Burn Out?

4 Sep

Well, this could quite possibly be one of the most career damaging things I’ve ever written, but what the hell, here goes.

Do you ever wonder where you went wrong?

I’ve spent my entire career trying to do the right thing, to learn subjects that will progress me personally and for the particular company that I work for, or project I am working on. Above all I try to do the best job I can.

But sometimes that just does not seem enough.

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, and with the greatest will in the world, you find yourself coming up short, either for your employer, or far more often, for yourself.

I’m a computer programmer, a developer. I love it. I love creating something out of nothing to provide a solution for anything from a simple, pointless task to a large business solution for a client/employer.

Through every project there are highs and lows, interesting tasks and mind numbing, repetitive activities, but the final reward is the personal achievement felt on delivering a successful product, occasionally made all the sweeter for overcoming the hurdles (although that’s not a prerequisite!)

Almost instantly after starting work for an employer I begin to feel a level of obligation towards them. I don’t know what causes it, possibly the fact they decided to take a chance on me by giving me the job in the first place, or possibly because of a sense of pride. I guess it’s not surprising when you think about it, after all work takes up most of our waking hours for five days a week. As a result our work defines who we are, how we perceive ourselves and our self worth. Looking at it that way, work can make or break us as individuals.

If you’re happy at work, you’re more likely to be happy outside of work. I for one don’t want a job that just brings in the money, yet leaves me feeling deflated. Life is too short.

On the flip side, work is not the be all and end all. Just as work can make personal life better, so I believe that a good personal life can make us better at work, a simple fact that I think many employers are losing sight of.

I now have three children, they and my partner are my life. They are the reason I get up in the morning, but they must also fit around the fact I need to work to provide for us. Sure, I wouldn’t stress about work as much as I do if it wasn’t so vital to making ends meet, but beyond that I want to be successful in my work and become an asset for the company I work for, and to enjoy what I’m doing.

Increasingly this gets harder however, and from experience it only takes a manager or two to essentially bring everything to its knees.

It’s a shame as it needn’t be this way.

But I have encountered an equally serious issue as this in several jobs now, the situation where you end up doing something completely different to the job you applied for, the role you wanted. Not as a temporary necessity, or as part of the main role, but as the main or only task. Let me give you some examples of this.

I have been developing in Java for many years, however when I accepted a role at a bank several years ago (who have to remain nameless as when I left I signed an agreement not to mention them negatively), it quickly became apparent that the percentage of time I would be spending working in Java was somewhere between zero and five percent (closer to zero), whilst the remainder of my time for the first year was spent editing SQL scripts with some occasional C# development (but still a small percentage).

This did get better later on in my employment, but the management was so toxic I was relieved to go. I actually took a graduate into a meeting room on one occasion and tried to assure them “not all companies work in this way, we just have a lazy manager only interested in furthering his own career even at the expense of the rest of us, please don’t let this put you off this industry”. Tragic. (Said graduate is now very successful in another bank, I wonder if he remembers this incident).

As we become older, wiser and more experienced, we hope that we might learn to deal better with these situations. The job I took after this was to help convert the codebase for a local company from Delphi to C#. I’ve written about this role before, both my excitement at the potential before I started, and what eventually happened.

I was only with this company for a shade over one year (one of my shortest positions), but I loved what the company stood for and what it was doing. The pay was a big step down, but the people were great, and it looked like it would keep me interested for a long time. I really wanted this position to be long term and I had big ideas how I could take the company forward. I was excited by this role in a way I hadn’t been for quite a while. But…

As mentioned, I had been hired to help convert to code from Delphi to C#, and had specifically made a point of the fact that I had deliberately moved out of Delphi development several years earlier. This was acknowledged, and I was assured my role would be as a C# developer with only a small requirements to provide Delphi support. However, it quickly turned out that this was not why I had been taken on, I was in fact there as a Delphi resource. Sure, I was given the odd piece of C# work, but really these were just token gestures. In fact, the application is still Delphi over 3 years later, with no plans to change.

I was, and still am gutted by the way things turned out. I had been lied to – essentially the hiring manager had decided he knew better than me what I wanted, despite my total honesty. I’m not saying I haven’t made plenty of mistakes in the past, but after the experience on my previous role, I was almost obsessed in making sure this new employer knew where I stood and what I wanted from my career before I agreed to take the job. As I say above, our work becomes part of us, and with this in mind I think it’s fair to say that I’m still hurt by what transpired, and honestly don’t know what I could have done differently.

So, with a heavy heart and much soul searching, I left that role and joined my current company. Again I was upfront about why I was leaving and where I wanted to go, and this time I got what I wanted. I joined as a Java developer, and after a reasonable amount of time my responsibilities included being an active C# developer too, since I had made them aware that this was the direction I wanted to take. Things were going brilliantly, and I distinctly remember stating in reviews that I was happy in the role.

The project I was (am) working on had been a couple of years in development, and I joined for the latter stage of development, finally we were ready to release. About this time the team was downsized (as you would expect, and as has happened to a lesser extent a couple more times since), and our roles transitioned to being more bug fixing than actual feature development, again as you would expect.

Few developers enjoy just bug fixing and support, but unfortunately it comes with the territory much of the time, so when our titles were changed from “Developer” to “Application Support Analyst” I remember raising concerns, but was assured the change was temporary.

That was about a year and a half ago.

(I won’t even mention the “discussions” I had with management about providing out of hours support cover. Frankly, you wouldn’t believe me.)

Since this time I have had some development/feature tasks, bug fixing, and an increasing amount of support related tasks unrelated to code. There’s even a push by the client now to move us into a more Business Analyst type role since there is little development work on the horizon. This is understandable since the BA’s themselves (also downsized) are so busy they need help dealing with the second line support queries (which if the second line were sufficiently trained, wouldn’t be an issue).

This is a big company. Not just a big company, a company comfortably in the top five of the FTSE 100. They want a service from their supplier, who I work for, but apparently by keeping the same people in the company, since we already know the application.

The trouble is I don’t want to be a BA, I’ve spent many hard years of my life trying to be a good developer. As time goes on I have to question if my skills are indeed eroding at the same accelerated rate as my confidence in applying them. I’ve raised my concerns countless times both in and out of reviews, but so far to no avail. The company occasionally makes the right noises to rectify this, but without change, it’s all just talk.

So I keep my head down now, I still hope for a change, expecting (and getting) none, and becoming more afraid of leaving as my self worth plummets.

I’m getting more burnt out, not because of being over worked, but because of the work itself (I was actually inspired to write this article after reading this discussion on LinkedIn).

Deep down I know I’ve got a lot to offer, and most of my frustration is a deep rooted desire to make a difference, work hard on what I enjoy and just be happy in what I’m doing. My current job isn’t it, but it pays the bills for now. A situation I never wanted to find myself in.

I know it’s up to me to make a change, and I will, after all I have before. Until then I’ll provide the best service I can to the current client, and still hope things will improve with my current employer who, to be fair, have been good to me in the past. I think it’s fair to say that we’re more than even now, though.

Still, at least there’s many fine people working at my employer and the client who I will be sad to leave, but that is always the case.

If it’s any consolation, I’m not alone, the morale here is dismal. Some are managing to leave, others are questioning themselves as much as I am. Some are happy just to take the money and run.

I mentioned at the very start that this post could be one of the most career damaging things I’ve ever written. I based this on the fact that my current employer can (and probably will) easily read this, and future employers may also not like what I’m doing here. Hopefully this will be seen as an observation and reflection of my situation, rather than an attack on my employer. The only thing I will say against them directly is that I have made my position clear for some time. Even so I still haven’t lost all hope… well, not quite, but if something better did come along, I’d almost certainly take it.

The more I think about it, the more I realise one thing: if you’re the type of company that is going to look unfavorably at this post, rather than understand the underlying “need” to do the best I possibly can at work, then you’re probably part of the problem I detail, and frankly I’d rather not work for you anyway.

Otherwise, perhaps you should give me a call (actually, make that email, I get a lot of agents calling with roles wholly unsuitable for what I’m after, so I pick up few unknown or withheld numbers these days).

Just please, don’t lie to me. You’ll be wasting time for both of us.

One Response to “Burn Out?”

  1. lopta (@lopta) September 5, 2013 at 4:48 am #

    This morning I was talking to a couple of friends at work and a question surfaced about whether two or three of our offices might merge within the next few years. There would probably be efficiency benefits for the company and it might improve internal communication. I shrugged with the realisation that given today’s climate, none of us really know where we’re going to be in five years. I told them I was just trying to enjoy my job while it lasts.

    Later in the day I read a Facebook post by another friend, who talked about how much she enjoys working at her university. Immediately I wanted to ask whether she was “waiting for the other shoe to drop”, which may be an American expression. I wonder whether she finds herself waiting to be disappointed as I think I have been waiting over the last year. It has not been without its frustrations but none of them have been show-stoppers.

    The supervisor at that place with the geese may not have believed me when I wrote in my resignation letter that I’d agonised over the decision to move on. Perhaps she believed me but was past caring because the team was losing people faster than they could screen new applicants. Worried as I was that the new job might turn out to be a disappointment, I took the leap.

    You’ve worked bloody hard to hone your software development skills. You deserve an employer who values them (and you) enough to let you do what you’re good at doing. They’ll get a less frustrated employee and who knows, perhaps the company you’re with now will end up with a more interested Business Analyst.

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