Two weeks ago I started a new job in an automated medicine dispensing company. The company is not very big, around 50 employees. I was hired to work 50% / 50% with automated medicine dispensers (loading up the machine with pills etc) but also in the companys software and IT matters.

Recently I had a discussion with my managers concerning a routine survey for new employers. In the survey they asked my thoughts on the new position, mentoring, how the work is managed etc. I said that sometimes I wonder what is my role in the companys IT, especially what is my goal/objective, timeframe and tools used. The two weeks I had been in the office I was assigned small tasks, like updating software documentation, but it seemed that the IT manager who was mentoring me had trouble figuring out what could I do with my work time. Also, when I was hired the job description was very ambiguous and unclear about the software and IT affairs.

Once we started the meeting it was clear that they didn't like me saying that I had thought about these matters. They sayid that I was hired as an expert of the field and I should know what is my objective at work. They made me feel that it's a totally stupid question to ask even. I was supposed to know what I had to do, having worked 2 weeks in a totally new field to me.

I have a degree in CS but I don't have much work experience and my programming skills are not that great. My previous job was at a helpdesk, mainly troubleshooting MS Office problems.

So my question is that if you were in my shoes, what goal would you pursue in the companys software & IT? What do I do in my work hours if I'm not given any direction to go? The managers said that I'm supposed to know but I really don't. I had the impression that they don't even like me asking questions, they expect that I work independently, not relying on colleagues.

Currently I'm feeling a bit confused. Should I just start to model the companys IT workflows (UML, data flow diagrams), analyze the requirements for new software etc? I understand that this is not an easy question to answer, but I appreciate all your thoughts on the matter.

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    What might bring measurable value to the company? (And what preliminary steps might you need to take to be able to answer that question?) – Luke Sawczak Aug 31 '19 at 12:58
  • Excellent point. This is a question I will definitely research further. – johnns Aug 31 '19 at 14:02

Make a backlog and ask for input on prioritizing it.

It sounds like they need your help in knowing what needs doing, and you need their help knowing what is most important to them. This is fairly typical for an organization, although in larger organizations you probably wouldn't be so central to the process so soon.

So first make a backlog. This is just a list of everything that you could work on, broken down as small as possible. If there's not some sort of system for tracking such a list, start with that.

Next, look at how software problems are discovered at your workplace, what tests are in place, what monitoring there is, how updates are done, how changes are tracked, etc. Make backlog items to cover any holes.

Next, observe your users. See what difficulties they are having with their IT systems, and ask them questions about what they are doing and what their "software wish list" is. Think of some ideas to solve those problems and add them as backlog items.

At this point, you should have a sizeable amount of work on your backlog. Now go to your managers and ask for their input on prioritizing what to work on first. Come up with an order everyone can agree on, then implement the highest-priority item, then do a demo and ask for feedback. Rinse and repeat.

A lot of software developers wish they had the kind of flexibility you have, so don't squander it. You'll soon have a larger backlog than you know what to do with.

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  • Thank you for your valuable comments! The detailed steps you described will be very useful. I will definitely ask the IT-manager if there is a backlog, and if not, proceed in creating one. It's true that the positive side in this situation is the extensive flexibility and freedom. – johnns Sep 2 '19 at 15:48

There is a huge difference between knowing what you're doing in IT and knowing what your employer is doing in IT.

Your question does not describe a lack of skill or knowledge in IT subjects, it points out a lack of expressed goals by your employer.

"I was hired as an expert of the field and I should know what is my objective at work." This would be true if you had been hired to manage the IT department. Since the department already has a manager, you have to take your objectives from him. The reason your managers are uncomfortable is that you are telling them that your IT supervisor is not doing his job.

Insist that your supervisor (or mentor, or whatever he's called) either give you objectives, or give you explicit permission to set your own objectives. Think of it a climbing up the chain of defined goals:

(1) what does your supervisor need you to do? No answer? Well, then, (2) what does the company need your supervisor and you to do? No? Okay, (3) what does the company need the IT department to do?

and so forth.

And if your managers are uncomfortable with your honest answers is their own fault for asking honest questions.

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    Thank you for your comments! The steps you described are a good place to start. And you're right, my questions are uncomfortable for the managers probably because they themselves might be totally clueless on what direction to go. They answer by getting defensive and say that "I should know what to do". If I don't get any objectives I must get permission to set my own objectives. For the first weeks and moths it would probably be a good idea to research the automated medicine dispensing field, the processes, tools and technologies the company utilizes. – johnns Aug 31 '19 at 14:01

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