Let’s face it: Everyone could use a break. For some people, that can mean taking a long weekend camping trip or perhaps a week off for an epic beach vacation. But sometimes you need something longer — a lot longer.
On the Decoded podcast, Dave Fontenot shared his experience taking a sabbatical from the tech world. Prior to his sabbatical, Fontenot had a wide and varied career in tech as the founder of HackMatch, a platform that connects startups with top talent, along with launching one of the largest hackathons in the world.
From Mantras to Music
For Fontenot, the desire to take a sabbatical grew out of his growing meditation practice.
“I did my first meditation retreat... and it was just this beautiful ten days of silence and meditation. And after that I was in, I just wanted more, I wanted to go seek out more intense meditation. I went out to Thailand a couple of months later, ended up going to China, ended up going back to Thailand and just seeking out different meditation masters to learn from.”
All in all, Fontenot spent nearly a year and a half on his sabbatical before going back to work.
While some sabbaticals can be carefully planned to smooth your return to the workforce, many career breaks are open-ended. While this can make it difficult to plan your next step, it also opens you up to new opportunities that might not have presented themselves if you had stayed on your planned path.
For Fontenot, that has meant the opportunity to start creating music, with his band Pink Roses recently getting 1.2 million views on YouTube for its first music video, along with the chance to manage a developer-focused investment fund as a partner at Backend Capital with his co-founder, Lucy Guo.
How to Take a Break from Your Break
Not every career break will involve international travel or total consciousness. People may take a career break to start a family, go back to school, start a new business, or care for a sick family member, or due to job loss.
Regardless of why you take the break, a major fear many people have is the concern they won’t be able to get back into the developer workforce once they leave. Here are a few things you can do to make your re-entry smoother:
- Network, network, network. No matter how long you’ve been away, it’s who you know that can help you get your foot back in the door. During your sabbatical, make sure you still nurture your professional relationships with colleagues from past jobs, professional groups, and community involvement.
- Be flexible. The job you had might not be the job you return to. In the fast-moving world of tech, developer skills can atrophy while new skills may be required that you haven’t had the chance to learn. Rather than re-enter the workforce with firm expectations, be open to different opportunities. For example, Fontenot was able to parlay his previous experience into a product manager role at Gigster, something he had never done before. “I was telling a friend how I’m not that good at writing code, but he was like, ‘Dude, you have engineering experience and you've brought together a bunch of teams with these hackathons, you'd be perfect for this.’”
- Seek a mentor. Once you’re back in the workforce, the pace may seem faster than you remember, or perhaps the work is confusing. Find a mentor in your industry or workplace who can help you navigate the ins and outs. “The most helpful question I asked the number one product manager at Gigster was, ‘What are you doing that everyone else isn’t doing that makes you special?’” Fontenot said. “I ended up learning a lot from her and bringing that into what I was doing.”
- Be confident. Remember that you have a lot to contribute, even if it doesn’t always feel like it. “I constantly felt like I was failing. I had the worst imposter syndrome,” Fontenot said. “But whenever I’d present the projects, people would be blown away pretty consistently, so over time I was able to rebuild my confidence.”
Check out this week’s Decoded podcast to learn more about Dave Fontenot’s sabbatical, his careers in tech and music, his experience co-founding his own fund, and more. Listen to the episode, and subscribe to the series today.