Please help me get more interesting work
January 17, 2022 7:56 PM   Subscribe

I recently got promoted. While I enjoy many aspects of my job, like my colleagues, the pay, and the benefits, I have not found it professionally satisfying for the most part, pre- or post-promotion. I wonder (1) how I can better advocate for myself and (2) whether I should reorient career-wise. More inside.

My current organization does work that is broadly in line with my quantitative social science background, but despite my strong track record and (fruitful) efforts to further my technical skills, I have mostly been assigned to low-level data monkey projects (pre-promotion) or high-level project management-type projects (post-promotion). I have reframed these projects, especially the latter type, as opportunities to grow and have set up systems to motivate myself to perform well.
However, I find it discouraging to see my colleagues get assigned to “mid-level” projects I would be much more interested in, in areas I suspect I am better versed than them. I don’t think I am being delusional with regards to to that last point: this is subject matter I have credentials and past experience in, and that I have also taught. Some of these more interesting projects are being assigned to colleagues without this kind of background.
I have explicitly discussed my interests and relevant experience with my supervisor and, while he seemed understanding, not much has changed. Perhaps there is not enough technical work to go around? Am I not being assertive enough ? Maybe I should take more initiative and join projects on other teams? Maybe it’s sexism (though it seems unlikely)?

I am planning on signing up for a university-level computer science classe to (1) get intellectual stimulation in my day-to-day because work is not providing it, (2) gain some more skills that might open new avenues at my current workplace and perhaps even reorient careers if I enjoy it as much as I suspect I will. (Another benefit is that factor there are substantially more computer science-related jobs in my area than jobs within my current niche.) I have experience with writing code to solve equations and to carry out statistical analyses and I love the type of problem-solving that requires strong technical skill and/or subject matter knowledge. In this kind of setting, I experience a state of “flow” and time flies. I would like experience this more often at work. I thought I had the academic background (I have a quantitative, academic master's degree) and experience for this. However, I love school and would be happy to re-skill in my free time if it will help me be more fulfilled at work. Is this a sensible path?
posted by Clyde Sparrow to Work & Money (3 answers total)
Best answer: Maybe it’s sexism (though it seems unlikely)

I am curious about why that seems unlikely to you. Are you (perceived by those around you to be) a woman? If so, do you think sexism is an unlikely explanation because you got promoted, or because the colleagues who are getting the more interesting jobs are also women?

If you don't fall into the "woman" box, or if the colleagues do too, you can ignore what I'm about to say.

Data monkey -> project management, data monkey -> tech writer, data monkey -> insert tech-adjacent-but-not-quite-respected-as-technical job here... it happens to a lot of women. It starts when you do a good job, and don't seem to shirk doing the boring parts.

Your bosses notice, and they layer onto your actual abilities their own preconceptions about how women are good at multi-tasking, women are good communicators, women are friendly, women are blah blah blah. They're probably not doing this consciously, but it doesn't matter. They think of you when there's a job opening that's higher-level but involves lots of people stuff & lots of crap. They don't think of you when there's a purely technical job opening.

If you've been raised as a woman, you probably didn't learn to do things badly so that you wouldn't have to do them at all, so you don't get to be "bad with people" or "not detail-oriented" or whatever conveniently keeps men working in roles that you would enjoy more than the one you have now.

Anyway, ending my rant about how hard it is to be a woman and stay in tech, and coming back to you, I think you'll need to find another employer or at least a different department of your current one. It appears that the powers that be have pigeonholed you away from the jobs you want, and that's rarely fixable without changing management.
posted by inexorably_forward at 10:50 PM on January 17 [5 favorites]

A couple of ideas:
  1. For some folks, they equate "advancement" with "people/project management." Is it possible your bosses have fallen into that thinking trap? You might need to tell them multiple times that you really, really want to be a technical specialist/individual contributor.
  2. Are there any other folks capable of doing the project management work to take over the ones you're currently handling? Sometimes you may have to train your replacement before the bosses let you switch roles. Some people get trapped by their own greatness ("No one else can do it like you do! And we just have to ask you to keep doing the thing until this next big milestone!") and unfortunately managers don't always cross train until they absolutely have to.
  3. Of those people that are currently doing the technical work you want to do more of, do you have a close enough relationship with some of them that you could buddy up, or sub for them during a vacation, or something like that?
You know your own workplace best, but I wouldn't rule out sexism, especially if you feel like you've made this desire clear enough for long enough, and yet you're still being overlooked.

As for more training/schooling, maybe for your next job search it could be useful. But usually in your current workplace, you should be able to advance or try things out based on demonstrated aptitude, and not necessarily the certifications to prove it. So I wouldn't put too much faith in that being your ticket out of your current situation.
posted by tinydancer at 10:53 PM on January 17 [1 favorite]

I know you say you have discussed your interests and experience with your supervisor, but have you said “I would really like to join X team/project, is that possible? If not, can we plan together for how I can be assigned to the next similar opportunity?” I work in a “flat” organization where getting people assigned to teams is extremely organic. The people who are most successful in getting on their preferred project advocate for themselves loudly and often, so when a certain type of work comes in everyone immediately thinks of them. It almost never happens that a benevolent manager carefully considers everyone’s interests and skills and does careful matchmaking, and the staff who expect this are always disappointed. I absolutely can’t tell from your question if this is useful advice for your workplace, but it’s something to consider.
posted by chocotaco at 5:02 AM on January 18 [2 favorites]

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