I've been working as a developer for about 3 years now (straight from uni), I'm wondering, if I take a year or two out would it be impossible to get back into the industry?

I didn't get the gap year thing out of my system after uni, and I'm thinking that I should probably do it before I hit 30 (24 now), my main concern is that if I leave the industry now, I might not get back into it at all and end up working some dead end job.

The way I see things is, that general concepts / design patterns etc remain similar over the years, and it is mostly coding syntax / actual implementation that evolves, so it shouldn't move on dramatically.

Also, women developers (yes there are some out there!) take years out to have kids and still carry on with their career afterwards, so it can't be impossible.

Ultimatum : Would taking a year or two out destroy the (small) career I've built up so far?

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    My wife recently told me about 2 studies that were conducted that were showing that a number of women entering technical fields are advancing as fast as men, but when they hit the years where they take time off for marriage their earning power drops, and they were correlating it to a perceived bias in filling higher positions in companies when in some cases it is due to a large percentage of women taking 1 or more years off mid-way. Don't misunderstand this as an argument about gender bias, just what I hope is an interesting tidbit of information for your question. – Kortuk Dec 16 '10 at 21:20
  • Please use the meta discussion site instead of the question body to ask about site conventions. – user8 Dec 16 '10 at 22:16
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    I guess this is highly dependent on the culture in your country. Most male engineers in mine take also nearly one year off when they get kids (or one year after their birth), this is common so I don't think it influences too much. But as I said, highly culture-specific. – Gauthier Dec 17 '10 at 10:05
  • It may depend on how up-to-date your skills are; if your skills are beginning to have reduced demand before you take the time out, then you may have problems. – Ian Mar 7 '12 at 13:22

Plenty of great developers take sabbaticals. Okay, okay, I just quit my job to take 2011 out as a self-funded sabbatical. ;)

But no, seriously, they do.

I've researched this topic a lot before coming to the decision to do it myself, and these are the basic findings: No, it's not a career ending move, but it's definitely a good idea to stay in practice and do something interesting during your gap year. If you take a year off to sit at home drinking beer and playing WoW, and come back and tell recruiters and hiring managers as much, it'll make you look exactly how it sounds. But if you take a year out to pursue some crazy and interesting adventure, and especially if you do something noble like volunteer work digging wells in Third World countries, then you'll be an interesting interviewee. Essentially, it pays to have a "good story" with some productive content, so the gap year doesn't sound like you just wanted to take time off to be lazy and do nothing.

Also, be careful about dropping completely out of practice with programming and technology. It's true that programming is mostly concepts and state of mind (and specific syntax is mostly is just that, syntax), but you still have to be careful not to come back and be all rusty and awkward in interviews. It's probably a good idea to, at the very least, do some refresher work (in the form of personal projects or maybe open source work) in the last couple of months of your gap year. The more the better, of course.

All that said, you probably should expect it to be a bit of a temporary career setback. Unless you have the reputation of a real rockstar programmer, you'll probably have to take a job that's a notch (in terms of seniority and pay) below what you could have had if you kept working and climbing the career ladder during that year. But it definitely doesn't have to be a career-ending move, unless you do all of the above spectacularly wrong.

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Given that programmers need to learn new techs every X years, taking a year off does not necessarily put your career in pitfall when compared with a guy who has the pressure of everyday work with existing codebase PLUS having to learn new techs. This is all however very individual I guess.

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It depends on what you do with that time. I was in a similar spot a few years ago, burnt out on development, looking for a career change so I went back to school for a biology degree with an eye on med school.

Eventually I took a "temporary" job writing software for public health that became a long-term gig, and today I'm a CTO.

The thing I did that was smart was continuing to develop software while I was in school. I wasn't one of those late-night hackers that worked on his pet project all the time (though I did take a summer off to work on something). I learned Rails in that time, when it was still a young platform, and that has made all the difference for me today, having long-term experience with it.

Bottom line, the time off didn't hurt me. It helped me rediscover what I liked about programming in the first place. It also made me a more well-rounded person and developer. Just don't waste the time and you'll do alright. (It helps to work on an open-source project or two just to have something to point at when they ask you what you've been doing the last couple of years.)

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The only problem is you may not want to get back anymore, otherwise it should not be harder than you learning programming for the first time.

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Will it be harder to find a job? Sure. An employer is likely going to prefer someone who is working in the field over someone who worked in the field.

But that said, it's not uncommon at all, I would think, for people to be out of work for a year while looking for a job (bad region, recession, etc.) nor is it uncommon for people to take sabbaticals.

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Would taking a year or two out destroy the (small) career I've built up so far?

Not at all.

General knowledge you obtained will still be applicable in a year, in two years, in five years.

Current versions of software packages will get updates, but there won't be any tremendous progress you won't be able to catch in a few weeks of focused learning. And anyway the other programmer must learn new versions one after the other. No bad thing will happen if you omit a few versions that will have deprecated by the time you return.

Sometimes it is good to take a pause and return with a fresh eye on the things.

And yes, you could always describe the time off as learning something new or pursuing your own projects.

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