The end is near
In my previous blog post, New Job Checklist: How to Start a Gig, I detailed advice for how to start an engagement positively. In this post I will give advice for what to do when your contract comes to an end. Like the other post, this is written with contractors in mind, but this advice applies to just about everyone who works with people.
Treat every day like it could be your last
A reality of the consulting business is that any day may be a consultant’s final day with a customer. There are numerous reasons for this. The more we accept the temporary nature of our employment, the more we can prepare for our departures. Below are a few points to keep in mind while one is still gainfully employed at a customer.
Always code as if the person maintaining your code is a violent psychopath who knows where you live…
Think about the next person. Someone else will likely be taking over the code that you write. Which means someone else will need to understand its intent, its form, its purpose, and its execution. A rule of thumb is to use comments to explain any code that is not obvious to a reader who is unfamiliar with the context of the software. If you find it difficult to explain code with simple comments, it may be a sign that the code could benefit from a simplifying refactor.
It is important to understand that you probably won’t have the luxury to add that polish and do things right once it’s finished. Your work may be immortalized the way it is with your name on it. You only have control over the code you write today, so assume you won’t have a chance to make it better with the luxury of time. Make it as good as it can be today.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure
Dealing with the inevitable is an exercise in preparedness. Be prepared to go on a moment’s notice. Readiness is both a state of mind and a state of being. If you keep a clean desk and your belongings in order, it isn’t difficult to be physically ready.
Your readiness of mind will most likely be more challenging. You will probably have a lot of yourself invested in your work and will have developed bonds with your colleagues. It may be hard to let go, but that’s part of the job. Sometimes you have very little control over when and how your contract ends. All you can do is make the best out of the time that you have with your customer.
The finish line is in sight
When you’re told about the end of your contract, you may have hours, days, or weeks remaining. When there is a definite end date, it puts a real number on how much time you have to make a difference. Sometimes in the longer, more open ended contracts, we can lose sight of how fleeting our opportunities are to help our customers. It can be very easy to take those opportunities for granted.
The final stretch is your last chance to leave a good impression. The way you work at the end is likely to be one of the strongest memories your customers have of you. Keep that in mind if you find yourself tired and ready to let off the gas down the stretch.
If there are things that you exclusively know, document and share that information with whoever will be taking over your responsibilities. On your last day, I recommend trying to leave as discretely as possible. Depending on the environment at the customer and the situation, you may experience any range of emotions from relief to sadness. Regardless of how you feel, be professional and wish everyone well.
After all, you will be off to something new. You will have grown from your experience at the customer and they will have benefited from your contributions.