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7 deadly career mistakes developers make

Paul Heltzel | May 17, 2016
Failure may lead to success, but unthinking complacency is a certain dev career killer.

You'll find no shortage of career motivational phrases surrounding failure: Fail fast, failure builds character, the key to success is failure, mistakes make you grow, never be afraid to fail. But the idea of mistaking your way to the top of the software industry is probably unsound. Every developer will have their share of missteps in a career but why not learn from others’ experience -- and avoid the costliest errors?

That’s what we did: We talked with a number of tech pros who helped us identify areas where mistakes are easily avoided. Not surprising, the key to a solid dev career involves symmetry: Not staying with one stack or job too long, for example, but then again not switching languages and employers so often that you raise red flags.

Here are some of the most notable career traps for engineers -- a minefield you can easily avoid while you navigate a tech market that’s constantly changing.

Mistake No. 1: Staying too long

These days it’s rare to have a decades-long run as a developer at one firm. In many ways, it’s a badge of honor, showing your importance to the business or at least your ability to survive and thrive. But those who have built a career at only one company may suddenly find themselves on the wrong end of downsizing or “rightsizing,” depending on the buzzword favored at the time.

Praveen Puri, management consultant
“The longer you stay in one position, the more your skills and pay stagnate, and you will get bored and restless.” -- Praveen Puri, management consultant 

Opinions vary on how long you should stay in one place. Praveen Puri, a management consultant who spent 25 years as a developer and project manager before starting his own firm, isn't afraid to throw out some numbers.

“The longer you stay in one position, the more your skills and pay stagnate, and you will get bored and restless,” Puri says. “On the other hand, if you switch multiple jobs after less than two years, it sends a red flag. In my own experience, I stayed too long on one job where I worked for 14 years -- I should have left after six. I left other positions after an average of four years, which is probably about right.”

Michael Henderson, CTO of Talent Inc., sees two major drawbacks of staying in one place too long. “First, you run the risk of limiting your exposure to new approaches and techniques,” he says, “and secondly, your professional network won’t be as deep or as varied as someone who changes teams or companies.”

Focusing too much on one stack used by your current employer obviously is great for the firm but maybe not for you.


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