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I am a very junior DevOps intern. Being an intern, I know that it is expected for me to not have the experience of my coworkers, and that impostor syndrome is a common problem for developers. However, I am still highly concerned about my productivity to the point of being legitimately concerned for being let go due to incompetence. Asking my supervisor and coworkers whether my work has been up to par, I have gotten neutral or better responses, but I am unhappy with my own work.

I believe that my work is not good enough for multiple reasons: coworkers seem to be getting tired of constant questions because their message style has gotten increasingly formal over time; easy problems take far too long to complete (hours or days instead of minutes); external distractions such as phone distractions are taking time away from work.

My question is this: is it a good idea to work extra without claiming hours in order to make up for my incompetence and distractions?

15 Answers 15

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is it a good idea to work extra without claiming hours in order to make up for my incompetence and distractions?

No. It's a horrible idea. In addition to doing all the bad things that overtime normally does to you, it will also not solve your problem.

You say your problem is that due to your competence level and distraction level, you are not efficient enough at work. Working even more hours at that competence and distraction level would be a complete waste of time.

What you should do is to invest those hours using your own time to get more competent and less distracted during the hours you do regularly work. You have to decide what that means, but some examples:

  • Get up an hour early, check on all your facebook/instagram/whatapp or whatever messages so you are up to date and can close those apps at work.

  • Spend your weekend figuring out how to set your phone up, that non-urgent messages will not trigger any ring/vibration/attention grabbing behavior.

  • Get a book on the topic of your work and read it after hours.

  • Do something related to work, but not work. If your work is to program a webshop, program a video game. If you have problems understanding your companies webfarm, install a webfarm on your own old computers.

  • Relax. Get sleep. Eat well. Exercise. Yeah, I know, I'm a hypocrite here, but really, it helps with almost everything.

The point is: if you are inefficient at what you do, don't do more of it. That's pointless.

Raise your efficiency level.

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    @JeremyGrand en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Effects_of_overtime - if people aren't keen on believing on Wikipedia about such a serious topic, they can check the "References" section. – Ismael Miguel Jul 10 at 11:05
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    @JeremyGrand I know. The information isn't hard to find, at all. I apologize if seemed like i was going "here's ya stinkin link, now shush", because it wasn't at all. The 2nd bit is because people think that just because anyone can edit anything on Wikipedia, that the information there is unreliable. They cna just go for the references and check the sources used. – Ismael Miguel Jul 10 at 11:52
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    +1 to getting a book: most devops tools have extensive documentation online - use your time to read up on it and try it out. This is what your coworkers are doing and what they expect from you. – LeLetter Jul 10 at 17:54
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    Those are all good suggestions, but they can come in addition to, not instead of, putting in overtime. A lot of stuff just takes experience. Experience requires actual hands-on work. Hands-on work requires time. Further, reading professional books and configuring equipment after work hours is also overtime, and can just as well cause the "effects of overtime". Both can also be done during regular work hours, if they are in the critical path for efficiency and success. Ultimately, it's a GOOD idea to spend extra hours on improvement via education or just getting more mileage. – obe Jul 12 at 15:55
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    @MartinF I never told them to work without pay, I told them to not work overtime. And if you check what I recommend, do you think that they should be paid to read their social media messages, setting up their own phone, programming something the company cannot use or sleep more? – nvoigt Jul 13 at 5:03
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At our company we hire new interns every quarter or so. Our main motivations to do so are as follows:

  • To explore new technologies/techniques that we don't have the time to explore for (i.e. product development, R&D)
  • To train and select new junior engineers we can hire

Note that in both options we don't actually need any output. When we have someone work on some new system i don't expect it to work in the end, i care more for experience in said system. Having someone who not knows the ropes and makes all the mistakes is very usefull for that.

Therefore their value or productivity does not directly relate to the actual output of their work. And this is my point precisely. Your employer will likely value personal and technical growth more than you think.

Also you said that questions become more formal and you feel people are 'fed up' with your questioning. I think in that case it would help to also become a bit more formal with your questioning. Take some extra care in formulating a question, try solving it yourself a bit more and politely asks if someone has 5 minutes of their time for you. Also try to accumulate questions and ask them at once, maybe even write them down before asking. This makes the whole you-asking-questions process a bit more streamlined and you may get better results.

And above all; since you're an intern - ask for feedback. Try to single out issues you can identify and ask people around you what kind of behaviour they would like to have seen instead. Asking feedback is difficult, and the best tip i have for you in that regard is to make it as specific and concrete as you can.

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    “I think in that case it would help to also become a bit more formal with your questioning. Take some extra care in formulating a question, try solving it yourself a bit more and politely asks if someone has 5 minutes of their time for you.” Two points on that: Don’t elaborate unnecessarily, only provide information which is necessary to answer your question. Second: Don’t just write a mail asking for their time, but provide information what it is about. Way too often I’m getting called with questions I could have answered with a single line of text. Also nohello – Michael Jul 10 at 16:02
  • TL;DR; work smarter, not harder. – Dennisch Jul 15 at 12:12
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Remember that being an intern means "knowing how to do the job. not how to make is perfect, on time and alone". Those three factors are things you learn during the intership.

Work on your communication skills (for example: gather your questions during the day and ask them in the morning the next day during a Q&A or standup).
Remove distractions: being able to work in noisy enviroment is also a skill you aquire with time. So is ability to look on your phone only during coffe breaks.

As an intern you are still there to learn. I would say it's good to give extra hour IF you're gonna treat it as going over material you learned during the day. Or once a week, for example monday, when everyone who can give you some advice, correct you or just show you easier way of doing things.

When I was in trade school our teacher said: Academia is knowing to measure 15 times and cut once. Work is knowing you only have time to measure 3 times so you need to cut twice. Trade school and intern is in the middle, teaching you how knowledge is applied in real life.

Bottom line: do not overburden yourself with extra hours because your performance, ability to learn and acquire new skill will be severly crippled. There is nothing wrong if they let you go from being very junior intern.

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  • Apprentice trained professionals measure 3 times with confidence and cut once. Otherwise you ain’t profitable. – Solar Mike Jul 10 at 7:56
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    By most definitions, an intern is there to learn how to do the job. If they already know how to do the job then they are either interning at the wrong company or should be paid a wage. – Pete Kirkham Jul 10 at 8:53
  • @PeteKirkham They should know how to do the work "In theory". Difference beetwen reading about how to change the tire and what tools you will need and really changing the tire. You are learning how to do it. – SZCZERZO KŁY Jul 10 at 9:08
  • @SZCZERZOKŁY I agree, but 'the job' of a tyre fitter is 'really changing the tyre'. So you seem to agree the point of being intern is to learn how to do the job rather than the theory you get in school, which is the opposite of how you phrased your answer. – Pete Kirkham Jul 10 at 9:28
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To address this particular point:

coworkers seem to be getting tired of constant questions

Questions are not a problem in themselves — everyone has to learn!  And it's better to ask than remain ignorant.  But if your coworkers are getting tired of answering questions, you might want to double-check that you're not asking them unnecessarily.

In particular:

  • Is this something you've asked before, or related to something you've asked before?  You might want to take notes* of their answers, so you don't need to ask again.

  • Is this something that you could have found out some other way?  Sources of information include: the web, manpages, project documentation, code comments, a company/team wiki or document store…

  • Is this something you could have worked out yourself?  (It might be that the process of working it out teaches you more than a direct answer would, and saves time in the long run.)

  • Is this something that could wait until your coworker has reached a natural break?  (Even a very short interruption can have a large cost.)

The common factor here is to respect your coworkers' time (and focus).  If you ask questions that could have been easily answered some other way, they will rightfully see it as a waste of their time (which is probably more valuable than yours).  But if you ask questions that show effort, and consideration, then they're much more likely to be welcomed.

(A bit like StackExchange itself, in that regard!)

Of course, you don't need to go overboard.  Working for a day to avoid a 2-minute question would be a huge waste of time!  And there's no need for excessive courtesy or formality.  Just don't let bothering a coworker be your first reaction to every problem.


(* I've been on both sides of this.  In my very first job, I didn't start off taking notes, because I'd remember the answers.  Which I did — until a few weeks later, when I had to ask again, and my boss was justifiably irritated.  After that, I took notes of what he told me!  Conversely, I've been annoyed to have my concentration completely destroyed by questions that could easily have been answered some other way.)

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  • I'm surprised that none of the answers mention Rubber Duck Debugging. – Noah Goodrich Jul 11 at 18:06
  • That's a very valuable technique, of course! But my impression was that OP is asking ‘How do I…?’ or ‘Where is…?’ type questions — not questions like ‘Why didn't this work?’ or ‘What's going on here?’ for which rubber-duck debugging would be appropriate. – gidds Jul 11 at 18:09
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    That also indicates why it's useful to write questions down — in an email, an issue-tracking system, your own notes, or wherever — before presenting them to someone else. Quite often, the effort of putting an issue into words leads you to realise where you should be looking for an answer (if not the actual answer itself)! – gidds Jul 11 at 18:13
  • Another excellent question: "What is the answer" => "How would you figure this out". Then repeat all the above steps. Nobody wants to do someone elses work for them, but this question avoids that – FrozenKiwi Jul 12 at 23:01
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I would be very careful about spending a lot of extra unpaid hours in the office. It might not necessarily give a good impression. Instead of looking eager and hardworking, it clearly communicates to your colleagues and manager that you can't do your work in the allotted time. Your low productivity, which at the moment might just be in your head, might get entrenched in the heads of others.

And of course you also need time to unwind and relax in order to stay productive in the long run.

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  • I've never seen someone working long and after hours and thought they can't do their work in the allotted time. I think what it does do is create an environment where others feel that they have to do the same and that can be a toxic environment. – Sam Orozco Jul 14 at 22:58
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I was there not long ago (I have a couple of years experience in DevOps), so I will give you my opinion. Feel free take it.

I understand where you're coming from. New job, so much to learn, so many changes. Most of the time, you barely understand what's going on. Imposter Syndrome is always behind you because "everyone seems to be doing so much better than myself and I know nothing".

First, you are not expected to know. You are expected to learn. That is different. You can't know things you've never tried before and that comes with time and experience and trials. They hired you knowing this.

Second, Imposter Syndrome. Everyone has it or has some kind of "honestly I don't know what I'm doing". It takes time to overcome it so that it doesn't become a burden. Try to look at things as "wow, I'm here! I used to be there". There is a high chance you have progressed in at least one thing. If you can not see it yourself, then please refer to manager.

Third, extra time. I would be very careful with that. I understand the temptation is high - if you stay longer you will learn more, right? That isn't true (there are many studies about this). Doing 10 hours a day on the same subject will not help you. It will make you tired. I'm not saying to never do overtime but choose it wisely. Make it an exception, not a rule.

I personally take a few hours a week of my personal time to look at other fields than devops. It's really helpful, I do things I like and it helps me in my role (broaden your horizon, makes you think differently, and more importantly, changes your mind!).

Hope it helped.

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My number one rule is this:

More of what does not work, does not work

If you're not at the level you need to be, working more at that level does not bring you up to where you need to be.

If your work is sub-par (although you say that your coworkers don't believe so) then you need to bring yourself up to where you need to be.

If you're distracted, find ways to eliminate the distractions. If you're too slow in getting things done, focus on efficiency. If you're not familiar with the tasks/skills, focus on that.

Now, if you have the spare time to work the overtime, focus on improving your skills/eliminating distractions instead, as that will up your game rather than hide the fact that you're not playing well.

If your coworkers are tiring of your questions, make sure you research them first, and have tried multiple things before you ask them.

Also, when you ask questions, make sure you do so in an intelligent way.

Hey, Bob. I'm having trouble with the widgets. I tried reticulating the spleens, reversing the polarity, and firing the Euclid cannon, and none of this worked, what am I missing?

Sounds much better than

Hey, Bob. I'm having trouble with the widgets, can you help me find out what's wrong?

Finally, if you have an ally at work, ask for honest feedback, focus on strengthening yourself in areas they point out.

Imposter syndrome is also part of the Dunning Kruger effect. I've known absolute geniuses who lack self-confidence because they are so well versed in a subject, they are well aware of what they don't know, and therefore assume that that lack of knowledge is a failing. You may be at the beginning stages of that. You'v achieved a level of knowledge that has knocked the "know-it-all" right out of you, and you may have gone too far in the opposite direction. This is why I strongly suggest you find someone who can give you realistic feedback.

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  • Maybe "More of what does not work, does not work", but also "Practice makes perfect", right? Give a person 1000 problems in some domain, It may take that person days to finish the first problem, and still hours to finish the second and third. Should the person stop at that point and say "more of what does not work, does not work", or should that person keep pushing forward? Low efficiency and slow progress CAN be because something is fundamentally wrong or missing, but for juniors they often just indicate that more experience needs to be accumulated. I.e. more of the same needs to be done. – obe Jul 12 at 15:56
  • @obe which is why the crux of my answer was to address the failings and strengthen the weaknesses. Your comment makes no sense – Old_Lamplighter Jul 13 at 12:04
  • yes, but in some cases (especially for juniors) the way to strengthen the weaknesses is to do exactly what the first sentence in your answer seems to forbid: keep doing more of the same. I just responded to that. – obe Jul 13 at 16:31
  • @obe No, sorry. Not the case, and it looks suspicious to be accessing resources outside scheduled hours. Additionally, depending on the laws of the region/state/nation, it could expose the company to liability as well. There is no skill that cannot be practiced outside company time and resources. – Old_Lamplighter Jul 13 at 17:01
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As someone who's closer to the end of his career than the beginning and who has helped and/or mentored a number of interns over the years, I don't know that we'd expect an intern to know much beyond the basics. Enthusiasm and a willingness to learn are more important and [lots of] questions are expected (so long as it's not the same questions over and over again).

As for extra, unpaid hours, well, unless you were playing games or watching YouTube when you were supposed to working, I wouldn't think that would be expected or necessary.

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You are not expected to have the same level of productivity as a regular employee. Otherwise, you'd actually be a regular employee and not an intern.

If you are an unpaid intern, this should not be a relationship where the company primarily profits from your work. This is a matter of law in some locations. If you are being paid, it may be illegal for the company to not pay you for all of the hours you work. It would not matter that you're the one choosing to work; you cannot "volunteer" to work for a for-profit organization for free.

I'm not a lawyer and the above may not apply in your jurisdiction but I caution you from assuming that doing extra work unpaid can't have negative consequences for you and/or your employer.

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I'm currently doing a software development apprenticeship in the UK which is (hopefully) comparable to an internship.

In my opinion, the only extra time you should be doing outside of work is research in your field that is not directly work related - e.g. if work uses Technology X and you thing it is cool, try making your own thing with Technology X and have a play around with it. It's not directly work related as you are not doing work-work in your free time, but any new ways of doing things you discover can be applied when you are next in work. This then also means you won't have to ask coworkers as many questions, as (hopefully) you encounter and solve any issues in your own free time.

Once you start doing extra unpaid work, it can lead to a slippery slope - one guy on my course started doing this, after a month he was always one of the first to arrive and one of the last to leave as people saw he was doing extra hours, so started to give him extra work to fill those extra hours. Be very careful if that is what you choose to do!

Like many others have said, the whole point of our programmes are to learn and develop our skillset, placing us in a position to walk into a "full" job once it's over (preferably with the company we are being trained by). You are not expected to be able to do everything right from the off! My supervisor constantly reminds me that it's bascially my job to make mistakes, as that's how we learn, so I wouldn't worry too much about the 'incompetence' part.

When I started my apprenticeship, they made it clear that the biggest skill required for this apprenticeship wasn't the ability to program - a little weird for a programming apprenticeship, no? The biggest skill that they were looking for was "Google-Fu" - have you got the Google/research skills to be able to find an answer to the majority of your problems? Google is your friend, especially if you feel like you are asking colleagues too many questions. I usually spend 5-10 mins Googling any issues I run into, solving 90% of the problems, meaning I only have to pester other devs 10% of the time.

How many of those "easy" problems weren't easy at the time but, now that you've been shown how to solve them, will be a piece of cake next time you run into them? If you answered "more than 0", great! That shows you're learning, which is the core part of the training.

It sounds to me like you're struggling more from a lack of confidence (maybe you're getting impostor syndrome but because you know about impostor syndrome you're impostor syndroming your imposter syndrome) than a lack of ability - "neutral or better" responses certainly don't sound like you're struggling and need to put in extra hours of your life to make things even better!

I believe in you, keep fighting the good fight! :)

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A point I haven't seen made in other answers is this:

It takes time to build the mental endurance to do a certain job for 6-8 hours.

Just like a veteran runner can run a marathon and a beginner runner can't, you need to build up the endurance to do the job. Your brain makes neural pathways when you do a task, and those pathways become better established and stronger over time. Simply put, your brain needs to practise and currently you're just inefficient. This can be general (concentrating for 6-8 hours on anything is hard). And also job specific.

As a result, you're comparing your efficiency (beginner) with your colleagues, who are well practised at doing this work. Naturally you're not going to be as-efficient. Take your team leaders word if they think you're doing fine, you probably are.

Additionally, external distractions can be a sign of mental fatigue. Give yourself something else more productive to do if you find yourself reaching for your phone. I usually (even now with several years of experience) switch to a less thinking-intensive task if I find myself getting mentally fatigued. Answering emails/meetings and adminy-type boring tasks are great for this kind of thing.

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For most of the questions, you can find answers in google. Ask questions that you can't find it on google.

By asking others you may complete task quickly but you are not gaining anything, just task complete. If it goes on like that gap in your knowledge will increase and you feel that others are going ahead of you in knowledge. When you try different methods for your issue, you will gain knowledge. It will be usable for other issues.

Developer should have pride. Pride means complete all tasks by yourself and help others on their issues. Never looked down on yourself. There are none who know everything. You just intern so starting works simple and others can look down when you doubts but times goes you will start learn latest technology and software but old guys will be left with old software. No one knows all the technology.

Hard work never fails. When you work don't think you work for company, you work for yourself. You work to learn something. Based on that knowledge you try to do something. In software hard work means practice and learn then doing smart work.

Put extra hours on your work if you want complete by time. That will make you confident person. Later reduce the work hours by learning and practice. Work life balance is very important if you want to work long run.

There are some people who happy to help and some not. So don't assume all people are same. There are different character people we have around us. Observe them.

Conclusion is you are not alone. We all have this complex feeling. Everyone always compare people who better than others, never get satisfied. I am not telling you to satisfy with your current knowledge because it will make you stop learning. Do hard work to learn that will make you satisfy.

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    Disagree with most of this. You are not alone, you are a beginner and people are happy to answer reasonable questions (try not to ask the same thing twice; write the answers down. Maybe there is a Confluence site for this.). Do not try to be an all-conquering hero, be a young member of the team and keep learning. Never do unpaid hours! – RedSonja Jul 13 at 5:22
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Disclaimer: Your question is impossible to answer. We simply do not know what is your situation since you do not know (for sure).

So here are some general notes you might find useful.

With regards to extra hours here is my disagreement with common wisdom: working extra hours proves to your company you are willing to work hard to improve. It may not be enough to keep your job, or it may not be even needed, but in my experience it sometimes helps.

Obviously problem might be so big that even working 60 hours will not fix it: you may lack skills, concentration, motivation... And unfortunately it is quite hard for us to know.

If you believe your boss is willing to listen and help and you respect his opinion maybe talk to him about this in a private meeting(do not mention getting fired or anything like that, frame it as a discussion of your professional growth). He might be able to help you with guidance(either specific technical tips or general feedback regarding where your problems opportunities for growth are).

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is it a good idea to work extra without claiming hours in order to make up for my incompetence and distractions?

Generally speaking no, it makes for a miserable working life and you can eventually feel unfairly treated. However, these things are often not black and white at all and entirely depends on you and a lot of factors.

It "can" have detrimental effects to your health and mental well being. Over time this can reduce overall productivity, which for you means the extra time you are working to gain advances is reducing the effectiveness of your normal normal hours, and thus you're not really gaining much net profit overall.

Are you incompetent? Or are you simply at the level you are at, and surrounded by more experienced people so it seems that way? Technical roles have such a wide scope of knowledge and experience, and people learn tech things at such vastly different rates, even trained professionals.

How fast are you learning? Only you can decide if pushing yourself is worthwhile to you when factoring in ill effects. Although I'd say it will always be a short term plan to get you a bit more ahead and more confident so you no longer have to do it.

Imagine a rough curve chart with extra hours worked VS increased understanding of your required knowledge. Is the curve positive in direction in that you are advancing steadily, or are you just working more and more hours with no real gain?
If not stop now as it's not working. Instead get more relax time and try to not worry and you'll be more productive in the long run. (Easier said than done of course.)

You should also identify and accept your weaknesses and why (if any) and determine why you are not advancing as you want to. Work hard on that. It could just be you are a slow learner, or stuck in this rut of working more to advance but the extra work has an adverse effect as you are stressed and tired. Identify it and fix it, and quickly as the quicker you feel better the faster you will advance, and rinse and repeat...

Perhaps stop using this extra time as overtime at work and use it instead at home on studying those areas, even just on the internet or fiddling with Ops things or a project of your own (ideally relevant to work requirements). We all learn differently to each other, but often your choosing yourself when and how you learn something can make it easier/faster to learn (i.e. your own time at home), especially when you're not pressured by deadlines and the burden of being paid for it.

Do whatever works for you, even if you feel awkward like dropping the extra overtime that felt like it made up for your shortcomings. Eventually the right method for you will pay off and your knowledge advances will benefit the company you work for, and you'll feel better. Sometimes there's just a sour limbo stage where you have to suck it up and let time progress a bit.

coworkers seem to be getting tired of constant questions because their message style has gotten increasingly formal over time;

Perhaps they have too high expectations? Or your lack of confidence is making them feel like it's difficult to help? Be confident, and anything you don't know just make it clear verbally and by your actions in getting things done that you are entirely keen to advance.

And remember the golden rule - try to not ask the same things repeatedly. Make notes if this is happening. In all tech people expect questions, even high up, and we often forget things we learned but only did once weeks ago.

take far too long to complete (hours or days instead of minutes);

This happens in most junior levels. Maybe you (and your colleagues?) expect you to have advanced further than is realistic? As a junior dev years ago I used to take days over something I knew my seniors would take an hour or two. But it eventually sinks in, and when it does it feels good. Now I write code that is cleaner etc than what some of my seniors showed me, due to my strive to learn best practice. It'll come.

external distractions such as phone distractions are taking time away from work.

If phone calls are part of the job then they're not taking time away from work, they're a part of it. You just need to manage it properly. Or if there's a problem, such as too many calls, raise this issue. As a junior, are you perhaps being given the large proportion of the calls to handle to take it away from others? If so, this is a problem and will affect your ability to advance, from a lack of time, concentration and focus, and being unsettled about it.

Working more hours is fine short term if it's working and you are happy to do that to get to a comfortable place and can then stop the extra hours.

Do also consider that it could be the work environment/ethos to blame. You should look at this potential, many work places can have poor structure or not manage time and resources properly. Employ juniors and not give them the time to learn. Just make sure to be unbiased - don't look for any excuses as it's you who needs to find the resolve for your own sake. And that could be looking for a role somewhere else, that might help juniors more.

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Never be "your own worst enemy." Do the best work that you know how to do in the ordinary work-day, and do not judge yourself. Your supervisor's job is to monitor you and to help you succeed. If something needs to be corrected, (s)he will tell you timely, and help you to achieve it.

You are entitled to work an ordinary work-day and to be paid for your work. You should never be asked to work additional time without pay, nor should you ask to do so, either.

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