Matt Lucas FBCS explores how to quit your job – in a way that benefits everyone.
Let's consider the future of work from a personal perspective: what's the future of your job?
Of course, there are lots of circumstances in which people leave jobs: some happy, others more acrimonious – and we are not always in control of our own exit. In my working life, I have seen a large number of people come and go and most leavers are remembered fondly.
Inevitably, there are also those who are held in slightly lower regard: the superstars who leave a skills shortage, the quiet leavers whose absence is barely noticed and the scapegoats who take the blame for every negative thing that happened during their tenure.
To keep things simple, let’s focus on the scenario of a single person leaving and with a desired outcome that's good for all involved: the employee, the employer and the employee's co-workers. We’ll look at how to quit your job, or manage somebody quitting, in such a way as to minimise the negatives.
The ideal process is one of a controlled exit, where unique skills are shared with the team while the leaver is still there, to the point that on the day of departure, there is no gap in the team’s ability to fulfil their responsibilities.
This is clearly good for the team because it spreads knowledge and brings people on. It’s also good for the departing individual, because it builds their reputation as someone who delivers to completion – and in a digital world, one’s reputation is more important than ever.
So, why doesn’t this controlled exit happen more often?
The process behind the controlled exit (usually known as succession planning) is really difficult to get right. Depending on the role, it can sometimes require months of investment before a move is even considered, as well as the luxury of spare cycles across the team.
In the short term, it can be difficult to justify allocating a task to a new hire when one experienced and available person can do it in a fraction of the time.
It’s also difficult because it’s culturally awkward; any hint that you will at some point leave can often be perceived negatively by your co-workers and managers.
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Succession planning is, however, essential for the smooth running of an organisation. If you’re responsible for a team, it’s important to avoid over-reliance on individual people, as the cost of them leaving suddenly can present a real business risk. And if you’re part of a team, it’s good to be a person who coaches and shares experience with those around you.
Doing this will smooth your transition, allowing you to divert your time into higher value areas or skills growth and also helps prevent you from being labelled the scapegoat when you leave.
Now at this point, you might be asking yourself, what has this got to do with computing?
Consider the range of applications that are part of a typical organisation's IT landscape and the skills required to maintain them.
Over time, the complexity of computing infrastructure tends to increase. As people move around making their mark, architectures evolve, often reflecting the ranges of styles that are in fashion at the time.
Rarely is it a priority to re-engineer the old in order to fit with the new. Therefore, established organisations have to manage a diverse set of systems – and team members naturally gravitate towards the corners of the architecture that reflect their own areas of expertise.
This means that systems that are trouble-free may not be touched for years. I've seen machines (in other companies, obviously) that have been left alone for decades, unpatched yet still providing a critical service and only touched when replacement parts for the hardware components become obsolete.
Good documentation is certainly part of the solution here, but this only goes so far: the real knowledge invariably lies inside people’s heads. For this reason, it is upon all of us to share our knowledge and allow others to learn from our experience.
By helping the next generation into our current roles, it not only leads to more resilient systems, but it also makes the transition into our next roles as smooth as possible.