January 1, 2024 Author: Matthew Renze

During a recent discussion panel at Johns Hopkins University, a student asked a great question: When is the right time to leave my job?

Unfortunately, the guest speakers were all in industries where it was uncommon to switch jobs more than once or twice in a career.

However, with IT jobs in the private sector, most IT professionals are either promoted to new jobs or switch employers several times in their careers.

So, with several decades of experience in IT, I raised my hand and offered to answer the student’s question on behalf of the panel.

For those of you interested in knowing when is the right time for you to switch jobs in IT, here’s an extended version of my response to that student:


When You Don’t Feel Like You’re Learning Something New Every Day

The IT industry is constantly changing and changes at a very fast pace. We have new technologies popping up every day – which are often obsolete the next year. Students fresh out of university are already several years behind for entry-level jobs in IT. Plus, this rate of change seems to be accelerating.

To have a successful career in IT, you need to be a life-long learner. You must enjoy learning new things and be good at quickly learning new skills. Unfortunately, if you’re stuck maintaining old systems or writing the same boilerplate code every day, you will quickly fall behind and eventually become obsolete.

If you feel like you’re not learning something new every day, it might be time to ask your employer for a new project, a new team, or more training. If your employer is unable to provide you with opportunities to continuously learn and grow, then it might be time to move on.


When You Feel Like You’re the Smartest Person in the Room

No one becomes successful on their own. It takes a community of people to make individuals successful. Most of the key successes in my career resulted from the help or advice of a friend or colleague. So, you need to surround yourself with others who know more than you and are willing to help you succeed.

If you often feel like there is no one on your team that you look up to for advice, expertise, or wisdom, you might want to ask your employer to put you on a new team. If your employer is unable to accommodate your needs, then it may be a sign that it’s time to move on.

Just remember, we’re all standing on the shoulders of those who came before us. So when you become successful yourself, be sure that you lift others up around you. However, if you always feel like you’re the smartest person in any room, then you are probably falling victim to the Dunning-Kruger Effect.


When Your Employer Doesn’t Respect You, Your Boundaries, or Your Time

It’s been said that “people don’t quit their jobs; they quit their bosses”. In every company, there are good bosses and bad bosses. Unfortunately, many companies tend to attract and promote power-hungry individuals to positions of power — people who desire power for the sake of being able to exert control over others.

If your employer does not respect you as a person, your boundaries, or your time, it might be time to speak to your boss about it. If your boss is unable or unwilling to change the situation, it’s time to speak to your HR department. If HR doesn’t take action, then it’s definitely time to leave.

Life is too short to dread going to work (or home) each day because of a bad boss or a toxic work culture. Don’t stay in a situation that is negatively impacting your physical, mental, or emotional health. Chronic stress is very unhealthy, and its long-term cost may be much worse than you imagine.


When You’re Being Paid Under Market Value

An employer has a financial incentive to pay you as little as possible without risking that you will quit. So, in most companies, it’s up to you to fight for promotions and increases in your salary each year. Otherwise, you will just get standard merit increases or annual cost-of-living increases, which, over time, lead to a salary far less than market value.

Fair market value is how much, on average, an employer is willing to pay for someone in your job position with similar education, experience, and location. To be successful, you want to be paid a salary that is above market value. So, employees who are consistently underpaid often have to switch jobs to get back to a salary at or above market value.

First, you need to research to determine your current market value. If you are being paid under market value, it might be time to ask for a market salary adjustment. If you are refused a market salary adjustment, it might be time to switch jobs to an employer who is willing to pay you what you are worth.


When You Have the Right Leverage

Leverage is the relative power or advantage that one party has over another. Often, most of the leverage in a salary negotiation is in the hands of the employer. However, as an employee, you may have more or less leverage at different times in your life based on your specific circumstances.

One of the keys to a successful job transition is switching employers when you have the most leverage. For example, you have more leverage when you’re currently employed vs. unemployed, when the job market is growing rather than contracting, or after you’ve acquired a new degree, certificate, skill, etc.

Take the time to evaluate what leverage you have before switching jobs. Try to time your job transitions when you have the most leverage. Then, be sure that you use that leverage to achieve the best possible outcomes during your interviews and salary negotiations.


When You’re Ready to Focus on More Meaningful Work

When you’re first starting out in your career, I recommend that you focus on jobs where you can learn as much as possible as quickly as possible. Investing in your knowledge and skills earlier in your career is often much more valuable than taking a higher-paying job that doesn’t challenge you to learn more.

When you’re in the middle phase of your career, I recommend that you focus on making sufficient income to support your lifestyle and reach your retirement goals. Ages 30 to 50 are when we typically make the most money in our careers, so having good financial habits and a high-paying job is important.

However, if you are fortunate enough to have met your financial goals before retirement, this might be a sign that it’s time to shift your focus from higher-paying work to more meaningful work. It’s quite likely that you will find more value in maximizing your social impact than further increasing your income.


There’s Never a Perfect Time — Only the Right Time

I’ve switched jobs several times during my career in IT based on one or more of the above scenarios. Even after I started my own consulting firm, I’ve pivoted and reinvented my business on multiple occasions. I think of my career now as multiple phases of career growth rather than a single continuous career ladder.

Interestingly, every time that I’ve switched jobs over the years, I have never once regretted it. I’ve always ended up in a better situation than my previous situation in terms of my salary, mental health, and opportunities for growth.

Uncertainty is scary, and change can be difficult. However, a life filled with regrets and what-ifs is a much worse scenario. Sometimes, you just need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, embrace change, and take the leap.


If you’re ready to make a career change and need to improve your skills in AI, data science, or machine learning, then be sure to check out all of my online courses.


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