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Ask HN: Should I leave my company?
61 points by leojg on May 29, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 42 comments
Hi there, I'm in a complicated situation and don't know what to do:

I work as a developer for an outsourcing company and I have been without an assigned project for the last several months, at first I didn't worry because there is always some downtime between projects but now its been too long, I'm worried how this affect my career because I'm doing basically nothing(I use the time to work in some pet project)

I have had several times when I was about to get into a project but for different reasons it didn't prosper.

What would you do? Would you stay in this comfortable(because I get paid for do nothing) but probably bad in the long term situation or find something else?


As an ex-owner of an outsourcing company, I've been on the other side of this. Without any disrespect intended in asking this, is it possible you've been without a project for so long because you don't have the most flexible skillset?

I can say that, in my company, when business was slower, we would often see the same few people constantly without work because they were either too inexperienced, too limited in their capabilities, or too inflexible in what they were willing to do.

We worked hard to try to give them opportunities--having them shadow more senior engineers on projects (the extra project help also gave our clients more bang for their buck and made us look even better as a group), getting them training, having them work on internal projects, etc. Not all companies will or can go this extra mile to find opportunities for you, but might be receptive if you structure and propose something that uses your down time to your mutual benefit.

If they're not receptive, or if you can't structure something like this in your environment, then you might consider moving on.

Edit: Actually, as others are mentioning, it was also way easier to staff people who were actively involved in the sales phase of a program. Volunteering to do research, prototypes, etc. was a great way for motivated people to help out during this phase. Since they were effectively already working on the program by the time it started, they were usually the ones who would wind up staffed on the program.

Been there... Without project for a year+ a few years ago. I had the same concerns you're having now.

Being there is soul-sucking, I know, but you have to be proactive and ask for projects to keep showing that you're willing to work, and that you're flexible.

Meanwhile, from my experience my suggestion is: dedicate yourself to opensource. Try to bring some value to your name and maybe company's name if it fits their goal. This can also lead you to new projects.

And the most important advice is: Doesn't matter if you decide to leave or to stay, DO NOT SPEND TIME DOING NOTHING.

That last sentence is definitely good advice!

Working on open source during the time is a great idea, but make sure you clear it with your employer first. By default, they would have copyright claim on work you do during time and with facilities they are paying for.

Can you build infrastructure for your company's internal processes or marketing? If so, building something that has a net multiplier on your company is very impressive to employers and shows your value. Do so with a hot new technology you want to learn and it's win win.

As an alternative, use the time to contribute to popular open source projects. That will build yor developer cred and make you more attractive to future employers.

Or take on your own freelance work and get paid double.

It's healthy to worry about your career.

Think about why your current company is keeping you on the payroll. Since it's a business and not a charity, they must believe you're valuable and will have work in the near future in which your skills will be required. If that's not the case then they probably won't keep you on very much longer.

If your employer treats you well and up till now you enjoyed working for them, I suggest you focus on productive ways to help them and keep your job. Remember they've made an investment in onboarding and training you. As others have suggested, working on internal projects or building out sales/training material has a force multiplier effect which makes you even that more valuable to them.

If you don't like working for this employer then go find a new one. From an employer perspective, there is nothing worse than an employee who isn't happy, not being productive and isn't helping the situation. Do everyone a favor and take control of the situation.

Don't forget that the grass isn't always greener on the other side. Trading one employer for another isn't always viewed well from an employers perspective.

You have the most valuable resource of all: time.

I think if you take a step back you've hundreds of things you could do that you didn't think of.

I'm jealous.

Right, but does he/she own any of it when the job ends? If not, what's the point?

Ownership in earning money of it? Or intellectual ownership? Or ownership as being a benevolent dictator? Or copyrights?

I think if some of these are important to him/her, it might be a good topic to discuss with the company.

That's why learning on the job is the way to go. Skill up.

I had bench time when I was a "consultant." I used it for skills improvement (like learning a new framework or billable service), creating and presenting training materials for formal courses we offered, interviewing candidates, creating white papers, creating internal training materials on new frameworks or new versions, and infrastructure work like pulling cables, setting up hardware, or working on internal tools.

If you're still getting paid, they likely see you as a valuable asset for future projects. It can't hurt to ask if you can help with sales calls to build new skills and relationships, or if there are smaller projects where you can be billable.

I don't feel like this is enough information to give any proper advice, it depends most on factors you haven't outlined.

What is the main reason they're keeping you on, do you think? Are they not paying attention and not accounting for costs, or are they interested in reserving your time and having you owe them some hard work as soon as it's there?

What is your mean reason for staying at this particular company, aside from getting paid to work on pet projects? Are they smart, honest, good people that you're learning from, or is it a paycheck and nothing more?

Have you reached out to your manager and asked for a project repeatedly? Do you have co-workers you can help, even if you're not asked to? What is your main fear, will doing nothing for the company lead to no promotions or less pay or a bad reputation? Will there be repercussions for future jobs if you keep going with this one, or can you get another job easily regardless of what this company thinks about you?

Does getting paid to work on your pet project have more value than working for the company? It's a pretty good deal for you if they don't care about paying for your downtime.

Last time I was in a similar situation, I spent my time doing research and programming competitions. My employer was okay with it, work eventually picked up again and I didn't lose any status in the organization. In the mean time I got to learn a lot, and travel to Spain to present my paper. I had a blast, and I super appreciated the opportunity to explore. I told my employer that, and I worked hard once work picked up, so I walked away with nothing but a positive experience. I was also really lucky.

During slow periods I would pick a technology I wanted to work with (within reason), and begin working on something I figured would be an improvement on our current systems. I ended up writing a lot valuable stuff that was highly praised but never would have been approved if I had first asked permission.

I did this a few times, not so much to advance my career but because I enjoyed the work and I wanted to learn and be useful. Unfortunately it got me promoted into project management -- which I accepted because I have two young children -- and now I miss my old job.

Yeah, find something else. Some folks are jealous that you're being paid to do nothing, but it really is harmful over the medium and long term. You do have the flexibility to not accept a bad deal, but you should at least be actively looking for something that is clearly better. Part of feeling happy is feeling productive.

Since you are doing nothing, you have time to look for a job IMO. The better question to ask is "Why should I not look for a better job?" If there is no good answer, then you should.

This. Op, answer this second question... maybe you didn't give us all the information.

Utilise this time to learn and prepare for interviews. Its the best time, believe me. You can direct your undivided attention to prepare and interview across different companies as per your skillset. Over time not being in projects or working with real world business problemscan make it hard to get back to the 'zone'. You mentioned pet projects. Collaborate and github to take it to the next level in case you arnt already. This will help you stand out in these interviews. Unless ofcourse if you have been on back to back 'near death march and brutal deadline projects' its good to take some time off. Just my thoughts based on similar moments i have gone through. Cheers and good luck!

I challenge the idea that it will be "probably bad in the long term." Because 1) there won't be a long term, and 2) what happens, is up to you.

1) No company can afford to keep you on the payroll indefinitely when you're not generating revenue for them. If (after some amount of time known only to them) they can't put you to work, they will have to let you go.

2) How you chose to spend this time, how well you took advantage of this opportunity currently presented to you, will determine the whole good/bad thing. If you play video games and wait for a phone call, it will be bad. If you do things that get your name out there/increase your visibility, or that increase your skills, or both, it will be good. Ways to accomplish that would include working on open-source projects, creating classes/tutorials for Udemy or the like, going to local networking events or better yet giving presentations at them, and so on. Basically I would act as though you are actively looking for something else, without actually leaving. It needn't be a bad faith thing... who knows, you might end up getting some company interested in you, and having them hire your employer to get your services, thereby getting a new client for your employer.

If want someone to give you permission to leave, you don't need that. The question you are asking is its own answer. What you are looking for is not advice but for someone to indirectly assure you that you aren't crazy in feeling this way. I know it sounds harsh for me to point that out, but it's something you should bring into full awareness.

I haven't been in quite the same spot, but I did work for a company that really didn't know what it wanted, so there were long period of either no work or short periods of sudden enthusiasm behind X idea followed by an immediate "no, that's costing us money. kill the project immediately." While it would have done me a disservice to have left the company too soon, I was there for a year before I decided to leave, and even that was too long in retrospect. As others have said, it's soul-sucking and just a waste of time even when you're contently complacent. You have a limited life time and a small supply of creative energy, neither of which your company may deserve. That's just my perspective.

I'd say stay, but make sure that if they cut you off quickly you either have some $$$ saved up to sustain yourself or another job prospect to go to.

Anyway, don't worry about your job stagnating. It's just programming... career progression is usually lackluster anyway (don't know your case personally) Also you can always get creative with your CV later on (as you know, work expands to fill the allocated slot).

Think about this you're getting paid to work on your code! What could be better? Just cover your tracks and don't get into any IP dispute over your code ;-)

Edit: If you wanted to use the time for something that could possibly look good on your CV or your employer would appreciate, you can look for some internal software problem to solve, Or make a demo app using your employer's technology stack.

As someone who's been in a similar situation - being paid to support software that had two minor issues in two long years - I'd say: leave.

You are absolutely right about your career stagnating. Unless you are working on some kick-ass side-project that is making a difference (whether as extra revenue or a useful piece of open source software), you'll probably grow bored and restless. The longer you stay in that state, the longer it'll take you to go back to being functional in a day-to-day team environment. It's not fun.

And always keep in mind: you don't need to make the jump in a vacuum. Use your current situation to your advantage: take your time to find the perfect company for you, with similar compensation and challenging work that'll keep you engage. You won't regret it.

If my employer paid me to work on my pet projects, and the pet projects involve things that keep me interested and grow my skills in ways that are beneficial to me and my career prospects, I'd stay put.

It'd be a different matter, if you truly weren't doing anything worthwhile or working on something that is not progressing your skills in a good way.

If you can get paid more to do what you do now on your pet projects, I'd obviously jump if I were you. I'd also spend this downtime looking around and potentially getting some practice on interviewing. Put your resume out there, and see if anyone bites. Even if you don't get offers for better jobs, you're getting a good idea of what employers are looking for, and keep your interviewing skills up-to-date.

Search for a new job immediately. Be silent and publicly patient, but when nobody watches you continue searching. Stop spending unnecessary money and grow your emergency fund (3, much better 6 months of costs on saving mode).

This kind of situation can turn bad quickly when your bosses start to think why they pay you and how they can use your situation to their advantage in other ways.

It is not a problem as long as another source of money covers your income, but as a coder, how can you know when this source dries out? Timing, knowledge and financial power is against you. Turn away quickly. (speaking from experience if that's not clear enough already)

I think it would be wise to try start scouting for opportunities outside of the company. This will also give you a clear picture on what your skills are worth in the current market and if the problem is basically with the company or your profile. If you are not being assigned to any work, it's not really a good sign, so it's better to always keep your options open. Having another offer in hand would also give you some leverage if you want to bring up the topic of unsatisfactory work with your boss in your current role.

There's a bunch of great, thought out answers here. Don't TL;DR them.

However asking the question as you have done makes me think that you've already made your mind up (even if you haven't admitted that to yourself yet) and you need validation.

You shouldn't require validation from strangers off the internet, just get up and do something that makes you feel fulfilled. Identify, plan, execute. Your self esteem will thank you. Your SO will thank you, if you have one. The (new) people around you will thank you. That'll be all the validation you need :)

Good luck!

I would actively seek assignment to a project! At least in the case that you want to stick around and be valued by your employer. I always am searching for more work at work whenever My current project(s) are in a lul. Employers value self motivation.

On the other hand, if none of the work available at your company interests you enough for you to want to pursue it, you probably should be looking for a new job.

Also, I limit my side projects' leakage into the work day to a few peeks into API docs or datasheets, anything more is inviting trouble.

Generally: If none of the work is interesting, you should be looking for a new job anyways (if feasible)

I was in a similar situation with my first job out of college, except I was basically benched right after being hired - I was never on a project at all. I jumped ship after it was pretty clear that they weren't really trying to find me something to do. It was nice being paid while searching for a job, as I was able to hold out for a better offer.

In retrospect, I suspect that they hired me so that they could say they were hiring Americans to justify getting more visas to bring offshore workers into the states.

Depends on your financial situation. If you have no savings then you should start silently finding another job today.

If you can afford to not have this job tomorrow you might try to start your own Gig. Many of us would kill for lot of downtime to start our own company.

I've also had friends who are able to start a new job and work both. This might be questionably legal/ethical depending on how you do it and how well you can keep secrets.

Spend the time learning a new programming language or framework. by doing so you are helping both yourself and your employer at the same time by increasing the type of future projects that you would be a good fit for. Also spend some time learning about effective software architectures,patterns, tooling and processes.

Have you told your boss you have time to do more? Tell us about your interactions with your direct supervisor.

If you're worried about your resume, just use the down time to pad it with new skills.

Maybe something like this? https://www.coursera.org/specializations/scala

I would definitively take this time to hone my axe and get a side project going. Also doing some exercise.

Beware that your contract might include some clause which automatically gives your company ownership of whatever you produce while working for them.

I suggest that you move on. Staying in your current position is not good for your self esteem. It might make you or your brain lazy. This will make it harder to find a new job. And of course there is so much (fun things) to do out there. Take the high road.

Good luck,


There's a third solution to your situation: keep your current job and take freelance/remote projects. You make way more money, you have things to do and show, and you can always decide to leave this position if it stagnates.

I can't believe more people aren't suggesting this.

It happened to me and after going through similiar feelings and almost quiting I started learning everything I wanted to but never had the time. Then I got involved with a local startup and now I have two jobs.

Never worked on the second job during company time for the first but being able to de-engage and saving the mind for the second job makes it possible.

If you work remote, go for the two full time jobs route

Just two? Rack em up.

As they are paying you I would do a course or learn anything I wanted to learn. It can be related with your career, so you don't get stuck.

I would focus on a side project that challenges your technical skills. I would put those down on my resume as projects at your current company.

Nope you should leave and find something more stimulating. You can sit around and get paid for doing nothing when you're retired.

Simple, take their money and improve yourself. Spend time doing things that make you happy and content.

haha thats a perfect opportunity to earn two salaries instead of one. just go do some templates for some client. yes its not allowed. but who is gonna notice.

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