Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Ask HN: Stuck in a support role, facing burnout at small, great startup
11 points by proper_elb 7 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 20 comments
I'm a developer at a small startup with a great tech stack, and I love the company's mission and the people there. However, I'm facing signs of burnout and feeling stuck in a support role that I don't enjoy. Despite voicing my concerns to my boss repeated times, not much has changed, also partly due to the company being understaffed. Due to personal reasons, I don't want to leave the company for the next 10 months, but I fear that staying in this role for too much longer will impact my future job prospects. Even in my support role, I'm still learning a lot about tech and good software design - but I find support stressful and I want to grow as a developer. I am in touch with recruiters and think I can likely land a new, more coding/designing-heavy job, but I am worried about burning bridges and having a final work reference that heavily emphasizes support roles.

What steps can I take to avoid burnout in my current role and how can I prepare for a potential job change in the future? Am I right in preparing to leave rather than to try to fight my way into the positions I want? What are your rules-of-thumb when it comes to these decisions? Additional thoughts?

Any input is much appreciated! (I will be checking back in around 3-5 hours from now and able to answer follow-up questions should they arise.)

1) Regarding hanging in there for 10 months for $reasons - The following is just a suggestion and may not work for you but it’s worth trying to see if it helps - In your shoes I would get myself a wall mounted calender to put up at home and at the end (or beginning if that works for you better) and at the end/start of each day mark it off (sorta like how young kids marks down the days to Christmas). This will A) Give you a minor dopamine hit B) It provides a self reassuring / mental confirmation that the current situation does indeed have an end (it becomes easier to endure something when you know that it will end and can see how much closer that gets as the days count down).

2) How to avoid burn-out. You say that in your current role you still learn new things. Use that to advantage. Each time you learn something new, hold the mental emotion that is generated when you think '..huh, I just learnt that, Great!' and then exhale slowly and picture the wall mounted calendar showing the days remaining marked-off and grin :-) ... again the point is to use mental imagery to help reduce the distress.

3) Devote some of your out of hours time to coding an itch-that-needs-scratching type project or do some code diving on the source of an app/site/program that you admire/like. Don’t go too crazy on this so think of this as a ‘brain muscle’ equivalent of going to the gym for a workout. In other words, don’t spend more time on this bit than someone would spend down the gym.


Thank you! 1) and 2) sound really great, I might do this once I made my decision final :)

I also like the limitation aspect in 3), esp. for people that are prone to burning out!

I hope you found some support/guidance/'confirmation of gut' from the various suggestions offered from many different view points.

Good Luck with Everything and hope you land on your feet (which you probably will btw). Just remember - There is no 'crystal-ball' in this life. The closest us techies use these days is either magic 8-ball or 'cowsay' :->

Good Luck with everything!

Why do you think you would be burning the bridge by leaving the company for a new position? As long as you do it in a respectful way, with notice, then it shouldn't be a concern.

The key to avoiding burnout is setting boundaries and being proactive about self-care, focusing on what is within your control. Some questions for you to consider:

- Are you getting enough sleep? Are you eating well? Do you have a physical exercise routine? These are your pillars.

- How is your social support network? Do you have people who you can talk to at work and outside of work who genuinely care?

- When is it most stressful for you? Can you find the time to take short breaks during these times? What about slightly longer breaks intermittently throughout the day?

- Can you get into a flow state in your support role where you're focusing on one thing at a time? i.e. can you turn off notifications and limit distractions?

If you want to chat about any of this, I'd be more than happy to. I've navigated burnout from multiple angles, as an individual contributor, manager, and business owner. You can find my contact info and more about me on my profile.

> Why do you think you would be burning the bridge by leaving the company for a new position? As long as you do it in a respectful way, with notice, then it shouldn't be a concern.

I guess it feels bad because there is so much work to do, but I recon that objectively, that is the result of business decisions that were not made by me. Your input is reassuring.

re: your offer: Thank you! I will think about it.

Looking for a new job is a great idea. Good on you for talking to recruiters. It is often easier to negotiate with a new potential employer who wants to bring you on board to help them fix some problem (e.g. filling headcount to deliver project foo on schedule), than to negotiate with a current manager who doesn't believe there is currently any problem to solve, and who might perceive your desire to move into a different internal role as creating a problem they would then need to fix. In larger companies you can sometimes arrange internal moves, this is often easier if you have the support of a new manager who wants to "pull" you into a new role in some other team / project, who is willing to negotiate with your current manager, but this situation doesn't resemble a small startup.

re: avoiding burnout

Set healthy boundaries with your work - if you're paid for 40 hours and not paid for overtime, work 40 hours then stop. Don't use your personal devices (phone / computer) for company comms. Keep company comms (slack, email, etc) restricted to company devices. When you've worked your shift for the day, turn the company devices off.

Regularly get exercise multiple times each week. Plan and do fun / social things each week that are unrelated to your work.

Thank you for the insights!

A support role is a great place to understand the interface between your company's product/service and customers.

A few ways for you to look at this differently:

1. Carve out some time (I know this might sound difficult when being buried in P1 tickets, but do it nevertheless) at least on a weekly basis to do analysis of support ticket trends.

2. Build a pareto chart of the top 1 or 2 repeat tickets. (Believe me, there will be repeat tickets in any support op)

3. Build relationship with the core dev team. Show them your analysis of the top ticket and ask them if you could be part of the root-cause-analysis. Use the opportunity to understand the code base and volunteer to test the fix or provide test cases for the issue.

4. Keep doing this until your core dev team starts believing in your analytical skills.

5. Ask them if you could look at their feature/bug-fix prioritization and if your analysis could inform that process.

If you keep doing this, you will find that your volume of tickets go down, you have built rapport and relationship with the dev team (and hopefully the engg manager sees your contributions) and when there is an open position (this is a startup, right? So, positions would open up at some point), apply for it and move laterally.

If the culture of your engg organization is open and they let you contribute through pull reqs, ask a dev for a task assigned to them that you could write unit/integration tests. Repeat this to gain their trust that you know how the code works.

These steps should put you on solid footing for a lateral move into the engg organization.

If you feel the burnout is severe and the culture of the organization does not permit the path mentioned above, you may be better off looking out for a different job that suits your needs.

I've been in a similar boat with ops/security responsibilities getting in the way of doing development. There's two pieces of advice I would offer you that have helped me-

Being a developer just has more grunt work than I initially expected. Whether it's meetings, ops, security, mentorship, support, or whatever else- developers have to do those things. You can still frame this as development work, and you should approach it as a developer (How can I automate the task away, or make/suggest an improvement in our code, UI, or docs so that I don't have to deal with this again)

If that doesn't help you, and you don't want to leave the team on short notice, I would suggest approaching the subject with your manager again and coming up with a clear plan to get out of that work, with a timeline attached to it. There is a reason your leadership attaches timelines to work- it makes things happen. Take advantage of that, and give your leadership a timeline

Your first advice is pretty healthy and I try to do that already, but the sheer amount of workload and stress kind of keeps me in a tunnel sometimes where it is hard to think of the future (i.e. investing 3h to write a script). But it absolutely is the smart thing to do and I think my problem is setting boundaries - I noticed that one collegue that I think is equal in talent kind of rose beyond me, mostly because he would just take his time and do the right thing. I want to work on that.

I also like your second suggestion, suggesting a timeline and idealy some quantifiable goal.

"Despite voicing my concerns to my boss repeated times, not much has changed"

I feel like at least 90% of bosses don't care or don't have the power to change things. If you don't like it, leave. If you don't want to leave, stick it out.

I think this is one such example - my boss cares (and I trust him), but the circumstances are suboptimal.

> I am worried about burning bridges

If you’re working with good people, leaving a job on good terms shouldn’t result in burnt bridges. Especially if you’ve been voicing your concerns and nothing has changed. I know I’m welcome back at any place I’ve ever worked - every time I’ve left for a better / more suitable role or to take time off (I’m currently taking a few years off due to burnout), my managers / bosses have been very supportive.

> Am I right in preparing to leave rather than to try to fight my way into the positions I want?

Absolutely. In fact this is expected. It’s usually faster to grow your career horizontally opposed to vertically.

Agree about burning bridges. I would add you're more likely to burn bridges by staying while being burnt out. That's been my experience. I have polar opposite reputations depending on who you ask based on my pre-burnout teams and post-burnout team.

Makes sense!

Thank you for the reassurance - and all the best on your recovery! Tech will still be around a while ;)

> It’s usually faster to grow your career horizontally opposed to vertically.

Ah so that is the meaning of that saying!

- I wouldn't leave this job but it's up to you and how you feel mate.

- Can you work on your own stuf to grow as a dev? If yes, do it, you don't need a company to grow you.

- Lie on your resume and to the next potential employers, don't tell them you were only doing support.

Thanks for your input! (I don't like lying and am bad at it, so that option is out for me I fear)

Out of curiosity, why wouldn't you leave this job that I described?

I believe lying to criminals (which more or less most employers and/or their associates are) is fine.

I wouldn't leave the job, because I need it. So this tramples every excuse to just leave without an immediate alternative. Also, most jobs suck, it's possible but don't be so sure you'll be better off somewhere else. And of course if you face psych issues and in a bad market, it's even worse to be unemployed.

Speaking from experience, burnout is not something that can be fixed overnight. If you are being overworked, which it sounds like you are, then you need to scale back the work you are actually doing dramatically, and spend focus time on your own mental health.

If you find you are unable to still your thoughts after leaving work, you may find meditation useful. Not many people give a good explanation of meditation, but the gist is it is practice in stilling your thoughts and emptying your head of unnecessary and unproductive distractions. You can do it just about anywhere fairly simply with a candle and knowing a few simple visualizations at first and all it takes is 5-15 minutes. The visualizations are only necessary if you can't calm and still the thoughts, sounds, or pictures popping into your head. It gives you something to focus on and distract until you can get it done. Its a valuable coping mechanism for high stress environments.

You have a choice to either do this fixing by scaling back, or you spend 3-6 months unpaid recovering when you can no longer manage, and that's a best case scenario. If you find yourself becoming agitated or terse from the smallest of issues with your co-workers, you are likely at stage 3 which is just prior to complete meltdown. Its not like there's a clock on this, but there is always some event that starts the ball rolling, and you then melt down under the stress of it. Its not predictable, other than it will happen eventually.

Its important in any IT job to have a good work life balance. It sounds like that is messed up right now and your employer has indicated they don't care because they've taken no steps to mitigate or fix the underlying issue. They are exploiting your ability and productivity at the expense of your health.

Many IT workers that are unable to moderate their activities end up quitting eventually after the stress has taken a toll on their life. For instance, High Blood Pressure, Weight Gain, Diabetes, Sleep Apnea, Heart Disease and stroke are not uncommon challenges if you ignore and just self-medicate.

In case I didn't make it clear, there is no solution to prevent burnout. Burnout happens when you work harder longer than you should. If you are not self-moderating, then you will burn out.

Moderating includes not working off the clock, not being on-call without a rotation, not thinking about work off the clock (at all), not doing anything work related outside your normal hours, and scaling back the work you do while on the clock to the bare minimum of what's expected for any other role of the same type.

This also mean's not setting up perfectly resilient automation that needs no interaction because they'll just fire you after your done.

While they may say during the hiring for that; the wages they pay must be in line with that kind of work for you to do that work. If you are eliminating your own job or another's job, there must be additional compensation close to the cost of the labor savings to account for the work you won't have after the job is done (because they will let you go), basic market forces.

Don't believe me or agree with that? Go and read The Wealth of Nations 1778 by John Adams, it covers factors of markets, supply and demand, including that for work that is intermittent and how wages must be adjusted to account for basic fundamental principles which employers have conveniently forgotten.

Not everything there holds true now because of monopoly and debt/currency ponzi, for instance its now possible to force wages under what people once considered the fundamental lower limit on wages which included the cost of raising 4 children so that one would survive to 18. You can thank easy access to debt ponzi for that. Today, with the greater risks and intermittent modern medical technology, 2-3 children are needed. The 30-40% increase they reported in "All deaths" actuarial information is most likely attributed to modern medical activities and checkups being severely degraded during the pandemic, prior to that 1-2 was acceptable to prevent depopulation from a growth perspective.

The aspects within that book are generally what was known and accepted for centuries before the shell games and manipulations we see today. The chapters are fairly short unlike modern books today.

While every person has their own idea of what wages should be, a good medium for the latter case is average wage for your position at a non-startup x 5 years for that kind of work (The work of automation and role removal). If they aren't paying you that, they are explloiting you for work they should be paying more. The book is a very important read for anyone.

Applications are open for YC Winter 2024

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact