I am a software engineer, still at my first job in the software development field. Talking to a friend got me wondering if there is a point where I'll be hurting my career by staying put (in terms of hireability by future potential employers).

If I stay here until I have ten or fifteen years experience, then yes, that's ten or fifteen years of experience; but is the impact diluted by the fact that it's all at one place? I could imagine a hiring manager seeing such a resume and thinking "Sure, he's stable; but this only proves that he can do the SAME job for a long period. What'll happen when he's exposed to something different? New technologies? Different challenges? Even a different corporate culture might make him a completely different employee than he's been at XYZ Company."

My question is not about whether those concerns are valid or how to address them if I find myself in that position. Rather, my question is about making sure I don't get there in the first place: how long can I stay at my first software job before the duration has probably started to become a liability in the eyes of prospective employers? (Or, does such a point in time even exist in the first place? Or am I worrying about nothing?)

To put it a different way: what will make me a more hireable candidate when I'm 15 years into my career? Having all 15 at one place or having 5 at three different places? Perhaps the 15 would be more palatable if there was evidence of significant upward movement in that time, but my question is about whether the duration itself is detrimental, holding all other factors equal.

  • What is your location? Also what types of companies are you targeting? This is pretty dependent on a variety of factors. – Bowen Jun 4 '15 at 22:50
  • Are you happy where you are? Do you have job satisfaction and feel suitably paid and appreciated for what you do? Why would you give that up? – Jane S Jun 4 '15 at 22:50
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    @JaneS I am happy and have job satisfaction and am appreciated, though I am underpaid. But the company is not managed very well imo, so I just don't want to wind up with the company going out of business, me having that company as my only experience, and finding out that the fact I stayed there has turned into a liability. – AnonymousCantaloupe Jun 4 '15 at 22:59
  • So you definitely have some motivation to look at the market. In that case, I would look to the answer by @JoeStrazzere – Jane S Jun 4 '15 at 23:30
  • @AnonymousCantaloupe I had difficulty 'getting into' your question and have removed a lot of (IMO) irrelevant text. You can revert my edit if you disagree. – user8036 Jun 5 '15 at 6:59

what will make me a more hireable candidate when I'm 15 years into my career? Having all 15 at one place or having 5 at three different places? Perhaps the 15 would be more palatable if there was evidence of significant upward movement in that time, but my question is about whether the duration itself is detrimental, holding all other factors equal.

Everything else being equal, I've always preferred to hire software folks who tend to stay at one company for a reasonable period of time, rather than hopping around.

That said, everything else is never equal.

If you work mostly at startups, you can expect them to burn bright for a while, but flame out quickly. It wouldn't be a surprise if a candidate like that had a few jobs in the past 15 years or so.

If you work mostly at large, established companies, it would be less common not to stick around for a while.

Still, duration of jobs over a 15 year period is nowhere near the most important attribute in a candidate. Unless the candidate job-hopped repeatedly among very short duration jobs, it's not something that is very important.

If you are happy at your job, doing well, are constantly learning, and are advancing at a reasonable rate - there is no reason to leave just because it might "look better" for some future, unknown, potential hiring manager.

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There will be no general rule of thumb that applies to every company or every worker.

As a worker, the right time to start looking around is when you begin to lose interest in the work, or if there is another interest that captures your energy. Leaving just for money often leads to the same frustrations at the next job. Leaving out of frustration does the same, unless you have taken steps to address the frustrations, and they have not helped.

It is advantageous earlier in your career to work in multiple jobs to gain broader experience, and see where your energy and interests find their sweet spot. In these cases, you'll want to work enough to master the concepts you use, and the domain in which you work. This mastery leads to better opportunities as you look for the next thing to do. It can tak a couple of years to rise to the top, maybe faster, maybe slower. Later in your career, you might want to look for longer tenures with leadership opportunities that come from experience (not necessarily becoming a manager).

One thing to consider is that working in the corporate world, you will likely start over at the bottom in terms of benefits and privileges each time you switch. After 20+ years of working, you might want that sabbatical privilege, or that extra week of vacation.

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Diversity of skills is important in being a developer. When you find yourself doing a lot of the same application work without fresh ideas or new technologies and no growth, that's when you should consider changing companies. You'll know when it's that time. You will especially begin to feel stagnant in your position.

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I've worked for my current employer for 17 years and counting, so clearly I don't favour leaving "just because". I am however currently looking for my next career step and I'm not finding my tenure at my current employer to be an issue because of how I take care to present it.

I think rather than worrying about how long you should work for an employer in terms of years, think in terms of personal development and career progression: If you can achieve a goal (salary, promotion, working with x new exciting tech) with a current employer which you're very happy with then I would suggest staying there.

Just be sure when you do decide to brush up your resume that you clearly delineate that you've held w number of posts with x different responsibilities, rather than just "worked at y for z years" in order to make it clear that your career has progressed steadily in one place.

As to what will make you "more hireable", there's no magic number of years to have on your resume for each employer. Different companies will look for different traits and if you prefer to work at one place for a while (progressing your career within one employer, not 'stagnating') then you will obviously appeal (and will probably be more attracted to) to employers who are looking for long term hires to come in and take responsibility for a function.

Equally there's value (to even that same 'long term' employer, at times) in being able to parachute someone in quickly to solve a particular technical problem or short/mid-term skills shortage...

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