From mid-November 2019 to mid-March 2020, I was an engineer at Justworks. This was a considerably shorter tenure than my previous engineering role at Medidata, where I was for over 4 years. Leaving a new job so quickly after joining was not a decision I took lightly, but I know it was the right decision for my career. I also learned several things about myself in the process, and I do not consider these four months as wasted time.

Dealing with Friction

Starting as a new engineer at a tech company is difficult. All companies and engineering departments are bound to have their own challenges that they are working through, and being dropped into that unfamiliar environment can be uncomfortable. The way that you understand how processes should work or how code should be written might not align with that of your new company. This misalignment and the uncomfortable or disappointing or heated discussion around this misalignment creates friction for the new engineer.

I actually hadn’t given this idea of friction much thought until I reached out to my new manager at my new company shortly after signing my offer letter. Among other resources that might help prepare me for my new role, he shared a video of a conference talk given by Dan Na called “Pushing Through Friction”.

In the talk, Dan describes how new engineers often face organizational friction when starting at a new company. He goes on to highlight the importance both for the company to alleviate this friction and for the engineers to continue advocating for their ideas in light of this friction.

In my role at Justworks, I encountered a lot of friction. However, neither the company nor I were doing our part to ease this friction. I often found myself frustrated by the lack of mature software development processes, but I did not know how to best advocate for the changes I wanted to see. I had the ideas, but I didn’t have the confidence or ability to clearly express what, why, and how I wanted the engineering team to implement my proposals. Now that I am aware of this idea of friction, I feel better prepared to face it head on in my new role.

Company Culture Is Important… But It’s Not Everything

When I was applying to companies during the job search that led to my position at Justworks, I was highly focused on company culture. Primarily, I was looking for a company that had a goal of improving people’s lives, understood the importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and created a real sense of community for employees. After four months at Justworks, I believe that Justworks as a company overall really delivers on these ideals.

However, by focusing on company culture as much as I did, I neglected to put enough emphasis on other aspects I value. For me, the overlooked ideals were all related to the technical aspects of the role:

  • Opportunities for technical growth
  • Code quality being highly valued by the engineering department
  • Technical expertise of the engineering department

This is not to say that Justworks is a terrible place to be a software engineer. Justworks just wasn’t the right place for me to be a software engineer at this stage in my career.

Company culture will always be a major factor when considering any job opportunity, but my experience at Justworks has taught me that an amazing company culture can’t replace some other important aspects of a job.

Knowing When To Bow Out

Four months is not a lot of time at a company. I wrestled with my decision to leave for several weeks, and I even had conflicting feelings about the same week I signed my new job offer. Was I making a a rash decision? Did I really give it enough time? What if this is just a temporary slump and things get better soon? How do I know I’ll be happier at another company?

It wasn’t a decision I took lightly, and I would be lying if I said I felt 100% confident that I’ll be happy at my new job. However, I kept coming back to a few key thoughts that helped me make my final decision:

  • I honestly don’t see myself developing a wide range of new skills at Justworks
  • I remember how my excitement of starting my previous job at Medidata was sustained for a much longer period
  • I was referred to my new company by a close friend whom I trust and who had wonderful things to say about the company
  • I’m not happy in my current position

I tried to make it work at Justworks for a solid three months before I decided to start exploring other opportunities. In that time I became a productive engineer on my team and was gaining quite a bit of domain knowledge. I was also familiar with the workings of my immediate team, the engineering department, and the company as a whole. And I still didn’t feel comfortable or excited by my future at the company. I didn’t see hope that things would get better for me, so I figured it would be better to cut my losses sooner rather than later. A four-month stint, though perhaps a slight scar on my resume, will be much better than a year or more being unhappy and feeling like I’m not gaining the skills I need to advance my career.