According to the United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average number of jobs held by an adult of my age (more or less) between 18 and 46 is 11. A bit less for women, a bit more for men. As a result, I decided to write down my own job history since 18 to get a feel for how I compared to the average.

To my surprise, because my gut wanted it to be less, I’m pretty much right on the national average at this point in my career. I am left wondering how the number shifts post 46 (or 48) but I couldn’t find good data.

For the sake of the conversation, here is my work history:

Jobs:

  • K-Mart (College) : 2 yrs : College job
  • Temp Agency Tech Worker (pre-LAI) : Six months : post-college job
  • Logic Automation/Logic Modeling/Synopsys : 10 years : Longest held job
  • Eagle Design Automation : 3 Years : Startup! Responsible for my largest salary bump and favorite years of work
  • Synopsys : 2 Years : Eagle got acquired by Synopsys
  • Mentor Graphics CAE : 1 Year : Time for a change
  • Synopsys Manager : 2 Years : Got offered my first opportunity to manage
  • Synopsys CAE : 2 Years : Time for a change
  • Ambric : 2 Years : Startup!
  • Rentrak : 3 months : Not a good match, but I needed a job during the 2008-2009 recession
  • Flashlight : 2 Years : New career field (cable), but the work didn’t last
  • VMWare/Pivotal : 2 Years : Current gig

The years are off a bit because they don’t quite add up, but it’s not worth going in and shaving months off. For the purposes of this effort, it’s close enough.

It seems like after that many jobs, I ought to be able to extract some “truths” or at least things that are and were true for me as I moved through my career.

Choose Passion over Money, but Money Doesn’t Hurt

First off, I was fortunate enough to choose a career (software engineering) that I was passionate about. During my high school years, I was obsessed with software to the exclusion of a healthy social life. But, I could understand software and girls were simply a mystery beyond my understanding. Mostly still are. As a result, I got in to a career where I was truly excited to get up in the morning and work. I was invested, both emotionally and intellectually. You can’t beat that for a winning combination when starting your career. As a side benefit, working in the private sector meant my salary was good, which was important to me as, by that time, I was working to support a family. So, if you have to choose, go with your passion. But, if you can choose to cover both passion and a salary that allows you to provide, then that’s probably the right call.

Do Regular Checkins with Yourself

This is a big one for me. I believe strongly in checking in with yourself every two or three years to assess how you feel about what you’re doing. This is important to evaluate whether your priorities have changes, whether your needs have changed and whether you are still happy doing what you are doing.

I found that I typically spent 2-3 years getting on top of doing a given job before I feel like I’ve become good at it. After that, I start to look for additional challenges, either by growing within my job or by starting to look for a new job or new challenge. My history tells me this starts with a self-evaluation followed by a determination of whether I’m happy doing what I’m doing. If I’m not as happy or not as challenged as I want to be, there will be a search for opportunities or growth within my company because, typically, I like the people I work with so it’s an issue of wanting to be challenged professionally.

As a side note: Boredom is never a good thing and a state of professional boredom is something to be determined as quickly as possible and addressed because everyone suffers and it’s no one’s job but yours to identify and address this issue.

Realize That The Answers May Be Elsewhere

Two times in my career I left a large company, in my case Synopsys both times, to go join a startup. This was due to two factors being true:

  1. Professional Opportunity
  2. Irritation at the restrictions of being part of a large company

The first is natural and happens in cycles in all careers. The second is a personal thing. Quite simply I found myself feeling like such a small part of a large behemoth that I felt like my contributions or ability to influence were so diluted that, in the end, I was just a cog. I didn’t matter. When those two things lined up – Opportunity and a desire to play a more direct role in the success of my company – that’s when startups start looking good.

Don’t Fear the Startup

Depending on the source, startups are “successful” something on the order or 1 time in 10 or 1 in 20. Successful might be defined as “the stock I was offered became worth the lost opportunity cost I paid for leaving my last job”. In my case I’ve been fortunate that of the (actually) three startups I joined, two of them were successful.

My current job at Pivotal is a startup in the sense that there is a stock opportunity and it’s clear that we need to deliver on the investment made in us by our parent companies, but in some very important ways it’s less a startup because we have competitive salaries and benefits. Additionally, at well over 1500 employees, the size would bely any attempt to label it a classic startup.

But, startups are a risk. Often they involve taking pay cuts in trade for equity (stock) and often they don’t pay off. It is a gamble and making a choice to join a startup, assuming the choice is between the stability of a larger company versus the unknown of the startup, can be fraught with stress.

If I look at it another way, though, three startups out of 12 jobs is only 25% of the total jobs I’ve taken. So, that’s probably not all that risky, all told. I know folks who simply go from startup to startup, either because of the possibility of a large upside or simply because they want to be a more influential part of an organization. Obviously the amount of impact you can have on a company as 1 of 10 is far, far larger than if you’re 1 of 1500 – at least for most folks.

Growth is Good

I stole this from the motto of one of the companies I worked for, but the sentiment is equally sound. In this I simply mean that making a move, even to a different company, in pursuit of personal or professional growth is a good thing.

I used to have a great deal of fear that I would look back at my career and wonder what I missed out on due to missed opportunities. That was early in my career, but it did help inform how I look at my choices and how I evaluate risk. As a result, I was probably more open to new opportunities than I might have otherwise been simply because I didn’t want to look back and regret not having taken a chance.

Chance, for me at least, always has to be balanced against my perceived role in my family. My job, I have always felt, was to provide for my family. Possibly because I came from a pretty traditional kind of family, but I saw my role as the one who needed to work and needed to make a good salary to provide for my family. That was, especially early in my career, how I measured my own personal success.

A friend once pointed out that after five years or so, the biggest opportunities to grow with your existing company start leveling off and the biggest jumps will come by moving to a different company. That may largely be true, but at least within a geographical area or even within an industry, there is the very real risk of being perceived as a job hopper.

For me this has meant that I’ve looked for opportunities within my company but if those didn’t present the opportunities I wanted, I would start looking outside the company.

Networking Is Critical

With the exception of one of my 12 jobs, networking has played a critical role in my career. Not burning bridges has always been important to me and it’s largely served me well.

After Ambric folded due to running out of money during the recession of 2008, I created a spreadsheet to track the resumes I sent out, the response (if any) and the result. The goal was to be sure I didn’t duplicate submissions to a given company, to see what worked and what didn’t and to generally allow me to be systematic in my approach to finding a new job.

In the time I was looking, I sent out over 100 resumes to opportunities in the area. I received an automated acknowledgement of my submission less than 20% of the time. I was told I wasn’t right for the job less than 10% of the time. Five of those more than a hundred resulted in a phone screen and of that more than 100 resume submissions, exactly ONE of them resulted in an interview.

Networking has worked repeatedly where blind submissions did not.  Never underestimate the value of your network.

Embrace Change

This is a tough one for me because, personally, I feel that I am change averse. At least that’s what I say and that’s what I think, but history would say that over the last 30 years I’ve had to embrace an … average amount of change. And, with only a couple of exceptions, it’s largely been me who has brought about the change, so clearly I need to own the results of my choices.

Change also, at least in my experience, leads to growth. And if we’re not growing, we’re dying.

Where does this leave me? It leaves me believing, as I always have, that there’s a balance in this that needs to be struck. No change is stagnant and I don’t ever want to look back and feel that my life was stagnant. Too much change is a stressor for me and for the people in my life (mostly due to having to suffer through me being stressed). So, with this, as in all things, balance is my goal. Finding the balance that allows me to look back on this portion of my career and conclude that while it never really felt like it was part of a grand plan, on the whole, I’m pretty happy with my career and the choices that I’ve made that have resulted in that career.

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