Sunday, July 31, 2016

Why I Left My Engineering Job and Retired Early

For the past 17 years, I worked as a computer engineer and architect for the world's largest computer chip company Intel Corporation. 

I joined the company when I was 26 years old (before joining Intel, I already had a 3-years of engineering experience working for another semiconductor company Micron Technology).

During my career, I have contributed towards the execution, design, and architecture of many computer related technologies and features. I also have over 20 published industry patents covering various computer and technology inventions. I was the winner of Intel Achievement Award which is the most prestigious award an Intel employee can get. In summary, I was quite successful and well respected.

In addition, money was not an issue either. I was at a Senior Staff grade level and was paid handsomely, both in salary and with stocks and bonuses. At the time I left my career, I left behind stock grants that were worth well into six figures. Stock grants are stocks that a company would give to its most valuable employees as a future retention bonus. These stocks would vest over multiple years to ensure the employee stays with the company.

All in all, my career was going very well and I was on my way to the top of the technical ladder, but something started to happen as I turned 40. I started to feel unhappy and dissatisfied with the work mainly due to the ever-increasing bureaucracy and politics across teams. I just wanted to get things done, but there were just too many hurdles (mostly non-technical). I started to feel that I was wasting my time, energy, and talent by having to deal with bureaucracy and over burdening process reviews with endless power point presentations. I literally saw my life slipping away.

Stress was also a major contributing factor in my leaving. Being a lead architect for a feature, there was a lot of responsibility on my shoulders in leading multiple engineering teams while answering to senior management and major customers. I was not sleeping well at night and would get up in the middle of the night worrying about the project or some work related issue. At times, I would find myself pulling work laptop out and working in the wee hours of the night. The company never sleeps as we have engineering teams all over the world and the work never stops.

I was stressed, not because I was afraid of losing my job, but rather because I didn't want to let my team and management down. If I made a mistake in the architecture of a feature, it would have a ripple effect down the engineering execution and later could impact customer enabling. It was a lot to worry about.

In a high-tech career, you are encouraged to take more risks and push yourself to newer heights every year. Just getting work done and being successful isn't enough, you have to push yourself to take bigger and bolder risks and deliver more than you did last year. It would reflect in your yearly evaluation and how you are compared and ranked against your peers. With technology moving at faster and faster rate each year, it was becoming very difficult to keep up and still deliver more. I was getting tired of the rat race.

All the stress from years of working at a fast and high-pressure environment was starting to show its signs. I started to have migraines, mostly triggered by work related stress, which would increase in intensity and frequency. At first, I didn't pay much attention, but then I started to get worried as the frequency of these migraines started to increase. I also had a few episodes of mild chest pain. Talking to a doctor only revealed that I am at high risk of having a heart attack or a stroke. In doctor's own words, until now I have been simply dodging the adverse due to my young age but it's starting to catch up with me.

Talking to a doctor was a wake-up call for me. I knew someone at work, same age as mine, who recently had a heart attack due to stress. I didn't want to wait for things to get worse, I needed to get out fast and escape before it's too late. There is no way I am going to let my job kill me.

Fortunately, for me I was always frugal and good with money management. I also married someone who is very frugal and doesn't believe in accumulation of material things. We both worked hard for years and saved and invested aggressively while living way below our means. I taught myself how to invest in stocks by learning about finance and stock valuation techniques. I made it a regular habit to read financial reports and articles on investing. I also taught myself basic finance and accounting so I can make smart decisions with my investments. I have been investing expeditiously for over 7 years with a goal to become financially independent and free.

My wife and I achieved financial independence little over two years ago when we paid off our house. We never had any consumer debt of any kind, and always paid for things with cash including our two old cars. Never cared or tried to copy how our friends or neighbors were spending their money on luxury items or expensive vacations. There is lot of show-off money around us in the form of expensive cars and bigger and nicer homes. We stayed grounded to our principle of living below our means through all these years and continued to invest our savings into our goal of becoming financially independent.

When the company decided to do a major layoff this year which impacted many long-term employees, including some very smart and talented engineers, I found the catalyst I needed to retire early. I knew that I didn't want to work for the company anymore. Handed my one-month notice to my manager.

I will miss my colleagues including my manager for whom I have high regards. I wish them all the success and hope one day they can also retire early and do whatever they like.

As for me, I have no desire to go back to my old job or work for another high tech company. I will continue to make myself better at investing and will try to educate others on personal finance and benefits of financial independence through my blog. I will focus on my health and well-being. I also plan to volunteer my time, and contribute to my community as much as possible and live a purposeful life.


Mr. All Things Money


  1. Did you get a severance package? I thought they were handing it out like candy on Halloween. I quit in 2012 and didn't pick one up. Oh well, life goes on.
    Enjoy your early retirement. Don't listen to nay sayers. More money is not worth messing up your health further. :)

  2. No, I didn't get any severance package as I wasn't impacted by the layoff. They said they are not going to give packages to people who they don't want to leave. So, I left on my own. Just didn't want to stay there anymore.
    Completely agree with you, more money is not worth the stress and health issues. Joe thanks for being a great example to follow :)

  3. I have a very similar story to you (came from a design career in high tech industry, left stock options on the table worth 7 digits). I left the workforce several years ago. I have found creating an income stream through rental property to be helpful.

  4. I know, it's not easy to leave all that money and that's why they call it 'Golden Shackles'. All my stock options expired underwater, so they weren't worth anything when I left. Intel stopped giving out options and instead switched to all RSUs.

    Do you manage rental property yourself or through a management company? I think they are a great investment especially as the rents keep going up in Portland area. I have thought about buying a rental property but I don't have the patience and energy to deal with all the hassle of managing it. Instead I have been investing in high quality REITs. That way I don't have to deal with managing a property and simply collect my rental dividends. Reits have been on fire lately.

    1. I think my comment got dropped.

      My stock options were deep in the money when I left, and have even appreciated more than 2x since then.

      I manage rental properties by myself and also use a property manager. I kept the easy properties and handed off the difficult one to the manager. The two easy properties take up 3-4 half days a year. I do an annual maintenance/inspection, but leave repairs to a handyman. I feel it is a good trade-off of a little time from me vs the cash flow.

      I also invest a little in REITs but the lack of transparency is a negative for me. I heard bad stories during the last downturn. Because they are hands-off, I also have no control over moves they make during a downturn. What happens when everyone tries to sell during the same time?

    2. Sounds like you have found a good balance between managing properties yourself and through a property management company. That's awesome!

      Regarding REITs, I only buy REITs that are registered with the SEC and are publicly traded on the stock market. Per SEC regulations, they have to report their earnings and cash flow as part of their quarterly and annual reports in addition to reporting of any material events or changes (8-K).

      Just like buying any other company's stock, you have to do due diligence and make sure company has growing earnings and cash flow. I mainly buy blue chip REITs that have diversified portfolio of properties/tenants and have credit rating of BBB and above. I also look at management and their track record.

      But you are correct that as an investor in REITs, I don't have much control over what the management does other than participating in occasional shareholder voting events. I guess that is the trade-off between buying/managing your own properties vs. REITs.

      If there is fear in the market and a sell-off, I would likely be buying more of my existing REITs given that the fundamentals are still strong and would not exceed the position and sector limits that I have set for my overall portfolio.

      Two of my favorite Reits are DLR and O. I also have positions in HCP and HCN.

  5. Coming into Intel as older employee, subjected to unreal expectations as if long term veteran with commensurate tribal knowledge, or instant telepathic learning. That not being so eventually resulted in involuntary separation under criteria I considered both bizarre and unfair. Never had this problem with the seven other companies I worked for. Intel was by far the most ruthless and unsupportive company of all. Colleagues that went to other large tech outfits describe similar experiences, sad to say. But Intel appears to be an especially bad case.

  6. Yes, I came to Intel after working for another big company and I know what you are talking about. My first year at Intel, I didn't think I was going to make it coming-in as a grade 6 Sr. engineer. The first few years were especially tough, though later it didn't get any better either. It's just that I adapted to the pressure and stress, and learned to live with it. As I am finding out, overtime stress can be really bad for your health and family life. It's been little less than a month since I left, and I am already feeling better. I will post my one month update in this blog next week, so stay tuned :)

  7. You have made the best decision of your life. Stress is not only a killer, it also eats away at your morale, your personal wellbeing, self respect etc. I retired 5 years ago, having just turned 56. (I spent 2 years planning it...) The stress had been getting to me. Fantastic feeling handing in my notice. I took a big hit on my pension to go but it was worth it. 5 years on, my blood pressure is better than it was when I was 40. Our income is a fraction of what it once was, but as we have mastered the art of spending very little, we are well in surplus each month.
    A few months ago, I have just started a blog. Whether I ever manage to make money from it remains to be seen!

  8. Thank you Erith. When it comes to early retirement, there are many naysayers out there, so it's good to hear from people like you who have successfully retired early and are doing great. Like you, we have been really good with spending less while still living a comfortable life. Most people don't realize that basic needs can be met with much less money, it's only the Wants that get people in trouble. So, far I am enjoying writing on my blog as it allows me to share ideas and hear from like minded people like you.

    It's been exactly 1-month today since I left Intel and I can already feel a big improvement in my life. I will be posting my 1-month update today.

    Let me know your blog address as I would like to check it out.

  9. Intel was much more high pressure than the other tech companies I worked for, which is saying a lot. Far more than for other companies, senior level folks are expected to take on many quasi-managerial tasks as a matter of grade level policy. Senior engineers left because they had effectively become managers, when they wanted to remain engineers. But Intel doesn't permit staying as individual contributor, its up or out.