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For the last 3 years, I've been working as the lone .NET software developer in a large non-tech, manufacturing company. The work conditions and the pay are great, and it is a very stable position, particularly considering that this is my first full-fledged development job. In my group, there's the IT Manager, an IT-Network Engineer, Help Desk staff, and myself.

The problem I'm facing is that, since most of my work is fast application development projects (simple CRUD apps, web charts and database interfaces) I feel like my tech skills are stagnating, as I don't really get to do anything overtly complex. Many times, it's just the rehashing of something I've already done. It is very frustrating to read and research about frameworks and methodologies that, while great for larger projects, would amount to overkill for the stuff that is needed here. And with a family to return to every day after a 80 min commute, putting this to use in personal side projects is very complicated.

I'm not sure what path to follow: if I stay, I have great job stability, but will probably move on to something I don't really want (I've been informally anointed, against my wishes, as the next IT Manager, but that's not going to happen for at least 5 more years), and if I leave, I get uncertainty and significant pay cut, as I don't have the skill set needed for dedicated dev teams / projects. I feel like I'm trapped in a big company environment, yearning for the action and dynamics of smaller shops.

Anyone else in the same position? How did you manage to overcome the gaps between your skills and those required by the market? Did you stay at Big Corp, or moved to a smaller company?

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closed as not constructive by Yannis Rizos Mar 8 '12 at 13:47

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Have you asked for more complex projects or work? Tried in anyway to get involved in other things? Discussed hiring an intern to do the CRUD apps and silly work and let you invest in your own career development? (Although a comment this could be an answer.) –  Chris Nov 2 '10 at 15:54
    
@Chris: sometimes other departments hire contractors or interns to develop something faster and out of my priority queue; I've had to interact and guide them; surprisingly, what this guys have taught me is that my code quality is far better than what I thought. Problem is, silly work is neverending here :S –  PJ01 Nov 2 '10 at 16:36
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"Silly work is never ending" This is the life when you put on the big boy career pants. You get to do work you love, work you hate and work that you are impartial to. No day in the corporate world will go exactly as you see it and sometimes projects are mundane and dull. –  Chris Nov 2 '10 at 17:39
    
you didn't say if 80 min. is one way or round trip. If is one way, that is a big strike against staying. Even if it is round trip, it is on the high side. I left a pretty good job just because of around an 80 min. round trip –  JoelFan Nov 2 '10 at 22:51
    
@SpasHit: it's 80 min on the way back. The morning commute is about 50 min. Unfortunately this city is chaotic, so the shortest commute you can expect is some 30 min, unless you live within walking distance of a job, which would be economically not feasible. Maybe a move to a quieter city? –  PJ01 Nov 3 '10 at 13:49
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8 Answers 8

up vote 19 down vote accepted

When you wake up in the morning are you happy that you are going to work or dreading it? If you like your job, pay, environment & coworkers but are lacking in technical growth, then that's a very solvable problem. If you're not happy with the others then it's time to go.

If you stay, it will be your responsibility to grow. Tell your boss what you've told us. Ask to take some classes, or go to conferences/workshops. Join a user group, mingle with other programmers, pick their brains. Look for ways to make your same-old solution resuable, cleaner, leaner. There are tons of things that you can do to make the projects that do come your way more exciting and more of a learning experience.

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You are correct. If you dread going into work in the morning it is time to leave. Also, most of my technical growth has come outside of the 9-5 job via my own projects and education courses. –  Craig Nov 3 '10 at 0:42
    
+1 for "lacking in technical growth [is] a very solvable problem". –  Ryan Hayes Nov 3 '10 at 13:45
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As others have said, it's a very personal question.

For me, the 1.5-2 hour commute, not seeing my son enough, etc. wasn't worth the money. I started a small consulting firm so that I could work 90% from home, and do the things I wanted to do with and for my family. I make less money than I could at a big firm, but I'm also less stressed and generally happier.

Start looking at what other opportunities are out there. Deciding whether to change or not is hard to do without some idea what you would be changing to.

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I've actually started interviewing again, if anything just to know what is the market actually requiring and offering right now. –  PJ01 Nov 12 '10 at 14:27
    
@PJ01: Good luck! –  HedgeMage Nov 12 '10 at 15:00
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I was in this exact same position about two years ago. Great pay, some benefits, but no satisfaction. Just rewriting old Excel and Access files. This was an improvement to the other job I was doing just before, same company but even more out of my field. I wanted to be a developer, even it it meant starting low. Fortunately, I have only a (beautiful, understanding) wife and two dogs, so there's not much responsibility on my shoulders right now.

What I eventually did was, the wife and I made a strong, detailed budget. We even sold our house and bought another, smaller house closer to the city and cut our mortgage in half. We figured out how much we needed to survive and stuck to it, paying off debt and creating a solid six-month "Rainy Day" fund. I got a job as CIO/"IT guy" with a small telecom expense management company, which allows me the flexibility to finish my Master's and moonlight at my convenience (not as convenient as I'd like, but I'll be graduating in December). Heck, even medical insurance was cheaper, since I wasn't on a group plan anymore. I miss the fat paycheck but it's been a year now and I'm doing okay.

TLDR: Cut your expenses, save money, hold your breath and jump.

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@John: I've thought about this path, too. It's great to hear it worked ok for your family! I'm well on my way to fixing my finances (they weren't as bad, though) to allow for more financial freedom. Sometimes you just have to take a step back and reassess your situation to see if you need to change course. –  PJ01 Nov 12 '10 at 14:18
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You're suffering from "the grass is always greener."

See if you can go to a conference like "No Fluff, Just Stuff" (it's cheap enough for you to pay your own way if your company won't). That'll excite you about new things and new ways of thinking.

Start working on your own projects (on your own time, of course) to pick up some additional skills and experience -- you'll then have something of value to put on the table while job hunting.

Consider job hunting anyhow with no intention of leaving where you are. If something better comes along, great. If not, then you'll know you're in the best place for you at this moment in time.

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I don't think this is just "the grass is always greener" though, awhile back there was a blog article in Coding Horror (I think, can't seem to find it) arguing that for most developers, part of job satisfaction is linked to how much you are learning, as the amount of learning went down, the job satisfaction went down as well. –  rjzii Nov 2 '10 at 17:11
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That is a highly personal question that you should face asking inside what is you really want. That's the only valid answer, that you are really happy with your career, being searching stability, being searching riskier adventures.

If it helps, I was in a somehow similar position a few years ago: I was working on a big company, with a reasonable salary (nothing fancy) and great coworkers. My work was mainly programming on C (a little C++ and very little Java) But, after a while, I decided that was not the way I wanted to work. I wanted to learn new things and the way of doing things on that company wasn't great. So I moved to a very little consultancy company (just the boss, me and another coworker) to do something completely different. And I have make another couple of moves until now, working on a startup in a different country.

I'm no necessarily recommend my path, I've made a couple of mistakes and there are people that needs more an stability (I had few in these years), but I think I've grown greatly professionally. When I talk with my old coworkers, I always think they are the same, thinking on the same things, using the same technologies, complaining about the same old issues, while all that looks really old-fashion to me.

But, as I said, you have to think about it very very carefully about what do you want, and what is the price you are willing to pay for it. And then go for it!

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it's always great to read about others' experiences regarding this. For most people, everything eventually turns out ok. Emotionally, it seems like the most important thing one needs is the courage to take a deep breath and just "do it". Thanks for sharing. –  PJ01 Nov 12 '10 at 14:25
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I'm in the same boat as you, sorta. I've got a small team that I work with using the same tech stack that has been used for the past 5 years and there's no forseeable alteration in the future. Unfortunately it's COM/ATL which is no longer even supported by Microsoft. I've made the decision to join programming groups and work on learning things on my own time. Soon, though, I plan on joining another company. The lack of learning is the deciding factor.

You're going to have to chose how you grow. If you're ok with doing side projects to keep that itch scratched then stick it out. If you're not, then don't.

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I will probably take some side projects to give my skill set a much needed boost, then use this as a starting point for my decision. –  PJ01 Nov 12 '10 at 14:20
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how about trying out some open source projects on the side? I know this will take time away from your personal time (with family) ... but if you have some time on the side you should try contributing to open source projects (to add to your skills and possible market-bility)

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This is good advice. Do you know any project that could work as good starting point? Something small? –  PJ01 Nov 3 '10 at 13:51
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Try Codeplex.com if you want to try some related to .NET and then look for projects that need help :) –  aggietech Nov 3 '10 at 15:45
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What is your non-compete and non-disclosure clause like? If they are generally lax, then why not see if there is some additional work you are able to do for some one else from home? Or better yet, spend some of your free time working on personal projects that may end up turning into your own product! There are always ways to find projects to work on that advance your technical skills that are not handed to you from work.

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