78

I have been working at my current company for ~5 years now and has been a key technical contributor and then an Engineering Manager leading the core technical team of the company.

We have developed a few products so far based on our niche technology (we are building hardware). The products have had mediocre success, due to late entry to market and reduced performance (even with lower cost) in a market where a premium is put on performance and standard compliance.

Now we are launching into a new product development cycle. After feasibility studies, I have come to the conclusion that we would barely be able to do it and have to anticipate significant delay compared to impossible timeline given by management. In addition, I feel like this product is going to end up with similarly lukewarm market response.

My boss doesn't understand technology, so any technical issues would be shouldered by me. For this reason, I have been communicating potential issues with management. The response is that we must do this product for the survival of this company. So this is a very serious program.

Now I come to think about the next 2 years of my life, it's kind of going to suck a lot. We would be working on something not very exciting, with exacting specifications we would barely meet with luck, and high chance of program delays, on top of that life and death of the company kind of depends on it. I see little upside in this and feels like this is a suicide mission.

I've been thinking about leaving the company, due to this and other issues that I am not happy about and wasn't able to influence to change in the past a couple of years.

If I quit, my biggest concerns are the following:

  1. Leaving my team hanging
  2. Being perceived as a captain abandoning the boat when it is sinking
  3. Burning bridges with management

Perhaps I'm not thinking this straight, would like to get your advice on how to proceed in the best way.

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    It's not your ship to go down with. if you really want to stay try to negotiate some reward for the risk you are taking if things work out well. – user1450877 May 2 '17 at 14:56
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    “being perceived as a captain abandoning the boat when it is sinking” Your boss is your captain, not you. So if you feel the ship is sinking, get on a lifeboat and push away. – JakeGould May 2 '17 at 18:14
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    Do you have a new job lined up? If not, that is probably the problem you should tackle first. If so, then quitting is easy. – Bradd Szonye May 2 '17 at 19:56
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    Your choices are 1) climb aboard the S.S. Titanic, or 2) wave from the dock. I know which choice I'd make, but it's up to you. – Bob Jarvis May 2 '17 at 22:18
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    This whole question screams "I want to quit my job, I just don't know it yet". – Martijn May 3 '17 at 8:41

12 Answers 12

43

Are you the company owner, or are you an employee who is working under an agreement to supply quality work product for fair compensation?

Obviously, a rhetorical question. Obviously, you care about your co-workers. That is admirable and commendable. But, ultimately, it's not your responsibility to make your own life miserable to make theirs a bit more manageable. People leave positions for other positions. Often, key people do. Just like companies firing and "re-organizing," it's a normal part of business. Companies have and will continue to deal with it, and it's accepted as part of doing business.

As such, you don't have any particular obligation to stay just to make the sinking with the ship and drowning in icy waters a slightly more positive drowning experience for your friends/co-workers.

You are not the captain leaving a sinking ship. If you were the captain, you'd have the authority to change the course of the ship. You tried to do that, and the captains said "full steam ahead!"

Let's put it this way, if/when the company fails because this mission critical project, that had almost no chance to succeed, fails as you fear it might, what will look worse for your career and potential employers?

Situation #1, you see the writing on the wall, and get out now.

Interviewer: Why are you looking to leave the company?

You: I feel my current company's long-term outlook might not be so rosy, and am looking for a situation and employer with more growth and success potential.

I: Oh, that sounds like us! Let's talk about your qualifications....

Situation #2, you stick around to the bitter end, despite them not heeding your warnings

I: I see you are not currently employed. Companies really hate the unemployed. What happened?

You: Well, the company put all of its eggs in a project that could not succeed, but I wanted to show my loyalty and support, so I stayed.

I: Hmmm. Lacks professional business perspective.... were you aware that this might happen?

You: Yes, it was my project.

I: Your project? You failed and killed your company?

You: No, I warned them before the project got off the ground that it was not viable, they ignored me.

I: So you knew all this time that you were in a dead-end, no win situation, you lacked the credibility with management to get them to listen to you, and chose to stay until you were unemployed?

This is a no-win situation for you. Ultimately, professionally, your primary responsibility is to your own professional career. If it turns out badly for those still with the company, that's because of company management decisions. You did all you could to try and alter that outcome. You don't owe any more. If you do stay, it will probably be miserable with a bad outcome, to boot, by your own reflection on the topic.

If you stay and somehow manage to save the project and the entire company, then, in all likelihood, you are being seriously underpaid, and deserve equity and greater strategic responsibility, which you would probably have to leave to get, if they are unwilling to listen to your input now.

Best of luck. Obviously, my opinion is that you should start looking ASAP. I don't think anyone would fault you for leaving a situation like that.

  • 2
    Thanks for the vivid illustration of the situations. I can't agree more. It is very clear that I either stand behind a project and drive it to success, or influence to change course. If I can do neither, I will choose to leave. I don't have other jobs lined up yet, but I'm ok taking some time off. Continuing down the path and do an half ass job is irresponsible for both myself and the rest of the company. – user69531 May 4 '17 at 17:08
  • I upvoted, but feel compelled to also add praise for the vivid illustration! – GreenAsJade May 5 '17 at 5:36
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    Interviewer: Why are you looking to leave the company? You: I feel my current company's long-term outlook might not be so rosy, and am looking for a situation and employer with more growth and success potential. I: You're not willing to stay and work hard to try to turn it around? Our growth and potential is due to people working to the best of the ability and not losing hope when things get tough. (This is just an alternative ending scenario) – Gregory Currie May 5 '17 at 6:00
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    I agree with @GregroyCurrie here. Don't talk about "not so rosy outlook". Not only might it send the wrong impression (that you are abandoning your employer), it also sends the wrong impression (that you have no qualms talking in less-than-complimentary tones about your employer to others). After 5 years, it's perfectly legit to say things like "I am looking for new challenges", or "I am looking to do something a bit different", or "I feel it is time for some change". Avoids all kinds of awkward questions. – DevSolar May 5 '17 at 8:34
  • @teddy - taking time off is a bad idea if you can avoid it. Employers are suspicious of people who are unemployed - particularly if they weren't made redundant. (The suspicion is that they were "not quite fired", and nobody wants to risk a trouble maker.) – Martin Bonner May 5 '17 at 9:50
93

Perhaps I'm not thinking this straight, would like to get your advice on how to proceed in the best way.

First, find another job. Then send your manager an email that says "This is my written notice of resignation from Foo Corporation; my last day will be June 1st. Sincerely, teddy". Easy peasy.

If I quit, my biggest concerns are the following:

leaving my team hanging

Don't leave them hanging. If they can't survive without you then its the company's problem for not retaining you. If they can survive without you then do what you can to ensure their success. Make sure everything you worked on was well documented. Help them find a replacement for you. And so on.

Moreover: if the head of engineering is on the critical path to success then you've done something wrong. The job of the head of engineering is to get the engineering team into a position where a temporary lack of leadership does not put achieving engineering goals at risk. They should be running like a well-oiled machine even if you were hit by a bus tomorrow.

being perceived as a captain abandoning the boat when it is sinking

You're not the captain of this ship. You're the guy who keeps the engines running. The guy who keeps the engines running should get the heck off of the ship if it is sinking.

burning bridges with management

So don't burn bridges. Be polite and professional. People quit. That's business. If they don't get that, then that's their problem.

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    Can’t emphasize enough that “First, find another job” is the important first step. – Bradd Szonye May 3 '17 at 0:33
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    Finding a job is almost always easier while you have one. – Mister Positive May 3 '17 at 15:44
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    If I quit, my biggest concern... leaving my team hanging - Go read up on the bus factor, and understand that it's not your responsibility to make sure your chair is always occupied. – Lindsey D May 4 '17 at 3:59
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    Probably needless to say but beware that in some legislations, quitting by sending an email is not possible, i.e., not legally binding. – Thomas May 4 '17 at 7:55
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    I did all of this once, and trust me your team will forget about you within 6 months of you leaving. No matter how friendly you are with them, no matter what your relationship is like, you're old news the moment you walk out of the office. So just move forward and live your life. – mickburkejnr May 4 '17 at 10:14
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Your post reads like you want me to tell you to quit. Ultimately, that's a decision you have to make and not really one anyone here can answer meaningfully.

Always focus on the other opportunity when quitting a job. There are rare exceptions to this, but broadly speaking, if you have to ask "how should I quit?" you probably should follow that advice.

I have come to the conclusion that we would barely be able to do it and have to anticipate significant delay compared to impossible timeline given by management

Have you made these clear to your management? If not, you will absolutely look like you are betraying them if you tell them that when you leave.

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    Thanks enderland for the quick reply. Yes, I have made that clear. About timeline and anticipated performance, and gave a high probability number to miss both. In addition I asked for competitive landscape studies from business teams. These are all fairly recent. The response so far is that for now we just need to push forward and see what happens. – user69531 May 2 '17 at 15:15
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    @teddy: Then you simply say that you are not comfortable proceeding on that basis, and must regretfully resign your position. You have another job lined up already, right? – Lightness Races in Orbit May 2 '17 at 19:04
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    This is a great answer. OP: How can you be "perceived as a captain abandoning the boat when it is sinking", when you did not make the decision to pursue this product? You are leaving because of the actual captain is making a really bad decision. – Pete B. May 3 '17 at 11:48
  • @teddy If I was a prospective employer, one concern I would have is How long will a potential employee stay with my company? Will he jump ship if the co. goes through a rough patch? This may not be a problem with you, but something to keep in mind if an interviewer asks why you're considering leaving your current co. – RobertF May 3 '17 at 17:26
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    @RobertF and that's why, when asked, you're always changing jobs because you're looking for new challenges. – STT LCU May 4 '17 at 6:58
20

I left a company for those very same reasons and it was one of the best decisions I've ever made. That being said you should keep in mind...

  1. Some coworkers will understand, and some will not. That's just the way it goes... some people take it personally when someone leaves the company. More so if they are very loyal to the company. This shouldn't be a concern, just something to be aware of and it's a very small percentage. Most of your coworkers will understand and don't be surprised if some of them follow suit.
  2. Be honest in your interviews with potential future employers but make sure not to badmouth your previous company or specific employees. Don't get emotional when talking about it, keep it professional. They will appreciate your honesty and professionalism.
  3. Don't leave your team hanging, make sure there is a thorough knowledge transfer in place before you leave and a way to get a hold of you in case they need something from you after you leave. Time your exit so that it's between projects. Start thinking of recommendations for your replacement.
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    "and a way to get a hold of you in case they need something from you after you leave" Nah. Once you're gone, you're gone. Don't set a precedent of bailing them out because you'll soon find you're doing it all the time. – Michael May 4 '17 at 10:54
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    "Time your exit so that it's between projects." By the description of OP, that might take 2 years. Don't wait 2 years. – Mast May 4 '17 at 13:53
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First of all, you're not the captain of the ship, you're the supervisor of a team who is telling the captain about an iceberg ahead and he is not listening to you. You're well within your right to hop on a life raft.

Now, enough of that analogy. This is a tough moral decision you'll ultimately have to make and I cannot tell you how to make that decision but I will make a few points:

  1. You (and only you) are responsible for your career. If the company fails the manager isn't going to pay you to stick around, he's paying you now because they believe it will yield personal financial rewards later. It's business.
  2. The other people on the team are also responsible for their own careers. Perhaps if things don't work out you can bring them on board your new team somewhere else later down the road.
  3. You are not obligated to stay with the company, but you may want to give the company greater than 2-weeks notice and offer to help find a replacement. Given that you seem to work in a small company, I would suggest helping the supervisor find a replacement tech lead before leaving to avoid crippling the business, but put a deadline on it to avoid being taken advantage of. You don't want to find yourself sticking around indefinitely trying to find a replacement that management isn't willing to agree with you on.
3

From your descriptions, it sounds like the company is on its way out and there is a lot of optimistic expectations on your next project. It also sounds as if you are already leaning towards the resignation option. I can't say I've been in your situation, but hopefully these could help. I'll answer your points as you have asked them.

  1. From your assessment, I would not be surprised if your teammates have gotten similar impressions about your company's long-term situation. Have any of them voiced concerns similar to yours? It is commendable that you care for their well-being but you have to look at your own first of all.

  2. As has been mentioned in the comments, it's not your ship to go down with. In retrospect, you would likely be seen as the one who could see where the company was going and made a tough but carefully considered decision to leave before things got worse. A future employer would at least appreciate that you want to work on something new, more exciting, that depends less on luck to succeed and less stressful for you.

  3. I'm sure your managers would not be pleased with you leaving, but you will have lots and lots of emails going back and forth from them explaining that you had serious concerns over your project's feasibility that seemed to be falling on deaf ears. If you do decide to resign and part ways amicably, it might be best to mention what about a new role appeals to you, rather than what disappoints you over your current one (at least not initially).

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    Good point, it can't be a surprise to management that the OP is unhappy. If I were them I might tell management that if there's any chance of this product succeeding, they need someone who believes in it, and OP can't be that person. – Mel Reams May 3 '17 at 2:18
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Company loyalty only extends to whether or not the company is being "loyal" to you, in the respect that it provides security. They are not listening to the concerns you have raised, and with you being the person with the burden of the technical survival, they should at least be approaching you for solutions.

Management has not been loyal to you during the stressful time, so I'd wager they wouldn't be supportive in any worse situation. Look into another job and let them worry about their own product. They obviously (to me) aren't interested in doing it right.

2

Love it, change it or leave it

This may sound trite, but is is the truth. Either you love what you do, then all is fine. Or you change it so there is a chance you will eventually love it. If that fails (repeatedly, as I understood you), then it is time to move on. I have suggested that even to people working under me when it was obvious that incompatibilities had evolved which could not be influenced by anyone in a meaningful way, and would do so at any time again. I do not like to work with chronically unhappy people.

The fate of co-workers really does not factor into your decision. They are all adults, like you, and you have, beyond your contractual obligation to your company, no particular obligation to your colleagues to make them happy or ward them from danger or something like that.

So. Put out your feelers, find a new job while the old company still exists, do the best you can, meanwhile. And when you find something great, switch, conforming to the rules set out by your contract. Is is as simple as that. People switch jobs all the time, and nobody looks bad at that.

2

I'm in the same boat, no pun intended.

However, instead of leaving at the beginning of the project, I'm halfway through my first year. If I had known at the beginning what I know now, I would have listened to the panicking voice in my head begging me to leave. Even though I know this now, I feel more "committed" or responsible now that I have invested time into it. You don't have that baggage, so for your sake, find another job first, then give notice. Don't look back.

  • 1
    You aren't responsible - if you don't like the work, find another job. – Martin Bonner May 5 '17 at 9:53
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If I quit, my biggest concerns are the following:

Being perceived as a captain abandoning the boat when it is sinking

It is not your boat that is sinking. Even if you were the business owner, then the company is likely a separate legal entity such as a Limited liability Company (LLC):

A limited liability company (LLC) is a corporate structure whereby the members of the company cannot be held personally liable for the company's debts or liabilities. Limited liability companies are essentially hybrid entities that combine the characteristics of a corporation and a partnership or sole proprietorship.

Source: investopedia

My point being is that even if the business tanks, then the owner's assets aren't necessarily at risk. Therefore your concerns of abandoning a sinking ship are not valid.

1
  • 5 years is a really long time to stay in a job in most countries/industries
  • As an engineering manager, you aren't really responsible for the success/failure of the business model
  • Most companies fail/stagnate, either as startups or in maturity
  • They'll hire somebody new and look after your team
  • If management are sensible, they won't bear a grudge (the world's too small, they might need something from you in the future). If they aren't, you probably don't care what they think.
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    "5 years is a really long time to stay in a job in most countries/industries". Do you have a reference for that? My experience says otherwise. – camden_kid May 4 '17 at 12:25
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    '5 years is a really long time to stay in a job...' Found the millennial! But seriously, in my experience only having 5 years on the job has been met with derision if not questions about "being nomadic", and I'm in IT. – Signal15 May 4 '17 at 13:23
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    My experience (UK, software) is that five years is long enough not to raise questions about being nomadic, and early in your career. changing job every three years is fine. My longest time in a job was 13 years (that was too long though - I should have left earlier). – Martin Bonner May 5 '17 at 9:55
0

You've been in the job long enough already. I'm sure people will understand your decision. If others feel that you cannot be immediately replaced, they'll let you know. Don't let it affect your decision. You might agree to help them for a short while after you quit. Make it clear however that this'll only be temporary and put a clear limit to it, preferably no more than a week or two. Otherwise they just use your 'importance' as an excuse to use you as a free worker.

Your employer will probably see you like this:

  • first year: "please don't quit, it's so bothersome to find a replacement!"
  • following years: "just do your job, okay?"
  • when you've maxed your pay and bonuses: "Take a hint, go somewhere else, please! Let us hire some new people!"

A little explanation to the last item: At least here in Scandinavia employers tend to fire those with the longest term of notice first when the going gets rough, even if they are 'irreplaceable'!. These are usually the people who have worked in the company the longest. They are the most expensive people to keep on the payroll.

And general advice with official paperwork: just state the necessary, for example that you resign. You have the right to do so, no need to explain yourself. And like others have stated, it's good to get a new job first, so if people ask you why you're leaving, just say that you got a new job. If you feel like blabbering, tell that you're really looking forward to work there.

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