Friday, April 26, 2013

5 reasons I almost remained a government employee, and 5 reasons why I did not.

I worked for 15 years as a government employee with county level government(IT management within a county office).  I loved my job in a lot of respects.  There were also a number of things that I didn't like.  For the focus here, I'd like to discuss only the pros of why I almost stayed, and the pros that caused me to switch.

Disclaimer:  There is a particular audience for this, but I thought that it might also make an interesting read for those considering the question of public/private employment.

Disclaimer 2:  These reasons are not exhaustive for either category.  They just a few of the more abstract(thus generally useful) ones.  As with any life change, the devil is in the details.

Reasons to stay:
  1. Huge sense of purpose.  My job had meaning.  When I did my job correctly, the computer systems I ran made court happen.  DV protection orders got delivered.  Court sucked a little less for those that had to be there.  People could run their background checks.  I like making other people's jobs easier.
  2. Stability.  Government doesn't go out of business.  There are work rules in place so you know within a particular margin what the next 5 years of your work life are going to look like.
  3. Pension.  I earned a well maintained, vested pension.  If I continued to put into that through work with a pension affiliated job, I'd have a very nice guaranteed retirement.  As is I have a very strong supplemental income stream for my golden years.
  4. Time off.  I had gobs of it.  I miss it.  Do not underrate the value of being able to do meaningful work and spend a lot of time not doing said meaningful work.
  5. Big fish, small pond.  Government tends to promote from within for most positions.  If you have staying power and strive to constantly improve your skillset, you can find yourself towards the top despite education deficiencies or resume diversity issues.
Reasons I left:
  1. Adventure.  I wanted to get out and see a different world.  Government offices are bureaus in a bureaucracy and by definition are narrow in scope.  While this narrow scope allows for good focus on one business domain and theoretically better service to that domain, it gets old if you crave variety.
  2. Stability doesn't always scale.  Just because the organization is overall stable does not necessarily mean that your particular slice of it is stable.  Departments merge, budgets get cut, elected officials change.  If the particular office you are working for is undergoing these changes, private sector employers are no longer at a disadvantage in this respect.
  3. Mo' Money.  Private sector pays better.  In government, the elected official's salary is set through legislation.  Nobody makes more than the boss.  The boss is underpaid.  You will be too.  The private sector has no such limits.
  4. Freedom with that Mo' Money.  Instead of a pension and PPO I have a 401k and HSA+HDHP.  I get to choose what to do with my compensation, for better for worse.
  5. Small fish, big pond.  It was awfully nice to be the guy in charge, to have a lot of domain knowledge, and to be one of the most technical people in a technology reliant environment.  At the end of the day though, I felt that I was not growing as much as I could.  I had achieved the highest technical position that I could within my office, and any promotion would have put me in more meetings doing less production work.  As it was I was doing management work that was outside of my purpose and passion.  I miss my team, I miss my friends, but it was time for me to grow.


  1. A "very strong supplemental income stream for [your] golden years" could easily be worth $100K for every one of the 15 years you worked. Check the price of annuities and imagine saving $1+ million of your after-tax income to pay for it. Many people with average pensions are in the top 10% of income earners all things considered.

  2. That's a great perspective. I never really looked at it that way, rather as a percentage of necessary income/month.

  3. As a young programmer considering a career in government IT, I found this extremely helpful. For the position I am considering, the public sector actually seems to pay slightly more. Given the amount of time off, did you ever consider bootstrapping a business on the side?

    1. I actually did boot strap a business with another government buddy. In the end it didn't take off, but we had a heck of a good time and made some money doing it. However, after even the few months that I've spent in private I see how we could have positioned the business better both from a marketing standpoint and within our personal lives to have had more success.

      I'm happy that I could provide some insight. Government can really be a good place to get started out if you use the opportunity correctly.