Pigeonholed Into A Project Or Role? Advice For Getting Out

· 840 words · 4 minutes read

A few times I’ve found myself stuck as the subject-matter expert of an internal project, or stuck in a role that I was growing either bored or frustrated with. If you’ve found yourself stuck as “the frontend person” and wanting to move on from a long-lived project, here’s some advice that might help you break out.

Contribute to Open Source

One of the fastest ways to break out of a rut, or just be known for something else, is to find an open source project or software package and start contributing to it. After dealing with broken and abandoned dependencies all day at work, you shouldn’t be surprised that it’s not very hard to find a project that could use your help.

Find something that is within your skill limits but that might be branching away from what you do all day at work. For example: an abandoned library your work code depends on then use company time to fork and improve it (clear things with your manager and if you have time of course). Next time you make a proposal or want to shake things up at work, you’ll have something to point back to, or that you can use to support your move.

Find Adjacent Work

This is along the same lines as open source contributions, but keeping it more in house. Find internal projects that could use an extra hand, or have been abandoned. Build tools for other engineers to use or for other employees in general. Most companies have some kind of internal dashboard or tool-suite and sometimes developing for that can help give you momentum and ammunition for then demanding to be put on a different project or fulfill a different role. Sometimes just building a simple tool to improve your current workflow is enough to stave off burnout and frustration with your current position.

Train Your Replacement

One of the things I’ve seen most often when someone is stuck in a role, is that management becomes comfortable and has no problems relying on you as “that person”. They don’t seem to take you seriously when you say you need more people on a project, or that you’re getting tired of doing the same old things. You need to break them out of this complacent attitude.

Plan a vacation, or an upgrade or something that requires you to be away or unavailable for a certain project. Make noises about wanting to make sure your product/project/setup is covered and see if you can get some time out of management to cross-train another engineer on your roles and responsibility. You might have to follow through once and leave them in a lurch before they take you seriously.

This option requires you to be a little more forceful, but better to be forceful and happy than passive and miserable. Once you’ve started training a replacement, the next time you want to move projects or try something new you can remind management that they do have another engineer that can do what you do.

Find a New Job

Let me share this bit of information with you: the most growth I experienced in both salary and general experience happened when I left one job and started another.

Sometimes you’ll find yourself stuck with no options. Management might be refusing to hire help, you might be burned out on the current project, or you might be the subject matter expert with a team who doesn’t care to share the load. Whatever the situation, there are times in which the only option left to you is to leave. As much as you feel responsible for the tech of the company, or a particular product, remember that very few companies will put you above profits and product and that you should act accordingly.

Leaving a company allows you to reposition yourself. Tired of working on the frontend? Highlight your backend work and look for more backend oriented positions when job hunting. Tired of the particular industry you’re in? Pivot away to something that benefits from the same skill-set but is different enough to rekindle that spark.

It can be difficult and scary to try something new, but isn’t that why you’re leaving in the first place? Take a chance and you might find it easier to switch than you think. For example I went from ecommerce to a research laboratory in the span of a couple of years. Was it difficult at first? Of course.I probably barely made it past the interview stage due to lacking some requirements . Was it worth it? Absolutely.

You might think this is the nuclear option, and you could be right depending on your situation. So please take this bit of advice with a grain of salt, and look at your own situation before jumping ship.

You Have Options

Don’t lose hope when you’re stuck. You have more options than you realize. I hope this article has been helpful and has given you an idea of where to start. I’ll be out there rooting for you!

Image of Author John Darrington

Author:  John Darrington

John is a software engineer who spends his time working on production-ready code for clients with interesting problems. He loves coding, but also enjoys writing and building keyboards in his spare time.

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