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I think most of us have all been there. You have a manager who assigns you some complex work which needs picking up lots of different technologies (8+). They give you a reasonable time to make progress through it.

It takes you a couple of months where every week you try to pick up a new technology and complete mini-deliverables.

After a few months you are quite exhausted. And at this moment your manager assigns you an entirely different complex work which will again require you picking up 6-7 newer technologies all over again.

How do you deal with a manager who's constantly doing this over and over again. Changing your responsibilities to something new frequently?

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Kilisi Jun 10 at 13:17
  • I think the question needs more details, all your comments could be summarised in a paragraph and edited into your post. – Mari-Lou A Jun 10 at 14:45
  • New technologies is just the way of life if you want to work with human-oriented programming. This is still frontier work. If you want something much more stable, consider learning COBOL. There is a LOT of mainframe work for those who prefer stability. – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen 2 days ago
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After a few months you are quite exhausted.

I'll pick this point as your main problem. Why are you exhausted? Learning something new is part of our jobs. Many people would say learning something new is the exciting part of our jobs.

But learning also takes time and energy. It seems that when you say you are exhausted, you maybe did not plan in enough time for your tasks. The next time you get a task that is completely new to you, double your own estimate. That's probably still not enough to do this comfortably.

You cannot really change what the company needs. If they need X, you will have to do X (or find another company). But you decide whether it stresses you out and leaves you exhausted or not. Tell them that you need more time because you never did this before. Don't make their organisational problems your personal problems. Work the hours you are paid for and give reasonable estimates so you are not stressed out. And yes, that is probably double to triple what you estimate now. What are they going to do, hire a specialist? Well, that would solve you problem, too.

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  • I love this solution! Just double the estimates and work at a slower pace. That makes sense. As for getting exhausted, not positive here but it seems like you're suggesting that exhaustion is impossible because "learning is fun". It's like telling someone to learn Chinese. And once they're done then we tell him to learn French. Followed by Spanish and then Russian. The process of learning each of them is enjoyable on their own. But when you combine everything together and you're doing this non-stop for months together constantly learning one after another without being allowed depth – Mugen Jun 10 at 8:38
  • ... then it would lead to exhaustion and burn-out. Now learning a language is much simpler than the technical complexity involved in creating a project that relies on 7-8 technologies. I think a more appropriate analogy would have been being asked to write a legal document that uses 7-8 different languages that you don't know. – Mugen Jun 10 at 8:38
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    " you're doing this non-stop for months" you realize you have been to school and likely college for years if not decades right? Learning on end is not exactly something nobody else does. It's all a matter of pace. Learn Russian tomorrow will make you stressed out and exhausted, learning Russian over the course of the next years seems doable. – nvoigt Jun 10 at 8:50
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    Absolutely. Your capacity for learning is not limited. When I started, I learned VB. The all new, hyped, better than everything 32bit Version on really powerful computers. If you don't know what that is, your current cellphone can probably emulate it for you. If I had a limited capacity for learning, I would be stuck with my knowledge of Latin and VB/32 and 90s era soap operas. But humans are capable of learning stuff, even if they did learn other stuff before that. It's how we work. – nvoigt Jun 10 at 9:06
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    "learning a language is much simpler than the technical complexity involved in creating a project that relies on 7-8 technologies": um. Have you tried learning a language? It is far, far harder than learning any sort of new technology! Learning any new natural language takes years and never really finishes. – terdon Jun 10 at 9:07
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The question as asked is "how do you deal with your manager in this situation", so that's the angle I'll come at this from.

How do you deal with a manager who's constantly doing this over and over again. Changing your responsibilities to something new frequently?

Are they doing it for a good reason? That is: as a professional, do you think they could have solved their problems just as well without introducing new technologies that need to be learned?

If so, then you can make that business case to your manager: complexity is costly, and these new technologies are introducing complexity with not enough return on investment.

But, from your comments, it does sound like that the use of new technologies is justified in the eyes of the business -- these projects couldn't have been done just by maintaining and extending existing systems.

It also sounds like your manager has made up their mind about learning having an intrinsic value. Which will make any argument for reducing the amount of learning, a hard sell.

The alternative is that you can tell your manager that the current kind of work doesn't make you happy -- you'd rather learn one system really well, rather than learning just enough of a new system every month or two to get it up and running, which you find exhausting and unfulfilling.

If there are jobs in other divisions of the company which are less oriented around using new technologies, and your manager regards you as someone the company would like to keep on board, they might be open to helping you transfer to a new position.

But beyond that there is not much you can do (short of looking for a new job). Your manager is your manager after all, so they get to decide what you will be working on.

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Seems to me your company hired one guy to do a whole team's work. And since that guy didn't complain the first time, they threw another project at him.

They will keep doing that until you start complaining or you quit.

Being required to constantly shift programming language, do backend, frontend devops and QA is not normal. It's what bad or abusive employers do to new hires or to people that let them.

From your previous responses I understand you do QA Automation. As a fellow QA eng. I understand your struggle. I was also tossed from product to product and required to learn products at neck-break speeds and test them.

I made it a point to never work on more than 2 projects at the same time and if I did work on more than one, I tried to reuse as much stuff in my testing frameworks as possible.

If management dictates how you do your job, what languages you use to write your tests, what frameworks etc, then you are not a QA, you are QC, and they should tell you exactly what to write in those tests, you just run them.

If they strip you the choice of using your own experience and force you to learn and use tools just because they said so or because they think it's a good idea, that's not a company you want to work for in the long term.

I've met some code factories that do that, most of them outsource work. They provide no real value to you or their customers, they just implement what they are told with the minimal amount of effort and just move on to the next client. You being a QA are most impacted by this type of doing business, because in theory you should serve as an advocate for the client.

Not all companies are like that. Most will require you to constantly learn new things to provide value in your work but not all will ask you to do the job of an entire team.

Answering your question: just tell him you are not comfortable with doing your job his way. Tell him you are getting burned out and ask for reprieve. And start looking for a better employer if the current one is unreasonable.

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  • This. This response along with nvgoit's response directly hits the chord. "Being required to constantly shift programming language, do backend, frontend devops and QA is not normal." - Thank you soo much for validating this. I don't understand why no one else considered this as abnormal. I was beginning to doubt that there's something wrong with me until I read your answer. And I can tell you that it is a relief to read this. "I was also tossed from product to product and required to learn products at neck-break speeds and test them." - This! Exactly this! – Mugen Jun 10 at 11:20
  • "If they strip you the choice of using your own experience and force you to learn and use tools just because they said so or because they think it's a good idea, that's not a company you want to work for in the long term" - this makes perfect sense to me. This is an abuse of a kind. \n "Most will require you to constantly learn new things to provide value in your work but not all will ask you to do the job of an entire team." - Actually, except for one boss I've had all bosses who're exploitative like this for more than a decade. I'm getting tired of working with these outsourced bosses. – Mugen Jun 10 at 11:22
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    @Mugen Answering the first comment: Everyone with a bit of experience considers being asked to do the work of an entire team unusual. Some agree to it as a challenge to themselves, other do it for money, but most do it because they've been told to. Some time ago I learned to say No. You hired me to do this. Not that. You want that to be done, hire someone to do it. I only do this because I'm good at it. No I don't want to learn that, I already know that, I don't want to do it because it's not my job. No, it's not a challenge for me, it's just a way for you to avoid hiring someone else to do it – BoboDarph 2 days ago
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    @Mugen answering the second comment: It's bullying because you don't know any better and have no way to speak up or do anything about it. They rely on you being scared to lose your job. Politics are an important part in all companies, but in small outsourcing factories it's just absurd the amount of bullshit managers get away with. Stay away from coding factories, find some reputable company with decent retention policies and low turnover. Those small fry companies are OK when starting, but they get old fast the more experienced you get. – BoboDarph 2 days ago
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Work less than half as hard.

You don't really need to justify why you are working "half as hard".

All you need to say is that you are working at full capacity.

And you will be, because full capacity should be a speed at which you don't get exhausted, a speed at which you are content.

Take foot off the gas, and do not tell anyone that you are working slower than before because they will use it against you. You are the professional here, you are in charge.

Also being a generalist is not going to be good for you, career-wise.

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  • This is good advice and it's similar to what nvgoit said. Also, I agree that being a generalist is bad for my career. It isn't something that I'm choosing or aspiring to be. It's just something that toxic bosses have been forcing on me. I agree with the generalist thing not being so good. – Mugen 2 days ago
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Being constantly assigned work is normal. Needing to research new technologies is also normal, although the rate varies between jobs.

Think about what part of this is causing you stress, and try to work on that.

If you're using to being an expert in things, then working at the pace of a beginner and making beginner mistakes can make you feel as if you're underperforming. That can cause you to try to work faster or put in extra hours to compensate.

Don't let your boss's estimates become expectations that cause you stress. When you step into an unknown technology neither of you know if what you're trying to do is even possible, and you will take wrong turns along the way. If you think you're going to over-run, tell your boss as early as possible. It would be unreasonable of them to expect their estimates to always be right.

Allow yourself time for beginner mistakes, and to refactor your work after you understand things better, and to leave notes for the next person. Keep your boss updated with your progress (or lack of it) but you can reassure yourself that they keep giving you this sort of work because you're the best at it.

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  • You mention that being constantly assigned work and needing to research new technologies is normal. Would you say that being constantly assigned the work of researching new technologies one after another endlessly is also normal? – Mugen Jun 10 at 8:45
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    Well, if that's what the job is, them yes it is normal. As this answer and a couple of others mention, the key is working out why it's exhausting and causing stress – matt freake Jun 10 at 11:15
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    @Mugen, not all IT jobs require you to constantly research, but it's not uncommon. Generally there's one person in the department who is good at research who gets to do the really interesting stuff, but all development involves working with the unknown, even if you're just fixing bugs in legacy code. – Robin Bennett 2 days ago
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Considering you were contracted for that specific role I would say that the expectation from the management is that you will deal with this type of pressure. Maybe the different tech that you are using are not so appealing to you but at some point you will have a great number of experience with all this.

Try to use your learning to convince management to use the tech you are more comfortable with. Learn how to use your influence inside the team. Observe how open they are to your ideas.

Be honest when you feel overwhelmed or frustrated with some of the tech you use or even with the amount of work. Often management try to push the stress limits until someone gives sigs of exhaustion.

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The first of all, I think you need to understand what exactly happen. Following is your direction:

  1. Because your technology is not enough for common work?
  2. Because your company has new direction so make the project technology set change?
  3. Your boss has different expectation to you? For example, want to promote you or want to send you to another project or team.
  4. Your boss not like you and force you to leave?

Make clear about above direction, talk with him, know what exactly happen.

At last, in my working experience, if I suddenly have a chance to grow my technology, I will cherish it. No matter what reason behind. Because you are paid to learn. Even you lost your job, you still have time to learn new things.

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