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I've been working the same software development job for a few years now but the culture (or lack of proper culture) of the place has finally gotten to me and I have given my notice.

To be brief: The bosses created an environment/culture where developers had no incentive to produce quality work. And not only that, any attempts to improve things were actively dismissed by several layers of management.

Eventually this became very stressful. I felt like I was fighting someone at every corner just to get things done properly instead of hacking it together like we've always done.

Because of this it seems like I haven't learned anything new there for a long time. And now I worry that my skills are becoming less and less relevant on the job market.

So, my current plan is to take 3 months off to shake off the stress and to do some major nerding. The idea is to start two or three small projects to learn and apply new technologies/patterns/tools/etc... Essentially, to do everything I didn't have the chance to at my previous job.

The question: Am I shooting myself in the foot if I take a 3 month break between jobs?

Is it always bad to have a break between jobs even if that time is spent improving your skillset?

* UPDATE *

I ended up taking 9 months off. Finding work near home turned out to be harder than I expected, but nobody seemed to even notice the long break in my CV. When I eventually expanded my search to nearby cities as well I quickly found something interesting. The best part is that this new place is happy to let me work from home half of the time :)

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closed as off-topic by AProgrammer, Telastyn, MichaelT, BЈовић, gnat Jul 27 '13 at 20:37

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Yes - it looks bad. That doesn't mean you won't be able to get a job, fun fact - even people without perfect resumes get jobs :) What do you intend to do in these couple of months? If it's interesting and even broadly related you might be able to turn it into an advantage. –  Benjamin Gruenbaum Jul 27 '13 at 14:45
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Uggghhhh.. if only I could take 3 months off to dedicate to learning new tech! –  Simon Whitehead Jul 27 '13 at 14:56
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This might be better suited for workplace.stackexchange.com/ –  Telastyn Jul 27 '13 at 15:06
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Whether you decide to take a break or not, do not tell your potential employer about the reasons that you have quit in the same way as you did in this post: it sounds like you are complaining. You can say the same thing in a more positive way - for example, if you tell them that you are looking for a shop with more disciplined approach to code construction, you would tell the same story without expressing your negative judgement of your former company. –  dasblinkenlight Jul 27 '13 at 17:05
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Yes, it looks bad. For some data about this (not specifically for programmers), look at the this paper: faculty.chicagobooth.edu/matthew.notowidigdo/research/… –  Adrian Cox Jul 27 '13 at 20:04

4 Answers 4

Yes - it looks bad.

Keep in mind that it doesn't mean you won't be able to get a job. Fun fact - even people without perfect resumes get jobs :)

You said in your comment that you intend to spend these months teaching yourself new technologies. That's awesome . Now, learning new technologies is often easiest by writing lots of code.

If you end up combining writing useful open source things that make peoples' lives easier (or have the potential to) I'd say that potentially that could make your chances at a new job much better instead of worse for taking these months off.

There is nothing that I enjoy seeing in CVs more than open source activity and genuine caring about programming in general. Our industry has a lot of people who only got into programming for making money so when I get a chance to interview a candidate who has genuine interest in programming (which voluntary open source activity shows) - that's a very big plus in my opinion.

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"even people without perfect resumes get jobs": even people with worst resumes get jobs. They just have to find the worst recruiters in the worst companies. –  MainMa Jul 27 '13 at 15:34

It can go either way.

It looks bad if:

  • you have no references/LinkedIn recommendations from the previous position.
  • you have no code to show for it.
  • you have no evidence of tutorials taken, books read.
  • you can't clearly state why you left without being negative.
  • you can't clearly articulate the contribution you were making before you left.
  • over emphasizing the flexibility of not going to an office every day.
  • over emphasizing the desire to do everything the right way.
  • you pretend you are still working.

It looks good if:

  • you have references/LinkedIn recommendations from the previous position.
  • you have code written during the time off that you can show.
  • you have evidence of tutorials taken, books read, user groups and conferences attended and contributions made.
  • you have evidence of open-source contributions.
  • you can clearly state why you left without being negative
  • you can clearly articulate the contribution you were making before you left.
  • you can provide evidence of daily structure that will transfer well to a new work environment.
  • you can convey excitement about doing things the right way while still acknowledging that when working with others, compromise is the key to success.

Note: I am doing exactly the same thing as you!

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It would be a good idea to take the time off. Don't worry about appearances. These days lots of people have been out of work for 18 months. When you show up for interviews, be ready to demonstrate you know how to do quality work. Jobs will be out there for people that can do them.

When you go back in the market, focus entirely on what you can do, not how bad your former employer is/was. You used to work for them, and you used to work on database/CRM or whatever in PHP and JavaScript or whatever. If you interview with a company and you are only dealing with HR, you're in a pickle anyway because only the hiring manager has any idea what you're talking about. If at all possible, insist that the hiring manager be present in the interview.

Ask quantitative questions about the code process - who is the designated 'product owner'? What is the version number of the source control system? Roughly how many automated tests are in the test collection? If these questions cause weird looks, you'll know to 'see and avoid'. If they get more interested in you the more of these you ask, you're homing in on where you want to be.

In one situation I was in a big hurry to start work - I should have looked around a bit more carefully at the employer. They asked me to join more or less instantly - within half an hour of walking in the door I had the job.

Since this was database related work, I asked the manager to get me added to the user accounts on the database server. The first time I asked this I got a blank stare. The next time I pursued it he told me they didn't have one.

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+1 Nice insight on the hiring manager role and good list of questions to ask at any interview. –  ZJR Jul 27 '13 at 17:01

I'll put it bluntly: companies want you to make money for them. It's as simple as that. If you've taken some time to do whatever you want with your life (other than working) this will raise suspicions (is he a committed worker and a good employee? Does he have the necessary knowledge? Was he fired and couldn't find a job yet?).

Yes, this is very unfair and judgmental, especially if you think you weren't put in this world to work for any other reason than to support your life, but read back my first sentence. Sometimes they cannot, or don't want to, afford the benefit of the doubt and may dismiss your cv on anything that raises a red flag or doesn't give an excellent good impression. We are humans after all, we are swayed by first good impressions.

My, possibly controversial, advice is to openly state what you have been doing in that time and don't wait to see if they ask you in the interview. Even if not programming related, but give a reason. eg "Been traveling to...". Nothing too personal, but, from a psychological point of view, it's good to give any "because" to the "why" of the gap.

Source: My own experience. I quit and didn't want to work for some time but I consider myself an alright programmer, at least decent enough to get a job, so I wasn't too worried. After a break of several months devoted to myself, I found it hard to get hired again. Even after successfully solving their interview coding problems. I could pick up some faces of skepticism in interviews. I failed to explain my gaps in the CV.

Recently I was on the other end, reading candidates CVs and I found it hard to break my judgmental thinking because, at the end of day, you want results in your company. You may prefer a career-focused, run-of-the-mill drone rather than a smarter guy who lives his life wisely. So, do you risk it for the latter? That's how the real world works.

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The mythical 100% committed worker companies seek will sooner or later join the mythical man-month in the oblivion cell it deserves. Still you're right, HR people were taught to look for that kind of misaligned, borderline disturbed, individuals. (and workers played along) –  ZJR Jul 27 '13 at 17:07

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