What to do when you are stuck working on a program/project that is not the executives’ current favorite? Do you feel as though you are stuck in your company’s technical back waters and that your skills are growing older, staler, and more out-of-date each and every work day? Do you look enviously at your coworkers who are working on more glamorous projects and using cool new tools like Ruby or various Web 2.0 toolkits to create shiny new beasts?
Well fear not, amazingly enough you are not alone. Most of the IT community is in your shoes — we work to keep the critical systems up and running and try to make them just a bit better each and every release. “Project Envy” is a fact of life that we all live with. What to do about it?
There is no single magic cure for this affliction; however, here are three ways that I have dealt with this in both my own career and in trying to keep folks on my team motivated:
- I.N.T.L.S: “It’s Not The Language, Stupid” Lots of times our jealousy of other workers and projects stems from the fact that they get to use a neat new toy that we don’t get to use. Get over it — good design is good design, no matter what language or tool you have to work with. Back in the day, folks were able to get Fortran to do some pretty amazing things that it had never been originally designed to do. Think about it this way: how boring must it be if the language / tool that you are using to solve a design problem does too much of the work for you. Instead, focus on creating the tightest, clearest code that is humanly possible. We all like a challenge and this will help you to overcome language envy.
- Can Anyone Say “Soft Skills?”: If you find yourself trapped on a back waters project, instead of spending your days surfing dice.com, how about if you spend some time working on those skills that you are going to need in order to make it through your entire 45 year career? Skills like communication, delegation, negotiation, etc. If your career eventually takes off, you will desperately need these skills so use this “pitstop project” as an opportunity to bone up on what you’ll need.
- Play the Metrics Game: Most IT departments have fallen in love with metrics and this offers you a great way to get some department wide recognition no matter what project you find yourself stuck on. Back water projects are generally in charge of older, stable applications or systems. You can use this to your advantage. Study what metrics your department is tracking and determine which of them are most important to upper level management. Then take a look at your project and ask yourself how you can make this project #1 in terms of department metrics. By doing so you’ll rise to the top and will get noticed. This just might be enough to get you moved to another more popular project.
There are many more things that you can do should you find yourself stuck on a project that turns out to not be the flavor-of-the-week. Complaining, sulking, and surfing for a new job are always options, but there are much better ways to spend your time!