I’m quitting engineering: An exit interview
Here is where as a person from an underrepresented group I need to convince you that I’m worth listening to, give all my qualifications, list my experience, where I need to defend my existence.
I’m not going to. I’ll just say, for context, I’m a developer, a woman in engineering and a mum.
Some of the things I’m going to say will resonate with you: take them. Some won’t, so ask around and get more opinions, especially from people in the situations described. If you haven’t heard these things before maybe you are not listening.
Why an exit interview?
I decided I was going to quit engineering more than a year ago, I can’t tell you for sure when is it going to be my last day but I’m convinced that I’m not going to stay here indefinitely, even if when I started it was very clear to me.
But before I leave I’d like to try to leave things in a better state than how I found them.
It is really hard to truly express all the reasons why you are leaving in the heat of the moment, it takes a long time to list all the things you think should be different.
But I’ve had time to think and I listened to many people that have been expressing the things that at that time I couldn’t and I have a better understanding of what I think the tech industry needs to change.
It is the same when you are leaving a job, but if you really listen, really really listen, you will get some insights and start improving the company thanks to the person leaving.
I want you to imagine I’m sitting down with you, maybe in one of those tiny one-to-one rooms or maybe out in a coffee place. I want you to listen and really pay attention as I explain you step by step what went wrong and how it could have been great. Because this may be my last chance to explain.
This is sort of what recruitment and interviews generally feel like to me, a mish-mash of wrong expectations and nerves.
I feel like recruiter agencies have been the biggest bottleneck I’ve faced when trying to find a job. Out of 8 different jobs and more than 40 interviews, only once I got a job through an external recruiter and only 3 or 4 interviews.
And we’ve all heard that recruiter agencies are terrible, the difference is most guys seem to find a small number of good ones: 10 to 30 % of them. My percentage is slightly smaller: 1%.
I’ve been bullied, lied to, diminished, made felt like unworthy or delusional. And on top of that, lost opportunities because after treating me like that, they don’t even send me forward. I’ve got jobs by reference and/or internal recruiters to which external recruiters decided not to send me.
From what I’ve seen in the many interviews I had with you, you seem to forget that people can come from many different backgrounds and entry points: Computer science, self-taught, boot camps, completely different previous career path. We all bring something to the table, and all those experiences are relevant to the role we’ll perform once in, you need to embrace them.
That also means that not every step of the interview process will suit every candidate, certainly, some of them haven’t suited me, I will perform great in some of them and terribly in others, and that doesn’t mean I won’t do well once in the job. If you realise that failing at a step doesn’t mean I won’t be able to work at all, please consider removing the step.
Interviews are scary, for both sides, also very artificial, to properly get the most of an interview I need you to behave in the most humane possible way. I need you to think of us candidates as a person and consider what our needs are from the interview.
I need to understand what are you trying to learn from each step so I know what to expect. Also what steps are there, people involved and as much detail as you can from the internal process of decision.
You also need to make sure I can learn as much as possible about how would it be like to work in the company, let me decide too if working there would be good for both of us.
Please, watch Anastasia’s and Vivian’s talk about hiring
Once I am in, even if in your interview you made everything clear, I need an induction.
When I start, to perform well at my job, I need to know to perfectly well what you do, the vision, what your users are expecting from your product, what is the process, the technologies, your CI, your pipeline, every communication tool.
And most importantly, people, introduce me everyone I would ever work with, explain a bit what they do but also what sort of interactions I would have with them, like “this is who you ask when you need to understand what happened with your A/B test”, “any problem you have with a backend endpoint, they’ll be happy to collaborate on a solution”
On the job
Of course, I tried to start contributing soon but I get stuck. I needed you to provide a safe environment where I can ask for help immediately and make mistakes, where everyone in the team feels like that. But I also need someone close, the first line of support.
Some new joiners would be more independent and some will need you to hold their hand (not literally) and walk to the team that can help them.
I’m so disappointed with all the times you’ve not seen that I’ve been blocked because I got no answer.
I won’t stay much on that, watch compassionate coding talks about them. Be kind, and supportive, and remember that toxicity in communications (that include pull requests) is contagious, and people would react to rudeness with defensiveness and back to rudeness when it is their turn, so avoid it at all costs.
Please, don’t tell me again that people being intransigent and picky with me is OK because I can be that to them in return, that is toxic and I won’t participate.
While people react differently to different feedback, giving positive feedback is proven to be the most effective way. Constructive criticism might be useful in some cases, but what I’ve seen most is internal bias expressed as things to improve.
Don’t tell me I have to be more confident, I am very confident in my abilities as a software engineer. But after more than ten years here, how I express myself and my vocabulary are perfectly curated to use the right amount of “In my opinion” and “I think” to avoid being perceived as threatening and the backlash that follows. So if you haven’t seen my confidence is because I don’t trust you.
And definitely, don’t tell me I care too much, I care deeply, about what I’m doing but especially about the people, and that is my strength, not something to change.
We are not spending our whole career in a single place anymore, at least not in this industry, so in each job, I need to grow and take career decisions that might not affect directly where I am but will apply for the next job.
So understand that when helping me grow, it doesn’t necessarily mean within the company and give me the tools to follow my path. And always consider both personal and technical growth.
Visibility is a very important part, especially for underrepresented groups, there is an erasure of their achievements. Most times we don’t need a coach, we need a sponsor, someone that will make sure our job is seen as much as any others’. I remember when you’ve done this, and I thank you for those times.
Because stability is not something companies in tech give at all. The most unstable job I ever had was with one of the oldest, better known and traditional companies there is.
How you called me in 5 months pregnant to tell me that I couldn’t be an Android engineer anymore and just told me to choose something else is beyond words. You should not be allowed to chose my career for me, not when you are not even considering me and my situation.
Is it big enough? Let’s make it bigger
Life happens, they say. You can’t forget a single moment that every person on our team is a person, with a life, and things happen on people’s lives, some good, some bad. They can get sick, get better, get married, divorce, have kids…
And of course, there is holidays, breaks, extended breaks… We truly need them, we are going to be working for about 50 years, we need the space to have a life at the same time. I won’t forgive you cancelling my Christmas, I won’t, especially since you looked clueless saying that I had Christmas Day to see my family and didn’t even realise I’d have to fly to see them and you didn’t let me take enough time to do that.
Having kids is a *good* thing, it truly is, even if it consumes every second, every part of you, it is great, and we need to act like it. I don’t want to see terrified faces when I say I’m pregnant, cheer, laugh, celebrate, be happy.
And in any situation, good or bad, that requires attention and support, commit to it, because it is people who can change the world, and we celebrate people.
I got cut in half twice to deliver babies, it would have happened in any era, I’m just lucky enough I live in one where they bother to sew me back together. Funny thing, surgeons do the same thing as developers when faced with legacy code: “This is the worst I’ve ever seen, are you sure this was working before?”.
Delivering a baby is still significantly risky, and I’m still a white middle-class woman, in the UK black women are 5 times more likely to die of childbirth, Asian women twice as likely. We almost lost Serena Williams and Beyonce to childbirth. How on earth could we let that happen? It’s not like giving birth is something new…
There is no job more isolating than being a full-time mum. I am the ultimate responsible for a human being: their health, their well-being, their education. Even doctors ask me what the kid has and expect me to know better than them.
But the last thing I really needed when I was still in pain and exhausted and overwhelmed was to receive your call telling me that I’ve been made redundant. At that moment I was fighting for my health, supporting two kids in all their needs, and now I had to go through interviews and convince everyone, again, of how amazing developer I am and my commitment to a job. It is not fair.
You can’t expect me to fix everything: fix diversity, making sure women are respected in the office, be vocal to raise awareness for women’s health, prove with my existence that women are the best in tech because, well, I’m the only woman you know, ah, and of course raise girls to fix the pipeline, while you are doing… what exactly?
So this is my experience, my story, it’s not the best, but believe me, is not by far the worst. Other people have other stories, you might have started to hear them, you need to start listening.
Thinking: “this is not going to happen to me” it’s OK, it’s natural, we don’t expect bad things happen to us, but jumping from there to “why should I care?” Is not, neither good nor natural, everybody should care, it’s called empathy, and that is why society has advanced so much, caring for the people in a worse situation than them.
So what can you do? Well, especially if this is not something that can happen to you is ask: ask your company about their parental leaves, their sick leave, how they support people when they come back, flexible working, part-time, … start by asking to then try to get things better.
- Loosen your shoulders.
- Unclench your teeth.
- Drink water.
I know I’ve said a lot of things, and it seems a lot of work, but we can do it if we keep working together.
When decided I was going to quit engineering I couldn’t afford it, paying £2700 a month on childcare, my only option was to apply for a credit card and just find another job with the skills I had.
I don’t know how much longer I’ve got, mainly because I can’t afford to quit yet, but also because I’d like to give back some of the good things I got.
Our impact doesn’t end when we leave a place, we take these things with us and we leave part of us behind. There are no clean cuts when parting ways. But if we speak honestly and listen honestly we can all grow from this.
Because you might see this scale and think of yourself and the things you do and try to place them on the scale. Don’t.
You are important, every member of your team is important, your intern is important. I am important.
If you, like me, find it hard to say it, just practice.
Every interaction we have matters, let’s make it good, let’s make it kind.
Change is happening
I used to lean in, do everything they said I was supposed to do to be an ENGINEER: I was a cool girl, a nerd, a geek, anything… and still, I was never accepted. I have never felt welcomed or part of the club. But I still thought that just by existing here I would help the next generation of women to find it easier.
What I never thought is it was going to be the other way around, that I would meet the next generation of amazing women. Everything I hoped for, what I was made to believe to be a fantasy, my fantasy, my utopia, they are demanding it: being treated like humans, with respect, just as we are. Listen to them. They’ve saved my job and saved me from being broke.
When I started writing this talk I was only thinking of the things I wanted you to hear, but soon I realised it was also the things I had to hear myself say: my experiences and my pain are real, life and people are important, I am important and change is happening.
It is happening, so get on board or die in irrelevance.