A grasshopper sitting on a rock

The Myth of Job Hopping

In Programming, Solving the World's Problems, Technology, Uncategorized by Pete


On May 10 (2018), Josh Pigford kicked off some Twitter drama with a Tweet that he and a lot of people found pretty uncontroversial:

Unfortunately for Josh, it was not uncontroversial.

Instead, it drew a lot of backlash. Josh got defensive, dug in, and attempted to “Tweet through it.” He tried all the normal derailing techniques: tone policing, claims that he was taken out of context, and passive aggressive retweets from his supporters.

The wave of assailants (or pro bono educators, depending on your perspective) didn’t subside, so he took his ball and went home.

He reemerged today with a Medium post attempting to clarify, explain, and (to one degree or another) apologize.

What’s the Big Deal?

A not-insubstantial group of people didn’t understand the problem. Obviously job hopping is bad; why were people being so sensitive? Must be a slow day on Twitter and trolls were looking for a mob to join, right?

Not so fast.

There are actually a lot of problems with the tweet, despite how it mirrors conventional wisdom. Here are just a few:

  1. Pure Hypocrisy — Look at the “Previously” section on his site. Ten jobs in nine years for a guy who’s getting preachy about 18-month stints? What?
  2. Bad Advice to Employees — People are already paranoid about short tenure on their resume. Would a tweet like this encourage people to stay in bad/harmful jobs? (Spoiler: Yep.)
  3. Exacerbating Oppression — Those group most harmed by a rule like this are the already underrepresented. People who have to search high and low for a place that will let them do their job without abuse or harassment.

To Josh’s credit, his blog post contained a pretty good apology around that last point. But given how dismissive he generally was, most of that credit should go to Marco Rogers for an impossible-to-dismiss twitter thread.

A lot of people seem pretty moved by the apology. I think he missed the point.

The Actual Problem

The way Josh’s attitude works to further oppress victims of systemic oppression is by far the worst thing about it. Second place isn’t close. In this case, though, it’s a symptom of the underlying problem. That problem is a huge dose of Fundamental Attribution Error.

Fundamental Attribution Error is a cognitive bias. It leads someone to assume that another person’s actions are the result of inherent traits rather than the situation the person found themselves in. Josh, and many of his supporters on Twitter, keep calling back to the obvious problem of job hoppers. Even in this apology post, he doubles down:

If you want to hop from job to job gaining different experiences, potentially increased pay and taking different chances on what those companies are doing…by all means do that.

But that’s just not the type of team we’re trying to build a company around.

The thing is, though, that nobody hops from job to job for fun. It’s not fun. It’s the opposite of fun. What people actually do is try their damnedest to find a good place to work.

In my experience, if you treat people right, they’ll stay at your company indefinitely. Give people respect, support, good compensation, growth opportunities, work they like, and an environment in which they feel valued and included. They won’t leave. Even if they’re offered more money, they’ll stick around because there’s no guarantee they’ll get all those things at the next place. This isn’t loyalty, it’s good decision making.1

The only2 reason people leave is failure to provide one of the above things. That’s it. If someone recently left your team, it was something on that list. It wasn’t that they’re a “job hopper”, it’s that your job didn’t measure up.

Corporate Victimhood

The apology blog post spends a plurality of its words justifying the tactic. Josh points out that turnover is “extremely expensive”. The implication, here, is that turnover is something that employees do to employers. Employers (the ones with the money, btw) are the victims.

Of course, he also points out that he isn’t “optimizing for career advancement”. Isn’t that interesting? He wants people to put their careers on hold to build a company for him. What happens to the people who do that if his startup takes off? Well, if they’re still around they might get some crumbs off of the fat slice of cake Josh walks away with. He took all the risk, after all, right?

If they’re not still around, they likely get nothing, and they cost themselves substantial lifetime earnings in the process.

This whole thing is premised on a lie: that employers don’t control their retention numbers, except through hiring people who won’t leave.

If, instead, you start from a more realistic premise — that attrition is a direct result of the way the business is run3 — this focus on past history becomes quaint at best and evil at worst.

Josh seems like a nice enough guy, but this is a business practice used by people who actually want to manipulate and take advantage of their employees.

The Lesson He Should Have Learned

Despite the blog post being relatively weak, the areas he identified for improvement are actually quite good. But, in light of the foregoing, he missed a big one: Take Responsibility.

Hire the best people you can find and then work your ass off to make sure they stay. If the departure of a single person would be catastrophic, focus on knowing what everyone values and making sure they have it in spades. If someone does leave, spend time reflecting on what it was about your business or management that drove them away. If possible, ask them.

Maybe you’ll decide that it was unavoidable. People change. Businesses change. Maybe you’ll be able to identify an area to grow.

But let’s dispense with the myth of the “job hopper”. They exist mostly in the minds of bad managers who are looking for excuses for their attrition rate.

  1. And this isn’t an insult. Employment is a business transaction. Unless you own a substantial stake in the company, you’re exchanging your work for compensation and that’s it. They aren’t loyal to you and you don’t need to be loyal to them. 

  2. There’s also unavoidable things, like having to move to follow a spouse’s career, etc. 

  3. Note: While high attrition does indicate a poorly run business, low attrition does not necessarily indicate a good place to work. They might just be paying 50% above market.