Senior engineers are privileged, high-demand workers. We should use that leverage. One of your first goals should be

(1) find a job that you don’t want to quit immediately

(2) keep the job in that state

Put more simply:

be okay at work

You can get a new job anytime

You probably get a few recruiter emails/LinkedIn messages a week. Even if only 1% of all job openings for you could ultimately convert to job offers, you could switch jobs every 6 months without trying very hard. That would eventually start to look pretty bad to hiring companies, so I don’t recommend doing that, but it’s a real option!

At some point this hits diminishing returns, and it’s stressful to most of us, so how do you avoid feeling like you should?

Be okay: Do what matters

If you’re really in high demand (you are) and what you spend your time working on is important (it is), then you can be a lot choosier about what you do.

  1. If you think tech debt is slowing your team down or making them frustrated, pay down that debt.
  2. If somebody is asking you to do something you think is wrong for the business long term, or doesn’t matter, say that. Find something that does matter and work on it.
  3. If somebody is doing something wrong, call them out on it. Don’t be a jerk, but disagree clearly.
  4. If someone is struggling and no one else is helping them, help them.
  5. If a leader of a team is screwing up things for their team, tell them.
  6. If you haven’t learned anything for a long time, and you’re bored, find something else harder to do.

You can start with negative actions (stop doing X, do less of Y) or positive actions (do more product work instead of pure engineering, or vice versa). But if you think something should change, then start acting to make the change happen.

NB: This all assumes you actually know what matters. Figuring out what matters is hard, and involves talking to a lot of people, and trying to convince yourself, and them. Don’t go it alone without trying to at least explain your plan to others, because it’s easy to fuck this up and do something that doesn’t actually matter.

Be okay: Take care of yourself

Hopefully most of us have been figuring this out for the last 2 years of work-from-home, nothing-good-is-happening, pandemic, but: you are a human being, and you have human needs. You are going to have to live with yourself a lot longer than you’re going to work for the company. And your job almost certainly needs you around for years, so it’s not like you’re doing them favors by working until you’re burned out in the next few months.

This isn’t something I’ve always done great at, but having a kid, experiencing loss in my life, and existing during the Time of Covid have helped me gain some perspective.

They won’t* fire you

* Probably

And if they do:

  1. A company that would fire you for doing the right thing for the company isn’t a place you want to be at
  2. A company that would fire you for taking care of yourself as a human isn’t a place you want to be at
  3. You can get a new job anytime