Is it unrealistic to expect a single computer engineer, however bright, to bear the full responsibility of designing and launching a hardware/software product?


I studied computer engineering technology at a local trade school, and was frequently among the top performers in my class. After graduation, I was hired as the sole tech guy by a small local company that designs and manufactures hardware/software for a niche market.

Our original goal was to design a simple device and associated software that would augment an existing product line. This quickly scope-creeped to creating an entirely new product line based on the Best Widget Ever™.

I've been working on this project for 5 years now, and I feel like every step has been an uphill battle. The entire burden of hardware development, software development, graphics design, user experience, and to a lesser extent marketing has been placed on me. My boss will frequently approach me with vague ideas for features, which I will have to distill into something that makes sense. I've had to self-learn entire programming languages, frameworks, and design patterns in pursuit of our elusive goal.

It should go without saying that I'm feeling pretty burned out at this point. I've been able to complete most of the hardware and firmware development, but desktop app development (specifically UI and graphics design) might actually break me. I want to see this project to completion, but development has slowed to a crawl and I'm not sure if or when that will be. When I consider how much work will be involved in actually launching the product line once the design phase is complete I'm overwhelmed.

I keep thinking that a more competent developer should be able to handle this, and that I'm being paid too much for such slow progress. I used to enjoy development, but this project has sucked the life out of me.

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    if it's taken 5 years with no end in sight then this is probably a funding mine – Kilisi Sep 14 '18 at 17:03
  • shades of Theranos ^ – NKCampbell Sep 14 '18 at 17:06
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    Have you discussed hiring more people with your manager? – jcmack Sep 14 '18 at 17:09
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    "Jack-of-all-trades" are valuable to have around (kudos to you). BUT a jack-of-all-trades won't out-perform a team with some specialized folks in delivering a final product. What you are doing is too much for one person, it will burn you out and deliver sub-par product. You should have at least some consultants brought in to help, if not another professional on staff. – teego1967 Sep 14 '18 at 17:35
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    Are you being compensated fairly? – user53651 Sep 14 '18 at 20:43

Is it unrealistic to expect a single computer engineer, however bright, to bear the full responsibility of designing and launching a hardware/software product?

Not if they say they can deliver or if they don't say they can't.

You need to communicate your problems and should have done so 5 years ago. If you have pushed that point several times, you should have either job hunted or just soldiered on. 5 years to make a niche product is a long time for a small company, so to me this looks like a funding mine.

If it is a mine, then delivering an actual product is not particularly important, working on it enough to show progress and continuing to receive funding is the main aim.

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    There have been frequent conversations regarding progress and direction, so up until now I've been "soldiering on". The possibility of this being a funding mine crossed my mind. – user92236 Sep 14 '18 at 18:43
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    Well, hard to advise without being in your shoes, but if the sales people are good enough funding mines can last forever. Unfortunately if things go South the first to get chewed up and spat out are the techs. One indication of a funding mine is when there is pressure for specific features, but not others, because they're used for presentations. I've seen whole careers based on mines, but not tech ones. I've also seen them much to everyones surprise produce a sucessful product by accident. – Kilisi Sep 14 '18 at 18:46