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Over the past 7 months, I've been working at a company programming/improving small little utilities and also doing a couple mundane daily tasks. I've come to realize that my boss is a Mort (this is slang for "person who implements quick, bare-minimum solutions"). Here is a more in-depth explanation of a Mort on CodingHorror.

From my perspective, he never seems to strive for excellence, or try and improve what's currently working. His appreciation for mediocrity is starting to rub off. My passion behind my work has practically died. I can sense the quality of my code and my skills in general starting to stagnate. My only mentor has really been Google and Stack Exchange. Nobody looks at my code as long as it works. My question is:

How can I reinvigorate my passion behind my work if nobody at my job really cares?

I would really hate to have my passion of programming burn out before I graduate college. Here a little background on why I can't simply just quit:

  • They pay well... at least I make more hourly than anybody else I know in school
  • They are extremely flexible with my class schedule.
  • I need to the job to pay rent for the remainder of the semester.
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migrated from programmers.stackexchange.com Jan 10 '13 at 4:20

This question came from our site for professional programmers interested in conceptual questions about software development.

    
I'm in the same position right now, and after 2 years realised this is detrimental to my prospects. I found myself cheating and loosing interest. So now I have a job interview tomorrow, for a better, higher paying job, literally next door. Options are available! I recommend a career change as the company you work for is fundamentally mort. –  rickyduck Jan 10 '13 at 12:50
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You have the luxury of time to yourself. Use it to your advantage. 5 years from now, you'll work extra hard to scrape the same amount of time together to train yourself. I find stackoverflow very therapeutic in this regard, subscribe to a couple of tags and start exercising. –  kolossus Jan 12 '13 at 4:59
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6 Answers

I'll preface my remarks by saying that working for a 'Mort' isn't necessarily a bad thing.

As I see it, there are three desirable paths that you could take:

  1. Lay low. Perform your assigned duties during your regularly scheduled "9 to 5" shift. Be grateful for this situation because, as other posters have already mentioned, you can fully utilize your off-the-clock hours to learn a hot new technology or work on a side project. These efforts will surely pay dividends in the future.
  2. Seize the day. Take initiative. Even if your 'Mort' boss is a fixture in his current role, good programmers are difficult to find and tough to retain. Start taking more command of your current projects. Start showcasing your skills and aptitude when the situation calls for them. Over time, expect to earn the recognition that you deserve. If nothing else, you'll gain valuable experience.
  3. Finally, if neither Option #1 or #Option 2 are very attractive to you, you can touch up your résumé and find a new job, new boss, and new development team. It's not a crime to weigh this option equally with #1 and #2 because many people like being pushed to do their very best.
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+1 Seize the day. Seems like you have time on your hands. If you have time do something with it. –  Mallow Jan 10 '13 at 5:38
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If you do take initiative, that'll be something to put on your résumé in future (carefully phrased, of course). –  Nathan MacInnes Jan 10 '13 at 11:32
    
While I can't agree with #1 (that'll be career stagnation as far as a resume is concerned since it shows lack of initiative), #2 and #3 are great options. Try making a difference yourself, particularly if it can be seen by others. If it meets constant resistance and is wearing you down, then it is time for a new job instead. –  AJ Henderson Jan 11 '13 at 4:39
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@JimG. - I thought I had more details in my comment, but I guess I got length limited. I wanted to add that if you were to do a side project it would need to be a big enough thing to fit well on a resume, but it's still likely going to lead to questions as to why initiative wasn't taken in the office. I'm not saying that side projects are a bad thing, but I'd want to see someone pro-active at work as well rather than just wanting to do what they want to do on the side. Someone that puts in the minimum at work so they can do their own thing isn't a desirable employee. Do the job you love. –  AJ Henderson Jan 11 '13 at 13:48
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@AJHenderson: In that case, I agree with you. –  Jim G. Jan 11 '13 at 14:26
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I've been in similar situation, so I know it pretty well. The job is well paying and provides the kind flexibility around my class schedule, but it is not really that demanding for personal development.

In my opinion, this kind of job environment is actually very good for students, the low expectation means you are able to focus in your study without getting pressured by work and this kind of flexibility is just invaluable when you need to put the extra time for university assessments; my recommendation is to stay at least until you graduate, you will have more time to pursue on more challenging pursuits when you finished university.

So my question how can I reinvigorate my passion behind my work if nobody at my job really cares?

Having been in the situation, I would ignore my boss' expectation. I would set my own standards for quality, which should be higher than the mediocre standards that they set; setting your own bars keeps you sufficiently challenged, but since the boss does not really expect the kind of quality you've set, it really does not matter to them if you would then have to cut corners because you suddenly had to reschedule more time for university. Even in highly demanding job, your motivation for setting your goals should be your own personal development, not because the boss said so; ideally the amount of pressure they put on you would match your own personal goals, but this rarely the case and do not necessarily need to be.

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able to focus in your study without getting pressured by work that's a pretty good point. I still remember at one of past jobs boss telling me "we just can't afford your venture in this direction at your pay scale". He was right and I knew that and he knew that I knew but this didn't make it less painful –  gnat Jan 10 '13 at 7:38
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Yes, the time to study is a good point. I once interviewed for a job where the manager pretty much said he expected his subordinates to work 60 - 70 hours per week, every week. As I was interested in part time graduate studies, I told them I wasn't interested before getting a job offer. –  GreenMatt Jan 11 '13 at 15:25
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Having been in a similar situation I can fully understand how demotivational that can be - what I found helped was to view each project as an opportunity for inclusion on my CV / resume. If the code throughout the company is of a low / inefficient standard, you have great scope to improve it!

Results based CVs / resumes are always the most impacting: saying you implemented X is one thing, but to say you implemented it and saved 50% query time is another altogether.

You are in many ways in an ideal situation - you have the scope and time to make massive improvements for the company, and if you can do so a) it will look great further down in your career and b) it might even make your boss start to care (if he can see evidence of the difference between good and bad code in terms of the bottom line).

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+1 Not so much for the "view each project as an opportunity for inclusion on my CV / resume" but certainly for using the time available to make improvements bit by bit. –  Mark Robinson Jan 10 '13 at 10:36
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If you really need the money, keep the job. On the other hand, if there are other opportunities to do cutting-edge work, either on or off campus, they would be a better choice for the long term.

It partly depends on what you want to do after you graduate. If you want to work for a hot company on the bleeding edge of technology, then you want to do the most interesting thing you can find.

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Where "the most interesting thing you can find" may well be on a FOSS project. Speaking as a former hiring manager, I considered quality FOSS credentials to be as good (or better) than a lot of nose-to-the-grindstone business app work. –  Peter Rowell Jan 10 '13 at 2:33
    
+1 I found out having written a number of (open source) applications it became much easier getting a new job. –  aseq May 15 '13 at 1:06
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I would like to expand the answer of duggieawesome

First of all, I need to mention this: every human is designated by what he does. Regardless how powerful you feel you are in your dreams, until it's proved in reality, it is nothing. Second, every human has mental desires he must meet. If they are met, human feels happy. Most important, human has all properties to meet his desires. If these desires are not met, he feels unhappy regardless of how much money he has or anything else. Therefore, you need to clearly identify your desires and the properties you have that you can use to satisfy what you really need. I think it is clean code, everything must be in the order you know, understand and feel right. If you do not see ways how you can achieve these goals on your present workplace, you can sharpen your skills (mental properties that will make your desires met) in other field.

If you're working on a side project, either your own, or with a command of people that really care about quality of what you do), you:

  • utilize your skills;
  • gain satisfaction from what you do (because you use your skills to make it done, and through using your skills you meet your internal, mental desires).

For example, I am software developer (programmer, coder, whatever) myself. When I've got an idea to re-write the software I'm writing in the office from scratch at home, and started working this out, I've got myself happy. I was introduced into actions I don't usually do in the office: designing very complicated software. I saw it from very different points of view that I've never was at. I've got understanding of several frameworks, programming techniques, design patterns and even programming languages I never heard of. It was amazing experience: to be the creator of something beautiful and magnificent that only you (at the moment) know about. It felt like being a Maker of your own world.

Several years later I was still working in the office and played MMORPG at home, at the unofficial private server. Seeing problems other players stuck every time they played that server, I decided to fix them and deliver it for everyone's use. I was learning the code of open-source project, understanding the programming paradigms I never saw (later I used some of them in my work in the office), cooperating with other developer devoted to this project who had the same priorities as I did: clear code, best quality. It was the time of my life when I slept about 6 hours every day, worked 12-14 hours (first in the office and then at home), used my skills and was getting better understanding of myself, what I can, what I like, what I don't. During all the time I was inspired, and, I must say, happy. Although my work on that open source project was not paid off, I'm glad I had it done. The way I want and the way I feel it should be done. It felt right. It felt good.

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Having spent over 10 years in a similar situation having conformed from an Elvis to Mort here are THE two ideas/concepts that saved me...

http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?ChangeYourOrganization

MartinFowler's advice on a strategy for improving one's lot. "You can ChangeYourOrganization or ChangeYourOrganization." That is... "You can ChangeYourOrganization (change how the work is done at your current employer) or ChangeYourOrganization." (find a new employer)

http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?VoteWithYourFeet

If you don't like your situation, and are powerless to change it, leave it. By staying, you are helping perpetuate the situation. By staying, you are also slowly losing your soul.

http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?ChangeAgent

9 tips for Change Agents.

  • Network like crazy
  • Be open to data at the start
  • Document your own learning
  • Take senior management along\
  • No Fear
  • Be a learning person yourself
  • Laugh when it hurts
  • Know the business before you try to change anything
  • Finish what you start

All I can say is you are not alone, there is a better way, the only challenge is to go out and get it.

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