Career Strategies Sep 28 2010

Five Signs It's Time to Quit Your Tech Job

By john shinal

While no one knows for sure how fast tech hiring will grow (if at all) over the next year, there are at least two things we know with some certainty. First, many tech companies, especially startups, are hiring right now for a wide variety of positions. Second, according to numerous surveys and polls, more than half of all Americans are dissatisfied with their work. Even in January, 2010, when the U.S. employment picture was bleak, only 45% of Americans were happy with their jobs, according to a Conference Board research group survey.

For those of you considering whether it's worth the risk to give up your cube, here's a little nudge to get you started out the door.

1. Your company was just bought by Larry Ellison (or someone with similar intentions).

Acquisitions are attractive to tech companies looking to boost growth during tough economic times because they're a quick way to add to the top line. That's why Ellison's Oracle Corp. and other tech giants such as Hewlett-Packard Co., EMC Corp., Cisco Systems Inc. and Dell Inc. have each spent several billion dollars during the last two years snapping up smaller firms.

If the acquired company has expertise that the new parent company lacks, its employees' jobs may not be in danger. But if there's operational overlap between the two companies, the new management will look at squeezing cost savings out of the deals. The fastest way to do that is by shedding jobs, often thousands of them. It's what consultants like to call "absorption."

While you might think it's a good idea to stick around for a possible severance package, it's probably a better idea to get ahead of a layoff and a jump start on your job search.

"Unless you have a real incentive to stay -- i.e. a generous severance package -- you don't want to be waiting around in limbo for six months. You want to get on with your career," said Andrew Carges, a recruiting consultant who helps tech companies hire large teams of workers.

2. Your company is giving out money -- but not to you.

U.S. companies are sitting on record piles of cash, more than $1.8 trillion at the end of March, 2010, according to Federal Reserve estimates. That's more than they had before the recession started, and a lot more than during the last tech boom. To appease shareholders, some are boosting their dividends, while others intend to begin paying one. Still other companies are going on acquisition sprees (see above).

Yet wages in the tech industry wages have been flat to down since the recession began and are nowhere near where they were a decade ago. A lot of that cash has come from salary and benefits that no longer have to be paid to fired ex-employees. But rather than investing that cash in new employees, or in technology to make existing workers more efficient, companies are sharing it with everyone but their own staffs.

"People are overworked and frustrated. They've been asked to do more with less, in some cases getting paid less," said Jeffrey Heath, an executive recruiter and president of New York-based recruiting firm The Landstone Group. "A lot of these workers are starting to pick their heads up and look around."

3. You're starting to question your legacy.

When you're on your deathbed, are you really going to be thinking about that great report you pulled from the database for your CFO's next quarterly earnings call? Not likely. But how cool would it be to tell your kids one day that you helped build Twitter or Facebook? Both of those companies have hundreds of job openings right now. Better yet, go to work for one of the dozens of companies working to reduce the world's carbon footprint, or creating microlending services that fund businesses in poor countries.

"How excited can you be doing back-office software integration?" said Carges. Carges said he's having luck luring employees to startups like Nexant, which is helping to make the world's utility systems more efficient.

"People want to feel like they're helping to change the world," Carges said.

4. Startups are hiring

Want to work for the fastest-growing company ever? It could be Groupon. Or help build a competitor to the iPad? Say yes to Kno. Those are just two of the hundreds of young companies hiring in droves right now. Some skill sets, such as tech product managers, are in high demand, and there are job openings in every category of tech employment -- engineers, software developers, network administrators, IT service folks, you name it. And it's not just in Silicon Valley. New tech jobs are springing up wherever entrepreneurs are willing to take risks. Santa Barbara. New York.

"You might not know it from the headlines, but tech startups are healthy and hiring," said Jeff Markowitz, a recruiter with the executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles. "There's always a demand for the most talented people. There always will be."

5. You might learn something new.

Yes, changing jobs can be stressful, but it can also be exciting and lead to new career skills. And learning new things can help keep you sharp -- and better prepared for a fast-changing world.

Few industries evolve more quickly than tech, where skills and knowledge become obsolete as quickly as laptops and disk drives. It may be more comfortable to remain where you are, but sooner or later, obsolescence will find you. Why not get out in front of the next technological wave?

"People like coming here because we're entrepreneurial, experimental," said Michael Crandell, CEO of RightScale, a provider of cloud computing services. "That's very appealing to someone coming from a calcified culture."

Write to John Shinal

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