Keeping bridges intact

If you’re considering a new job or career, do what you can to make the switch smooth

arched bridge made of stones

Changing employers is something we all have to deal with. Even if you're an independent consultant, you'll probably come to the end of a contract and need to find work with a new client. Sometimes that transition goes smoothly; other times, it can leave a lasting, negative impact.

I've worked with my current employer for more than 15 years. There are many reasons why I have stayed with them for so long, but even with that long tenure, there was a time where I decided to leave for what I thought was a better opportunity. After 18 months, I gave my two-week notice and left on good terms.

Unfortunately, things did not turn out as I hoped. Six months after my change in employment, I was fired. In a future article, I'll talk about this experience, but for now, I want to focus on what happened immediately after this turn of events. As soon as I walked to my car, I called my current employer to see if I could come back, and fortunately, they had a position open. The next week I was back on their payroll, and I haven't looked back since.

Leaving on good terms

One of the reasons that I was able to come back to my current employer is, as I said, I left on good terms. I have resigned from a couple of other employers in my career, and I have always done what I think is the right thing -- that is, I gave two weeks' notice, and kept the termination civil and professional. Early on in my career, it was drilled into my head that the software development community is a lot smaller than it may look at first glance. Word can travel fast, and if you got a bad reputation as an employee (deserved or otherwise), that can show up in undesirable ways.

In the modern day, it's arguably harder to hide past experiences. Social media, discussion forums, and other electronic avenues make it easier to disseminate information about a potential employee.

That can be a good thing. For example, you can show your work by providing your GitHub site, which would let an employer view your repositories and see the high quality of code you produce. However, it's also possible that information about previous employment experiences (whether they're based on facts or "alternative facts") will be discovered, which could hurt your chances of employment.

Burning bridges

You may have the phrase "burning a bridge", before. It means that you've severed a relationship with another person or group of people in such a way that it will be very hard to rebuild. Believe me, it does not take much to leave a very negative impression as you walk out the door and leave a smoldering ruin at the bottom of the proverbial ravine. Here are just a couple of incidents I have heard about:

  • One person came into their boss's office, slammed their building access card on his desk, announced, "I quit!" and left. No two weeks' notice, no way to discuss what the issues were and potentially address them, no way to do proper handoffs, etc.
  • Another individual drank far too much at a party and said things that were not complimentary to other employees. He had already turned in his two-week resignation earlier that day -- needless to say, he was told not to come back the next day.
  • After someone was getting extremely frustrated with the direction of product development, he announced to the people in the room, "Hypothetically speaking, if I had a sniper in the trunk of my car, how would things change on this project?" He didn't last very long with that employer after that comment.

There are times where you do need to "burn the bridge". Your employer may be toxic -- that is, they may have an extremely negative work environment, and it is time to move on and never engage with those individuals again. However, in most cases, handle a resignation in a professional manner as best as you can. You never know when you may run into folks in the future, and knowing that you did the right thing in the past can make those encounters easier to handle. Until next time, happy coding!

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