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I'm still a student, but I've been working in a hospital as an "IT developer" for almost two years now (one day a week, since covid homeoffice).

I totally understand that they don't have time to teach the newcomers, but the first days they told us not to really ask them anything, everything is on Google, if you learn it yourselves, you'll remember it better. I'm okay with that, but after few months I got a task, an idea of an app, without details or any specifications. He literally told me three sentences. I had to choose language and framework, created design representation of how it could look and work so I would be sure I understood what he meant. He answered something like "that's nice."

So I started, learned new language from scratch, built something, whenever I asked about some detail, I got one sentence answer. When I asked how to do logging and about data security (because patients data are super sensitive) and what exactly needs to be considered, because I felt like that should be checked by someone, specifically when I do it for the first time and only following google, they kinda laughed at me without answer.

My boss asked me to show him what I do after a whole year and just now they told me that no one in the whole IT there knows that framework, even though that was the first thing I tried to consult with him. No code review, not once. He only looked at it and said he liked it.

I understand I got that tasks, which can last long and does not need that much supervision, due to working only one day a week, but I only want to ask, if it's normal to leave new developers without absolutely any guidance whatsoever. I don't want to cause any security problems and this worries me pretty much. I cannot compare to other workplaces, but when I got stuck with my very first project there, one colleague took the repository and I've never heard about it since, not about what the problem was, how it was fixed or if the project was even used then. I just got another task. Without a single word of feedback.

Is it a red flag or am I paranoid? I only want to know if I should go with it, or if I should try to change it and push it.

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    Is this an internship? Freelance? I think I don't quite get what you mean by you only work one day a week
    – DarkCygnus
    Dec 1 '21 at 20:39
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    I don't think there's that kind of contract in English, the closest is Agreement to complete a job. It's legislativaly lower than part time job, but in my country it's very common for students and people who want some side income.
    – Sam
    Dec 1 '21 at 20:55
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    @Sam Maybe specify the country as this seems important?
    – Kupo
    Dec 1 '21 at 20:56
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    What exactly do you mean by red flag? What do you think the flag will signal? Dec 1 '21 at 22:47
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    You have been there 2 years, and in all that time, have you asked for more feedback about your application? Yes; You asked questions when you got stuck but that’s different, did you specifically show your supervisor your progress, before they asked for it?
    – Donald
    Dec 1 '21 at 23:58
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I cannot read your colleagues and bosses' minds, so this is speculation. But it's not a random guess, it's based on what I have seen in other workplaces.

You said you are a student, so not a professional developer yet. You work one day a week. Away from the team. In a language you didn't know before.

This is a fools errand. You have neither the experience, nor the time, nor the skills to produce anything of value. An experienced developer would spent more time on making sure your product is not a danger to the hospital than actually developing it themself. That's not your fault, but it's still the reality.

Just compare your situation to an apprentice in their second year. A fledgling developer who is taught and personally supervised every day of every week of those two years and who is still considered barely breaking even on the productivity scale working 5 days a week in the language they are taught.

What I strongly suspect is happening is that your colleagues know that this is pointless. That you will never get anything worthwhile done under the circumstances. That they would spend more time teaching you and revieweing and correcting your work, than it is actually worth. That they would be more productive if they just did it themselves. They probably get zero recognition when they teach you. Their boss only cares what they produce, not how well they would supervise, teach or review your code.

And so they do. They gave you a project that may or may not get done. It certainly isn't important enough if a student works on it a single day every week. And they try to invest next to zero time. They don't review, teach, explain or anything like that. Your project might get thrown on the pile of "unfinished student projects" when you are done

Again, that is not your fault. But it might not be theirs either. Someone found it a good idea to employ you under those circumstances. I have no idea what they thought when they did. Maybe they were really clueless about how software development works. Or maybe they did have to fill a spot on their roster for meta reasons. "Department A doesn't have a part time student? Why not? Every department needs apart time student, that's policy!". Maybe they get subsidized when they can claim to employ a student? Who knows.

So what can you do? Well, nothing really. You cannot change the department. You could quit and get another job, but quite frankly, if you work a day a week not having finished your education and in a language you started learning just for that project, it won't be much better anywhere else.

So take advantage of it. You get paid, don't you? This will probably be the last time in your life you get paid and people don't care about the result. Treat it as a paid university excercise or paper you have to write. Not great, but not the worst thing tha could happen either. Plus you can put something on your CV later.

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    In regards to why they would have employed a student like this, most large hospitals have relationships with local universities to take on students as interns. Some of these universities require that their students have relevant job or intern experience in order to graduate. Not sure if there's also a financial incentive but my university also had a bunch of these BS intern relationships forged to feed their internship requirements that otherwise would cause some amount of students to not graduate. Wouldn't be surprised if there's also some sort of subsidy involved. Dec 2 '21 at 16:52
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    I think this answer rings (sadly) true, but I disagree with the idea that "An experienced developer would spent more time on making sure your product is not a danger ... than actually developing it" -- as a dev myself, I generally see that work as something that would be done by team members supporting the project: product manager, designers, management, etc. Of course, if circumstances force you to be a lone wolf, those become your sole responsibility. But in most professional contexts, you do not work alone. You should ensure those aspects are dealt with, but it's seldom your focus. Dec 2 '21 at 17:45
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    While I agree with this answer, I do want to point out that it isn't always this bad, even for a new developer working one day a week. A good team (and/or company) recognizes that investing in ones learning early pays dividends in the long run. It is certainly possible to find a job where one's long-term success is valued and colleagues, supervisors or management are willing to take on the short-term added effort. Anecdotally, my current employer actually requires senior engineers to formally mentor young engineers as a requirement of pay grade.
    – Alex
    Dec 2 '21 at 18:48
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    As has been stated, we can only really speculate about motives. My first professional coding experience was similar. I was hired as an entry level developer, being paid a very low wage for the time, but full time. Although not hired as such, they often referred to me as "the intern", though I was living on my pay. They didn't give me a lot to do, but after a couple years, I had contributed much to the product. It was low cost and risk for them, and it turned out well. I was given little guidance, but they got cheap easy production and I learned enough to move on to a better company. Dec 2 '21 at 20:26
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    @NeilMeyer: I see how you could get that reading from the parenthetical note at the end of the first sentence in the question; but in the second-to-last paragraph (s)he writes "I got that tasks, [...], due to working only one day a week", which seems unambiguous to me: the OP works just one day a week, and that one day is remote. (Presumably the rest of the week is dedicated to his/her studies.)
    – ruakh
    Dec 3 '21 at 5:49
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...due to working only one day a week...

The key thing here is "1 day per week", you're working on a very part time basis as a student. That's definitely closer to an internship experience.

Not all workplaces are good with handling interns. Some practically ignore them. The limited exposure in your case makes everything even more challenging. It's not directly your fault, but you're certainly responsible for finding a more suitable work environment.

If, for whatever reason, you're stuck there it might help to be more proactive about reaching out to the others. If they answer with a dismissive phrase like "that's nice", try to follow up with more questions, and if you can do it, express that responses like that make you feel like you're being distanced.

One thing that may help is asking them to show you what they're working on: their tooling, their process, their development and production environments. People who lack empathy for others can sometimes open up when they're talking about themselves. It's not ideal, but it's a starting point that can help you develop rapport.

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Red-flag, yes. But not your problem. You asked for clarification of the requirements and scope, you also brought up your concerns to your boss. Keep records of all that. You've done your due diligence as far as I know. But if the law says that you need to go over your boss and leak issues to the government or something, I guess you need to do that.

So if you are worried, asked your boss and told "no problem", but are still worried, I guess either look up the appropriate laws yourself and/or ask a lawyer.

For all you know, your work is a pet project prototype. You build the proof of concept, then the official dev teams rebuild it from scratch following all the rules and laws they need to. I mean, you work once a week and alone? No idea how you get anything done in reasonable time but it sounds like you aren't part of the official dev team, and are just a side hire/intern of the prof.

In conclusion, CYA(cover your ass). Document and record. But even then courts/laws/public opinion can still destroy you if they want. So if you are REALLY worried, quit.

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There's an important variant on the scenario in the answer by @nvoigt - the boss didn't expect you to produce much, but you did. Now, because of his undermanagement, he has an architecture problem that would have been easily avoidable if he'd been paying attention.

You don't provide enough information to know for sure, but I can think of at least one scenario where this could happen, especially in a complex organization whose core business lies outside software.

  • There is an established software team that has their hands full maintaining and extending some inhouse software for department A
  • Some related part of the org, department B, has a desperate need for some software with lots of low-hanging fruit opportunities for simple useful automation to make an impact
  • Department B manages to scrape up some funding to finally build some software, but doesn't have any devs, so a one-day a week junior that they pay for gets attached to a team in department A
  • That undermanaged but diligent junior programmer works with the users from Department B to build something useful in technologies that made sense to them at the time
  • The boss of software team A is told he'll have to maintain what is built and suddenly tech design conversations start happening a year late

In this scenario, you might find yourself rewriting the application in some different technologies. This is wasteful, but think of it as being paid to learn.

I don't think you did anything personally wrong here, though you're right to raise concerns. I do think you were poorly managed, especially as a junior programmer working remote. Document decisions and risks clearly. Take it as being paid to learn and if you have been able to deliver things that people use, be proud of that. I hope your boss learns something from it too ...

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This is a HUGE red flag, especially for a hospital. Depending on your locale, hospitals are tasked with handling extremely sensitive information, specifically termed PHI (Personal Health Information)*. If PHI is leaked, it can be extremely damaging in terms of legal responsibility (depending on locale). Your manager not being concerned with the security of this application is a very big red flag, to the point that you may want to contact your local regulatory authority regarding it; if they're this lax with this project, chances are they're lax in other security instances as well.

As for the rest of what you've said, it depends a lot on your role. Is your manager technical? Do you have a team? Is your team technical? If you're the only technical person in the organization, it's not entirely out of the ordinary to not be supervised or not guided; after all, if there's nobody to guide you then you're not going to get guided. You are, more or less, an "expert" and everyone trusts you (for better or worse) to do your job without supervision. That said, if you're a student in this type of situation, that's not very good for anyone involved: you're not learning anything, and the hospital is getting (likely) shoddy work by a novice. I don't condone this situation, but it's not entirely out of the ordinary for people who don't understand anything about technology. Whether to treat it as a red flag is up to you.

The security thing, though, is indeed a REALLY BIG FREAKING DEAL and you need to get that dealt with, especially if you're handling PHI (which you probably are, because most data at hospitals is PHI). The hospital could be legally responsible for any mistakes you make, to the tune of serious legal consequences, and you may have liability as well so you should get this resolved, for nothing else, just to cover your own ass.


(*) In the age of Covid, PHI is significantly less important, speaking from a security perspective. If your locale institutes a "vaccine passport" system (such as Canada and most of the USA), every time you show your "passport" you are leaking your own PHI (whether you have/have not undergone any specific medical treatment is part of PHI). The government forcing you to leak PHI in order to exercise your constitutional (in most countries) freedom of movement/assembly is probably (I am not a lawyer, and there are certainly very many lawyers indeed investigating this as we speak) very illegal constitutionally speaking in most of the first world, but nevertheless is the world we live in. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your perspective), aside from this glaring exception, other laws concerning PHI have not, to my knowledge, significantly changed. Just for some context.

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    I upvoted midway through, only to change to a downvote when reaching the end - the comment on legality of vaccine passports is IMO uncalled for and doesn't add anything important to the discussion. Dec 1 '21 at 21:29
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    @JanDorniak It adds to OP's understandable confusion when mentioning how important the protection of PHI is, as compared to the vaccine passport push, which is in direct contrast to that. Based on the first half of my answer, it's a completely reasonable question to ask: "But I'm being forced by the government to divulge my PHI to random people on a daily basis, so why is this important for the hospital?". The comment at the end is apropos of that completely reasonable criticism of my answer.
    – Ertai87
    Dec 1 '21 at 22:13
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    Downvoted. The vaccine passport has absolutely no influence of the legal requirements of the employee regarding the private health information of patients. Dec 1 '21 at 23:14
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    If the last paragraph is right, that PHi is less important now (which I don't agree with) then the rest of the answer which assumes it is important, is wrong. Dec 2 '21 at 7:26
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    @mattfreake PHI is always important. People here seem to be conflating "leaking" and "volunteering". You have the right to remain silent, just as the restaurant has the right to refuse service if you don't volunteer your information. Nobody is forcing you outside of your bubble.
    – Aron
    Dec 3 '21 at 4:42

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