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EDIT: How can I evaluate my options in a realistic way? What are the factors that I should consider?


I feel that I am in a mid life crisis, as many others..

I work for a corporation as software engineer. Few months after I started my boss told me that he sees my future as having a team that I will lead within three years. Now things feels a little bit different and last time we spoke about it he said that it could take five years. The team expanded and the number of things I am asked to do is less and less. I rarely get to talk with my boss*. I feel that I am not really doing anything that important / useful in the company and that nobody can really notice what I do as there is as much I am given to do.

I am working on a very specialised area which means that in the short / medium term it is going to be unlikely that there will be opportunities to have more responsibilities in the company. I had asked to another senior member of the company to do more work for free (unpaid extra hours) in order to gain extra experience but my boss told me that it was best I didn't do so as he is worried that I enjoy the new area more and neglect my current responsibilities.

I feel very confused as this makes me feel that there is no real opportunities for me in this corporation. I just don't know what to expect and what I can do to improve my chances to do something more meaningful.

What I don’t like of my current situation is:

  • It feels that I am doing things non optimally (I could do more)
  • I don’t feel empowered
  • I am not learning as much as I used to
  • What I am doing is not really important so some days it feels that independently from what I do I am making zero difference to the end goal What I am doing has not been properly defined (I am trying to push to define this)
  • Some of my colleagues seems to be doing more interesting things

The options I can think of are:

  • A: Should I stay and work as software engineer and hope that one day I'll be given more strategic tasks and try to do my job the best way I can?
  • B: Should I start doing something outside working hours that helps shaping my CV to be hired as strategical project manager?
  • C: Should I try to move horizontally within the company and change career path to a more specific managerial one?

My concerns for each option:

A:

  • Pros: It is the safest path as it means keeping my specialisation (the more years I spent as software engineer the higher the pay). Little effort.
  • Cons: This may not happen and it feels as a very slow path.

B:

  • Pros: it could be useful when applying for a managerial role
  • Cons: It depends on the hiring manager and company size, I really need to be passionate about whatever I do in order to sell it properly, lots of effort

C:

  • Pros: it could be the quicker way. It would look good on my CV. I could use the company knowledge that I have developed so far.
  • Cons: I would need to stay within this company for a long time to validate the career change. I could piss off my current boss which could potentially get me fired or block the transfer / move if unhappy -> this could burn some bridges.

  • How can I evaluate these options in a realistic way?

  • How can I distinguish between the way I feel and reality?

This is the way I feel about my current career choice:

  • I need to find a job where I can communicate, be creative and have an impact
  • I like technology but I also like media production
  • I have always had a variety of interests but never one single strong passion (e.g. be an architect)
  • Working as software engineer is a certain job which pays the bills, If I change the career path then it would be difficult getting back into it if I will need (IT skills expire soon)

closed as off-topic by Philip Kendall, The Wandering Dev Manager, Joel Etherton, Masked Man, mcknz Feb 26 '16 at 14:44

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "Questions asking for advice on what to do are not practical answerable questions (e.g. "what job should I take?", or "what skills should I learn?"). Questions should get answers explaining why and how to make a decision, not advice on what to do. For more information, click here." – Philip Kendall, The Wandering Dev Manager, Joel Etherton, Masked Man, mcknz
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 2
    Questions asking for advice on what to do are not practical answerable questions - Voting to close – The Wandering Dev Manager Feb 26 '16 at 13:09
  • I thought that was ok to ask advice on the workplace .. I am a bit confused.. – ldmnho Feb 26 '16 at 13:11
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    have a look here: meta.workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/2693/… - Questions should get answers explaining why and how to make a decision, not advice on what to do – The Wandering Dev Manager Feb 26 '16 at 13:24
  • This is borderline, IMO, and something many of us in IT face. Please reconsider. – Retired Codger Feb 26 '16 at 13:34
  • Replace the question 'What should I do?' and rephrase it as you did in your EDIT line. That's why people look at that question and say "VTC". – Brandin Feb 26 '16 at 14:36
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This, in my experience, is a very common situation. You've hit a plateau. You need to shake things up in your career.

People aren't going to suddenly start seeing you in a different light in your current role, unless there is some major change, and that you broadcast that you have different goals. Even then, it's an uphill battle in your current company--you effectively have a debt to pay in living down your current reputation.

You can jettison that debt by going to a new company. People often see the positives in a new person during the honeymoon period, and you can leverage that. The only reputation debt that will follow you forward is your job title--it is difficult to move to another company AND get a promotion. If you can find a role that's going to grow, in an area that is hiring, there may be an opportunity. Moving laterally and up is harder to make than hiring underneath your level.

You also should focus carefully on how you communicate and interact upstream. In my experience, many tech people fail to translate their technical concerns into business ones in a way everyone can understand. Shifting language from the reasons things are the way they are to the impact and consequences of the way things are is a great rule of thumb. In general, if your grandmother wouldn't understand what you're saying, neither will a non-technical person. As a tech leader you should be prepared to explain and defend, but that's not the start of the argument.

  • How can I change role going from my current software engineering role to a managerial one in a new company? Should I state my title as "Software engineer" and explain that I have been coordinating project A as well as developing the code for it? Would this be sufficient for a hiring manager? – ldmnho Feb 26 '16 at 13:37
  • Normally you wouldn't, you'd work your way up again. The exception is going somewhere much smaller, where experience and skill will carry more weigh. The question is one of time--in your current role, I don't think it happens anytime soon, there are always excuses to delay. In a new role, you can expand the area or your responsibilities quickly. Basically, your career is flat here anyway, move somewhere you can grow. – jimm101 Feb 26 '16 at 15:38
  • BTW, rephrase your question to be more general, and specifically ask how you can get a promotion, and you may get re-opened. If it's too general, you'll probably be marked as a duplicate. – jimm101 Feb 26 '16 at 15:40
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Sounds to me like you want to step it up from simply being a developer and start making your way into management-land. That's my own ambition one day, and it's something I've given a lot of thought.

There are several approaches you can take:

Enhance your education

If you feel that you do not have the qualifications for a team-lead or management position then maybe it's time you delved into that side of things. Taking management courses (online or night school) at a local college will give you an understanding into what management is all about.

You'll be able to talk the talk, and you will know how to spin your experience in order to impress a hiring manager.

External projects

What you're basically asking for is a leadership position. So maybe prove that you've got what it takes to coordinate people by leading an external project.

It doesn't have to be something tech related. It could be something as simple as organizing the end of the season picnic for your kid's hockey team. You wouldn't list that on a resume, but in an interview you could bring it up and speak about the challenges of getting 30 plus adults and their kids to work together. Coaching a team in your spare time would look even better.

Of course, you could also start an open source project, or get involved in one. The problem with these approaches is the amount of time you have to sink into them.

Jump ship

You've clearly been pegged into a certain position by your manager. Either (s)he thinks you're lacking a certain quality (which could be a very subjective and biased opinion), or (s)he might think that you're so valuable in your current role that they don't want to move you anywhere else for a while (if you're maintaining legacy systems, for example - important, but a dead end career wise).

Personally, I think that if you want to "move up" you need to get out and look for a new job. Your current boss doesn't seem to have promoting you on their list of things to do, and whatever is causing them to think that will follow you around within that company if you decide to move laterally. The only way to get clean slate is to apply for a senior/team leader position, and keep looking until you find one.

Spinning your experience

You may not have any "official" management experience, but there's all sorts of things you can spin in your favor. Surely you've mentored some junior devs. Run some code reviews, or made design decisions, etc. Been the sort of "informal" project manager for a few projects?

Simply leverage that to your advantage. Make sure that your resume brings that out.

  • Thanks for your reply. I have led some external projects (was funder of a startup and worked on a product for several years, patented a product, managed different private events..). However when applying for managerial jobs these were not counted as commercial experiences. Even my own startup is something that was under looked as I had only few collaborators and not a real team of employees. In terms of education I have given a thought to cursera, however during my MSc I took already economy and project management modules so I feel that I can talk the talk. It feels that I have an image "debt" – ldmnho Feb 26 '16 at 14:47
  • @ldmnho - speaking about your start-up, even though it's not corporate experience, can still be useful. For example, you can tell them what your learned from the time when you started your own business. I obviously can't know all the details of your career, or situation. You're the only one who can really judge what your next step should be. My only real recommendation at this point is to not be afraid of change. It really sounds like your current company has you in a particular position and isn't interested in letting you stay from it. – AndreiROM Feb 26 '16 at 14:56

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