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I recently started a position as the sole web designer/developer in a company with almost zero experience in the field, resulting in very little oversight or evaluation of my performance in regard to technical quality, leaving only the end product as a qualifier of my work/ability.

As a freelancer and contractor, I had always endeavored to make the most complete, professional product I possible could, due to the fact that once my work ended, I was not handling any upkeep. However, now that I am employed to one company full time, I am running into quite a conundrum.

I feel that I run the risk of making myself redundant, as if I design a fully featured CMS which anyone can use along with extensive documentation on how to use it efficiently, then why would they employ someone with my level of expertise to manage it?

Additionally, I feel like I run the risk of making my work "too efficient" and running out of work to do. If it only takes 30 seconds to make any changes the company requires, how can I possibly justify a 45 hour work week? (Note: These websites are not overly complex and are primarily static, requiring little to no maintenance besides occasional content additions)

I know I could "get away" with it due to being the sole person with any understanding of the technology I work with, but it doesn't really sit right with me as opposed doing a solid, professional and high-quality job I could be proud of and use in the future as an example of my work.

Is it ethical to do a less efficient job such that my position continues to exist? Or should I perhaps accept that this company does not need a full-time web developer and look elsewhere for a more fitting position.

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    I would give a lot to have the type of workload that has more time for finding ways to improve things or develop new features than maintaining what exists. So the external website is done. What about proposing an internal dashboard that gets worked on in your downtime? Expand your responsibilities and the value you provide and you reduce the likelihood you will be easily replaced. You might even end up with a more interesting job than you started with. – ColleenV Nov 30 '15 at 17:26
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    I have always tried to put myself out of a job. In eighteen years of full-time professional work, I've never succeeded. I have succeeded in making things more efficient and been praised by supervisors and coworkers. – Todd Wilcox Nov 30 '15 at 17:54
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    @ToddWilcox While that's mostly true, the OP's situation could be an exception, mostly because his role was likely not well-defined. It sounds like the company needed a contractor to launch a website and to handle the occasional bit of maintenance. They then also need someone to publish website updates or write content which probably also isn't a full-time job (and usually not a job for a developer) so they ended up merging the two into an FTE. OP: Note that if that's what's going on you can only get away with it for so long. – Lilienthal Nov 30 '15 at 18:06
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    @Lilienthal We have a fully featured CMS which anyone can use with extensive documentation and we also still have a dedicated web developer and two outside contractors for web development and design not to mention graphic designers both in-house and contracted. In the asker's case, I would expect that once the static sites are done and efficiently maintained, people will start coming up with bigger and bolder ideas very quickly. They might already have those ideas but be holding back. I see that kind of thing all the time. I doubt there are many people who put themselves out of a job. – Todd Wilcox Nov 30 '15 at 18:11
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    @ToddWilcox: People trying to put themselves out of a job usually fail, while people trying to keep their job by doing it inefficiently usually fail as well :-) – gnasher729 Dec 1 '15 at 9:14

11 Answers 11

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You can trust Parkinson's Law (work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion) to provide more work for you. You don't know what that work might be, but if your bosses see you as competent, capable and trust worthy, you have nothing to worry about.

If you can automate the mundane stuff, that just frees you up to do more interesting things.

In my opinion, you should do your normal high-quality high efficiency work. Make sure your bosses know what's going on and that you have available capacity.

If they let you go because you programmed yourself out of a job, they're fools and you'll have a great story for your next interview.

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    +1 for If they let you go because you programmed yourself out of a job, they're fools and you'll have a great story for your next interview. – Daenyth Nov 30 '15 at 18:47
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    I actually did program myself out of a job once, and into another! Basically, I automated a daily task that varied from 2-6 hours, down to 20-90 minutes, over about 6 weeks. A couple of months later, at my 1x1 checkpoint with my boss: "The bad news is, this team no longer has enough work to keep you on. The good news is, we have a spot for you on this other team. It's a team of people identified as high performers, and that's what you are. You start on Monday." – Dan Henderson Nov 30 '15 at 20:02
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    In 15 years of sysadmin, I have done a lot of automation and improvement, and have never made myself redundant. I have, however, got rid of a lot of tedious annoying and pointless work, and freed myself up to do interesting things! – Sobrique Nov 30 '15 at 22:03
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    Realistically if you worked so well that you ran out of work, you have literally proven yourself at a level that no new hire can possibly compete. If anything they'll probably pay for training in other areas and give you new tasks. – Nelson Dec 1 '15 at 7:40
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    If I was an employer, and my dev did his job so well that he no longer had any work, I would certainly not fire him. I would consider a host of things, but firing wouldn't be on the list. If someone is honest and efficient enough to save me a whole bunch of time and money, that person is a very valueable asset to the company. – mag Dec 1 '15 at 15:08
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A website is never finished really...

If you have free time, that means you have time to develop the coolest website ever. Does it have a responsive design? Can improvements be made on its SEO? What about potential features it could have? Could it be made more efficient (e.g. faster page download)? What new technologies / techniques have come out recently that you could use to develop new features / improve efficiency?

If it's an e-commerce site, even better, there are probably plenty of things that could be done to increase its conversion rate, with a bit of research. (Perhaps even come up with an A/B market testing system which my old boss always wanted but never had the time to do)

What about a backup / disaster recovery system? A source-code management system? (if a change takes 30 seconds then I doubt you have something like this in place)

You could go through it looking for snags / bugs / etc. A lot of these things, companies cut corners on because they don't have anyone with the free time to do them, but you do have the time it seems.

  • Absolutely +1 on the last row. You can test the website on all kinds of browsers, OSes and devices - I'm almost 100 % sure there is a combination that does not display correctly, or will be slightly unusable (too small link text to tap, for example). Corporates tend to err on the conservative side, so you might also run into IE6 issues! You can work on the compatibility and probably spend a good while to fix all the issues. – Juha Untinen Dec 2 '15 at 12:55
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If you've automated yourself out of a job, your company needs to find more jobs for you to automate your way out of.

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Your job is to add value. It sounds like your CMS will result in tremendous productivity gains. But if your CMS reaches a point where most of the value has been added, and your continual work will add little value, then it is time to move on to a new problem.

Have trust in the Luddite Fallacy. The world will always have technical problems to solve and inefficiencies to eradicate.

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Is it ethical to do a less efficient job such that my position continues to exist?

To quote a famous American (Homer Simpson):

Lisa, if you don't like your job you don't strike, you just go in every day and do it really half-assed - that's the American way.

Whether it's ethical or not is debatable, but there's no arguing that a lot of people work 'to fill the hours' more than to necessarily 'be productive for 40 hours'.

In fact, my current job pretty much insists I do the former as the management structure makes it physically impossible to do the latter. Hard to get actual coding done when one has 6 hours of daily meetings, for example. But I digress.

A few points to clarify for your benefit, however:

  1. You can't build a CMS that makes you obsolete. In fact, no CMS has made anyone obsolete. At best, it makes your time more efficient...letting you update the site more often. At worse, it becomes something you have to constantly maintain (the latter tends to be true of a lot of CMS tools be it home grown or off the shelf).

  2. There's no need to justify your 45 hour work week (is it really 45 hours? That seems especially crazy!). X hour work weeks have little to do with the work that has to be done and a lot more to do with weird human habits and the assumption that we all need to be sitting in a chair so many hours a week. In fact, there have been plenty of studies that show hours worked aren't necessarily in direct correlation to productivity. In fact, they are sometimes inversely correlated.

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You should do the best job that you can, because either:

a) You complete this in such a professional fashion that you either get more work from within this company, or you get a great reference for your next post.

or

b) You do it in a slightly poor fashion and spend the next year making minor changes to very un-interesting code in an attempt to spin out your job. You'll be bored and you won't be advancing your skills in any way.

You'll probably then want to look for a new job, but may be lacking the glowing recommendation as it took you over a year to get a simple CMS working...


For posterity, I should note that I would never recommend doing any less than the best you are able. You'll be happier for one (as noted above), but you shouldn't dismiss the ability of the people around you to tell when a bad job is being done. People are generally always aware when someone is shirking (and it's very annoying).

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Design a full featured CMS? In 2015? Why? There are so many open source and paid options available, and they've worked out the kinks that you as an individual can't guarantee you'll be able to handle quickly if there is a cascading-bug situation. So for that part, keep it simpler.

As for the other part, invest your free time in researching (and eventually implementing) potential improvements. It's good for you, and it's good for them. If they're not hammering you for work product constantly, GOOD. But don't get lazy. Keep your skills sharp and at least know what the cutting-edge technologies are.

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    There are plenty of reasons to create a bespoke CMS system, rather than using something pre-built, though that argument isn't really relevant to the question. – yuikonnu Nov 30 '15 at 17:21
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    Using your own custom CMS has plenty of advantages. We have build everything ourselfes, so our standards apply. All those hacks and exploits for Wordpress and other CMS' are irrelevant to ours. We can create super specific systems for our clients, which wouldn't be possible by fidgeting a current CMS – Martijn Dec 1 '15 at 8:19
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    @asdasd I read half your comment, and I was really hoping you would end Fermat's way. XD – Mindwin Dec 1 '15 at 14:24
  • @Martijn - I see both sides. But if you are allowing people access to your WP site that shouldn't be on it then you have already failed. I really can't see creating a CMS from scratch. We use a few CMS opensource that are very very edited and controlled. – blankip Dec 1 '15 at 14:55
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    The funny thing is that a real fully featured CMS would probably take YEARS for a single person to design, not even to get started on implementation. Which makes the idea of obsoleting yourself by creating a CMS even more ridiculous. – industry7 Dec 1 '15 at 16:57
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Depending on your personality! If you are an ambitious tinkerer/technologist, you will have to take the "risky" route and develop the product professionally and passionately. Otherwise, you will be depressed, you will not advance knowledge-wise and your boss will have no reason to think you are the REAL DEAL.

If you are just happy to collect a good pay and keep your mind on your interests (and I'd reckon a lot more people are like that then we care to admit!), to bamboozle your employer is a convenient, albeit not very nice thing to do. But, I am not judging, I was in that position and giving "generous" estimations about my work helped me find time to study and land a serious position. Again, plenty of people do it. Possibly your boss too!

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There are already several excellent answers that say you should do the best job you can, which I'm sure you already knew before you asked it. I want to add that you should not define yourself too narrowly; you can be much more than "just" a web site developer. You say that there isn't anyone at the company who understand technology, so perhaps you can be their CTO?

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Is your CMS better than Drupal, Wordpress, or Joomla? I doubt it. And many companies hire full-time people to manage their web sites based on those open source CMSs. Drupal and Wordpress have great documentation, and the code is open-source, yet lots of companies continue to make money teaching people how to use Drupal or Wordpress. I'll bet that your CMS is nowhere near the success of Wordpress or Drupal. Also, just because you find the documentation easy to read, it doesn't mean that somebody who takes it over will also find your software easy to read and understand. Development is important, but operating the application is where the organization saves or makes money.

So....you won't put yourself out of a job by making it as easy to use as possible.

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You should keep your current job for now and do it well enough, but not "fit perfectly" into your place, whatever this implies. Your visualization meanwhile should be for a better position. In a short time you will see new challenges and the opportunities for job promotions.

protected by Community Dec 1 '15 at 21:29

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