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As mentioned in a previous post, I am a junior engineer a few months into my role after completing a 3 month boot camp. I have a BSc in English Literature, so I am picking up the technical knowledge as I go and adding to what I learnt in my boot camp (which wasn’t a lot compared to what I’m doing in this role).

At the moment I am having issues with picking up enough tickets to work on as there isn’t a lot for me to do in my team. As the week progresses I have exhausted the amount of work I have to do and can speak about in our daily stand-up meetings. I am constantly anxious about stand-up meetings because my contribution to the team is minimal and I feel useless. Today I have done mostly nothing and our stand-up is soon. What do I say in the stand-up?

I am hoping to speak to my manager about this next week as I have arranged a meeting with him. But for the time being what do I do? I have approached senior members of my team numerous times to see if they have something for me to do and at this point I feel like a burden to the team rather than an asset.

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    Your manager is not your only resource here. I'm assuming you have a tech lead, a scrum master, and a PM and or PO. If so, use them. No one will be mad if you ask what the highest priority task you should be working on is. They will be less sanguine if you aren't proactive. You may find that it's just a slow time, we try to use those sometimes to balance the crunch out a bit. Oct 28, 2022 at 13:35
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    Also, you could always get more familiar with the codebase, spend a little time at YouTube University, etc. Oct 28, 2022 at 13:43
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    A Bachelor of Science (BSc) in English Literature, or a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in English Literature? Just an odd question...
    – Jon Custer
    Oct 28, 2022 at 17:39
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    @JonCuster I have an MA in Natural Sciences, specialising in Physics. Universities can be weird at times. Oct 28, 2022 at 21:09
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    I once worked on a project where the number of tasks was dwindeling. Almost every day, I would stand up, look my manager in the eyes and tell him I had no more tasks to do (or tell him I had only X few tasks left. Beating around the bush only makes the problem worse.
    – Fizk
    Oct 29, 2022 at 5:11

9 Answers 9

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I would treat your standups exactly as they were designed to be, short & to the point; "Yesterday I worked on ticket x, today I will do the same and I have no blockers and I'm open to help someone if needed".

Beyond that it's a conversation between you & your manager about the volume of work being assigned to you - standups are not a forum for such a conversation.

Finally, try not to feel anxious as the responsibility for your work commitments is your manager's and not yours.

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    This. Offer to help, pair, etc. Even if you are not contributing in the pair programming session it can be a good opportunity to learn. Oct 28, 2022 at 13:36
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    Further, you are probably contributing when pair programming even if you don't feel you are. Rubber ducks are not known for their programming ability and yet still contribute. (I regularly pair with developers greatly junior to me, and it's very normal and common that the mere act of discussion with a junior developer helps improve the code.)
    – cjs
    Oct 30, 2022 at 5:37
  • This. And don't worry to say: "there are no updates for today", "i finished my tasks for this sprint and will check the backlog", "haven't found any tasks, will get familiar with the codebase" etc. If you don't have appropriate workload - it is not your burden. Just be proactive, ask for tasks or what you can research within the project.
    – user137404
    Oct 31, 2022 at 12:05
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The only wrong thing to say is "Nothing". If nobody gives you work, find work. Your company runs an agile system (it must do, they have 'Scrums' ). So go to the job ticketing system, and look for something in the backlog that may be within your ability; writing automated tests, creating documentation, technical debt. If you need to learn about an area of the company system, document your learning, because the next person would need it.

Yesterday: Finished task 'build a nuclear submarine', then moved onto learning about butterflies while waiting for new tasks. Today: Continue learning/documenting butterflies, unless something more important appears. Blockers: None, but I'm available for more work.

So the scrum master knows what you're doing, and where you are; let them sort the rest out.

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    "Your company runs an agile system (it must do, they have 'Scrums' )" Just because they call it "Scrum", doesn't mean it actually is.
    – nick012000
    Oct 29, 2022 at 6:09
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    I'll bet this is an intended joke.
    – YSC
    Oct 29, 2022 at 23:30
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    Sarcasm missed some people. Agile is "whatever our company decides to call it", and a perfect Scrum system, as defined in the Scrum Guide, does not exist in the real world.
    – PeteCon
    Oct 30, 2022 at 6:35
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    I'd hardly say the system defined in the Scrum Guide is even perfect Oct 31, 2022 at 2:28
  • Heck, the whole point of Scrum Retrospectives is to improve the process for the team. If it was perfect, why improve?
    – MSalters
    Oct 31, 2022 at 10:37
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I am hoping to speak to my manager about this next week as I have arranged a meeting with him.

Well done, this is the right thing to do.

But for the time being what do I do?

Try and move your meeting with your manager as early next week as possible. Then remember it's Friday. Try and enjoy your weekend and forget about work as much as possible; nobody expects entry-level employees to be effective any time soon.

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  • I'd add that one thing to consider with regards to your meeting with your manager is if there's additional parts of the project that you might need to be onboarded onto before starting work on them - a few months in, ideally onboarding is "finished", but it's possible there's additional knowledge the team wants you to have before taking on larger/more complicated tickets. Oct 30, 2022 at 10:28
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A lot of engineers - junior and senior alike - put way too much impetus on the standup ceremony.

To break it down for you, this is meant to help you plan your workday. Keep it short and to the point by answering these three questions:

  • What you did yesterday
  • What you're going to do today
  • What, if anything, is preventing you from working on what you planned to work on today (blockers)

Don't think about this in terms of how much work you're getting done. Stay focused and locked-in to the purpose of why you're bothering going to that meeting at all. If you don't have enough work, guess what? Standup is the perfect place to say that!

Yesterday, I did X task and completed it. Today, I'm pretty light-loaded, so I'm willing to take suggestions from the team on what to work on next, or jump into something else if necessary. No other blockers.

Do note, it would be a pretty bad look if you said you did nothing the day before. This ideally shouldn't be an occurrence if you've got your sprint planned out and the team has a board of tasks to pull from, but if that's not the case, you need to get in touch with the team lead ASAP so they can task you with something. (Note: team lead is usually not your manager.)

If your manager has an issue with the amount of tickets you're working, that is separate and orthogonal to the standup ceremony itself.

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At the moment I am having issues with picking up enough tickets to work on as there isn’t a lot for me to do in my team. As the week progresses I have exhausted the amount of work I have to do and can speak about in our daily standup meetings.

Different teams do standup differently, but this seems like exactly the sort of thing to flag at a daily standup.

"Yesterday I finished working on X and am now free to pick up a new ticket, but none of the tickets in the sprint scope look like something I can tackle on my own. Does anyone either have a ticket I can pair on with them, or some time they can spend getting me started on another piece of work?"

If nobody has any suggestions you should go to whoever is responsible for assigning/prioritising tickets, or if your team doesn't have anyone in that role, then speak to whoever is responsible for putting tickets into the sprint. They should have an idea of what other work needs doing soon, and might also have tasks that aren't in the sprint but will keep you busy in the short term.

Lastly, don't worry too much about not getting much done for a few days, especially if you're new. It's common in tech for fresh employees (i.e. graduates or people coming from a bootcamp) to contribute very little for a few months until they find their feet. It's quite possible that your manager is pleased or at least satisfied with your performance even if you feel like you're wasting a lot of time doing nothing.

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Mention that you need more tasks. But in the mean time, build some working examples of code that relate to stuff in your particular tech stack. There are lots of things that you couldn't have possibly covered in three months.

How do you do unit testing in your tech stack? What are popular libraries and how do you use them? What advancements are being made in the programming languages? Languages evolve. How do you leverage any of this information?

Be proactive.

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    Hi, thank you for your response. Once I complete my tasks I do some self learning and look at code and practise but I feel guilty for using working hours to do this
    – sandy
    Oct 29, 2022 at 11:18
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    @sandy There's nothing to feel guilty about. You're going to have slow times throughout your entire career. There's a much better outcome for your manager to know you're doing something that can be applied to the job at a later time, versus you sitting there surfing Facebook or annoying the boss because there aren't any assignments for you right now. And, every once in a while, get up and take a five-to-ten minute walk outside the office. It'll do you a lot of good to help with that anxiety.
    – Xavier J
    Oct 29, 2022 at 19:55
  • Yes, I completely agree. I like to make use of any time I have for learning. I think the anxiety comes from being so new to the job and the field, and I work remotely most of the time which can be quite isolating when you’re new and certainly doesn’t help my anxiety. I hope that with time I begin to settle in more
    – sandy
    Oct 29, 2022 at 20:19
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Former PM/Scrum master here (and former English undergrad): be honest! It is the team's job to hear you say that you are working on nothing and get you in the pipeline. If I were working with you, I'd have you pairing up with another engineer on a heavy-lift task or code review first, and as a plan B I'd suggest helping with backlog cleanup and/or documentation. There is always something to work on with dev teams, never be afraid to be honest.

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  • Hi, thank you for your comment. It’s interesting to hear from someone with a similar background to myself. I am finding the transition quite difficult coming from a non technical background but I am doing my best. How was the transition for you? Also I was forthcoming about my situation in standup and no one had any issue with the work I was doing (or lack of work). There isn’t much on our board atm and tickets in the backlog are blocked. It’s just a very slow period for our team as a whole
    – sandy
    Oct 29, 2022 at 14:10
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Your job right now is to learn how to do more of your job. You have so much to learn, so that is your task. Libaries, frameworks, languages, and whatever industry-specific stuff your software manipulates.

Ask your team members and especially your manager what would be the most beneficial to learn first. You'll need to learn them all but ask the manager what to learn first. Obviously working on bugs in the codebase is a learning experience, code reviewing other's pull requests is a way to learn...

You're a junior, and that title protects you from heavy responsibility. Work on growing your skills first and foremost.

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I dislike standups too - one technique is to keep a scratchfile listing what you've done or need to do, and update it as the day progresses.

Rule-off or start a new one and copy-forward lines that may be relevant for the next standup.

Example day:

  • Talk with Charlie about cert error
  • do CAB for shutdown of NT server in prod
  • complete hipaa training thing

and the next day,

  • implement Charlie's suggestion on certs,
  • Completed Hipaa, next is the Hippo training. ....

It is very easy to overlook the little things that you do in the day, like a 3 minute password reset it is done and forgotten. As a relatively junior role, training should be on your task list more often than a more senior person.

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    This is a really bad idea. Yes, the minor tasks during the day that you do are important, but they don't correlate to the work the team has committed to delivering. If what you did the other day doesn't line up with what work we're committing to do, I (as a tech lead) would be asking some pretty stern questions about what's going on.
    – Makoto
    Oct 30, 2022 at 21:17
  • @Makoto the point was mostly about making a list, to make standup easier. Not about padding the list with minutiae.
    – Criggie
    Oct 30, 2022 at 21:33
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    @Makoto: an an experienced tech lead, I know not to worry too much if the junior team member is less productive. That's pretty much expected. I do take note it they deviate too much from the (short and long-term) goals, but "stern" questions? I find that suggestions are generally sufficient : "Could you pick up X instead?" You're the tech lead, you're supposed to see the bigger picture, and the typical junior will pick up the hint.
    – MSalters
    Oct 31, 2022 at 10:44
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    @Criggie: Hi, thank you for your response. This tip is very helpful, I have been making note of what I have worked on during the day at the end of my working day, which I find useful to refer to the following day ahead of standup. However, atm I am finding that my list of what I have worked on is so short I barely have anything to report in standup!
    – sandy
    Oct 31, 2022 at 15:09

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