Not surprisingly, engineers stay about half as long at their companies as the average worker in other industries. The reason? The force is on our side as tech workers. Our skills are high in demand, and we’re compensated well for the brainpower that we bring to the table. Plus, tech is evolving so fast, you need to keep learning in new environments. The thing is, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. Admittedly, it looks a little weird to be upgrading jobs every 3 months. But switching things up every year is understandable. Employers want to see someone who is leveling up and making major contributions, not tenure. In today’s podcast episode, the home team (Ben, Cassidy, Ceora, and Matt) gets together to discuss career advantages, LinkedIn A/B tests, and why gen Z is doomed when it comes to tech.
Ceora and Cassidy talk about why engineers are so good at job hopping — and why it can pay to upgrade roles every year or two.
Ceora speaks openly about the privileges of working in tech compared to other industries.
Apparently, in some places, it’s a thing for engineers to leave their teams and then rejoin the organization with a promotion to get ahead. Do you boomerang?
Cassidy’s husband’s favorite interview question to ask is, “If you had a magic wand and could change one thing about this company, what would you change?”
Ben poses a question about whether LinkedIn AB tests are disadvantageous to some career seekers over others.
Matt introduces us to the world of AI generated Pokémon.
Ceora, our resident voice of Gen Z, tells us why she thinks millennials are the only true generation to understand tech.
Follow Ben, Ceora, Matt, and Cassidy.
[intro music plays]
Ben Popper Hello, everybody. Welcome back to the Stack Overflow Podcast, a place to talk all things software and technology. I'm your host, Ben Popper, joined as I often am by my wonderful colleagues and collaborators: Cassidy Williams, Ceora Ford, and Matt Kiernander.
Cassidy Williams Hello!
Ceora Ford Hi!
Matt Kiernander Hello!
BP Full home team episode. Hey, everybody. How’re we doing?
CW Been a minute.
BP Good, I'm glad to hear.
MK I'm still waiting for you to start that off with ‘collaborators and friends’ Ben. I'm a little bit offended.
CW Please be a friend, Ben!
BP Ooh, I try not to mix business and personal, but I consider everyone on this podcast to be a friend.
MK Okay, good.
BP I treasure all the podcast time. I always get some laughs. I feel good afterwards. It’s an emotionally important component of my work/life balance. So we've got some fun news hits today, as well as some art, some code, and some art and some AI. Let's kick things off with a piece I saw from Developer Pitstop– “How long do software engineers stay at a job?”
CF I shouldn't laugh.
BP You shouldn't laugh. We can dig into some folks' personal experience in a second. Not surprisingly, software engineers stay about half as long as your average worker in any particular industry. Why do we think this is, and from personal experience and folks who have done this, what are the benefits and the drawbacks of moving around so much?
CW So I think first of all, it is very much in the nature of tech to change in general, and so people tend to be willing to change because they're following new tech trends and stuff. But at the same time, I think in a lot of industries if you don't stay at a place for a long time you're kind of punished for it. And as a result, a lot of workers get exploited in different industries, and in tech we are very privileged to not have that as a problem. People need tech workers and they don't really mind if you've only been at places for a year and a half or two years at most places, because they need your skills and they're willing to compensate you for it. And so I think it's a good thing and I think it's something that in general, and granted I'm saying this with extreme bias because I am someone who has jumped around quite a bit in my career.
BP You’ve had a few jobs since you and I started podcasting together. Yeah.
CW I've had a handful. But because I've had a handful, I've had such a good variety of experience and I've been able to move up in my career much faster. It was actually a common joke when I worked at Amazon that the fastest way to get promoted is to actually leave and come back. Or the fastest way to get a raise is to actually just go somewhere else and join the company again. And that's such a common thing where why wouldn't you change if you want to move up financially or get a promotion?
BP Yeah. When you say in other industries punished, you mean that if you worked in another industry, I don't know specifically but, finance, law, academia, and they saw you were taking a new job every two years, they'd be like, “Something's wrong with this person,” or, “This isn't something I like to see on a resume,” whereas in tech it's pretty normal.
CW Right, it's pretty normal. Granted, if it's just a ton of like three to nine months stints, that doesn't look great I will say. You're going to need some time to ramp up at a given job, but if you generally stay at a place more than a year, chances are you've been able to accomplish something meaningful and you leave with a good reason.
MK I think one of the reasons maybe why we see this so much, as well as tech changing, is that tech work is remote so the opportunities are quite a lot more than maybe some industries that don't have that remote flexibility. And I think the breadth of compensation available to a lot of people, you can be doing a dev job that's 60, 70, 80k and then the next year get one that's maybe 300,000 in total compensation if you are working within the states and you are jumping to a FANG thing. So I think given how broad the compensation ranges are, it's very much incentivized to be continually hunting for that kind of next banner up because it is very, very tangible.
CF Yeah. I think in general, comparatively –and when I say comparatively I mean compared to other industries– tech workers are very empowered. And I know working in tech, you might think the opposite. And I'm not saying that the tech industry doesn't have any issues because it does and I'll be the first to admit that.
CW It has plenty.
CF Yes. But I think that we're empowered in that we have skills that are very in demand, that are highly compensated and a lot of tech workers are aware of this and they use that to their advantage. So when you know that with a year, year and a half, two years of experience, you can go somewhere else and get a higher pay, better title, why wouldn't you make that move? So I think in general that’s kind of why people tend to jump around a lot. That's what it looks like. And then I think too even now it seems like there's a shift in how people think about work and loyalty to a job and I think more people are focused on instead of being loyal to the company, it's more that I want to increase my own personal wealth. So with that goal in mind, it's much easier to be a little impersonal when it comes to attachment to your team, attachment to the company you work for, and focus more on yourself. And that sounds bad, but I think in general for the individual tech worker it's a good thing.
CW I think it's something that's important to note in general because workers are generally exploited a lot when they can be, because it's down to the profits for the company. And I was talking to a bunch of founders recently and a person brought up the subject of, “Should I be worried if some of the really good engineers coming my way have only really been at their previous roles for two years max?” And it was an interesting discussion because almost everybody said, “No, this isn't a problem,” because people don't leave companies just because. They almost always leave for a reason. And so if you as a manager, as a business owner, anything, an employer, if you are creating an environment where someone is compensated fairly, where someone is learning and where it's just a good culture that generally aligns with their values, they're not going to leave. Why leave if it's doing good by the employee? But if you are missing something and they're not being fulfilled in one of those categories then that's just what happens.
MK I'm curious, Ben, Ceora, Cassidy, if you've hired anyone before and you've been looking through CVs and you see somebody has jumped around it a lot, I'm curious as to where your margin of error is in evaluating a candidate in terms of if there've been, maybe say for example, three or four one-year stints at a company. Is that a no-go or are you looking for a variation between maybe one to three years?
BP If you see with each progression that they're moving to a higher role with more responsibilities, then I think you can tell that they're moving up. They did really well at a certain company, people are talking about them or they've had public projects and then they go from one thing to managing something bigger or taking on a bigger role. So I wouldn't mind seeing that. And then for the other one, there is a time boundary in some people's head, nine months to a year, and for anything less than that it's almost like you want to check the references. You want to say, “Okay, what happened here? Is there a good explanation for this? Was there a particular reason you left so quickly?” And sometimes the person has a good answer and sometimes I think that's an area of concern at least worth exploring.
CW Yeah, I think very similar to Ben. Whenever I've looked at that, again, if it's less than like six months at each place I'm like, “Hmm, is this because you chose this or there's something else in there?” Because unfortunately that has been something where I've asked someone, and it turns out they had some beliefs that did not align with a lot of people. And it's something that they brought into the workplace and it ended up making people uncomfortable. So you do have to watch out for that kind of thing to make sure that they can be professional in the workplace. At the same time, if they generally are around a year at most places and like Ben said, they move up almost every single time in their role then that means that they changed for a reason. It's a career opportunity that they wanted to pursue. And you can always ask, and you get some pretty honest answers when you ask them.
CF Yeah. I'm rarely on the interviewee side of things. I've only actually interviewed someone once ever. I'm sorry, I actually said that wrong. I said interviewee, I meant interviewer. But anyway, from the interviewee perspective, I'm the person who has if you look at my resume, it's going to look a little wonky because when I first started out in tech I did a lot of contract work, so a lot of 3, 4, 6 month stints at different places and things like that. So I think it is worthwhile to ask, because there could be a lot of reasons behind it. I had an interview once, it was the last interview in the process. This person was VP of Product I think, and the last thing they asked was, “Okay, one thing I'm kind of wondering about is why you jumped around so much pretty much.” And I explained to them, “Oh, that was contract work.” So I really appreciated her asking me that instead of assuming that I was problematic or something like that. So yeah, definitely ask if in doubt.
BP Yeah. And I think another thing that I've noticed in doing interviews as the interviewer is I often say, “What in particular interested you about this role?” And often the answer is in my mind, kind of generic. Not that there's a problem with that, but it doesn't seem like it's anything beyond, “This seems really attractive and I saw the job posting.” Whereas occasionally somebody will say something like, “Well, I was working at a really big company and now I would like to be on a smaller team and get that opportunity to grow with the team. I was on a team of 500, I'd like to work on a team of 50.” And I find that really compelling from the interviewer perspective because they have a real personal motivation that goes beyond just more title, more money, more something else. There's something sort of tangible there.
MK That's a good question to ask because that basically gives them a chance to kind of address the pain points they were having in their previous company and really iron in on why they want to join that. If it's that they want to work with a smaller company, or the experience they were getting there, they didn't have the growth opportunities, whatever that might be. New technology shifting from AI to front end development, back end development, whatever it might be. It's a good question.
CW And you kind of get that from questions they might ask you as well as an interviewer. Sometimes when I'm interviewing someone where I say, “Okay, why are you interested in this switch,” you get a good answer. But then they'll ask me questions like, “So, when was the last person fired at your company and why was it?” Or, “What is the retention like on your team? Do people leave pretty often?” And you can tell from those questions which things they might be worried about and what types of cultures they might be trying to get away from.
BP That's a tough question– When was the last person fired at your company? To be honest about that, I mean obviously you have to protect anonymity, but that's a challenging question. I feel glad I haven't gotten it yet. I also understand why it would be a good question to ask. Don’t know how I would deal with it.
MK One of my friends, he's a technical recruiter and one of his favorite questions to ask is, “Why shouldn't I work here?”
CW Yeah, that's a good one.
MK He's gotten some pretty interesting answers from that one. And he can tell based on how honest they are whether or not they're actually telling the genuine, these are the things I want to improve about the company, versus just the kind of bog standard like, “”Uh-oh. I wasn't prepared for this.”
BP If you hate work/life balance, we don't want you here.
CW My husband's favorite question to ask is, “If you had a magic wand and could change one thing about this company, what would you change?” And it's really interesting to see what different interviewers say, especially if the answer is consistent across all the interviewers or if it's a bunch of different things that everybody says.
BP Right, that is interesting.
CW Yeah, write these down.
BP No one enjoys building their own authentication. It’s messy, takes ages, and requires whole teams to keep on top of it, so let Auth0 by Okta take care of it for you. Visit developer.auth0.com/stack and let them know the podcast sent you.
BP I want to move on to another news story that I saw, which to me kind of stood out as an area where the folks writing it were not as familiar, or maybe they were familiar, but sort of intentionally were a little bit ignorant of what is very common practice within a tech company. So it was about LinkedIn running what they called social experiments and how this might have disadvantaged some job seekers over others. But when I read it, what I saw was sort of the classic tech company A/B testing which is like, “We're trying a new button here. We're recommending this today and this tomorrow.” And not doing it in a way that targeted any specific group of users, just trying to see what optimized for everybody and so not malicious in my mind. And so I guess that opens up the question of is this just standard practice being misinterpreted and is this a little bit of an overreaction, or when you get to the level of a LinkedIn where you do have a big impact on people's careers, maybe you have to rethink A/B testing or at least alert people in some way to what's going on. I kind of went back and forth as I thought this through.
CF I feel like this is such a layered issue, especially for a company like LinkedIn where they're not dealing with something trivial. We're talking about people's careers. And so this is kind of where I think tech and ethics cross paths in a way that's really important. And sometimes if you're not familiar with both, you might not be aware of the effects on either side, depending on what decision you make. So all that to say, I wonder if they discussed and/or anticipated the effect this could have if it actually did affect some candidates, meaning giving some users this feature and not giving other users this feature means that the other group does not get as many opportunities to get hired because of the way it affects the algorithm, et cetera, et cetera. I wonder if they anticipated that or discussed that and it's hard to tell when you don't have any kind of internal intel, but that's what I wonder when I hear about situations like this.
BP Right, right.
CW Seeing this, it sounded like it was an A/B test where people were just like, “Wait a minute. No,” because they don't really realize it’s a standard practice. I admit that that was the perspective that I got when I was reading the article. That being said, a lot of times these studies have balances built in so that people don't miss out on features. And I don't know if that's what happened with this study, but a lot of times when I see it's just like, “Okay, well if only X number of users are going to get this sale at this point, we want to make sure that they get the sale at a later point so that way it's balanced,” or something depending on what the product is, what the feature is. And so there might be an initial bias in figuring out if this is useful because you need to do some kind of experiment to figure out if something's useful. But then you balance it out later, and I don't know if that's what they did here but I think that's something that is a very easy remedy.
BP And Cassidy, to your point, let's say that they didn't do A/B testing. The way the system is set up might be biased from the beginning. A/B testing is the process of learning how your site is working and evolving and how it's impacting different users. You have to do that. I want to say probably somewhere buried in the terms of service they told people, “We'll occasionally be running experiments or changing the site.” I guarantee that's in there somewhere. But right, I think back to Ceora's point, what do we owe users in terms of disclosure or how do we make them aware that this is happening? An important question, and a difficult one because LinkedIn or whoever doesn't really know until they run the experiments what the impact is going to be. So they can't necessarily tell you, “Do you want to opt in? Do you want to opt out?” The best thing to do would be to say “Do you mind opting into research and working with that research group?” That would probably be the best way. But at LinkedIn’s scale you want to see things for all of your users and the number of users who would opt in to research might not be significant enough.
CF Yeah. I also feel like the title– calling it a social experiment– that's kind of heavy.
CF I think that kind of makes it sound like something that it's not. A/B testing is very typical. I do think it's an important discussion to have about ethics in A/B testing and how you can make sure that it's fair for the users and yada, yada, yada. All that kind of stuff. I think that's an important conversation, but I wouldn't equate A/B testing to a social experiment per se. I think those are two very different things. But I also don't know if the regular, normal, typical, New York Times reader knows what A/B testing is and if they would read the article if it said A/B testing.
CW That’s true. Because if they were like, “LinkedIn ran A/B tests,” people would be like, “What is that?”
BP Yeah, exactly. LinkedIn ran A/B tests, some people may have been negatively impacted. Nobody's going to read that story so I understand.
CW And that's the thing. Based on what it sounded like it was less, ‘some people may be negatively impacted.’ It's more, ‘some people might be positively impacted if they were interested in the experiment in the first place,’ because they have to make design decisions based on the experiments. This was an article that was not written for tech people to read.
MK The way it's written, for example this sentence here, “Tech giants like LinkedIn.” It's kind of painting a brush over all of these tech giants that they're all doing this. Oh my god, did you know they do A/B testing, and we've probably done A/B testing at some stage in our life without even realizing it. If you buy two cookies because you want to figure out which one's better, that's kind of A/B testing.
BP Of course, yeah. People saw different headlines on the stories I publish, can you believe it?
CW People got a blue button versus a green button!
BP Yeah, exactly. I remember reading an article similar to this that was like, “We signed up for X social media platform and within days it knew exactly what we wanted.” And it was like, “Yeah, that's the whole game. You got it, you got it just right.”
CW I was looking into LaunchDarkly. They basically are feature flags as a service, or A/B test as a service where you can put in flags for any sort of features and stuff. And this is such a prevalent thing that first of all, they exist, but also they actually toggle peaks of 20 trillion feature flags hit a day which is an absurd number. And so this is something where if maybe the general population knew that this is how this kind of testing and the algorithms and everything worked maybe there'd be less panic about it. But this definitely painted it as if big tech is experimenting on you.
CF Yeah. I think this also highlights an issue, not an issue, but a thing that I've noticed just in general, which is that although our lives are highly integrated with technology and these big tech companies, tech literacy is not at that same level just with the general population. And I feel like at this point that might be something that we should think about a little bit because it's obvious in the way that people talk about algorithms and social experiments and things like that and they kind of make it seem like it's scary and bad, and although there are very bad things that big tech companies are doing, I do think if people had more literacy around things like A/B testing and what AI and machine learning actually are and things like that, it would help them to be better informed so that things like this don't sound as dramatic and scary as they are. Which is something I think about a lot, because especially for future generations, we're just going to be using technology more and more and more. And I just notice that a lot of people just don't know certain things that for us just seem obvious, but they have no idea, which I think is interesting and I think maybe that's something we should think about fixing.
CW Yeah, and it's the kind of thing where, for example, if you drive a car, you have to know some basic details about your car and when this certain light goes on you know this has to be fixed. When this or that happens, you have to fix that or do whatever, make your turn signal. There's things you learn to operate a car and keep it running, keep it fixed and everything. We don't really have that as a standard practice for computers. It's just something that you use. And for better or for worse, user researchers are great and make things much easier for users so that way they don't have to care about a lot of things. But at the same time, it's almost making a laziness about these tools that make people who aren't tech savvy susceptible to biases and things that big tech wants you to have.
CF And the thing is, I feel like even people who are tech savvy still don't really know. They could be an expert at using an iPhone and know all the features, but when it comes to actual, for us, basic terminology, they have no clue. The episode we did some months ago about how CS students are not familiar with how directories work because they don't know about the file system, that's a huge issue of people just not knowing some of the things that are basic to us because they just don't know. And like you mentioned, user researchers and things like that are making everything so simple and easy that maybe when computers were first a thing or in the early days of the internet these things were normal things for you to know because it took a lot more effort. Now everything is so easy you don't even think about it. So when you hear about a social experiment you're scared out of your mind when it's just an A/B test. That's my big brain take on this.
BP Galaxy Brain take.
CW It's very real. And I mean, I think it's also because young people, kind of like what you said, they have a lot to learn about why systems are the way they are because of the legacy behind them. But there's a bunch of older people who didn't grow up with technology who then are afraid because it's so new and it's all been in their lifetime and you don't know which things are going to stick around and which things might go away. And I can't tell you how many times my mom has called me or a relative has called me in a panic because they're like, “This popup happened,” or, “This email changed,” or something.
MK I won a trip to Hawaii!
CW And they don't know what to do and they’re afraid. And you’ve got to be just like, “It's okay. It's not the end of the world, but just close it. Just trash it.”
BP Right. See the little X there? Just click it.
MK It is kind of scary that you said a phrase, ‘people who didn't grow up with technology.’ That is not something we're going to be able to mention probably for any future generations.
CF No. I have this super, super hot take, but I feel like the only generation that's actually technically savvy, for real for real, are millennials. I feel like Gen Z lost that.
CF And I feel like everyone before millennials doesn't know how to use a computer or a phone. And for Gen Z, everything has been so easy that they just don't know a lot of terminology. So that's my general take on this whole thing. I actually think about this so much, because I'm the Gen Z rep here and I'm like, “We’re doomed. Nobody knows anything about technology. It's over for us.”
CW I read something recently and I wish I could recall where I read it, but it was an article basically saying how Gen Z is just as susceptible to misinformation boomer generations.
CF Yes! Absolutely.
CW Because just like what you said, everything has been kind of handed to them as this technology that already exists. And kind of like what you said, the millennials dealt with a little bit of both and had to do a lot of learning and growing.
BP Yeah, a little more suspicious. Exactly. That makes sense. I mean my first introduction to computers was maybe a little bit at home, but mostly in a computer class at school. That's very different than my kids who were handed an iPad or an iPhone when they were three because we were at dinner and I needed them to be quiet.
MK To Cassidy's point and Ben's point as well, the millennials grew up breaking things unintentionally. Growing up with kind of the early computers, you were kind of scared to do some stuff because you might really mess some things up.
CW I’ve broken some things really badly.
MK Yeah. So I think kind of growing up with that attitude where you’re always a little bit cautious around what you’re doing. For Gen Z a lot of the guardrails have been put in place. There are still more guardrails that need to go up, but that kind of attitude and mindset towards building and being a little bit cautious around the things that we do I think is still a good thing to have.
BP Speaking of Gen Z and millennials, something that stands the test of time –Pokemon– is back in a new form. It came out I think before I was really aware of it and then it became big back when I was in high school because it got released in America, then my kids loved it, Pokemon Go is a phenomenon, and I have a local game shop near me and they have Pokemon Nights and there's like 40 people there playing Pokemon cards. So that's all still going which is pretty sweet. But whoever dropped the link in here, I would love to hear a little bit more about it. This is AI image generation, which is my new favorite thing, making Pokemon. Do I have that right?
MK Yes. Twas I who dropped that link in. And honestly, the reason I thought this was very, very cool is because there's a link in the tweet and it'll be in the show notes below. So they're using stable diffusion and they weren't getting the right results with making AI generated Pokemon with the current data set that they had so they introduced their own Pokemon dataset to help improve the algorithm. And in the tweet, you can actually kind of see as it progresses and it learns how these not-Pokemon morph into Pokemon and more Pokemon-like creations. I thought it was a really cool visual representation of how this kind of AI image generation works. But the wrapper of it is that you can make AI Pokemon with prompts now, which is pretty cool. They were doing Barris Johnson and Vladimir Putin, and you can do a whole bunch of other things as well so I thought it was quite funny.
BP I want to see you throw your favorite ones in the show notes then.
CW So interesting. Granted, I now work at an AI company that generates things, not art but other stuff, and so this kind of stuff interests me already, but the fact that they went in this direction of training a model in the Pokemon direction I think is so fun and it'll be interesting to see if fan art comes out of it or if people end up rallying to say, “This should be in the next games,” or anything like that.
BP They should definitely do a branded collaboration where the most popular AI generated one somehow gets into the next edition. That would be really sweet.
MK That's cool. That's a good idea, Ben.
CF Whoa. Ben the idea man!
BP I work in marketing! Don't look at me! Director of Marketing over here. Just an idea.
CW I have a story about Pokemon spanning generations from this past weekend. I was at church listening to the announcements, was kind of bored, and I was sitting next to this child who was like three maybe, and she was just kind of quiet doing her own thing and I was just like, “Okay, she doesn't know what Pokemon is.” And I was playing Pokemon Go on my phone, not paying attention to what's happening. She looks over and she starts shouting in front of everybody there, “She's playing Pokemon Go! She's battling, she's going to win!” I was like, “Kid, be cool! Please!”
BP Wow, blew up your spot big time.
CW I was just called out in front of everybody and it was very embarrassing.
BP That's hilarious.
CW Pokemon is loved by all.
BP That feels like a scene from The Simpsons or something. I'm sure the two of you will reconcile at the end.
BP All right, everybody. Well, I want to thank the whole home team for showing up. As always, it is a true delight to chat with y'all. This episode will probably air after Stack Overflow's Flow State Conference, but if you didn't get to come to New York City or attend remotely, we will be throwing up some videos of the talks and some breakdowns of the different events we had. So yeah, I really hope you can check those out. I'll put a link in the show notes. I'm going to shout out the winner of a lifeboat badge and then we can hop over to our outros. Sound good, y'all?
CF Sounds perfect!
MK Is the answer just console.log?
CW You have to go to the show notes and find out, Matt!
BP Exactly. I can't tell you. But yeah, we appreciate it when people come on and answer even the simplest questions because in the end you end up helping out a ton of folks. I am Ben Popper. I'm the Director of Content here at Stack Overflow. You can always find me on Twitter @BenPopper. You can always hit us up, firstname.lastname@example.org by email with questions or suggestions. And if you like the show, leave us a rating and a review. It really helps.
CF My name is Ceora Ford. I'm a Developer Advocate at Auth0 by Okta. You can find me on Twitter. My username there is @Ceeoreo_.
CW I'm Cassidy Williams. You can find me @Cassidoo on most things, and I'm CTO at Contenda.
MK And I'm Matt Kiernander. I'm a Developer Advocate here at Stack Overflow. You can find me online @MattKander.
BP Wonderful. All right, y'all. Thanks so much for hanging out, and everybody who listened, we will talk to you soon.
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