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Summary: feeling under-worked by tasks I receive, how to keep growing as a junior?

—- I am a junior software engineer. My job is my hobby, my hobby is my job. I have been employed more than 8 months in a big company that pays me well above average and provides other opportunities.

Lately, my team has lacked projects to work on. This has led to me having very little to do. I am assigned no or small tasks on an outdated tech stack. A typical task will be assigned to complete in a week, but it is actually 2 hours task (I am not saying that I am so skilled and I can do one week task in 2 hours, it is just 2 hours task.)

I am very eager in my area to learn new things. I keep working as soon as I get home, like coding my side project or taking online lessons in my area. I do not feel that I can easily contact directors to talk about my problems (I get along with my direct supervisor with a respect wall among us, not a friend type), but the boredom is getting more and more overwhelming each day.

How can one handle boreout?

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  • 3
    Have you specifically informed/asked your supervisor for more work once you get done with the 2-hour task? Jul 6 at 18:55
  • 11
    The term you are looking for is "boreout" and it's just as real and just as dangerous as burnout. It's a very good idea to look for ways to fight it, as you are :)
    – Erik
    Jul 6 at 18:59
  • 3
    Welcome new user. Have you clearly told your supervisor that you have plenty of free time and could do more tasks. Yea or nea?
    – Fattie
    Jul 6 at 19:03
  • 2
    the phrase you want to google for is boreout
    – Benjamin
    Jul 6 at 19:22
  • It sounds like this company has a problem with work-capacity setting, in that a 2 hour ticket is assumed to take a week. I know you're in a junior position, but perhaps suggesting exercises to better estimate/story-point the company's work would be helpful.
    – Kaizerwolf
    Jul 7 at 13:22
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The following assumes you have already nicely raised this issue to your boss, and that you inform them when you are done your tasks and ask them for something else to do and those requests go unheeded. If not, that would be the first thing to do: When you are done your 2-hour task, send your boss a message and ask them if there's anything else you can pick up that needs doing. It may be possible your boss doesn't realize how idle you are. Failing that, continue reading on:

Sounds like you may have been sidelined. I had a couple similar situations early in my career where I was working for large tech companies (one of them being a FAANG) and despite working for a long time (a year in each case), I wasn't being given anything interesting to do, or I was doing meaningless changes to legacy code. The first of those companies I ended up quitting out of boredom (and other unrelated reasons), the second I was terminated.

The real problem here is not that you are doing nothing; being paid for doing nothing is, after all, still being paid. The problem is you're not advancing yourself in terms of portfolio, experience, or knowledge. If you work at this company forever and just do nothing forever and collect a salary, that's great, but more realistically what will happen is you will leave this company (or be fired) and you will have to interview elsewhere. Then, in an interview, your interviewer will ask you about your experience for the last 8 months at this company and you will say "I did nothing, I just worked for 2 hours a day on some menial tasks and did nothing for the other 6 hours". That's not going to fly well.

So here's what you do:

  1. Talk to your boss and let them know about this problem, that you feel you're being underutilized and ask them to do something about it, put you on some project or something. They will probably say something like "we have no projects right now, but I promise you'll get the next one" or "we have something coming up" or "we value the work you're already doing, just keep it up". Unless they promise to do something actionable on an immediate basis, just ignore everything they said as if it's BS, because it probably is. If your manager does promise something actionable, then follow up in the short term to make sure their promise is being kept. If you have any indication whatsoever that the promise is not being kept, then:

  2. Start searching for a new job. You should do this within about a week of your meeting with your boss if nothing changes (not promise of a change, not "it's coming I promise", but actual meaningful change to your duties). The longer you let this go on, the more time you'll have to account for in your interview at your next company as to why you're doing nothing. 8 months is already a lot, but it's "reasonable" at least; you don't want to let this keep going too much longer though or you'll start having a real problem, and take it from me who has over 2 years of this on my resume (across 2 companies) and had to deal with it in interviews (I made this mistake, don't make the same mistake I did). In the meantime, you are currently employed, so you can keep collecting a paycheque and don't have to job hunt while unemployed (I made this mistake too, don't do what I did, it's not fun).

You can always pull out of a job hunt if your work situation changes. It's much easier to do that, than to start job hunting when you're unemployed, or to extend this 8 months of nothing into a year or more that you have to account for in interviews. The sooner you get this situation fixed, the better, so get it fixed ASAP.

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If allowed, I would start using your free time for other work, or personal projects, innovation, or just personal time.

Maybe do your 2 hours a week of work, and pick up 38 hours somewhere else for the same or less money, even if just to keep your skills sharp.

This may be rare, but it happens, depending on your situation.

I once was paid $8k/month as a consultant solely as a retainer for an important business app that was being transitioned off of, but needed someone to be available in case there was an issue with it for the next 8 months, as if there was an outage, they couldn't possibly hire someone and train them up fast enough to deal with it. I couldn't believe it.... Maybe 10 hours of work materialized over about 8 months before they were confident they no longer needed it.

There are other stories you can hear about large, sometimes government contractor organizations, where they have contractual obligations to have someone on staff to support a specific app. Even if there's no work to do on it, they need the ability to respond :shrug:.

If you're meeting expectations... See if there's anything else they can do, and if not, enjoy your free time :)

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There are usually things you can do if you look around, and often projects you initiate yourself can be the most interesting.

Think about why you were hired, given the apparent lack of work. Did taking over this project take pressure off another group who is overworked? Perhaps you can help out that group in other ways.

You mentioned an outdated tech stack. You might have an opportunity to migrate at least parts of it to something newer.

Are there DX improvements that can be made to the project? Maybe adding tests, documentation, logging, backups, or continuous integration?

Are there UX improvements that can be made to the project? Are users complaining about certain parts? Are you performing administration that could be automated in an admin page or something? Is there a feature common in competitor projects that yours lacks? Sometimes users don't ask for something because they don't know it's feasible to add. Try to think from the user point of view and propose features you would like to see.

Finding these sorts of projects on your own is not typically expected of a junior developer, but you're in an unusual situation. You don't want to be on the short list of who to lay off.

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that was me a few years ago. As an apart from what was suggested to you, have you considered volunteering some of your time to improve your community, support open-source software, or further a cause/change you believe in?

Many of them are in dire need of help, and you might find the work both challenging and fulfilling. It is also an opportunity to practice social skills, such as finding out whom to ask something on a big organization, or breaking the ice without breaking the formality.

It could help you navigate in situations like these in the future. Since you are working in a large company, you would benefit a lot from knowing someone who understands its culture and is open to guide you through the experience. Having a facilitator or a mentor you can ask "dumb" questions without feeling like there is a wall between the two of you will make your work life a lot more productive and pleasant, and there is still time for you to find this person if you decide to stay working there.

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I was in this position, briefly, at the start of a new job when I began my career. It's funny how much it weighs on my mind, given how relatively short it was. (At the time I was very anxious that I might be let go, granted there didn't seem to be any work for me.)

The following assumes you've informed your manager that you've completed your tasks early and have inquired about more work, but have been told there simply isn't any:

I think among the best options might be to engage in self-training, reading about new useful technologies, etc. Maybe if you can think of some dual-use technology that you can learn about at work, and then apply in your hobby after-hours, would be win/win. Look for some part of the process you touch at your workplace and see if you can automate it. (Keep your manager at least briefly informed that you're spending time doing this, of course.)

Also consider if it's really the best idea to be programming as both work and hobby. For me, when work picked up on the job, I didn't have the capacity after-hours to do more on my own (which had been customary). So your current life balance may not be maintainable long term; at least have some other hobby option to switch if needed.

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Find out where the documentation for various things is, and read it. Ask the other programmers if there are some things where the documentation is not up to par, and if they'd like you to fix it.

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