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What is a neutral and professional way to push back against being assigned by senior team members to do brainless tasks in a development team? I don't dislike my team, but I am worried about not being taken seriously because I am often an afterthought in terms of task assignment.

Being an afterthought does not take advantage of my skills and abilities (I've had success in solving hard problems for other projects for my team). I get the impression that I am purposely being sidelined because of office politics, being perceived as a threat, or sexism (from some members, not all), or all of the above.

I don't want to mention this to my boss, because I don't want to come off as whiny, but if I have to do this, I am open to it. What's the best way to bring this up?

How do I push back against this kind of work assignment while being professional and a team player?

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    who would be doing the brainless tasks if it wasn't you? – Kilisi Aug 20 '18 at 20:37
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    Are the "brainless tasks" needed, or are they just busy work? – Jim Clay Aug 20 '18 at 20:54
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    Why downvote based on that? It's silly to think that someone can't analyze their environment and come to conclusions based on it. – user43453 Aug 20 '18 at 20:58
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    @user43453 to counter the downvotes,maybe explain a bit why you have the impression the reason could be you're a threat to someones job or sexism is to blame.Were there any incidents strengthening this perception? – DigitalBlade969 Aug 21 '18 at 2:11
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    Are the brainless tasks distributed to several people or just you? You can edit your question to add details. – Monica Cellio Aug 21 '18 at 3:27
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Sounds like you need to have a talk with your manager. If there are reasons why you are not being assigned more challenging tasks then its best to find out so you can figure out how to overcome those reasons.

When you have this discussion stick to facts of the situation, and not how it makes you feel. And most importantly do not speculate about any reasons you may think are behind this.

  • How do I do this and not be perceived as anti-team player? – user43453 Aug 20 '18 at 21:01
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    @user43453 - just do it directly, and accept what ever criticism with out trying to make excuses. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Aug 21 '18 at 1:26
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    You have a private talk with your manager, in which you say you're ready for more challenging assignments and talk how to get them. Volunteering to do more is not anti-team. – David Thornley Aug 21 '18 at 15:32
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    As @DavidThornley says, "ready for more challenging assignments", not "I'm too good for the brainless work". Unfun tasks are simply a fact of life in any job. Do what you can to swing the balance toward the rewarding tasks, but telling your boss that you don't want to do the unfun stuff is not good. – Peter Aug 21 '18 at 16:07
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You may want to adjust your viewpoint on the matter instead of pushing back on getting assigned mundane tasks.

Someone has to do them. You have had more interesting tasks and should have them in future.

If you must push back then there is no way to do what you want, which is basically get reassigned something more interesting at the teams expense (since it will impact on all the planning and implementation strategies already formulated) while appearing professional, keen, and a team player.

Doing so is basically disagreeing with the senior team members, calling in to question their ethics, competence and judgement, and going over their heads to complain about them.

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    I have been doing this for the entire time I've been here, and the one time I was assigned something difficult was because the senior guy's favorite team member had too much on his plate. I am now thinking of pushing back because this has happened more than once. – user43453 Aug 20 '18 at 21:19
  • So push back, nothing wrong with that, just don't try and rationalise it as something different. You stand up for yourself or not, standing halfway up just doesn't work. – Kilisi Aug 20 '18 at 22:09
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Make sure you're doing your dumb assignments well. You need to show that you're willing to do whatever you're assigned and do it well, and so you're ready to do more.

Talk to your manager. Leave your feelings and guesses out of it. Tell your manager that you want to be assigned more challenging tasks, that you're ready for them. That's completely unobjectionable. (When I did it, my manager didn't so much as blink.)

Listen to what your manager says. If your manager thinks you're not ready, ask how you can become ready. If your manager waffles, that's a bad sign.

Wait for more tasks to be parceled out. Volunteer for specific tasks that you think you can do a good job at. Make it clear that you want more difficult jobs.

If the office is run well, this should work (assuming, of course, that you have the necessary talent). It's possible that you're being excluded out of sexism (I've never seen that level of sexism, but I haven't worked everywhere) or politics, and in that case you may never get what you want where you work.

If you interview with other companies, and they ask why you're leaving, you didn't get the challenges you wanted to develop your skills and grow in your job. (Use your own wordings, and try to sound less like a canned answer than I did.) It's a perfectly acceptable reason, in addition to being true.

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How do I push back against this kind of work assignment while being professional and a team player?

Do the busy work as quickly as possible and with the time you have left over, pick up something challenging from the backlog to work on. If there's nothing in the backlog that hasn't been assigned to another team member, think about tasks that maybe haven't been planned yet but that will need to get done sometime in the future. When it's time for your sprint review (or whatever kind of review process you have on your team), you can proudly state that you finished your assigned tasks and also got a significant amount of work done for an upcoming project. This should work to show your seniors what you're capable of (if they don't already know) and, I would hope, convince them to allow you to continue working on that project.

I can't say for sure if this approach will work for you but it has worked for me.

  • simply taking ownership of a task without confirming with a supervisor might work, but depending on the company / management it might backfire and be frowned upon or seen as overstepping ones competence.if it is standard or accepted practice, this is good advice though. – DigitalBlade969 Aug 22 '18 at 16:44
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Your seniority in your profession and for how long you're with the company are two key factors that could hint to why you are given mundane tasks.

  • If you're a senior you're probably earning more than juniors.
    A joking remark to your boss about task x becoming quite expensive with you on it might make them pause and rethink your assignment.
    Or if that's too brash for you, simply state that you feel a bit under utilized.
    If they still don't assign tasks there might be no other "higher" tasks left to go around and you might have to just bash through it.
    Should this persist with the next project or once you see there are open tasks you feel would fit you still not being assigned to you, there might be something else brooding.
    Dust up that CV, look for other opportunities and inquire why you're being left out cold.

  • If you're junior / mid level than you're the perfect candidate for those tasks and I'm sorry to say have to suck it up to a degree.
    You still can have a chat with your manager, mentioning that you just finished this thing and would like to be challenged a bit more, just like the last time you worked on project X so that you can grow.

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I would recommend to sit down with the manager and ask him directly about it.

Make sure you describe your perception and feelings about the situation, not your guesses of the reasons for it, no matter how obvious they seem to you.
For example, "I have the impression that I get all the silly work; it makes me feel underappreciated.", not "They give me all the silly work because they think I'm too dumb".

There is of course the possibility that you are not seen as good as you think you are, compared to the others. If so, it's up to the manager to clearly tell you that, and then you have a chance to work to correct his impressions if you think they're wrong.

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It's really easier to jump to use the race, gender expression, sexual orientation, etc cards as to why you're not getting the projects you think are desirable. Could it be you don't have the experience for the particular projects in question? Maybe you think that you're better developer than you than you really are and the busy work is meant to teach you to be better.

When I was in QA very early in my career, I was assigned to manual testing. Given that I had internship experience writing production code and a degree in computer science, I thought that manual testing was beneath me, but I stuck with it. Doing manual testing gave me an understanding of the current state of QA, which was an valuable experience developing a new test automation framework for my team.

I would talk to your manager about what skills you are supposed to be developing with the tasks you have been assigned. Tell your manager which projects you would like to work on and why. Ask to shadow a co-worker on a project you're interested in.

  • Why the downvote? – jcmack Aug 21 '18 at 17:54

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