I recently (four months ago) started working at a small company of ~15 employees as a software developer for their IT system. I am essentially a one-man team; the only other person in the company who has even a slight technical knowledge of IT is my manager, who is responsible for assigning tasks to me.

From the employer's point of view, they are happy - I was praised in a recent appraisal with nothing negative raised in relation to my performance. The issue I am having is that, understandably, my manager does not always have time for me. I am given a set of tasks to do, and either the tasks are completed relatively quickly or I require clarification on aspects of a project (normally due to my lack of knowledge of the business process at this stage). Most of the time this is not possible, as my manager is often in meetings or otherwise busy, and there is no one else who can advise on how to proceed.

I am enjoying the job for the most part when there is work on my desk, but I am feeling more and more unproductive, which I worry could harm my long-term personal development, as well as the business as a whole. I have already spoken to my manager and he has acknowledged that I am currently being forced to spend a lot of time without work to do due to his schedule, but it doesn't seem like anything is being done to rectify the problem.

Emails can be left unanswered for weeks and I feel almost like I'm intruding if I send another, or remind my boss in person that I would need some feedback in order for the feature to be completed before the planned release date. So far it's never gotten to the point where a feature release has had to be delayed, but at this rate it's just a matter of time.

Is there anything I can do to try and improve things further? Is it a good idea to continue pressing for a response?

  • Can you find stuff that needs to be done on your own?
    – paparazzo
    Jan 27, 2017 at 17:35

5 Answers 5


You have a great opportunity to grow.

Developers that find their own work are considered more senior than developers that have their work assigned; in fact, in many companies, it is part of the definition of "Senior".

So, ask your manager to shadow him on pertinent meetings or activities, when your workload is low. Then you can learn part of his job, take it out of his plate, and it is a win-win; he can take more responsibilities knowing you are doing more of that.

A different option is to ask him, instead of "give me tasks", something like "What can I do for you that doesn't require giving me the task details, but a larger project that I can make progress while there are no urgent tasks". It may take a long session for him to explain that project, but then you should be able to work independently for a few weeks or months, with small clarifications, generally only when you deliver an almost final version, as feedback to polish the deliverables.

There are many other options to be proactive and find ways to add value to the company and to your manager without being dependent of his time, but hopefully those two get you started.


You manager's job is not driven by tickets or mails, but by meetings. If you try to "get" him to work by your pace, you will fail. You already do, if you write mails and they go unanswered for weeks.

Use his system. Do not write mail. Schedule a meeting. Write your questions as an agenda and schedule the meeting as soon as his calendar allows. This will slip right into his workflow and you will get the time you need.

In the mean time, schedule a meeting to ask about tasks you can do when you are idling. There has to be something.

  • Meetings are difficult for developers because one hour can wreck an entire afternoon's producivity. Maker's Schedule vs. Manager's Schedule. paulgraham.com/makersschedule.html
    – alroc
    Jan 27, 2017 at 17:43
  • 1
    @alroc There is hardly anything to wreck when your productivity is zero because you are waiting for information from your manager. If you need that info, go get it. Don't idle around or try to be smart doing other stuff. Additionally, if the developer initiates the meeting, it should be easy to have it where it does not impact the working day.
    – nvoigt
    Jan 27, 2017 at 17:46

Make it easy for them to say yes

1. Find things that you could do that would help people

2. Put the suggestion in an email to your manager

3. Phrase it in such a way that they can read it in 20 seconds and just reply "Yes"

Point 3 is the absolutely crucial one. If your manager knows that your emails only ever take 20 seconds to deal with, then they'll do those ones first.

Managers love people that get stuff done. They really love people who can proactively find work that needs doing rather than waiting for it to be assigned to them. And they really love people who make their job easier.

Do as much as you can without their input and only then give them the rest in such a way that they can just skim it and reply.


This is fairly common if you have an overworked manager.

The main way to proceed is finding other sources of work.

Are there things the office needs and nobody already implemented? (automated build process, ticket tracking...)

Check from you colleagues if they need something software related, or if they feel your products need something implemented. You can develop those features in a side branch* and merge them to the main product branch if they get approved.

You obviously should still send emails and reports to your manager, to keep him informed of what you're doing and if the things you're doing are fine.

If you still feel you have too few things to do, you could resort to online courses to learn new technologies or strenghten your skills on libraries and frameworks you're using. A good developer never stops learning.

*You do use source control, right? If not, look at the first option


One thing I would suggest is that busy people go from meeting to meeting, so set up a regularly scheduled meeting (at least weekly, possibly daily or every couple of days) with your boss to get all questions answered and to give project updates particularly on things that can't proceed without him. Take the action to send him the invite, don't wait for him to set it up.

Follow up any verbal approvals from this meeting with an email stating that you received the approval on this date.

Any actions you need him to take, do as far as possible and have ready for him to simply sign off on. So if you need him to purchase equipment, fill out the purchase order for him (or if you don't have rights in an application, provide him an electronic copy of exactly what he needs to have to fill in the form so all he has to do is cut and paste). If you need him to send an email, then send him a draft. What you are trying to do is save him time on anything you need him to do for you.

Then come up with some suggested projects to work on when you have nothing else to do. This can include training yourself on something that may be needed in the future. Discuss those at your next meeting.

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