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I graduated in May and just started my first full-time software engineering position at a smaller (relatively speaking) branch of a large defense contractor. My first day of work was June 10.

However, besides the banal new-hire activities, they have assigned me nothing to do. I know it has been less than two weeks, but it seems like this may be the case for a while, which is unsettling. I loathe getting to work and having nothing to do.

I have contacted my functional manager a few times and he seems to be fighting for me, but I'm still doing nothing. If I have to do this everyday for a long time I may explode. I do not like being in my office and think I made a big error in coming here. I've even deliberated on re-opening my job hunt, including reaching back out to the places I declined to come here.

My parents think I'm crazy, but I really am that unhappy at the moment. Any advice?

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    Possible duplicate of What to do if you are in the workplace and you dont have a work? – gnat Jun 19 at 14:30
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    Are you perchance waiting for a security clearance? – shoover Jun 19 at 17:40
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    What are the "banal new-hire activities" you're referring to? General admin tasks like creating necessary accounts and setting up your system? Or things to help you get familiar with what you'll be working on (e.g. reading documentation or refactoring)? Are there enough such tasks to keep you busy? What did your manager say when you spoke to them about this? Did you explicitly ask them "what should I be doing"? They are almost certainly the best person to tell you (a) what to do (if there is "actual" work to do) and (b) roughly when you can expect more work. – Dukeling Jun 19 at 19:38
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At the risk of sounding like your parents, you may need to step back from your (likely temporary) discomfort and consider the big picture:

  • As you stated, you've only been there two weeks. Careers are a lifelong pursuit. Two weeks into your first job, you may not be in a position to legitimately make a choice about what you like or don't like. I apologize if that's harsh, but I can ensure you that no matter what you choose, your perspective on that choice may be different in 5 or 15 years.
  • Defense contractors are notoriously "slow" at work management, due to the size and complexity of the projects they typically work on, and the complexity of their relationship(s) to their clients. I've managed projects for defense contractors where staff effectively sat on the bench for weeks or months at a time as things were getting "worked out." So, to a certain extent, that may come with the territory and may not have anything to do with you being new.
  • Defense contractors often need to do background or clearance processes, sometimes these processes are project-specific. So even once you're employed, you may end up in a position where you're on the bench for a long time waiting for a specific clearance process to complete.
  • Quitting before you've actually worked may mean you're missing out on a job that you really enjoy once it gets under way! As I mentioned in a comment below, I've hired people into defense contractor positions who initially hated the "waiting game" but eventually became very successful and very happy they stuck with it. You shouldn't decide you hate swimming by sticking your finger in a glass of water. You should least try to actually swim before you decide you hate it.
  • Quitting a job after two weeks is abandoning the effort that it took to get that job, and causing a loss for the company in terms of their investment in hiring you. Even if you decide you don't care about the loss to the company, and you decide not to tell future potential employers about your short tenure there, they may find out. Recruiters tend to talk about candidates that jump ship after only a few weeks, and the talk is rarely positive.

All that said, you are clearly distressed about your situation. You may want to be explicit about that with your manager - you've mentioned that you've contacted him, and I presume that contact has been primarily about getting you a work assignment. You may want to ask if there are other things you can do during your downtime, to ensure you're in a good position to work once you have an assignment. You could even suggest some ideas and see if he can help make them happen:

  • Read any documentation on current projects that you're allowed access to
  • Shadow or co-program with another developer
  • Help with testing, code review, or some other ancillary function that doesn't require you to have explicit ownership over an actual development task
  • Do online training - the company may even offer some internally
  • Take certifications or short courses in the tech stack you'll be using
  • Help with administrative tasks or meta-work

...and so on. You may be able to keep yourself busy long enough to fill the gap, doing something productive.

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    This is a good answer. I had a similar situation as a new hire with little experience and no work to do. I asked my manager if there was any particular technology I could study or brush up on. Instead of sitting around doing nothing, I was able to learn the basics of C# when I had been using Java previously and I was ready to jump right into our app project when the time came. Use this time to improve yourself and your skills. – Steve-o169 Jun 19 at 14:04
  • Since the OP is working for a government contractor, I would also note that depending on what contract you been assigned to there may be background/clearance type issues before they can actually give you useful work. Every agency does things differently. – pboss3010 Jun 19 at 14:12
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    This story repeats itself. While in defense contracting, I hired a dev straight from college. He sat with no assigned tasks for almost a year. His head nearly exploded. He told me he was thinking about quitting. He even had an offer from a local manufacturing firm. Eventually, we got him on a project. That was roughly 12 years ago, he's now leading a team at one of the most successful firms in the industry, makes way more money than me, speaks in front of thousands at national conferences, and is very happy that he stuck with it. Meanwhile the manufacturer he almost went to is out of business. – dwizum Jun 19 at 14:13
  • Thank you for the answer. I actually just received my clearance and was hoping it would help me, but I was pretty disappointed when that did not happen. I greatly appreciate your feedback and will make use of it moving forward. – LowLevelSoCal Jun 19 at 14:15
  • @pboss3010 that's a good point, I edited in another bullet mentioning clearances. LowLevelSoCal - I appreciate you selecting this as the accepted answer, in the future you may want to wait a few days to see what other people have to say before selecting an answer. Some users who open this question and see there's already a selected answer may decide you're no longer paying attention and may not try to answer themselves, so you may miss out on other perspectives. – dwizum Jun 19 at 14:17
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I am going to disagree with the current top (and accepted) answer.

Defense contractors are known within the tech industry to be slow-paced and, in many cases, "boring" to work for. Of course that's relative, but your experience at one will be much different compared to working for a unicorn/top tech company. The tech will mostly be pretty old and there will be a lot more process and less freedom to do what you want. If you end up on a traditional project at one of these companies- I doubt you will be using any cool innovative new languages or frameworks to accomplish your tasks. Its possible- but unlikely.

You're young and this is your first job out of college. Now is the time to take risks in your career and take opportunities that will allow you to learn the most and grow as much as you can as a software engineer. Yes you may end up liking your career 10 years down the line at the defense company. You may also still hate it and still live with the regret of not having chosen a career path that you would have enjoyed.

When I graduated from college I was working on stuff from day 1. It was almost overwhelming how many responsibilities I was given and I felt it helped me grow immensely in my career, I learned way more than I ever have in college. I would never have traded that opportunity for sitting at my desk all day doing nothing waiting for an interesting project to be assigned to.

Defense contractors are great for keeping stable careers, they are not as great for keeping new college graduates excited. It is perfectly okay to feel disappointed with the lack of work you're being assigned, even if it is the beginning of your job. What I'd recommend is the following:

  • Study the existing code as much as possible. You can learn a lot from reading code that your teammates are writing
  • Do as much self-learning as possible. When you have nothing better to do its a great idea to take action and make sure you're bettering yourself even when you aren't explicitly working on assignments
  • Communicate to your manager and let them know you would like to do work, however small, so you can start learning and contributing
  • Look for other jobs in the meantime. Join that startup that might fail but would elicit excitement from you. Join that corporation that would have specially designed training programs to get you on-par with currently working software engineers and would give you the foundation blocks to the rest of your career. It is perfectly okay to jump around your first couple years and find what works and what doesn't. You don't need to work at your first company for 20 years and slowly develop your career. You can take opportunities and quickly grow both as an engineer and as a person.

There is no point to staying at a job that literally makes you unhappy and dread going to work. Unless you are on contract- you have no obligation to the company that hired you. Your software engineering experience is unlike any I have experienced and you do not have to be forced to undergo that kind of work culture if it is unfavorable and miserable for you.

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    "The tech will mostly be pretty old and there will be a lot more process and less freedom to do what you want." - There are defense projects that are literally leading the industry in technology. This seems like a comment from somebody on the outside of the defense contracting world – Ramhound Jun 20 at 21:43
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    @Ramhound I was generalizing. You will find innovative tech at defensive companies- especially at their research facilities. The majority of engineers will not be working on tech that is leading the industry in innovation. If OP manages to get on a project like that- cool! But they might not and there are tons of other companies where you can work on innovative tech without having to wait to get your first task. – chevybow Jun 20 at 21:48
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My teamlead told the latest new hire that it's normal to take about 6 months before they are able to do any programming by themselves. Not because they don't have the skills to program but because they have no knowledge about our programs, business logic, ...

Instead of asking your functional teamlead "give me a project". I would first focus on getting up to speed with the deeper workings of what's already there. Ask for where you can find documentation, if they have information on previous (or even better, ongoing) projects. Ask if you can follow another programmer for a while to learn how they work in the job.

Anything that gives you the initial knowledge required to start doing something yourself later on.

If none of those work and your teamlead really can't give you anything, ask what programming languages and/or tools are used in your job and start studying those on your own mock projects. Write simple programs using those tools so that you are really familiar with them by the time you do get your first assignment.

If nothing else, you can always improve your skills in the current more popular tools so that if you do decide to hunt for a job again, you can add those to your resumé.

  • +1 to reading through the current codebase. The first while in any team should be spent familiarizing yourself with how they code, so that you can follow the style/form/etc. As well, you might even find some optimizations you can push! If no one else gives you work, make some for yourself. – jsarbour Jun 19 at 16:14

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