Tips on leaving a software job

Owen C. Jones
Oct 30, 2018 · 4 min read

Of all industries, software is one with a particularly high turnover of staff. This isn’t necessarily as bad as it sounds. People move on for many reasons, but many just look for a new challenge every now and then, or just get a better offer. Software developers are in short supply in much of the world — we get pretty much hunted for roles, so people move on fairly often. There’s also a fair amount of undesirable roles.

Alternatively to my last post “How to attract genuinely good staff in IT”, this is my advice to the software dev looking to move on.

Leave on good terms if possible

Sometimes, an employer is simply awful, or actively abusive, and in these cases I definitely recommend taking advice and any action that you feel is necessary against an employer — especially if you’re owed money, or a contract has been breached leaving you out of pocket.

More often than not though, an employer is at worst mediocre, or just fine, but the engineer is bored, or has no interest in the product. In these cases, leave on the best terms you can. Give as much notice as you can, be polite about it, finish off tasks, and go for drinks with your colleagues on your last day. If you’re a silo, break down that silo. If someone might need to call you after you leave, consider allowing that to happen a bit.

In short, even if you never want to work there again, leave on terms that would allow you to if you needed. You might need to, and you might need to work somewhere else with someone from the place you’re leaving. Best to leave on a happy note.

Use your notice wisely

There’s a temptation to just check out and spend your notice working half tilt, but there are better ways to spend it. If you are point of contact for anything, make sure you aren’t leaving a silo behind, ensure that your team will be sad to see you go, not angry.

That’s not to say that you can’t use your notice in interesting ways. It’s a great time to address that bit of tech debt that you’ve always had to fight to get done, a perfect time to write the tooling that your team has needed forever, fix the build bottleneck that drives everyone mad, or just enjoy the impunity to follow process as written, rather than as it sometimes turns out.

Don’t get too excited to soon

Even if you work in the world’s worst company, or you just hated it personally, there’s no need to seem like you can’t wait to leave just yet. If you’ve landed some dream job, or are headed for a big pay rise, seeming too excited to leave will just make people think you’re a conceited arse. Don’t be a conceited arse.

Find out from your colleagues what they most need from you

Having said all of this, you are in a unique position of power that most full time employees won’t have at the time, you have some reasonable impunity to say things the others won’t be quite so frank about, so you can find out what most needs addressing in your colleagues concerns, and you can be the one to raise it.

Tread carefully, but good managers will realise that you are trying to be an agent of change in advance of leaving, and will hopefully note your input.

If you find that managers don’t respond well to this, then don’t bother with it. At least you tried.

Be honest at your exit interview

If you have an exit interview, it’s your last chance to raise any concerns and any good company will hope for you to give polite but honest feedback that they can genuinely work with.

If you think they fail to follow process to their detriment, or they pay to little to keep staff, or something like that, then say so in a polite and constructive way. Worst case, they don’t react well, and they don’t benefit from it. Many companies never even look at the notes from exit interviews, and frankly that’s their failure. You can only give them the chance.

Write a handover, even if not asked to

Take some time during notice to write down a quick intro to all you do. If the company has onboarding docs or a wiki, make sure they are up to date, and would help a new starter well

Restore your equipment

Just in case you’ve left any personal data on it, and provided your it department allows you to, restore your computers to a fresh install state. This protects any data of yours or the company’s that the next user shouldn’t have access to (how many people leave the SSH key for the live server on there?), but also just removes all the little setting tweaks you might have made, and lets the new user make their own setting tweaks from a blank canvas.

Do check that you’re allowed to do this, otherwise the company may think you are trying to hide something.

Leave on a high

Bring in treats on your last day, graciously accept any card, gift, it lack of that you get, and cheerfully say goodbye to people in person as much as possible.

The people you worked with are some of your best sources of new work, should you ever need it, and can also be sources of references if you need them. Many of them will also be friends now, or in the future, and you should treat them like that.

That’s it, leave with your head held high, knowing you were polite, pleasant, and professional, and head to your next challenge.

Owen C. Jones

Written by

I’m a software developer livng in Cardiff, UK. I write about user experience, coding, morality, politics, and other things that are interesting.

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