Dear CertMag: Switching from indie tech to corporate tech
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Dear CertMag: I’m an independent programming consultant working mostly with other lone-wolf types who have ideas but don’t know how to program them (or don’t want to do the work). I get a lot of jobs from Craigslist and similar sites. I’ve been doing this for a decade or so, and l think I’ve burned myself out. Lately, I feel like I could use a little more stability. Maybe just be a cog in someone’s corporate machine for a while. Living where I live, you can probably imagine where I’ve considered looking first. Am I crazy to give up the freedom of doing my own thing?
— Dena, Redmond, Wash.
I think one of the biggest things to start with is that you need to listen to yourself! If your body, your health, and your passion are telling you they are flagging … it’s probably time to take a break!
If you have a contract started already, then start planning the transition while you look around for a position. Realize that many of the reasons that have seen you work in loose collaborations and on single projects will likely require some adjustment in a corporate role. Working in “someone’s corporate machine” doesn’t have to be a pejorative experience, but figuring out what “success” means for you is a first step in being able to find it! What do you get with a corporate role that could be appealing?
A “decrease” in intensity is not necessarily guaranteed, and may be the most challenging to identify in a potential role. You don’t want to give your new potential employer the wrong impression about your work and your motivations. Make a simple list. Maybe a little bit of it is a decrease in intensity, but you can think about it as a target: “I would like to have clearly defined responsibilities with few side projects,” something like that. What else? Do comprehensive medical benefits matter? How do retirement and similar motivators factor in, given that you clearly view this as a short- to mid-term period?
What are the key things that drive you in your work? Is it the types of projects? Working on a specific platform? (Let’s face it, Redmond almost equates to Microsoft. With Amazon in the area, however, and so many other tech firms, if you are an avid engineer on something like Novell’s SUSE product, then you can definitely narrow the field of roles in the Seattle job market.) Is it a particular language or type of responsibility?
Use your list of passions and priorities to help find the right job roles to apply to. I advise against the scattershot approach. Your employers are likely to pick up on the lack of passion if you are taking the “apply to anything” method, and you may jeopardize a later opportunity to go after something that you really want. (For example, applying to Company A, some recruiter notes a lack of passion and sends you on your way. Then, when you apply for some other role, it’s seen as a mark against you that you didn’t even get in the door.)
It sounds like this could be a good move to make if you need to take a mental break for a while. Once you enter the interview process, however, I would strongly suggest thinking about how you express what you would like in the role, when the question comes up. It is absolutely critical that you are not signaling that you don’t care about the employer or the project, or that you are looking at the role as a kind of cruise control. If you catch yourself thinking that way, move on to a different opportunity — something that better captures your passion without forcing you to overcommit.