When Work Isn’t Fun

I take a lot of pride in what I do. Writing code isn’t just code. It’s a solution to someone’s problem. It’s the bleeding edge advantage that will push my company above its competitors. It’s time savings for customers so they can be more productive.

When I’m on a project, that’s my time to put my best foot forward. My boss’s over the years may disagree especially as visions diverged, but that’s always been the intent. A project that is struggling is like a child struggling for life. It’s weak and pathetic. Leave it be and it will perish. In a corporate environment, a project without a sponsor or a project in which the confidence has eroded to the point where the sponsor can no longer defend it is much the same.

What’s worse is taking over such a project as a new hire. There’s already a litany of reasons to scrap it, you haven’t proven yourself to the individuals whose cooperation you need to succeed, and you won’t make friends working on it. It will test your skills both technical and interpersonal to their limit. You need to deliver like yesterday and need the most out of your people. Each delay waiting for a question to be answered, for someone to be available, or someone to verify your work is acutely felt and you feel the pressure surrounding the team like never before. A two-minute reddit scroll as you wait for feedback is very much a guilty pleasure.

You will get some sympathy from management, but business decisions aren’t ruled by emotion. Yours can’t be either. Each failure to meet a goal must be questioned and justified even as those you are responsible for supervising might be near complete strangers to you. You need to trust and put your future in their hands and hope they will deliver for you.

However, perhaps the most frustrating area that you have to navigate the most carefully is rehashing every decision that has already been made up to that point. All this does is serve as a constant reminder to everyone that the project should be done by now. The refrain of “when” is constant. This is further exacerbated by the fact that you need to explain all this to people who aren’t programmers. They know nothing and care nothing for your daily tasks outside of timelines, expectations, and their own standing within the company with a failing project under their belt. They shouldn’t care either as this keeps us honest and focused.

It can’t be underscored enough, though, that even as you face a completely uphill battle in the face of skeptics, you must remain respectful and poised. You must explain yourself, often times repeatedly. You need to make the case for new decisions and timelines. You must remain professional. Even as you look at disappointment in the faces of those around you, you even need to have some humor about it and let them know you have things under control. They are likely aware of your struggles, and as long as you can do these things, you will often, though not always, get the leeway you need.

The biggest mistake you could make in these circumstances is to throw around the “I’m the expert” card as you’ll come across self-entitled, snarky, and not taking the job seriously. Those criticisms would be correct. If you expect to have more final say even as the stakes rise, you aren’t focused on the needs of the business no matter what you tell yourself. You’re focused on nothing else other than yourself.

So, you take a deep breath, realize many have struggled in the same way, and despite appearances realize this is the opportunity for you to shine, not through taking control and demanding your way but by serving. Collaborate with your peers even to the point of politely interrupting their day to give progress updates and to discuss issues. Be an open book. Reserve “my way” for low importance projects or projects that are grossly ahead of schedule, though, ideally never.

Each and every day you face these challenges and you keep going because you’re confident in your skills and your motivations for going to work. Plus, the world will keep turning and life will go on. Today is the day you get to make progress. It’s one more day toward completion and the next project.