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I am working as a web developer. I'm 26 and I have about three years of experience. I've been bouncing around jobs to find one that I really like and each time it's a disappointment.

I want to leave my job and work on my own projects and learn stuff on my own for a few months. I have experience, but the jobs I apply for want experience in all kinds of technologies that I'm not exposed to at work.

While applying for jobs I see things like:

  • Show us cool projects you have worked on. (I write closed software for companies, so nothing I can show off. I can just try to describe it.)

  • Desired experience in Node.js, Angular 2, Symfony, "insert new cool technology". (All of which I can learn, but I'm not exposed to it at work, I'm too busy hacking away at gross legacy code.)

I know I could do personal work on nights and weekends, or learn new things at work. I do, and this is what I've been trying for the past three years but it's not working very well for me. It's difficult to sit at a computer and put in any good quality work after spending all day at a computer.

At this time money is not a major issue, I could survive for several months without working. I have an idea for one major project I want to work on that could turn in to something (maybe not). And I may even try my hand at freelancing.

I'm worried that if I leave my job it may be difficult to find a job later for a couple reasons such as having to explain why I'm unemployed and how the value of this self-learning compares to uninterrupted work experience. And there may be other issues or obstacles I'm not even aware of.

What should I consider before leaving my job to focus on personal growth?

marked as duplicate by gnat, Retired Codger, scaaahu, Rory Alsop, WorkerWithoutACause Oct 12 '16 at 13:02

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

  • 27
    “While applying for jobs I see things like” — I’m sure you realise this, but while applying for IT jobs you’ll see all manner of crazy skills wish lists that are only fulfilled by six people in the entire world. – Paul D. Waite Oct 4 '16 at 19:05
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Oct 8 '16 at 2:57
  • I have even seen required experience in a framework of 2 years when the framework didn't even exist that long. Frontend :P – bytepusher Feb 5 at 20:35

12 Answers 12

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I know I could do personal work on nights and weekends, or learn new things at work. I do, and this is what I've been trying for the past three years but it's not working very well for me. It's difficult to sit at a computer and put in any good quality work after spending all day at a computer.

This is a serious long term danger sign. To be successful as a developer, you will need to learn new things continuously. One shot, once in your career, blowing your savings, is not going to solve the long term problem. In a year or two there will be a different set of technologies you need to get the job you want. Are you going to take a few months off to learn them? And then three years later...

On the other hand, getting into the habit of learning interesting stuff outside work hours is a permanent solution. It does not mean spending all evening, every evening, programming. It does mean being able to set aside some time for study and practice, and using it effectively.

If you only have a few months cash reserve, keep it for involuntary layoffs. They may not happen - I went for 32 years in the computer industry with one week of involuntary unemployment - but you should be prepared.

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    100% agree. Realistically, the field/your job re-invents itself every 5 to 7 years - sometimes a lot faster (in the past five years, I've worked in Perl/Mason, Python/Django, Rails, and Go/React). You need to be able to learn as you go. Sometimes you'll get some training; more often it'll be, "we need someone to learn X, you're it, here's the project'. – Joe McMahon Oct 4 '16 at 21:30
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    @TiredDev I suggest concentrating first on learning to stick with a job and to study on the side. Consider taking a break when you have a really good job history, and up to date skills, to help get back into the job market. – Patricia Shanahan Oct 4 '16 at 22:05
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    I don't agree. I've been a developer for 36 years now, and I've basically never learnt a new technology in my own time. I have either learnt it because I've moved to a new job, or because the existing employer needed to use that tech. – Martin Bonner Oct 5 '16 at 9:25
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    What @MartinBonner commented applies for the vast majority of CS people IMHO. Some of the best IT companies even allow their devs to spend half a day to a day a week on personal projects for this very reason: it's the best way to keep them interested and learn new stuff. IT isn't some special field where holidays have to be spent learning new IT trends! – Shautieh Oct 5 '16 at 9:40
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    Yeah, I also agree with @MartinBonner. There are jobs where they don't let you learn new things, but there are also jobs (probably the majority) that will let (or even expect you) to learn on the job. I regularly familiarize myself with new technology on the fly as I'm building something. – Jaguar Wong Oct 5 '16 at 15:26
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Unless the technology you learn has a real dearth of programmers in my area, I would not even give you an interview.

3 years experience + "bouncing around jobs" is a huge red flag to me. This sounds like a year or less per job. When I hire someone I am making an investment in them and I expect them to stay long enough for that investment to pay off.

Your work history shows that you aren't willing to stay long enough to really master the technology and the business domain. Then you are going to take a few months off to try something else. What in all of this would make me believe you would even last a year with my company? I need you to stay a lot longer than that to be a valuable productive developer and make my investment worthwhile.

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    +1 The OP is concerned about learning technologies, and ignoring the fact that learning how to work is equally as important. Cool projects can be done on one's own time, same with learning new tech. Showing that you can be a valuable employee instead of just a valuable developer can really only be done on the job. – Dryden Long Oct 4 '16 at 17:47
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    If the person had 2-3 years at a single company and then took a few months off, would you feel different? – Hobbes Oct 4 '16 at 18:06
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    What do you mean by "investment"? What are you investing in the employee? Seriously, I really want to know how to make my employer invest more into me instead of just wanting more work for less money. – SiXandSeven8ths Oct 4 '16 at 19:20
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    @SiXandSeven8ths Well at least for the first few month, new developers need a lot of guidance from the people who already know the system, the domain and how this particular company does their thing, even if they already have a few years experience as a developer elsewhere. What you're investing is not only the difference between their salary and what they can contribute in those first few month but also the loss of productivity of their peers who spend time training them. – Sumyrda Oct 4 '16 at 19:44
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    @SiXandSeven8ths, my team spends time reviewing resumes, conducting phone and onsite interviews. Time is money. After I hire you I will pay you for several weeks if not months before you are truly functional from a tech and business perspective. Many companies have some form of new-hire training/onboarding, even for senior hires. I will spend time with you to help get you acclimated. All of this adds up to real money spent getting you to the point of being fully functional. – cdkMoose Oct 4 '16 at 20:27
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I fear that the "is it worth it?" question is intensely personal and unique to each individual.

But here's some thoughts to make it worth it...

The problems will be there when you get back

When you say that each job you've taken sounded great, and then was a disappointment -- there's tons of reasons why that could be true. Having been a sounding board many folks who have had a bad sequence of disappointing jobs - one thing I see is that people often have gaps in either how they assess new jobs, or there are intrinsic elements to the type of work they are trying to do that does not suit them. The one consistent thing in ever job you will ever encounter ... is you.

If you are taking time off as a strategic move to make for a hopefully better job, later on, be sure that you're taking the time to assess what's gone wrong in the past, and whether you have prepared adequately for avoiding it in the future.

Be wary of the logical pattern:

  • better tech skills -> more options for jobs
  • more job options -> more good job options
  • more good job options -> a good job that you will like

There's a few fallacies here:

1 - Cool tech is not always marketable tech. Often the coolest tech on the forefront of innovation will actually be older tech that isn't so cool by the time there's lots of jobs that want that skill. And many jobs will hire someone with a solid depth of a relevant skill over someone with all the jargon on their resume.

2 - There is no such thing as a universally good job - a great job for one person is not a great job for another. And most of the stuff related to satisfaction is NOT "what tech am I working on". While working on exciting and relevant tech is one factor, the scope for most people of "exciting and relevant" is wide enough that other requirements come into play.

The flip side - is it so bad to do your own thing?

Nope.

I've been willing to hire people who took a hiatus for a good reason, and who could comfortably explain it to me. It's not exceedingly common, but there are enough successful cases, that I would not call it an anti-pattern.

It does brand you as a strong minded individual, who really wants to do your own thing - that's not so bad in an industry that requires a fair amount of confident decision making. Some companies will love that, some will be worried by it.

The big Challenge

I've seen a fair number of people who go out on their own for a while for self-improvement and to try a self-motivated project.

About 50% of them get a return on their investment - getting yourself into the pattern of working hard without a job is tricky. If you are taking this risk, make sure you have patterns in place that help you be successful - have a routine, have a workspace, have dedicated time that you put into the skills you want to learn and a way of assessing your progress along the way.

It's easy to let one day off turn into another and another and find you've taken a bunch of time and done nothing -- THAT doesn't look great on a resume.

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    This though I suspect you are being kind with your 50% ROI figure. It is far to easy to fall into the Ill work on that after I do this chore, and then that chore and then well there's always tomorrow... Before you know it a month has gone by and you have not touched the project you wanted to work on since that first week. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Oct 4 '16 at 19:55
  • "There is such a thing as a universally good job" ? I think you meant: "There is no such <strike>a</strike> thing as a universally good job – Martin Bonner Oct 5 '16 at 9:27
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    Best answer IMHO. If every work seem bad, then it's more important to find out what kind of work would be better than just learn new languages and trendy stuff to then end up in the same kind of work again because this root problem wasn't solved. – Shautieh Oct 5 '16 at 9:59
  • @Chad - yep. 50% is a kind and completely unsupported metric. – bethlakshmi Oct 6 '16 at 18:10
  • "And many jobs will hire someone with a solid depth of a relevant skill over someone with all the jargon on their resume." Fun anecdote -- I just heard someone complaining that they'd been told they weren't selected for a job because, quote, "their resume made no mention of skills with JavaScript", despite the fact that it included experience with Node.JS and Angular.JS. Buzzwords are all well and good, but not always the best. – Nic Hartley Oct 6 '16 at 23:12
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What you're actually proposing is founding a start-up. You can announce it as such on LinkedIn and call yourself "Founder/CEO". What you want to do is quickly test an idea, and see what you can learn from it. Your learning is then a list of technical skills. Then you look like an entrepreneur, not a slacker.

Leaving your job for personal growth is why people go back to college. That's an explained gap. A unexplained gap in your resume will appear as involuntary, which is not good.

This all said, given you're not progressing now, I question whether this time will be productive. You'll need discipline that seems to be lacking over the last 750 weeknights and 150 weekends. Have you considered a coding academy? Scheduling time as if this project were your job? Getting some traction before quitting?

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    "What you're actually proposing is founding a start-up." Eh no. No he's not. He's proposing leaving the workforce to focus on self-study and creating a portfolio in the hopes of landing a job closer to his interests. OP has no plans to become self-employed, has no business model and there's nothing to even suggest he's thinking of anything even close to a startup. The second someone asks him "how did you secure funding for your startup" the interview might as well be over. – Lilienthal Oct 4 '16 at 16:15
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    @Lilienthal "I have an idea for one major project I want to work on that could turn in to something (maybe not)." That's step 1 in founding a startup, and what I see on most resumes that say exactly what I'm proposing. This isn't controversial. Start-ups can go years without seed funding. – jimm101 Oct 4 '16 at 16:40
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    @WorkerDrone. I wouldn't lie and I wouldn't propose it. Read the question, he's proposing starting a project that might lead to something. That's square one of the startup. This isn't even controversial, I see it all the time. – jimm101 Oct 4 '16 at 16:44
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    And just in case there's any doubt about small projects being more than they appear at first: "I’m doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won’t be big and professional like gnu)..." -- Linus Torvalds first post regarding Linux, the most widely deployed operating system in the world, and a cornerstone of the world economy. – jimm101 Oct 4 '16 at 17:04
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    "I had an idea for a technology that I thought might go somewhere, and I needed to learn new skills to realize it. I had wanted to improve my skills anyway, so I took the opportunity to jump into it head first, build my skills, and try to build the new tech. I set a deadline of 3 months. I realized [reason it fails to move forward], but I'm glad to have taken the time to develop __, __ and __." – jimm101 Oct 4 '16 at 19:33
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What I should consider before leaving my job to focus on personal growth?

  • Consider how you will answer the inevitable questions about why you voluntarily left a paying job.

  • Consider how you will answer the question as to why you couldn't learn on your own time, the same way that most others do.

  • Consider what you will do financially if you duck out for several months, and then it takes many months to find your next job.

  • Consider that you don't yet have a clear plan (maybe I'll focus on things I can show, maybe I'll work on this one major project, maybe I'll freelance).

  • Consider that you have already bounced around for 3 years, and that many employers tend not to prefer folks that bounce around a lot.

  • Consider what it is that disappointed you as you bounced around, and how you can find a job that won't disappoint you.

  • Consider if this will be a plan going forward - will you plan to take a few months off every time you need to upgrade your skills?

7

You are going to have a hard time explaining this when you go to look for another job. Hiding an employment gap is not easy. Just about everyone will want an explanation.

Here are the problems and why you need to work through them:

  1. You're too tired to spend extra time learning stuff. I'm sorry, you're 26 and probably don't have half of the life-stresses you're going to accumulate in the near future: marriage, children, cars, houses, illness, aging. You're in the prime of your life and you act like you don't have the energy. It's only going to get worse if you don't build up some stamina. Employers won't be interested in your excuses.
  2. Money isn't a problem. - There's just something to be said about someone's motivation when they at least want some money. Although greed can be an issue, many people are stable in their careers because they need the money. Employers like that and have contingencies if you win the lottery.
  3. You will always need to develop new skills for new technologies. Again, how are you going to develop new skills in the future if you can't do it now? Most jobs aren't going to let you go on sabbatical. Many offer training, but spending one week in some class isn't going to turn you into an expert.

We all need a kick in the pants and this is yours. Start making time. Get in shape. Eat better. Go for a walk. Take yoga. Do anything that will help you squeeze a few extra hours a week to learn new things. You will be able to pick up on new technologies quicker as you continue to improve your skills. You won't need as much time. If you still can't do it, that's another career choice question you may need to consider.

Update: All of this is predicated on the OP needing to explain this in an interview. If someone wants to take time off, that's fine with me, but be prepared to suffer the consequences of finding another job. It may not be a problem. That's what risk vs reward decisions are all about. Personally, I've never felt the need to take this much time off and I have made major career changes.

  • Agree with 1 & 3. – Konerak Oct 5 '16 at 8:34
  • Agree with 2 especially. Needing money is a huge motivator for your job, so if don't need it, I recommend spending it all on something stupid to put yourself back in the motivational sweet spot so your employer can know you're reliable. – A. McDaniel Oct 5 '16 at 21:55
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    This is completely insane and inappropriate. You know absolutely nothing about OP's life stresses, relationships, eating habits, etc. etc. An employer should not know about his personal finances either, even if they might theoretically care. Not being stressed for cash is not a "problem to work through". Do you have anything to say that actually answers the question, besides the opening paragraph? And anything to back that up? "Personal development" gaps are both common in the software world and not hard to explain at all. I learned X and did Y and you can see Z on my GitHub. Done. – Matthew Read Oct 6 '16 at 0:25
  • @matthewreed It's doesn't matter what I know. This is how it will be perceived. You can work on contract or consulting and gaps are not a problem, but as a career employee, they're difficult to explain why. If your experience is different, that's great, but look up other questions on this site and you will find plenty of agreement. – user8365 Oct 6 '16 at 2:42
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"A few months" is insignificant. Especially if you have a good/interesting story about why you took that time and what you did productively with it. "I spent it exploring new technology and a product idea" is a good story; "I wanted to trek the Appalachian trail end-to-end before I got out if condition" is fair; "I wanted to take a six-month Spring Break" is unlikely to impress unless you can explain what you did that merited an extended vacation.

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    not down-voting but I disagree. I would not hire an individual who quit for a reason like that when he could have learned a new tech while on the job. – Retired Codger Oct 4 '16 at 14:55
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    HR screening also often screen out people unemployed for any long period of time, so the hiring manager never even sees the resume. Quitting with no job lined up can be very risky. – HLGEM Oct 4 '16 at 15:24
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    Can be risky, true. I am not convinced six months is a long period of time, but that's opinion and judgement call. Six months after a lot of job-hopping, I agree, is a different kettle of worms, but it's the job-hopping pattern that would make me concerned more than a sabbatical -- depending on what gets done (not just planned) during the sabbatical. – keshlam Oct 4 '16 at 18:04
  • @keshlam I'd be less likely to question a sabbatical taken past their twenties. Maybe because I'm old, but .... $0.02 – Retired Codger Oct 5 '16 at 14:05
  • I can see both sides, which is why I emphasize "what did you do with it." Volunteering, or military service, might impress me depending on what and where. Trying to launch a startup, if done seriously rather than half-arsed, can teach one a lot that will be useful layer in one's career. I'm willing to be sold on it. – keshlam Oct 5 '16 at 21:14
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While everyone is telling you no and do not do it. I will go with yes and go for it. Only once you get lost you find yourself. I think you don't like what you are doing right now. And that you need a break, for yourself and to find your interests and happiness.

It is awesome that you have an idea to work on. Go for it and give it a try! You are in an age that you can still fail miserably but then make up. It is absolutely fine.

When I was at your age, I was a Technical Support and hated because felt useless and left, found my self somewhere sometime else as a developer and it was awesome! I have 0 regret to give.

Even your username says Tired Dev! Leave mate and once you are ready and you think that you really want it, don't worry, you will find a way. It might not be exactly what you were doing before, but you will find your better way.

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    FWIW, you changed jobs, so I would expect you to go through some transition/learning issues. OP doesn't want to change jobs, so as a hiring manager I would question those. – cdkMoose Oct 4 '16 at 18:25
  • @cdkMoose Right. It just happened that I changed fields (I consider Developing is different than Technical Support = Technician: Desktop, Printers, Laptops, Networks etc). But I left because I was not learning and felt not challenged at all and could not find another job because of staying noob. Then tried to open my own shop but ended up with learning programming. I remember I was very happy when I left. – Khalil Khalaf Oct 4 '16 at 18:35
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    I was speaking from the perspective of a hiring manager. If your resume showed time as a Technician and then a break to learn programming, I would certainly consider you for a entry level developer position. But if you want me to consider you as experienced, then you need to have some solid experience, which I believe OPs scenario does not present. – cdkMoose Oct 4 '16 at 18:38
3

My answer may not work for your specific situation, but I'm sure it will work out for others Googling this same question.

Depending on the type of work, the amount of developers in the company and the mindset of said company's management, you do not have to quit your job at all. You say that you working on your own projects after work is not working out very well, which I completely understand.

Then there's three options:

  1. Stay with your current job and suck it up;
  2. Leave your current job and work on your skills (as covered very well by other answers);
  3. Work part-time, and use your the spare days to work on your skills.

The third option would leave no employment gap in your resume and will allow you to work on your own project(s) at least one or two days per week, while also leaving you with a healthy weekend in which you can relax.

Your salary would of course get cut, but it'll still be more than no employment at all. You can use your job to learn about company politics -something which cannot really be learned without working for a company- and your newly acquired time to learn other skills.

2

I think a gap of 3 months is not as big of a deal as some are making it appear to be, though this consideration may vary regionally.

You certainly will have to answer the question "what was this gap about?", but if you answer it full of passion and energy about what you learned and did, and have a good project to show for it (*) that I can see on github, it will easily get you over that hump.

A gap of 3 months on a resume would not stop me inviting you for an interview.

The chopping and changing before that might make me wonder, and definitely is already a problem you need to somehow compensate for, but continuing in a dead end job that you hate is not doing you any favours.

If you have added the technologies that I need for my job to your skills, and have a project that shows it, this could get your resume over the line for me.

HOWEVER - you said:

That's what I have been trying, without success. And thats why I think I need to work on gaining the knowledge companies like that want.

I suspect the problem here is not the knowledge that you don't have. After reading all you've written I suspect that the problem runs deeper. People want to hire keen people.

It may surprise you, but the last thing I want to hear about in an interview is how boring your existing job is. And yet you positively exude that boredom in everything you've written. It's hard to imagine it's not coming through in an interview situation.

So if you want to re-energise your career, you need to think about this aspect of your re-boot. Maybe you can get that new job without the whole "learn a new technology" thing, but getting some new inspiration, or just plain better interview technique and attitude.

Blaming not getting a new job now on not having the knowledge might be missing the point.

What this means is that your proposed plan is only going to help if it energises you as well as demonstrates some good skills through the outcome of the proposed project.

Another difficulty that you may not have considered is that coding is rarely a single person endeavour. Especially coding-while-you-learn. New technologies are best learned in small teams.

So I don't think the 3 month gap in itself is going to be a show stopper, but there are plenty of things to think about around it ;)


(*) Note: just claiming you learned the tech will not be enough. You need to show that you really learned it through implementation. You need to be a good learner to pull this off in 3 months, but it is not out of the question.

0

Going on a different tangent...

When an employer asks for a certain number of years of experience, one of the things we are looking for is a certain amount of maturity. People with several years of experience are more interested in doing the right thing right. Experience gives the gift of knowing how to deal with lots of different people. Experience is sucking it up and moving on even when things are not going well.

When you leave your current job to go off on an adventure, if you don't have a great excuse, then you are losing out on some of that experience. You are showing that you will leave the next employer.

Do not underestimate the job market. If you start a job search now, it might be 3 months before you get another paycheck. If you take 3 months off, it might be 6 months. Consider that it might be... 2-3 weeks for them to review a resume and call you for an interview. 2-3 weeks to do a phone interview, then to schedule in-person interview. 2-3 weeks for them to interview several candidates. 1 week to determine who to hire. 1 week for HR to get a job offer to you. 1-3 weeks for a background check. Then you can start. Then wait 1-4 weeks (some pay monthly) for a paycheck. -- This is all if you are very lucky. If you are average to lucky, it might be 3-9 months before you get an offer after sending out 100+ resume's, getting a dozen interviews in the process.

Learning at night is a requirement. As other people have mentioned, once you have a job (a 2nd job), spouse, kids, dogs, cats, elderly parents, extra-curricular activities, grad degree, certifications, and more, you MUST be able to keep going on something many hours after leaving the 'day job'.

If you want to learn "Node.js, Angular 2, Symfony, "insert new cool technology"" - then do it. Maybe you can figure out how to use these in your current job. Realize that there are likely far, far more jobs using old tech than new tech.

If you want to apply to a job with a tech that you don't know, then explain how you know X-tech, and that will translate to Y-tech. When I'm hiring a programmer for Java/php/python, if they know C, C++ C#, perl, and ruby, then I'll assume that they will learn what I need. I look to hire smart people who are motivated, who will learn on their own, who want a challenge, and who are flexible.

  • 1
    If you are going to downvote, comment for why. – MikeP Oct 5 '16 at 22:13
  • Not my DV, just nits, every employee leaves every employer almost always. It's not really relevant. Not sure what "great excuse" means. Usually "great excuse" means "still just an excuse." – user42272 Oct 6 '16 at 4:51
  • Very narrow characterization of maturity. Maturity means knowing when to walk away. Maturity means knowing when it's time for change. Etc. Sounds like you just think OP should stay in their job. You're not saying anything else with "If the OP were experienced and mature they would stay in their job." – user42272 Oct 6 '16 at 4:52
  • Yes, it is narrow. I don't have time to write a treatise on the subject, just interject a modicum of thoughts. – MikeP Oct 6 '16 at 23:27
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    I didn't vote on your answer, but it's pretty understandable if people don't want to see a modicum of thoughts in answers here. We try to maintain a pretty high bar for "solid" answers. Again, didn't vote, I just really would take the attitude of erring on the side of posting solid, complete answers, or nothing at all. Sorry for the preachiness in case you'd like my perspective on the answer. – user42272 Oct 6 '16 at 23:40
-2

In a field where 30 is already considered ancient and the technologies change with the fads, quitting to "find yourself" would be career suicide. I, for one would consider you to be too much of a flake to ever hire. That's not meant to be insulting, but what my honest evaluation of you would be.

What I suggest instead is to do your project on your down time.

I'm worried that if I leave my job it may difficult to find a job later for a couple reasons.

•Having to explain why I'm out of work.

That's going to be a big one. Leaving because you wanted to learn something is going to get you questions like "Why didn't you learn on the job? Why didn't you do projects on the weekends and evenings?" It will mae you look fickle at best.

•Will learning a technology on my own (and building something) be the same as having the work experience on my resume.

Not just "NO", but "HECK NO". It will mean nothing

•And a ton of other obstacles I'm not even sure about yet.

You have no idea!

Is leaving my job for personal growth a bad idea?

The worst

Are my fears of rejoining the workforce unfounded?

No, they are firmly grounded in sanity, listen to them

Do open source work. Do volunteer work. Study during off hours. Join groups that focus on what you want to learn (both online and in RL).

But whatever you do, do NOT quit your job

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – enderland Oct 5 '16 at 15:45

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