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I was hired as a frontend developer at a web based company 6 months ago, my contract actually states that my job title is front-end developer.

The first task that I was given at this job was to investigate an issue with logs on the server. This was nothing to do with front-end development but as I had just started I didn't say anything and tried my best.

Since then, I have constantly been given backend tasks to work on aswell as the ocassional frontend task. The thing is, I do actually know how to do the backend work and can do an ok job, it's just that I really hate it and struggle with motivation a lot.

I've mentioned this politely a few times, but the company does not have enough people working on the backend and apparently there is not enough to fill my time on the frontend only.

What can I do about this situation? It's not really what I expected going into this 6 months ago.

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    Have you clarified what your employee means by frontend? Where I used to work, frontend clearly entailed the webserver for the frontend, including operations for it! Contrasting to backend, where you wrote libary, datawrangling scripts and where responsible for databases, data import/export and the like... this really tripped us up when we got an FE developer who expected to only write Javascript/HTML/CSS. So you may have a clash of definitions going. Nowadays, I try to call my definition webb app developer, as that makes it clearer that they need a bigger stack. Some even do DB stuff! – Benjamin Nov 29 '19 at 6:09
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You were hired as a frontend developer. They haven't given you frontend work. You've raised this politely but apparently there's not enough frontend work for you.

I don't think "start looking for another job" is always the answer, but in this case, I don't see many other options if what you want to do is frontend development.

If for some reason you really want to stay in this company, raise it again with your manager. Politely but firmly. At the same time, suggest improvements or areas that you could add value to within the frontend scope. Rather than waiting for your manager to tell you to work on X, come up with a proposal to do X and bring it to your manager.

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  • Indeed. And the key takeway may be to understand why this fairly common shift is assignments has been made, and if it is so critically undesirable to keep an eye out for hints of similar circumstances in other organizations the asker considers. – Chris Stratton Nov 28 '19 at 16:48
  • @ChrisStratton, Yes, and now he knows to very carefully interview his future co-workers, and not rely so much on the job description or on what the hiring manager tells him – Stephan Branczyk Nov 28 '19 at 23:32
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You just answered your own question.

What would you have your company do if there's a lack of assignments in your specific fields, and a shortage of resources in others that are still development?

In my experience UX and backend go hand in hand and it is normal for employer to assign various tasks to its employees according to need.

Nobody asked you to paint the office or mop the floors in your free time. :)

You may need a bigger company as your employer, though.

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    "In my experience, UX and backend go hand in hand and it is normal for the employer to assign various tasks to its employees according to need". I'm sorry but I disagree here. In my experience, UX and frontend might go hand-in-hand (although they are not the same thing), not UX and backend. – Charmander Nov 28 '19 at 16:42
  • @Charmander - in smaller organizations its not uncommon for one person or sub-team of comparable talent to be responsible for everything that is implemented on server infrastructure, while the meaningful divisions are between that and entirely different parts of the company - ie native or desktop app, physical product, tasks performed for customers by live humans, whatever. – Chris Stratton Nov 28 '19 at 16:50
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    Maybe I'm misunderstanding your comment, @ChrisStratton, and if I am, my apologies. I know from experience that in small companies you might have to work on pretty much everything. However, UX and backend, or UX and server infrastructure are not related topics. I agree with the rest of the answer, it's just that paragraph that I think is inaccurate and might lead to confusion. – Charmander Nov 28 '19 at 16:54
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    @Charmander they are certainly adjacent and interdependent topics and in the broader context of a business, all software-technical ones needing to keep human behavior in mind. Also given how progress tends to bog down and issues get stuck at interfaces between people it is hugely useful to have talents who can work with the technology on both sides of interfaces, as then you can simply assign analyzing and proposing a solution for the problem without tripping over "that's not my job" every five minutes. – Chris Stratton Nov 28 '19 at 16:58
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There is currently a shortage of developers, so companies are kind of just hiring people and throwing them wherever.

I know a senior Java developer (a decade in Spring kind of thing) who was specifically hired to do backend work who is currently spending his time doing React because they couldn't hire anyone for the React job and instead assigned him to it. He was originally offered the React job and had specifically declined it. He sticks around to avoid being a job hopper.

In my current job, I was primarily hired based on backend skills. I have just one backend commit in prod so far. The rest is React. It matters less as I don't really have a preference, but it just points to how fluid assignments are.

Add in project management often not really recognizing expertise and treating devs as just a general tool to process a unit of work and you get your situation.

You basically need to look for a larger company which has frontend as a dedicated specialty and has enough work to support that by itself.

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  • I wouldn't mind being paid a backend Senior Developer salary to learn react. I would VERY MUCH MIND being paid a Frontend UX entry level salary to do backend work... Sometimes it is unpleasant but if they are paying for it, that's fine. If I'm doing unpleasant work AND being shortchanged, then there's no reason for me to put up with it. – Nelson Nov 29 '19 at 2:58
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From a management point-of-view it sounds like your employer needs to drop a frontend developer and hire a backend developer who is happy to do some frontend work. When it comes down to it, they are paying you for ~2090 hours a year, if the frontend development only makes up say 25% of your workload, then they are paying you to sit around doing nothing for 1567.5 hours if you don't take on the backend work. That does not make economical sense.

From personal experience, I have always enjoyed taking on extra tasks (with or without extra pay) for the experience factor. This is how, in my current employment (almost 4 years), I have ended up being responsible for the design and development of 2 products; information security; and infrastructure management; while also being involved in maintenance on the flagship product and the role I was originally hired for, internal and external technical support.

So my recommendation is to lean into it, get as much experience as you can and see where things go. If you present yourself as only being into frontend development, then you will likely miss out on non-frontend opportunities that interest you.

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  • I agree that it sounds like they really could have done with a backend dev who does a bit of frontend and should have given the role a different title. As for the experience factor... I don't really need it, as I have done backend stuff in the same language for years in the past but made the switch to frontend as I find it so much more enjoyable. I'm not learning anything new from my backend work here. – ezero Nov 29 '19 at 13:36
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Communicate the importance of working on frontend jobs, and gradually increase pressure over time. How much pressure you can exhibit depends on how important the job is to you. I'm assuming frontend work is a "must" in my answer.

  1. First, explain to your superior how important frontend work is to you, as you did to us, first briefly, then maybe in more detail depending on reaction.
  2. Give them some time to acknowledge your feedback. If they don't, give them a clear but polite/professional reminder that you are serious about this.
  3. If that doesn't work, start lining up another job. Then explain to them that you have no choice but change employment if they will keep giving you backend work, and that you are seeking a career in frontend development (that's what you were hired as). With the previous reminders, they will get the message not later than this. They have to weigh up if they would rather lose you, or go through efforts to find / assign somebody else.
  4. If they now decide to put you on frontend work, acknowledge this and say that you are now happy if it continues like this. You can stay at the job. If this doesn't work, change employment.

At all times, make sure that you communicate everything professionally, objectively and factually, and stay away from arguments, back-and-forths and emotions as far as possible. It should be a professional matter. Otherwise, this will cause work relationship issues.

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