Two and a half years ago I quit my last tech job. Over six months I turned over leadership of the meetups I ran, stopped doing side work for an important web journal, quit my open source project, canceled my IRC client subscription, and eventually, finally, quit updating this blog. I quit tech. And then I spent almost two years trying to undo it.
I wasn't a very big deal. If you've been around for a while, maybe we knew each other. But it's equally possible that you, also, started doing web development in the 90s and we never ever crossed paths. When I left the industry a few friends kindly wished me on my way, but the truth is that I didnt leave a vacuum. And that's the main reason I'm writing this. I want you to know that no matter how invested, how entrenched, how indispensible you might feel within the tech industry, it chews people up and spits them out every day. Like I said, I started doing this in the 90s. It's been long enough that I've seen people everyone in the field knew forgotten, had to explain the function of tools everyone once used. Web development has a very short memory. If you're just another developer, you'll be forgotten within months of your last github activity. That's why if you're thinking of leaving tech, you need to be real damn certain.
You might think I'm questioning the validity of those feelings, that growing anger that slips out in emails, code reviews, your every interaction with the privileged little shit who walzes into your professional life right at the point where you think you've paid all your dues and takes the opportunities you've been working towards on the strength of a list of buzzwords you'd never violate your integrity by suggesting. No. Those are valid feelings.
There are a lot of articles about why people leave tech. Most of them deal in theories because, like I said, once you leave you're forgotten pretty quickly and so nobody bothers to ask you about shit like that. There's definitely something to the argument that a lot of shit builds up: harassment, intimidation, erasure, condescension, and years upon years of all of them. I think there's slightly more to it. What lets you survive that is the myth of the meritocracy, the promise that if you work hard you will be valuable. Too valuable to lose. Being valuable, you reasonably assume, will give you influence. You can change all those negative things not only for yourself but for the other people around you. Then you realize that it's never enough. Your "value" is just a part of a system of artificial competition that helps keep people like you in their place. And nothing's going to change because nothing needs to, so you change the only thing you can: your participation.
I want you to know that the tech industry doesn't give a single solitary goddamn about your martyrdom. You can lay down in front of the tanks and they won't even swerve. You can stay or you can go. The machine doesn't care. If you don't have a very clear plan that will prevent you needing to ever come back to tech, throwing away your career only hurts you. People say how much they'll miss you, or how sad they are that they won't get to work with you, but they don't actually mean that. They're being nice. When it comes time to mourn the career you studied for, changed your speech and dress for, networked for, lost sleep and health for, you will find yourself alone on the funeral pyre.
I did the wrong thing. I don't know for sure how I would've done the better thing, but I've had a lot of time to theorize. I think it goes back to thinking you can change things, believing that you'd be able to fix all the problems you experience if only you were good enough. Again: you will never be good enough. The main thing I wish I'd done differently was to have accepted that I wasn't going to change my profession, no matter how many decades I spent, no matter how many meetups I started, no matter how many talks I gave, no matter how much of my life I let it consume. If I could go back I'd have done my best at the job I was paid for and skipped the rest. It's what I did pretty happily the first ten years of my career. There's no glory that way, but the only glory available is temporary and worth a lot less than you pay for it.
If you're still full of passion, or merely addicted to the positive feedback, good for you. I'm not telling you you're wrong. I'm telling you to bookmark this in case you need it later. If giving so much one day, suddenly, turns around and bites you, remember that it's possible to give less. Or to give nothing. To do what you're paid to do and no more. To excel at what you're paid to do and let the "community" sort itself out (or, mostly likely, not). Don't walk away from that thing you're paid to do unless someone's going to pay you for something else, though. If you jump, you'll fall alone.