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Why People Quit Their Dream Jobs

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With an insanely competitive interview process that can take four to six weeks, include up to eight rounds of interviews, and require responses to seemingly irrelevant questions such as, "How many trees are there in Washington state?," jobs at Amazon and other top tech employers are hard to get. The thought of someone who actually managed to snag a coveted spot with a dream company voluntarily choosing to relinquish said position might sound unfathomable. And yet many people do exactly that.

With an insanely competitive interview process that can take four to six weeks, include up to eight rounds of interviews, and require responses to seemingly irrelevant questions such as, “How many trees are there in Washington state?,” jobs at Amazon and other top tech employers are hard to get. The thought of someone who actually managed to snag a coveted spot with a dream company voluntarily choosing to relinquish said position might sound unfathomable. And yet many people do exactly that.

(Photo Credit: Quinn Dombrowski/Flickr)

Tons of employees have parted ways with employers, who, like Amazon (or Google or Facebook), offer incredible reputations and salaries for a wide range of reasons both practical and philosophical. For many of those who make a move, the decision often seems to stem from some variation of the Oscar Wilde adage: “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”

Do You Know What You're Worth?

To put it more clearly, the following societal blueprint for success might serve as a good rough universal model, but its not right for everyone: work your butt off to get into the best college you can; graduate from said institution, ideally at the top of your class; race from the valedictorian podium the second your tassel hits the ground in order to jump on a plane for Day One of your highly competitive dream job; make bucketloads of money and retire to your own island off the coast of Antigua by age 47; proceed to live out the rest of your days in a mansion accessible only by an Olson Kundig-designed drawbridge that rests atop a moat floating with shrink-wrapped stacks of your millions.

The reason this won’t work: even if you’re passionate about, say, software engineering, and a company like Amazon or Facebook is ostensibly the “best” employer in your field in terms of paycheck and/or reputation, that doesn’t make it the best place for you personally, presuming that performance and happiness are basic priorities.

The source of this obvious but true fact can be anything from office culture to company size to geographical location to cafeteria soda selection, but the essential takeaway remains the same: its far more important to carve out a career path and choose an employer on the basis of where and with whom you’ll thrive, rather than solely what looks best on paper.

Tales from a Former Facebooker

Case in point: Uber engineering director Pedram Keyani left his dream job as engineering director at Facebook. Why? Because it was no longer his dream job.

“I was at Facebook for over 7 years and in many ways it was my dream job,” wrote Keyani in a Quora thread about people who leave their dream jobs.

“(B)eing there from the early days gave me the taste for building something meaningful, having huge impact, and hyper growth learning opportunities…Creating something new that could change the lives of millions/billions of people is challenging, stressful, and frankly incredibly rewarding on a professional, personal, and financial level.”

“But to go and do that again,” Keyani continued, “I had to leave what is a dream job/role/status for most people.”

Simply put, Keyani did his job well and left once it was done. While he seems to have had an incredible experience, he needed to go somewhere else in order to have it again.

At Uber, he found that he can. “[I’m] working on a set of challenges and opportunities that are stretching my knowledge and abilities again. I’m in a hyper learning mode […] in a role where I have a seat at the table in defining this company for the years ahead.”

Keyani’s story is only one of many. Check out the following sampling of reasons and advice from people who have left “dream jobs” at places like Facebook, Google, and LinkedIn.

Daniel Tunkelang, CTO of Lyra Health; former project manager at Google; former data scientist at LinkedIn.

On why he left Google: “[It] was simply too big for me. I’d come from Endeca, a startup that I helped grow from a founding team to 500, and I didn’t realize how different it would be to join a large company where the connection was inherently less personal. It simply wasn’t a good fit for me.

On why he left LinkedIn: “I left Google after a year to join LinkedIn – then a 700-person company – and my role there was much more expansive and more personal…But growth happens. By the time LinkedIn reached 7,000 people it wasn’t the same company for me. I was ready for something small again – and something far more personal…”

On dream jobs: “[T]here’s no such thing as a dream company. It’s up to us to dream, and to find the opportunities that align with those dreams. Good luck finding yours!”

Bharath Kumar Mohan, co-founder of Sensara; former Google software engineer

“At the holistic level, Google was a great place to work […]. You work with amazing people, with great depth in knowledge. But often, things get compartmentalized…In a big company, you’d be doing a small role, that only exposes you to one aspect of the whole. This is very unsatisfying, for many people who seek ‘self-actualization’ from their work life.”

Sam Ho, chief product officer at UpOut; former lead sales engineer at Google

On why he left Google: “One word: Boredom.”

Anonymous, former institutional investor in Facebook

On leaving Facebook: “In my case, the trigger was when the company stopped asking whether a project would benefit the customer and instead started asking how it would be seen by different personalities in management – how it could support our executive patron and how it would be received by his opponents, etc. Not what I signed up to do, and not a good sign for the company.”

On dream jobs: “Companies like Facebook, Google and their competitors invest a huge amount to be seen as ‘dream companies’ – and they do so because they need to attract the top creative and software engineering talent to survive, plus it contributes to the aura of innovation and excitement they would like to associate with their brands. Anyone in the computing industry reading this will already know what a Google office looks like even if they haven’t been there – and this is because Google wants you to. It isn’t just hype, in fact the salaries and benefits are generous and projects can be exciting, plus your colleagues are generally highly talented and motivated individuals.”

Marcin Romaszewicz, former software engineer at Google 

On why he left Google: “I left Google as well after about eight years in engineering. I loved much of it, disliked some of it, but in the end, owning something much larger at a small company is more rewarding than being a little cog in a giant machine, even if the giant machine is amazing.”

Mike Leach, former lead software engineer / IT engineering manager at Facebook

On why he left Facebook: “I put aside my small start-up and consulting practice to join Facebook in 2010. There was a strong sense of wonderment and curiosity in the air. CEOs, founders, and visionaries from many other companies dropped what they were doing to get a seat on ‘Rocketship Facebook.’ Everyone knew ‘something’ significant was going to happen…

“My hiring managers recruited me on the premise that I’d have an opportunity to test my ideas on a grand scale. This was essentially my definition of a ‘dream job’ back then.

“…After we’d built out several successful teams and achieved our service delivery goals, I once again began to ask “what’s next?” and sought more challenging opportunities. The company was much larger at this point. It was publicly traded, and was more conservative in how it defined and pursued innovative ideas.

“…Ultimately, my failure to properly shut-down my previous company became something that required my immediate attention and prompted my departure from Facebook. Once that situation was stabilized, I discovered how happy I was in a perpetual entrepreneurial ‘zone’, working with smaller companies, and pursuing my hobbies with more passion and dedication. I’ve achieved a work-life balance today that I’m somewhat unwilling to compromise.”

On dream jobs: “I will never forget my experience on Rocketship Facebook. Would I do it again? Possibly, if the right circumstances arose.”

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