Next month will mark 13 years at my current job. I’ve had the same manager for all of those years and three of my teammates have been there as long or longer than I have. But there have been changes, too. In my time, there have been four different CEOs and at least five different directors and/or VPs of R&D (my department).
I haven’t had very many different jobs in my career. I’ve chosen to live in smaller centers for family reasons, and that generally limits my options, though with the growing popularity of remote work, that’s becoming less true. I’ve moved twice to take new jobs, including to a new country.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about the advantages and disadvantages of staying at the same job for a long time. Many people recommend changing jobs fairly often, including this excellent post by Brandon Hays.
Here are some of the things I’ve been thinking about.
When you stay at the same job for a long time, you get some stability in your life. Obviously, not all jobs are a sure thing, but there are some where you can feel reasonably secure. Depending on your perspective, personality, and situation, this stability may be an advantage or disadvantage to you.
Depending on the kind of work you do, there is typically a lot less variety when you stick with one job for a long time. You’re doing the same kind of work every day, using the same tools, working within the same infrastructure and architecture, collaborating with the same people. You have to work harder to learn new things or to bring in new tools. It’s more difficult to gain new perspectives on the problems you’re solving.
Breadth vs Depth
When you stay in one job for a long time, you get deep experience in certain areas, but that depth comes at the cost of breadth across a lot of different areas. Becoming an expert in a few domains and/or technologies can be a really good thing, but there’s also the danger of becoming obsolete as the landscape shifts. You need to keep your head up and look around at what’s going on.
One of the biggest impacts of staying in one place for a long time is that you live with the long-term consequences of your decisions. When you make a design, architecture, or technology decision, you experience the long-term consequences of that decision. This is largely a good thing, as it makes you a much better designer.
Being in the same place for a long time also gives you the opportunity to whittle away at some bigger refactorings or to work toward some longer-term goals for the system you work on.
When you do the same kind of work every day for a long time, it is easy to get to a place of stagnation or complacency. As I wrote earlier, I realized that I had allowed myself to start coasting, and took specific steps to break out of the rut. This isn’t easy - it takes hard work and extra time, and I realize that not everyone can afford that.
Regarding career growth, I think it’s probably easier to move up by switching jobs. There are always fewer positions open in an organization the higher up you go, so not everyone can get promoted.
The same is likely true for salary growth. It is rare to get a huge raise when staying in the same job, unless it is also accompanied by a promotion. That hasn’t been strictly true for me, but I think it is the general rule.
Relationships are another area where you trade off breadth with depth. When you stay at the same job, you develop much deeper relationships with your co-workers. When you change jobs frequently, the relationships aren’t as deep, but you have an opportunity for many more of them. You end up with a much broader network, which you’ll find very helpful if you want to find a new job every few years.
Even after thinking through and writing this post, I’m not sure what I think about longevity. I definitely see the advantages I’ve had by staying where I am; but I also wonder if I’m missing out on some new challenges by not moving around.
I’m very thankful for the job I have, and I really like what I do. I like working with my teammates and for my boss. I love where I live and the community I’m in. From talking with friends and the people I’ve met at conferences, I know that there a lot of jobs out there that I wouldn’t enjoy nearly as much as where I am. The grass is not always greener on the other side. I’m working hard to avoid the complacency that can set in when I stop paying attention. I’m also working hard to learn new languages, tools, and technologies so that I can keep myself current.
I’m sure I’ll continue thinking about this, and I’d love to hear your perspective about moving around vs staying in one place.