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How do I get myself out of a dead-end programming job?

I'm a passionate programmer in a well-paid dead-end software job. The downside is that I am patching crap code (this week I made several hundred changes much like a human script), and for various reasons I can't quit. The upside is that they are paying me fairly well, and I only need to work about 6 (real) hours per day, maybe even 4. My dream is to work in a more interesting job: startup, game company, Google, whatever. I am willing to work hard for it.

How do I keep my head above water and eventually transition into something I would enjoy doing?

I'm a .NET programmer; people who do interesting stuff avoid .NET like plague. And I have to stay in Canada for legal reasons (US is not an option). I am 35 years old, but in the last 5 years, or so, I did mostly business software.

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marked as duplicate by Mark Trapp Jan 6 '12 at 0:53

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people [who] do interesting stuff avoid .NET like plague this is an insult to all of us who do interesting stuff with dotnet. Trust me, you can find a good job doing dotnet. If only you do C# and not VB. –  Mike Nakis Jan 5 '12 at 22:01
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@MikeNakis - Now that's an insult to people who do VB.NET. :) –  jfrankcarr Jan 5 '12 at 22:07
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@jfrankcarr I knew someone would say that! C-:= –  Mike Nakis Jan 5 '12 at 22:09
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If you're feeling like a human script, why not be a human that writes scripts - to patch the crap code (assuming you have a suitable scripting environment on your workstation). It sounds like you have plenty of spare time during the day to learn this (if you don't know how already) and it would change things up a little. I was going to recommend looking for a new job and then quit, but you say you can't quit so I can't really recommend that. Other things: Write poetry/songs about the bugs you fix, or generate code diagrams, then add in fun cartoon clip-art characters to liven them up... ;) –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Jan 5 '12 at 22:21
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You say that you can't quit "for various reasons", without clarification. This means that anything we suggest might be in conflict with one of those reasons. Do you mean you can't afford a period of unemployment, or something else? –  David Thornley Jan 5 '12 at 22:28

5 Answers 5

Well, recipe for this is probably the same as for every other similar question where someone is not happy with their job:

  1. Find a job that will make you passionate again about programming in a company or field you're interested in.
  2. If step 1 fails, try to improve your skills / knowledge in the field where you would like to work. Repeat step 1.
  3. Other solutions - start a pet project in your spare time, join an open source project, start your own company... or repeat step 1.

The last thing you probably want to do is to stay at your current job.

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I would suggest using your extra time to expand your skills. Learn a new language, such as a good scripting language like Python to help automate your current work as FWFD suggested. Perhaps, if it is okay with your employer, contribute to some open source projects. Develop an iphone/android app.

It sounds as though you have time to learn something interesting, and have the interest. Once you've learned it, you may be able to get work doing that.

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F# is also a functional language. Some of my co-workers prefer LISP, but they do learn F# instead so that they employer does not get very suspicious of this during-work activity. –  Job Jan 5 '12 at 23:06

You have several options besides staying at your current job:

  1. Do freelance work on the side - you can pick up skills, make contacts, and get potential leads on new jobs
  2. Get open source experience - pick up new skills & languages and make new contacts
  3. Look for a consulting position that leverages your existing .NET skills - might open the door to management (if that's what you'd like) and potentially provide the opportunity to travel. You'll also have the chance to see what work is like at several different companies and potentially get a lead on a new position.
  4. Start looking for a new role - obviously, don't quit until you find something you like!
  5. Start your own company - since you mention that your workload is light, you might be able to start your own firm on the side that might provide you with an exit to your current situation
  6. Go back to school - you may be able to do this part time. This may be a good opportunity for you to pick up new languages/skills and use the college/university network to find a new position.
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Go to the academia and do scientific research; then you get everything: interesting problems, the need to code like a pack of monkeys, and a decent wage.

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Sigh, I don't think anyone wants to code like a pack of monkeys. –  Christopher Mahan Jan 5 '12 at 23:15

Sounds like you want a job that is more technically challenging, because if you feel that you are going through the motions of patching up code, then you really aren't learning much at your current job. A job that becomes too easy becomes boring quickly.

You should find a niche or interest that you can somehow tie in with programming. You mentioned gaming, but you also mentioned Google and startups, and this is all over the place. Focus on one or two particular areas you like and learn/practice your programming skills on that.

It's also interesting to me that you mention that you are currently doing business software, and suggest that you are tired of it. I'm a web developer but from my experience working for companies that are primarily B2B (like the common IT website shop) the projects are usually more routine and by-the-numbers than B2C, which have more unique goals and demands, and usually want more specialized skills from their developers. The testing and interview processes I've had with B2C companies are usually more involved and they pick your brain more. Your mileage may vary, but you may want to focus on this sector if you find business software too mundane.

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