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I joined a software company as an intern a few months back. After work hours, I study online about various topics which are related to programming but don't directly relate to my work. My mentor(to whom I am assigned to only a couple of weeks back) observed this and started asking me questions like "Don't you feel that work is challenging?".

Also, after I completed some tasks, he started asking me questions like "Are these tasks challenging or should I give more?".

During one of the informal discussions with his colleagues(I was also there), he said to one of the members that I feel like I am not given work that matches my skill level. He also sarcastically mentioned that I study all the time.

I tried asking him why he asked such questions privately and he remained silent about it, not replying to my messages.

What do I make of this? How do I tell him softly not to make such remarks?

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    Do you feel like you're not being challenged? It sounds like your mentor is just worried that you're bored and would like to do more. – Erik Mar 21 '17 at 19:36
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    If he sarcastically said you study all the time that is a compliment. He is saying that you are so smart it seems you study all the time, and that the work is too easy for you. Do you want to tell a mentor not to compliment you? – Prodnegel Mar 21 '17 at 19:36
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    sounds like you need to have the conversation in person and not over a communication medium he can ignore. Unless of course he would also just sit silently in front of you and refuse to answer. – NKCampbell Mar 21 '17 at 19:49
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    @Erik It is partly true that I don't feel challenged but I am not yet familiar enough with the code base to stand out too. I haven't done any significant contribution. – user161151 Mar 21 '17 at 20:04
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    I would just answer the questions he asked honestly. – paparazzo Mar 21 '17 at 20:12
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Also, after I completed some tasks, he started asking me questions like "Are these tasks challenging or should I give more?".

This sounds like a personal insecurity to me. Often, when I was first teaching, I asked students whether or not they thought I was moving too fast or slow, because I had no idea what pacing would be beneficial. I kept this practice every year, and it seemed to help me and the students to get the most out of class. I could change pace based on the majority of responses and adjust for slower/faster students individually.

I tried asking him why he asked such questions privately and he remained silent about it, not replying to my messages.

These sorts of questions should be asked face-to-face, especially if he is your mentor. Don't go into it looking for conflict, either. "I wonder if you have any suggestions about my performance and what I should or shouldn't be doing? Do you find my studying to be a problem, or my completion of tasks adequate?" If you approach it as questions that will help you, you're likely to get a much more positive and useful response. If, after you approach this with him, you still feel he's not providing guidance, you can speak to whomever is your intern sponsor and let them know that you're concerned with his silence on subjects which could help you fit in better or learn your position faster. Don't make it about him, simply say you would like to get the most out of training.

The point of internship is to learn, and you can't learn if you don't ask questions. You can't rely on messages to gauge the response to some of those questions, human inflection, body language and the like are required to make a reasonable decision about what they say. "I think you should be fine" can be said sarcastically or heartfelt, and you can't tell one from the other in a message.

Good luck on the internship, and make sure to take control of the situation and make it a positive experience for yourself.

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When you say "observed" this about your after hours tasks, I'm inferring it to mean that you brought it up in conversation. How else could he "observe" it? Likely he brought it up because he feels it seems a concern to you.

Even from the slightly negative tone I'm inferring from your post regarding your mentor's response, I think he's acting positively in your favor. I've always been lucky with managers who care if my work is satisfying. He may wish to keep you on the team after the internship.

I would take this as an opportunity to take up new tasks at your work if you wish. Ask your mentor if he is concerned that you are not being challenged at work. If he really is, discuss potential tasks that have the ability to grow your technical skills.

Otherwise, tell him you feel very content at what you're currently being put on and his comments should subside.

  • We actually have an open workspace, so it is possible to see what others are doing all the time. – user161151 Mar 21 '17 at 19:59
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    If you were at work, that would not be considered after hours study. – HLGEM Mar 21 '17 at 20:49
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For software companies, "challenging work" is often a key metric for how well-managed an employee is. For example:

  • are they bored and likely to move elsewhere?
  • are they adding less value to the company than they could?
  • are they blocked from progressing much of the time?
  • are they politicking and empire-building when they should be working?

These are all things a company needs to spot quickly, but for various reasons employees don't tell their managers about. By asking whether your work is "challenging" (or "interesting"), they can cover all these issues in one question.

At a guess, it sounds like your mentor finds it hard to read your state of mind, but sees your extra study and worries it might be a bad sign. Do your meetings provide opportunities to talk about the parts of the job you're enjoying? Can you explain to him succinctly why your current arrangement is better than one with more challenging work? If he were to give you something so challenging it displaced your other studies, how would you feel about that? In short, more communication about the good stuff will probably ease his fears about the rest.

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