Mary Dickson Diaz

Code, Life, Learning

don’t quit your day job (unless you’re quitting your day job)

light at the end of the tunnel…


Here in my last few weeks of work I’ve experienced a lot of “what’s next for you?” conversations where I awkwardly try to explain that I’m working on a change:

I’m learning how to code
I’m exploring careers in software development
I’m going to be a data scientist… but, you know, for good

For all my excitement about embarking down a new path, opportunities keep popping up that have me questioning the decision to take time off.

Oh, you’d be perfect for…
Did you see ____ is hiring?
We’re posting a position in the next few weeks…

This leads me down a few thought paths. One is, when I said I was ready for a change, I meant it. The idea of jumping back into similar work, even for an AWESOME organization, isn’t appealing like it once was. And thus we arrive at the blessing and curse of non-profit development: there are always jobs, because non-profits always need money. And if you are the type of person who enjoys new challenges and learning new things (like me), it can be very appealing to explore new work with an organization whose mission resonates and who likes you a bunch. Never mind that you wanted to do other things! There will be time for those other things later! (Spoiler: There is never time for the other things.)

A second thought, is YES, apply for that job, let them offer it to you and then decide whether or not to take it. This is generally my advice to others, because any opportunity to interview is an opportunity to learn more about yourself and to practice telling your story. It’s also an opportunity to meet people who may be able to connect you to other opportunities down the road if you leave a good impression.

And a third, competing(?) thought is, I don’t want to waste anyone’s time. If I already know, I mean know, that no way am I giving up The Plan to say yes to this Other Thing, there is probably a way to politely decline further inquiry without burning any bridges. Or a way to have the conversation but frame it as “gosh this sounds great, I’m committed to taking some time off, but let me think about who I know who might be a great fit.”

And lastly, it makes me wonder, a year from now will people still think of me as a strong candidate in my current field? It might be important to stay involved in this world in some way — volunteer or otherwise — so I don’t lose that currency if I want to come back. I think this is at the heart of all those career advice articles that say “don’t quit your job until you have something else lined up.” It can be harder to get hired if a manager thinks you’re out of practice or out of touch. So what can I do while I’m learning other skills to stay current in my existing ones?


  1. Amazing. Go you! What you want to do, and part of the reason that we’re not supposed to quit one job before lining up another one, is to build/maintain a reputation in your field. So that has to do with skill practice and development (which I think you’re going to get in spades by focusing on your learning), but you can also work on building that professional reputation even if you’re not working in other ways. By getting engaged in your new professional community, attending events, giving talks or presentations, writing or teaching or contributing something of value to others in the professional community you want to join, you’ll build that reputation while you’re also getting your skills up to speed. I’m so excited for you.

  2. I don’t get the Twitter bot thing, but I do get the “There is never time for the other things” thing. Go you! The jump is amazing and scary and real and revitalizing. BE! 🙂

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