Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login
Ask HN: How do you motivate yourself at a boring corporate job?
43 points by blt 1266 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 24 comments
I work at a big software company that treats its workers well. My product is well-respected in its niche, and I'm working on features that will make our customers happy. Nonetheless, I find it almost impossible to give a crap about the code I'm writing.

This doesn't really matter when the work is easy; I can do it on autopilot. But as soon as I encounter a tricky design problem, I want to give up because I don't care about the product enough to put in the effort.

I might switch jobs, even though I've only been here 6 months and would probably burn bridges by leaving. But, short of that, do you have any tricks to motivate yourself in this type of situation?

1. Appreciate the reliable paycheck and stability you're bringing to yourself or your family.

2. Enjoy side projects.

3. Learn new techniques/tools/languages/skills along the way.

4. Seek more direct interaction with beneficiaries of your work.

5. Take pride in getting shit done for any value of shit.

6. Introduce new, advantageous tech to project.

7. Request employer sponsored training.

8. Represent employer in standards efforts.

9. Request different assignment.

10. Shift entirely or partially to management/sales/marketing/support/operations/research or another tech group.

11. Mentor junior developers.

12. Begin to plan to leave (for new a corporate job / consulting gig / startup).

Best advice. The common theme here is to focus on personal growth, whether learning new tech or taking on more responsibilities. Use this opportunity to make yourself more attractive for the next job.

"2. Enjoy side projects." - check the contract before doing them, especially in USA.

Don't make the job just about the code in front of you.

Use the opportunity you have right now to learn about working in a team (and possibly taking the lead/managing), managing customer requests and expectations, implementing business processes, etc.

All of this will be valuable whether you keep working at this company, another one or decide to work on your own ideas/dreams.

I have a question related to this. Even though my primary role isn't development (I'm systems engineering), there is some programming work involved. If I pour a lot of effort into something good (say a tool kit that makes future code easier), it is very hard for me accept that the code is owned by the company I work for, and I can't use it on any future jobs. Kind of makes me want to do a so-so job, and save the good code for my personal projects. How do professional developers deal with this internal conflict, other than no caring about the code you write for work?

Here's what I do: Work at a company that encourages/allows you to do free software development. Then you only have to write proprietary code that's not generally-useful anyway; no conflicts!

"... do you have any tricks to motivate yourself in this type of situation?"

If you're looking for tricks, make sure you find tricks that work for long-term. Otherwise after a few meetings/projects/days/weeks, you'll start wondering again.

"... because I don't care about the product enough to put in the effort."

Here is an alternate thought (call it a trick if you have to): What if you forced yourself to care? Unconditionally. Emotionally. With passion. Like you'd care for your kids or pets or dear ones? Fake it at first if you have to, and then slide into it. Do a mental hack.

Caring for real will make you vulnerable (which is a sign that you actually care). But if the company culture is decent (which it sounds like it is), you will soon start to stand out, more opportunities will come your way and it will be a virtuous cycle.

If after trying for a few months, this doesn't get you anywhere, you know it's very clearly time to leave. And this time, go do something you are sure you will care for.

How does one force themselves to care?

> as soon as I encounter a tricky design problem, I want to give up because I don't care about the product enough to put in the effort.

Is this really about the product or do you just not want to do the hard work?

You need to have a side project. For at least an hour a day, do something that you want to do. It doesn't need to be programming but it needs to be something you're interested in and has a goal you can see yourself moving towards.

Also, try to do your job better. Whatever you're working on, spend 30 minutes per day reading books where you can use the knowledge you learn to do your job better.

People are meant to be continuous learners. When we're not learning we get bored and don't care. So a) do some learning of your choice outside of work and b) do some learning at work to get better at what you're doing now.

Its always good to teach and share to reinforce your existing skills and discover new ones.

Like many said, mentoring or taking up/ suggesting new projects may be a plausible avenue. You could also internally create some challenges for yourself in relation to work, for example I may want to have codes in portable modular form so I can use for other projects etc.

There is no need to burn bridges even if the work is not fitting, especially when people are nice.

Ultimately, this is admittedly short term. Alignment of interests and incentives are critical in the long run, thats why often people are willing to forgo larger stable paychecks to head over to risky startups with low paychecks.

I'm not even in a software company, but a too-big-to-fail financial company that continues to cut back and treat us as an evil expense with a bureaucracy to put governments to shame. I've been there for 15+ years and will continue to be there as long as they have me, for the simple reason of a paycheck for my family.

Try to get by with side projects - though that sucks right now as I want them to make more money - they at least are something that gives me some passion in developing.

If I were in your situation, I'd simply quit. It's not worth it for me to do something I'm not interested in. That's just me though.

For other kinds of jobs where boredom is frequent but where I at least have some free reign to do side projects and develop things for myself, I'll often spend a lot of time writing tools and scripts to automate tasks for myself and my team. That helps get rid of some of the dreariness.

1. quit 2. or moonlight

in general, it doesnt matter what i'm doing, but i'm going to put at least 100% into something, whether's it's something menial like raking leaves or having a service scale to a billion requests a day, and note that my 100% is going to be 120% for most. this is a behavior that needs to be nurtured, and quite frankly a bit of your integrity on the line here.

If you're getting bored after 6 months, you might be better off chasing contracts than settling on a full-time job. It can be stressful sometimes, but it beats being a cog in the machine.

Perhaps if the company you were working for belonged to you, you might take more interest in the problems, no?

Reminds me of a post I saw on Get Rich Slowly awhile back on ditching a dream job for a boring one. Interesting perspective. Emotional investment can be taxing in its own way. I started in a job with very interesting problems but lacked meaning, then moved to a job with much more meaning but with less interesting problems (that eventually turned into boring, frustrating, and stupid problems). I've since found one that's more balanced, with interesting problems that I care about to a moderate degree.


I was in a similar position many years ago. I just translated algorithms from CSLR into real code and toyed with project euler problems.

Leaving is the best option. Never looked back.

why would they pay you any money if you had another motivation to do it?

The two are uncorrelated.

Do you have kids or anything like that? I would honestly just leave.

Tao of Programming, section 7.1.

I think that the tree analogy and "the untroubled ease of programming beneath its sheltering branches" is not applicable in his case. Having been in a similar situation, my best guess is that his company's "tree" is called Java EE and in its shadow there is no trace of any academic or industrial advance from the past 10 years.

Then you haven't really absorbed the value of the prior posts.

While I do agree with most commenters here, I would also like to provide something that has worked for me in the past, because in the end there can be many reasons for not being able/want to quit.

I suggest that you try to bring your inner engineer (child) out, by trying to make it fun to do some challenge or project from the only possible pieces you can have around, i.e. your work.

What I mean is, unlike Principal Skinner putting Bart Simpson to time how many envelopes he can lick per minute, try to see if any of the boring parts of your job could be automatized, or maybe you could ease your workflow by introducing some tooling of your own. You can even put it as a challenge to implement the tooling in a language you always wanted to learn, or using a tool someone recommended you, etc.

So basically you will turn your boring job into the excuse to do the actually fun project you like (the meta-project if you will).

My best personal example happened when working as a contractor for a bank, while they said I was going to be doing software development, it turned out I had to do "impact analysis" which meant running reports from a custom tool, literally comparing them by hand, and then fill in an ITIL-process form. Every X hours, every day, for a year and a half. Non-stop. I had to run reports for every software change in the systems... and then I had to email by hand (i.e. there was no template, no auto-email system, etc) when I found certain things in the reports. This meant I was sending up to about, 10-15 emails a day because every step was done by hand and thus slow.

Now, remember that I was contracting for a bank, so basically I could not do anything to my computer. Could not install anything, it was firewalled to death, cannot plug anything, etc. Then I used this computer to remote into the bank's terminal which was under similar circumstances.

I ended up building a very Frankenstein-y "system" based on VBA (the only thing installed was Office suite), which basically saved me the hassle of extracting the relevant information from the Excel reports, then composing the email by hand and also keeping track of what info was in which report, which ones were sent to which departments, etc.

I remember how much fun I had when I fired my monstrosity to send over 100 emails, all the emails for that day, in like the first hour of the working day. Then I got like 5 or 6 IM windows open because as my luck would have it, most of the people I had sent those emails were in a meeting room together...

Imagine having a table with 20+ people around and about 10 of them getting email after email... the buzzing from their cellphones continued for like 30 secs to a minute. Of course everyone was wondering what happened until I told my boss "Look! I have this new tool that automates most of my work!"

Of course I could now send more than 200 emails in a day, as I was only limited by my speed to run the reports...

Then I got my boss to approve some QA tools to be installed so I could automate running reports... I was about to achieve close to full automation for my job when my boss realized his team of 7 people would basically be put out of work thanks to my tool... and then she realized how dependent they became on it (by this time everyone was already using it) and how was this not good for her.

Long story short(er), she started preventing me to work on that tool anymore, and that's when I finally said it's too much. I mean, this is a boring job I managed to make it fun, real fun (and make accomplishments along the way) and this was clearly threatening to my boss, so I finally left.

tl;dr My point is, if you absolutely must stay there, try to find a way to bring out your passion for engineering/development/whatever out to play, even if the only toys available are those provided by your working environment. I bet you can always find something that can turn into a fun little side project. Especially if you only need 6 months to a year until you can switch jobs without burning any bridges.

Edit: The formatting is horrible... how can I better make it into paragraphs?

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | DMCA | Apply to YC | Contact