job eventually but it may not be the best job ever since you will have some negatives. But so what, get good experience in the first job to become more marketable and then move to a better company, you don't have to stay at that first job forever.

Once you start working, taking a year off to travel is harder, so I'd say go for it. I wish I had.

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    Trying to work parttime while doing an around the world without violating a mess of local laws everywhere you go is likely to be a PITA. You'll often need to get business visas/work permits instead of tourist visas; and owing income/self employment taxes in a zillion different jurisdictions. – Dan Neely Dec 4 '15 at 0:02
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You're looking at it from the wrong angle I think. Take the year off, this is not that unusual and employers are usually ok with it. But look at it as an investment in yourself rather than about possible work problems which may or may not eventuate. Avoid a whole bunch of 'if only' and 'what if' and instead have a year of adventure and novelty to remember.

Once you do start working it's unlikely you'll be able to take a year off for a long long long long long time. So do it while it impacts the least on your career. And it also helps if you start the job search before you finish your World Trip as well. Don't wait until you get back home and then sit on your hands wondering what to do, get your shiny new credentials working for you before you return if possible.

  • This begs the question though, looking at it from the once-in-a-lifetime angle only makes sense once you establish you'll be able to get a good job if you do. – user42272 Dec 4 '15 at 6:12
  • Plus I don't see any reason this is a better time than between two jobs later. A lot of Silicon Valley-types do exactly this sort of thing nowadays. – user42272 Dec 4 '15 at 6:13
  • or get hit by a bus... or get sick... or anything.... do it now, or just dream you did and save up for a World tour when you're 70 years old – Kilisi Dec 4 '15 at 6:13
  • I do indeed recommend saving for retirement instead of saying why not blow it all in my 20s because I'll get hit by a bus or get sick or something. – user42272 Dec 4 '15 at 6:18
  • did you take a year off after your second job, or are you just making this stuff up? – Kilisi Dec 4 '15 at 6:33
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If you are going to take a year off no better time then now. You took 4 (or so) years to get a PhD. Is your knowledge going to go stale in in a year? Go for it and see the world now. A PhD in software engineering is going to find a (very good) job today or next year.

Going for a PhD is a differed thing in the first place.

You did not do nothing during the year. You saw the world.

If you have the money to see the world now then money is not that tight.

  • I don't see why this is a better time than some other time (many people do it between jobs down the road). You should answer whether the knowledge goes stale because that's exactly the question and Ph.D.-level research is very sensitive to this. The rest of your answer is just truisms. – user42272 Dec 4 '15 at 6:16
  • @djechlin You are not a happy person – paparazzo Dec 4 '15 at 9:11
  • Thanks, I'll be sure to make a bunch of motivational posters out of your answer and frame them. – user42272 Dec 4 '15 at 14:31
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I will get my PhD in software engineering somewhen next year. After that, I plan to leave academia and work as a developer in a small to medium-sized company.

First off, A PhD in software engineering is of questionable value over a masters; and a masters is only sometimes more valuable than a bachelors when looking at small/medium sized companies.

Those companies place a much higher value on provable, relevant and recent coding and problem solving ability - which you apparently don't have. If you were wanting to be a University Professor or even a researcher in a large company then things might be different.

Honestly I wouldn't be surprised if you have to explain your reasoning for continuing to stay in college beyond your bachelors much less taking yet one more year off. If I interviewed a candidate with a recent PhD I'd probably be thinking that they weren't good enough to get a university job...

That said, you can absolutely tell a potential employer that you took a year off to explore the world. Which, although it's a fun thing pretty much everyone would wish they had done, it's irrelevant to the job your looking to perform and we like to keep interviews on target.

Future employers are naturally going to ask what you did in your chosen profession during that time. I'd highly recommend you start some type of project that you work on a few hours each week while sightseeing.

  • I think it's good to point out Ph.Ds aren't automatically valuable but this is really harsh and a bit wrong. Literally speaking a typical science Ph.D. requires lots of "provable, relevant and recent coding and problem solving availability." I would see a Ph.D. as someone who is very smart, has spent the last 5 or so years aggressively learning new skills and technologies, and can continue doing exactly that for the next 5 or so years. As far as I understand, salary might look pretty similar to a B.S. grad but so what. – user42272 Dec 4 '15 at 6:21
  • @djechlin: I guess we view Ph.D.'s differently. I see someone that has spent some number of years performing research on problems that are unlikely to be of any business use. If it were of use then the university likely would have helped them patent it and a company would have been formed to take advantage; and the PhD wouldn't be coming to me with zero job history. – NotMe Dec 4 '15 at 20:00
  • Then you should replace "provable, relevant, and recent coding and problem solving ability" with "work on problems of business use," if that is in fact what you mean. – user42272 Dec 4 '15 at 20:15

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