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Career Development - Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Prelude

I guess nothing describes more appropriately the essence of career development than the famous song by The Clash.

We generally have two options in front of us when we consider our careers – stay at our current company and hope to advance in it or jump ship to a new hopefully better job in another company. Both have their pros and cons which I’ll shortly discuss. Mind, though, that I’m no HR specialist or a pro career adviser so you’d do well not to rely on my writing a 100%. Also everything I’ll write comes from my own experience as professional software engineer. I guess some of my advice will not apply to other careers.

Stay at my current company

Disclaimerthere are some companies that are so great that no one wants to leave them. This section is not about them. This is about the companies we all know and have grown accustomed to tolerate – the ones with the mostly same work, lying bosses and a lot of empty promises.

The idea is basic. You’ve spent some time in the company, you’re hoping that in time with hard work and dedication you’ll rise in the company ranks and you’ll get a healthy salary increase in the process.

Unfortunately this doesn’t happen quite often. Most companies have some internal salary limits and some next to irreplaceable people. This means that there is a cap at your growth there. Sure, if you stay with the company long enough – say 10 years, probably some of the irreplaceable people will be replaced, but is worth the wait?

When you sit around just doing the same things you tend to get bored and demotivated at times. You become less productive and less interested in your work in general. You just go to work, stay there for 8 hours and go home. The paycheck is the only thing of interest to you and you become duller and duller by the day.

This is what I call “flowing down the current”. One of my former bosses used to say that when you start feeling you’re flowing down the current you should immediately start looking for another job(that is unless you’re one of the those people that just like to complain how they hate their job, but actually doesn’t mind to sit around doing nothing and get paid for it). My boss also used to say that one shouldn’t spend more than 3 or 4 years in a company he doesn’t own.

Of course you shouldn’t jump between jobs every 6 or so months because this will make you a blacklisted candidate by most HRs – after all they’re looking most of the time for people ready to commit to their cause for at least a few years.

Pros of staying:

  • you know the game and how to play it
  • you’re accustomed to colleagues, the office and you don’t have to change them
  • you’ve got a guaranteed paycheck that is unlikely to evaporate
  • if the company is bigger(100+) you’ve got a fair chance to advance in the company hierarchy if you’re willing to stay long enough

Cons of staying:

  • you limit your professional development
  • you limit the possibilities for salary improvements

In the end it seems to me that most people are not too fond of taking chances(me included). This is the reason that a lot of average companies have employees that could do a lot better somewhere else. This is partly caused by our very own society – the people and media around us keep telling us that we’re mostly the same, that it’s unlikely we’ll ever achieve something great, something monumental… and many of us do believe them.

Hristo Stoichkov might not be the all time greatest philosopher, but said something extremely important once(or twice) – “If you don’t play you can’t win”(in Bulgarian – “Който не играе не печели.”).

Move to another company

Moving to another company is not a silver bullet. Most of the time it guarantees you a higher salary(the top reason why people switch jobs), but it doesn’t certainly mean you’ll have a more interesting and fulfilling work. This is especially true if you go to work for some huge corporation and you’re not part of its Research&Development department. I generally avoid such job offers. Corporations offer some measure of security, but little if any excitement.

I think that most people should try to find employment in companies that are start-ups or that regularly start to work on new projects. There one has plenty of opportunities to prove himself and to advance in the company along the way. Of course such companies have the nasty habit of going down under from time to time so you have to think long and hard before joining one if you’re living under rent or have to pay down-payments on two mortgages. Of course if you’re good enough at your job – you’ll find a new one soon enough and that shouldn’t really be bothering you.

Pros of moving:

  • moving to a new company is likely to represent a raise in your salary you’ll have to wait several years to get with your current employer
  • there is a strong possibility that your new work will be more exciting than your old one(after all you’ve tried to pick a more exciting job, right?)
  • you might get to meet some interesting new people, learn from them and improve your professional skills

Cons of moving:

  • you have to prove your worth again(you’ve already did this in your old job)
  • the is the factor of uncertainty every time you start something new
  • you’ll have to learn how to work and deal with your new colleagues
  • you might get more of the same work that made you leave in the first place in case you have not chosen carefully your new employer.

Epilogue

Topics such a career development are highly subjective and depend on a myriad of factors. My musings here are inspired by my 7 year long career as a software engineer that spanned over four employers and will probably soon include a fifth. This is not a lot of data to consider, but I can assure you that the traits that I describe are most real and are here to stay.