Why I quit

August 15th, 2008

I’ve been off work for the past two weeks, but today is officially my last day. Not going into the office was surprisingly easy to get used to, but not getting paid is probably going to take more adjustment.

I decided to take a sabbatical to do some traveling before moving to Shanghai to study Mandarin. Since I announced my decision, I’ve received a lot of kind notes and encouragement from friends and even relative strangers. Many of them say that it is a brave thing to do. Is that code for “foolhardy”?


However much I love this company, the signals all point in the same direction:

  • I have been here for over seven years (in three different offices, sure, but that’s a long time relative both to my working life and to my age).
  • I have just wrapped up the current project I moved from Tokyo to accomplish.
  • The person I hired and trained as my successor is more than ready for the role.
  • I had a number in mind when I started this job, and I hit it last November.
  • I want to take a year off to travel at some point in my life.
  • The opportunity cost is relatively low: my salary is only going to get higher (making a year off in the future more expensive), and the credit crunch is likely to affect our bonuses (making this year the best one to miss a bonus, if I have to pick one).
  • The business team I work with is essentially the same as when I started — a change will be refreshing.
  • Moving to a new internal role would mean a 2-3 year commitment in order to make a real difference, which is a long time to wait if I do want to take a sabbatical.
  • I’m more likely to get my next big increase in responsibility by moving externally than by moving internally.
  • I’ve got a big birthday in November, and would rather mark this year than subsequent ones.
  • I am ready for a new adventure.


There is yet another good reason to move. I don’t think folks in technology give this much thought, but their trajectory is different from that of the business team (this applies mainly to the “partnerships” we develop in finance — if I were working for a technology firm, the following wouldn’t be as relevant). The IT “earning curve” starts off much higher than that of the typical business team member, but is flatter, which means that at some point, after more or less time being more valuable (as measured by compensation), technology is left in the dust. Here’s the chart:

This graph is based on real data, but I obscured the actual numbers. The first jump in the business line is moving from graduate to FTE. The jump in both lines between -3 and -2 is promotion to principal/vice president. The last data point for both series is just a continuation of the previous year’s progression to make the trend more visible. The red dot marks now, where the difference in values is currently just 2.3%.

What this chart shows is that I have exactly this year captured the last of the alpha to be gained from opting for a career in technology. In the next year or so my business counterparts will outpace me significantly and continue to accelerate. There are two possible responses if I want to avoid this:

  • Stay on the same curve but increase my y-coordinate (e.g. by changing firms, which usually entails an increase in responsibility and compensation).
  • Look for a new curve (e.g., by moving to a business team or joining a technology company where I can contribute directly to the bottom line).

What is consistent in both alternatives is the need for a move.


Finally, there’s the omen. The day after I handed in my resignation, I talked to a friend of mine on the trading desk in Tokyo. He said, “You’ll never guess what I did. I resigned! And you’ll NEVER guess what I’m GOING to do. I’m moving to Shanghai to study Chinese!”

My signals, my charts, and my friends all indicated it was time to take a risk!

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