October 11, 2020

Why I left a six figure salary at GitHub to go solo

John Joubert (JJ) @johnjoubert

Last week I left GitHub.

I stepped away from job security (whatever that means nowadays), exceptional colleagues, and the thrill of working for an admired brand within the developer community – all for an uncertain future of working for myself, building startups.

I was earning a six figure salary plus stock and bonuses, and had received multiple promotions in the last two years.

I levelled up rapidly within the Support organization at GitHub – moving from an individual contributor (Support Engineer) in 2016 to a Manager role in 2018, and finally a Director position at the start of 2020.


Why leave?

I didn’t leave GitHub because I disliked the work or the company.

In fact, it’s an inspiring place to work and if you ever get the chance to work there, I’d highly recommend you take the opportunity.

I worked with the most intelligent, kind and empathetic people, at a company that is helping to build the future. I don’t regret it at all.

So why leave all of that?

To CREATE.

My role at GitHub involved leading, directing, motivating and managing towards company objectives – ever heard of OKRs?

Managing people is great, and I like to think that I’m a half decent manager and leader. I thrived doing this work, and I loved helping fellow Hubbers grow and level up in their careers.

But in the back of my mind, I had an itch. An itch I just couldn’t quite scratch.

I want to build. To innovate and dream and pursue crazy ideas – to harness those millions of random electrical impulses in my brain – and turn them into something real. Something I can see, touch and feel.

There is nothing quite like the constant learning and growth that you go through when facing the challenges of startup life. Don’t get me wrong, I understand all too well the stress, anxiety, late nights and early mornings associated with this path (I’ve done it before but that’s a story for another time).

Ultimately though, the desire to create something outweighs these challenges.

At this point you might be thinking…why not start a side project or build something in your spare time, while continuing to receive a steady paycheck? Well, I’m glad you asked. I agree, that would be a better approach, and in fact, that’s the one I recommend most people take.

However, there is a big gotcha with that approach. A caveat that I just couldn’t circumvent.

It assumes you have the available resource of time and the focus to go along with it.

Focus in particular was a challenge for me. In order to do my job at GitHub well, I had to devote a significant mental capacity and energy – not to mention hours of each day. Finding time over the weekends or after a long day just didn’t work.

I decided the opportunity to have complete FOCUS on my next project was worth the risk.


Funding the journey

I’m fortunate to have gathered together enough resources (money and investments) to be able to have at least a year’s worth of runway that will allow me to explore ideas and work on my own projects without the stress of having to worry about paying the bills.

That’s great and all, but most people can’t simply leave their jobs to work for themselves, and I understand that. In fact, I strongly advise that you don’t quit your job.

Rather, at least attempt the recommended approach of building something small on the side (if that’s something your current employment contract allows) which generates revenue. There is an entire community that you can leverage to make this happen – right here on Indie Hackers.

Grow that project until the revenue matches your salary, and then go all in. Infinite runway will allow you so much more freedom to pursue your dreams.

Either way, it’s important to note that you should be adequately prepared before leaving your full time job.


What’s next?

I’ve been writing code since I learned Delphi 5, when I was 16.

I have hacked together a couple projects over the years, but I haven’t written much code (read zero) in the last 6 years. I know. I know. It’s ironic when you consider I worked for GitHub for the last four years.

All that said, my immediate next step is to take a crash course in the tools I need to be able to achieve my goals without having to rely on much outside help.

For the next two months I’m attending a bootcamp at Le Wagon (already in progress).

I hope to sharpen my skills and learn a ton of new ones that will allow me the freedom to create without relying on anyone else.

Then, next up it’s time to build.

My (still in progress) strategy is to launch a number of products over the next 12 months – following in the footsteps of others who I have watched and admired as they built their businesses in public and shared their journey along the way.

I’ll be taking inspiration from 12 startups in 12 months and Hardcore Year among others.

And from there, who knows what might happen.

I am documenting and sharing my journey and insights every step of the way on Twitter too, so follow me over there for more.


Original post here

  1. 9

    Well done. Wishing you best of luck.

    I guess you felt like @dvassallo

    graph

    Come back to SA and triple that runway

    1. 1

      Thanks! Yeah, definitely some parallels to what @dvassallo went through.

      1. 3

        It’s funny how you can be great at something and enjoy it and slowly be promoted into management, so you no longer do the thing you were good at and enjoyed.

        Teachers go through the same thing. 👨‍🏫

  2. 4

    Awesome stuff! I know the feeling, trust me ;)
    Curious - how much $ do you have, to consider leeway for 1y?
    Good luck!

    1. 3

      Thanks!

      I don't think the absolute amount that you have saved is very important. I think it's more important to be prepared based on your own individual circumstances!

      1. 3

        You're right, what I was asking for is that I'm about to do the same thing as you are ;)

        1. 3

          I understand. If I can cover all my expenses every month for the next year, then I think that is a good enough amount of leeway :)

  3. 3

    Congrats on making the jump. I've recently done something similar and I'm looking forward to the journey.

    1. 2

      Ditto! My plan is to do something similar to 12 Startups in 12 Months - I just haven't come up with a clever name for it. 😅 Best of luck to you both and hope to see your first launch posts soon.

    2. 2

      Thank you! And congrats to you too!

  4. 2

    That makes two of us! Congratulations on taking the plunge! I was promoted to Eng. Manager for a few months and then I decided to quit and run my own shop recently, with a year of savings as a backup. Wish you good luck! Hoping to see your projects around here :)

    I do find it interesting that most people, family, coworkers told me to start my projects as a side thing first (we also have a 2-year-old, so spare time is very scarce), but I really didn't feel like I would put my heart on anything else.

    1. 1

      Thank you! And congratulations to you too!

      I wish you all the best in your new adventure!

  5. 2

    I see you got inspired by levelsio (12 startups in 12 months), too! Looking forward to follow your journey. All the best ;)

  6. 2

    We Will Watch Your Career With Great Interest

    It's quite different from Delphi but I suggest you learn Flutter to develop apps for android and iOS, and soon Windows, Mac, Linux and Web. IMO the future is in apps, as more and more people have a smartphone as their main device.

    Another suggestion is to be a customer of your product, build something that you will use on a daily or weekly basis.

    1. 1

      Thanks for the tips!

  7. 2

    Awesome, good luck! Do post again for how it's going.

  8. 2

    Thanks for sharing.

    I very much agree on focus. It's difficult to do 100% at work and for yourself at the same time. Kind of admire people that can do that, but deep down think it's unhealthy.

    I think the advice to work on side project up until it matches salary is not a good one. If you see enough traction, go for it.

    You might have a high salary now while you might be much happier with half on your own terms. Matching it might be a long (or even impossible) goal.

    Good luck!

    1. 1

      Thanks for your feedback!

      I think it depends on your own individual circumstances and situation. I personally don't think its a good idea to leave a regular pay check unless you are confident that you will be able to support yourself and your family.

      I totally agree with you that you don't have to wait until it matches your salary - especially if you are confident that your side project will be able to sustain you into the future!

  9. 2

    Subbed to your blog, can't wait to follow along as you go! Best of luck :)

  10. 2

    @johnjoubert, I admire the courage you have displayed through this decision. For those who have never taken such a step, it is very tough to truly experience what you must be feeling.

    I had the itch of creating solutions for the design community too. When I left my job and started my journey to create ruttl.com, I went through the exact same thing.

    I truly wish you all the best luck for the future!
    Do update about your progress on the product, will be happy to stay connected with you.

    Cheers!

    1. 1

      Thank you for the kind words and good luck with ruttl.com! Looks like an interesting product!

      1. 1

        Thanks for the appreciation!

  11. 2

    That is awesome to hear! It takes courage to take such steps.
    All the best for the year ahead :)

  12. 2

    Let me know how Le Wagon is, was looking into it myself

    1. 1

      Really enjoying it so far! One week in already!

  13. 2

    @johnjoubert your story really resonated with me, thanks for sharing! As a senior leader at a FAANG company myself, I 100% agree with you it is very very hard or near impossible to have the time and energy to try side hustling while keeping up with the demanding 9-5 work.

    1. 1

      Yeah, if there was any other way to do it I would have! Managing a large org with people spread all across the whole world, all working remotely means that I ended up having meetings at almost all hours of the day. Makes it really hard to work on a side project in the evening if you are still doing the day job in the evening...

  14. 2

    Inspiring story, John! I'm excited to see what you're going to build.

    Btw, if you're willing to share your decisions and future plans with others in an interview format, do let me know. I have a YT channel called DeveloperHabits that aims to talk about habits and mindset of developers :).

    1. 1

      Thanks! You can connect with me here to chat more about this: johnjoubert.com

  15. 2

    The idea of starting a project in our spare time or not is something that always interests me. It is quite true that with some jobs, it simply would be too much stress on someone's life.
    Best of luck!

    1. 1

      Yeah it definitely depends on your work. For me it was really impossible, and I did try!

      Thanks!

  16. 2

    This is a big step. Wish you a great luck. :)

      1. 2

        Welcome! Reach me anytime, I can help you with code, feedback etc!

        1. 2

          That's super kind of you! Thank you!

  17. 1

    This comment was deleted 9 days ago.

  18. 2

    This comment was deleted 4 days ago.

    1. 1

      Agreed. Money is important but not the only thing in life...

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