How can I apply for a different position internally?
April 1, 2014 6:04 AM   Subscribe

I work in web development at my day job. Traditionally, I have done a combination of back-end and front-end work, leaning more toward front-end work, but I have a CS/math background, so I have gotten quite good at JavaScript and building interactive clients. Now I feel like I've hit a wall where I need to move down the stack in order to be happy at work.

I like the coding part of my job, generally, but I find that my current position at a small company requires me to do too many tasks that, in my previous jobs, were always done by someone with a design background – wireframing, arguing about color palettes, button placements, answering vague questions about what "the user" would prefer, researching patterns that other products use, etc. Frankly, I hate this stuff! And I'm not good at it. I'm a programmer, dammit, I don't know what color the button should be.

I would say on most projects I spend about 60% of my time doing design work, 40% of my time actually writing code, so I feel that this position is not playing to my strengths. Furthermore, the company I work for doesn't value design and front-end work quite as much as the back-end services, just because of the nature of the product. For better or worse, the UI is regarded as a necessary evil, rather than central to the product. I've also reached a point in my career where all the hard & interesting problems are closer to the hardware, and I'd like to be moving in that direction.

Part of the problem is the smallness of the company. A lot of people are "generalists". We don't have any full-time designated designers. There are a few other front-end developers, but they all either have a design background or want to be doing design work. I'm the odd man out.

To be clear: I really like coding in JavaScript. Interactive clients, SPAs, etc. are a lot of fun to build. I'm actually quite good at that part. I'd be overjoyed to do the programming in the client and the back-end, I just want to get out of the design portion of my responsibilities. But there doesn't seem to be a way to do this – JavaScript engineers at this company are also designers, and those roles are tightly coupled. It's a bit maddening.

I feel like I'm burnt out on this type of work, but I like the company and my coworkers – it's the best job I've ever had, people-wise – and I would like to stay on if possible. I have talked to management about moving more into the back-end services before, and even successfully transitioned to doing that work for a few weeks, before I was pulled into another project where I was the front-end guy again. Sigh.

Part of this is, I think, that it's a small company and there aren't that many people, and there's really nothing for the company to gain by letting employees move around according to their interests. Of course, there are deadlines to meet, and work to be done. I'm the "senior" JavaScript engineer, so I think management is hesitant to "lose" me from this position. But if I am still doing 60% design work in a few months, I'm seriously going to consider taking another job where I can advance my skills in the direction I want to go. How can I say that in a friendly way?

(Worth noting: I have a long-standing problem of not being assertive enough at work.)
posted by deathpanels to Work & Money (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
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posted by oceanjesse at 6:20 AM on April 1, 2014

I don't think you can move into back-end stuff while working at this company. You're the Javascript/Design Guy for them. It's possible that they kind of think less of you because you *do* do the design work, regardless of your actual skills. I think it's time to look for a new job at a place where front-end programming and front-end design are not so tightly coupled, because things are very unlikely to change.

One exception: if the company is growing, can you advocate for hiring a dedicated design person? Can you convince the company to hire a new front-end person and let you shift more to back-end? If you're not hiring new people, though, if you stop doing design work, someone else will have to start doing it, and no one wants to because they don't value that work.
posted by mskyle at 7:09 AM on April 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Ah, there's the thing. The company is growing and the idea of hiring a dedicated designer has been bounced around. But the other Front-End Guys and some people in management are opposed to having the design work done separately from the development work. So I don't know how it will shake out, and probably won't for a couple of months.
posted by deathpanels at 7:28 AM on April 1, 2014

Most of the stuff you talk about hating is still going to be a big part of your job if you remain a front end developer. You might be able to get in a situation where someone else makes more of the decisions, but then you'll be spending time communicating and understanding the spec and revisions.
posted by Good Brain at 9:12 AM on April 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm assuming by "design" you mean graphic design and not code design, right?

If so, this is not standard at *all* anymore. Javascript programmers are engineers and designers are designers. If they had a programmer who did only html/css there *might* be some crossover, but what you're talking about is a vision of a frontend engineer who is only half a "real programmer," and that idea went totally out of fashion around 2008 at the latest. Lately, with Javascript moving onto the server side as well, its become even more out-of-date.

I'm sorry I don't know exactly where to point you, but you might want to cite some examples of how most tech companies are doing things these days, because it is most definitely not the "designer/programmer hybrid" way.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:22 AM on April 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think you're going to have to put your managers to a decision. Just say that you enjoy working there, but in order for your career to grow at this point, you need to be doing more backend work, and thus, they need to find someone to handle more of the front end stuff you're doing now. They'll have to decide whether it's more valuable to keep your general capableness and institutional knowledge while having to fill in the role you're leaving or if it's more valuable to let you go and just replace you to avoid having to shuffle other resources.

It is possible that they'll choose the latter, but at least you'll know what you have to do, and there's plenty of backend work out there, including Node work. There's also demand for full stack engineers that can handle both the front end coding as well as back end service development, which might be a good transitional step for you.
posted by ignignokt at 8:03 PM on April 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Have you guys adopted a front-end css framework like Bootstrap? In general a lot of the design decisions are already made in the frameworks, and you don't have to deviate (but can if you want to). It can make your life a lot easier to standardize as much as possible.
posted by blue_beetle at 5:51 AM on April 2, 2014

I should add to my earlier comment: If you develop software that other people are going to interact with, then a significant part of your job is going to be communicating with other people and all that that entails, rather than just writing code.

If you end up doing more back-end work, then you'll end up having to talk to front end developers, and other back-end developers, someone who understands the data and the business processes that need to be accommodated.

None of which is to say that you couldn't or shouldn't find a situation that better suits you, and really, even if you can only get up to 60% coding, that's still 50% more than you get to do now, which I'd think would feel significantly different.
posted by Good Brain at 4:49 PM on April 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

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