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I'm an IT contractor working for a company through a contracting agency. I have recently moved to a new position (I've been here a month), and one of the things I'm noticing at the moment is that there's not really much for me to do. All the projects that involve me are currently on hold or are still in the development phase (I'm a QA). I have made it clear that I am idling, and my team manager has said yes, it's going to be a slow couple of days.

I understand that companies have busy and slow periods, and that this could just be a slow period, but I really don't know what to do with myself. I thought about up-skilling, learning stuff like VBA or a coding language like Ruby, but most of those learning websites are blocked by the company's security filter so there's only a limited amount that I can do. Every day for the past 2 weeks I've found myself surreptitiously browsing BBC news and stack exchange, and trying to look busy for the entire day.

This might sound great, but I'm getting extremely bored, and I don't want to look like I'm slacking by being on my phone too much, or mucking about on the internet (I'm sure they have usage trackers, my old company did!).

What should I do in this situation? Should I speak to higher ups and badger them for more work, or should I just accept that we're in a slow period and enjoy the downtime?

Thanks for reading this, any advice is appreciated :)

marked as duplicate by DarkCygnus, Rory Alsop, Dukeling, Mister Positive, Masked Man Sep 18 '17 at 16:23

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

  • Also strongly related: What can I do at work when I have no work? – DarkCygnus Sep 18 '17 at 15:52
  • Sorry, perhaps I should have mentioned - I don't have the option to leave this company. I must work here until my agency reassigns me. – Korthalion Sep 18 '17 at 15:54
  • Read the second dupe, then. There are several things you can do when you have no tasks, like learning new things, doing documentation, etc. – DarkCygnus Sep 18 '17 at 15:55
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First, check with your manager

It's important that your manager knows you have nothing to do and confirms that it's within their expectations that you have nothing to do.

It seems you've done this already, so good job.

Second, consider if you really have nothing to do

As a fellow QA/(software) tester I sympathise with your situation, but in practice, it almost never occurs. As long as the developers are working off of some sort of requirements (be it a design, spec or backlog) you know what they are going to build. This means that you can use this valuable time while they haven't actually built anything yet to prepare for when they have by thinking up a test strategy and writing up test cases. Even if there are no real requirements (in which case, I hope you're looking for a new job) you should be able to ask the developers what they're working on and design test cases based on that. Working this way means that when the build finally does make its way to you, you're ready to hit the ground running.

If the test cases are all defined already, you might consider making preparations for automating some (if not all) of your regression tests. Look for a framework that suits the system you're testing, learn how to use it and start preparing 'generic building blocks' that you will later use to build the actual test cases with.

On the off chance that things are already fully prepared for automation as well, you might see if there are any existing test cases that might need to be revised, be they automated or manual.

Even if your company does none of that, don't just decide by yourself how you're going to spend your time#

Make a list of the things you think would be a useful way to spend your time and discuss it with your manager. Some managers will be happy for you to spend your time reading up on articles and new developments or even reading stackexchange/stackoverflow. Others might like for you to spend your time training up a new skill, or taking a refresher course on a skill you already have. Whatever the manager's style, they'll almost always have a preference for how you spend your time when you're not testing.

  • Thanks for your answer. I have already built the test case frameworks for the upcoming projects, I'm just waiting for the build to finish so I can input the data and begin testing. Automation would be a good shout, and that's what I'd normally go for but there is a separate team dedicated to that, and I don't have anywhere near enough skill to help them out :( I think I'll have another chat with my manager, cheers for the advice – Korthalion Sep 18 '17 at 16:06
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I thought about up-skilling, learning stuff like VBA or a coding language like Ruby, but most of those learning websites are blocked by the company's security filter so there's only a limited amount that I can do.

That looks like making excuses for not doing these. You don't need to go through the company's security filter to do these. You can take in study materials, you could use your own personal device, or you could even request relevant access be enabled through the filter.

Browsing Stack Exchange is not the best way to upskill. Yes, you will learn, but browsing is not targeted.

Slow periods give you a lot of opportunities over and above upskilling, such as helping out other teams, especially if they are maxed out, outreach to the community, writing papers etc.

tl;dr - you can always find a million things to do. If you want to be busy, you can be.

  • Sorry, but this isn't really helpful advice. Thanks for your feedback about 'making excuses', I'll make sure to phrase it better in future. Telling me there's a million things to do if I want to be busy doesn't help me, as not knowing what to do is why I asked this question. – Korthalion Sep 18 '17 at 15:57
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    Have you tried them? They are exactly what I suggest to team members or my staff if they are on a slow spell - take control of your destiny and do something. They certainly do find them helpful. – Rory Alsop Sep 18 '17 at 15:58
  • I keep pressing Enter and accidently posting comments before they're ready sorry :( – Korthalion Sep 18 '17 at 16:00
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Using this time to learn is the best thing to do you said the company has filters so try to find another way perhaps some ebooks? documentation pages might not be blocked. Do not feel guilty about doing nothing and getting paid for it, knowledge or time both are worth money. Also you're doing right by pretending to be busy keep doing it

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    Your final 2 sentences are ethically unsound. I would not suggest these are a good idea! – Rory Alsop Sep 18 '17 at 16:03
  • Well I thought people would figure this out but I guess I have to say it, obviously pretending to be busy is for your coworkers and not your boss if you just show openly that you got nothing to do that would lead to a toxic workplace – Roberto Torres Sep 18 '17 at 16:10
  • No - categorically not. Never pretend to be busy if you aren't! That way nothing improves! – Rory Alsop Sep 18 '17 at 16:11

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