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I've been working since I graduated for the past year at a bank as a developer, first starting out maintaining a legacy application, then transitioning into developing new workflows. The work's okay, but my employer doesn't really understand how development works.

I am considering taking an opportunity to teach English in a foreign country for a year. By the time I leave I will have been working for two years as a developer. Could taking a year off negatively effect my career in the long run when I come back to try and find employment?

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Ask your manager for a sabbatical leave for a year to do your teaching job instead. If he accepts then you can get back to your old job without much hic-up. –  Spoike Aug 18 '11 at 11:19
A friend of mine took 6 years off after having children and had no difficulty getting back into development when she was ready. –  Joel Etherton Aug 18 '11 at 12:17
this is slightly OT but I'm interested to know why you think a bank doesn't really understand the aspects of development, and, what you mean by this? I get the impression sometimes that young programmers think they will be developing a product when in fact they're supporting a business process. –  temptar Aug 18 '11 at 12:39
@temptar If I had to take a guess I would say probably because "supporting a business process" usually leads to really terrible code and a culture that ignores and frowns upon things like unit tests, design patterns, proper software engineering, and best practices. Just a guess, though - I've never worked at a bank to know if they're as likely to do things the right way as hack together slop and call it a day. –  Wayne M Aug 18 '11 at 13:49
@temptar: I can agree from experience. Remember you are not paid for lines of code, you are paid for solving problems or enhancing business function. –  Chris Aug 18 '11 at 14:42

8 Answers 8

Not actually @me0w. Work is always out there ready for you, if you have enough expertise to handle it, not if you've been developing continuously and without interruption.

Thus the only thing I can suggest is to try to get in shape mentally while teaching English (try to provide some hobby projects for yourself, watch latest development movies, come to these sites early, and try to stay a good developer while doing your other job).

Good luck

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Do it and use it to your advantage. Your experience can help you. Imagine returning and applying to work for someone like the Rosetta Stone guys or some software company that sells a lingual education product.

I'm sure they'd love to have someone with your experience.

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For 3-5 years after you get back from teaching you will have to answer the question why did you leave in the first place. If you have a good answer then it may not matter much but it could look like you are a little flakey about what you want to do. If the choice for a promotion is dead even otherwise your decision could cost you that promotion. On the other hand it can also open doors. Interviewers are human too and so are managers. If you do good work and have that world knowledge it can lead to great things as well. If your manager is sympathetic to your decision it could tilt it to the positive.

Everything you do in your adult life can have an impact on your future. Any set back will be temporary and if this is something you are passionate about and will enjoy, I would say to do it. It may seem like a big hit staring it down with the eyes of someone in their early 20's but when you are 40 you will look back and wonder why it was a hard decision in the first place.

One piece of advice, If you decide to go, if you hate it never share that with anyone else. Look for and express your gratitude at the good things that come from it. That attitude will take you farther than that year of development you will miss out ever could.

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It won't affect your career negatively in the long run, but it might be a slight temporary setback in terms of ease of getting a first job again once you come back. But then, after that, it might actually be a positive.

Put yourself in the shoes of your interviewer (after you've come back): everything else being the same (eg. compared to an equivalent guy from your class who worked for 3 years straight as a programmer before applying), they might have a slight worry that you've gone a bit rusty on your time off, or possibly that you didn't love programming enough to stick with it for a while longer initially after graduation. It's important to sell your year off well, but I don't think it'll be difficult. Just be prepared for many potential employers to essentially see you as almost a fresh graduate again (due to the break + relatively short initial stint before the break), and depending on how hard you're finding it to get work again, don't be too picky for getting an initial re-entry gig.

After that first job back though, it might very well be seen as a positive by most interviewers. Doing something productive-but-different like this makes you look like a more rounded person, in the long term. It stands out on your job history in a good way, not as a useless break that just took time out of your main career without giving anything back.

TL;DR version: It won't hurt your career in the long term, just be prepared for the idea that your next programming gig after you get back might be slightly more "junior level" than someone who just worked those last 2-3 years straight. And after that, in the long term, it's likely to be seen as a positive.

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Hey asking for a sabbatical for a few months is a good idea but if you can't get the time off then you will still have two years solid experience under your belt. It's not like you want to jet off and just lie on a beach for a year and teaching overseas will give you valuable new skills as well as a qualification (the TEFL certificate you will need) that you can use all over the world if you want to. It should show a diverse range of interests and skills, which is always good. Maybe take a look at a programme like this: http://www.realgap.co.uk/node/3044, you do the training for the certificate and then get 5 months teaching experience with an allowance; instant qualification and classroom experience! Hope that helps.

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Go for it, don't think twice. This is an opportunity that few people have and even less take.

Being abroad, especially teaching abroad will make you see different people, will require you to learn to lead (which will be very useful for being a team leader), to demand people to behave, to be insistive and so on. These are skills that some developers lack. When you return you'll look at the job differently too, I'm sure, with much more enthusiasm.

You certainly will have little difficulties to find a job again. It will be difficult to prove to recruiters/interviewers that this experience is important, but believe me, that's not that much: I entered developer position first at the age of 26, with no CS education background, with foreign languages and even some (suspicious) volunteer jobs in the CV (this was not my first "normal" job, but the second one). Guess how many times I was rejected and with what comments.

Despite the temporary difficulties with getting a job right after coming back, in the long term it will be a huge asset for you. (If you do not obtain bad habbits being abroad, of course. ;)

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How this negatively affects your career is dependent on how you define the word 'negatively'. Certainly from a cash flow point of view you will make less as a teacher than a coder working for something like an investment bank. If you plot C(t) for both career paths where C denotes your cash flow as a function of time, calculate the net present value of the cash flow, then it should be clear that you'll be taking a hit. If taking a hit on the money is considered a negative for you and your career then yeah.. your career will suffer. There are of course many other aspects to careers than money so you gotta weigh all these factors.

OTOH, maybe coding all day makes you feel like a drone and you'll end up loving teaching. Only you can make that decision.

When I'm faced with decisions like this that have soft data (associated with preferences) I usually pull out something called the Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP) to help me turn this softer sort of preference data into something more quantitative. This little pdf shows how to make your decisions using AHP by walking you through the method as applied to purchasing a car incorporating personal preferences on color and so forth. You can do the same for your career path choices and get a good handle on what's best for you.

That said, some people hate this kind of approach but for now just take it as one possible way to decide. Either way.. good luck.

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I don't think that your plan is sound to me. Either you want to teach English or you want to develop applications. 2 years of experience is not much in my opinion and I don't think you can count on it. If you leave, you may miss possible training opportunities. If you still do it, try to get some certification and keep in touch (heavily in touch) because you need to be ready for a possible job hunt.

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-1 for the either/or. There are, in fact, people in the world who enjoy more than one type of work, and there's no reason they can't do some of each. –  Caleb Aug 18 '11 at 15:58
I'd downvote for recommending certifications, but it's not quite worth it. –  JasonTrue Aug 19 '11 at 0:11
I'd love to do a bajillion things. Your first sentence implies that real programmers don't have any interests outside of programming, which some (down-voters perhaps) would find mildly offensive. –  Casey Patton Aug 19 '11 at 1:05
My experience in life tells me that it is not always possible to do every thing you want (unless you are rich in resources). There is no relationship between teaching English and Programming. You can try what you want, but what IT managers appreciate is solid experience in IT. –  Emmad Kareem Aug 19 '11 at 2:55
-1 this answer is wrong on several levels –  Lukas Stejskal Aug 30 '11 at 12:09

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