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I have a coworker who is actually a great developer but he claimed all the fun and interesting aspects of the current project. Management jumps at the idea of him getting assigned of these features leaving us no opportunities to shine while we’re stuck doing ‘manual labor’.

How/should I ask to be assigned More interesting stuff or should I keep my head down and be grateful I have a very good paying job in these times?

I didn’t try to talk to him about it because I don’t want to seem like I want to steal his limelight.

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  • Why does management jump at the idea of him getting assigned to these features? Is it merit-based or corruption-based? Jun 12 at 22:21
  • @workoverflow, some managers prefer assigning challenging (or core) tasks to the STAR developer with great records as they know for sure the project will succeed and be delivered on time. Your best option is probably to wait for the right time when new projects come in and the STAR developer may be too busy with other tasks, then you can have a chance to shine. Otherwise, just hang on in there during the pandemic, and spend your spared time to improve your skills on "Homework" projects. Then, after COVID, try to get a new job when the job market improves . Jun 12 at 23:42
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The best opportunity you have is the one you make.

I started out as the junior programmer in a group with a senior that had been with the group since the beginning. Generally, if upper management was excited about something getting done from our area, they'd go to him. After all, if upper management is interested in it, they're going to want the highest (perceived) chance of success - so they'd hand it to the senior dev. The odds of me, out of the blue, getting assigned something that would draw management heads upon a success was incredibly low.

So here's what I did.

I saw something that was... stupid. We were using some horribly expensive Scanning+Indexing software that our imaging vendor provided. Well... some off-the-shelf scan software could take care of the first half. What if we wrote an in-house indexing program?

I took a few lunch hours and a friday afternoon, and cranked out a proof of concept. I pulled my manager in, showed it to him, and said, "I had an idea and I wanted to see if I could do it. Our scanning/indexing software is really clunky and it costs us a lot of money. I thought: if we could do the indexing part in-house, we could improve the user experience and save a lot of money. It's just a proof of concept at the moment - but would it be okay if I pursued this as a project?"

... and then, a year later:

I once again spent some hours doing a proof-of-concept for a Thunderbird Email Add-In that would save out the currently selected email and submit it to imaging. "Hey, boss, I've got something cool to show you. You know how the users have to do all those steps to get something into imaging? Check this out..."

... in other words, I identified a potential project, spent a minimal amount of time to do a proof-of-concept demo, proposed it to the boss, and was responsible for developing the final product. Twice.

Afterwards, upper management knew who I was. I was the guy that did the email button; I was the guy that did our new indexing software. Suddenly, it wasn't an automatic "Senior Guys Is Assigned This" whenever a project came up.

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  • I like this idea. I'm curious as to what your proof of concept looked like. If you're talking about mini-projects then a proof of concept would already have done half the job, isn't it?
    – Mugen
    Jun 15 at 7:10
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    @Mugen - sort of. A lot of the effort on the corporate-wide stuff is all the weird edge cases. If I remember right, the POC for the 'indexing' was: one specific type of document and a bare-bones screen - so a lot of work would be needed making it polished and able to handle all the different types of documents. The POC for the email was simply a button inside the email client that, when clicked, said, "The subject of the email is XYZ" - and the explanation that we should be able to figure out how to save it out and then convert+inject it into imaging.
    – Kevin
    Jun 15 at 20:50
  • Ah. Sounds great. Good work! :)
    – Mugen
    Jun 16 at 8:46
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Take notice of a few things first:

1- Who creates the good opportunities?

If the star employee is doing all the cool stuff that was listed long ago or if management/clients do so independently from him, then we may proceed with the answers you might be expecting. Nonetheless, if your colleague is the one who comes up with the ideas for doing exciting things he can easily deliver, or maybe already started working on already, then he has a good claim on this kind of stuff. Up to you to make your entrepreneurial side shine in the company. Don't expect cool stuff to appear out of thin air and luckily fall on your lap.

2- Check qualifications and handicaps

Maybe said employee is someone who is crucial for the company on several accounts. Perhaps he is a partner or has lots of expertise in company-specific frameworks/code bases. If that is the case, then management has extra reasons to hand him motivating tasks. Otherwise, he might have some form of attention deficit that makes it very difficult to perform well in "manual labor". Maybe he's someone with a history of depression, so he could suffer a lot if given difficult/complex tasks or lose interest right away in the job if given menial tasks. People with depression should be managed in a very different way than most employees.

Then again, what about you? Are you up to the tasks that are being assigned to your colleague? Or would you have a hard time completing them timely, while your colleague has no problem with it? If you still lack experience and knowledge in the field, maybe do some more boring stuff while honing your skills. Cool and complex stuff will come up eventually your way. You don't earn the trust of management overnight unless they have no option but to rely on you, but time inevitably gives you opportunities to build your reputation.

3- All that being said...

Supposing that your star colleague is neither any better nor any worse than the rest of the team. Assuming that you at least have skills on par with him. Then you can talk to management, but be brief and show no resentment nor social conflict, something on the lines of:

Hey [manager name], I think [colleague name] does a good job on [project name], but I'd like to point all that this project has a mix of both fun and menial tasks, which is normal for any project. [Colleague name] has a lot of initiative on assuming fun tasks, but I think this may start degrading morale for the team over time. If you could mind this aspect of our tasks to promote a more balanced workload for everyone, I think this would be great.

A good manager that minds the happiness of his employees should understand the message that he's just not given a deserved attention to this aspect of the workplace and curb your colleague's monopoly on the fun stuff. If management is bad and ignores you, then go back to item 1. Else...

4- Speak up for yourself

Try claiming some of the good stuff by simply being the person with the most initiative. But if you want people to approach you directly with fun stuff, remember to accept and deliver when people approach you with boring stuff as well. This builds good relationships and reputation. When you want your problem solved, you go to the person you think will solve it and who you think will have the goodwill to do so, the same goes for management and colleagues at work.

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