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I have worked as a web applications developer for a small software company (10 full time employees plus two semi-retired directors) for two years. Going back, I worked in support and databases, but did a PhD in my 30s and then ended up working as a Java programmer for a year, then Winforms for 4 years. I really struggled to fit into the technologies that my current company uses as I had no previous web experience, and nearly got fired during my probation period for lack of productivity. However eventually I passed probation. I continue to find the job a challenge, despite being labelled a 'senior software developer' I rarely get an opportunity to help other developers, and need help to finish tasks on an infrequent but regular basis.

I regularly speak to a director (X) who is a non-technical but very experienced person that interfaces with the customer. I find her instructions vague. It seems some of the other developers do also, but I don't speak to them much as we have been working from home for nearly one year now. An example is "Customer must be able to hide the menu". So I said "no problem, there is already a button you can press and the menu disappears". X said "no, I meant some of the menu items but not others".

I also find the company's systems confusing. We store information in different places, things are not versioned, there is incorrect and out-of-date information out there. We use a project management app to manage our jobs but often there is more than one place to look on this app as we use one for confidential information such as time estimates, and the other the customer sees. The customer keeps making comments on the app and you have to read through all the comments, and often they are vague. You have to remember where to look for instructions and because things are not clear and consistent I find it stressful. I am always scared of developing the wrong thing. Or if they are consistent, they are not consistent across the company as a whole. During this job I have worked on projects for at least 5 clients (all in different industries), and we keep switching back and forth between clients, and this adds to the stress and difficulty of the job.

X recently told me that I am the only one out of the 7 developers here who doesn't do Android/Mobile/App work. I didn't have those skills when I came to the job, and I've not picked them up since. We all have to learn things and be flexible, but to be honest I find the main thrust of my job difficult and stressful. There are so many technologies to learn (C#, MVC, Javascript, HTML, SQL, Visual Studio, Git, APIs with other software etc) and keep up with as it is. I have committed to developing the Android skills at some point this year, but it makes me nervous as it is spreading me even thinner.

Recently X has shown clear signs of irritation towards me. There was an incident where I asked for more information about how to do a job, and I was given that information and completed it (or so I thought). I had forgotten that one of the 'jobs' on the system was a fake job that was just a link to a document that acted as a specification for all the other jobs on the list, and that you had to keep reading that (as well as the comments on the job itself, and the comments on the other internal place). And the information X gave me verbally conflicted with that document. When the customer got something they didn't want, X reminded me about that document and because it had conflicted with what she said it just confused me at the start, and she began to get irritated with me saying "I think it is perfectly clear".

On one call they finished and they thought they had muted the mic but hadn't. They were saying "oh for fuck's sake I could cry. Do I have to spell everything out for these people?".

How can I repair the relationship with X? I feel so inadequate at work now, it really is beginning to affect my mental health. My daughter says that she has noticed that over the last month I am always ‘on edge’.

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    Are you sure you want to repair the relationship? The fact that this affects your mental health like this is a serious problem, so would finding a new place of employment be an option for you or is that out of the question? – Jeroen Feb 5 at 10:27
  • @Jeroen possibly but I wasn't even in my last job for 4 years. And the jobs before that were less than a year each. I don't want to be a job-hopper! – user2882061 Feb 5 at 10:51
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    Why do you want to keep working in a company which sounds completely disconnected from its tech team ? The situation is wearing you down. The likelihood of things changing is small. You have a strong skillset. Maybe there are some better environments to work in ? – Standaa - Remember Monica Feb 5 at 11:42
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    If you are worried that what you are going to do is not what is actually required, have you tried documenting what you intend to do and asking the director to verify that is what they want before you start working on a task? Customers have a hard time explaining exactly how you should implement what they want, but they can tell you instantly if what you've done is not what they were thinking of :) It's less stressful if you get their feedback on your solution before you've done any of the implementation. – ColleenV Feb 5 at 13:50
  • Welcome new user. Could you be wildly over-thinking this, and beating yourself up for nothing? It simply sounds like your job sucks a bit - - - so what?! Of the dozens of jobs I've had (in numerous totally different industries) ............... a number of them, say, 20% of them, sucked. When I worked at such a job, i'd come home and say "Wow! This job really sucks!" and my kids would say "Bummer!" What's the big deal? (Note that if you think every job you will have in your life will "not suck!" - that is so silly I'm sure you actually do not think that on closer inspection.) – Fattie Feb 6 at 12:48
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Your question is really long, and I think it might actually be several questions. I will focus on how to improve your relationship with X.

It seems like X is not having a problem with you specifically, which is good. Also it seems that both sides would like to improve the communication, which can also be helpful for a solution.

I would do the following approach:

  1. Establish that you would like address this. Be very careful with your language there: Avoid "You always do..". Instead say things like "I noticed our working relationship is not as good as it could be. I would like to talk about it - would you be free at ...?". Acknowledge her dissatisfaction more than expressing your own. Make it clear that you want to find an improvement for both sides.
  2. Give X time to talk first if they want to. Make sure you understand and make notes if there is already something you easily can do to make their life easier.
  3. Give X an understanding why programmers are so detail-obsessed (and why they need to be). "You and we, we have very different skills and styles - which is actually important for our jobs. I could never build such a good relationship with a client. You talk easily with them, and you have a feeling for their emotions and how to make them relax and trust our company." "We programmers, we always need to know every exact detail. It is like the difference of explaining a table-game and writing the rules for it. Explaining is to make people understand and get the big picture. You are very good at that. But when writing the rules down, we need to make absolutely sure no single word can be misunderstood and also cover any freaky situation that might arise."
  4. Offer to take the burden from them: instead of X having to spell everything out, you will ask them a lot of questions. Ask in return that X will bring the patience to answer them - even if the questions seem redundant or too detail oriented. If X has problems with that approach, explore other solutions. Could there be a technical person attending meetings with the customer with her (mostly sitting in the background and making notes, leaving her the lead)?

Make sure you handle this whole meeting flexible. Your goal is not to find one perfect solution and stick to it. Your goal is to improve your working relationship. So if X shoots down or blocks every solution you present, do not focus on forcing them to agree, but think what you can do to make them feel more at ease. Getting to talk about this and being able to talk about it again from time to time is the most important thing.

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Recently X has shown clear signs of irritation towards me. There was an incident where I asked for more information about how to do a job, and I was given that information and completed it (or so I thought). I had forgotten that one of the 'jobs' on the system was a fake job that was just a link to a document that acted as a specification for all the other jobs on the list, and that you had to keep reading that (as well as the comments on the job itself, and the comments on the other internal place). And the information X gave me verbally conflicted with that document. When the customer got something they didn't want, X reminded me about that document and because it had conflicted with what she said it just confused me at the start, and she began to get irritated with me saying "I think it is perfectly clear".

Why is there an "obviously fake" ticket in a system? That seems very unprofessional to me that on a production system that customers can enter there is a "fake ticket."

In the future, I would simply tell your manager the tickets you're working on. If you explained to her that you're working on this "obvious fake" ticket, and she allowed it, then I would bring that up. Be sure to write on the system each step you're doing. For example you can put the data, your name, and what you're doing. 2/5 - MyName - Got request, doing task.

On one call they finished and they thought they had muted the mic but hadn't. They were saying "oh for fuck's sake I could cry. Do I have to spell everything out for these people?".

How can I repair the relationship with X? I feel so inadequate at work now, it really is beginning to affect my mental health. My daughter says that she has noticed that over the last month I am always ‘on edge’.

Reading into your question, I get the sense that you're taking this way too seriously. It's just a job. You say you have a daughter, and you know what? That's the most important person you want to impress, not your boss at work.

With that said, forget about your workplace. While I understand you want to feel validated and important, you have to remember it's only a job. You do work, get a paycheck, and the most important thing is what you build back at home because that's what is going to last in this life.

I think you should take a vacation. Perhaps take a 2 weeks off, and just go do something with your children instead of worrying about what sort of people you please at work because guess what? It's never ending. It's not about pleasing people, it's about doing your job.

You got a dang phd in your field, and you shouldn't let someone insult your intelligence and get down to their level. You don't have to be sorry for what you thought was a real ticket. Instead you should stand your ground that there shouldn't be fake tickets in a production system. I would also tell your manager about the individuals on the phone call and what they said.

If I did a fake ticket and my boss said, "it's obviously fake" I would say I'm sorry it did not seem fake to me and this is a live system that shouldn't have fake tickets in it. Then I would move on. If there are numerous other fake tickets in the system, I would bring it up that these should be deleted.

In my opinion,

  1. Don't take it seriously.

  2. Find a new job that is up to your level. Pleasing everyone is impossible and that shouldn't be your objective at work.

  3. Don't stress about work. Build a life at home. That's who you want to please.

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My instinctive response to the OP's very-long response is ... "I don't think you're seeing things clearly right now, even if you think you do." Talk to your manager, if you can, or talk to HR. However: "talk to someone, as soon as possible."

Also: "when you find yourself seemingly-trapped in 'a situation like this,'" it can be very, very hard to realize that you are not alone. That there are perspectives that you do not yet see – because you have not yet looked for them. That your situation might be tilting toward self-destructive, even though this is probably something that has not yet occurred to you.

So: look for external, professional perspectives. Your manager, HR, even a professional psychologist. (Your insurance would probably pay for it.) "Someone outside of you."

(Full disclosure: "written by someone who has in the past volunteered on a suicide-prevention hotline." Sometimes you do not(!) see clearly.)

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