Software Engineer burnout. I think I'm done and need opinions and advice please

Hi, everyone. I’ve been lurking here for quite some time and finally joined to post.

I’m a 43-year old software engineer. C# Been a software engineer for about 15 years. The recruiters have me sold as a Senior, however I don’t think I’ve ever progressed to that level.

I’ve struggled with the ever-technology for the entirety of my career and have never been completely up to par.

The latest project assigned by management is an MVC application. I don’t know the first freakin’ clue about an MVC application. Once again, I’ve got to go from zero to expert in * one week * and then be able to write an enterprise-level application using TDD architecture. All to the tune of “learn it, or we’ll find someone who can”.

Well, I can’t. I just can’t do it anymore. I’m done with the struggling to fight though the technology, and one more 1000-page Wrox book (at my expense).

I’ve been fired from more than a few jobs because I just can’t fully grasp the technology to the level most companies need.

In the near future I’m sure I’m going to get fired from this job and I think my career as a programmer is over.

The big question: now what?

How does one start over for a mid-life career change?

Thank you all for your time.

Do you have good people skills? Sales engineers accompany salespeople on technical visits to provide technical expertise that the salesperson usually lacks. They also serve as a contact for the IT people and engineers at the customer’s site. I sell complex software applications and our sales engineers are treated like royalty. They make more than the grunts who actually create our products.

Thanks for replying. I do have a background in sales. I’ll check into that. I was also thinking of going over to QA or BA work, but its hard to find places that don’t want direct experience.

Once you go there, I’ve been told you’ll never go back to programming. Happen to a friend of mine.

I was there at the same age as you. I had 25 years experience by that time, but the age might be part of it. I just didn’t want to do it anymore. No matter how interesting, challenging, fulfilling, the work was, I just couldn’t stand to think about computers anymore. I withdrew slowly from the industry, and then slowly returned over the next 10 years. Now I’m running all out, full bore, and happy as a cynical, pessimistic, pig in shit can be.

I had the good sense to be born a dozen years before you were, and use that to my financial advantage. So I used that 10 years having fun, doing things I’d never had time for. So I was lucky. You may have to work at something while you take a break from your career, but if you get some rest, you could probably come back in and do it again. It might not be easy to start. It was tough for me to suddenly find kids who knew all about things I hadn’t heard of. But after some time ramping back up, I was better than ever. And my experience far exceeds the only tricks those kids know or will ever learn.

You make it sound like its all been a bad career choice for you, but that’s the usual symptom of the problem. It’s just good old software developer burnout, and the only cure is some time off. And you don’t have to end up going back to the same field either. I know several people who used their time off to find paths in life, and their IT experience was just a bonus in their new careers.

Good luck.

How are your organizational skills?

I’m an IT PM specializing is software development projects. Your background could be very advantageous in this field. One of the hardest things is that when a team says it’ll take 10 weeks for design effort I can’t say “BULLSHIT!” because even though I know it’s an overstatement I don’t have the credentials to back it up.

You have to be VERY organized though and not adverse to mounds of paperwork.
It might just give you the break you need but still keep you in the field.

Came in to suggest IT Management.

Nearly all my bosses are ex programmers/analysts that moved upward into better money.

I can sympathize with the difficulty of keeping up with the latest fads/trends. I learned programming using punched cards. Nearly everything I learned in college is antiquated. Hell, we didn’t even learn object programming. I’m a COBOL programmer and SQL analyst. That’s what I’m trained for and that’s what I do very well.

I jumped off the technology treadmill a few years ago. I’ll use my skill sets as long as possible and then retire. I’m not wasting time or money learning the latest fad language. Trying to keep up with some 23 year old kid fresh out of college just isn’t possible. I’m not worried because the pool of COBOL programmers is retiring. My skills are actually in more demand now than they were ten years ago.

Just to follow up…

You may want to pick your strongest skill set. Find a job that lets you use those skills. Not every job requires working in the latest, greatest software out there. A lot of employers value stability. They don’t want their code set screwed around with.

I rather do something well (in my case 25 years of COBOL production experience) vs doing something mediocre that I tried to teach myself from a book. Years ago, I did learn a smattering of Java, PHP, and Perl. But, I’ll never be as proficient in those languages.

I’ve been programming for 20+ years, stared in COBOL now doing C#, and I hear you on the burn out thing. But what’s made it okay for me is finding that permanent job in a nice company. I work four days a week, never do any overtime, and am paid reasonably well (compared to other jobs at least, perhaps not other programmers).

So I say, why not look for that nice comfortable job. Ask them about overtime at the interview, and mention you may like to work four days a week, if they’re not receptive then they’re not the right company.

Contracting can be very rewarding, but also very stressful, and perhaps a break from the stress, rather than a career change is all you need :slight_smile:

I’ve been programming for 40 years, but I’m not classified as a software engineer. Do you have another specialty, or can you learn one? In engineering, for instance, few people can program and even fewer can do it well. Simple stuff can seem miraculous. But you do need to understand the subject area.

Are you a contractor or temp or something now? It sounds like it, from the “recruiters sold me as” and “got to go from zero to expert in one week” bits. Maybe try out a full-time long-term job at a company where you’re not constantly having to change gears and learn new things? I think it’s a completely different experience. Also, “enterprise” everything completely sucks. If you can get a job working at a company where you have more interesting projects and nothing with the word “enterprise” or any UML, EJB, XML or other buzzword B.S., I think you will again find it to be a completely different experience.

That said, I have worked for years as a high level engineer in absolute top shelf cutting edge popular technology companies, and it can still suck. A lot of the time I hate programming and hate computers. Even when I’ve been in the most envied jobs in tech, I’ve hated programming. I’m very good at it, but I don’t enjoy it and never have*. It just isn’t for some people, I guess. I am one, and maybe you are too.

I advise you that if you think there is a core of enjoyment there, and you just don’t like the circumstances, try to find a permanent position in a good nonenterprisey company and see how that works for you. Being a PM or a sales engineer in enterpriseland will probably suck just as much as being a programmer, only in a unique way. And getting another programming job will probably be easier than jumping career tracks completely.

However, if you really think there will never be any joy in it, look elsewhere. I would like to but I can’t.

  • You may ask why I chose it as a career if I hate it. That is a fair question. When I was in college, I studied a lot of things and didn’t have any idea what I wanted to be. I accidentally learned I had an aptitude for programming computers. For an aimless college kid, the having high paying computer jobs basically handed to you is not something you ignore. I followed the money, not the joy, and here I am.

Can you tell me more about this, please? I’m very interested.

Just coming in to send you my thoughts. I’ll be in your shoes in about 15 years.

  • Agent Foxtrot, Computer Science student

I’m a software engineer, and I suffered burnout earlier this year.

Take a vacation. When was the last time you took a REAL vacation?

This is based upon my personal experience so take this with a grain of salt as it’s not necessarily reflective of the entire industry…

Depending upon the company you work for they will either have a standard project lifecycle or you will need to create one. For example in my company we have a standard model that outlines 5 phases of a software development project from initiation through post deployment closeout. Within each phase are a set of activities and corresponding documentation that drive the project.

The responsibility of the PM is to work with the various groups (system architects, requirements analysts, developers, testers, etc.) to develop a timeline to meet all of those activities and a budget to track the effort and then ensure that the team meets those goals. If the project appears to be off track in either the timeline or the budget the PM works with the team to develop a mitigation plan to set it straight. This includes raising jeopardys to leadership so corrective action can be taken. Unfortunately this sometimes makes you the “bad guy”. For example I may need to go to my leadership and say “application team XXX is behind. They have 500 hours of work to do by the end of the month and the only way they will make it is for the entire crew to work weekends. The other option is to tell the customer we will be delivering 2 weeks late.”

Along the way there are multiple documents that are developed, reviewed and signed off on by the team. This ensures you are delivering a quality product and that all the teams are aware, and agree to their responsibility to deliver. The PM manages (but does not necessarily produce) this documentation.

People skills are vital as you will often be competing for resources with other projects and asking people to work through difficult issues. For example, if a requirement is misunderstood or poorly documented it may not be evident until coding. At this point the developers may want to say “not my issue” and the requirements team may say “the team signed off on it, we’ve moved on to another project” but you, the PM, need to get these groups to get back together to develop a solution and still try to meet you timeline and budget. Sometimes that’s possible, sometimes it’s not. When it’s not you will be required to explain to leadership what went wrong, so if you’re timid about difficult discussions with the senior leadership of your company you’ll need to get over that pretty quickly.

You may also be the primary contact with the client. At times you will need detailed information from them. They may not be responsive to your requests and you need to tactfully explain that failure to meet their responsibilities will affect the timeline and budget and that your company cannot be held responsible for those overruns if it is the result of a client issue. As you can imagine this is where you need to be firm yet tactful, it’s a tricky path to walk.

It can be rewarding and it’s a very visible position but it also carries a good deal of stress.

Lots of good info here:

Check out They are always looking for IT people at any level. Good pay and benefits. You may have to move to get the right job at first.

I’m a ‘sales engineer’ for my company and if you have a sales background and good people skills you should look into this option. It is tough to find an experienced technology resource who can also adapt to the business and sales environments. As such, sales engineers are generally highly valued and well compensated. I make far, far more now than I’ve ever made in any IT position I’ve held. (We’re comparable in age and industry experience).

Another nice perk of being a sales engineer, in many cases these are remote positions with the company technology or corporate offices in another city/state. As such, you get to work remotely from a home office. Travel is typically a requirement for the position and I’ve worked for companies where it was as little as 10-20% and as high as 70%.

IM if you have any questions you’d like to ask outside of the forum.


Hell, I’m interested!

Get into programming for the government. We just started a brand new project last year. Primary language is COBOL.

I have similar feelings as you… I just graduated from college 3 years ago but I am already tired of trying to keep up with technology developments.

I feel this way right now and I’m not even 10 years into my career as a developer. Funny thing is that I’m currently “falling up” into a pseudo-management position that adds about 20 hours/week of paper pushing on top of my already grueling “engineering team of five people” coding schedule.

I have recurring dreams of being the guy at the grocery store that stacks the oranges. Think I’ll go stare out the window for a minute now…