First world problem: my well paying job is boring. Should I keep it?
October 22, 2013 9:49 AM   Subscribe

My job is fun... when there's work to do. Which is never. Is this normal? Is this a reason to leave? Should I leave?

I work as a software engineer at a smallish (~150 people), well-established PaaS company. I'm fresh out of college, and have been there for about 4 months. During those few months I've had a lot of fun, but I'm beginning to notice one major problem - I'm bored. Not because the work itself is boring, but because there isn't really much for me to do. After 2 weeks of not a single assignment, I'm beginning to think I should start looking for a less boring job. So I guess I have two questions: (1) Is having nothing to do a reasonable reason to look for a new job, or is it something I'll find everywhere? I see a lot of people who claim that white collar work is just reading reddit all day, so I guess it's possible I'm just in for more of the same somewhere else. (2) If being bored is reason to leave, should I? I've made up a list of pros and cons, but I can't really make sense of them since this is my first "real" job.

Pros:
1. When I am working, my job is fun and challenging. There are boring projects, but they're not very common.
2. I'm pretty well trusted, so I have freedom to do just about whatever I want. After showing an interest I've already been permitted to re-write two of our smaller products and optimize several others in my large swaths of spare work-time. As long as I can back my decisions up, I can do these in whatever language or using whatever software I'd like, so there are tons of opportunities to learn new things and be exposed to new things.
3. I have a pretty awesome team. I have some social anxiety issues, so having a team I can actually talk to and mostly feel comfortable around is great.
4. Promotion opportunities are great. As in, I've already been promoted once. C-level executives have taken a pretty big interest in me and have complemented me on my work, so I think it's pretty likely that promotions will continue.
5. My boss knows a ton and I have a lot to learn from him.

Cons:
1. My boss is awesome (see 5), but I get the feeling that he doesn't like his job much. This means he's not always in to teaching me things or really even being my boss.
2. I've been given a lot of responsibility that I'm not really ready for. Telling me "you can do it" is about all of the support I get when I express my concerns.
3. I live in an at-will state, and I and many of my co-workers have noticed that the company seems to fire people at random for strange things, like taking too many sick days when they've only taken 3 the whole year. While I don't think my job is at risk at the foreseeable future, I don't like the idea that one day I might need to worry about every little thing I do.
4. I won't have vacation days to interview with until at least January, and even then I need 2 weeks notice to use a day.
5. I suck at interviews. I love to learn things, and I'm a hard worker, but in an interview that doesn't make up for the fact that I'm actually not that great at programming. Paired with the last point, I'm just not sure it's worth the stress.
6. I've only been there for a few months. I know that job switching is becoming more normal, but that's a bit extreme, right?
posted by lup badik to Work & Money (26 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Have you told your boss "I don't have enough to do"?
posted by katrielalex at 9:54 AM on October 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


A few months is, indeed, extreme. I'd say aim to stay there for a year, learning everything you can. Either you'll get promoted to a job with more to do (WIN), or you will have a year of not-too-stressful learning under your belt - and some vacation days - when you go to interview.
posted by ldthomps at 9:57 AM on October 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


Learn what you can. Look for things you can do, if possible.

Look into continuing education and certs you can do during company time.

Whatever you do, don't quit until you have another position.
posted by PlutoniumX at 9:59 AM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you like your pay, you may have the perfect gig. What kinds of learning opportunities could you have with all of that free time? New language? Shadowing someone with the job higher up than yours? Asking for more responsibility with something? Help out another department on a project? Ask your boss for some guidence, and have an idea, "Dude, I seem to be waiting around for a project and I'd like to be productive with my time, the folks in the Gazingus Pin department are desperate for some help, how about I go over there for a while. I might learn something we can apply to our stuff." Or "I'm thinking of taking on Ruby on Rails, what are your thoughts?"

I'd stay put, but I'm pretty lazy.

If you do decide to look, interview at lunch or very early in the morning or late in the evening. I found that it's mostly phone interviews (which I did in my car or random unused conference rooms.) If you do get an in person interview, take a half day off (at your expense.)

But see if you can make it work where you are now. Seems kind of promising.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:59 AM on October 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


I quit a job after 9 months because I was bored, this was 9 years ago, never really looked back, it's easy to tell future employers that you are looking more for a challenge.

I do surf the internet 90% of the last 9 years, so if you're smart this may keep on happening.
posted by sandmanwv at 10:00 AM on October 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Not thread-sitting but yes, I have told my boss that I have nothing to do. He keeps telling me he'll find something, but typically doesn't. He has also told me to waste more time reading reddit or HN through the day too.
posted by lup badik at 10:08 AM on October 22, 2013


I'm pretty well trusted, so I have freedom to do just about whatever I want.

Find more that you want to do. Pick projects that will require you to learn things that you don't know and want to learn. Use these projects to build your portfolio so that when you want to leave or get fired randomly you are better off.
posted by procrastination at 10:12 AM on October 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


4 months is really not a long time. Your boss (and others) might have some plans and large projects lined up for you that you don't know about yet. You could go from bored to overloaded very quickly.

I'm not sure if it works this way in software, but maybe some times of the year are busier than others, and this is a slump, but you'll be crazy-busy in the spring.

I'd give it a year. In the meantime, use your paid free time wisely, as others have noted.
posted by Fig at 10:13 AM on October 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


He has also told me to waste more time reading reddit or HN through the day too.

I hang out here, but I've never been caught. If anyone asks, it's a message board for technology. I've never been called out on it!

Then now is the time to schedule a training class. Do one with remote learning, and you can do it and your homework at your desk. I started taking PMP courses through our local college. My job paid for them.

MIT has some free courses. Do them! It's productive and fun!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:13 AM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is not an uncommon experience, IMO. I'd enjoy it while you can; eventually someone will probably find something for you to do and you'll long for the days when you could just do whatever the hell you wanted and get paid for it.

Your question should really be, "I have a ton of free time and an Internet connection -- what should I do?" There are probably old AskMes on that topic, I'll bet.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:23 AM on October 22, 2013


Not because the work itself is boring, but because there isn't really much for me to do.

Your company sounds overstaffed, so I think you may be mistaken in your conclusion that your job is not foreseeably at risk. At some point, someone will figure out that the ration of people to work is too large, and at least one person doesn't have enough to do. So yes, "having nothing to do" is a reasonable reason to look for a new job because it is better to look for a new job on your own terms.
posted by Tanizaki at 10:27 AM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't think it's unusual to be disappointed in a boring job, and I don't disagree that your job sounds boring, but -

OMG YOU ARE GETTING PAID FOR YOUR FREE TIME

People are lucky to have well-paid jobs with understanding bosses and conditions that don't suck, to be honest. I would not pass that up unless I had better job waiting.

If your boss is happy with you hanging out on Reddit, then surely your boss would be happy with you doing something to develop personally, such as a project, taking an online course, learning a language, or whatever. You could turn all this extra time into an advantage. Especially if you do something related to developing your professional skills.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 10:27 AM on October 22, 2013 [11 favorites]


My first job was like this, too, and I was too naive to see it for what it was: a bad job. I was there 2.5 years right out of college, spent all day goofing off on the web, didn't learn much of anything, and to this day wish I had gotten out after the first six months.

You're young. Take some risks. Interview for programming jobs that are out of your reach and then figure out what you need to learn to get the job. Or if you're the adventurous type, take a job somewhere you've always wanted to go and move. But don't just sit there and stagnate.
posted by TazmanianDevilWorshipper at 10:31 AM on October 22, 2013


There are some gigs that are inherently feast-and-famine. They tend to be the more interesting gigs, because it's not just maintaining the cogs in some business. It's either addressing problems or supporting new initiatives.

So I think there might be a bit of a trade-off between enjoying your work and always being busy that you'll want to consider.
posted by politikitty at 10:36 AM on October 22, 2013


I have told my boss that I have nothing to do. He keeps telling me he'll find something, but typically doesn't.

Asking your boss for more to do adds something to his to-do list, not yours. Find something to do and tell him you're going to do it.

Take a writing class, or just start writing in your copious downtime. It will make you a better communicator, which can only help you.

Look around your office and find something that needs to be done, even if it's not in your official wheelhouse. If someone else should be doing it, ask that person if you can help.

I've been given a lot of responsibility that I'm not really ready for.

Figure out how to be ready for it. Take classes -- even just general business classes at your local community college. Find books that will help and ask if the company will buy them for you. Hell, start a professional library at your office if there isn't one already.

I suck at interviews.

See above re classes at local community college. This is a thing that you can learn how to do.
posted by Etrigan at 10:37 AM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Who assigns you your work? A lot of the things you wrote above suggest to me that you are in a good place to come up with and find support for your own small project or aspect of a major project. They trust you, they give you freedom, and allow you responsibility. These are all key criteria to developing your own deliverables.
posted by whatzit at 10:41 AM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Your boss can't find work for you to do. I'd recommend what Etrigan said -- find work to do, take classes, etc -- but also check in with him on a weekly basis to share the work that you found to do with your free time (not the Reddit stuff.) That way, you're self-managing (good), keeping him in the loop (good) and when something does come up, you'll be top of mind for him to think "hey, I bet they'd be able to take this on!"
posted by davejay at 10:41 AM on October 22, 2013


2. I've been given a lot of responsibility that I'm not really ready for. Telling me "you can do it" is about all of the support I get when I express my concerns.

This is a thing that, for me, changed with time. Somewhere in my mid-twenties I figured out that I'm pretty smart and I pretty consistently underestimate my own ability. Once you've jumped into a few project where you're in over your head, messed up a bunch and eventually figure it out, you might understand why they're telling you "you can do it".

It's reasonably common for my boss to ask me, "Is this something you know how to do." And for me to respond, "No idea but I'll figure it out."

Develop some tangentially job related skills (the writing suggestion is a great one) and give it time and this will likely be something you can strike from your "cons" column and add to the "pros". Most smart people can do just about anything they put their minds to. They usually don't because they don't think they can.

Along those same lines, are you getting bored because you're finishing projects with lots of time to spare or is it that when you get assigned a project you're still bumping up against a deadline? If it's the former, get the project done in a way that you're happy with and set that aside. Then take some time to do it differently, even if you know it won't work. Break things and figure out how to fix them. See if you can figure out an even better way to approach the problem. You have your backup in your back pocket and you can always just hand that in and then keep working on the problem anyways. Even if it's something you just throw away when you're done it will be stuff that you'll use later. Though I know nothing about software engineering so I might be way off-base here. Even then, as long as you're not bumping into deadlines, there is no reason why you should be afraid of being in over your head. You have enough time to ask for help if you need it and/or learn what you need to complete the project.
posted by VTX at 10:56 AM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have a similar job, where sometimes there's nothing to do, but I have to be there in case something shows up - because if it does, it has to be done NOW.

So, I signed up for an online Computer Science course through a local community college, and I got permission to work on it from my boss during the dead times.
posted by spinifex23 at 11:03 AM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


3. I live in an at-will state, and I and many of my co-workers have noticed that the company seems to fire people at random for strange things, like taking too many sick days when they've only taken 3 the whole year. While I don't think my job is at risk at the foreseeable future, I don't like the idea that one day I might need to worry about every little thing I do.


Your number three item is the one that stuck out hardest to me.

If I were in your shoes, I'd spend a good portion of that free time looking for a new job with a less flaky company.
posted by BlueHorse at 1:08 PM on October 22, 2013


Find something to do. Talk to Help Desk support or end users and find their pain points. There are lots and lots of problems to solve in a company that size.
posted by cnc at 1:50 PM on October 22, 2013


I'm a hard worker, but in an interview that doesn't make up for the fact that I'm actually not that great at programming.

Work on that last part, should keep you pretty busy and also probably make you less of a sacrificial lamb the next time your company decides to "trim the fat" in its apparently arbitrary way.
posted by like_a_friend at 2:14 PM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I would try to find a volunteer opportunity (probably online) where you could build up marketable skills while doing good.

Find an organization with an interesting and relevant Web Development/Software Development problem and solve it. I'd try to pick something where it was relatively closely related to what your main area of work is, but just enough outside that it provided a new resume line and concrete skill.

I don't have a great idea about what those would be, but if you put more information about what skills you have and what areas you might want to develop, more technically minded voices could help. Also maybe relevant, what areas you personally might want to volunteer in (though I'd cast a wide net here, definitely outside of the tech field).

Finally, I would be a little cautious about being too aggressive about finding new stuff to do. Do a thorough job, and volunteer when offered an opportunity, but don't disrupt existing structure or other people's jobs and workflow without a clear understanding.
posted by mercredi at 2:23 PM on October 22, 2013


Take courses online. Find open source projects to work on; that will really help strengthen your skills. Maybe develop an iPhone or Android app. Most jobs aren't like this at all, so make the most of the opportunity to get paid while educating yourself.
posted by theora55 at 2:53 PM on October 22, 2013


It's a little hard to tell based on your description whether this is a changeable situation. It could be a dead end, for the reasons others have suggested, or you might be able to poke at it some more. Software either "works or it doesn't," but the career side involves a lot of soft skills that can be slow/subtle to develop.

As a concrete suggestion: have lunch with people on different teams, learn about what they work on, what issues they have, what unfilled gaps they might have. Just because someone isn't your boss officially doesn't mean they can't mentor you informally. Since you've been told you can propose projects, figure something out and do it. Just keep your boss informed so he doesn't feel you're going over his head. Whatever you do, find ways to measure its value.
posted by rhymes with carrots at 3:24 PM on October 22, 2013


If you were older, I'd say great! Coast all you want. Life is stressful enough with outside responsibilities.

But you are very very junior, and so the last thing you want is for your energy and ambition go to rot. You are at the time in your career where you need to gain experience and confidence. So learn all you can, seek out the people at your company who are actually doing the real work and befriend them. Be a sponge and then haul ass out of there.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:16 AM on October 23, 2013


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