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My current (and first) job as a junior developer is ending and I need to look for a new one. I've received a fairly appealing offer in town, but for a variety of reasons I expect I might relocate soon. This new job will provide me with training in new technologies which would make me more marketable.

While my concern ultimately has to be for myself, I'd like to deal as ethically as possible with my employers, as well as burn as few bridges as possible.

What I'd like to know is - how long should one reasonably stick around at a new job? How much of a black mark is a short employment span going to be for future employers?

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I can tell you that I am on the side of the table that does hiring for programmers and jumping around year after year is indeed a black mark IMO. However you have a legitimate and valid case for switching jobs due to the relocation. If I asked "Why were you only at job 'X' for 6 months", and you stated "It was a fantastic opportunity to do X,Y,and Z, but I had to leave because we relocated", then that black mark would turn into a gold star.

Also at this point in your career switching jobs to gain valuable experience and not get bogged down by 1 companies "way of developing" will make you a far superior candidate in the long run.

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    +1 - yes lots of jobs is not a great sign. But if you have good references from them then it helps. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Apr 11 '12 at 13:27
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    Is "Black Mark" the same as "Curiosity Mark", or the same as "Put To Last Resort Bucket Mark" or even "Trash Mark"? Many great people switch jobs every few years, often enough because the company did not (want to) match the employee's greatness. For me, it would be a bigger mark if the interviewee never changed jobs. Job switching really makes for a lot of experience. – phresnel Jan 23 '18 at 13:31
  • @phresnel - I think it's a fine line between switching too much vs. too little. On the one hand switching too often reflects a reputation of non-commitment. On the other hand, having only 1 job over 15 years (at least in software development) with the exception of contracting or consulting (i.e. brick and mortar businesses) might show one being set in their ways and resistant to change. I think a FTE switching jobs ever 3-7 years seems about the norm. Someone though signing on as a FTE and quitting after 4 months multiple times doesn't look so good. – atconway Jan 31 '18 at 4:15
  • @atconway: That's about my feeling, too. I am afraid, though, that if you're 15 years in business, with a run of 3y, 4y, 1y, 3y, 4y, then this will make you look suspicious in the eyes of many HR departments, as it makes for a long CV already. Of course, there are recently trends to just cut off the CV beyond 10 or so years ago, but still, many HRs have not adapted to that One-Of-The-Quickest-Industries known as a IT. Maybe they should make themselves aware that 3 years is about the rise and fall of any JavaScript framework, e.g.. – phresnel Jan 31 '18 at 8:54
  • @atconway: I also think that the psychological line between contracting and being salaried is too thick. I know many developers who basically do contracting, but are salaried on paper. They are up to speed within weeks, followed by highly productive 1 or 2 years, then switch (being open about it). They don't see themselves being dependent (or not more dependent then the employer on them), and they look at contracts as not being One Way; they deliver, but the employer has to deliver, too. – phresnel Jan 31 '18 at 8:56
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In the case where a substantial amount of money may be paid to train you or ramp you up, you may wish to ponder the idea of notifying your employers before you take the job. You may even want to do that by asking directly if there is a sign-on obligation (for example, a commitment to stay for a year after training). Not every position requires a lot of training, or this type of commitment.

For the record, from a management perspective, it takes about 6 months to ramp up just about anybody - in the 0-6 range, the person is more of a liability than an asset as they are (rightfully) asking for help and instructions from the team, so the overall team is less efficient and the new guy isn't productive enough to make up for the overhead of question-answering. At 6-12 months, the ratio levels out - the new guy is more produtive and asks less questions (cause he has the clue!) and he's doing meaningfull work. He is probably not 100% efficient yet, but the team as a whole is now more productive than they were before the new guy joined. The new guy usually amortizes on the investment in his second year - somewhere between 18 and 24 months into the situation.

If you are really sure you're relocating, give your employer a heads up. While you probably won't destroy your career (the world is a big place, and blacklisting is nearly impossible), it's ethical to let them know.

I agree with @atconway that multiple career jumps in a full-time employee is a danger sign. One jump, because of a relocation - is not a killer - but in terms of burning bridges, I think you need to be fair to your incipient employeer on your short term plans.

The metric for "normal" career changes these days is usually 3 years.

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    +1 for both checking for commitments to stay after initial training (also for use of company funds for professional development, period), and being upfront about the possibility of leaving soon after said training. – jcmeloni Apr 10 '12 at 21:44
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Speaking as a recruiter, I don't bat an eye if I see a couple of short stints on a resume. I also almost expect to see someone new in their career (less than 5 years out of school) to have moved around a few times as they explore different companies and industries. This is especially true for developers in highly competitive markets such as the Bay Area and Seattle. That said, staying in a FTE*** role for less than a year does look a little...iffy though there's a long list of perfectly acceptable reasons for it such as having your spouse take a job that required relocation, needing to be closer to family, etc. It's also perfectly acceptable if someone takes a job and it just doesn't turn out to be a good fit for them (so long as the person is diplomatic and tactful when expressing this!)

I suppose the operative phrase here is "relocate soon". Are we talking a year? 3 months? If it's just a few months how much will you really learn? Also read the offer letter carefully - if they're investing in you they may include a clawback phrase regarding education expenses (though this is somewhat rare, clawbacks are much more common for relocation packages)

***Contracting/freelancing is a whole different situation.

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