Be Careful Counting Years of Experience

Avoid 1 Year, 15 Times

One of my favorite gigs was working as a Project Manager for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. It was the perfect blend of my love for the environment and my talent for managing software development. I was the liaison between the Information Technology Department and the Wildlife Division. I managed several projects to turn manual, paper based permitting systems into online systems. I feel like I’m aging myself here, but I’m proud enough of the work to let the world see my grey hairs.

A friend recently asked if I struggled with regret over leaving that job. I quit over 10 years ago and frankly; I do not regret it at all.

At the time, I had a personal goal to make a certain amount of money by a certain age.  When an opportunity arose, I took it. I was pretty greedy, and it was a really stupid decision. Within three months my whole department was transferred to another country, I was laid off, and became majorly depressed. However, in those three months, I met some brilliant people, and learned some new skills.

Okay, let’s not sugar coat this too much. Back then, I was MISERABLE. I felt like I flushed a great career down the toilet for a sh*t show. I’m writing this with lots of hindsight. I can now see that I needed to leave to start getting more experience. I needed to leave to start seeing what tools and processes were specific to Parks and Wildlife, which were specific to this new place, and which transcended.

Over the years, I’ve done contract work, full-time work, public sector, and private sector. I’ve worked for large, international companies, as well as small, collocated companies. All this variability helped me see what works where and why. Experience is so much more than doing the same job for some number of years. Rather, it’s getting to understand why operating different ways can make sense in different contexts.

Let’s be clear, I don’t recommend switching jobs too frequently. It’s kind of like traveling the world. Jumping through airports and eating fast food does not count as visiting a country. Unless you’ve been to a place long enough to have a few good stories where everything was a total disaster, or you made a fool of yourself, or you got totally lost, you haven’t actually lived in that country.

A better reason to have left Parks and Wildlife would have been that I was running out of things to learn. If I had stayed, I don’t think I would have gained 15+ years of experience as a Project Manager, I might have gained 1 more year of experience, 15 times. Many companies have career ladders (or jungle gyms) that allow staff to have long careers where they grow and learn for many, many years. Parks and Wildlife has people hang out on those ladders until they retire, and I’m not very patient. I needed to learn and to grow. That is why I do not regret leaving the job I loved.


I want to dedicate this post to two people that really helped me through the miserable part. Dustin Lanier has always been an inspiration. If you don’t follow him on LinkedIn already, you should (https://www.linkedin.com/in/dustin-lanier-cppo/). He really helped me pull myself up by my bootstraps and realize that I control who can impact my feelings. Second, Richard Carter filled me with confidence when I needed it most. Neos Consulting Group is a bad ass staffing firm. I highly recommended them if you ever need techies in Texas.

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