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which is worse?

We all know that too much stressful work is bad. But how about not enough?

I've had a new manager since last fall, and for some reason he never gives me projects. If I want work, I have to ask for it, and even then I might not get a project. This has given me time to read several computer books, while at the office, to experiment and learn new stuff. Days go by while I am just waiting for this manager to get back to me.

I have also improved my knowledge on various subjects that interest me, looked for old acquaintances on Google to see what they're doing now, wrote numerous posts on political blogs, etc.

I don't want to complain, because this extreme is better than the other (most of my 10 programming years have been high-stress).

Whenever he does give me a project I complete it with no trouble, so I think (hope) this has nothing to do with my ability.

What seems to be going on here? The manager is very busy, loves to program and does a lot of the work himself. He forgets to read or answer my emails. He only manages me and one other programmer.

I could just be grateful for this break, and the time to learn whatever I want.

But I don't really like it. It doesn't seem right somehow.

Oh -- and several times I just went ahead with my own ideas and he told me to STOP until he has a chance to go over the project in detail with me (he never does).
realpc Send private email
Monday, July 10, 2006
He's a poor manager.  Talk with his superior, if possible.

It's his job to keep you busy.  If he's not doing that, then tell him you're going home early.  And bill 8 hours.  You were hired for a full-time job.  If you can bill a full day for playing solitaire, then you can bill 8 hours for just about anything.

And continue to work on those ideas of your own.  He can't tell you to stop, because it's on your own time.  Hey, maybe the company will even find it useful.
Alyosha` Send private email
Monday, July 10, 2006
I don't really want to complain, because the lack of pressure is actually good, at least for a while. The previous 4 years, with a different manager, were overly stressful.

I like having the time to put thought into my work. I do everything so carefully now there are seldom any bugs. It's great.

But there are days when it's awfully hard to stay awake. I like to work. This guy appears to be very forgetful, although he has tremendous responsibility here and does an excellent job. Maybe he doesn't like to delegate, or doesn't feel it's important. Other things take precedence.

I feel it would be a mistake to complain. I just want to know if others experienced this and what it might mean. I can't make any sense out of it.
realpc Send private email
Monday, July 10, 2006
I recommend you read this during all that spair time:


You may be able to help him help you. If you do it right, you both win.
Mr. Analogy {Shrinkwrap µISV since 1995} Send private email
Monday, July 10, 2006
You also didn't mention what type of work you do.

We have plenty of work. However, it takes considerable time to get a new hire up to speed, such that it's occasionally faster to just do it ourselves and let the new guy do his own thing in the meantime. You may not have a choice in some environments, particularly those that have a lot of "custom solutions", "hacks" and legacy software that must be maintained.

Alternatively, documentation and automation are always two big priorities; and rather than work on a mini project or research yet another framework, read up on the Joel test and see what you can do to simply reduce the amount of redundant and mundane work in the office. I know, I know, but in my case, I kept asking questions about the procedures and processes, and wound up getting assigned to a special task force for a year to revamp them.
Monday, July 10, 2006
I have been here 5 years, as a programmer. I have all the experience necessary for this job. Supposedly, there is plenty of work. But I am tired of trying to guess what they want. I have done so much work in recent months that was never used. Of course I learned a lot, including Ajax, and I will definitely use the knowledge eventually.

I can't tell if this manager is playing games (to make it look like I did nothing), or if his focus is just elsewhere. He focuses intently on his priorities, and managing programmers might not be his priority.

So I have tried to go ahead and be creative, and have been told each time to stop, don't waste time. Well not doing anything is a waste of time!

The managers here are technical, probably do not like managing.

I don't mind being under-worked, after all the years of being over-worked. I can study any subject I want. I could catch up with email.

The only problem is the constant worry -- am I valued here or not?
realpc Send private email
Monday, July 10, 2006

Just curious how long as this been going on? 

Having been in both situations I would rather be busy.
Bill Rushmore Send private email
Monday, July 10, 2006

This started last fall. My old mananger was promoted, and is now the boss of my new manager.

I was told to learn Ajax and given a book, so I did. I developed several different Ajax websites as examples. Then the old manager (who still gets involved and actually answers my emails, which are cc-ed to the group) said no don't use Ajax.

So I developed different examples, using other technologies they asked for. Old manager said ok, still waiting (since last week) for new manager's ok.

But after that project, I have no idea what to do next! I mean, none.
realpc Send private email
Monday, July 10, 2006
Don't look a gift horse in the mouth.
Art Wilkins
Monday, July 10, 2006
>  He forgets to read or answer my emails. He only manages me and one other programmer.

If there are only 3 of you in the team, your primary communication ought to be face to face.

If he's not making them happen - then perhaps you ought to. How hard is it for you to go talk to him, on a regular basis?  If he doesn't like interruptions get him to agree a regular time each day for you to talk to him.
S. Tanna
Monday, July 10, 2006
"Don't look a gift horse in the mouth."

Well yes, I can see the bright side of this. I am just concerned about what, if anything, it means.

I have not made any mistakes since I can remember. Of course the less you do, the less you screw up. So that's good. On the other hand, I don't want my yearly review to say I did three little projects.

I tend to be paranoid, so am wondering if this is deliberate sabotage. More likely it's just normal human idiocy, and I can live with that.
realpc Send private email
Monday, July 10, 2006
If you want to bring it to a moment of crisis, ask your new boss if you should be looking for a new job, because it seems like he's trying to bore you out.

Keep in mind, as long as this goes on, it could come back to haunt you.  If someone up higher says "why is this guy doing nothing?", your manager could say that you've been very quietly hiding to avoid being assigned projects, acting busy and such, at which point you get asked the question "if you were bored, why didn't you say something?"  Then it's your word against your boss's.
Mediocre Coder
Monday, July 10, 2006
I cc all emails to old boss. He should be aware that I have done my level best to figure out what the heck I'm supposed to be doing.

Do you really think new boss is trying to get rid of me? And why, if I have the necessary experience?
realpc Send private email
Monday, July 10, 2006
I'm not saying your old boss is trying to get rid of you, only that enforced boredom is a kind of constructive dismissal, so it's one of the possibilities.  If your old boss knows that you've been keeping busy, then another question to ask is why he's allowing the situation to continue.

If I were in your position, I would quietly approach your old boss and ask him about your apparent lack of duties.  Don't be confrontational, don't accuse your new boss of anything, just say that you're worried about your current circumstances and the fact that you don't have much to do.  At the very least you can get some reassurance that it's known that you're not executing a lot of projects, and that's with the explicit permission of upper management.  And document what you do in a diary, including printing out emails regarding your work and current activities.
Mediocre Coder
Monday, July 10, 2006
If I talk to old boss he will immediately tell new boss, who will see me as a back-stabber. Furthermore, old boss might tell new boss to turn on the pressure, full force. That is NOT what I want to happen.

I am not interested in getting more work -- chances are this is just a slow spell. I am interested in knowing why I so often feel ignored and under-utilized.

It might just be that the focus has been on an important project the other programmer (there are only 2 of us in the group) has been working on for a long time. New boss always has important things going on. My current project is not critical, just something they would like to have.

So maybe it is nothing personal. I don't want to seem paranoid.

On the other hand, maybe it is personal.

It is not unusual in this department for employees to have almost nothing to do. The organization does not have financial problems, and I guess they don't worry about wasting a little money here and there.

It's one of those things you can never figure out just by thinking about it.
realpc Send private email
Monday, July 10, 2006
It's also possible that there's a misunderstanding between your old boss and your new boss, especially if your new boss only manages two other people.

I suspect the new boss sees himself as a technical lead. That is, his job isn't to direct people and care for their comfort and well being, but rather, he gets all of the crucial and difficult programming jobs that require skill, talent and experience.

I suspect the old boss "promoted" the new boss with the intention that the new boss take over some of the more administrative duties such as status reports and schedules, and incidently farming out more of the actual coding work to the "junior developers".

If everything that comes to your shop is a priority, then yes, the technical lead feels like he has to do it right away and/or is personally responsible for it, which leaves you with nothing to do.

Personally, I think if there's only three developers total, then all three of you really should be reporting to the old boss - doesn't make sense to have a "supervisor" in this situation. Be careful though, this also strongly implies that the old boss made a mistake - so tact and discretion are strongly recommended.
Monday, July 10, 2006

There are 2 groups -- there is the one I'm in which has only me and one other guy. The other group is much larger. Old boss has to supervise both groups. He was not able to do this alone, so he promoted new boss. Actually, new boss has many other responibilities, including supervising the system administrators. So he does get very distracted.

As I said, my group has only 2 programmers. The other programmer is doing critical stuff right now, and I am not. I am just improving the navigation of the web site, not exactly urgent.

So I prefer not to think there are dark meanings behind my being ignored. And I am not always ignored. But new boss almost NEVER pesters me. That could just mean he trusts me.

I think new boss is pretty much allowed to do whatever the heck he feels like, since he has so much expertise and the whole place depends on him. I don't think he cares if I'm happy and fulfilled in my job. He's happy with his job, and that's what counts (to him).

Also, new boss is very young and basically he is having a great time playing with the computers. He is not a parental figure, not going to worry about interpersonal dynamics.

Old boss is also socially impaired. It doesn't matter to higher management. All higher management cares about is their technical skills, which are great.

I feel that my technical skills are pretty good, especially after 5 years at the company. I want to prove what I can do. But my proving what I can do is obviously not high on their list of things they care about.

It's just normal human nature.

But my concern, of course, is that they do not think I'm as good as I think I am. However, I know for certain I'm as good as, and probably better than, the other guy in my group. I know a lot more languages, for one thing.
realpc Send private email
Monday, July 10, 2006
Maybe time to start looking for a new job. It's nice to have a break to recharge after a tough project, but after a month or so, it's time to get your teeth into something new. If you spend too long just putzing around, you'll start getting rusty...
Mike S Send private email
Monday, July 10, 2006

"Also, new boss is very young... He is not a parental figure...


"Old boss is also socially impaired."

...suggest that you're not going to get a positive solution out of all this.

As I alluded to before, there's a distinction between a personnel manager who is responsible for making sure his employees are working as efficiently as possible, and a senior developer (or technical lead) who is simply expected to lead by example. It sounds like both managers are in the latter camp instead of the former camp.

It also suggests that the guys specialize in "reactive" programming rather than "planned" programming; namely a problem comes up and the group moves Heaven and Earth to accomplish it. When the problems go away, the group spends the afternoon playing games online. This attitude will also explain the AJAX incident referred to earlier.

When I was young, I favored this kind of work over the consistent 8 hour days for the next 12 months, but as I get older, the unpredicability starts to grate on me. So I can certainly sympathize.

My recommendations:

1) suggest some sort of telecommuting arrangement such that if they have no work for you, you're pretty much free to do whatever you want without them looking over your shoulder. You can then establish and stick to your own schedule - for example, work four days, take three days off every week.

2) consider getting transfered to the other group.

3) go over your old boss' head (and this is crucial), propose a long term project that will be of benefit to the group. Volunteer to take most of the responsibility for it. Basically, you're looking for permission to develop something for the company instead of waiting for the next bush fire.
Monday, July 10, 2006
"If there are only 3 of you in the team, your primary communication ought to be face to face."

Oh, old boss hated to be interrupted so I got used to emailing. New boss never ever answers email, so I always follow up the email. I go to his office and say "Hi, did you get my email about the XYZ?" I never expect him to answer my email -- he doesn't answer the other guy's email either.

Today I went and said "I sent you an email about the QRS last week, did you get a chance to look at the web page?" He said no, he didn't get a chance, he would go over it with me in the afternoon. But obviously he got waylaid and I spent the whole day here and at blogs, and read some history web sites.

I don't like to be a mono-maniacal programmer, so I try to study other subjects. It's better for your brain, and you have something to talk about other than bits and bytes, in case you ever socialize.

I don't want to ask for more work. I want to stop feeling guilty and worried about not having enough. I do my own work evenings and weekends so I need a break when at the office.

I like the idea about telecommuting. I hate driving there every day only to be ignored.
realpc Send private email
Monday, July 10, 2006
"Don't look a gift horse in the mouth."

I don't agree with this statement.  Always be thinking about your next job.  One of the first questions they will ask you is: "So, what sort of stuff did you work on at your last job?  Tell me about three projects."  You should be able to rip through a few great explanations of major projects, how you solved problems, saved the day, etc,.

"Well, they never gave me any work so I sat around and read books."  Obviously, you would never say this, but without a lot of interesting work to keep you motivated and gaining on the job experience, you'll have less to talk about on your interview.

Plus, you sound like a motivated fellow who likes to work, so why not find a place that's interested in getting the most out of their developers?  Or, as one poster suggested, speak to his supvervisor in confidence and attempt to rectify the situation directly at your current job?
Meganonymous Rex Send private email
Monday, July 10, 2006
+1 David, by the way.  If you are currently "free" you are more likely to be picked to work on maintaining some ancient piece of crap.  I know this the hard way.
Meganonymous Rex Send private email
Monday, July 10, 2006

Can I send you some work to do then? LOL

I know the situation very well.  I use to have a job like that and it turned out that the manager was not very good -- he got canned before long.

Couple suggestions:

1.  Start your own company.  Seriously.  With all that extra time, your personal pet project work can look like real work.

2.  Be very persistent in asking your new boss for things.  If he says he will get back to you, ask him if you can check back in an hour or whatever.  Be very persistent and don't let new boss off the hook.  Get an ETA out of him when you can expect the next set of TO-DOs.

I find that folks like your new-boss don't know how to manage you yet so, as stated above, you need to help him by asking for the projects and trying to get a date/time when to meet on the project out of him.  If he says he has nothing right now, ask or tell (depending on the dynamics of your relationship) when or that you'll come back in a couple hours when you're not as busy.

Be professional about it!  Being very persistent in a nice professional way will usually do the trick.
Monday, July 10, 2006
"If he's not doing that, then tell him you're going home early.  And bill 8 hours."

I was feeling the same way after starting a new job, so after completing my first big task, I made a remark to my supervisor that I was enjoying my downtime.  A subtle way to suggest I could use some more work.  Later, his supervisor suggested to me that I work 50 hours a week to get up to speed, and to be sure to only do productive things. 

Damned if you do, damned if you don't.
NPR Send private email
Monday, July 10, 2006
"Be very persistent in asking your new boss for things.  If he says he will get back to you, ask him if you can check back in an hour or whatever."

I can't really do that. Today he said he'd get back to me in the afternoon. I asked what time, and he said about 2. Then he said he would hunt me down (not much of a challenge -- I'm always in the same place!)

Anyway, I took the hint (what else could I do?) and did not look for him at 2. He never hunted me down, and by tomorrow I'm sure he will have forgotten.

I think I will assume the best for now -- something more important came along.

On those days when I'm just hanging and waiting (and I expect tomorrow will be one) I have to give myself a goal, something I always meant to learn but didn't have the time. Some days I succeed in doing that, other days I keep thinking of unrelated things to Google for. Thank God for Google -- otherwise I would be staring at the walls!
realpc Send private email
Monday, July 10, 2006
"I don't want to ask for more work. I want to stop feeling guilty and worried about not having enough."

That's your problem, right there.

Ask for work and don't stop until you get it. Don't make a pest of yourself but do plant the idea in your boss' head, "I have to give him a project." Document your effort to become productive. In the meantime, research your company further and start your own project that you are convinced will help the company. If you are told to stop, find out exactly why it is not helpful to the company so the next project you dream up will be helpful. Document all this to help you get a handle on what is and isn't helpful.

You've had a rest, good, and you appreciate it, good. Now get back to work.
more is more
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
I was in the same situation about three years ago. I did the obvious thing and did telecommuting side projects (for pay) while at the office, doubled my salary, and took the next 18 months off traveling the world. Of course this wasn't the most honorable thing to do, but hey...
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
"1.  Start your own company.  Seriously.  With all that extra time, your personal pet project work can look like real work."

Do NOT do this if you've signed any sort of IP agreement, and if you didn't, limit yourself to research and thinking, not designing or coding.

The agreement I signed said that the company owned anything that I did 1) on company time, 2) on company equipment, or 3) in furtherance of a company project.  Very fair, I think, and about the best most can hope for, but it means that if I come up with the next killer app while killing time at work, they own it.
Mediocre Coder Send private email
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
" telecommuting side projects (for pay) while at the office"

I already do side projects nights and weekends. Yes, I would rather do them while hanging at the office. Actually, I do apply some of what I learn at work to my own projects. But I would feel VERY guilty actually doing them while at work. Of course, they would deserve it. But even if I could convince myself it's semi-ethical, people can see what I'm doing.

Most of the programmers telecommute one day a week (not our group). I think I might ask if I can telecommute one day, like almost everyone else. On the day I work at home, if there is nothing to do, maybe I would work on my own stuff.
realpc Send private email
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
I don't mean to be rude, but come on. How hard is it to set a meeting with your new boss, sit down with him, and tell him you feel you need some more work?

Before you do this, try to empathize. What could be his reasons for not giving you more work?

- He's new, so he doesn't yet have complete control over the group
- He doesn't feel you're competent (you have to face this possibility)
- There's a big project in the pipeline that has yet to be finalized and he doesn't want to promise something he can't deliver

What else?

Don't assume the worst, but make the meeting and get an answer.
Tuesday, July 11, 2006

I said I don't want to ask for more work, because that could easily backfire.

I suspect major projects are being planned -- I just got a hint of that today. But they cannot be started yet. Maybe keeping me busy is not a priority -- anyway, who wants meaningless busywork?

I want to find out what the deal is without screwing myself. Yes, that is very hard.
realpc Send private email
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
Ouch, I begin to feel for your boss.

Well, there's only two ways to work it then:

- Proactively try to find the new work you want
- Pull the mushroom bit and hope what gets shovelled your way is to your liking

Good luck. You'll need it.
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
What is the *other* guy in your team doing?  If you don't know, I would go and find out.  If you're both killing time, that is a bad sign.  If he's being kept busy ("fully utilized") while you're spinning your wheels, it's also a bad sign, but probably a different sort.

In any case, I would probably give the political blogs a rest for a while, polish up my resume, and start trying to line up interviews.
possibly maybe
Tuesday, July 11, 2006

If the new boss doesn't like using email, and never replies to it, then why communicating via email just because the old boss liked it?

Also, why are you reporting to two bosses? I think it would be better to just deal with the new boss. In fact, stop calling him/her the "new boss" and start just saying "boss". Start calling the other one "my boss's boss". It'll help you to accept the current situation and quit thinking of it in terms of the past (which your insistence on email based on your boss's boss preferring it is a symptom of).
Exception Guy Send private email
Tuesday, July 11, 2006

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