How can I deal with boredom at my job without burning bridges?
March 13, 2012 9:56 AM   Subscribe

Old job was boring, so I got a new job. Turns out, the new gig is more of the same. Can I look for a new position with less than a year at the company, or transfer internally?

A few months ago, I landed a programming job at a young, growing company. It was a job I really wanted and I was excited to move on from my previous, boring position at an old, non-growing company. But after a few short months at the new job, I feel like I’m bored out again. I only get assigned tedious, thankless maintenance work (mostly low-impact browser bugs). Worse, I have begun to resent colleagues that are doing more creative work and it is beginning to show in my office interactions.

I fear that the nature of the work itself is what bores me; I hate maintenance programming, and even though i know that part of the job is maintaining other people’s work, it’s basically all I do right now; I clean up other people's mistakes. But I’m not sure how to maneuver into something different. A full career change is something I want to do eventually, but I probably can’t afford to take that on right now. My focus for now is to either change the conditions in my current position, or get a new position, either at the same company or elsewhere.

Some of my colleagues are doing more creative work, but nothing that is strictly relevant to the project I’m tasked with – and I got some strongly-worded feedback from my manager that I shouldn’t work on any extra projects until the main one is finished. So I feel like there isn’t much room within my current assignment to work on something else, lest I appear to be wasting time on extracurricular projects and disobeying my manager’s request.

Which makes me think I should apply for a transfer. The company is serious about retaining talent and there are probably lots of opportunities in other positions working with different technology, on different problems. I generally like the company and the culture, I just don’t like my work. But how do I go about applying for internal positions or requesting a transfer without looking like a quitter? Can I talk to someone from HR about this without appearing to be going behind my boss’s back?

What’s the protocol for telling your boss and/or HR, “I’m bored and I don’t want to do this job anymore, do you have another job for me?” I don’t want to burn any bridges or appear to be backing out of the job I accepted, but this is making me miserable and I know I need to make a change. I’ve been at the company for less than a year but I would rather get the ball rolling now rather than keep dragging my feet at work while potentially damaging my reputation.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (17 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You always give new programmers of only "a few short months" the tedious, thankless work. That way they can't break anything or put a hex on your company. Then, once they prove themselves, they get more interesting work. A few short months is a blink of an eye. Give it more time.
posted by xmutex at 9:58 AM on March 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

After you prove yourself inquire about the possibilities of doing something more interesting, even if in a minor capacity at first. Do you have side projects you can demo?
posted by parallax7d at 10:01 AM on March 13, 2012

Talk to your manager about your desires; frame them positively. Admit that you know you're the new hire so should expect three to six months of pretty basic work, but you should be able to have a conversation about it. Are you learning the framework, the development environment, the use models, etc.? If not, then ask your manager for more responsibility with this in mind. If you're still doing slog work at 6 months to a year and/or your manager is unresponsive, then worry.
posted by introp at 10:03 AM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

You can do whatever you want; you don't need permission from any of us. But any potential boss may pause at your seeming inability to commit to a job for at least a year.
posted by dfriedman at 10:03 AM on March 13, 2012

Go to your boss before you go to HR. You say you got "strongly-worded feedback" from your manager -- was this in response to something you did that you weren't asked to do? If so, tread a little more carefully, but either way, tell your manager that you appreciate what you have been doing and have been using the time to learn and get familiar with the product and the technologies involved, and ask about a plan to transition to doing what you want to do. For instance: "I realize I just started here, and it's been useful learning the codebase while I fix bugs and do maintenance work. I would like to work on X. How can I get from what I'm doing now to doing more design and development?" If you think your manager will respond negatively, maybe wait a while before asking this and focus on your current job, boring as it is, so you build up some credibility before asking for something new.
posted by chickenmagazine at 10:06 AM on March 13, 2012

I think you need to be more realistic. Along the line of xmutex...

Are your colleagues people hired at the same exact time with the same level of previous experience? You're making yourself miserable because you seem to be thinking that you're better than what you are doing. Yet you've only been there a few months. what do you really think you deserve, if your behaviour is showing an attitude of boredom, jealousy and superiority when the company needs a job done and you look down your nose at it?

I have people working for me that have run global operations and they're tasked with doing minor business requirements at the moment. That's the job, and the folks that launch themselves into these tasks that are obviously below their *demonstrated* skill level are those that I'm looking to get out an into better positions better suited for them.

But it doesn't seem like you've demonstrated a willingness to do the work, nor demonstrated that you have the experience and qualifications greater than your colleagues. "Strongly worded feedback" from your manager was a warning shot from them in this regard.

Unless you stop thinking about what you think you deserve and should be given, and instead what you need to start earning that and understanding how to get there, you're not going to be happy or find any satisfaction no matter what you do - as the grass will never be greener in your eyes once you get there.
posted by rich at 10:10 AM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

You get programming assignments that are interesting by proving you deserve them. That's the threshold requirement. The secondary requirement is that there have to be tasks available for you to do, and you need to be the most qualified person available for the task.

If an interesting new thing comes along and someone who has been around longer and has proven themselves more is available, you can guess that you'll probably be passed over.

Also? Being a job-hopper is going to lengthen the amount of time it takes a company to trust you. If you make a habit of leaving companies when they don't give you what you want a few months in, the next one isn't going to want to trust you with major features until you've proven you're not just going to dart off for greener pastures.

And guess what: this isn't just programming. This is every job ever.

Suck it up.
posted by toomuchpete at 10:17 AM on March 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

How long have you actually been there? If it's less than six months, and this is early in your career, then I suggest you put your nose down, do your work as assigned, and don't be the office grump. If it's more than six months, you previously held a senior position... I have different advice.

However, when your boss strongly words feedback to you about focusing on your assigned work, I strongly suggest you do just that. Your credibility and professionalism sound like they might be in question here; the thing to do is not to look for another job anywhere, but to stop suggesting to your higher-ups that you're above the job you have now.
posted by sm1tten at 10:46 AM on March 13, 2012

You deal with it best by doing the current assignment as well as you can, exceeding in whatever ways are possible (excellent quality in excellent time is the best and most measurable) and being a positive element of the team, even toward those who may have something more interesting on their plates.

And you do that for a while. Sometimes you do it for a year, even. Then you should get a review or something like it, and your manager will look over your success with these core assignments, think about how supportive you are toward team morale/culture, note how these things have benefited the business (or their own reputation). If this is all good stuff, you'll usually get the reward of a higher rate of pay, bonus, or an expanded array of responsibilities and expectations. Sometimes you even get more than one of those. If it's not all good stuff, you'll get guidance on what improvement conditions look like for that organization and will probably not get any of the rewards (although some companies may). Occasionally, you'll get lucky and your high-quality, quick-turnaround work will get you noticed sooner and good things can happen more expediently. It's uncommon, though, and definitely not something to expect.


You can start your own company. That's never boring.
posted by batmonkey at 10:49 AM on March 13, 2012

I'm guessing you're either young or new to the job or both. Sorry if that's incorrect, but that's my gut. Stop letting what other people get to do get in the way of doing the best job you can do. It sounds like you could transfer to another company or department but if you don't check that "This is beneath me" attitude at the door, it probably won't improve things.

As my dad always said, the harder you work, the "luckier" you get.
posted by futureisunwritten at 12:03 PM on March 13, 2012

Suck it up.

Meh. Heaping all of the shit-work on the new guy is not acceptable in most of the places I've worked.

Sometimes a job isn't a good fit. If they gave you the expectation that you would be working on interesting projects and not just scut maintenance work during the interview, they should be giving you interesting projects as well as the "eat your spinach" stuff. If this is a probationary period, and they are giving you probationary assignments, they should have told you right off the bat.

"Sucking it up" may mean you're seen as the "go-to" guy for the stuff that you hate doing, and that is not a good place to be.

Also, considering that companies hire contractors to work on projects for a few months at a time, expecting to be the dishwasher at a permanent gig until you get your first yearly review is unrealistic. I personally would not want to work for a company who pigeonholed me in a low-level role for so long, if they hired me as an experienced pro.

Generally, prospective employers will be sympathetic with a humble "It wasn't a good fit, and I decided to find other employment." Being mature and polite about the breakup is something they'll be looking for.

If your other work history is good, and your references are positive and enthusiastic, bowing out gracefully for another gig is an option.
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:07 PM on March 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

@batmonkey Heh, I started my own programming company. It gets boring sometimes (as I still have to do all the "crap work") but yes, definitely an option to get more freedom to do what you want, as long as you can handle the business side of things.

I got stuck in some roles that did not fit me in my last corporate job, and while my attitude could have been better in retrospect, leaving was the best option for me. I tried first to talk to my manager about role re-assignments or a transfer, and once the negotiations broke down (no possibility of fulfilling work that fit my skills at that company), it was time to leave.

Worked for me. YMMV.
posted by bushmango at 12:27 PM on March 13, 2012

Count me as seconding Slap*Happy.

To other respondents: I don't think the poster is primarily concerned with what he "deserves". He's bored. He doesn't enjoy the work. There is absolutely no reason he should continue doing grunt work that he doesn't enjoy. And how does tolerating grunt work "prove" that one can do meaningful, interesting work? The skills required are different, and demonstrating that you can put your nose to the grindstone and complete boring and easy work does not at all demonstrate that you can do creative, original work that requires you to think.

I worked as a web developer full-time for a bit over a decade. It is a bit more forgiving than many industries when it comes to length of time at a given job. Only having worked for a few months at a position or two may not be a problem if the rest of the picture (education, references, interview skills) is sound.

Poster, you haven't said what company, or what type of company you work for, so I don't know the culture or how/whether you should ask for a reassignment. I also don't know what allies you have at the job that might be able to help you.

But here are a few other suggestions: one, try contract work. None of the contracts I've worked have included major elements of grunt work, and many of them had a hire option at the end of the contract. This allows you to spend some months at a company, seeing what it is like to work there, without committing. Two, do your own side project that is more interesting, and let people know about it when you have something they can look at. And three, keep your hook in the water as far as being open to jobs at other companies.
posted by parrot_person at 2:56 PM on March 13, 2012

I would say you have two options. One: put in your two weeks quickly. Don't go into details about it, or try to ask for a transfer (asking for a transfer before a year of employment isn't kosher usually.) Don't burn any bridges. When you get asked about it later, just say it wasn't a good fit. If you do this over-and-over, you'll eventually start to look like a job-hopper, but doing it once in a while is totally understandable. And also, I don't think being a job-hopper is that big of a deal these days, at least in the startup world for developers. Companies come and go pretty quick, there are a lot of crazy opportunities out there, and in general things are pretty fast-paced. I have a friend who swears by leaving her job roughly every 1-2 years, and it seems to work for her.

The other option is to work hard and do well at your assignments, and make sure your manager knows that you're a) working hard and doing well at your assignments, and b) you're super-excited about taking on more responsibility, or being involved in project x. When you get tasks that are more like project x, talk enthusiastically about them, and about your ability to perform them. The reason you would do this would be because you know for a fact there are people doing what you want to do at your company, and you think that if you gain the trust and good reputation of your colleagues and management, you'll be one of the people doing those things.
posted by !Jim at 7:18 PM on March 13, 2012

The skills required are different, and demonstrating that you can put your nose to the grindstone and complete boring and easy work does not at all demonstrate that you can do creative, original work that requires you to think.

Utter nonsense. The skills required to do the grunt-work are a subset of those required to do the more meaningful work. If you can't (or won't) do the grunt work, why should a company trust you to do the important stuff (which will invariably have some boring parts, because that's just how programming works)?

When you get to the point that you have a resume worthy of being tossed into important projects right away, you probably won't have to convince anyone of it. OP sounds like every junior programmer ever: virtually no experience doing big things, but absolutely certain that they are ready for big things . . . and feeling put out that nobody believes them.

If that's not true, lengthy experience is a relevant detail which should have been added, as I think it'd change the tenor of the responses significantly.
posted by toomuchpete at 10:07 PM on March 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I agree with those who say you sound young and inexperienced, and that you have to prove yourself in order to qualify for more interesting work. You won't prove yourself by jumping around from position to position, especially if you're already getting strongly worded feedback from managers telling you to stay on task.

I refer you to this. Scroll down to "Your First Job Will Suck and You Will Not Work for a Cool Company". Read that paragraph. I first read it in 2008, and I think it's even more apt now that I'm getting the cool and interesting work (11 years into full-time employment, and 6 years into this position).
posted by aabbbiee at 7:10 AM on March 14, 2012

When you get to the point that you have a resume worthy of being tossed into important projects right away, you probably won't have to convince anyone of it. OP sounds like every junior programmer ever: virtually no experience doing big things, but absolutely certain that they are ready for big things . . . and feeling put out that nobody believes them.
The thing is, at very small startup companies, you actually do get to do those things, because when there are 3 programmers working somewhere, everyone does everything.
posted by !Jim at 9:43 PM on March 14, 2012

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