Why Millennials Are Leaving Six-Figure Tech Jobs

To most workers in the US, the perks given to those who work in tech are astounding! $2,000 to spend on a vacation anywhere in the world. $2,500 per year for student loans. $4,000 in baby cash for new parents. That on top of lavish offices decked out with in-house massage parlors, gyms and cafeterias serving free, restaurant-quality-food. During the pandemic, in-office, perks were replaced by money to furnish home offices, mental health days, and the freedom to work from home forever. In an industry fraught with competition for the brightest minds, perks have become a way to not only attract but also retain top talent. The benefits and perks package alone, I would say, probably was at least 40 or 50k. This on top of salaries that are multiple times higher than those of other industries. In 2019, the average tech salary in the US was $146,000.

That’s almost three times the median salary of public school workers, who made up the largest industry of workers in the country in 2021. But even those swanky office spaces, six-figure salaries and unlimited time off are not enough to keep some millennials from leaving their tech jobs. I expected kind of this perfect work environment, but it was ultimately still a big company with a lot of those same corporate problems that you get in a large company. Hi there. Can you hear me? CNBC spoke to several people who left their lucrative tech jobs to ask them one question. Why? Free team-building trips to Hawaii and private concerts aside, the tech industry can be stressful. I’m curious, was there a moment for you when you started noticing that they’d like some of the the perks kind of start losing their luster? A lot of these companies have unlimited paid time off. Sounds amazing, right? What happens in practice is a lot of people take less than you would otherwise. They serve dinner every day. But they serve it really late. So if you want the dinner, you got to stay at the office. So it’s things like that, where it’s really, it’s a good perk, right? But there’s something about it that makes you work more. Aaron Jack landed a coveted job at Uber as a software engineer in 2018, after going through an intensive coding boot camp in San Francisco, I guess I’d never considered that you can even get into something like Uber or Google. I thought those were kind of like reserved for, you know, really elite individuals. Jack says that Uber was the best job he ever had. But being a part of an industry that thrives on efficiency and innovation meant the pace could be unrelenting, It started out really great. Because I was new. I was just learning everything, right? But the longer I actually stayed, the more yeah, the responsibilities kept kind of increasing on me because I became a critical member of my team. I felt kind of stuck because you get motivated to finish and you’re like, ‘oh, I’m stressed to meet this deadline.’ But then you’re almost on a treadmill where you finish and then you just get a new project. Anna Arsentieva worked as a software engineer before leaving in December of 2020. I got my things there. About to head out from the building. I’ve been here for the last eight years. I’m about to set the alarm and leave for the day, and not for the day but actually leave this time. The company where she worked didn’t offer the same perks as the big tech giants, but it did offer a good work-life balance. Still, she felt a similar type of pressure.

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What led to the burn out, it was not the amount of hours I was putting in, but the fact that I will have a project, I will get everything I can to make it successful, as soon as that project ends, immediately a new one starts. Jack and Arsentieva are not alone. A 2018 survey by Blind, an anonymous workplace chat app, found that over 50% of the close to 11,500 tech workers surveyed answered ‘yes,’ when asked if they currently suffered from job burnout. Compare that to a 2019 survey of 15,000 physicians, only 42% of whom said that they felt burnt out. And the pandemic only seems to have made things worse. So many of my clients found themselves working all the time. Rolling out of bed in the morning, working. Thinking, ‘well, I have nowhere to go this evening so I might as well just keep working.’ Waking up on a Saturday, ‘I have nothing to do, well, I might as well just keep going.’ There is this understanding of you’re being paid well, there’s all these perks, there’s, you know, stock options. We’re giving you a lot, and in exchange, you know, we’re really requiring you to work those extra hours. A 2020 survey by bBind showed that 68% of tech workers felt more burnt out while working from home than while working from the office. The survey included over 3000 employees working at companies like Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, Apple and Google. Beyond the day to day pressure, some said stagnation played a role in their decision to leave their tech jobs. I was looking at the trajectory of the job over time, and I didn’t really see the growth opportunities I wanted. In fact, a 2020 survey of more than 4000 tech workers found that following salary, the opportunity to learn new skills was the second largest motivator to accept a new job offer. The same survey found that 58% of tech workers would leave their current job for another one, if presented new challenges and problems to solve. Jack imagined his life 10 years into the future. You’re still in the same office. You’re at the same desk. Have the same chair, same commute. So the details change, but your life is kind of the same. Arsentieva agrees that the desire to keep learning and growing played a part in her decision to leave. In 2019, at the end of the year, I was talking with my manager that I want to do something else, I want to learn something else. And it just happened that my interests were not aligned with the interests or the needs that the company had at the time, Arsentieva persevered out of a sense of loyalty.

Her company had hired her with almost no experience after she immigrated to the U.S. from Europe. But she volunteered to leave when the company downsized due to the pandemic and spent the next six months studying web development. Claire Shapiro joined Google straight out of college and quickly began pulling in a six-figure salary. But after years in a number of different roles, she felt stuck in the tech bubble. I heard from so many other people that had other diverse experiences outside of Google, you know, that you can’t really fully appreciate Google, or you can’t really understand without having this kind of other context. It did feel like well, wow, if I don’t leave now, I could stay here for the rest of my life. In 2018, Shapiro took a 50% pay cut and moved to Belgium for a new position as a design consultant for the Board of Innovation. I thought, you know, I think the work that I am doing is not energizing me to the fullest. And I think I could probably find that potentially outside of Google. And I did. The tech industry is built on entrepreneurs. So it’s no surprise that many of those who leave their tech jobs do so to start their own endeavors. That was the case with Morgan DeBaun. I wanted to be an entrepreneur full-time. I wanted to move fast and not get too attached to having, you know, a nice six-figure income at such a young age. Like Shapiro, DeBaun started working at Intuit right after college and quickly moved through the ranks. But working as a product manager, she noticed a blind spot in the products that she was helping to develop, When we’re looking at good target users as a product manager, which was my first role, you create these user personas, right? And so you describe the person, you describe the target person, what is what do they look like? What do they eat? Where do they shop? What problems are they solving? What technology do they use? Because you really want to have empathy for the customer.

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And at the time, it felt like every customer’s identity was all the same. It was these white people, middle class, and I’m like, ‘wait, hold on, this can’t, this can’t be good.’ And there’s clearly a disconnect here. DeBaun says that she liked her job, but thought that she could make a bigger impact by founding her own company. I don’t think that there’s any tech company that’s ever going to put the black audience and the black community and the black customer base as their core demographic that they’re solving for. In 2014, she launched Blavity, a media company geared towards black millennials. Is there anything that tech could have done to keep you specifically in tech? I don’t know that there’s anything that could have kept me working at a big tech company. As a young black woman, I just, I didn’t want to fight so many fights for the rest of my life. I think that I’ve made a lot more progress outside of a corporate entity, and been able to push a lot more tech companies to be more diverse, and empower black people to be in the technology industry and be more equipped to be able to influence these product decisions. Definitely more than I could have been as being a group director or VP at one of these tech companies. Jack and Shapiro have also struck out on their own. I actually spent the better part of, you know, six months developing my own kind of better coding boot camp. Freemote, the freelance developer boot camp, that solved a lot of the problems of the boot camp I went to. Although Shapiro still works on some projects with the Board of Innovation, she has also found her calling as a freelance product and business design consultant. Right now I’m making less than I made at Google, but that’s partially by design. I really am prioritizing not as much the salary side and more of the work-life balance and having experience side of it. In an industry as competitive as tech, top talent is crucial. And those who leave are doggedly pursued to return. Google does an excellent job of maintaining connection with people that leave. I had a dedicated recruiter that I could call at any time that checked in with me once a year. Asked me how my job was going and asked me what I was doing, you know, I get recruited still to come back into a big tech company. And I always just like, it makes me happy. Because I’m like, ‘yes, keep trying to get me back into the system.’ But I’m busy! If you didn’t have this grand vision, do you think that you would have left tech? No, I don’t think that I would have left tech if I didn’t have a vision or didn’t have an internal purpose that was driving me. And going back is certainly tempting.

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For me, I don’t think that I would go back unless the sort of structure and the roles that I would want to have kind of came into Google. So who knows. If Google and I meet again, I won’t be mad about it. After a six month hiatus, Arsentieva got another tech job. This time as a software engineering manager at a company that helps match customers with car and health insurance. Do you feel like you are less burnt out from this job? Honestly, no. I want to give the best I can. So I put a lot of hours. But it’s never asked of me. Actually, in reality. My manager told me I should stop working so many hours and take it easy because they want me for the long run, not for me to get burned out again. But stress and its impact on mental and physical well being isn’t unique to the tech industry. A 2021 survey of 1500 workers from different industry sectors found that 52% of the respondents are experiencing burnout. Still, the restrictions of the past year have given a lot of young tech workers the time to think. I think it’s really hard to make this transition into a role where there aren’t the perks and the money is very different. But I think now people are, now that they’ve been away from it for a year that it’s an easier transition. For those in tech wondering if they should quit their jobs, Jack says it might be worth the risk. If you’re someone in tech, then you have skills that are just intrinsically valuable. You can always get back and do it again.

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