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When going back doesn't mean going backwards

Sophie Koonin

Hey internet! Last time we spoke, I was in a bad place. Burnt out and off work. Well, in May I made the decision to quit my job at the startup after 7 months, and in June I accepted a new job at... my old job. So I'm back at Monzo, working at the bank.

You don't often hear about people going back to jobs they've left. It turns out it's really nice, because you already have friends there and people are happy to see you come back. For me, leaving Monzo was always a pull, not a push: this exciting opportunity came up at incident.io, and I thought I'd give it a go.

Accepting that a job isn't working out can be a difficult pill to swallow. I really wanted to make it work, and I think a lot of the burnout I experienced was because it wasn't the right job for me. Being part of an early-stage startup seemed to be the hot thing to do, and this particular one is run by people I really respect. I had to come to terms with the fact that early-stage startups aren't really my cup of tea: I realised that I work best in bigger organisations, where I can take more of a leadership role and do larger-scale work that improves things for the people around me.

I also realised that I didn't really want to market myself as a full-stack developer any more. The week I got back from my time off, I went to All Day Hey in Leeds and I left with this incredible sense of clarity. It reminded me of everything I love about the web. And it made me finally accept the fact that, well, I don't like backend development very much.

See, I've always had a degree of internalised self-doubt about being web developer, as if it means I'm somehow not a "proper" developer for not being a backend dev. (Never mind that if anyone said that to me, I'd give them an earful.)

I've been building websites for over 20 years, but when I learnt Java during my masters I thought I'd become a backend dev, because that was what Real Programmers do. After my career took me onto a React/Node project at John Lewis, then joining Monzo as a full-stack web engineer, I clung on to the "full-stack" title. Doing backend too meant that I could still consider myself a Serious Dev while still doing the fun web stuff as well.

That "fun web stuff" included teaching people about accessibility, improving testing, architecting and building out brand new web apps, upgrading countless libraries, implementing microfrontends in a large React monolith, architecting and building component libraries. It involved becoming recognised as a conference speaker, and being invited to conferences about web development in the UK and abroad. It involved being promoted to Web Discipline Lead at Monzo, where I could be the "public face" of web internally at Monzo, defining and introducing engineering standards across the organisation. But it's okay because I was still doing backend engineering to make me a Proper Developer...!

Oh dear.

At All Day Hey, when I watched Andy Bell's brilliant talk Be The Browser's Mentor, Not Its Micromanager, I was so excited by what I'd just seen. I hadn't felt that much enthusiasm about what I did for months – sorry, but the introduction of Generics in Go doesn't hold a candle to modern CSS utility functions and what they mean for responsive website design 💅

I realised that I hadn't been doing enough of what I love, and I LOVE THE WEB. Web development is awesome. (And I am a Proper Developer.) Sadly the company's engineering needs didn't really match up with my specialism.

The week after, I handed in my notice. I was sad, but we all agreed it was the right thing, and everyone was super supportive.

Ultimately, the 7 months at the startup were well spent: this experience helped me to understand what I really wanted for my career – and I realised it was pretty much what I was doing before. Plus, I met some excellent people, and learnt a lot from them. (I also built a pretty sweet component library, and I hope they're getting good use out of it.)

This isn't a cautionary tale: it's a reassurance that it's okay to make the wrong decision. The wrong decision is not necessarily a bad decision, and going back to my old job isn't a backwards step – I picked up where I left off and I'm heading in the same direction I was when I left. I don't have any regrets about the past year – I learnt a lot, I have a lot of love for the folks at incident.io, and they're building something amazing. It just wasn't the right thing for me, and that's okay.