I am an undergrad computer science student working part time at a small company in the US.
I have worked there for 1.5 years now, and although it’s my first job as a developer, I feel like a lot of things aren’t right with this company.

Here are some things:

  • There are no project leads nor clear duties and responsibilities, leading to a crisis when an employee quits.
  • No rules or requirements for documents, no standards, no code reviews (never had anyone review my code).
  • The CEO (who has no IT background) often bypasses the IT manager and gives tasks directly to the developers, supplied with ill-advised ideas of how to execute them. In one instance, the CEO instructed me to just release important application without testing.
  • I have been given an inordinate amount of responsibility that I feel I haven’t actually earned.
  • I was tasked with writing a very important application, but was given no technical specs, had to glean everything from an old undocumented application.
  • Talks to CEO have yielded no results.
  • No training, courses or conferences of any kind for anyone.
  • A senior developer said he tried to change things but gave up.

Is this a terrible company and could I actually damage my career by working there?

closed as unclear what you're asking by Dukeling, scaaahu, gnat, Snow, Masked Man Oct 31 '17 at 8:11

Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • Hi Jason, welcome to the Workplace. I noticed that your questions, although worthy of an answer, seems to be lost in a wall of text. Can you take another look and boil down the main points? – Frank FYC Oct 30 '17 at 22:46
  • Hi Frank, thanks, I see what you're saying; but I'm not sure what to remove, as all the points seem significant to me, but if you think some of them could be removed, feel free to do so. – Jason Oct 30 '17 at 22:51
  • I think this question can be summarized to a simple bullet list of bad practices you are exposed to (No planning, no documentation, no code reviews, no testing IE basically cowboy coding on a company wide scale) and asking if being exposed to these practices at an early point in your career will be detrimental to your career path. And if so what can you do to mitigate the damage. BTW do we work together?? – Peter M Oct 30 '17 at 23:01
  • 1
    It's not clear what your goal is here. You can't change that you have been working there for the past 1.5 years, it would be a different story if you were considering newly starting with them. "Yeah, you're screwed" or "No, you're fine" doesn't make for the most useful answers. Based on this post, it doesn't sound like you much like working there, which would be a good reason to find another job. Quitting a job without having another one is generally a bad idea, but it can make sense if you're still a student. Or are you considering entirely omitting the experience from your resume? – Dukeling Oct 30 '17 at 23:03
  • @PeterM yes that's exactly the kind of post I wanted to make. I will try to shorten it down (will of course accept any edits as well). Haha! If we do, please don't tell on me ;) – Jason Oct 30 '17 at 23:11
up vote 5 down vote accepted

Although I don't have a background in computer science as an undergrad, hopefully a story from my internship experience can be of use of you.

For all of your bullet list and the question in particular:

Does working at a bad company damage ones career?

Relax, it doesn't and should not. But beware, don't bad mouth your former employer.

Hopefully some of the more experienced members of the Workplace can vouch for my sentiment, but at the end of the day, these experiences are just that, experiences. There is no perfect workplace (although some would argue being self-employed is 'perfect' given that you control every aspect of your environment) and as a result, having unrealistic expectations would result in dissatisfaction.

A thought you should consider is to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. What kind of experience and knowledge can you learn from your rather poor experience at Company X?

At one internship, my team was tasked with working on data-cleaning a huge amount of spatial data. Guess what, the database we were editing? It was live, live not in terms of a cloud server, but live in terms of it being used by production teams the the very next day with no source control. A location I was working on was being queried by a live-team and it caused a cascading situation where $3-6,000 worth of man-hours was spent in identifying the issue and fixing it. (In my defense, there was no equivalent of a lock-out, tag-out procedure, so I had no idea that the repo was in-use). But guess what? Now that I am tasked with a data-migration project (my dept. is transferring files to the cloud) I am aware of SNAFU's when there isn't source control.

Despite the gross dangers of the situation, it wasn't my place to change policy, but to learn from existing policy and if I were to ever find myself in charge of a similar project, to draw from that knowledge and say

CEO of Company Y, Policy A is a poor idea, here is why.

Learn, live, move on.

Also, don't bad mouth your old company in interviews. Try to frame the deficiencies as situations where you disagreed with policy, raised and/or thought of alternative solutions, but was ultimately wasn't your place to change policy.

  • Thanks, this is actually very useful to me. I feel like I am learning a lot about how NOT to do things, and thinking of my experience in this context makes it seem pretty valuable. (I only worry that I am not learning the right way to do things and acquiring good habits.) – Jason Oct 30 '17 at 23:31
  • The axiom there is more than one way to [verb] a cat comes to mind here. Learn the practices and see if they apply to your future employment, if so, then no need to reinvent the wheel, if not, then see what is lacking and fix it. – Frank FYC Oct 30 '17 at 23:33

Hmm ... well, there are bad companies and bad companies. (Tautology much, akaioi?)

What you should look at is whether this company has a bad reputation in the industry, or just on the inside. Ask your friends, look at Glassdoor. If it does, why does it?

Some scenarios I've run into or heard about are below. Note that what's done is done; you worked there, so let's focus on how to deal with when interviewers ask you about it.

  • Company chews up devs and spits 'em out -- No harm in having this on your resume. You worked there, learned a surprising amount even though you didn't like the working conditions, and are now looking for a better corporate culture.

  • Company is poorly managed -- Again, no harm here. Interviewers will likely ask about it. You can explain how you and your group coped with the adversities. This can actually get you points. This is your scenario

  • Company's work is a little ... seamy -- Some people will flinch a bit if they see adult services or even online ads. You can focus on the technology you worked with, and downplay the actual content. Turns out these sort of companies deal with enormous volumes which make for some pretty keen engineering. Above all, don't make jokes about it. Taste and tact are your watchwords here.

  • Company is/was in a gruesome scandal -- Think Enron or so. This is a hard one to talk through, but is doable. You can note that that whole business saddened and dismayed you, and no surprise you're looking to leave, eh?

So, in general... Focus on the technology. Focus on the problems you solved. Focus on how you overcame the problems that gave the company a bad rep and actually managed to move some product. Most interviewers will be interested instead of appalled.

(Minor side note: when describing the adversities, don't whine about it, or rant. Be frank and factual: "We had persistent problems with late or insufficient docs, and here's what we did...")

Last note, honest! You actually have an opportunity here. Wouldn't it be a feather in your cap if you were the guy who created an "island of sanity" at your current place? That would be something to crow about later...

  • I also agree and suggest doing something like the last part of your answer. If you see something you don't like it is better to try to improve it before scratching it as impossible and search for other options. If the OP actually managed to achieve that, this could become an excellent point to include in Resume. – DarkCygnus Oct 30 '17 at 23:26
  • This is great advice, and I have thought a lot about how I would implement changes. They seem pretty open to giving me all kinds of responsibility and have already said they'd like to hire me full-time when I graduate, so I think I could have some influence. The problem seems to be the CEO however; he doesn't seem to think any of these things are important. If the crisis didn't persuade him, I don't know what will – Jason Oct 30 '17 at 23:47
  • @Jason there are a number of approaches you could take here. (Now for the heavy hinting) ... You could totally post a question about how to work good practice into a disorganized company... ;D – akaioi Oct 31 '17 at 2:35

Is this a terrible company and could I actually damage my career by working there?

Well, saying it is a "bad" company may be a bit subjective to answer here.

However, one important thing to consider is that you are not the company, you just happen to work there in this moment. You may be a good worker on a "bad" company, or a "bad" worker on a good company, and those factors are independent to each other.

Therefore, having worked on some "bad" company on the past does not change the type of professional you are, so I don't see that affecting your career directly (like being discriminated for having worked on company X previously). When recruiters consider you for a position they usually give more importance on your skills and knowledge, rather than if your past employer was "good" or "bad".

Now, what could be harmful for your career is the fact that you are working in a place that you don't seem to like too much, and probably also not learning the skills you may want/need to develop your professional career. This is something really important you should consider, as you could probably be better looking for a job you prefer and that helps you develop your professional skills in the way you want.

As a last comment, it seems to me that you have a decent time working there, so you could actually be in a position to try implement/prepare those changes you believe could be useful, making the company better in the process. If this is not possible then you should think if working there is something that you actually want and that could benefit you, as suggested before.

  • "not learning the skills you may want/need to develop your professional career." This is something I really worry about. I'm not sure if I should just try to learn from the mistakes I see (which could be very valuable), or if I should make it a priority to find a job that will teach me the right way to do things – Jason Oct 30 '17 at 23:50
  • @JoeStrazzere Good point. I guess I thought future employers would judge me by my workplace the same way they would judge me by the school I go to, but maybe I'm overestimating the impact of a simple part time job – Jason Oct 31 '17 at 0:18

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