Does Job Hopping Still Raise Red Flags for Engineering Managers?

Companies want to invest in devs who stick around. But don’t overthink it.
Tammy Xu
August 15, 2020
Updated: August 19, 2020
Tammy Xu
August 15, 2020
Updated: August 19, 2020

Almost half of developers leave their companies within two years of joining, according to a HackerLife study from 2017 of 10,000 developers living in the Bay Area. As the report notes, this is much shorter than the 4.2-year median tenure across all industries, as estimated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2018.

Suffice to say that developers are comfortable with jumping ship, and jumping often. And why not? In many ways, employees who have extensive prior experience at other organizations are beneficial for the employer.

“The great thing about being a developer is, the more you know, the more valuable you are,” said Tom Mercaldo, who worked as a developer in the past and is now president of Aquinas Consulting, an IT and engineering staffing firm. “I changed jobs frequently, and I felt it was a huge advantage as a developer to work in different environments, getting exposed to different ways of doing things, learning best practices.”

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Experience at different companies can provide valuable technical and soft skills. | Image: Shutterstock

The Benefits of Job Hopping

Developers with a variety of company experiences are likely to have worked on many tech stacks, writing in different programming languages, following different architectures and using a variety of infrastructure. They are able to bring broad experience to the table when development teams need to make decisions about technical challenges.

They also may have developed good “soft skills,” having been exposed to different work processes and coworkers at many companies.

Of course, switching jobs often can be beneficial to the developer as well, in part through significant financial dividends.

“The fact that I changed assignments a lot [meant that] I learned a lot of different technologies and became valuable because I could do pretty much anything,” Mercaldo said. “I took my first job, three years later I had doubled my salary. Three years later I doubled my salary again. You can advance that rapidly in technology, which you don’t really see in any other profession.”

“Because technology keeps on moving, very few engineers want to get stuck on an old platform or an old way of doing things.”

Workers aren’t necessarily changing jobs for financial reasons, however. Many developers enjoy working with technology and want to learn new things, so they may feel the itch to leave if they feel their responsibilities stagnating.

“As an engineer, you want to be constantly learning,” said Omar Rabbolini, an engineer and management consultant. “Because technology keeps on moving, very few engineers want to get stuck on an old platform or an old way of doing things. They always want to learn something new.”

 

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Human resource professionals are trained to look at how long someone's worked at a company. | Image: Shutterstock

Job Hopping Could Stop You From Landing Permanent Positions

Even though developers have much to gain from working in different environments, a lot of movement can give recruiters and hiring managers pause.

“When you’re jumping around every one or two years, you give the impression that either you’re doing it for the money or you haven’t been particularly lucky with the career progression within the company,” Rabbolini said.

This is especially true when applying for permanent positions.

“The people who screen resumes for permanent jobs are reluctant to look at people who are job changers,” Mercaldo said. “Human resource professionals are trained to look at how long someone’s been in place. They feel, if someone hasn’t held a long-duration job, that they’ve been fired or they’re unable to hold a long-duration job — they’re just going to jump somewhere else when somebody offers them [more].”

While employees typically can learn new skills and otherwise benefit from a short stint at a company, employers invest time and money into each hire, and that investment doesn’t begin paying dividends immediately. Employers therefore want employees who stay long enough to justify the upfront costs of making the hire.

“Human resource professionals are trained to look at how long someone’s been in place.”

“They’re worried about, ‘Is the person going to perform effectively in the job?’” Mercaldo said. “They’re also worried about investing a lot of time and money in training somebody who’s just going to take that training and walk out the door.... I hired this guy to be on my data warehouse development team, and he didn’t know data warehousing. [After] six months of training him on business intelligence techniques and methods and star schema design, he just took a job for somebody else doing that.”

Hiring managers aren’t as worried about short-term contract positions, or developers who already have a lot of experience and can perform well with limited training and ramp-up time. Mercaldo said that, for short-term positions, the developer is expected to have the necessary technical skills so that they could “come in and bang out some work.”

 

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Being able to move within a company is valuable too. | Image: Shutterstock

Some Companies Can Offer the Benefits of Job Hopping — Without the Downsides

While developers with more experience and technical expertise may not need to be as concerned about how long to remain, new developers who want varied experience — but who don’t want their resumes to raise red flags — could struggle to find a good middle ground.

For those individuals, Mercaldo said it’s important to make sure that the job you choose gives you room to grow.

“You interview someone who has worked for three years, and the question is, do they have three years of experience or do they have one year of experience three times?” Mercaldo said, emphasizing that three years in the same role, without new responsibilities, can be equally harmful.

He had a great experience with General Electric as a young developer, changing roles within the company nine times during his tenure there, which allowed him to gain a variety of experience while staying at the same company. Some companies also offer rotational programs for recent graduates that can provide a wide range of experiences. A contracting company that works for a variety of clients can also be a good option for new developers.

“You interview someone who has worked for three years, and the question is, do they have three years of experience or do they have one year of experience three times?”

“I like them taking a permanent job for a place like Accenture or Deloitte, because those companies will be moving you around from project to project,” Mercaldo said. “You’re going to get the experience of changing assignments frequently, without the baggage of the bad job track, because you’ll have one employer.”

Smaller startups can also be great places to build skills, he said.

“People who work for small, entrepreneurial companies tend to have great experience because they have to figure out how to do everything,” Mercaldo said. “They have broad skills, broad responsibilities.”

But more importantly, companies want to hire individuals, not resumes. Hiring managers are interested in hiring dependable employees who can learn and work well with coworkers. There are many different factors when it comes to how long employees spend at companies, and hiring managers take that into account during the recruiting process.

Concern about frequent job changes is “a conversation starter more than the end of the conversation,” Rabbolini said.

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