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I am in my senior year of college. I am an intern at a $120 million a year company. I am responsible for maintaining three websites, I'm essentially the dba for the marketing database, and write and support in-house software. I'm booked pretty solid. My issue is that the upper management likes to severely over commit me in about every possible way. For example, the VP of the company told one of our larger customers that we had a cross ref mobile app ready to show them at the meeting a week away. I had not even started such a thing, nor had I ever written a mobile app in my life. It was a fairly simple project, but I still had to kill myself to get something delivered in that time frame on top of my regular responsibilities. It's a double edged sword, if I did not get the app delivered, it would have looked bad on me. However, getting it done gets the VP thinking "well if that's what you can do in a week..."

The upper management has no idea of the work that goes into IT projects. They seem to think it is magic.

I've complained about my situation to a few people and all I ever hear is "Welcome to name of our company" I would just leave, but it's a great job in many ways in a growing company. Not a bad place to be when I'm about to graduate.

Anyways, my question is: As an intern (low man on the totem pole) how do I get the management to understand what goes into my workday and what is reasonable to accomplish? How do I get them to not commit me to projects with out discussing it with me? I don't know what to say or how to say it to put it into perspective for them without sounding like I am whining or incapable. Make sense?

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Welcome to the Real World. That's just the way things often are. Learn to live with it, find a company that actually appreciates what you do (rare) or start your own company or move into management and be the guy who commits people to projects without discussing it with them. –  jfrankcarr Dec 9 '11 at 18:14
    
@jfrankcarr: Disagree. The reason why this is often the way things are because we just 'stand up and leave' when the rope gets tighter. –  c_maker Dec 9 '11 at 18:17
    
@c_maker - I'm not sure what you disagree with. It sounds like you agree with my first point, learn to live with it, and disagree with the idea of finding a better workplace. –  jfrankcarr Dec 9 '11 at 18:32
    
@jfrankcarr: I disagree that this is what the Real World is like and we should all learn to live with it. I think we should learn to try to make it better. I do not think ignorance is the solution and your comment seems to suggest it. –  c_maker Dec 9 '11 at 18:39
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@c_maker - Learning to live with it may mean taking the initiative to make things better. Sometimes it's possible and sometimes it's not. In my experience, most of the time it's not and will send you quickly on to option 2, finding other work. Perhaps your experiences have been different. –  jfrankcarr Dec 9 '11 at 19:16
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6 Answers 6

up vote 28 down vote accepted

In my experience, this type of thing is endemic in companies where technology is a supporter of the main business. Add to that you are, as you said, "low man on the totem pole" - you will be expected to to whatever you have to to meet expectations no matter how unrealistic they are. So, what can you do about it?

  • Keep a visible list of the tasks you currently have going or in your queue. Visible is key.
  • Estimate, as best you can, how many hours each will take and have that on the list.
  • When given more work, explicitly ask where it should go on your list. You'll need the estimate to help judge the impact on the rest of the queue.
  • When conflicts come up, have the requesters work out who goes first. You may have to involve higher management if this turns into a pissing contest. If you have a person you report to, this should be part of their job.
  • Make the 'bumped' project sponsors aware as soon as you can, rather than just delivering 'late'.

Somebody will get mad, eventually. That's part of working in the Real World - unlimited requests for limited resources - and everything is important to the persons who want it. Don't take it personally. Keep in mind that it's a job, not your life.

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this is a great list, the only thing missing is "do not make overtime a habit" though this can be hard in some companies –  Ryathal Dec 9 '11 at 18:27
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I agree in principle but the thing is that those items you mentioned should be the responsibility of a manager, not an intern or a junior employee. A good manager acts as the "spear catcher" for most of this kind of stuff. If one doesn't have a decent manager, they can end up doing a lot of this for themselves and this will negatively impact their productivity and their stress level. –  jfrankcarr Dec 9 '11 at 18:37
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@jfrankcarr you aren't offering a solution. The fact is a competent manager is not always available and in this case this is probably the best he can do. –  Jeremy Dec 9 '11 at 18:43
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@Jeremy - My solution is that without sufficient leadership and management he's fight a losing battle and should seek other employment if things don't change quickly. While a mid to senior level programmer might be able to deal with the situation better, it's probably too much to ask of an intern or junior developer. –  jfrankcarr Dec 9 '11 at 19:22
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I like the idea of visibility. I am going to go buy me a dry erase board and write my projects on it. Thanks for all the input guys, this is helpful. –  Nick Dec 9 '11 at 20:26
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Going by what you've explained above, it’s a case of inappropriate resource allocation. This happens in cases where the company is under resource crunch or wants to squeeze out as much work as possible from existing resources. This is one of the reasons why most large multinational companies ensure proper implementation of a comprehensive project management software across their departments. We're using Microsoft's Project Professional 2010 at our organization. It takes care of demand, schedule, task, and resource management among other tasks. It helps the HR team to take a comprehensive brief of the job profile and close in on a workforce capable of taking it up. I suggest you speak to the HR and discuss the job responsibilities that were conveyed to you while hiring.

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I've complained about my situation to a few people and all I ever hear is "Welcome to name of our company"

First of all, you should stop complaining. I know it is hard to do so because it relives immediate pressure off of you and makes you feel like others are in just as bad of a situation as you are. But is it really making things better in the long run? I say not.

As an intern (low man on the totem pole)

Here might be your second problem. If you want to be treated like you are not the low man, you should start behaving that way. From your post it seems you never actually tried to talk to the people who are having unrealistic expectations of you. Try gathering your thoughts and set up a meeting with your superiors. Relate your problems to them from person to person. Ask them what they would do in your situation. Paint a picture in their minds about your hardships and ask for their input. Have some ideas ready to suggest and ask for their permission to implement them (similar to what DaveE's post says).

If they say "Suck it up, it's life" I would look for another job. You do not want to work for a company that treats you like you are a code monkey that is not even worth talking to.

Things are never going to be perfect. Life is very much imperfect. But you can make things better not just for you but others in the company as well. You just need to figure out first if your superiors are really as bad as you think they are. The results might surprise you.

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Just wanted to add: I know it's really intimidating and scary the first time you do this. But it's worth it. A lot of the time the mgr has no idea the effect he is having on you. Spell it out, focus on behaviors, and for the love of god make sure you spell out exactly what change in behavior you want. Otherwise, the mgr gets clever and starts coming up with his own ideas. Not a good situation. –  Stephen Gross Dec 9 '11 at 18:39
    
"complained" was a bad word choice. That definitely sounds like I'm whining. A better way to say it is that I "expressed my concerns". I would like to approach the source of the problem, but it is the VP of the company. It is very much a "I don't have time for you" relationship. Which sucks, but is somewhat understandable as I am (in his eyes) just an intern. I don't exactly get one on one facetime with the man. –  Nick Dec 10 '11 at 3:22
    
@Nick: There is someone who needs to talk to the VP. It is either you, or one of your superiors. There can be other negative consequences of him engaging in this behavior other than making an intern upset. What if next time there is just simply not enough hours in the day to implement one of his promised ideas? If he promises something that cannot be done, that is very bad for the business, therefore him as well and not just you. –  c_maker Dec 10 '11 at 18:54
    
Could the downvoters leave a comment please? –  c_maker Dec 11 '11 at 13:22
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I don't think mushroom management should ever be tolerated and telling people to stop complaining is not terribly constructive. –  Mark Booth Dec 15 '11 at 18:57
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Nick, it doesn't matter that you 're an intern in the company. I've had this happening in almost all of the companies I've worked for. The key is to just keep yourself focused and organized and try to give your best at all times.

Also, communication plays a big role. Talk to the people involved. Next time talk to the VP and tell him that this way you are risking the quality of the delivery. Don't keep things to yourself and don't talk to others that are not concerned with it.

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Learn to push back. Good managers appreciate workers who push back unrealistic demands, because it means that you can keep prorities. "Sure boss, I could squeeze this Gizmo in my work schedule, but then Very Important Project will suffer - do you really want it?".

If you don't learn to push back, you'll never going to build a successful career in IT.

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I agree with the previous answer: Make your effort more visible in any way possible. Do not wait to be asked for time estimates. No one will ask for them. Instead, prepare them. Here's a practice conversation for you:

Mgr: Nick! I need that mobile app by next Friday!
Nick: No problem. I'll have my estimate to you by the end of the day.
Mgr: Estimate!? WTF!? I need the app, not an estimate.
Nick: I understand. I want to make sure you are fully in the loop
    on this so you can help me prioritize my work.
<time passes>
Nick: Here's my estimate! Please sign & date it at the bottom
    and I'll get started.
Mgr: (Signs document without reading it)

Time passes; Friday arrives:

Mgr: Where's my app?
Nick: As I pointed out in my estimate (shows signed estimated to mgr),
    this will take another week to get done. I appreciate you being
    in the loop on this! :)
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-1 Cute, but the manager in this scenario is going to be pretty peeved at Nick; he'll think Nick deceived him. Most likely because Nick deceived him. Pointing out that the estimate contains news that you know he doesn't want to hear (namely, that it will take one week longer than he asked for) will not be a fun conversation. It will, however, be a necessary one -- at least if you want to establish an open and honest line of communication with your manager. –  BlairHippo Dec 9 '11 at 19:59
    
Yeah I have to agree with BlairHippo, I don't think that trickery is really the way to go. I know if someone did that to me I wouldn't be too happy with them –  Nick Dec 9 '11 at 20:30
    
Sorry, didn't mean to come off quite so glib. My point is just that you can "manage up" by establishing the practice of providing estimates up front. The bit about surprising the boss was intended as a joke :) –  Stephen Gross Dec 9 '11 at 21:22
    
@BlairHippo - Quite frankly, if the manager signed off the estimate without reading it then (s)he deserves everything (s)he gets. –  Mark Booth Dec 10 '11 at 16:52
    
@MarkBooth I would agree with that logic. The problem is, the manager wouldn't. They would see it as "that little bastard tricked me" whether or not it was their fault –  Nick Dec 15 '11 at 18:44
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