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Michael Lin
Michael Lin

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Why I Quit a $450,000 Engineering Job at Netflix

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Golden handcuffs — when you stay at a job that you’d rather quit only for the money.

I thought I was going to stay at Netflix forever. Top of market pay. Freedom and responsibility. Unlimited PTO. What more could you ask for?

So when I quit Netflix in May 2021, everyone thought I was crazy. My parents objected first. Coming from cultural revolution China where they barely had enough food to eat, they thought I was throwing away all the hard work they went through to come to America.

“Just keep your head down and do the work!” they said.

“Don’t be ungrateful for what you have!” they said.

None of my friends could believe it either.

“But the free food!”


“Just rest and vest bro!”

The only argument I heard against quitting that made me slightly pause was from my mentor at Netflix. He said I shouldn’t quit without another job lined up, because “I’d give up the leverage I had with my high salary at Netflix.”

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Resting and vesting — waiting for stocks to vest

That made me pause for all of 3 days, but I quit anyways. Now 8 months later, I am 100% certain this was the right decision.

In this article, I discuss the 3 factors that helped me understand the real cost of golden handcuffs, and why even a half-million dollar salary a year couldn’t get me to stay at a job I no longer enjoyed.

A Failed Role Transition

With offices shutting down in March 2020, all the best parts of work — the socializing, the coworkers, the perks — disappeared.

And all you were left with was the work itself. So if you didn’t like the work, and that was all you had, COVID magnified this fact 10x more.

And I wasn’t enjoying the work. But it wasn’t always this way.

I worked at Netflix for almost 4 years as a Senior Software Engineer in growth. At the beginning I felt like I was getting paid handsomely to learn. And up to around the 1.5 year mark, I loved it. Netflix’s culture was so different than the more secretive culture I experienced before at Amazon. The memos for every product decision were available for all employees to read. It was like getting paid to do an MBA.

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Netflix’s transparency around all of its product decisions was one of the best perks of working there. It contrasts with the more secretive culture at Apple and Amazon.

But towards the latter half of my time, the engineering work started to feel like copy-paste.

Need to spin up a new microservice?

Copy paste an old one, change the business logic, and you’re done.

New A/B test?

Copy paste the old one, change a few of the test variations, and you’re done.

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Netflix is very into A/B testing stuff. Here are 4 variations of the CTA they tested from the home page (from the Netflix Tech Blog)

I felt like there was no doubt that engineering could execute for Netflix, but I felt the better question was whether a particular project was a good use of engineering resources at all. So I wanted to transition into Product Management where I could lead these efforts. I spent 2 years going in a circle around the company, networking non-stop, talking to every organization, and applying for every role I could find.

I submitted proposals on what my priorities would be as a PM when I applied to every org: customer service, developer productivity, studios, partnerships, and notifications. I suggested creating a role on my own team to help manage the growing infrastructure. I also suggested that other PM’s could delegate more of their work to me so they can free up their time and grow their org. All of these proposals ultimately didn’t pan out.

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I spent 2 years going in a circle trying to get a PM job at Netflix, but ultimately ran out of options.

Looking back, I realized my mistake. I thought if I just tried harder, I would eventually get the job. But now I realized that sometimes things are out of your control because of a structural issue. Netflix doesn’t have a process in place to support horizontal role changes like this; I have never seen an engineer successfully transition to product management here.

They offered me more opportunities to partner with product management to develop product skills, which I was grateful for. But partnering is not the same as having the role itself. Ultimately you can’t just read a book about swimming and expect to learn how to swim. You have to jump in the water.

Waning motivation, waning performance

Towards the end of my failed PM job search, I felt the high salary was an increasingly bad deal. Before I was earning and learning. Now I was only earning.

My team’s goals and my interests also started to diverge. My team was moving more towards a more engineering focused direction involving a platform migration. But my interests were veering more towards entrepreneurship and product management. The engineering work I was assigned would never be applicable to any other future work I did.

It started to feel like I was making a previous career mistake again — staying in a job that wasn’t a great fit longer than I should have. This mistake is more costly than people think. If you stay an extra two years at a job that you wanted to leave, and did that over 5 jobs in your lifetime, you just wasted 10 years of your life working jobs you didn’t want to do. I felt like I was wasting time.

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There is nothing more anxiety inducing than missed work messages.

My motivation waned, and my performance waned with it. I became less engaged in meetings, minimized doing any work that wasn’t directly relevant to developing product management skills, and dragged my feet on communication. The only motivation at the end was just trying to not get fired. It was just kind of sad to feel like I had reached a point where I was aiming for such a low bar, and struggling to even cross that.

Unfortunately, my manager started to notice. In a heated performance review that lasted over 2 hours, he told me that I needed to 1) be more engaged in this migration and 2) be more communicative. In his words, I had to improve in these areas “if I wished to remain on the team.”

Reassessing life priorities during COVID-19

The pandemic was a wake-up call.

Watching millions of people die from COVID made me realize that tomorrow is not guaranteed. You could die from COVID before any of your dreams are ever realized. And the longer you put off a dream, the greater the risk that it never happens. So if there is anything you want, you have to go for it right now.

No more next time. Now is the time.

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A dream deferred is a dream denied. My favorite quote of all time.

I realized what the real cost to golden handcuffs was. The cost is your youth, your time, and your life. People don’t accurately judge these costs, because a salary is a hard number, whereas the value of your youth is more intangible. But just because something is hard to measure doesn’t make it any less valuable than something countable like money. It’s hard to measure the value of a brand, mental health, or love, but we know it matters.

Seeing all these people die from COVID made me scared that one day my tombstone would read:

“Here lies Michael. He spent his life doing work he never wanted to do. Then he got COVID and died. Rest in peace.”

The longer I stayed in a job I didn’t enjoy, the greater the chance that this WOULD be my tombstone. I knew I had to take action now — I could not keep kicking the hard career questions down the road. I had to quit.

Final Days

I saw the bad performance review and the threat of getting fired as a way out. But I wanted to get a severance package first without getting fired.

So I proposed to my manager in a 1:1 a few weeks after that we discuss a “preemptive severance package”.

I said something along the lines of: “My performance is declining because my motivation is declining. I don’t see my motivation improving because the team’s goals are diverging further from my career goals. What if we just discussed a preemptive severance package out of Netflix now rather than drag this on? That way Netflix saves money, you can find a better fit for the team sooner, and I can go do what I want. A win-win situation for everyone.”

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Breaking free.

After he discussed this with HR, I had a final meeting with him and HR where they agreed to preemptively terminate me, and I got my final severance package out. Golden handcuffs — begone.

Life after Netflix

I thought my life would be over after leaving corporate, but it has been the exact opposite. I was worried that I’d have no social life, but I’ve actually met even more people after quitting — other creators, entrepreneurs, and builders.

I saw my mental health improve as the anxiety I developed from worrying if I missed another email or slack message disappeared.

I now feel this deep calmness inside of me, an unshakeable belief that everything will be OK, even if any future success is not guaranteed right now. As I type this on a Sunday night, I have no problem working on weekends if it’s work that benefits me. There is no better incentive than knowing that I capture all the value of my own work.

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And by working only on things that energize me, it might ironically unlock potential earnings even greater than I was making before.

It’s been 8 months since I quit in May 2021. I took a bit of a break for the rest of 2021. I lived in NYC for a few months, took a road trip through Utah and Arizona, and generally just enjoyed life.

I’ve decided to commit fully to working for myself. Although I’m just starting, and don’t have any real dependable streams of income, I’m going to trust the process that if I’m working on the things that energize me, good things will happen.

I truly believe now that playing it safe is the riskiest choice of all. When you play it safe, you are just as exposed to all the dangers, except you have no chance of the upside. As Helen Keller once said:

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Playing it safe is the riskiest choice of all.

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Top comments (34)

joancomasfdz profile image
Joan Comas Fernandez • Edited

TL;DR I didn't like my job anymore so I left.

How is this interesting? Is everyone's life.

The salary is irrelevant and seems clickbaity.

Most people I know would gladly copy paste for 400k a year for life.

And most people I know would like to work less for the same salary, not more for more salary.

Edit: The author published the same article in medium some time ago and the comments are worth reading:

rolfstreefkerk profile image
Rolf Streefkerk

Spot on, it seems the Author benefited immensely from the experience and the financial gain that has allowed a different lifestyle choice.
Perhaps some more critical introspection would have helped this article appear a bit more relatable.

briandudey_62 profile image
Brian Dudey

I think you missed the point, mate

nssimeonov profile image

They want to work more for less salary, right? That was the point, isn't it? :)

lexruster profile image
Comment marked as low quality/non-constructive by the community. View Code of Conduct

Yeah main point that this scumbug not only did not done job he been paid for, he even blackmailed company demanding more money for leave and stop stealing their money

focus97 profile image
Michael Lee

"TL;DR I didn't like my job anymore so I left."


I {unfortunately} read the entire article seeking some interesting nugget but found none. You don't like what your company requires you to do for mid six figures so you quit?

See the opportunity for crying out loud. Start a new side project while being paid a lucrative salary. The silly Lauren Self tweet about aiming to work less than 5 hours a day could easily be replaced with "I made my paid work more efficient so I could work on my passion project".

Some serious self-entitled #humblebrag in this.

marissab profile image
Marissa B

Yeah this article reads like a love letter from corporate overlords. Yikes.

kamilliano profile image

There is some bias when it comes to judging a person's behaviour when we take salary under consideration. For example, we would instinctively attribute things we would do if we were in that position. But this doesn't seem right.

The guy, just a personal feeling, just wanted to share his story, maybe out of guilt, get come reconciliation, validation or whatnot. Take it onboard or not. Everyone is different.

Besides, making 40k, 400k, or 4M doesn't give you immunity to psychological struggles.

In his case, salary is somewhat relevant because it is rare among developers who start their journey; besides, many measure themselves by the length of their... errr... payslip.

I see hundreds of articles on Medium. I see people doing extraordinary things, being 10x developers or having other superpowers, earning big bucks, etc., but I don't do either. Instead, I humbly struggle in my life, and I am glad I can learn something and enjoy things from time to time while my fiancee holds my hand when I am overwhelmed. She deserves more credit.

moopet profile image
Ben Sinclair

Anyone who is rich enough not to need to work, has the privilege to choose whether to work. If they don't like the job, they should quit.

... or the rest of us who will never have that option will look at them thinking they're crazy!

jurerick profile image
jur erick

Very true. I will push the button to quit but with my new job offer waving.

kjwong3 profile image
Kelly Wong

You only have one life, and money means nothing once you're dead. Your youth will never return. Everyone in Big Tech should consider the choice to leave, even if they don't end up taking it.

jacobrose profile image
Jacob Rose

I don’t know if you know anybody who’s actually impoverished — folks who go to bed hungry because they don’t have enough money to buy food.

But that’s a reality that faces a lot of Americans as they get old.

As someone I know puts it, “I used to want to be rich, but now I just don’t want to die cold and hungry.”

One mistake of youth is believing it won’t end. But it can end tomorrow if life throws you a curveball (cancer, for instance, or a parent suddenly becoming your dependent).

I hope the poster is able to find meaningful work that also provides for them and their family, but these things are not guaranteed.

_michaellin profile image
Michael Lin

Totally agreed Kelly!

javon27 profile image

I was recently in a similar situation. In my case, my motivation waned because my management changed 4 times in 9 months. My performance dropped and my managers tried to give me work and coached me to deliver, but my health started to suffer from the stress. I feared I could get fired at any minute. I attempted to leave for another org, but I couldn't because of my probationary status.

When the news came of layoffs, I started praying that I would be one of the affected. Someone must've been listening, cuz here I am talking to recruiters and past employers who all want me. I just have to be careful and pick the place that would value me as an employee.

lexruster profile image

So guy had huge salary, then wanted to change role. High chance his managers saw that he would not fit, so they not gave him role. The guy become upset and stopped do work for what he paid so much money. And that only half of shame. Then he decide blackmail manager to get even more money for job he not done, threatening he would stay longer and waste even more company's money! That a shame!
HR been hiring those scammers...
Many would be happy to work at Netflix, a specially for that money, and those guy blackmailed them!

nssimeonov profile image

So instead of taking a couple of months PTO you decided to quit. It's your head, you're free to hit any walls you like, but just like your parents I think this isn't really smart.

You're free to chase your dreams and this is good, but you have to be prepared to lose a ton of money during that time. And working for yourself - prepare NOT to earn anything for the next couple of years while piling up expenses.

thomasgainantnmt profile image
Thomas Gainant

You felt bored being paid 400k a year to copy paste A/B tests? Mate, we developers are plumbers for data. Everything is boring at some point, this is why we call it "work" and not "fun".

Maybe you wanted people to tell you again how stunning and brave you are, not everyone will. Like your parents, I think this was a mistake not wanting anymore to be part of a company having that much visible impact on the world and on top of that for such prosperity given to you.

But it's okay, everybody make mistakes, even mistakes which takes months to build up.

leob profile image

I have mixed feelings about this, very mixed feelings ...

On the one hand, yes you should not stay in a job that makes you unhappy, even with a royal salary like that, so yes, good for you that you took that decision.

But on the other hand, many people would commit a murder (figuratively, not literally) for a job with a salary like that - and many people simply could not afford the luxury to quit like that ...

Also, I do feel (reading your story) that Netflix genuinely takes good care of their people, they're absolutely not a bad employer, on the contrary. That's also why this is giving me mixed feelings - it's like I almost feel pity for Netflix, lol.

neenus profile image
Neenus Gabriel

Please don't take this the wrong way as I'm not judging because everyone is free to do whatever they want with their life because we all get one and only one... hell I quite couple of positions because I was no longer happy in them so I totally understand your point however those jobs did not have 2% of the perks and pay that you seem to have had with yours... I do not know you, I have no idea what you're going through in your life and again I'm not judging this is only my opinion based on the article that you decided to publish publicly for the world to read I agree with your parents, friends and most of the commenters on here that you handled this wrong and I believe I speak for a lot of people when I say anyone would've been happy to copy and paste for half of the the perks and pay that you had but then again if you're financially well off then you can afford to do this which brings me to my second point and this is just a theory but I believe you wrote this article for one of two reason either as click bait or deep down inside you believe you've made a mistake and you're seeking validation from some commenters on here which I do not see you got.

Either way I wish you health and hope you find the motivation, passion and happiness you're after.

kwitgit profile image

Usually in these kinds of essays, I'm all about not wasting your youth, not striving so much your health suffers, and not valuing salary over sanity. Life is short, live it fully. But in this case, I've got to side with this guy's parents and mentor. Unless you've saved up enough that you never have to worry about salary again (which at $450K/year you had a chance to do quite quickly) you are a fool to give it up.

These incredible jobs are not as common as you think - your salary alone represents something like 30,000 Netflix subscriptions. I'm guessing you will never again make that much money for that little stress (and it doesn't, from your description, sound like it was all that stressful - and I say that as someone who's experienced the soul-crushing drain of doing unsatisfying work from time to time). Who knows, maybe you're right that this move "might ironically unlock potential earnings even greater than I was making before" but I highly doubt it. There are many hard-working, brilliant software engineers from elite schools who pursue improved opportunities and fulfilling work for their whole career and never make half that much. And these high-salary coding jobs will get even more rare as it gets easier and easier to work across time zones with non-USA coders. Good luck, fellow Cal grad!

Special note to Netflix HR: you sound like you've built a wonderful place to work, and I admire that. However, the correct response to someone saying they're ready for a "preemptive severance package" is a quick goodbye, an escort to the door, and a final paycheck deposited two weeks later. (I hate that the USA is like this, but that is absolutely the expected norm). If you're really feeling generous and don't mind the security risk, let them work those two weeks for the sake of knowledge transfer - but you certainly don't need to give them extra money. Once they're gone, search your inbox for the 10,000 resumes of people who'd be thrilled to spend a few years repurposing proven bits of code for a mere $250K. ;-)

cawoodm profile image
Marc • Edited

I quit my longtime job without after much consideration but without having even begun looking for a new job. Like the author here, everyone thought I was crazy. But, 7 years later, I am so glad I did. My new job pays less but enables me to learn new things. Most importantly it "cleared my desk" - when you are in a position for too long, you end up bearing too much "history" and it weighs you down immensely. Money, past a certain limit which allows you to live (say ~75K) does not make you happier.

jasonona profile image

Thanks for sharing. I get that you wanted more control over your work, but is there clarity on how you’ll get that now that you quit? Looking forward to hearing about the rest of your journey and wishing you best of luck.

briandudey_62 profile image
Brian Dudey

Great read and def inspired by you and your journey.

I made the mistake of staying somewhere longer than I should have and then, boom, layoffs. Now i’m looking for a job without a job. But, is I see it as the universe doing for me what I was not.

You talked about doing what you love and things will align. I’m going to remind myself of that as I start my next career chapter.

amandaclarck profile image
Amanda Clarck

I've worked as a content creator (english for brazilians - @inglescommusica) for 3 three years before quitting. It was and it is the best decision I've ever made since I wasn't feeling going anywhere as a software developer. You need to have a certain income from your social media/products and save some money first before thinking about it for sure, but just do it. The feeling of being free and working with something you love is incredible, even though you'll be working harder and more hours.

xghaith profile image

I was reading your article emotionally and got touched and was by your side for a moment and thinking emotionally is the biggest mistake can a person make , you don’t make decisions based on your feelings , you just do what you have to do , you need to outsmart every bad situation you can have , after reading a couple of comments only then I noticed that you were having a lot of money with doing just a little of work and your only excuse that talking waning motivation , you could just have invested your time in learning new stuff , new technologies , new soft skills if you are thinking ahead for your future and beginning to build your own startup , the large amount of money you were having just spend more time having it and as I said for later investment and bigger plans… maybe what you did was a life mistake or maybe was just god’s plan and better things are waiting for you in your journey but the mistake i am sure about leaving without any plans and not using the fact of earning a lot of money with doing the least of work that’s all…

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