erin white’s recent blog post, what it means to stay, got me thinking about leaving ucsd recently. as someone who did stay at one place for a long time (17 years!), her comments on benefitting from trust and respect established over time really struck a chord with me, because i felt like i had a lot personal capital built up.

i felt supported and encouraged to develop and grow, try new things, travel to conferences, and engage with open source communities that i had long wanted to be a contributing member of. i had several levels of good management above me, keeping most of the downsides of working at a big, bureaucratic institution from impacting me, supporting me as a remote worker (florida was the closest i lived to san diego for the last 10 years). i didn’t have to worry about the budget problems, reorgs, or anything else that might roil the library.

so, i didn’t leave ucsd because i was unhappy. but there were reasons i was open to leaving.

there’s a fine line between comfortable and complacent. we had a stable development team for many years, and when you work with the same people for a long time, it’s easy to fall into the same roles and patterns with them.

in the same way, when you work at the same institution for a long time, you get used to its idiosyncracies, its ways of thinking. you learn where the boundaries are and stop pushing (or you fight the same battles over and over with the same outcomes).

i was feeling stagnant, and ambivalent about plugging away for another 20+ years.

i had seen senior developers get complacent, stop learning and stop growing. their skills got out of date, the rest of the world moved on and they were left maintaining their old code until they retired. i had no intention of doing that.

one of the other traditional routes for career growth (transitioning into management) wasn’t really an option for me either. it’s hard enough to find remote jobs as a developer, and remote management seems like a much harder sell. i have seen a few, but they were all at small nonprofits. as a father with school-age children, i enjoy the stability and work-life balance of university employment too much to seriously think about that.

i had the luxury of a safe and rewarding position, but i was open to the idea that something might come along that would be better.