(Career) Change is the only constant

This post is for Day 24 of Mercari Advent Calendar 2021, brought to you by @kaustubh from the Mercari Metadata Ecosystem team.

I recently changed teams at Mercari, and I wanted to share some realizations I discovered along the way. We will briefly discuss the Great Resignation and also how to retain talent, for companies and managers alike.

(Cover photo by Suzanne D. Williams on Unsplash)

Introduction

In most industries, market demand changed and owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, online businesses increased their profits exponentially. Naturally, this resulted in an increased demand for talented engineers and companies willing to offer higher and higher compensation to attract them, especially in the US. The Great Resignation in the US started as a result of employees demanding better wages and treatment, which we’ll touch upon later in this article. While companies seek out new, skilled talent, it is equally important to retain talent, which we shall also look into.

The average tenure of an engineer at GAFAM (or is it MANGA? MAGMAN?) is 2-3 years. 51% of Americans change their jobs every one to five years. At Mercari, we have a tool that shows how many current employees joined after you. I concluded the median tenure at Mercari is also ~2.5 years.

According to numerous posts on Blind (a popular, anonymous professional network) and salary stats on levels.fyi, new graduates are being offered compensation matching engineers with 2-3 years of experience, although this behavior is restricted to the likes of GAFAM.

Why should you change teams or companies ?

Self improvement & cross-pollination

Ever heard of the basketball player who scores every second, but only on his home turf? Yeah, me neither. In order to stay relevant in an ever-expanding industry, one must adapt to using different platforms and different tools. Changing teams is a quick way to do it. Not only does this increase the quiver of tools at your disposal, but this also allows for a healthy exchange and spread of ideas. Cross-pollination of specialities enables the richest man on earth to pursue multiple interests.

Photo by Robin Battison on Unsplash

Nourishing team culture

The culture of a group is defined by its individual constituents. Over a period of time, the culture evolves and becomes more intricate, like a Christmas sweater that provides comfort and warmth. It is only natural that two groups have varying cultures and have much to learn from each other. You learn not only from other more senior people on the team, but also from people at your same level, because their culture evolved separately—yet equally as complicated—as yours. At this point, the proverbial Christmas sweater becomes more of a Christmas blanket.

Changing roles

Transitioning from one role to another (like from Backend Engineer to ML, from Frontend to Backend, any combination really) within your current team may not be possible—your team might not support different roles at once or just might not require it. Interviewing for a different role with no prior experience might be difficult to do in another company or doing so may require a lot of time that you might not have. What better way to change roles than to change teams within your organization?

Monetary standpoint

The US announced its inflation is no longer transitory, and that it stands at 6.8%. That means if your salary increased less than 7% in the last year, you’re making less money than you made last year. While constantly seeking a higher paycheck might not be everyone’s pursuit (mo’ money, mo’ problems), the average salary increase on a job change can increase anywhere between 10% to 20%.

Look for a new job anyway

The job market is ever evolving, and so are the benefits that come with it. Having an openness towards a new job (even if you don’t intend to change right away) helps you assess your market value better and sharpen your skills. God forbid you need to change your job right away. Are you comfortable spending 2-3 months in the current job while you prepare for your new one?

When should you consider changing?

Photo by Victoriano Izquierdo on Unsplash

If the following conditions resonate with you, this article might apply to you more than you think.

Limited impact or visibility

Would you add a project in the last three months to your resume? Are you getting a good return on investment (ROI) for your time? The law of increasing returns says you should see a higher output on putting the same amount of energy in existing projects.If your recent projects are not receiving the attention they deserve, it might be time to jump ship.

Career sustainability

Does your work match where you want to be in the near future? Can you continue working in your current situation for the next few years? Ideally, both of these answers should be “yes,” while the next two questions should be “no.” Are you constantly working overtime just to keep up? Do you plan your days off just to catch a breather?

A few factors to consider for career sustainability are health, work-life balance, and career ladder progression. At Mercari, we value autonomy – as an individual, within the team and within the organization; as another factor.

Lack of learning

Iron rusts from disuse and stagnant water loses its purity. Some questions to ask yourself are:

  • Have you learned something new in the last 3-6 months that you were able to apply in your work?
  • Is there something that you are longing to learn that is not somehow possible in your current role?
  • Are you looking to gain skills that are not possible in your current role?

Change in values

Check for any differences in team or company values when you first joined, compared to now. Identify your core values – what matters to you the most, what is non-negotiable, and if changes can be made to incorporate the missing values.

Too comfortable

You’ve grown out of your current role, and now you must exit this comfortable cocoon and spread your wings into the unventured. A co-worker at Mercari patiently waited for a role that he was highly interested in but not available at the time to eventually manifest. Alternatively, you’re trying with all your might to step out of your cocoon, but nothing seems to budge. This might indicate it’s time to get a new cocoon.

Confirm that you’re not experiencing symptoms of burnout.

Leaving on good terms

Photo by Maxime on Unsplash

When I changed teams in Mercari, I jotted down all the reasons (some values specific, some circumstantial) for the people in power to consider improving upon. I’m happy to report most of the causes have already been addressed (like hiring more people, really evaluating some big bets). You can either leave your team or company on good terms, or burn all bridges. The former is obviously recommended.

When a member leaves, the minimum number of members the team needs to function (bus factor) goes down. Exhaustive documentation softens the blow. Ensure any procedural or anecdotal knowledge you have is documented extensively, following the Boy Scout rule of “Leave a room better than you found it”. This includes processes, tech specs, and feature proposals that could not be worked on. Allow enough time for the team to adjust before your transition and leave on amicable terms.

People come and go⁠—it’s the nature of business. A team’s best ambassadors are the people leaving the team. As a company or manager, it’s in everyone’s best interest to ensure that people who leave or transition to a new team vouch for you and do not leave for avoidable reasons.

Further reading: Advice for tech workers by Pragmatic Engineer.
Shoutout to several engineers who share incredible articles on #group-dev, especially @stouf. A special thanks to @josh for editorial assistance.

If this article has made you ponder, I invite you to ponder some more on our open job positions. As the new year dawns upon us, while much remains the same; I request the reader to embrace change, whatever form it may take.

Tomorrow’s article, for the final day, will be presented by Mercari JP engineering board members. Please look forward to it!