I work at a small (8-10 employees) company. Since January, one of our tech engineers has been absent due to disability. The other tech engineer had handed in his notice and left in February. Now, a lot of our customers have been waiting for weeks for their scheduled maintenance and projects to be finished.

This work consists mostly of industrial printer maintenance, windows server environments and networking. My boss seems to believe that I come from a similar background, having worked in a local computer store (fixing computers and reinstalling windows). I'm currently employed here as a software engineer, which is where my real qualifications and skills lie.

Because I'm the only one in the company who has skills even remotely close to the work that needs to be done, and we're having serious issues finding replacements for our tech engineers, I've been asked to take on some tasks. At first, I didn't really mind and I didn't want to say no. However, this has been going on for some weeks now on top of my regular tasks. The work has gotten increasingly difficult with more and more responsibility.

Customers are somewhat understanding - especially the regulars, who know of the situation. I still feel extremely uncomfortable going in with limited knowledge, trying to figure everything out on the spot and making a lot of mistakes in the process.

How can I approach my boss to avoid this turning into a more permanent or long-term thing? We're a pretty informal company, but my boss is a typical "everything is possible" boss and won't take no for an answer.

  • 3
    Being a jack-of-all-trades is very common in small companies, where they cannot just hire someone to do one specific task, especially in situations like yours. If you don't like it, then perhaps a bigger company would be a better choice for you. – Juha Untinen Mar 25 '15 at 9:44

That depends a lot on where do you see yourself in the future!

The advise might just look contrary to what you asked for - but you are in what I call opportunity trap! It's opportunity because while there are many people who struggle for getting challenging work in organization you have got it! It can make you more indispensable and hence in a more powerful position than what you are currently. However, it is a trap - because failing here can seriously jeopardize current role as well as what can come in the future.

Before you think about how to approach boss - be clearer in terms of what you want. Here are a few questions that you should ask yourself -who's answer might bring you clarity required.

  1. Is the transition a good direction in the career or a bad one? From what appears you are being stretched between two different roles. Be the software engineering or otherwise - customer facing exercise is always a critical steps in the career evolution, but if you get tagged from one specialty to another - it is impediment in the career. Hence, you need to see what is useful.

  2. What is it you really dislike? Extra work, out-of-domain-work, lack-of-existing-expertise or facing the customer? Each of this has a solution. If you are hassled only because customer facing exercise are difficult you should share this with boss and ask for specific help on case by case. If you are uncomfortable because you didn't have prior knowledge seek for help in the subject matter -(though a smaller companies might have challenge here) but over time things get better. But most important if you are unhappy because you are getting digression in career towards undesirable field - you need to make it explicitly to the boss.

  3. Look for the future When you talk to boss - instead of cribbing or complaining - ask him about the future. Ask him whether you being originally software engineer is now going to be converted in some other role? Is this phase a temporary or does your boss thinks this is good forever?

    • If your real reason is dilution of job profile, you should make this clear after hearing him.
    • If you are uncomfortable due to lack of expertise in subject matter but really dont mind doing that work - than ask for the guidance on how you can formally learn this.
    • On the other hand if the nature of work is not a problem but just that you are slogging unnecessarily - explain that you are putting extra effort, how will this help me grow in the organization?

In essence, you should focus on the what outcome is desirable for you and direct your boss towards it rather than making it appear that you are unhappy about it.

You might not get help always. Sometimes bosses are just not in a situation to help you - and are forced to push you towards jobs what you don't like -it can be business reason, financial reason or even HR reason. But if you think your boss is helpless, you would be better off finding another place than to fight!

  • I can handle the extra work and I don't mind facing customers. Both things were part of my job before the current situation. It's the nature of the work I dislike - I'm not familiar with it, I have no interest in shifting my skills towards server administration and hardware maintenance. It's like you say: I feel like, if this role becomes more permanent, my career will be shifting in a direction I do not want. You've given me some good ideas to think of before talking to my boss, thank you! – Ivo Coumans Mar 26 '15 at 8:00
  • Best of luck! Just be objective than to let out your frustration. Your win is when your boss understands your situation without feeling bad about it! – Dipan Mehta Mar 27 '15 at 7:04

Since the place is so small, I'm guessing your boss is either the owner or very close to him. Maybe you can start asking about "how is the search for a replacement for X going?"

From what I understand, the job market is currently a "buyer's market" - it should not take a herculean effort to find someone happy to do the work that's outside your scope.

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