Monday, July 4, 2011

Ideal tenure - IT Industry

As a professional in the computer industry I often ask myself the question every few years in the job - is it long enough at the present job? Should I start looking for another opportunity? I am quite surprised that it is not just me and often talking to others sense the same confusion.

Looking at the IT industry I can see three types based on tenure lengths - long, short and medium.

Long timers are those people who stay at their job for decade and longer. They either really love what they do and/or really love the company, its benefits and compensation. There are some that just hate to be interviewed and would not like to totally avoid that situation until they are pushed into it. Another species here are the ones who have been waiting endlessly for the company to lay them off, in which case they get a handsome severance package.

Short timers are the ones that do not stay in one job for more than 2-3 years. They are the ones who either get bored with the job and want to take on a new challenge or sense an atmosphere that's not to their liking.

The ones in the middle generally have tenure of around 4 years. Oh no I am not thinking about the President here. The 4 years period has been primarily driven by the general 4 year vesting of the stock options. These include people who believe in the company they work for but tend to find themselves doing more of the same and would like to take up a new challenge. These people are generally in non-executive roles.

So coming back to our original question of what is the ideal tenure for IT industry?

For non-executives where I fall I do get a general sense that it is somewhere between 4 - 6 years. This is backed up by some factual data from Bureau of Labor Statistics. BLS survey finds that as of Jan 2010 the median years of tenure at the current employer for ages 25 and over is 5.2 years. Also this has gradually risen since 1998 from 4.7 years to the current 5.2 years. Other interesting pieces of data in this regard is the median years of tenure for ages 16 and over for Computer and Mathematical occupations is 4.8 years and median tenure for college graduates is 5.2 years.

Having been on both sides of the interview process my general experience has been that people who fall out of bounds in terms of tenure lengths are simply asked more questions about it during the interview process. You end up explaining how you had a good reason for staying either that long or that short. The harder question is why you want to leave now?

I am sure there are other dimensions that play a role, a key one like geography (US compared to India or China) but that itself can be a bigger discussion.

What do you think about this? I would love to see your comments...

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