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I'm stuck in a dead-end web developer job where I don't get paid much and rarely get to learn anything new. It's a small, mom-and-pop shop where there is no room for advancement either. I am not happy. I feel the cloud of depression hanging over my head regarding prospects for the future.

I try to work hard to learn new skills in the evenings and on the weekends, but I come home from work each day frustrated and tired, and it is hard to get up the energy to work on side projects.

How do you stay motivated to develop your career outside of work, especially without getting burnt out and bitter? How do I keep up on projects and gain experience? Are employers willing to give me a few weeks to catch up on a technology stack that I don't have much experience with? I am more than willing to learn if given an opportunity.

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Are you applying for other jobs? Do you know what skill are marketable in your area? –  JeffO Nov 12 '12 at 19:57
    
FYI plenty of mom and pop shops care strongly about skills development in their staff. Fair point about advancing to supervise others etc - that kind of thing isn't going to happen when you're the only developer. But you could get very good at a lot of things working for the right small firm. –  Kate Gregory Nov 12 '12 at 21:54
    
this is an excellent question. i've been in this situation before. personally, i am not good at hands-off learning -- i have to apply a specific technology in a hands-on setting in order to learn it. i've been miserable in jobs and applied for a job i thought i'd be happy in just to find out that the interview is based on the assumption that i have those skills already. so let's say i want to work with the Spring framework but have not used it before. every interview will ask me questions about Spring and, because i have never used it, i will fail the interview –  amphibient Nov 12 '12 at 23:08
    
Write side projects (open source or not) to learn new skills and apply for a new job! If you're not happy working there why are you searching for a way out? –  Earlz Nov 13 '12 at 15:27
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If it's a mom-and-pop shop, they generally won't care which tech you program in, especially for one-off projects. Want to get trained on Ruby at a .NET shop? Implement a one-off project in Ruby. Bam, you are now a professional Ruby programmer — you coded Ruby and you took money for it. (via kalzumeus.com/2011/10/28/dont-call-yourself-a-programmer) –  deworde Nov 14 '12 at 12:15
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I'm stuck in a dead-end web developer job where I don't get paid much and rarely get to learn anything new.

Software developers are in such high demand right now that there is really no reason why you or any other developer should stay at a low-paying or miserable job. Keep an eye out for job openings in your area or wherever you are willing to move. If you see an opening that could benefit from at least some of your skills, send them a resume.

If you get an interview, study the job description like you're studying for a final exam. If there's anything in the job description that you're not familiar with, do some research to at least become conversational about it. You wanted motivation? Well, there is no motivation quite like having an interview in a day or two that you are not prepared for. I guarantee you'll be motivated to learn what you need to know to have an intelligent discussion about certain technologies in the interview.

Are employers willing to give me a few weeks to catch up on a technology stack that I don't have much experience with? I am more than willing to learn if given an opportunity.

They want you to know PHP, but you are a ColdFusion developer? Brush up on PHP syntax before the interview. Google "PHP vs ColdFusion". Know some unique features that PHP provides. That way, in the interview, when they ask what your experience is with PHP, you won't say "I have none". Instead you'll say "I haven't had the opportunity to use PHP in a professional setting because I've mostly been using ColdFusion, but here's what I know about PHP and here are the features I'm excited to be able to take advantage of."

Be honest about your lack of experience while at the same time expressing an ability and willingness to learn quickly. Usually, if an employer wants you to know language A, they will still hire you if you know similar language B and can show them that you have at least some familiarity with language A and can hold a conversation about it.

Market yourself as a web developer who loves what he does and is looking for an opportunity to apply his existing skills while learning new skills in a position with growth opportunities. Express enthusiasm about getting things done and solving the hiring company's problems, and you'll already be ahead of the game.

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RE: "Software developers are in such high demand right now " How is he going to pass an interview if it is based on the skills he is not getting in the job he wants out of ?? –  amphibient Nov 12 '12 at 23:05
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@foampile Like I said, use the Internet. Every job I've gotten as a developer required skills I didn't have. I researched them before the interview, convinced the hiring managers that I was interested and could learn quickly (in fact I had already started learning), and that I had similar skills that mapped over nicely. OP is currently a web developer. IMO that makes him eligible for any web development job in any language if he prepares for the interview sufficiently. –  Jefferson Nov 13 '12 at 2:31
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my experience has been different. maybe my geo location and the local culture is different. i have a very hard time interviewing for jobs that require skills i have not worked with. i am not building a web/mobile app using techs i want to work with in my next job so that i can learn hands on because it is impossible for me to learn something hands off. i am a very tactile learner. reading 1000 pages of a book does not do as much for me as playing with it for 15 min. i was the same with learning the two foreign languages that i speak - was the worst in class but best when i started using –  amphibient Nov 13 '12 at 3:23
    
Researching a new programming language on the internet can be a hands-on process. Step 1 - read a little bit about the new language. Step 2 - Write a Hello World program. Then add an if/then/else statement. Then add a loop. Then add a function. Boom, you've written code in that language. –  Jefferson Nov 13 '12 at 12:32
    
sorry, i meant to say "i am NOW building a web/mobile...", not "i am not" –  amphibient Nov 13 '12 at 13:33
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You are depressed. You are not developing yourself to your full potential. You cannot get ahead in your current workplace (unless of course the workplace itself changes drastically - how likely is that?). The best way to get ahead is to get out of there and get in to somewhere else - preferably, a work environment that will offer you the challenges you want.

And yes, you can get a new job without having direct experience. If you can show that you're willing to learn (and capable), and can demonstrate some relevant experience, you should still be able to find a new job. I once got a JavaEE job with no JavaEE experience, though I had other web technologies, other Java technologies, and other related technologies (for example MySQL and MSSQL instead of Oracle).

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Yes, but it's a bit of a catch-22. I can't get anywhere without experience, and I can't get any good experience where I am at. –  Tim76 Nov 12 '12 at 18:56
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@Tim76: It often happens that you can get a job in similar technologies even if you don't have direct experience. If you can show that you're willing to learn (and capable), and can demonstrate some relevant experience, you should still be able to find a new job. I once got a JavaEE job with no JavaEE experience, though I had other web technologies, other Java technologies, and other related technologies (for example MySQL and MSSQL instead of Oracle). –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Nov 12 '12 at 19:19
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it should be noted that getting a job with little or no relevant experience becomes harder with a higher salary -- learning new things becomes harder the more they pay you because they want you to hit the ground running and not spend time learning new things. that has been my case. the higher my salary expectation, the less i was given a chance to learn new things and the more i was put in a dead-end corner where they simply are determined to eke out as much of your existing expertise without bothering to put you in a position to renew your skills. you spend a year or two in a job like that –  amphibient Nov 12 '12 at 23:15
    
and you are practically drained out and unusable any more. just been my experience –  amphibient Nov 12 '12 at 23:15
    
@foampile: Yes, though you have to learn new skills somewhere, right? Are you working with the exact same skills/tools you used with your very first IT job? Most people I know are not. On the other hand, that doesn't mean it's necessarily a good idea to switch careers and technologies every 2 years - unless you actually enjoy that and are OK with possible risks of lower salaries and being seen as someone who never sticks around long. –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Nov 13 '12 at 0:22
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Are employers willing to give me a few weeks to catch up on a technology stack that I don't have much experience with?

Absolutely. Most good companies are looking for good developers and don't really care too much if they've worked on the same tech stack or in the same business domain. If you look like a good investment, they'll give you time to learn.

However, you do need to understand that, if you're going in with the wrong kind of experience, you are a risk to them. You are not really in a position to negotiate wages/benefits. Take what they offer, learn, work to prove yourself, then ask for more money.

It's better than clocking up another 5 years of bad experience and then having to make the same sacrifice.

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This. For entry to mid-level positions, the two most important questions an interviewer wants answered are "can you think like a programmer" and "can you learn our codebase and environnment". For "seniors", a certain level of experience in a particular language or with a particular technology "stack" is usually required, but you sound like you're still early on in your career path, and looking to "change lanes". –  KeithS Nov 12 '12 at 20:49
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You need to start working on a project using a new shiny technology that you are interested in. Don't just "learn" about it, start building something useful and dedicate a few hours per week to it. It can be something new or an existing piece of open source.

Once you feel you've learned enough and/or have something to prove it, put it on your resume. If you get an interview saying "My current job is not challenging enough for me, so I learned this new thing and want to use it at your company" is a good way to position yourself.

Finally don't despair, at least you HAVE a job! But use your current situation as a lesson in life. Make sure all your future jobs come with more rewards than just money.

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I was in exactly your position 10 years ago, when I decided to go back to college. Even if you have a bachelor's degree, I think it's something you should consider if you've reached a dead end in your career. Find a local community college that offers classes that you're interested in that will help you advance. You will learn new skills, but the most valuable thing you'll gain are contacts. One of my professors in school helped me find an internship at the company he worked for, and I ended up with a full-time position there after I graduated. It was definitely worth the investment of time and tuition.

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Small companies or teams can sometimes struggle to provide career advancement for junior staff; it is not always that they don't want to help their teams advance, but that the "growth positions" are simply not there.

That said, I have worked for (mid-sized) firms where they understood they would have 50% turnover of new staff in the first two years (they told me this when I was hired!) and so invested in staff and provided opportunities accordingly.

Of course, this became a self fulfilling strategy over time (which I'm glad to say they broke out of, thanks to some inspiring new leadership after a merger.)

You sound like someone who is stimulated in part by change, growth and trying new things. If this is correct, then this need not being addressed will be at the root of your overall disatisfaction with your current role.

I would strongly suggest that you need to talk this over with your line manager or boss; running a small company is a busy process, and they may have just lost sight of your needs a little. Don't make this confrontational - over a coffee is fine - but let them know that you need a greater degree of career growth than you currently have, and your attitude towards your role is suffering as a result, and ask them for help.

If they have a "churn and burn" attitude towards staff you won't get much traction, but then at least you will know that you have to move on to both advance your career and to be happy.

If not, agree on a course of action - but always make sure that you have a project lined up to follow on immediately from any training you get as part of that action plan.

Finally - its worth noting that I tend to hire for attitude over technical skills, and I'm not alone in this. Someone who is enthusiastic, driven and wants to learn is more important to me than someone who can hit the ground running, but is closed to new skills or change.

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