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How realistic is an extended absence?

by ksublondie (Friar)
on Aug 15, 2014 at 17:17 UTC ( #1097593=perlmeditation: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

I've been working for the same small, local company since college (12 years -- CS degree) and the sole programmer for the last 7...5 of which have been almost exclusively from home. I love my job, the company is great, can't ask for a better boss, I'm able to work independently and come up with my own projects. But lately, I've been contemplating staying home* to watch the kiddos (currently 3 all <=5). I'm flat out burned out and my priorities have shifted.

How realistic is it to quit my job for an extended adsence (5+ years) and later return to a programming/IT position? Am I going to be pigeon holed into the baby-track? Will I be untouchable & irrelavant?

* EDIT: "staying at home" = quitting my job/programming. For clarification, I have been working at home full-time with the kiddos from day one. Always in the past, it worked rather well. It was all they ever knew. My parenting style is rather "hands off" (not to say I neglect my children, but I make sure their needs are met while teaching them to be independent and doing things for themselves if it's within their capability). As a result, they have amazing attention spands and are capable of entertaining themselves. Plus a fortune invested in baby gates helps. Toddlers running around are less distracting than my coworkers and all the drama, politics, meetings about the next meeting, etc.

I don't know if it's the addition of #3, or their ages requiring more mental stimulation, or #2 being a yet-to-be-potty-trained holy terror...or a combination thereof...but it's not working so smoothly anymore. I'm debating about quitting completely. I can tell myself to "stay in the loop" independently, but realistically, I know I won't. I already feel irrelavant since I'm not physically in the office.

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Re: How realistic is an extended absence?
by davido (Cardinal) on Aug 15, 2014 at 18:11 UTC

    I'm probably qualified to talk about this as I currently am the one working from home (mostly) with our kids who are 3 and 5 (oldest will start Kindergarten this year). Here's what I've found:

    The amount of work I can get and do is not limited by what people are willing to throw at me. It's limited by how much time I can focus on work. Kids are wonderful, but they are a big distraction. And they have no concept of the mental ladder we have to climb every time we "get in the groove" programming. Some tasks like handling a release or doing maintenance on something I'm intimately familiar with I could do easily with all the distractions. Other tasks that require a higher level of concentration simply have to wait until they're in bed, or until I find a way to get away from the kids for a few hours.

    I'm not concerned about being stuck in daddy mode. First, I enjoy it. But second, I realize that while in this mode (a couple more years before the youngest is in school), I just have to focus on work-related things that are compatible with how the demands of being the primary care-giver constrain me. So I focus on things that are compatible, and trust that when the time comes, I'll make the transition back without too much trouble. Keeping up with the state of affairs does help, I believe.

    Don't lose your contacts. And do recognize that they grow stale. This means you have to keep cultivating new ones, and maintaining existing ones. Part of this comes from continuing to work, even if it's just enough to keep your chops. Also look at open source stuff, which tends to have less firm deadlines. Part of it comes from participating at the community level. ...that's probably a big part. Get involved in local organizations.

    Don't stop learning during your time off. Take it as an opportunity to learn a new language, or several... new databases, new ways of looking at problems. If you can use your time away from programming to become a more well-rounded programmer, your time away won't be lost, and you won't feel burned out.

    Update: One strategy I use is this. It's easy to get into the habit of wanting to spend all ones time with work, or all with family stuff. It's hard to draw lines. So I make it a point to say, "If I can get XXX hours to work on YYY, then I can devote the rest of my time today to ZZZ." Then I find a way to make sure that I get XXX hours to devote to YYY. If I don't do this, I find myself getting stressed out, frustrated, and grumpy. Much better to know, "This is daddy time.", and "This is work time." than to try to muscle through each at the same time. I really find that being able to get away for a few hours to focus on "work" helps me to be happier in my non-work time as well. But I also have to be willing to make a change of plans as things come up.


    Dave

Re: How realistic is an extended absence?
by GotToBTru (Prior) on Aug 15, 2014 at 19:47 UTC

    It sounds like you are already in a non-standard work situation, and therefore most likely to be able to avoid the kind of compartmentalizing that happens in rigid corporate environments. That's a guess, but I think a reasonable one. It also assumes you will be able to return to your current situation, or a similar one.

    Absolutely keep in touch with people, forums like this one, trends and tendencies. IOW, everything davido said.

    Finally, whatever happens, I applaud your choice, and firmly believe you will never regret time invested in your children especially when they are young, no matter how it affects your future career.

    Proverbs 31:28-29

      ++GotToBTrue++

      Yeah, I'm regretting *not* taking more time to spend with my kid ... and he's coming up on 16 in two months. (I'm *certain* he was only 8 yesterday.....)

      ...roboticus

      When your only tool is a hammer, all problems look like your thumb.

        I made a conscious choice when my children were very small to attend diligently to their (often inane) questions, because I wanted to firmly establish in their minds that Dad Listens. That was in the hope that when they had questions at 12 or 16 or 18 (the age of my youngest), important questions that might have serious consequences, they would ask me instead of their friends. That has worked out very well. Note that was Dad Listens, not necessarily Dad Has the Answer. I did, back when they were 3. Not as often anymore! But I still listen.

        1 Peter 4:10
Re: How realistic is an extended absence?
by Your Mother (Archbishop) on Aug 19, 2014 at 19:35 UTC

    Going against the grain. An extended absence is possibly the best thing you could do and not only realistic but could leap-frog you in your career if you do it right and decide to come back to software stuff.

    Working the same job for a long time tends to stifle even when fun; sometimes completely. Same bugs, same code paths, same requirements, same knowledge domain, same expectations. Especially if you work nearly alone or without peers who can help you raise your game.

    Being unhappy, burned out, or absent from family, can kill your ability, let alone desire, to improve yourself or care to try.

    Add this together and an extended break can be money *if* you use the break to keep up with trends, try new stuff you find interesting, build toy apps on weekend evenings, read more tech blogs, dip your toes in new languages/tools, publish some FOSS, do minor patches on big public projects to get your name out there and experience with the ecosystem, etc, etc, etc. It sounds like a lot but it is easy to cram all that good stuff into a 20 hour week. Given the 40 hour week you're dropping, it's still a good net gain and if it is interesting and your life is full of kid-fun and such… it can work out; did for me (3-ish year “break”). :P

      Well said, “Mom.”   ++

Re: How realistic is an extended absence?
by jsbach1 (Friar) on Aug 17, 2014 at 18:16 UTC
    This comes from an old guy who raised 2 sons as a single dad. I have both worked from home and and done the office thing. Both have their time and place in my life. The keys to remaining viable and "fresh" without burning out or becoming out of date. 1. Keep learning - always keep learning. Never be satisfied with the current tools and technology you use. 2. Work life balance - yeah it's a never ending juggling act. Yin and yang - work and non work. They compliment each other in ways you can only begin to understand with time. Non work, whether it's family or other interests - keeps work fresh and creative, and work gives you perspectives on life that are incredibly meaningful to (you and your family.) I know this is not a simple answer but - it's not a simple question you ask. It is, however an incredibly thought provoking subject. The answers are different for everyone. Cheers.
Re: How realistic is an extended absence?
by dHarry (Abbot) on Aug 17, 2014 at 19:26 UTC

    How realistic is it to quit my job for an extended absence (5+ years) and later return to a programming/IT position?

    Not very realistic. 5+ is a long time to be away from IT. I took a 2 year break from programming to explore new things. I got fed up with the chosen path and moved back into programming. I was shocked to find out how much had changed. It took a lot of effort to move back into SW. It's not impossible but after a break of 5 years it will take some effort.

    Over the last years I slowly moved away from programming and about three years ago I moved out of it completely. I still do some programming for fun but not professionally. I haven't had any regrets (so far:)

    There are other jobs too! Why not do something different? Burning out and dragging on doesn't sound like a good strategy. You could move into something else and do it part time.

    It's all about priorities and being home with your kids sound pretty important. If you can afford to quit your job why not do it? Why not do it for a year and then evaluate your situation?

    Regards

    Harry

Re: How realistic is an extended absence?
by Jim (Curate) on Aug 19, 2014 at 17:35 UTC

    No one else has said it, so I will. Five years from now, you'll be five years older than you are today. From what you've told us, you're about 35. So you'd be re-entering the IT workforce at around 40. At that point, you'll be competing for jobs with newly-graduated upstarts who are half your age, and who will inevitably be perceived by employers to have just learned the stuff that's much more important than what you learned 17 years earlier and stopped practicing five years earlier. What's more, it'll be five years in the future, and the rate of change of all things in the world today is rapidly accelerating. (Toffler, et al.) So I think it's realistic to expect that it'll be difficult for you to pick up where you left off today five years from now. (I'm a 53-year-old American male, and I hate that what I'm telling you is true. I admit I'm painting a picture in very broad brush strokes. The point is, age matters.)

      But a 40 year old programmer also can do different stuff better than a new graduate. I mostly do financial software and I have to say that while occasionally we have had recent graduates contribute (and contribute a lot) on the whole most of us who do it for a living are older, have kids of our own, and work hard at it. Many of us are self-employed because we don't *want* to work a corporate job. A few are self-employed out of necessity (things like age discrimination).

      The thing is, programming knowledge itself only allows you to solve pure programming problems. Solving anything else requires domain knowledge and that increases with age. Additionally, I find that older programmers tend to be better at smelling where context is potentially problematic and slowing down before a big mess is created.

      The problem is actually a lack of sense of history. As Harry Spencer said, those who do not understand UNIX are destined to reinvent it badly. Older and wiser programmers who do understand the solutions that have come before are better equipped to solve tomorrow's problems than the just-graduated hot-shots. But the companies don't know that and so they miss out.

      Wow. I instantly feel old and depressed...

        I'm pretty long in the tooth as well. I get paid more every year and the last couple of hiring interviews I was told there wasn't even any competition in the pile of CVs. Good devs are *always* in demand.

        To amplify what I said before: being in a single position for years can be more stifling than taking the same amount of time off. I know devs who still practice 5.4/1998 style precisely because they've been employed full time since that era. Your sabbatical will be what you decide to make of it. Ageism is for retail and food services. :P

Re: How realistic is an extended absence?
by Anonymous Monk on Aug 21, 2014 at 01:59 UTC
    I took a 6 year break from 2003 to 2009 staying home full time to raise my children. I thought I was never going back to work and did not keep up with any technology. My husband eventually was laid off and I felt I needed to go back to work. My first year/job back was difficult. Pay was significantly lower. However, being a stay at home mom for me was far harder than working for a company. It was also nice to be back in the adult world and using my brain. After a year, my previous boss contacted me and I ended up going back to my old job, but working remotely as we had moved for my husband's job. I am not advancing rapidly, I have more of a job than a career, but I would never trade the 6 years I had at home with my children for the best job in the world. They are only young once. When they start school, the years fly by. If you can financially afford to stay home it could be the best thing you will ever do. Good luck with your choices!
Re: How realistic is an extended absence?
by Solo (Deacon) on Aug 19, 2014 at 18:37 UTC
    It will certainly help if you have github, other opensource contributions, and/or stackoverflow activity during those 5 years. There's also an arguable gamble on Perl 5 being "the next COBOL" and being completely away for 5 years won't matter at all.
Re: How realistic is an extended absence?
by einhverfr (Friar) on Sep 04, 2014 at 11:14 UTC

    To just quit and come back is not very realistic. The industry changes over time. You have to be involved and evolving with it. However, what you may be thinking about is a false choice. Here are some additional options.

    • Go consulting. Try to get some gigs. Do it part time to stay involved and stay focused. Who knows, maybe in 3-5 years you will want to just do that full time.
    • Pick up some hobby projects. Use them to learn new technologies. Build a portfolio of them.

    When you do re-enter you don't want to position yourself as having been away and you want to be in the loop. Those are considerations. Or maybe just retire from computing and become a baker ;-)

    There is also nothing wrong with deciding to do something else. You may find that if you do something else, your computing background will, later, suck you back into the industry. But who knows? Life is an adventure, isn't it?

Re: How realistic is an extended absence?
by Anonymous Monk on Aug 17, 2014 at 12:16 UTC
    It would sound to anyone that you are getting burned-out and that you have one foot out the door already. Not good ...
Re: How realistic is an extended absence?
by sundialsvc4 (Abbot) on Aug 19, 2014 at 19:18 UTC

    And, by that time, the entire world of IT will have drastically changed.   Right now, we are busy exporting programming-jobs and data both to “the Cloud,” which turns out to be a euphemism for “places where Labor and Electrical Power are Real Cheap.™”   No one, yet, is considering the consequences of this ... but by five years from now, I expect that the terror-attacks(!) that will be the consequence of this shortsightedness will have struck, and who knows what the IT industry will look like in its aftermath.   You might have to have a professional license or some kind of low-level security clearance to be a computer programmer.

    Nevertheless, one thing seems to be clear:   there is developing a serious over-supply of labor in this market.   (For an explanation of why companies are screaming that they “can’t find people,” please see the preceding paragraph.)   There are way too many people competing for a shrinking number of jobs ... jobs which today are perceived to be the purview of semi-skilled labor.   People in their twenties with 3-5 years of experience and a lower risk of actually costing money on an employer’s health-plan, are going to trump people in their fifties who have 35 years in.   Even though experience can do the job much better, a hundred monkeys each hired for monkey-pay can figure it out somehow.   And, well, you might not want to continue being a part of that.

    Honestly, this is not meant as “a political rant,” and I would not have it be taken as such.   (Nor do I consider my prediction in ¶1 to be a mere raving ... God, I wish it were, and God, may I be wrong.)   A very similar thing has happened to every “craft trade industry” from iron puddlers to clothes washers.   It might well be time to start engineering your graceful-exit out of IT.   Go do something else with the rest of your life.

Re: How realistic is an extended absence?
by sundialsvc4 (Abbot) on Aug 21, 2014 at 12:26 UTC

    I do not intend to “start talking politics” here, but it should also be said that there are several key issues that affect these decisions, at least within the United States and at the present time, which will influence your decisions.   (Including, I might add, the decision of whether-or-not to have children at all.)   Until these matters do come to a legislative change-point, they demand that you play your cards very close to your chest:

    (1)   In the USA, you do not “have the right” to go to a doctor, nor to receive hospital-care beyond the bare minimum needed to stabilize your vital-signs and get you the hell out of their hospital.   Health care is a for-profit industry ... and so is health insurance, which is the only way that you can actually afford to pay the profits of health care.   On the one hand, profits are large, but on the other hand, the costs of providing medically-necessary care are eating into those profits.   Much-touted legislation such as the ACA (“Obamacare™”) was so shot full of holes by the determination for profits (even to the extent of turning the Federal Government into an insurance collection-agency) that it has made the situation worse instead of better.   The industry got what it paid for.   It’s a dead-bird law that hasn’t died yet, and its successor is not yet here and may not be here for some time.

    (2)   If an employer cannot simply “contract away” its data-processing operation (and the associated [insurance] costs) ... even remove it from the country altogether ... but must instead employ people to do the work, then “employer contributions to health-insurance premiums” have become pretty-much the largest overhead-cost of having you on the payroll.   This is what makes such an issue as #1 so immediately relevant to you.   If your job can’t (yet) be outsourced to people who are willing to live 17-to an-apartment (I counted ...), then someone who is twenty-five will probably have much lower premiums than someone who is fifty-five.   (And if you actually went to a hospital, actually got really sick at some time in the past, even if you are healthy again now, then you will cost them considerably more than someone else who didn’t.   Yes, they know.)   Yes, it is a form of “redlining,” but the industry simply says that it’s cost containment, and right now they are the ones being listened to.   You can’t make them listen to you.   Therefore, (You Must) Plan Accordingly.™

    Now, things will not stay this way ... realistically, they can’t ... but until they do change, you should not consider yourself to “be secure in” your IT job.   Consider that, like that famous Gary Larson cartoon, you’ve got a great big bulls-eye painted on your back, and someone whom you pass-by in the hallway is looking at it.   (And if you are not there to be looked-at, they’re really looking at it.)   It doesn’t matter how good you are or aren’t at what you do ... or, as the case may be, did.   Until these overriding cost-factors do change, they do profoundly affect your life.

      then “employer contributions to health-insurance premiums” have become pretty-much the largest overhead-cost of having you on the payroll

      The amount I pay out-of-pocket for my employer group health coverage and the amounts I've heard (I've not checked myself) for similar plans on the exchanges implies my employer contributes very little to my coverage. If my health coverage is the largest part of my "fully loaded" cost to them, then they're being screwed by somebody in their HCM supply chain, not by health coverage costs.

Re: How realistic is an extended absence?
by kurta (Novice) on Sep 05, 2014 at 10:37 UTC
    "Make hay while the sun shines".

    If you take 5 years out, don't count on going back. The market is tough. It's going to get a lot tougher. With morons like Bill Gates trying to import outsourcing, your job will be snapped up by an H1-B visa holder who will NEVER let it go. On top of that, you'll be competing against cheap and desperate fresh outs. Imagine yourself as an employer: Do I want a recent college grad who is current on practices but inexperienced? Or do I want to pay double for some guy who quit programming five years ago?

    In more normal times, I'd say you might leave for a year or so and claw your way back. But in this economy, even leaving for six months is the kiss of death. I recently had a recruiter tell me that they don't even look at anyone who has been out of work for 24 months. It's not just that they don't consider them on an even plane - they have a corporate policy to NOT EVEN CONSIDER THEM. It's short-sighted. It's stupid. It's reality.

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