I have been hired by a company who wish to develop me into a software engineer. I have been chugging along nicely and have quite enjoyed it. I have learned PHP and HTML and CSS and I am now fluent and have written a website.

However with my website complete, I have been moved onto ASP.net to help some of the other engineers with their workload. I have no idea what I am doing and have been asked to research it online then help out.

The only problem is I am struggling with it. It's just not something I am familiar with, specially as I am trying to build off the other engineers work.

How can I tell my boss I am struggling with it and would like to be moved to another task, without jeopardizing my future with the company and maintaining my professional mannor?

I am always the worker who hits the task with my full force, but my full force has currently bounced off.

  • Did you get any training on ASP.NET? Would getting some (eg a PluralSight subscription) solve this problem? Commented Mar 17, 2014 at 17:26
  • No, no training at all @KateGregory
    – Marriott81
    Commented Mar 19, 2014 at 9:42
  • Then surely asking for some would be a good first step Commented Mar 19, 2014 at 12:32

4 Answers 4


Talking about Struggling

Absolutely do talk about your difficulties. Have some specifics in mind on what might help, and be open to feedback. The thing to avoid is be so general that there's no way to get you help. "I don't know, it's just really hard" won't help - throughout your career, you are likely to tackle problems that seem impossible. The trick is to build up a set of tricks for finding help.

Have some details - what's been difficult to do? What's been pretty easy? Would having a specific person available to ask questions to help? What learning resources have you tried and are others available?

A big one that I see when people transition in these areas is that they don't realize where and how to diagnose issues - the debug process in a .NET server is different than in PHP... so often it's just not knowing the ways to debug that hang people up.

Having a list of what you've tried and how it's worked is helpful. You don't need a two page monologue, but you want your thoughts in some sort of an order so you can have a meaningful discussion.

Asking for New Work

This one's a bit iffy. If someone came to me and said "what you asked me to do is really hard. So I want to do something else" --- the conversation would not go well. Engineering salaries are relatively high and I expect that people can take on hard work and complete it. As an engineering manager, I don't have the luxury of making work available in the languages people are most comfortable with, I have to move my team to where the work is. Having an engineer that tells me that they simply can't learn the new language will make me wonder about the long term viability of the engineer.

If you love PHP and you know of a project that needs help that uses PHP, you may be able to say - "hey, this project sounds fascinating, what's the chances I get into that group?" - that makes a much better case than just not feeling able to tackle ASP. If you have a career goal of becoming a PHP guru, that may be another way to phrase the request - "I love PHP so much, I'm really eager to pick up more work in it" - but you may have to be ready to hear that the boss simply doesn't have more work available.

If what you're hearing or seeing is that there isn't work of the type you like doing in this company, then it's time to look elsewhere. Personally, I'd advocate learning the new stuff rather than job hunting, because my experience in the web world has been that getting a broad base in web development techniques is more useful than digging down into a specific implementation mechanism, but it's really your call. I have respect for those who have stuck with one language and really mastered it - the risk is always that staying in one language means you are just as marketable as that one language - so if it goes out of vogue, so may your career if you haven't proved you're good at learning new things.

  • My only main problem is, I am still on a lot less money than the rest of the programmers, So i am doing their job on half the salary
    – Marriott81
    Commented Mar 18, 2014 at 12:29
  • OK, but that's an entirely different question. It's well worth a separate one, but that would be a "I'd like to learn ASP, and can I assume that when I do, I'll be paid in a comparable way to the people with that skillset?" Commented Mar 18, 2014 at 13:52
  • Nice answer. I was hired as a back-end Java developer two years ago, and now I find myself doing nothing but UI with JavaScript and CSS, and hating every minute of it. What you wrote is definitely widely applicable.
    – asteri
    Commented Mar 18, 2014 at 14:40

I see two courses you can take with this one and it really boils down to the answer to the following question,

Do you want to learn ASP.net/C#/VB or do you want to remain a PHP/CSS/HTML only guy?

Before I give the two outcomes here I must also ask, what does your contract say? Were you hired as a general developer and thus liable for learning and working in what ever they ask you or were you hired to do PHP/CSS/HML stuff only. If you were hired to cover what ever they may like then you may be responsible as part of your job to learn it. Anyway here is what you can do,

  1. Tell them you are struggling and want to stay on PHP/CSS/HTML only projects. This is a bad choice as they may not have any such projects at this time (since it sounds like you completed what you were doing) and you may sit idle or be put on something you really dont want to work on.

  2. Tell them you are struggling with it and would like to get some help. In most cases here companies are happy to pay for courses/books/resources for you to learn a task. The company should not expect you to learn a completely new thing by doing "some research on line". If they are a small company and can not afford to have you properly trained then they must understand that situation and what the outcome is. If you really feel like they wont help but you want to learn consider purchasing a book or two on the topic and trying to learn it. If a company cannot spare the $30 for a book then that may not b a company you want to be at.

2b. Just look everything up on stack overflow....

Hope this helps


Honestly, your best recourse is to tell them exactly that, that you're struggling. Not everyone is suited for every job, and it's better for your supervisor to know that you're struggling than to have them learn much later. Tell them what exactly you've been doing to fathom it, where you feel like you're just not getting it, and ask for their advice. Honestly, sometimes it's just a matter of that you're going about it the wrong way, perhaps that they need to start you on something more basic, and sometimes you're just not going to get it. I had to acknowledge the second when working in speech recognition. I just couldn't get it, and I was much happier once assigned to something else.


Not to be mean about it, but learning new things is kind of what programmers do for a living. I understand that this is probably miles out of you comfort zone but if your employer is really okay with you taking the time to ramp up to understanding the technology, I would, if I were you, use this as a learning opportunity. The chances are good that somewhere down the line you will be tasked with utilizing ASP.NET in some other fashion, be it fixing someone else's code or creating a project on your own with the constraints that for whatever reason it's got to be in .NET.

If you really, really feel uncomfortable about this and feel that you have no other recourse but to beg off, I would couch this to your superior in terms that they would understand. If you're not familiar at all with C#/ASP, explain to them that it may take you several weeks to get up to speed on the task, time which may be better utilized on some other project. The big problem here is that if they don't actually have a PHP-based project for you to work on, the best business decision might be to let you go (which is reason #1 why as a programmer, one has to be flexible).

  • I understand that, the only problem is usually I get a bit of time to actually learn the basics.
    – Marriott81
    Commented Mar 18, 2014 at 12:28

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