Why I quit my job as a Netflix engineer, earning $450,000 a year

  • Michael Lin joined Netflix in 2017 as a senior software engineer, and at first he enjoyed his role.
  • After two years, Lin wanted to get into product management but couldn’t find a clear pipeline to follow.
  • He lost his motivation and finally received his preventative severance package in May 2021.

I started working at


netflix

as a senior software engineer in 2017 after leaving my job at Amazon. I was happy to get a promotion and go home to the Bay Area.

At the time, I thought I would stick with Netflix forever. I was making $450,000 a year, getting free food every day, and enjoying unlimited paid time off; it was the dream of big tech.

When I left almost four years later in May 2021, everyone thought I was crazy.

My parents were the first to object. For them, my abandonment was tantamount to spoiling their hard work immigrating to America.

My mentor was the second to oppose it. He said that I should not quit without another job because I would miss taking advantage of my high salary when negotiating my salary at the next job. Their comments made me pause for three days before speaking to my manager about leaving.

Eight months later, I’m convinced it was the right decision.

When I started working at Netflix, I loved it

Working at Netflix was like getting paid to work on case studies you learn in MBA programs. They made the memos for every product decision available to all employees, and I learned a lot every day.

Over the next two years, the shine began to fade. Projects and meetings blended together, and they felt like little variations on each other after a while. The engineering work started to look like a cut-and-paste.

Then COVID happened. The office closed and all of my favorite parts of the job — the socializing, the co-workers, the perks — were gone.

The only thing left was the work itself, and I no longer enjoyed the work.

I wanted to have a bigger impact. For me, deciding how to allocate engineering resources was more relevant to my career goals than the engineering job itself, and I wanted to move into product management to lead those efforts.

As a result, I spent two years networking within Netflix and applying for every product manager position I could find.

None of my attempts failed and I was still doing the same job.

The problem was that Netflix had no process in place to support horizontal role changes like this; I have never seen an engineer successfully move into product management in the company.

Towards the end of my job search for the position of Product Manager, I lost my motivation and focus

Now that the transition to the PM role was out of the question, my high salary seemed like an increasingly bad deal. When I started at Netflix, I was making money and learning new things all the time. Now I was just making money, with no career progression.

My team goals also started to diverge from my career goals.

The team was focused on an engineering migration, where we needed to move from one online system to another, but my interests veered into entrepreneurship. The job I was doing was not helping me learn the business skills I needed.

I started to feel like I was repeating the same career mistake I had made at Amazon – staying in a job that didn’t suit me any longer than I should have.

My motivation went down and my performance went down with it.

I engaged less in meetings, minimized work irrelevant to product management, and dragged my feet in communication. The only motivation at the end was to try not to get fired.

Unfortunately, my manager started noticing it. During an impassioned performance review in April 2021, he said I needed to be more engaged with the team’s engineering migration and be more outgoing. In his words, I had to improve in these areas “if I wanted to stay in the team”.

COVID-19 has changed my outlook on work

I worked in a prestigious company that earned a good living. It’s hard to give up a salary – something tangible – for intangible things like your youth and your time. But I couldn’t help knowing that many people had lost their lives during the pandemic.

I was putting off my dreams of becoming an entrepreneur, and COVID-19 was constantly reminding me that I might not be here tomorrow to pursue them.

I was afraid that one day my tombstone would read, “Here lies Michael. He spent his life doing a job he never wanted to do. Rest in peace.”

The longer I stayed at Netflix, the more likely the tombstone was to be my reality.

my time at Netflix was coming to an end

I spent two weeks after the performance review thinking about my next steps and decided to have a candid conversation with my manager. I proposed to him in a 1:1 meeting shortly after we were discussing “preventive severance”.

I told him, “My performance is going down because my motivation is going down. My motivation isn’t improving because the team’s goals are getting further away from my career goals. What if we were discussing a preventative severance package of Netflix now rather than dragging this out?” That way Netflix saves money, the team finds a better fit sooner, and I can do whatever I want. A win-win for everyone.

After discussing it with HR, I had a final meeting where Netflix agreed to preemptively terminate me and I received my severance package.

Life after Netflix

I thought my life would be over after I left Netflix. I was afraid of not having a social life, because it used to revolve around work.

The opposite happened, as I met more people while starting my own business – other entrepreneurs, writers and creators.

I now feel this deep calm inside me, an unshakeable belief that everything will be fine, even if no future success is guaranteed at this time.

It’s been eight months since I quit my job at Netflix, and I’ve decided to fully commit to working for myself. Although I’m just getting started and don’t have a reliable stream of income yet, I’m going to trust the process that if I do work that energizes me, good things will happen.

About Shelley Hales

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