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I'm currently a software development intern, and I've been in this company for almost 2 years. I really enjoy the office atmosphere here. My supervisor gives me a lot of space and freedom in terms of making implementation decisions, and I really appreciate this freedom he gives me because it helps me grow tremendously.

However due to some upper project management issue, quite often new projects that are in the middle of development gets interrupted and put on hold by the project management team. Since most projects my supervisor assigns me are these new projects, my work is often interrupted and left with nothing to do at the moment. My supervisor understands my struggles, but he couldn't do much about it since he's not part of the project management team.

When this happens, I usually go to my supervisor directly and ask for other tasks to work on. However, lately it's become a problem for him because he couldn't seem to find more tasks for me to do. And on the hand, I do not want to bother my supervisor too much since he's really busy with his own work.

I've asked around my family and friends for suggestions, and they all say I should just not worry about it. Personally I feel really "guilty" to just come in and sit there with nothing to do.

So my question boils down to this:

How do I deal with the situation when you are out of tasks for a period of time?

If I'm not phrasing my question correctly or it needs more clarification, please let me know. I appreciate your help and input. Thanks!

  • 1
    @yochannah Thank you for linking the possible duplicate. However, I believe the OP's situation is different than mine since he's trying to get work done but keeping getting interruption. I guess I'll need to rephrase my question title. – LulalaBoss Jul 18 '14 at 20:36
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    your still an intern after 2 years? – Pepone Jul 18 '14 at 23:23
  • Are the projects put on hold because something more important came up, or is on hold in this case amount to cancelled? – Mr.Mindor Jul 19 '14 at 2:50
  • @Pepone Yep. Been working while in college so can only be intern as far as I understand. – LulalaBoss Jul 22 '14 at 16:29
  • @Mr.Mindor According to my supervisor, the reason is more like the first one. – LulalaBoss Jul 22 '14 at 16:29
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This has happened to me on a couple of my past internships this is what I have done:

Ask your boss

I know you already have asked and don't want to bother him too much, but from my experience people don't mind a short disturbance like this (especially when you are just trying to be more helpful). You can also ask if there is anything you can do to give her/him a hand.

Invent work

When I have gotten confirmation from my boss that there is nothing to be done, I go looking for some way to be helpful. I have written up documentation on what I have learned to help future interns, automated systems which use to be manual, etc. The best thing about this is you get to pick something that you find interesting, learn a bunch and if you finish you can even get bonus credit (which could be a better evaluation or reference).

Learn something

If all else fails, pick a topic which will be both good for you to know and potentially good for the company. By doing so, you get to learn something new and maybe when you can get back to work you will be more productive.

Final note, even when I have no work, I try and stay away from Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, etc. because it's too easy to pick it up as a bad habit at work.

  • 3
    Invent Work is what I recommend more than anything. There is always something that doesn't have proper unit tests, functionality that isn't documented, and if your freedom allows code that is deprecated, obsolete, poorly optimized or just plain messy that could use some clean up. If nothing else has anyone documented your documentation procedures? It sounds redundant, but is an often overlooked and important piece of documentation to ensure consistency. – RualStorge Jul 18 '14 at 20:13
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    + 1 for your last comment about bad habit and inventing work. I've done something similar like adding and improving documentation. So far I like your answer the best, but I'll wait for a few inputs before accept :) – LulalaBoss Jul 18 '14 at 20:40
  • I'd think "invent work" would better be rephrased as "discover work", as in finding problems waiting to be solved. – Volker Siegel Jul 19 '14 at 2:15
  • I have invented work in these situations, like perfecting the autotester, slapping a MMI on some dinky module and stuff like that. In fact I came back here after a spell away and found they were marketing one of my spiffy spare-time projects. – RedSonja Jun 12 '15 at 7:31
  • As someone who both interned for a long time (5 years on and off) and now manages several interns, this answer is spot on. In fact, if an intern does step 1 to me, I'll almost always appreciate them asking, and then redirect them to step 2 or 3. The one thing I would add, for folks who are on my end of this, is try to give them a quick explanation of why projects are on hold, and a rough estimate of when that may be resolved. – Alex N. Jun 15 '17 at 15:10
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Go to your supervisor again and ask your real question, which is:

What should I do when there is no task currently assigned?

Before you do, however, note that you have a chance to influence your outcome. For example, if there are some technologies you'd like to learn more about, you can go to your manager and say

I've noticed there are fairly regular periods of downtime lately, as you know. I was thinking of using this time to work on learning (some technology). Would that be all right?

Not only will this allow you to adjust the work environment to your liking, but it also shows that you are taking your career development seriously (or whatever other task you want to fill the time with).

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    + 1 for talk to supervisor about learning new tech. I think it's a great idea! – LulalaBoss Jul 18 '14 at 20:41
  • If this is not a paid position (OP said internship, so it's not clear), that sounds fine. If it is paid, I would not say just "to learn this tech," rather, combine that learning with a project that would be useful. Generally, employees are not paid to learn, they are paid for what they already know and are expected to learn new skills on their own time. If this were for a skill that the company needed you to know ("We are sending you to Oracle database training so you can support project X.") that would be one thing, but here we are talking a skill employer doesn't need now. – Aaron Jun 14 '17 at 23:41
  • @Aaron, if the alternative is having OP get paid to sit around, doing nothing, I can't imagine any employer complaining about their employees learning on the clock (after all, a more highly-educated workforce is just adding more value to the company) – user17103 Mar 28 '18 at 9:08
4

How do I deal with the situation when you are out of tasks for a period of time?

You talk with your supervisor again.

This time, instead of asking for a task to work on, say "What would you like me to do in the future when I find myself with no tasks to work on?"

That way, you'll learn how to handle the situation on your own, instead of interrupting him each time.

0

2 years is quite long, given your dissatisfaction with the company. If you don't mind, can you tell us if this is a paid internship ? If its unpaid, then you might have to consider leaving this company for another one.

I have some suggestions for you:

1) Ask your boss for more work or if any teammate needs help.

2) Try to learn something new that could be of value to you and/or your company. Be aware of the job roles they hire for and try to learn some skills for those roles. Ask your company if they provide access to any kind of training, coaching, online libraries etc.

3) Don't finish your work too quickly. If you do this too often, then they might think that the position is not needed if its a paid one.

4)

quite often new projects that are in the middle of development gets interrupted and put on hold by the project management team.

This is a huge red flag about mismanagement. Often, projects are not cheap $10 movies that you can pause and restart anytime you like. So, if your company cannot even manage projects properly most of the time, then your career and future is at stake. What is going to prevent them from ending your projects prematurely and maybe laying you off when you least expect it ?

Only because of this reason, I suggest that you quit this company. 2 years in this kind of position is too long, especially if you are working for no or little pay.

As an aside, don't really feel guilty because they don't have much work for you. There are times when I had to put in a couple of extra hours and I did not even ask for overtime pay because I had some slack earlier. So, it gets evened out more or less. If the guilt is too strong, then get another job and quit.

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