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Excuse me for the long passage, but I recently started my first dev job straight out of college in Texas. When I finally got my laptop and met my manager, he tells me this:

You're going on a paid trip to NYC for a developer event in two weeks. Your other colleague has the details and will forward it over to you

I read the email and discovered that it's an event at a college where I will work with high school girls to help them prototype mobile/web apps. This is part of an effort to give them an opportunity to work alongside developers. This is part of a big (apparently successful?) effort to bring more females into the field of software development.

This was actually a volunteer event, with my company being one of the bigger sponsors. The original sender of the email was some senior developer internal to the company, who mass-emailed all devs, requesting for as many volunteers as possible. Attached was a small document with the actual specific details.

The specific requirements for devs included knowledge of back-end frameworks and very specific front-end frameworks. Devs must be familiar with "hack-a-thon" style events and be able to quickly prototype mobile/web apps.

The first issue: I am somewhat afraid of traveling. The original job description when I applied for this position did not mention any travel, and neither was it brought up at my interview.

The second issue: I've never had any working or book knowledge of any of the mentioned technologies (not in the job description either). Neither have I ever attended hack-a-thon events or even prototyped any web/mobile apps, let alone doing it quickly.

The date of the message predates the day I started working, meaning my (not too technical) manager pushed me on this volunteer list prior to me even starting my job here.

I check another email forwarded by my colleague, confirming the actual volunteers that are officially going, which is a mix of employees already in the area of the event and some from other states. All of these people, according to their Linkedin profiles, are veterans in these technologies with years of proven work experience. It is worth noting that these are people who I'll never work with in the future as they work on a completely different domain from my group.

I find out I'm actually going with another colleague of mine, who has only been on the job for 6 months. She doesn't do ANY coding in her role, although she is capable of doing so if necessary (she claims as stated by her). She was also pushed in the volunteer list by our manager but she doesn't seem bothered by it. She told me my manager put on her on the list and asked her if it was ok, meaning she originally had a choice.

Most of the people that work alongside me in the group specialize in java and none of the technologies mentioned at the event. There are actual local employees that work specifically with these frameworks who work on another floor as part of another department, yet none of those people chose to volunteer. I'm surprised that they didn't do a background check on the volunteers to see if they actually have the required expertise.

I started to feel very uncomfortable about all of this. On my 2nd day, I went up to my manager's cube and asked him if this is truly necessary. He says it was mandatory and then immediately goes back to whatever he was doing at his cube.

I have this great fear of getting on my manager's bad side as a new hire if I'm to go against the grain and refusing to do one of the very first things he told me to do. But this is something that I feel I would under-perform in and would go very poorly given the circumstances.

Starting next week, I'm bringing this up again to find out the specific reasons why he's done what he's done. Fortunately, his director is planning a call next week to get to know me as a new hire and I feel like bringing this up with her, too.

  1. What should I do at this point if I must absolutely go if my job ends up depending on it?

  2. Why would my manager do such a thing to a new hire?

EDIT: Someone brought up a good point. Me and the other girl on the trip are the youngest out of the entire team. Most of the others are baby boomers.

EDIT: For some reason, some people are getting the impression that I'm just trying to avoid the event because they think I'm being lazy and entitled. I only want to avoid it because I'm afraid of making my manager look bad for sending someone without any experience. I wanted to avoid it due to fear, not laziness.

EDIT: Honestly if I had been notified of this event a couple months in advance, I would've been fine with it as I would have had ample time to prepare and learn the technologies, which I like doing anyways. It's just that it's a lot to take in as a new employee in the real world for the first time. I haven't met my entire group yet, neither have I been assigned my first real assignment, or even know the layout of the building I work in.

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    Three possible reasons: a) the boss do not want to spend in this the time of more experienced developers b) there were not enough volunteers and it is easier to "force" the new hire to accept this than to have to deal with a more veteran worker, who perhaps has already done some errands of this kind and c) as someone already commented, it will serve as your first round of "formation" in the technologies. – SJuan76 Jun 17 '17 at 15:13
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    "t's just that it's a lot to take in as a new employee in the real world for the first time." Hate to break it to you, but so is EVERY assignment in the real world for your first time. – corsiKa Jun 17 '17 at 20:57
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    Completely irrelevant, but I would love to participate in something like this! – OldBunny2800 Jun 18 '17 at 1:30
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    I have been to 50 different hackathons and I think you're just stressing out over nothing. Seriously, these are fun events. As a sponsor, you won't be able to compete officially anyway, you'll just be able to help if you can. Plus, you'll be talking to so many people, you'll probably spend most of your time socializing rather than actually working. Tomorrow, look for a hackathon in your area. Search on meetup.com or eventbrite.com. Go to it even if you can't get a ticket. By Sunday, many participants usually drop out, and no one will prevent you from checking it out if you just show up to one. – Stephan Branczyk Jun 18 '17 at 10:19
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    Ugh! @ sponsoring a girls' coding event but then "volunteering" instructors not by technology qualification but by availability and cost. Because girls should learn early on that their gender entitles them to thoroughly mediocre treatment by the tech industry and potential future employers... >:-( @OP: I hope you can use this as a learning opportunity for yourself and also give the girls the experience you would have liked to have as a kid. Praise to you if you can ignore the cynical attitude of your company and honestly strive to interest the participants in coding. – AllTheKingsHorses Jun 18 '17 at 10:55

12 Answers 12

59

What should I do at this point if I must absolutely go if my job ends up depending on it?

At this point you should do what your manager says, attend the event, and perform to the best of your ability. Study up on the technologies you're unfamiliar with, so you can be at your best. What else can you do at this point that won't potentially put you on your manager's bad side?

Also, don't stress it too much as most likely the folks you're talking to won't know the tech either. Also, as Dan pointed out in the comments below, this could be a great opportunity to learn from the other volunteers and your colleagues.

In terms of not liking to travel, I don't care for it either. I am however willing to do a small amount of travelling (10%). A small amount may be required on any job I have ever had. (The employer typically leaves the option of a small amount of travel just in case it's necessary.)

Why would my manager do such a thing to a new hire?

This is going to be tough for any of us to answer. My best guess is there were a certain number of slots paid for, and they needed to fill the slots. This could also be a way of testing your performance. Your age proximity to the students participating may be a factor too.

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    ... it might also be an incredible opportunity to learn from the other "volunteers", and to meet some sharp developers. – Dan Pichelman Jun 16 '17 at 13:34
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    As well as learning from colleagues, it will also be an opportunity to meet and get to know some remote colleagues. I always found it easier to interact in phone and e-mail discussions with people I had met at least once face-to-face. – Patricia Shanahan Jun 16 '17 at 13:40
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    I am always surprised how many questions like these are oblivious to the opportunity inherent in these situations. As a new employee, given this as a responsibility, if you can really show up as enthusiastic and knowledgeable it will really place you in a great position with the manager that is relying on you. This is just work in the real world, prove your value to the company you work for. – am21 Jun 16 '17 at 14:04
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    Why would the manager do such a thing? Who might be a better (role model / person to aspire to be> to the high school students than somebody fresh out of college starting work at the company? – Jon Custer Jun 16 '17 at 14:17
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    @am21 Different people have different approaches to risk. While you may be the type of person who checks to see if the bag they grabbed is a parachute only after jumping out of the plane, others may want to be more cautious. Given the OP said they have zero experience with this, they may be concerned about messing up. ("I may be an incompetent, but I'm an enthusiastic incompetent!") Granted, the business world is oriented toward the risk takers ("You crashed the world economy for the next decade, but Q2 profits were up - have a bonus!"), but you shouldn't be surprised that other people exist – R.M. Jun 16 '17 at 18:53
22

I'm going to presume that all the arrangements for travel will be covered so that economic harm is not a factor. You really, really, really don't want to designate yourself as someone highly inflexible during your first month on your first development job. There is nothing unfair or abusive about two days out of town. You stand to learn some new things related not only to technical skills, but people skills as well.

One thing you're going to have to get used to as a developer is the fact that in the long term, no one is going to give you the privilege of dragging your heels on the subjects of people you don't want to work with, and ESPECIALLY technologies you have no experience in using or desire to learn. In short, you're going to have to roll with the punches.

You could go back to the manager, or wait to speak to the director. In both cases, you're going to have to explain why you don't want to go. What will you say? "I don't wanna"? You haven't mentioned any - but if you had children at home, or critical responsibilities outside of work, then maybe pushing back would make more sense. You can argue about not being informed before you started the job; if you were being asked to travel extensively for the rest of your time there, it'd be one thing, but this is a request for only two days. Two days!!!

You will give the long-lasting impression that you're a bit unreasonable, stubborn, and "entitled", instead of mature, reasonable, open minded, and ready to take direction. Is that what you really want to do?

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    Working with a technology is one thing. Mentoring for a technology you know nothing about isn't the same thing. You would say, "I don't understand why I was volunteered for this role. I don't have the knowledge or experience to mentor people in these technologies. Why are you choosing me to teach other people in a time pressed setting about something I don't know?" – jpmc26 Jun 18 '17 at 11:43
16

Let us give you some more detailed advice than just go/don't go.

Make sure you have told your boss in writing why you don't think you should go

Write him an email explaining the reasons why you think you would be a poor representative for the company at this event. Tell him about your lack of experience with the tools, and your lack of experience with this kind of event. Mention explicitly that you have been ordered to go and did not volunteer. Keep the focus on how you will be a poor representative for the company, not on why you personally don't want to go. Ask him if he is sure that he wants you to go, despite these disadvantages. Don't omit anything just because you already said it to him orally. This is to make sure there is a record of what you have told him.

Make sure you have details of the company's expense policy for this event

You will need to understand the expense policy before you go anyway. Make sure it applies to this trip as it would to any mandatory business trip. If at any point someone says "because this is a volunteer trip you won't be able to claim..." then tell them you've been ordered to go, and if they insist it's a volunteer trip, unvolunteer.

If they still insist you go, then go

Your boss is your boss. Talk as much as you can to your colleague, who seems to be in the same position as you, but probably knows the company a bit better.

Point out your lack of experience to the event organizers

When you get to the event, and you are being assigned tasks, make sure you point out your lack of experience and knowledge. But do whatever they ask you to do.

Do the best you can and don't stress

Do the best you reasonably can with your tasks at the event - but don't stress out because you can't do much. You made your lack of experience clear. Sometimes events like this are just glad to have any kind of volunteers. Treat it as a learning opportunity, especially about how these kind of events work. And enjoy yourself. It's NYC for Pete's sake. Take in the sights, catch a show if you have time. Ask if you can fly back a day late. Spend the company's money on a good hotel and some nice meals.

The first issue

I'm afraid any professional job these days is likely to involve some travelling, even if it wasn't mentioned at interview. The more senior you become, the more likely it is. Unless you intend to refuse all travelling (which will significantly restrict your career) I would start learning how to do it.

As for why this is happening - my guess is that your boss was ordered to provide some volunteers for this event, and since he doesn't have anyone who can actually do the job he picked the employees he could afford to lose for a few days.

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    @MisterPositive, I think the expense part is critical since this person is new to the work world and unaware of travel requirements and what will be paid for or not. Its too late to find out you aren't getting reimbursed for something after you spent the money. – HLGEM Jun 16 '17 at 15:08
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    But this is a volunteer event and in any event I have seen young people make all kinds of assumptions about things that will be paid for that are not. Things like rental cars for a two day event for instance. – HLGEM Jun 16 '17 at 15:13
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    All-expenses paid as discovered by just chatting with my supervisor's assistant. – tttran13 Jun 16 '17 at 15:18
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    @tttran13 be sure to speak with said assistant about how per-diem expenses (lunch, transportation, etc) will be paid. Even if you or your partner are being given a corporate card, find out how expensing things works in case that payment instrument is unavailable (or not accepted) for whatever reason and you do have to pay for something out of pocket or on a personal card. – Doktor J Jun 16 '17 at 16:17
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    How the email to the manager is written could make a huge difference IMO. Since the manager already confirmed to OP that it's mandatory, I'd rather opt for something like "I just want to make you aware of these details in case that affects my suitability for this trip in your opinion" as opposed to "Are you sure you want me to go". – Dukeling Jun 16 '17 at 16:52
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You basically got an excellent chance here to demonstrate what you are made of and get a good start in this company. Or not. Looks like you have a colleague who is less qualified than you are, and who has no problem with this.

You have a few days to prepare. Plus two weekends. I'd use them. Look at it as an adventure. Go to the event as best prepared as possible. It would be nice for everyone involved if you could actually achieve something when you are there. But what is essential for you and your career is that you demonstrate being up to a challenge.

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    That's the spirit. If you don't challenge yourself now, you'll never challenge yourself. – gazzz0x2z Jun 16 '17 at 18:46
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Starting next week, I'm bringing this up again to find out the specific reasons why he's done what he's done. Fortunately, his director is planning a call next week to get to know me as a new hire and I feel like bringing this up with her, too.

It's not bad to bring it up at the end of the conversation, but I wouldn't try to get out of going since it's "mandatory".

  1. What should I do at this point if I must absolutely go if my job ends up depending on it?

Talk to the other people who are going, and explain that you'd like to be in the role of someone learning these technologies instead of teaching them. Offer to give them some practice before the trip, them teaching and you learning.

  1. Why would my manager do such a thing to a new hire?

You and your colleague are closest in age to the high school girls who will be learning here. This isn't a paid training class, its a charity and marketing event, all you need to do is help everyone feel positive and at ease. You'll be a bridge between "the youth" and the developers working for your company. Even though you don't know everything, you're able to learn faster than the high-schoolers and help them ask the questions to solve the problems which will be encountered.

5

Personally, at this point (if you want to keep the job) then I'd just go - if you get a reputation with your manager for being a difficult employee this early on, it's going to be difficult to recover. You may hate travel (I'm not keen on it either), but sometimes it is just easier in the long run to go with the flow.

Of course, I'm assuming that you just don't like travel here, and there's no particular medical reasons why it wouldn't be appropriate - if that's the case then you should definitely raise the issue with HR.

Why would my manager do such a thing to a new hire?

All speculation, but he may have a quota that he needs to fill from his team, and if it's not a popular event, it's easy to tell the new guy he has to go.

3

OMG This sounds like a total blast!!!!

Why would you not want to do this? Traveling, living on an expense account, and meeting new people in the industry-- DO WANT

I wish you could look on the bright side of this my friend.

The first issue: I don't like am somewhat afraid of travelling. The original job description when I applied for this position did not mention any travel, and neither was it brought up at my interview.

Travel gets easier with practice. You have to start somewhere. If you ever become a big, important developer, you may end up traveling a lot, and by the way you will get massive airline points and airline/hotel employees will treat you like gold. It is pretty weird and kind of nice, but does take some getting used to.

The second issue: I've never had any working or book knowledge of any of the mentioned technologies (not in the job description either). Neither have I ever attended hack-a-thon events or even prototyped any web/mobile apps, let alone doing it quickly.

Well this is refreshing in these days when everyone is padding their resumes. If you are concerned you aren't qualified, tell your manager your concerns. If he still thinks you're good to go, trust him on that, and do the trip. What's the worst thing that can happen? You warned them!

The date of the message predates the day I started working, meaning my (not too technical) manager pushed me on this volunteer list prior to me even starting my job here.

I check another email forwarded by my colleague, confirming the actual volunteers that are officially going, which is a mix of employees already in the area of the event and some from other states. All of these people, according to their Linkedin profiles, are veterans in these technologies with years of proven work experience.

This sounds like an amazing opportunity. Clearly your manager was impressed with you and wants to give you a lot of room to grow. Check your privilege, my friend-- a lot of devs get thrown in the basement to grind code with absolutely no opportunity to do anything at all like this.

I find out I'm actually going with another colleague of mine, who has only been on the job for 6 months. She doesn't do ANY coding in her role, although she is capable of doing so if necessary (she claims as stated by her). She was also pushed in the volunteer list by our manager but she doesn't seem bothered by it. She told me my manager put on her on the list and asked her if it was ok, meaning she originally had a choice.

Sounds like you're not alone, and sounds like they don't really care much about true experience, so the pressure is off. Just do your best and have fun with it.

Most of the people that work alongside me in the group specialize in java and none of the technologies mentioned at the event. There are actual local employees that work specifically with these frameworks who work on another floor as part of another department, yet none of those people chose to volunteer.

Eh, they probably have wives or babies to worry about. Again, check your privilege.

I'm surprised that they didn't do a background check on the volunteers to see if they actually have the required expertise.

You are taking this way too seriously.

I started to feel very uncomfortable about all of this. On my 2nd day, I went up to my manager's cube and asked him if this is truly necessary.

I actually had anxiety before a recent trip I had to take to India. I really did not want to go. I hate Indian food, and I was worried I would get sick, and also this was during the Iraq war and security was an issue (we routinely checked underneath the taxis for bombs). My wife pointed out to me how many of my friends would kill to go on that trip. I changed my attitude. The travel was sort of a pain, but once I was there it was an amazing experience, and looking back I am so glad I went. Attitude is key.

He says it was mandatory and then immediately goes back to whatever he was doing at his cube.

Well that is kind of lame. If you really wanted to press the point you could go to HR about it (if travel was not in your job description) but that would create some bad blood between you and your manager. Do you think it is worth it?

I have this great fear of getting on my manager's bad side as a new hire if I'm to go against the grain and refusing to do one of the very first things he told me to do.* But this is something that I feel I would under-perform in and would go very poorly given the circumstances.

New employees who are put in over their head by their manager are not blamed. The manager is blamed. If you tell him your concerns about being underqualified, and he wants you to go anyway, don't worry about it.

  1. What should I do at this point if I must absolutely go if my job ends up depending on it?

Relax, have fun, and be grateful. Stop worrying so much.

  1. Why would my manager do such a thing to a new hire?

Hard to say. He might be impressed with your qualifications, or want to send you on a trip so you can get enjoy yourself. He may have miscalculated, but maybe you have too.

It doesn't sound like the output of this trip has any effect on your company's deliverables or bottom line, so it is not like there is a ton of pressure.

EDIT: For some reason, some people are getting the impression that I'm just trying to avoid the event because they think I'm being lazy and entitled. I only want to avoid it because I'm afraid of making my manager look bad for sending someone without any experience. I wanted to avoid it due to fear, not laziness.

Aint gonna happen. As long as you are up front about your qualifications, and didn't lie on your resume, you should be 100% fine.

EDIT: Honestly if I had been notified of this event a couple months in advance, I would've been fine with it as I would have had ample time to prepare and learn the technologies, which I like doing anyways. It's just that it's a lot to take in as a new employee in the real world for the first time. I haven't met my entire group yet, neither have I been assigned my first real assignment, or even know the layout of the building I work in.

Sounds like you are a perfectionist, which is not a bad thing for an engineer. Try to relax and enjoy the trip. Don't let those New Yorkers flip you any crap for your Texas accent (actually all those rumors about New Yorkers being rude are greatly exaggerated).

Again, I wish I were going-- it sounds amazing!

  • Wow, one of the first supportive posts. Really made my day! – tttran13 Jun 17 '17 at 0:24
2

You've asked us why the manager thinks you should go on this trip; have you considered asking your manager? Don't ask "Do I have to go?" Instead, phrase it something like, "I'm worried about this trip; I feel I'm not qualified to help the participants as much as I would be with more experience, particularly in mobile development. I'm happy to try to spin-up before then, but are you certain you want someone as inexperienced as I to go?"

Based on the manager's answer, you'll have two choices: concede, and go for the all-expense-paid trip to New York City, or argue. Before you choose arguing, consider if it's worth losing your job over. You are right - they didn't warn you about this, and "being volunteered" isn't the same as volunteering. But unless they specifically told you there would be absolutely no travelling, it's not an inappropriate task to be sent on. If you choose not to go, it's your right, but be aware it could be putting your job at risk. If you're willing to accept that, then you're free to argue, bring it up with the division manager, or just not go. However, as long as your manager is happy with your qualifications, it can be an amazing experience, both for technical knowledge and for fun.

Finally, I note that you mention you "and the other girl on the trip", implying that you are female. Since this is an event that is trying to bring high school girls into programming, the manager probably thinks you're a good ambassador - you're also female, and you're close in age to the target demographic. Can you tell them what it's like to have programmed for 20 years? No. But you can tell them first-hand what they'd be experiencing on their own horizons within the next 4 years - what it's like for a female to get a degree and find a job in this field.

1

Approach unexpected travel as life experience. Go, do your best, and you'll do fine. Very often you can't tell in advance how the trip will change you if you go, while you can predict how not going will advance you: that is, not much. You are starting your career. You can't really lose anything by complying.

This is especially the case if some of the guys who are sending you know more about the circumstances of the trip than you do. (This may or may not be your case.)

There are very limited sets of circumstances where avoidance might be the wiser base strategy.

  • Risk of a disaster to company. (Example: You are sent to validate and sign off client's compliance against an important standard in which you are a layman.)
  • Risk of a disaster to yourself beyond the current job. (Example: You can see a specific path leading to criminal charges against you and your lawyer advised you not to go.)
  • Risk of setting a fatal precedent of success. (Example: Such trips are happening all the time and nobody wants to go so they are sending you. If you go and succeed, you'll end up spending a significant portion of your working time on similar trips because nobody else "has the skills".) By the way: this scenario is a special case of an employee and their employer disagreeing about the ideal job description; in general that's a prescription for their parting ways sooner or later.

In your situation, you can't really lose and your company can't really lose if you go.

If you go, and still feel bad about it after you return, consider stopping to value your current job, or at least your current boss. But don't make the mistake of giving up before you try doing your job including its less expected turns.

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    (Full disclosure: I wrote this upon return from a very untypical business trip which started at 4am local time and ended at about 8pm same day (which is just one hour ago); half of the time spent on trains. I set out quite tired, and returned, surprising myself, full of energy and optimism, which I'm trying to share with you before I sleep it out.) – Jirka Hanika Jun 16 '17 at 19:11
1

In the end all the stuff you explained breaks down to "Can my manager order me to go on a domestic 2 day business trip important for the company, if traveling was never discussed during hiring?"

From my point of view this is not an unreasonable request to a developer. Due to the described circumstances it may be possible that you can discuss yourself out of this trip, but be aware that your manager may flag you as "difficult" and that requests for 2-day business trips will occur in the future again.

I'm fully aware that traveling may be a burden. I have 2 little kids and my wife works as well, so organizing around a trip is often a PITA. But I think in the field of SW engineering it's part of the job.

If you are really afraid of traveling, maybe it's best to look for a new job and discuss possible travel duties in the interview.

1

There are three issues here: your fitness for the event, having to travel, and the “volunteer” nature.

I wouldn't worry about not being up to the task. In an event like the one you describe, I expect that you'll rarely be entirely on your own. There's room for a mixture of experienced and junior participants. You'll probably end up presenting material prepared by others, and fielding the easy questions and referring difficult questions to more knowledgeable colleagues. There's nothing wrong with that, and it'll be a learning experience for you. My recommendation is to go, if the travel isn't a deal breaker.

I would expect your manager (or your manager's manager depending on your command structure) to explain this to you. If they don't, that's a bit of a bad sign — either they're too busy to do their job effectively, or they're keeping their cards too close to their chest for comfort, or the situation is different and you're really being thrown under the bus. But that shouldn't prevent you from going. The worst thing that could happen is that you aren't much help in the hackaton, but that's no worse than if the organizers were one person short, and you won't look worse with your managers than by not going.

You should bring this up with your manager. They already know you're junior. They may or may not know how much expertise you have with the hackaton's specific topic so you should tell them. But if they answer that you'll do fine, trust them.

Having to travel for it is another matter. How much travel the role involves should definitely have been brought up in an interview before you got hired. By default, a junior developer isn't expected to travel. Travel can happen even if you weren't warned, but in this case they should ask.

Given that the position does not involve travel a priori, it can be legitimate to refuse. This may be a career-limiting move in the sense that there are promotions you won't get because you refuse to travel, but that's because those promotions would be to positions that require you to travel. Refusing to travel should not be career-limiting move in the sense that they'll fire you for it. Unless the company (i.e. some managers) are being unreasonable — there are unreasonable people everywhere — but in this case, since you're in the US, you only recourse is to find another job.

Do you have a socially acceptable reason not to travel? This pretty much means children to take care of. If you do, refusing to travel shouldn't be held against you at all. (Again with the caveat of unreasonable people.) If you don't, then there's a risk you will be perceived as “not a team player”. Some corporate cultures value “being a team player” a lot — and “being a team player” means doing whatever your boss wants you to do. But then we're back to looking for another job.

If you do end up looking for another job, and people ask why you didn't stay longer in this role, tell the truth. You don't want to travel, and the position ended up involving more travel than initially anticipated. Don't go beyond that — don't say anything about being volunteered/ordered. Just explain that there was this specific issue that wasn't really anyone's fault but ended up meaning that this job and you weren't a good fit after all.

Regarding the volunteering issue, you're an employee of the company. As long as this is within your job description, your boss tells you what to do. If you're a developer and your boss tells you to organize a hackaton, you organize a hackaton. The fact that the company is organizing the hackaton on a volunteer basis rather than being contracted and paid for it is irrelevant. The fact that other employees have volunteered is also irrelevant to your status: these employees have to have at least their manager's approval, and may well have been told to go by their manager regardless of how it's presented. The only thing that isn't in your job description is the travel part, because that encroaches on your life outside work.

-2

The first issue: I am somewhat afraid of traveling. The original job description when I applied for this position did not mention any travel, and neither was it brought up at my interview.

  • Guard your wallet.
  • Make sure you're around other people, which greatly reduces the chances of getting mugged.
  • Don't get suckered. If something seems unpleasant, step back and think about whether the request is reasonable, and whether you have other worthwhile options. If someone is trying to put time pressure on you, do a real quick assessment: is there some sort of emergency that explains why they are placing time pressure on me? If not, then time pressure might be a tactic to sucker you, so resist that.
  • Pay for as much as you can with credit cards, or at least checks, so that financial institutions can save you in (at least some) cases of illegal activity. Be very resistant about using Cashier's Checks, Western Union, BitCoin, or any payment method you're unfamiliar with.
  • Before trying any new activity, consider how safe it is. (e.g., some people find eating exotic foods to be pleasurable, and others experience vacation-ruining events.)

Keep these things in mind, and you're likely to end up okay in civilized nations. (Obviously, customize if you have specific unusual circumstances like medical conditions.)

If you're gone for a while, it may not be a bad idea to plan to call (or text/E-Mail) someone every 2-3 days, at least.

I've never had any working or book knowledge of any of the mentioned technologies (not in the job description either).

Fix that. Immediately.

Neither have I ever attended hack-a-thon events or even prototyped any web/mobile apps, let alone doing it quickly.

Don't get so scared of this.

Really, how long does it take you to make a "Hello World"?

Really, how long does it take you to make fizz-buzz? (Never heard of fizz-buzz? No worry. Read about fuzz-buzz here. Now, that really isn't scary, is it?)

How long does it take to learn "Hello World" or fizz-buzz in a new language? Hopefully, for a professional, not long. (Ranging from 45 seconds to 45 minutes, possibly depending on language complexity.) You're not going to need to memorize the language's rules on permissions for multiple inheritance. Why? Because these kids (older children, but still not adults) aren't going to be getting exposed to such complexity at this event.

If you are expected to teach using their tools, the event is likely to provide you with instructions. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the whole experience is nicely laid out for you. As long as you facilitate the learning process, perfect mastery isn't necessarily required. Mainly, you need to be able to see some basic instructions and not think, "What the heck are they even trying to accomplish here?" If this event is very well organized, that ought to be enough.

Have you ever had a teacher that knew every answer to every question, perfectly? If so, great. However, understand that such mastery and excellence isn't always required to have a positive experience. As a person who has professionally taught computer technology (including as a college instructor), I have sometimes been asked questions that I absolutely didn't know the answer to. However, I would just honestly answer, "I want to make sure you have the right information, so let's test this and find out." That worked out fine, every time. People will still respect your expertise when you share with them a bunch of information that is correct (especially if they didn't know it before).

What should I do at this point if I must absolutely go if my job ends up depending on it?

Go. Not because you're obligated to, but because you choose to complete the task. (Trying to portray this as a bit optimistic.) And because it will likely be a good experience.

Why would my manager do such a thing to a new hire?

Maybe to fill slots (and thereby fulfill his job of finding people). Maybe as a test: see how well you handle a request that might be unfamiliar territory for you.

Relax; there is a very good chance that something will go wrong. That is okay. Just accept that reality ahead of time. Maybe a child's computer will malfunction, and that child will say this was a miserable experience. Understand ahead of time, that's okay. (I mean, not ideal, obviously, but okay.) Absolute perfection isn't required for this event. Maybe you'll even make a horrid mistake that turns a child away from an interest in this career. If you're not a perfect being, just accept that. As long as you go, and show a bit of competence, this is not likely to be job-ending. It's certainly not likely to be a career-ending move.

It'd be like if you placed cheese on top of a bun, instead of on top of the hamburger patty. Ideal? No. You might even be snickered at. But is it worth dreading for weeks ahead of time? Nah. The worst likely result really isn't all that bad, and you're likely to get some exposure (to traveling, teaching, and a new language), and altogether this will probably be a positive experience in many ways.

Lucky you. Expect to enjoy it.

protected by enderland Jun 19 '17 at 15:11

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