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I work for a very large corporation as a Software Developer (job title says to "provide technical solutions to routine problems, specializing in a field of expertise"). For the past four months (and for the next three months), I have been writing test procedures. Not test code, mind you, but step by step procedures to test our software against our customer's requirements. I have not written code in months and it has been very difficult for me because I very much enjoy programming. We don't have technical writers at our company, because they were all laid off last year. We don't have testers at our company, because they were all laid off last year. Now, they hire me--a wide-eyed young college grad ready to boost his programming skills--to do technical writing and proofreading.

Is it typical to be tasked with work not in your job description? How often are programmers expected to spend so much time on non-programming responsibilities, especially if my job description makes it sound like a technical job?

marked as duplicate by gnat, IDrinkandIKnowThings, user8365, Jan Doggen, yochannah Sep 11 '14 at 21:25

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  • Is it typical? Sure. It varies between each company and between every employee how much it is, though. It sounds like you're not very pleased with this, you need to decide if you're gonna stick with this, confront the problem with your closest manager (possibly resulting in being kicked off) or simply resign for a position that suits your need. What to do is very opinion based and, in my opinion, a bit off topic since only you can know what you really want. – Jonast92 Sep 11 '14 at 16:59
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    I am wondering if this is just a short-term assignment. You said the duration of this is only 7 months. What are the company's projects for you after the 7 months are up? Will they give you more programming work, and less proofreading? I came into my job as a .NET Developer but I ended up doing an MS Access application for my first project (still a little code, but let's be serious). – Mark C. Sep 11 '14 at 17:04
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Is it typical to be tasked with work not in your job description?

Yes, but not to such extent.

How often are programmers expected to spend so much time on non-programming responsibilities, especially if my job description makes it sound like a technical job?

Very rarely, and usually only the lowest tier specialists are asked to do that. You don't have much value in the eyes of management (yet), and I assume they don't see you as a long term employee. They are OK with you writing test procedures for 7 months and quitting sooner or later.

In your situation, if you perform well and your procedures are top quality, a good manager should notice that. Perhaps you can can think of a way to optimize the test procedures, compared to previous company projects.

I am somewhat in a similar position now. I am a programmer tasked with research of tools to be used for future projects. I have been given 3 months to do research, then I will have to build prototypes. I look at this as a chance to show my diversity - I am not a one-sided coder, I can do in-depth research, document it well, present it in well. In other words, I want to show diversity and become more valuable in the eyes of my employer.

However, doing only something not directly related to job description for 7 months, in IT field, is not common and does not benefit you.

Option I see: talk with management and get to do some actual programming tasks, don't do test procedure writing full time. Or your programming skills will deteriorate. Also, quality suffers if monotonous work is done for too long. I think that a good manager would see value in you keeping and improving your programming skills. If he does not, look for a better job.

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    I would not say it is very rare and definitely not only for junior people. Most senior people I know spend a lot of their time doing non-programming tasks (perhaps not these particualr ones). It may depend on what segment of the industry you are in. – HLGEM Sep 11 '14 at 18:06
  • This is a good point, too. I am on a team of three. One of them is a Senior Engineer (Level IV) and was taken away from rewriting a major application to work on this. – BennyMathison Sep 11 '14 at 22:09
  • I've been with the company over 30 years, and at the moment I'm spending most of my time on level-3 customer support... and not even on an area where I developed the architecture I'm supporting. It happens. Needs of the business. You need to be ready to push back a bit and point out the needs of your own career as well, but yeah, months doing support isn't unusual ESPECIALLY these days when everyone's trying to get by with less headcount than they really need. – keshlam Sep 13 '14 at 4:42
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Is it typical to be tasked with work not in your job description?

Yes!

I have never worked at a job where I worked only on the few line items mentioned in the job description. I don't ever expect to do so.

Virtually every job description either specifically mentions or implies "Other tasks as required".

  • I agree, but the problem is that this IS my job now. I was hired to do programming work, and now I proofread technical writing most of my day. I have not written code in months. I'm just trying to see if this is widespread. – BennyMathison Sep 11 '14 at 22:08
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    Other tasks as required, sure, but I would not say it was typical to spend 100% of your time, for four months, doing other tasks, and 0% doing the task that you were told you were being hired to do. – Carson63000 Sep 12 '14 at 3:46
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You have to proactively manage your own career. You are assigned to a task outside your technical specialty and which is not one you want to do. This is not abnormal, I have never worked anywhere that didn't give me "other duties as assigned." And the more senior I have gotten, them more of these I have because someone who can understand the business as well as development can be very valuable in a senior context. However, what you are describing goes well beyond the norm.

If you want to be assigned other work, you have to do a couple of things:

First, make sure you are person someone would want on their technical team. In part that means doing a decent job (note I did not say "do a super excellent, nobody can possibly replace me at this" job) at what you are assigned whether it is boring or not. There is no reason to give you more technical responsibilities if you haven't done reasonably well at the responsibilities you were given. This is particularly true when you have no track record at the company in your real technical field. (There is a lot to learn from getting in the nitty gritty detail of testing. It may make you a better programmer when you get back to it. But still - not full time for months.)

Next talk to your boss about assigning programming tasks to you and about how long this particular task can be expected to last. You have done him a favor by doing this work that no one else wanted to do (the junior people are often given the least wanted work), now ask for your reward.

In the future when being given tasks outside your expertise, talk specifically about how long you will be expected to do them and when you can return to your normal work at the time the other work is assigned. You have to hit a balance here between being a team player and being a doormat that every cruddy job can be thrown to. If you don't ask for what you want, you will not likely get it. Your boss should be aware that you expect to be rewarded for doing a task he needs done that is outside the normal scope of your duties.

Be aware that you might be doing this particular task because there is currently no work for you or because a new project is coming up they want you for but can't put you on just yet and they are keeping you busy in the meantime. Knowing the reasons behind the assignment could make it more palatable. This is why it is important to have upfront discussions of the tasks outside your normal job description and the impact it might have on you.

In any event, this is not the long-term work you want to do. You need to make sure your boss is aware of that and if you do not get a good response to your request to be moved back to the work you were hired for, then it may be time to look for another job. You say you are in a large organization, you may be able to find a group that needs devs and ask for a lateral transfer. Or you might have to look outside the company. It is a fine thing to be a team player and help out where it is need without regard to your job description, but this has gone way beyond helping out and is actively affecting your own future career path. It is time to ask to be reassigned or move on.

Pay attention to the grapevine at your company, find out about upcoming work and put in your request to be assigned to something particular that is coming up. Politic for the assignments you want. If you don't, well you can see the result of that right now, can't you? This is too short a space to get into how to play the political game, but I would suggest you read a few books on the subject. They will help you manage your own career.

  • "A professional is someone who always tries to do his best work, even when he doesn't want to." – keshlam Sep 13 '14 at 4:43
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The way you describe it, you can act as a technical writer or tester, or you'll probably get laid off :-(

Since there is a job that needs doing, and there is nobody whose job description fits the task, someone whose job description doesn't fit has to do it. That's unfortunate for you but seems unavoidable. The situation is unusual and shouldn't happen, but as long as you work with this employer, I don't think there is much you can do about this.

The obvious thing to do is to do your job, to talk to your manager to get some programming tasks as well, to practice your art in your own time if you can to make sure you are employable elsewhere, ..., and to actively search for positions at other companies. Best not to tell your employer about the last thing. Since the previous testers and technical writers were laid off.

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