Some career advice, particularly from the tech crowd, please?

So I’m coming up on my one year at my first job out of school. My title is Programmer/Web Author, but technically I’m a Junior HTML Author. Or at least, that’s the job I thought I got. Which is where my problem comes in.

I took Comp Sci through high school and did a semester of it in university and have been told I’m about the equivalent of a 2nd year Comp Sci student in skills. I figured out it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I don’t have the math and logic skills for it and it frustrates me. However, I love the web so much and want to work in tech, so I embraced my passion - site implementation/HTML/CSS/Programming-lite. This fits in with what I thought I was doing at this company.

I’m now spending about 65%/35% of my time programming to site implementation. I’m stressed and miserable because I’m getting apps dropped in my lap that are beyond my ability and nearly break me down into tears. I know programming makes me stressed, that’s why I didn’t major in it! I feel it isn’t fair to anyone. It isn’t fair to me because I hate going to work sometimes and my morale is in the toilet. It isn’t fair to the clients because they are getting a product that isn’t of the highest quality. It isn’t fair to my bosses because I take longer and need more help, thus losing them money . It isn’t fair to my coworkers because I have to ask so many questions, interrupting their already heavy workload.

But I’m too scared to voice any of this. In this industry, you either need to be a jack of all trades or be at the very top of your specialty. I’m too young and inexperienced for the latter. I’m afraid that if I say anything, they’ll boot me out the door for someone who can do it all.

It’s a tiny company that’s seen an unfortunate amount of turnover in the last 8 months. At 6 months with the company, I was left for 3 weeks as the head of the production department and the most senior programmer. I am now the person in the tech part of things that has been there the longest. We’re hemorrhaging money. I love being here, and I don’t want to throw it all away, but there’s one place in this city that has the manpower to let their people specialize, where I might be able to do just what I’m good at, but my family has been telling me to stay put, but they don’t know the tech industry and barely comprehend the surface of what I do. I need advice from those in the industry. There’s not that many companies here and it’s definitely a place where everyone knows everyone else in the industry, so I don’t want to quit here and go somewhere and find out I don’t like it there and then have nowhere else to go.

Also, I’ve hinted towards wanting less programming, but instead I’ve gotten encouragement and been told that I underestimate my skills. At this point, I think even if I got better at it, I hate it so much I’d be miserable anyway.

Opinions, advice, ‘sit your ass down and put up with it, you youngin’!’ statements?

Leave. Go to where to want to be, and don’t stop because your family doubts you. More than any other industry, young IT people are expected to move around. Secure the next job before leaving your current one, but by all means leave.

Perversely, ‘sticking it out’ is probably worse for your future job prospects.

I’m not a youngin’ - been in IT as a programmer (mostly) for right at 20 years. And right now, I’m in a job where I’m not doing any programming and all business configuration. I hate it. When I took this job, they really didn’t have a clear-cut idea of what they wanted out of the position, and I was advised that I could most likely make the position into anything I wanted. Uhm, no. It was just that my boss most likely did not communicate the expectations clearly enough to the hiring gurus.

I’ve spoken to my boss, and he’s well aware that I’m not happy doing what I’m doing. He insists that I underestimate myself and my skills, that I’m doing a good job, and that this track is the best for my career. What?! Huh? What does that matter if I’m miserable?!

So, having told you all that, my advice is: Hie thee off to find a position that suits you. You’ll be happier, and you’ll be a great asset to your employer, who will in turn benefit from your happiness.

I hope to be able to do that myself - sooner rather than later.

I think you should stay put. A successful programmer is expected to have a basic grasp of most popular technologies. You need to be able to do some java, some c#, some static/dynamic html, enough db skills to manage without a dba for a few months, etc… The industry is very fluid, so you need to understand the basics behind most of the stuff out there right now, so that you can be ready for the stuff that you are gonna have to use tomorrow.

You say you enjoy building websites, thats a great specialty to have. If your boss doesn’t give you enough website work you should look into contributing to an open source project on your own time. That way you get to pick what you work on, and you can focus on the stuff you do best. At work your professional learning needs take a back seat, bosses have deadlines to meet and money to make, don’t look to your boss for all of your professional development needs.

You also need to make it clear to your boss that you are a very motivated junior developer, and while you are growing rapidly, you are not ready to make far reaching architecture decisions, and he may have to deal with costly consequences down the line, they pay experienced programmers a lot more for a reason.

As long as you safeguard yourself from a major screw up and keep working hard you should be able to have more say on what you do in a year or two, as long as your boss knows that you are there to solve his problems and not to cherry pick fun stuff to do.

You need to stand up to your boss: don’t say no, rather say that you don’t have the time to do all that’s asked of you. Ask which projects should be prioritised. Suggest that the company might benefit from additional resources.

I disagree with Cornelius almost entirely.

You say you don’t want to be a programmer, so if they’re handing you a lot of programming work I think it’s time for you to look into another career.

If you enjoy XHTML/CSS work, there is plenty to be done across the web. That’s the kind of work I do now, for a life insurance company. In my free time over the past couple years, I’ve picked up freelancing gigs here and there and it’s to the point now that I can’t keep up with demand. I’ve put in my notice to quit, but said I’d stay until they found a replacement for me. Guess what? No one is applying for my job except people who aren’t qualified to do it. My job is entirely, 100% XHTML/CSS and design.

A successful web guy is NOT a jack of all trades as Cornelius suggests. It’s a person who has a specialty and does it well. In my case, it’s XHTML/CSS/PHP/mySQL. I know ZipperJJ will probably chime in as an ASP pro who lays out her pages in tables. It’s better to be an expert at a handful of things than mediocre at hundreds. At least in the web field, if that’s what you’re aiming for.

Look for a junior HTML position around your location. They are everywhere even in a small city like Peoria, so I imagine there’s got to be some around you. Find one, and freelance in your spare time to pick up other skills. Life is too short to waste away at a job you don’t love. Get out and focus on what you want to be doing.

And hey, if you want a job doing XHTML and CSS work and are willing to relocate to Peoria, I can probably hook ya up…

You know, don’t worry about whether or not you are the best person to meet the clients needs. That’s your bosses job to worry about, he put you on the job so that’s who they get. Clients also don’t necessarily always want the most textbook-perfect bit of code. Sometimes they want something that works (almost all of the time) and can be delivered sooner rather than later. If you’re available, then you’re the best person for the job.

Also realize that training and helping out coworkers is one of the things that has to get done – it’s a task that takes up time and there’s really not anyway around it. If someone who you rely on is obviously frustrated with your questions then let your boss know, it’s his job to get the resources that you need to get your job done.

And definitely don’t worry about your pace being unfair to your bosses. If you are honest and do the work they ask of you, then you are being fair to them.

I don’t really have much to say about whether or not you should look for another job (although the bit about loosing money isn’t a good sign…) but some of your problems could be first-job adjustment stuff. Not all of them, but some.

And yeah, take the advice of people who know the industry over people who don’t (you already know that). Do you know any techies in your area who don’t work for your company? Maybe someone from school? If so, maybe send them a note and ask them for lunch or coffee, just to pick their brain about your situation. It’s good to compare notes and get a feel of what’s going on around town.

I can understand why you’re stressed doing something you don’t think you do well. Have you thought about maybe taking some programming classes at night at the local community college? That might you get up to speed without the stress. Lots of times when you have to learn something new at work you get tossed in the deep end - taking the time to learn from the beginning helps.

Don’t worry about math - very little programming has anything to do with any math more complex than computing the bounds of a loop. Logic doesn’t take any real training, but is more of a talent. If you get lost in your own code, then you might have a problem, but don’t worry about it until after you take the classes. If it is a matter of not knowing formal logic, don’t worry.
Once you know one language very well, you’re set for life - though XHTML/CSS is not a language. Give it a shot, and you might find you like it and have a lot more options.

No one should be miserable at their job if there are other options. Start exploring other job opportunities in web design and move on. You’ll be happier. Take it from someone who’s been in the tech world longer than you’ve been alive. If I have one regret in my career it’s sticking with my first job far longer than I should have. I eventually moved on and never looked back.

I understand what you mean about being stressed at programming. It’s not whether you’re good or not, you just don’t like the thought pattern in your head. As wasson said, there are plenty of positions for designers. It is tough, though, that with all the emphasis on making the web ‘rich’ the web takes more and more programming. What you need, however, is to find a large company. It’s the larger (relatively speaking) companies that are more than happy to divide labor and have designers design and programmers program. Smaller companies really can’t have that. It’s more efficient for them to not try and separate two faces of the same thing.

Also, as a kind of zen advice, you can try to think about what makes programming stressful for you and learn how to approach it the right way and how to stay calm while doing it. Certainly writing out a plan and charting out pseudocode removes a lot of stress. You have far fewer things being juggled in your mind as you write the code itself.