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How long should you stay at a tech job?

Put in too many years and you’ll risk looking stagnant in this fast-moving field.

How long should you stay at a tech job?

The tech world moves quickly. Whether you’re working at a software startup or a more established firm, staying on the cutting edge can be a challenge.

But does this mean you should be burning through employers as you race to keep up with innovation?

Not necessarily, experts say.

The idea is to stay long enough to grow your skills and learn from your experience before moving on.

So when should you start looking

The ideal length of time with one employer depends on many factors, says Greg Kuchcik, human resources director at San Diego-based marketing technology company Zeeto. Company size, job title and career aspirations can all play a role.

“If I had to throw a number out, I'd say that three years is an ideal time period,” says Kuchcik. “Any shorter and you may come off as too flighty; any longer and you may come off as too stagnant, especially since the IT/tech industry is moving lightning-fast.”

Angela Copeland, a career coach with a tech background in Memphis, Tennessee, agrees that three years is a good length of time to aim for at your job, possibly extending to five years if you can move up in the company. With startups acquiring other companies or getting bought out, that gives you enough time to learn new things, but not get too attached.

Whether you want to be an individual contributor or manager could also factor into the decision. The three-year recommendation doesn’t necessarily mean you should leave your current company or even your current position after three years, Kuchcik says. It’s simply a good time to consider whether there’s room to grow in your current position, or whether you should move on to find more opportunity elsewhere.

Bottom line: “You always want your career to be inching forward,” he says.

Leave for the right reasons

Employers in every industry, but particularly in tech, pay attention to how long you stay at companies, says Harold Mann, president of Mann Consulting in San Francisco.

But there’s a formula many employers use to calculate worthiness in a candidate, he says.

“Spending a long time at a great company is great,” he says. “A short time at a bad company is fine.”

The formula continues:  A short time at a great company or a long time at a bad company can serve as red flags to employers about a candidate’s judgment or experience.

“While it's very trendy for people to bounce around these days, we don't like seeing lots of jobs,” he says. But if they are leaving for the right reasons, they can make that clear in their resume or interview.