I have been working with a company for about 6 months, with the job title of software engineer/support specialist. So far, I have done very little software work, but that was initially expected.

The problem is with my boss, the owner of the company. I'm expected to support their software to corporate customers with very little assistance. The previous support employee left several months before I started, and the only other person able to help me is doing field work 90% of the time. He is unreachable almost all of the time when he's doing field work.

My boss tells me to "jump into the thick of it and get my hands dirty" to learn the software. If a customer contacts me, I'm supposed to learn as I go to fix it. I had no problem doing this, but a couple weeks ago, I made a change that broke the customer's systems for 4 days. Eventually the field guy had to fix it when he had time. Now just two days ago, the system broke again even after I was being very careful. The boss is blaming me when I feel I haven't had the resources to succeed. He mentioned to me that "this system has been working for years and is now breaking", implying that I'm the cause.

Another issue is that I have a couple of actual software projects that I haven't had any chance to start. The customers are waiting for work to be completed, but I just haven't had time due to my support load. I probably would have time if I was more knowledgeable of the software, but even after 6 months I'm not up to speed with how to fix things quickly.

How should I handle this? Should I bring it up to my boss and what should I say? He's very headstrong.

  • 1
    What if the case is simply that they are not the right place for you and/or you are not the right support for them. I would look for another job without trying to fix this.
    – Sandra K
    Apr 3, 2018 at 14:05
  • 4
    @erik - "unintentionally made it so that it's very hard to support." <- what you mean to say is that it's poorly designed. Nothing "unintentional" about it.
    – AndreiROM
    Apr 3, 2018 at 14:09
  • 1
    yeah @Erik, this does not make any sense. If you want to grow, find a professional place
    – Sandra K
    Apr 3, 2018 at 14:11
  • 6
    @erik - I've heard this stuff so many times that it has become a meme. Small company creates a product with decent potential, but poorly implemented. Rather than taking the time to fix it, or build the next gen well, they tack on functionality, all the while operating with like 1 programmer/server expert who is underpaid, and leaves the second he can. Owner - who is clueless about programming - then hires a junior dev to take on the role, promises the sky, design of new system etc, while you actually end up mired in supporting the dying software, and being blamed for the failure. 1/2
    – AndreiROM
    Apr 3, 2018 at 14:17
  • 5
    2/2 I've worked for two companies where that was the case (one was essentially a clone of the situation you're in, the other was bigger, and the dysfunction was a little more subtle). Almost every programmer I know has worked for at least one such horror story of a company (early in their careers). You learn to recognize them, and to know that you have no chance to ever get anything truly productive done there. Just look for a new job and chalk it up as a learning experience.
    – AndreiROM
    Apr 3, 2018 at 14:20

4 Answers 4


What you've told us is what you should be telling him as well. However, more importantly, you should be looking for a new job.

These sort of chaotic workplaces may serve to teach you a lot, but are usually not worth the stress, and not all of those skills and habits you pick up may be good ones. Especially when you have the threat of being fired for your boss's failings hanging over your head.

I would look for a sane employer, with more staff, where you can actually get some training. In the mean time keep telling your boss that you need more training and help, but your requests will likely fall on deaf ears.

  • 3
    +1 because I believe the answer is: "you should be looking for a new job." instead of trying to fix a dying situation (just like their software)
    – Sandra K
    Apr 3, 2018 at 14:20
  • 1
    This, so much this. And don't stick around to try and fix it. OP, take it from another person who has been in your situation and stuck around: it will go wrong and you will be blamed. There is no fixing this. Run, don't walk.
    – Belle
    Apr 4, 2018 at 7:34

I have to disagree with the other answer.

What you have described to me is this: the only free resource to handle these issues is you. this makes you hard to fire. Use it.

This is where you will learn the most. Yes, you might get fired. Yes, the stakes are high, and you will take the heat. But this heat is what you learn from. Fear of failure is the mother of all invention, almost. I have always come out with a fresh perspective after going into the deep end. Some I failed. Learn to accept failure as a learning experience and use the motivation it gives you both up front and in hindsight. This will prepare you to handle greater projects in the future. I was luckily once put in charge of a pilot process because there were no others available. Holy batman we screwed up alot, but in doing so learned enough about the process to defend a 500 MUSD capex investment.

Stick with it.

Edit: As an addendum, build relations with your customers and clients instead of your boss given your situation.

  • I disagree. Failure is okay, if the boss understands that it is part of the process. That doesn't seem to be the case here.
    – Belle
    Apr 4, 2018 at 7:46
  • 2
    @Belle-sophie well, we agree to disagree then. Having no challenges under the worlds best boss gets you nowhere. Getting fired is not the end of the world. Apr 4, 2018 at 13:28

You need to try an look at this situation objectively.

You haven't specified the role that you applied for, i.e. was it a trainee software engineer/support specialist or was the role advertised as an experienced engineer.

Either way communication is key, but explaining that you are not happy because of X isn't necessarily the best way to handle things.

instead try putting half an hour of your own time in to writing a handover/update of your day to your employer. It may go something like this;

Today I have spoken to X customers, of which I was able help X I spent longer than I should have with customer X as I wasn't sure on what to do, after researching/contacting/asking for help I come to the conclusion X.

I definitely think there is in an opportunity for me to gain a deeper understanding around X issue, please could you advise the best way for me to get this information.

I also have X projects which I need to start and have customers waiting for however due to X time researching/contacting/asking for help today I was unable to start today. I'm starting to worry that I am falling behind with these projects, please could you advise on what YOU think I should do.

  • 1
    Why "in your own time"? This seems like a perfectly valid way to use working hours.
    – Erik
    Apr 4, 2018 at 5:31
  • When you are falling behind at work sometimes adding another job to your list can make it seem less realistic, doing this in your own time gives you the ability to feel as if you have gone above and beyond in showing your decision making and opportunities for development, this will show the employer your commitment and make you feel somewhat better about the situation when it comes to a review. However I do believe it to be perfectly acceptable in work time to do this, it's just how I would handle this situation
    – AdamT
    Apr 4, 2018 at 7:07

One other approach I've not seen mentioned is to push your employer to hire more people to share the support workload so you can have some time to focus on some building.

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