Choosing Happiness: Six Months After Leaving Engineering.
Last year, I left my job as Lead of a Software Engineering team to take a role as an Engineering Manager. I loved my team and was only leaving, I thought at the time, because I wanted to move into management officially, as I was doing manager work but never got the title and my manager had resigned months prior. Unfortunately, I was misled about the role and was let go six months after joining the new company. For the next six months, I was unemployed and did a lot of soul-searching and questioning about why I really left my lead role. I realized that after months of applying and interviewing that I had left for more reasons than just wanting to officially get the manager title. The real reason I left was much bigger than that and I didn’t realize it at the time.
At the end of 2014, I was diagnosed with Acoustic Neuroma, an inner-ear non-cancerous tumor. It was so big that it was pushing against my brain stem and had been growing in my head for 15+ years. Other than some minor hearing issues in my right ear, I didn’t have many symptoms and it was just chance that they caught it when they did. Then in the summer of 2015, I had surgery to remove it and months of recovery time during which I was working from home within two weeks of getting out of the hospital. Over the next few months of recovery, I had a few complications due to the medications I was on after my surgery and I ended up losing 70 pounds. I was in the ER two or three different times, but still got my work done.
My boss and team were amazingly supportive and caring as I went through this difficult time. When I got back to work, I jumped right in and started working long hours as usual and performing as if someone that had not just had brain surgery. Due to some complications, I almost went permanently deaf and had to work from home for a few months shortly after returning to the office. Once I was fully recovered with only a scar on the right side of my head and deafness in my right ear, but perfectly fine hearing in my left, my boss started to give me all the remaining manager responsibilities and let me manage my team fully. However, before he could give me the title of manager he left the company. For the next few months, I was the manager of my team, working long hours, some weekends, and balancing a team both in my office and in Mexico. We hired a new manager and it was clear that I wasn’t going to get promoted; instead, they were starting over with the entire department to re-evaluate all the positions over the course of the next six months. This is when I decided to start looking for a new role and thought it was because I wanted to move into management quickly. It was actually a reason deeper than that, and I didn't know it at the time that I had been unhappy for a while.
I started to realize in late 2016 that, while I wanted to become a manager (since I loved managing/leading a team), I really loved the part of the job as a manager that involved teaching new employees, current employees, and getting people jobs. So I started to really think about my career and where I wanted it to go. I got into engineering because I was good at it. I got a Computer Science degree because I wanted to work in the gaming industry and make video games. After 12 years, I realized that I while I still like to code and had worked at some great companies with some great people, I didn’t want to do engineering anymore. I really wanted to teach and find people jobs. After talking to a few friends who were in recruiting, they told me that I should pursue it and that I would be good at it. I had already done some of it as a hiring manager and I was a people person. During this time I got a chance to start teaching introductory programming classes at The Art Institute and did some contract work as an Engineer while interviewing for recruiting. When I explored how much one makes as a recruiter vs as a lead/manager of engineering, I started to get scared. I had been unemployed for six months and even with the contract work, my bank account was looking thin and my rent was going up.
“You will find a way to make it work, you always do,” said two of my friends when I asked them about taking a pay cut and leaving engineering. It was these words that made realize that my friends knew me better than I knew myself and had more confidence in me than I did at the time. It was then I started to think about the past two years, and began to think about what was important: I just survived a major surgery, worked my butt off, and ended up unemployed and not really excited about engineering anymore. It was then that I also realized they were right. I already knew I could do the job, even though I still had a lot to learn about being a recruiter-- I knew how to find people, talk to people, read resumes, and how to build bonds with people. I started to get really excited about becoming a recruiter. At first, when I interviewed with companies for recruiting, people questioned my motives and thought I didn’t really want to make the move but just wanted a job while I was unemployed. How could someone making six figures and working in engineering for so long want to take a pay cut and go into recruiting?
I didn’t let this get me down or deter me from my goal to move into recruiting. In fact, it got me more fired up and I was determined to prove my critics wrong. Soon after, my interviews started going really well for recruiting roles and I kept hearing that my engineering skills and leadership skills would transfer well into recruiting. I started to meet with people who were excited about an engineer moving into recruiting. But more importantly, I really liked the people I interviewed with-- especially the people at BINC.
For the first time in my long career, I felt like I was being interviewed by people who I really wanted to work with. The job was one that I really wanted, and not because of the title, money or product that the company was making, but because it felt right. It also felt like this was something I would love to do, to go to work every day excited, eager to learn, and wanting to put in the hours, just like I felt the first time I hired my own team. It was then I realized that with the new job, I could work on my game designs, still teach, still code, and enjoy the work I am doing.
Despite all the fear, all the self-doubt, and all the concerns from my family who were worried about me changing professions (after all this time working my way up from junior programmer to a manager to go into a job that required a huge pay cut and was something that I had never done officially before), I accepted the offer and joined BINC. I joined because I realized that I had to choose a job that would make me happy, rather than a job that would pay me the most. Money will come with time, but happiness can’t be bought. Now, over six months later, I realized that it was the right choice. Yes, financially, things are tougher at the moment, but as my friends said, “You will find a way to make it work, you always do!” My engineering skills and people skills have really served me well in my new job and I am making it work financially. I don’t regret a single choice-- my engineering career has brought me here and I have made some great friends along the way and worked with some incredible people. Now I love what I do and I love the people I work with. So in the end, I chose happiness over money and wouldn’t have changed a thing.
My advice to you, reader, is don’t be afraid and pursue what makes you happy. If you make a bad choice or a wrong choice, learn from it. I know I made some bad choices in regard to companies I went to, but at each one I learned new skills, met some great people, and ultimately, all of this led me to where I am today. Choose happiness over money, and remember, “You will find a way to make it work, you always do!”