Why I quit my career as a software engineer to prioritize my health


My body, rather than my mind, made me quit working in the tech industry, and that pisses me off.

I just can’t work with screens anymore because it causes severe eye pain and headaches. It could be a combination of repetitive stress injury (RSI) or burnout, or an inconclusive medical issue – I’m not really sure. My pain reminds me of a memory:

At the start of my repetitive strain injury journey (ulnar nerve pain / carpal tunnel), I met a hairdresser who had developed carpal tunnel syndrome (probably RSI, IMO). I asked him, “What have you done about it?”

And he said, “Well, I’m not a hairdresser anymore. “

It was terrifying for me at the time. I had just started my career working in tech, and I wasn’t ready to stop. At that time, and for many years, I found ways to rest while working so that I could continue this career.

So it is to share that I have already had these points with computer injuries. I thought about using accessibility tools to learn to program without seeing. But this time, I chose not to and chose the path of rest and change instead.

What happened

Earlier this year, I decided I had to quit my second most recent engineering job. It was time (after about two years) to see where I would go next in my role in this company, and this process made me realize that I did not want to continue working there. So I did a bunch of thinking, looking at what I would like in my next tech job, and I also started interviewing and studying.

In the story I tell myself about how the problem and the pain developed, I was spending much longer hours on the computer I had already spent so much time on, and this was exacerbated by the pandemic where so much life had moved online.

I would like to clarify this point about “living online”: I am not sure if other people are talking about the fact that there are many different experiences with the pandemic. For me, living in a big American city and working from home meant not seeing my friends inside. So we organized conferences, events, performances, baby showers, all online. I say this to highlight my screen time, and if you’re reading this, I encourage you to think about what part of your life is online.

I signed an offer for a new job at the end of March and around that time I started having headaches. It was also two weeks after receiving the COVID vaccine, so that could be it, I thought. I wasn’t too worried about it and also worried way too much because I didn’t want to report any symptoms that might mean people wouldn’t get this vaccine, which was my only ticket out of my house. Anxiety can lead to paranoia.

At the new job, I tried to overcome the pain, but it got so, so bad. I wonder now if that was just really shitty timing, that if I had had these crushing headaches while I was still at my last job, I would have treated them differently.

Consider burnout

I really don’t know the cause of what happened, and burnout can lead to physical symptoms as well, but I think eye strain from screens played a big role. I recently returned to the ophthalmologist after being fired in the spring (they said my vision condition couldn’t explain how severe the pain was) and found my prescription needed to be corrected after all.

I talked to my new job about headaches towards the end of May and spent June ‘taking the time I needed’, following my managers’ instructions and advice. of a therapist.

Towards the end of June, the job started asking, “You seem to be taking a lot of free time. Are you OK? ”What no, I wasn’t. After a few days of work and thinking, I decided to help ship what I was working on, and then I quit.

Making the decision to quit my job dramatically reduced my stress levels, and going to a chiropractor helped get rid of tension headaches. Today (more than two months of absence from technical work), my daily pain is quite weak and I hope that it can disappear.

Leave technology

I don’t think I’ll go back to software engineering, but never say never, as they say. I like to get paid (very well) for solving puzzles with computers. How many jobs are consistently well paying for doing things you can’t do? (“We need X.” “OK, I’ll figure out how to build it.”)

But I don’t know if IT makes the world a better place, or even neutral. Today the planet is in a dire state. Working with people who are still practicing the Silicon Valley “writing software” dance while trying to survive in triple-digit heatwaves is a level of cognitive dissonance that I can’t handle any more.

Nor can I treat corporate performative behaviors with the “We care about you !!” In fact, it IS a job, you take too much free time ”bullshit. If you have unlimited PTO, test its limits, because I promise you are there.

For performative businesses or businesses that think they’re underperforming: you might feel like you’re afraid to say the right thing. Or, I guess, you know what to say, so that’s what you’re broadcasting. But by saying the “right” things and not mean- ing it, you are compromising your integrity. People will notice it, and they will walk away, or hurt their own integrity by ignoring it – and it is a difficult wound to heal.

Do your employees know what to do if they have a serious problem to deal with? Do your employees even know who their “HR partner” is? (I didn’t, in a company, until I quit.)

If your employees quit, don’t say, “Wow, a lot of people are definitely quitting.” How are people doing? Do you need to slow down? Make sure you keep your promises? Apologize for missed notes and make better commitments?

What if you think, “We can’t slow down! – well, sometimes, at least in my case, you don’t really have a choice.



Gordon K. Morehouse