- Michael Lin joined Netflix in 2017 as a senior software engineer. At first, he enjoyed his role.
- After two years, Lin wanted to transfer to a product manager position but was unsuccessful.
- He lost motivation for the $450,000-a-year engineering role and eventually left Netflix 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 return home to the Bay Area.
At the time, I thought I would stay with Netflix forever. I made $450,000 a year, got free food daily, and had unlimited paid time off. It was the Big Tech dream.
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 quitting was throwing away their hard work of immigrating to the US.
My mentor was the second to object. He said I shouldn’t quit without another job lined up because I’d miss out on leveraging my high salary when negotiating my pay at the next job. Their comments made me pause for all of three days before I spoke with my manager about leaving.
Eight months later, I’m confident 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 about in MBA programs. They made the memos for every product decision available for all employees to read, and I learned so much every day.
Over the next two years, the shine began to wear off. The projects and meetings blended together, and they felt like small variations of each other after a while. The engineering work began to feel like copy and paste.
Then COVID-19 happened. The office shut down, and all my favorite parts of work — the socializing, the coworkers, the perks — disappeared.
The only thing left was the work itself, and I didn’t enjoy the work anymore.
I wanted to have a bigger effect. For me, deciding how to allocate engineering resources was more relevant to my career goals than the engineering work itself, and I wanted to transition into product management to lead these efforts.
As a result, I spent two years networking within Netflix and applying for every product-manager role I could find.
None of my attempts panned out, and I was still doing the same job.
The issue was that Netflix didn’t have any processes in place to support horizontal role changes like this. I’ve never seen an engineer successfully transition to product management at the company.
Toward the end of my job search for the product-manager role, I lost motivation and focus
Now that transitioning into the PM role was out of the question, my high salary felt like an increasingly bad deal. When I started at Netflix, I was making money and continuously learning new things. Now, I was just making money, with no career progression.
My team’s goals also started to diverge from my career goals.
The team focused on an engineering migration, where we had to move from one online system to another, while my interests veered toward entrepreneurship. The work I was doing didn’t help me learn the business skills I needed.
It started to feel like I was repeating the same career mistake I’d made at Amazon — staying in a job that wasn’t a great fit longer than I should have.
My motivation waned, and my performance waned with it.
I became less engaged in meetings, minimized doing work not relevant to product management, and dragged my feet on communication. My only motivation at the end was trying to not get fired.
Unfortunately, my manager started to notice. In a heated performance review in April 2021, he said I needed to be more engaged in the team’s engineering migration and be more communicative. In his words, I had to improve in these areas “if I wished to remain on the team.”
COVID-19 changed my outlook on work
I was working at a prestigious company making a good living for myself. It’s hard to give up a salary — something tangible — for intangible things like your youth and your time. But I couldn’t shake the knowledge that many people had lost their lives during the pandemic.
I was putting off my dreams of becoming an entrepreneur, and COVID-19 was a constant reminder that I might not be here tomorrow to pursue them.
I was scared that my tombstone would read: “Here lies Michael. He spent his life doing work he never wanted to do. Rest in peace.”
The longer I stayed at Netflix, the greater the chance the tombstone would 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 talk with my manager. In a one-on-one meeting with him, I proposed that we discuss a “preemptive severance package.”
I told him: “My performance is declining because my motivation is declining. My motivation isn’t improving because the team’s goals diverge further from my career goals. What if we discussed a preemptive severance package out of Netflix now rather than drag this on? That way Netflix saves money, the team finds a better fit sooner, and I can go do what I want. A win-win for everyone.”
After he discussed this with human resources, 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 leaving Netflix. I was worried that I’d have no social life, as it had previously revolved around work.
But the opposite happened. I’ve met more people through starting my own business — other entrepreneurs, writers, and creators.
I now feel a deep calmness inside me, an unshakable belief that everything will be OK, even if any future success is not guaranteed right now.
It’s been eight months since I quit my job at Netflix, and I’ve decided to commit fully to working for myself. Although I’m just starting and don’t have any dependable streams of income yet, I’m going to trust the process that if I do work that energizes me, good things will happen.
Disclosure: Mathias Döpfner, CEO of Business Insider’s parent company, Axel Springer, is a Netflix board member.