3 Ways Job Swapping in Tech can Hurt You


We’ve all heard the dogma: in today’s job market nobody stays at one place for longer than an average of 4.4 years. With a working life of 43 years (22 – 65), that’s 10 different jobs during the course of a lifetime. Compare that to 2 or 3 jobs a few decades ago.

This is the new “normal.” And in tech, it’s especially prevalent. Most software developers are easily employable, which is why you see job hopping between all the major companies.

Plus, changing jobs can be the best way to get a raise. I’ve heard the advice to “demand a promotion” from your current boss, but I’ve never seen it work. Most people don’t have the guts to demand anything. It’s easier to pack up and leave.

But before you follow the conventional wisdom and tell your employer to “f-off”, know that job hopping still comes with serious drawbacks.

These are all problems that I’ve experienced.

Be aware.

1) The time it takes to be known as ‘good’.

At every job you work, you need to impress people. You want to be known as one of the ‘good ones’ who can get things done with autonomy. This takes time, from 6 to 12 months depending on the job.

It takes that long to become aware of opportunities where you can excel. These are typically things that your team drastically needs, but nobody has time to do. Or you’ll see an area that others avoid because it’s too technically difficult or unenjoyable. Or you’ll find a task that people think is impossible, but you see it’s doable with a bit of hacking.

Better yet, take a task given to you and deliver in 1/3rd or 1/2 the time. If you have to, work at home, work crazy hours for a week or 2. Then don’t tell anyone what it took to deliver.

These are all opportunities to impress your manager and your coworkers. The technically difficult tasks are some of the best, especially if your team has no idea how you came up with your solution.

After you’ve accomplished one, or ideally several, of these opportunities, you’ll be known as a technically competent person.

I’ve talked about all of this before.

The point is – being known as a ‘good software developer’ takes time. You can’t prove it in your interviews or just because you know somebody. Every time you switch jobs, you have to pay this cost again.

Once that first impression is made, you can go into maintenance mode. That doesn’t mean you slack off, but maintaining your reputation and accruing the benefits from it are much easier after you’ve made that initial push.

Maybe you don’t care about making a good impression, being a decent employee, or even a decent worker. If that’s you, this blog probably isn’t for you.

But if you do, consider this cost before you decide to hop positions. You’re in for another 6-12 months of proving yourself wherever you wind up.

2) Salary costs.

This is counterintuitive. On the one hand, changing jobs can be the single best way to increase your salary. Here’s the dilemma:

In my salaries post, I mentioned how senior engineers at Google, Facebook, etc can make 2-300K per year. This is true, but there’s a catch: Usually the base salary at these places is a far cry from that. A good chunk of that compensation comes from equity.

The equity usually vests on a 4 year schedule. So, you don’t get anything until the end of the first year, and then typically it vests every quarter after that. If you do well, you’ll get another stock grant in your second year, again vesting over a 4 year period. After another year, you’ll have 2 separate stock grants vesting every single quarter. Continue to do well, and the pattern will repeat itself in year 3, and year 4.

Which means that after 4-5 years at the company, you could have 4-5 separate stock grants, all vesting each quarter.

As you might imagine, this adds up quickly, and this is how engineers make between 2-400K (or more) per year, when they only have base salaries of between 120K and 150K. Granted some companies don’t do this. Netflix is rumored to pay mostly in cash, as is Amazon, but I’ve never worked at either, and I think those are rare exceptions in the software world.

The dilemma is that you only make the “big money” after you’ve been with the company for 3-4 years. When you leave, you potentially walk away from 3-4 partially unvested stock grants. You’ll start vesting new stock at the new company immediately, but you had better ensure it makes up for what you just walked away from.

Too many people look at a size-able increase in base salary, without thinking about what they’re losing in other compensation.

Granted, it isn’t hard to tell the new company that you have X dollars of unvested stock and demand that as part of your new offer, but many people don’t.

3) New Company Risks

Some things are hard to put a dollar amount on.

a) How well do you get along with your boss?

A horrible boss can Seriously. Ruin. Your. Life.

So if you like your boss right now, you should place a high premium on him/her. I’ve seen bosses that forced friends to be available at all hours, forced people to work in inflexible styles (mob programming – where 5 people crowd around one monitor), or were just more interested in themselves than the welfare of their employees.

I’ve also been blessed by incredible managers. But when you switch jobs, you risk landing with a terrible boss. They’re everywhere.

Then again, if you’re getting away from one right now, I completely understand why you’re switching.

b) How well do you like your coworkers?

Related to the point above – a hostile work environment sucks. Fortunately, I’ve only ever been on one hostile team. Some of that was my fault, some of it was out of my control, and I was able to transfer quickly.

But when you’re at odds with even a few people on your team, it becomes challenging to go to work in the morning. You dread being alone with team members, one on one meetings become awful, and working closely with people is like pulling teeth.

Many times, your only option is to get off the team. When things go wrong, especially at the beginning, it’s impossible to make things right again. Such is the power of first impressions.

So again, if you like your coworkers, and you all get along well, you should place a large premium on that.

All things considered, jumping ship to take your dream job can still be your best option. But many times, there’s value in sticking it out. You never know when your current company is going to double your salary, and ultimately, I think companies respect people more who have longer tenures on their resumes.

Whenever the conventional wisdom switches heavily in favor of something, it’s good to keep your eyes open.

Have you had positive or negative experiences switching jobs?

Photo Credit: Tony Fischer