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I joined a big semiconductor company in their Toronto branch 6 months ago as a performance modeling software developer. I have a master's degree in heterogeneous computing for CPU-GPU systems and worked on .NET software development for a little over a year for an industrial automation company. I was hired one level above an entry-level engineer because of my degree and work experience and all of my team is working from home for now.

In my current job, I am required to improve and enhance the software model of my HW block using C++. However, learning about the HW I am working on has been a bigger challenge for me. There were just lots of acronyms and computer engineering concepts that I knew little about. Until now, I was running some hardware tests for my team (we need those for our model), doing research and learning about the concepts I have to know (acronyms, terminology, etc.), superficially going over the codebase and learning about the work my team does in general (where my work fits the bigger picture, for example).

After 6 months, my knowledge is still superficial. I know where I should go to find the information I need but I don't yet know even fundamental concepts by heart. This past week, my technical lead was helping me debug some code and even though he didn't directly say it, it seemed he was not happy with my progress. He asked me how I am feeling now that I have been in the company for 6 months, how I think the team can improve, etc. He advised me to talk with more senior engineers to learn as much as possible about the hardware.

Now I am working on the bug my tech lead helped my zero in on and I am feeling exhausted. I have been reading the C++ code to figure out the problem and I feel there are so many core concepts I don't know. I can probably figure out the problem soon enough but right now, the variables in the code and their ambiguity is overwhelming me. My exhaustion is compounded with the feeling that my manager may be disappointed with me. I am feeling that after 6 months, I should have been in a better position than this.

How should I tackle my feeling of exhaustion and the fear of having made insufficient progress?

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    For most new grads or beginners in a field, usually, it takes at least 1 year to see any measurable improvement. So, don't take it personal if you are a new grad or a beginner in a field. Furthermore, for big companies, the software/hardware systems can be very complex for beginners (as you mention acronyms, terminology, concept, etc...). So, keep trying and you will improve sooner or later. Feb 5 at 19:27
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    Advice in detail: when you are studying a difficult and obscure listing and you find yourself nodding off from boredom, turn the page whether you are finished with it or not. Feb 5 at 19:38
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    @Job_September_2020 Thank you for the encouraging response :)
    – a_sid
    Feb 5 at 20:06
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    @A.I.Breveleri Thank you for the advice. turn the page whether you are finished with it or not. What do you mean? Do you mean I should skip the listing and revisit it when I am feeling better?
    – a_sid
    Feb 5 at 20:07
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    Have you followed you technical lead's advice? Sounds like the tech lead is giving you your answer to "how should I deal with this challenge?" Feb 5 at 23:02

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How should I tackle my feeling of exhaustion and the fear of having made insufficient progress?

There are two potential routes to take here, and which to go for depends largely on the impression you've had from your boss and how easy it would be for you to find other work.

What comes across in your question is that you have a profound impression that you're struggling at work and should have been more used to everything by now. Very often our own assessment of our work is relatively accurate, but certainly not always. Especially when you are new to an industry or field, it can be hard to determine where your performance falls. So the key point to figure out is how your manager sees your work.

Broadly speaking, that could fall into one of these:

  • Your manager is impressed by the pace at which you're picking up work, even if you yourself aren't! Perhaps others would take over a year to reach this level, perhaps you're already mostly independent and improving quickly, perhaps something else. Who knows.
  • You're doing fine and this kind of learning curve is perfectly normal for someone with your profile.
  • You're struggling but it's not alarming and your manager is confident you'll pull through, perhaps with additional training/oversight.
  • You're not doing well and your job is at risk.

Where you fall on this scale is very hard to predict. The best advice therefore is to ask your manager. Now, the main risk here is if you happen to fall in the last category. Because that could start a performance conversation that ends up in "we need to let you go soon". If finding work would be hard, there's an economic risk here that you might not want to take. Even then, it could still be worth finding out.

Assuming it's not quite that bad though, your goal in that conversation is still to get additional help. Even if your boss is impressed, you're still feeling overwhelmed and in need of additional guidance. These are the key topics to discuss:

  • how happy are you with my work?
  • am I at the level you expected me to be six months in?
  • which areas should I improve in?
  • what can I do to get familiar with topics X and Y faster?

Additional questions can be around key issues you've faced in your work, whether it makes sense to have a formal mentor (if that's not your manager already), and how to practically approach senior colleagues for input as your manager recommended.

All this should set you on your way to growing more comfortable in your role. Hopefully that should help eliminate the exhaustion you feel as well. The only other advice I can give on that front is to try and disconnect fully when you're not at work to recharge more effectively.

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    Wow. Thank you for the comprehensive advice :)
    – a_sid
    Feb 14 at 17:57

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