Find Motivation or Move On?
June 18, 2008 6:24 PM   Subscribe

Please help with a tough decision about leaving a good job for something I would be more interested in.

I work at a medium-sized manufacturer in Canada as the sole IT person (title is IT Manager). I've been out of school for a few years (went to college for business application programming). I am competent at what I do and am appreciated by coworkers. I have worked here for several years. I am paid well and my boss is a very nice guy. I have become comfortable with the income that I make and my family is supported solely by it.

Being the only IT person is both a blessing and a curse. I have the obligation of doing many mundane things and, worse yet, uninteresting and complicated things (this comic is a nice illustration). However, I also have the opportunity to do lots of interesting things (some of which I can choose), but the possibilities of what I can do are overwhelming. This problem is magnified by my lack of experience and management/leadership qualities. I increasingly find my work uninteresting and it is becoming more demanding. Adding to the complexity is that I have low accountability - no one has any idea (short of services not being available) if I'm doing things right because I'm the only technical person here. I am plagued with wondering what a "real" IT person would think of my work. Here is a laundry list of what I do: manage cell phones, LAN/WANS, server admin (email, database, file/printer, MS Terminal Services), telephone systems, IT policy and audit compliance, help desk, database admin, report design, programming (T-SQL, trivial C#), budgeting, project mgmt.

I have been slacking lately. I am not at all proud of this as I am usually a very hard worker. I get my required work done and done well, but the rest of the time, I'm reading about interesting things (internet, new media, computer science, humanity, programming, open source, collaboration). The culture of business and western economics dishearten me. It sucks all motivation from me and leaves me staring blankly at the tree outside my window. I have no passion for what I do. Work can sometimes be interesting, and this sometimes leads me into a false sense of "this isn't so bad, stick with it!" This is soon followed by a return to lethargy. This answer to a similar question nails it on why I feel I can't pour myself into it my work.

What keeps me from getting off this roller-coaster is the need for income (I'll likely make less at another job) and the feeling that I'm throwing away a great opportunity. I recognize that, as the sole IT person, I get to make decisions and implement whatever cool idea I can get approval for. One problem is motivation. What do I care if the business does better? So the CEO and Board of Directors get more kudos and cash? I know that if I feel this way, I should find a new job. But, again, income and throwing away oppurtinity prevent me. The other problem is confidence. I love learning about programming. I have junior level knowledge in Java, Python, C#, (X)HTML/CSS, and am learning PHP, JavaScript and Scheme. I am afraid to use these tools at work though. I only know how to make trivial programs and am afraid to do more (i.e. I can program, but I can't engineer).

My question comes down to this - should I throw away this opportunity and search for a job as a programmer at a company that interests me or should I try and put more into my current job and find ways to motivate myself (if so, how)? I'm not looking for my fellow MeFis to tell me what to do, I'm looking for input, perspective and experiences. I appreciate all your responses!
posted by AvailableName to Work & Money (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I am sure you already realize that even dream jobs have mundane components at it possible to create more of what you crave right where you are? Having congenial coworkers and a nice boss are not things to sneeze at, after all.

If you do decide that staying put is the wiser plan (not saying it is, but it could be)...perhaps you could find something more meaningful in things you do outside work.

Finally, although input here at Askme will help you consider your options, the person you really need to be talking to regarding this decision is your spouse.
posted by konolia at 6:38 PM on June 18, 2008

Can you make a case to management that there is too much work for one IT person? Getting some help, even part-time, might free you up to pursue more interesting projects while staying at the job. You would get some management experience, to boot.

If not, you may want to look for a new job. At a company that does something that interests you personally, so you are more invested in the success of your projects.
posted by Mr Bunnsy at 6:42 PM on June 18, 2008

Seconding Mr Bunnsy! Being the only IT person at a company must suck. My friend is an IT manager for the biggest hotel in our city and he had to ask management to hire an IT assistant to help out with the gazillion and one things that pop up when he's not available. This, to a certain extent, has given him some time to go after the "exciting projects" that make him giddy like a school girl (which he also explains to me in painstaking detail, but I've learned to love it). If you could get a similar arrangement at your workplace, maybe you would have more time to pursue the things that you like, without having to give up your job.
posted by Menomena at 6:50 PM on June 18, 2008

I agree with konolia--you really need to talk this over with your partner before you make any decisions.
posted by sondrialiac at 7:21 PM on June 18, 2008

Sounds like you're professionally lonely. You need to spend time with others of your tribe.

Definitely get an assistant - your employers should see much advantage to this; currently, if you got sick or left for whatever reason, they'd really be stuck. Plus, the way things are going, it's only a matter of time until you leave for less-stressful pastures - this is not a sustainable situation.

Then, join a user group. ANY user group. Just start showing up at meetings. You'll probably find out that these guys don't know much that you don't (or can't learn from a book or a few web sites anyway), and you'll learn from others' presentations. Eventually, maybe, you'll make a presentation of your own, but don't feel pressured to do this before you've had whatever time you need to just hang out and listen to others.

[By the way, I know I say this a lot, but if you're at all interested -- Python is a very nice little scripting language that's becoming more popular, and I think will be around for a long time; and the guys at the Python user group around here, at least, are really really nice.]

I see this a lot, in people I've met and recently in my own significant other, and sometimes in myself: our friends, family, and most of the people we work with have no concept of what we spend the vast majority of our time working on. We need to have time with people -- new friends -- who understand the geekiness. Otherwise, despite the various other rewards we get for knowing our special knowledge, it's just lonely -- and that does get depressing, leads to lack of focus, etc.

Will you eventually move on to another job? Maybe. But meeting others like yourself will help you find that job if it's out there. And getting that assistant will assure that your current employers are left sitting pretty - and you'll learn a lot from training him (or her).
posted by amtho at 7:43 PM on June 18, 2008

I just saw your other question from April. Are you able to do the Computer Science course you mentioned? This would also be a good way to connect with others who think like you.

You're doing well by your wife and child, it sounds like. Please do make sure your own needs are met. It's better for all of you.
posted by amtho at 7:53 PM on June 18, 2008

You need to find a mentor. Someone who excels at what you want to excel at ( Python user group mentioned above could be a good route for achieving this ), and who you can bounce ideas off of and be motivated by.

I moved 5 states and took a paycut to find mine years ago, so taking another job is one route. But I was lucky enough to know the talent and level of whom I was going to be working for. You could very well end up under a pointy-haired boss and in cubicle hell.

Join any local groups that have interests in line with yours. Local user groups for linux/windows, the local chapter of webappsec, hell even the local ACM chapter ( bonus points here because they usually have kick-ass lecturers on a variety of computer science related topics ).

Also - do you have any budget for training? Go to a conference ( a real conference with technical tracks, not a booze+schmoozefest ( although hanging out at night is certainly recommended! )). Going to some of the bigger security cons has done wonders for me. Toorcon, Shmoocon, etc...
posted by zap rowsdower at 9:39 PM on June 18, 2008

Find Motivation or Move On?

Should I throw away this opportunity and search for a job as a programmer at a company that interests me?

I think you're problem is that you believe you're wrestling with a tough decision but there's actually no decision presented in the situation you describe. You can work on developing motivation in your current job: this will not prevent or hinder you in any way from moving on if you discover an opportunity that you are excited about. Likewise, you do not have to throw anything you currently have away to search for work that interests you.

Far from being contradictory, these paths are complimentary. Refocusing your attention on your current career will get your mind onto your skill sets, what you really like and dislike in actual, realistic work situations (as opposed to the cognitive channel surfing of free-form learning, a world I know far too much about, one that can be very interesting but is very far from pragmatic considerations of what you are actually suited to and would enjoy doing 8+ hours a day, day after day, in a professional capacity). Working harder at your job will also make you a better job prospect and increase your confidence in your ability to succeed on your own initiative and merits.

Investigating real work alternatives (that is, actually exploring real jobs at real companies, not "researching" general topics or types of careers) will put you into the realm of what's actually available, what actually sounds interesting to you, what sorts of strata your real skill set and experience actually open to you. The point at which you decide whether a salary for a potential position is a deal-breaker is when you have an offer presented to you. By all means think and talk about the issue of your income needs in advance, but it is no impediment to searching.

Reading this and your previous question you tend to cast your (hypothetical) alternatives in kind of dramatic terms that seem engineered to discourage seriously considering change. You're afraid of "throwing away a great opportunity." You say "I won't drag [my wife] and our little girl up north." Are you really talking to your wife about your feelings, and what the two of you want to do as a couple? Are you willing to give her the opportunity to actually participate in the decision, rather than cut off a line of exploration based on your unilateral decision about what would be acceptable to ask of her? (Blaming your spouse's "need" for you to maintain the status quo is a great way to avoid dealing with the possibility of actual change).

You're perplexing and paralyzing yourself with false dichotomies and hypothetical decisions you don't even know if you'll actually face. And the slacking off you're doing at work provides a superficial and momentary intellectual escape from the conundrum but really it just amplifies the cognitive clamor. Start searching for real decisions and it will all become a lot less fraught. And lighten up: people change careers all the time, getting a better job is not a universal panacea and getting a not-great job is not a unsalvageable catastrophe. I've had like 5 careers so far and I'm not even 40. I slashed my income by 75% to be a stay-at-home dad for a few years and guess what, the baby is still getting 3 meals a day, you know? Now get back to work.
posted by nanojath at 10:20 PM on June 18, 2008

Response by poster: Thank you all very much for your responses. I have indeed been talking about this with my wife. It's been the subject of conversation during many walks.

Amtho, I have joined a Linux user group recently and have found it rewarding. Professionally lonely really resonated with me.

Nanojath, I do admit I have a dramatic flare about my situations (I love epic stories). The slacking does feel very much like an escape.

Again, I'm very greatful for these responses. I will take them to heart. Thank you.
posted by AvailableName at 3:44 AM on June 19, 2008

I recognize that, as the sole IT person, I get to make decisions and implement whatever cool idea I can get approval for. One problem is motivation. What do I care if the business does better? So the CEO and Board of Directors get more kudos and cash?

Would you be happier running your own business? This will happen no matter who you work for. Unless, of course, you work for you.
posted by sondrialiac at 1:50 PM on June 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Fascinating reading. It was like reading into a mirror, if that's possible.

I'm in a similar situation, but in a marketing/PR role at a small non-profit. I can do what I want to (in terms of having almost no budget to work with) and no one really knows all the projects I'm working on at any given time.

I am constantly busy, as I do all graphic design work, all PR, all communications, all website updating (no CMS - I'm a Dreamweaver hybrid - mostly hand-coding). My passions lie in the web work, and the writing, and the graphic design, but I falter on the marketing part because, like you, I have no idea what other professionals in my field would think of what I do.

I am facing the same decision as you - I'm looking at leaving, because I'm feeling vaguely unfulfilled, and would like to be part of something "bigger" (corporate stuff, hopefully more advancement and pay). But is it worth it?

My 2 cents: Your pay is meeting your family needs, and then some. Stay, work on increasing your skillset, then implement that knowledge in your job. I agree with most who say that a good boss and co-workers are worth their weight in gold. I, however, have no confidence in my bosses, and working at a non-profit that barely gets by, that's kind of an issue.
posted by producerpod at 1:38 PM on June 24, 2008

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