In the last 6 years I’ve had 5 different employers. My longest time at a single employer was 2 years and 2 months. Shortest time was 11 months. I’ve gained a crazy amount of experience, and tripled my total compensation during this time.

During an interview, sometimes I get a variation on the following question:

The question

I see you only have stayed at your previous jobs for only 1-2 years. What’s with that? Makes you seem flaky and unreliable. Do you show no loyalty to your employer?

My long winded answer

I can take you job by job and share the situation around why I left. I’ve left on good terms with each of these employers (call them if you’d like).

But I’d like to push back on the premise of your question. It seems to imply that short tenures are a signal of unreliability.

No compression algorithm for experience

You’ll often hear at Amazon, “There is no compression algorithm for experience”.

Ten years of experience at a single company can often mean 1 year of experience, multiplied by 10.

Solid engineers want to learn. They’re curious. Once something gets easy, they move on to new areas. There are few companies that can offer such broad opportunities to try new technologies, tech stacks or industries.

When I’ve left companies the conversations with the employer I’m leaving has been:

Me: I’m interested in learning and working on {technology}. Am I able to do that here?

Employer: Uhhh, we don’t really do that here

Me: Dang. Well I want to do this, so I’m going to explore opportunities to do so

Employer: Dang. Okay, best of luck!

If you can’t offer interesting, challenging and meaningful work to your top performers, they will move on in search of this work.

I’d never have the skill sets that are needed for this job without the experience I’ve gained at all the companies I’ve worked for.

Market opportunities

Your company sells {product} to {customers}.  If an opportunity to release new products that fit a market demand arises, it would be foolish to not jump on the opportunity.

In the same way, when there are new opportunities for an engineer to learn new skills, gain experience in new industries, and increase their compensation, it would be foolish to ignore the opportunity.

Engineers operate as part of the free market labor economy, where there is supply and demand in the market. Demand for engineering skills, and engineers to supply it.

Employees expect employers to hustle to capture market opportunities and grow the company. There is nothing wrong with an employee doing the same. In fact it’s the only way for an employee to get a clear market signal on what they’re worth.

Switching jobs is the fastest way to increase compensation

With few exceptions, for an engineer to capture the value they bring to the market (I.e. compensation), the quickest way to increase that value capture is to shop their skill sets around the market and see what the market will pay.

The quickest way to increase your compensation is to change jobs. This is how it has been.

There are countless stories of an engineer working at Company A asking for a healthy raise, to which Company A says “Sorry we can’t do that”.

The same employee comes back a week later with an offer letter from Company B with a higher number, then suddenly Company A has found money in the budget to match it. But it’s too late, the trust is lost.

But I can’t afford to pay $500k a year like FAANGM can!

That’s fine! Can you pay $200k and allow 100% remote work, flexible schedule and plenty of PTO? Can you treat employees like adults and get them what they need to be productive?

I know plenty of engineers who would command a $500k total comp at FAANGM who would take a pay cut for 100% remote and interesting meaningful work.

Also, are you charging appropriately for your products and services? When crude oil prices increase, we see that at the gas pump. Engineering prices have increased dramatically recently. Are you accounting for this in the prices of your product or service?


If you have an expectation of loyalty from your employees, it’s important to understand that a sense of loyalty is a relic of the past, when there were labor unions, pensions, and a middle class wage that comfortably supported a family.

If a company loses a big customer, or changes in the market result in a large revenue drop, layoffs occur to keep the company solvent. Companies are loyal to their employees as long as they can continue to pay them.

Before I’ve started every job, I sign a document acknowledging that I’m an at-will employee, meaning my employment can be terminated at any time, for any reason, without notice. I’m also told they’d like at least 2 weeks notice if I’m planning to move on.

If you want loyal employees, recognize the labor market you’re in. There are 3 job openings for every qualified candidate. Be creative with employee retention. Pay them more. Give more flexibility. Find out what’s important to them and listen.

Short job tenures are okay

Don’t see a short tenure at a job as a signal of unreliability in the engineer. See it as

  • Realities of the labor market (High demand for engineers, low supply)
  • Lack of interesting, challenging and meanginful work at a company
  • A lack of imagination in the company (Are you really capped at 5% raises?)
  • An engineer who recognizes their value, takes a pro-active approach to their career and life, and who is loyal to themselves and their family