I like my job, but I'm not learning. Help me help them help me, please.
September 3, 2014 5:03 PM   Subscribe

What role should is the employer supposed to play in my career development? What role am I supposed to play?

I've reached a point in my job where I'm not really learning things from my everyday tasks. My boss has indicated that he was starting to realize the same thing, and is interested in finding a way to help develop my career outside of my daily tasks rather than risk me leaving the company, which both he and I realize is a very real possibility at this point. He's been trying to come up with some ideas, and I'd like to present him with my own. The only problem with that is that I'm pretty unclear what is a fair expectation and what I can even ask for.

About me:
* Web developer, mostly dealing in architecture, databases, and dev ops, although I do the full stack.
* My employer has exactly zero things in place right now. I'm not the first to have this issue, and many have left around the 2 year point because of this exact issue. I am, however, the first to complain before quitting.
* This is my first job out of college (BS in CS), and I've been there for nearly two years.
* I consider my boss the closest thing I have to a mentor. I've mentioned this to him, and he seemed not to keen on it (I suck at reading people, so all I have is seemed). I've come to realize that looking to him as a mentor is a bit unfair to him because of the supervisor relationship, however no one else I work with is really in a position to fill the mentor role for me.
* I have no idea what I want my future career path to be. I can go a lot of ways forward from full stack developer, and I'm having trouble determining which I'd like to focus on the most. I could really use some help narrowing this down as well.
* I'm in a small town in the midwest. There isn't really a tech community to lean on around here.

What I've come up with so far:
* Grad school (funding or flex time for classes) - I was shot down for this once before, and while we've just switched upper management I don't think they'll give in to this one.
* Presenting at/attending conferences - In the past they haven't been willing to do this for the engineers, but I think I might be able to convince them of this one if I can prove the benefits. I'm not sure how productive conferences typically are for attendees, however. I'm also not sure I want to offload all of my career development onto a once a year event.
* "Research" projects - A few hours per sprint on projects that deal with our products, but may or may not result in a deliverable (i.e. is there a better way/technology/solution for X, where X might not be something mission critical at the moment and the answer might be no).
* Regular feedback - I think I have a lot to gain from identification of my flaws and successes. Right now I currently only get feedback right when something happens, which also typically makes the feedback negative. I'm not sure if this should be a weekly, monthly, or yearly occurrence, or if this is even valuable for many people. Usually when I hear about one-on-one meetings it's people complaining about them.

My questions for you:
* What is a reasonable expectation for career development from your employer? Alternatively, what does your employer do for you that mine could possibly do for me?
* What should I be doing in regards to this that I'm not? I realize there are multiple things outside of work (e.g. MOOCs, personal projects), and while I appreciate the advice there I'm looking for things I should be doing to help my employer help me.
posted by Krop Tor to Work & Money (11 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I'm surprised about grad school, most businesses have a Tuition Aid Program that provides $5650 per year towards tuition and books.

I'm also surprised about conferences and seminars.

If they keep shooting down your ideas, then it's time to bounce. Because they've tried nothing and they're all out of ideas.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:10 PM on September 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: (Why $5650? I've never seen that much! Jealous.)

Can you ask for a budget?

Are there classes you could take that might have an immediate payoff for your employer? Maybe a certification? PMP?
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 5:22 PM on September 3, 2014

Why $5650? I've never seen that much!

That was 20 years ago! There was a huge tax break for employers who offered TAP, but it capped at $5650.

I exploited it in grad school. I paid first payment in December. So that was taken care of. Then I paid $5650 again for the next term in the following year. Then I changed jobs and technically went to a different company, and was eligible for another $5650 from the new holding company! Then I graduated. No debt!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:31 PM on September 3, 2014

I know nothing about web development but I do know employers want to know how X is good for the company, not just you. Yeah your company could be doing more but you also have a responsibility to figure out what your next step is. It's not like school where there's a path you journey from A to B.
posted by Aranquis at 5:37 PM on September 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah really what you ask for is a professional development budget. This money is earmarked for you annually. You apply to spend it down, ie if you want to take a class or go to a conference or buy books or training.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:40 PM on September 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

I am actually at a work type meeting that will start in a few minutes, so I cannot link to a question that I previously posted, so I will put this in different words,

One of the things that worked well for me and that the supervisors liked and approved of were "lunch and learn" programs. Basically, are there skills in other departments that you want to learn? Or skills that other departments want to learn that would benefit the final product or service?

So for our workplace, we were medical writers new to the field. An editor changed the document, but we sometimes didn't know why. So we ended up having the editor teaching some additional skills at lunch once a week. It did not cost much (a few hours from the editor, sometimes lunch was thrown in). But it went well supervisors ran more and covered other topics.

Also, I don't know how conferences in your field work, but in the sciences, you do research, write a abstract, and present it as a poster or talk, you also listen to talks, if it is the same in your field, what if you attend and present a poster? Your name and often employers name goes on the poster, so they might get something out of it,
posted by Wolfster at 6:03 PM on September 3, 2014

You can be compensated in many ways - professional development is one of those forms of compensation. Your employer is not obligated to provide any professional development opportunities. Increasingly employers are trading compensation in the form of professional development for compensation in the form of cash, which is ultimately what the vast majority of employees want. First off, you should consider if that's what your employer is doing - it'll improve your perspective.

After that, you should make a case to your employer of what the employer is getting back from the professional development. If your only answer is "I won't quit", that's at least something, but it's not a particularly compelling business case. From your employer's perspective, professional development is often disadvantageous to them. If you can do your job adequately now, post-professional-development, you will be overqualified for your job, which will require them to pay you more (for the same work) to keep your compensation competitive on the market. On the other hand, if there's something in your job that you can't do now, or something new you could do with the development you're looking at, that presents something with a return to your employer.
posted by saeculorum at 6:04 PM on September 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

It is not your employer's responsibility to develop your professional skills.

As a result, the reasonable expectation for career development from your employer is only what has explicitly been written into your employment agreement.

The corollary of this is that you should not expect that your employer will go along with plans that enhance your professional development at the expense of getting work done. Conferences, college courses, skunkworks projects, etc -- all of those things default to be good for you and neutral-at-best for your employer.

So you can do two things: change that equation or do your own professional development in your free time.

Changing the equation means making that development valuable to them for something other than keeping you. This is easier with side projects if you can make it sound like there's a reasonable chance of success (where "success" is however your employer defines it). Conferences can be good, too, once the slate of talks is released if they have some geared towards problems your company is struggling with or could benefit from solving more efficiently.

The more opportunities you have for advancement, the more likely developing your skills will be valuable to them on their own.

There's also this: two years out of college, odds are you are still very, very junior at a HUGE variety of things. Especially since "architecture, databases, and dev ops" are each things that one can spend two years working exclusively in and still have a lot to learn. Odds are, if you're like most folks with two years of work experience, there are things about your company's stack that you could know more thoroughly. If you can start with one of those things, then use that newfound knowledge to benefit your employer, you'll have a stronger case when you want something else that looks like it's good mostly just for you.

All that to say: do not sit by and wait for your employer to develop you. You are the only person responsible for that and nobody else will do as good of a job.

If you can't gain any ground where you are, find a big, talented company and go become the most junior engineer there. Changing jobs is not going to hurt you. Being around people who are good and have been around a while is one of the best things you can do.
posted by toomuchpete at 7:03 PM on September 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

You take charge of your development path. Don't wait for a company to do it for you - they won't. If you've learned all you can learn and there's nothing else in sight, then bounce.

Seriously. Be a little risk-taking and do it. You could easily waste years here and you're too young for that.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 9:27 PM on September 3, 2014

Best answer: Krop Tor: "What is a reasonable expectation for career development from your employer?

In 1950, plenty. In 2014, none. Few firms think that far ahead. Imagine this scenario: your boss has been promoted to a different part of the organization, and can no longer do his old job. Who on your team would your boss's boss be most likely pick to fill that vacancy? No clue, you say? They likely don't either. For that, your manager would have to do something like write annual reviews or "Ready Now/Ready Next".

Alternatively, what does your employer do for you that mine could possibly do for me?

Conferences are the big, obvious one. If you're not given a budget, you could consider presenting, as presenters are typically given free tickets. At least personally, I don't consider what I do to be terribly innovative, so I feel that any conference that would have me present is probably not worth attending =)

What should I be doing in regards to this that I'm not? I realize there are multiple things outside of work (e.g. MOOCs, personal projects), and while I appreciate the advice there I'm looking for things I should be doing to help my employer help me."

Important question time: how fast is your company growing? If the answer is 'we're not growing,' then you have an obvious explanation for why they haven't done the basics of career development. If the answer is 'we're doubling every year' then you need to jump on the management wagon now.

Likely, you live in the middle. The company is growing slowly, but small and young enough that nobody in the short management chain is thinking of retiring. You really need to sort out what your career paths might be, and at this point in your fledgling career,

Finally, instead of mentoring or feedback, you should ask your manager for business relevant goals. You need to not only do what your told, but tie it back to helping the company. A good one for line staff web engineers is 'reduce costs.' Trimming the server budget is always beneficial, and as a full stack engineer 'mostly dealing in architecture, databases, and dev ops,' you should have a few ideas. Alternatively, if you're so inclined, 'grow revenue' is another, harder option.

Either way, these kind of goals are the fodder for bullet points on your resume that hiring managers actually want to read. Which is probably going to be an important bit in your career path, if your manager doesn't display any ambition (or ability) to move up the ranks.
posted by pwnguin at 9:33 PM on September 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There's a great opportunity for you here, if you want it and are up to the challenge.

You said: "I'm not the first to have this issue, and many have left around the 2 year point because of this exact issue. I am, however, the first to complain before quitting."

If you can help your boss figure out how to prevent this attrition, you might actually save his company and give yourself a great career boost in the process.

Pretty much all the things you listed focused on you.

Instead, draw up a list of ideas that could help your boss/the company, and that you feel you could contribute to in a meaningful way, and that you would actually want to do. Then take your list to your boss.

If you play your cards right, you could actually create a dream job without needing to go look for it anywhere else.

But if your boss isn't interested in solving the problem, in other words - keeping you on board in a way that's good for both of you, start looking for a job elsewhere.
posted by jshare at 11:52 PM on September 3, 2014

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