how do I get less emotionally invested in my work?

A reader writes:

I’m a programmer who is in my eighth month at my current job. I’m a woman in my late 20s and have never held a job for a full year before–while most of the jobs I’ve had have been internships or temp/contract jobs, I’ve quit one that made me miserable and been laid off from another. Because of all this, I am trying to stay at the current job for at least two years before I seriously look for something else.

It’s not terrible. In the context of “I am trying to pay my bills in a way that doesn’t destroy my health or make me miserable,” it is better than most jobs. But I often get extremely stressed out and come home exhausted most days, and I think a big part of it is that I get too personally invested in the work.

I get really emotional about the quality of other people’s work. Although I am the youngest and most junior person on my team, the new project we are starting is in a software framework I am more familiar with than most of my coworkers. In addition, people are used to working on an old legacy site without much quality control and basically no testing, so as they move on to working on the new site, they carry a lot of bad habits and make a lot of avoidable mistakes.

In addition, the project is pretty disorganized–our project manager and our team lead both are busy with other projects in addition to this one, and it’s unclear what deadlines mean or what we should prioritize, and when I try to ask about it I don’t get answers that are helpful. Often people are defensive. There have been multiple times I’ve asked what the status of a project is or what testing will be done before we demo something, and the response I get is some variation of “what, you think I’d put this out without testing it?” When I try to bring up resources people could learn about to save time and prevent errors, I am often met with “we don’t have time for that.” People are often sarcastic or snarky or derail serious conversations with jokes.

I find this all very frustrating. I’ve had varying levels of success discussing individual problems with individual people. Sometimes it works–one of the worst offenders in terms of making jokes apologized to me after he crossed a line and I got upset with him–and sometimes it doesn’t, as with the aforementioned defensiveness, or when the more senior people on the team insist that we don’t have time to write documentation or teach people how the technology works so they can write good code. It affects me because I’ll work hard on something and someone else will change it without understanding what they’re doing and suddenly what was carefully organized code is full of errors and bugs. I try hard to communicate well and listen to others but it feels like sometimes I may as well be talking to a brick wall.

And I tend to get emotional. I’ve cried at work, I’ve cried after work, I’ve been too angry to concentrate, I’ve avoided telling anyone about problems because I’m afraid to get shot down, I’ve spent hours ranting to friends and family about it. The emotional attachment is making me less effective in communicating about the problems. I think I’m coming off as neurotic and nitpicky and out of touch. My concerns get dismissed a lot (I think some of this is rudeness or sexism but it would be easier to navigate if I were less invested and better at picking my battles).

If the circumstances were different I’d be looking for other jobs but as it is I would like to build a solid work history and also, I have no guarantee that the next place would be better. I wish I could stop caring so much, that I could just go to work and do my job and come home and stop thinking about it.

For context, I am diagnosed with anxiety and depression but I am handling them to the best of my ability. I take antidepressants, I have a prescription for anxiety meds to take as needed, I exercise most days a week, and I do talk therapy. So while my mental health issues surely contribute to the problem, I am pretty maxed out in terms of what I can do about them, and so I really want to focus on developing a better attitude and coping skills towards work. Do you have any advice for putting a reasonable amount of effort into my work and letting it be “just a job” to me?

You can read my answer to this letter at New York Magazine today. Head over there to read it.

{ 242 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. OP

    Hi, it’s me, the one who wrote the letter.

    I wrote it in early August. Later that month I got a written warning for, among other things, “prematurely optimizing” and being “abrasive and condescending.” Less than a month later, in mid-September, I was fired. The final straw for them seemed to be me asking for clarification on how to avoid the issues that led to the write-up—apparently I was supposed to read their minds and do (their version of) better without any communication on what that meant.

    I do think there’s some value to being able to approach work in a less emotional manner, but I recognize now that the way I was feeling about that job was a sign I needed to get out sooner. It didn’t seem like an option at the time because, as I said, I had a history of jobs that made me miserable and this one seemed less bad by comparison. And I was scared to put myself back out into the job market given that.

    I’m now working part time as a teaching assistant helping students learn to code, and I love it. I’m interviewing for other programming jobs, as well as jobs in the training and educational fields related to coding. I worked at this company I’m at now last year and emailed them after being fired; I wish I’d done so as soon as I started to feel like my job was under threat, as soon as I realized how unhappy it was making me.

    In my current job search I’m trying very hard to ask questions about what the working environment is like. I have realized I fundamentally can’t make myself stop caring about the quality of the work; the only people who survived at the company I was fired from were the ones who successfully did that, due to management punishing people for doing more than the bare minimum to get the job done, and I think that led to a lot of the dysfunctional behaviors that made it so awful to work there. (I also wrote [this letter](http://www.askamanager.org/2017/06/my-coworkers-constantly-joke-around-when-i-need-work-answers.html).) It’s helped me a lot to volunteer, write articles, and work in an environment where my skills and passion are valued rather than seen as a threat.

    My advice to anyone who sees themselves in this letter is that I know it’s hard to draw the line as to how much unhappiness you’ll put up with in a job, but if you ever feel like more of your energy is going towards suppressing your desire to do a good job than is going towards the work itself, get out. I got to the point where I was feeling guilty and anxious writing documentation and testing things, activities that would be welcomed in many jobs. Whatever you have to do to get out, do it–eat hot dogs to save money, ask family members to help you pay the bills, apply for part-time jobs that pay less but that you know you can get.

    I’m still quite nervous about looking for jobs, for fear I’ll end up in yet another miserable work environment, but I think the fact that I am working part-time now helps take a lot of the pressure off me, and I am asking a lot of questions in the interviews I’ve been getting about what the working environment is like. I’m also planning to avoid any workplace where I would be the only woman in a technical role, as that contributed to my feeling alienated and defensive in that job. I’d be open to hearing from anyone who has advice for finding a good working environment in the future.

    Reply
    1. QuiteContrary

      I’m glad you got out of there, OP. I’m sorry you were fired–it’s a horrible process to go through, as I’ve been through it before (manager hated me). I know what it’s like to be emotionally invested in work that no one else cares about. It can be so draining.

      I’m glad you’re happy with the teaching, and that you’re asking more questions about work environment. I’ve had to learn the same lesson, and your letter/situation resonated. Wishing you all the best!

      Reply
    2. Fortitude Jones

      Oh man, I don’t know how I missed this up here, but it sounds like the firing was a blessing in disguise. I hope you find something better soon because that place sounds miserable. I’m also glad to see you’re helping students learn to code – keep that up even when you get a new full-time permanent gig. It’ll help you to feel like you’re still contributing something meaningful somewhere if you end up in another environment that stresses you out (I hope you don’t).

      Reply
    3. High Score!

      You may have better luck in companies with mostly younger employees. Technical people tend to abrasive but from my experience, new employees are indoctrinated into the harsh environment by crusty older workers and those who don’t have a thick skin (like scales) tend not to last. Find a younger company.

      While there is a strong need for skilled programmers who write clean code, you sound very happy teaching. Maybe that’s your calling?

      Good luck!

      Reply
      1. Troutwaxer

        A lot of older coders don’t think in terms of doing unit testing or fuzzing, or of having development/test/production servers. Add to that clients (internal or otherwise) who can’t create a useful spec and then… you’ve got trouble! Probably the best thing you can do in an environment like that is to lay back and go with the flow; you’ll never get such people to see the advantages in working cleanly.

        Reply
    4. Lil Fidget

      Aww, I’m sorry that happened OP. It sounds like it wasn’t the right fit for you. It can be so hard to tell if you’re coming across as condescending and it’s crazy making to be told that and wonder if this is just gendered feedback or if its a genuine issue for you to work on.

      Reply
      1. OP

        Exactly! There’s some great advice in Alison’s response and this thread, but it’s super hard to balance “I can always do things to improve” with “don’t let jerks determine my self-image.”

        Reply
    5. Of course

      I am glad you found a job you like better. However, I wish to heed you a warning that maybe you were “hard to work with.” Not knowing the big picture because of being lower on the totem pole, yet making it sound like you cared more, doesnt help anyone. Not those in charge of the big picture, not you. And “abrasive and condescending” when not fitting into the culture or being too “I think I know it all and my question is the most important and should be answered now” is something that will not bode well in any job in the future. I think you should also take some internal reflection to grow.

      As a manager, I’d rather have a mediocre employee who everyone got along with then the know it all who was abrasive and difficult to work with in a team environment.

      Reply
      1. OP

        I appreciate your feedback. I think it’s true that this is very important. It’s been hard for me because generally I pride myself on being compassionate and patient. So I’ve done a lot of soul searching in the wake of losing this job.

        Ultimately I got fired after asking them for clarification on what they wanted me to do to avoid the problems they disciplined me for, which they characterized as me refusing to do work. But in a broader sense I don’t think I did their image of me any favors. I just… don’t know how to be different, if that makes sense. I gave feedback and people ignored it. I stopped giving feedback and people noticed that and asked why I wasn’t reviewing their code. I wrote tests and people said I was wasting my time. I didn’t write tests and got written up for my code breaking as a result. I asked for clarification and I got fired for not doing my job.

        It just felt like I couldn’t win on any of this. I really do want to treat people with respect. It just didn’t seem like there was any way I could be better in the context of that job.

        Reply
        1. Competent Commenter

          Not a coder OP, but the dynamic you’re describing in this comment is very similar to what I experienced in a job. I was the subject matter expert…and nothing I said carried any weight. When I nicely said the software couldn’t do what they wanted and offered a workaround, they said I had a bad attitude. When I nicely said I had three times as much work to do in one week as could be done and asked them to prioritize, they got mad. When I followed instructions they accused me of not following instructions. I was a telecommuter and functioned more like a consultant when it came to work hours, and at one point the big boss got mad at me about some changes I hadn’t made yet (because they were objectively inexplicable), and when I tried to be soothing by saying, “I know you’re stressed about this project. I’ve been working until 1 am all week on this and will work late again tonight to make sure we meet your (ridiculous) deadline,” she snapped, “I don’t have time for this.” These people were just a bunch of a-holes. It didn’t have anything to do with the quality of my work or attitude.

          You’re better off out, but I wish you could have left on your own terms. I’ve been let go (without legitimate cause while pregnant) and I’ve walked out (boy the day I left that telecommute job was SWEET!) and I’d always rather be the one to choose to go. So sorry you went through this. :(

          Reply
          1. RVA Cat

            Yeah in both cases it sounds like the OP and Competent Commenter had reached BEC status and nothing either of you could do could change what was fixed in their small, jerky minds.

            If a company really is punishing people who do more than the minimum or ignoring their experts, they deserve to go out of business.

            Reply
        2. lurker who knits

          OP, this part of your letter reminded me of an article about poor quality coding. “. . . the more senior people on the team insist that we don’t have time to write documentation or teach people how the technology works so they can write good code. It affects me because I’ll work hard on something and someone else will change it without understanding what they’re doing”

          https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2017/09/saving-the-world-from-code/540393/

          You seem to have the right mindset towards your career. Wishing you the best in your job search.

          Reply
        3. Sleeping, or maybe dead

          Hi OP! Thank you for your update!
          I am so mad at how they treated you and so happy that you are appreciated and happy at your new job!

          I wasn’t there, so I can’t possibly know, but it definetly sounds like there was no possible way to please your employer and co-workers. I have seen it happen multiple times in my short professional experience. Don’t beat yourself over it.
          Also, I can’t see a good manager refusing to give constructive feedback when asked by a recent hire.

          Reply
        4. designbot

          It can be a hard line to walk when you get into one of those traps, and it could very well be that once they got a certain image of you nothing would change their minds about that. In general terms though, it sounds like there’s likely to be some distance between interrogating more senior team members about whether they plan on testing their code and having errors in your own code. This might be writing tests and running them on your own code, and that’s it. It might mean offering to run it on other people’s stuff or share it with other people only when asked about it, but never pushing testing on anyone (assume they have their end covered). It might mean asking the questions in a different way–“I just wanted to check what everyone else was doing as far as testing went so that I can be sure I’m using the same protocol” sounds more like you’re trying to learn and fit in, vs. “Were you planning to test this?” or “What testing are you going to run to make sure this actually works this time?” sound, well, abrasive and condescending.

          Reply
        5. NutellaNutterson

          A very long time ago, Alison mentioned a book called “the set up to fail syndrome” by Jean-Francois Manzoni, and some of what you describe above seems to fall into this. Not that your team was malicious and purposely creating a double bind, but that was ultimately the impact they had on your job performance. Good luck in your continued teaching, and I hope that you find a company that brings out the best in your work.

          Reply
    6. Fabulous

      I wrote my response below before seeing your reply here! I’m sorry you were fired, that’s awful, but I’m glad you got out of there. The people sounded horrible to work with (I know I couldn’t stand it!) My suggestion below of proactively building an SOP or FAQ of common mistakes probably wouldn’t have been taken well with the context you described here!! I just don’t understand how companies can operate like this… Purely baffling.

      Reply
    7. Daughter of Ada and Grace

      So, I’m another woman developer, and I have MANY THOUGHTS on how to identify a good working environment.

      Your goal not to be the only woman tech sounds totally reasonable to me, but you may have to change which companies you want to work for. Don’t just look at startups and companies in the “tech sector” (Google, Microsoft, Amazon – anything that wouldn’t exist without computers). Consider more traditional fields like healthcare, banking, retail, or insurance. Those are all computerized, and a bigger company means a better chance of finding women in technical roles.

      I don’t know where you’re located, but you can also look for “Best Companies to Work For” lists – USA Today recently had an article listing “Best Companies for Women”, and a lot of those were tech companies. The anitab dot org regularly puts out a list of “Top Companies for Women Technologists”. Maybe one of them is hiring in your area?

      Based on your description of what you were trying to do, one of the things you may want to ask about in job interviews is something known as Code Craftsmanship. This is basically a combination of best practices and internal coding standards. It sounds like you’re looking for a place that values this, even if they don’t recognize the name.

      My company works with an external coach who advises us on best practices. He’s also helped us set up some infrastructure to enforce best practices. For instance, we have rules on our GitHub repositories that won’t let us commit any code that doesn’t compile (including passing unit tests), and all our pull requests have to be approved by another developer before they can be committed.

      We’ve also got an internal document setting out what our internal standards are. This is things like capitalization schemes and naming conventions, and the fact that our standard is to use semicolons in javascript.

      Another thing to ask about is how they deal with technical debt. No one deals with this well, but you sound like you’ll be happier with a place that either does incremental refactoring (leave it better than you found it), or sets aside some time occasionally to clean up the worst of the problems.

      One thing I like is a place that values professional development. My company hires outside consultants to train us in best practices and new technologies, as well as sending people to conferences they find interesting. It’s absolutely worth asking what professional development opportunities the company offers. (I’ve gone to the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing for several years in a row now on my company’s dime.)

      On the culture side, if you speak with potential peers, ask them what a typical day looks like for them. I find that gives a better picture than asking about work-life balance. If everyone works 12-14 hour days all week, and comes in on the weekends as well, that’s hard to hide when you’re asking about an average day.

      More culture – don’t ignore the little things. I once turned down a job because a peer made a comment about “changing X like you change wives”. I don’t remember what X was, but I do remember deciding I was never going to work with that guy. You’ve got a job (even if it’s not exactly what you want), so you don’t have to take the first programming job you’re offered. You can even tell them “No, it’s not the right fit for me” if you meet someone like that guy.

      Like I said, MANY THOUGHTS. But mostly, good luck in finding the job that’s right for you, and not what someone else things should be right for you!

      Reply
      1. CJMster

        That’s all good stuff, and much of was done where I worked and coded (e.g., code reviews by senior programmers before all check-ins, and unit tests that have to be passed). I agree that standards and best practices are super important and a sign that quality code is valued. It sounds like you work for a really good company! Ours stunk at professional development, among other things.

        I remember a colleague who took “leave [the code] better than you found it” too far. He’d “clean up” anything he touched and never say boo about it (because he could do no wrong in his eyes). He introduced a zillion subtle bugs because none of the testers had a clue he’d made changes, and so they didn’t know to regression test those areas. I tried hard to communicate when I changed code.

        Reply
      2. Fortitude Jones

        I don’t know much about coding, but wanted to second your suggestion that OP look into banking and insurance, especially the latter. My company is hiring for a TON of coding jobs right now, and since insurance is such a highly regulated industry, they couldn’t get away with not following best practices and writing bad code – your personality would do well in an environment like this, OP.

        Reply
    8. Andre

      Hi OP,

      I’m also a female dev (mid-20s) (also the only woman in my team) and I can relate to almost everything you’ve said!
      First, I’m sorry that you were let go from the job, but like others have said, perhaps that is a true blessing! Time’s for a fresh start!

      I’d like to share up some thoughts.( Let’s steer clear of the “implicit” gender/age bias for the moment and focus on the obvious issue first. )

      Like you, I tend to get extremely irritated when people deliver code that’s buggy, and I’d get even more irritated if the bugs can easily be spotted by running existing set of tests! These situations often make me feel like all they care about is to get the stuff in and “look good”; anything else is not of their concerns! There were times when I would even subscribed too ALL the commits and I would spend extra times at night going over every commits and the diff, just to make sure none broke the existing code. (And it was very exhausting!)

      I have done multiple things, including aggressive approaches (such as, kicking out their commits and/or emailing them/cc’ing our lead, citing the bug/failing tests), and passive-aggressive (such as emailing everybody asking why some tests are failing after a particular commits, etc).

      I’m slightly more fortunate in that I’m considered senior in my team, regardless of age, and as such, my concern and opinions often carry a lot of weight. (if I kick a commit out, it’ll stay out until I approve it to go back in)

      That said, I’ve learned to accept the fact that there is a trade-off between features delivery and bug “control”. Obviously, in CS101, we were taught that it’s better to have a complete and bug-free small feature than it is to have a buggy/in-complete big feature. But reality tends to prove otherwise.

      I find it often useful to have a direct conversation with the person. It is, however, very important that you focus on what the issue is, rather than who caused it. It was very hard for me, but I have tried to tell myself that none of this is “personal”. Perhaps you were experiencing the same thing? Perhaps you tend feel as though people “intentionally” broke the code, and/or they were doing in purpose as a personal attack to you?

      Since you mentioned you are interviewing for new opportunities(yay!), you can take the time while interviewing to assess potential team members. You could ask them what engineering practices they have. (to see whether they do code-reviews, etc). Also, you can try asking them about the work they’ve done, and their mistakes. These reveal a lot about the person. From that you’d be able to tell if they are a good/responsible team player, etc.

      Furthermore, I find it better to be in a team with mid-level engineers than it is with a team of all juniors, because the fresh-grad devs tend to not care much about any engineering practice.

      Lastly, to touch on your point regarding “avoid being the only woman on a team”, I think this is not always avoidable. If you could find a team that you like and that satisfies this requirement, great, but if you can’t please don’t let this affect your decision. I’m not saying the bias is not real. In fact, it is very real but avoiding it will not solve the problem. In my career, 99% of the time, I have been the only woman on the team and I have learned two important rules. One, do not treat anything as “personal”. And two, when you need to confront someone about their code-quality (or any other issue), bring facts and focus on what the issue is, rather than WHOM to blame. People will get very defensive if you say “you broke the code!”, on the other hand, if you say “Such and such test is failing. How do we fix it?”, it’ll be much better received.

      Best of luck!

      Reply
    9. CJMster

      OP, thanks for the update. I’m sorry you’ve had so much frustration to deal with.

      I’m female and programmed for almost 28 years before I retired in January. I was sort of with the same company for the whole time. I hired into a small, privately owned company with a focus on quality and exceptional software. That was a huge success, so the owner sold to a corporation that grew and then merged with another corporation until we were part of a giant global company that everyone knows. So many chapters, so many changes. I really identify with much of what you wrote because coding well and feeling proud of excellent code was important to me. I often felt that my standards were not valued, and that was beyond frustrating. When I cared so much that I spoke up about problems with inefficient processes and shoddy quality (this was more recently, during the global behemoth chapter), I was typically shot down and treated like a troublemaker. So I learned to care less and speak up less, but it was always frustrating, and I always wondered if I should have found another employer. After so long, I had many personal ties that made it difficult to leave.

      I think it boils down to that three-pronged challenge of coding (and probably of all business): You can meet any two of these three goals at the same time, but not all three at once: cheap, fast, and good. I watched the quality suffer because cheap and fast were the focus. So if I have any advice for a programmer starting out, it’d be this: Decide which of those two matter to you, and look for a shop that holds the same values. It sounds like quality is of top importance to you, not speed or cost, so focus on an employer who agrees with you. It’s very difficult for software groups to keep the focus on quality, especially in big companies. So anything could happen, even if you choose carefully.

      One other thought: I had a long-time colleague who would not budge about quality and made it clear he wouldn’t code quickly. He missed deadlines. He caused others to miss deadlines. He was not cut out for the demands of coding for profit. So a programmer has to be flexible, even if her standards are high. Sometimes a coder has to get it 90% right for a deadline and fix the rest later. It’s frustrating, but it’s reality.

      Best wishes, and happy coding!

      Reply
    10. LadyProg

      I can very much relate to your story! At the beginning of my professional career, I was lucky to work with good bosses and a mostly good team, and when I got too emotionally invested I realized how that was impacting my health (hello, anxiety!) and quickly managed to pull back a bit and relax. But if I didn’t have such a healthy environment around me I don’t think it would have worked and I would probably had gotten miserable!
      A couple of years into that job I got transferred to another department within the same company, which I was cool with and saw as an opportunity to learn more. Oh boy, I was not ready to be in a group that was not as healthly lead and was a bit like the group you described! I saw problems with poor quality code, I tried poking my peers directly (same level as me) without success. I spoke to our boss, she came up with a plan (a checklist!) that solved nothing at all and just added effort to execute – they were breaking the code up and down.
      I simply checked out at some point… I couldn’t win, I tried what was in my power, so now I just came in, sat down, did my 8h a day, got out. At the same time I planned my escape plan: talking to my previous boss within the same company, and after a few months he managed to pull me out of there and things just got soooo much better!
      It’s been many years since that, I stayed a total of 9 months in that terrible project. Don’t feel inappropriate, they were the ones that sucked from what I can tell!
      Good luck on your job search, I hope you can get a good environment with awesome management and a healthy work environment! They exist, it’s true!! ;)

      Reply
    11. Quinalla

      It sounds like the job and culture was a bad fit for you. Could you have handled it better, maybe, and it is good to reflect on that, but overall it sounds like a bad fit that was likely never going to work in the long term and that they were being a bit or a lot ridiculous. I’m glad you are looking for something where your passion and your diligence in creating clean code will be appreciated. I agree with other commenters to broaden your search to IT for other sectors if that makes sense for you and to try and find a place that has or wants to develop standards for their code. My husband is in IT and would love your high standards for code, he constantly complains to me about folks and their sloppy code :) I have done some coding in the past, so I definitely get that, even though it is not my job or something I do frequently.

      I’m a mechanical engineer and my field is heavily male dominated too, so I totally get that. I do think you are correct to suspect there is sexism involved. It sucks and I struggle with that every day, but while I’m always aware of it and call it out when I can, all you can really do is keep doing your best work. I don’t think it is a bad idea to try and find a workplace that is more diverse either, it was definitely something I looked for when getting this job. And you can find places that value feedback that improves efficiency. The place I work at now they kept saying they wanted feedback so after being here a few months I gave some very carefully worded feedback about some internal software, suggestions for improvements, questions about why it worked the way it did, etc. They loved it and ended up sending it out to my whole department as an example of what they were looking for and asking why no on else had spoke up about these inefficiencies. They also had some comments back about some of my feedback explaining why things were a certain way, so I learned better how to use the tools properly. I knew I had found a good fit! Lots of companies say they are open to feedback, but when you give it, often show you that they aren’t as open as they like to think. At the same time, as the new person, you definitely want to tread carefully with your feedback until you understand the culture and making sure it is clear that maybe there is something in the process/tool you are missing. Reasonable bosses will want to explain to you and what to improve processes when possible.

      Good luck and glad you are enjoying your part-time teaching job. I love training new employees and mentoring them, so this is definitely something you can transfer to a new job.

      Reply
    12. Marley

      It’s sounds like you got a hard lesson early, OP. I’m so glad you’re out of there, and that you have part-time work while you look.

      As a fellow anxiety sufferer, some cognitive behavioral therapy down the road might really help, if you haven’t tried it already. It helps one break bad mental habits and see options.

      Best wishes.

      Reply
    13. haley

      OP, I’m a lady programmer as well and I’m aghast at the environment described in your original letter. I’m glad you got out. I’ve been the only female eng in several of my roles and it extremely sucks.
      A few years back, I went through 4 jobs in the span of 2 years due to layoffs and ultimately came out of it with an extremely clear idea of what a healthy workplace looks like to me. Testing, documentation, code review, senior colleagues who are excited about discussing solutions & answering questions, and clear direction from product & management are all things that exist in a healthy workplace. I hope you are able to find something soon, try not to worry too much about the job hopping especially since you’re still junior.
      As an interviewer, I look for folks with good communication and interpersonal skills who care about avoiding tech debt but also understand that sometimes compromises need to be made. As the interviewee, you can and should be asking about release cycles, testing/doc/training, problem solving & roles of management, work life balance, etc. I don’t know if you’re in one of the main tech hubs in the US or not but companies like this do exist. I hope you find one! Good luck!

      Reply
    14. Tau

      I join in the chorus of lady programmers going “oh man I hear you.” I also read your letter going “umm I think your job is terrible and you need to leave”, so it doesn’t surprise me that it turned out to be the job. (In all honesty, I think a lot of the comments by people who aren’t devs or familiar with devs are missing the point a bit because of that. Caring about code quality, documentation and testing as a developer is not a “focus on your own work” situation, because the codebase is a communal product and chances are you’re the one who’s going to have to maintain your coworker’s terrible code six months down the line. )

      I think you’ve received excellent advice from other devs. My main contribution is that the questions on the Joel Test are very worth asking, even seventeen years after they were first written. I like job-searching on Stackoverflow Jobs because they generally have the answers in the ad.

      In general, I find probing into
      – testing, both automated and QA
      – documentation
      – code review
      – build and release processes and frequency
      – project management
      – how they view (and whether they support) professional development
      – emergencies (how are they handled, how frequently do they occur)
      – source control and how they use it
      – handling of technical debt
      – technologies and hardware used

      to be helpful. And, y’know, really *dig*. Anyone can throw around buzzwords, what they mean by them is a whole different story. I’ve told the story of the unit tests that weren’t downthread.

      Re: being the only woman – I don’t blame you, but I think it can be hard to avoid and doesn’t *have* to indicate a bad working environment. I personally treat it as a red flag if there are no other women around, but not an absolute dealbreaker.

      Reply
    15. Daisy

      As a person working in the same field, even if not directly coding (an not in her 20s anymore):

      While I agree on “not to push things on other while you are a junior” (you can really look like out of touch and honestly suggest things that do not make sense in a work-production context) I have a certain level of disagreement this time with Alison’s suggestion due to the very type of industry you are working in.

      You have no idea what a favor they did it to you to fire you. For real.

      The working place you described is a description by the book on how to forge a “dead developer”, a developer that won’t have a real, fulfilling future or grow. Refusing to move on with new technologies with the excuse “we don’t have time” will never make you advance, coding moves fast, if you remain behind, you more or less become unemployable, or can be hired only by bad companies as this one. While you cannot always play with the new tools, there is a limit on what you can ignore before doing a bad job. Also, is so much easier to remain in your comfort zone of what you know, that it will be extremely hard to come out of this. You need to build good habits on staying up to date, and you need to do it now while you have the energy to do so.

      Reply
  2. Pines

    Oh my god, this is so painfully relatable to me. I’ve been in such a similarly frustrating situation. No advice, OP, just know you’re not alone.

    Reply
    1. Artemesia

      I think most of us who really care about the work and doing a good job have been there. I luckily mostly had work where my work was independent and not heavily involved with what peers were doing and most of my peers were competent, but there were big projects where those in ‘leadership’ couldn’t either lead or get out of the way and unnecessary time or failure ensued. One Christmas when most people had a week off, I was working long hours to rescue a project that went sideways precisely as I had predicted and warned about 3 months earlier when it would have been trivial to fix.

      BUT it is critical always to be professional and not weep and fuss; all that does it mark one out as immature and unstable and reduces any hope of being effective at being heard. The OP is probably right about much of what she sees, but she forfits any chance of affecting outcomes when she behaves this way on the job. So her first challenge is to get herself under control in whatever way she needs to — whether it is more therapy, medication or a little zen mantra. You can’t be effective if you melt down rather than calmly pick your battles and moments.

      Reply
    2. Sleeping, or maybe dead

      +1
      It is almost like I wrote that letter myself.
      Op, you are not alone in your struggle, please have all my sympathies.
      I myself don’t care too much about my employer, but I am extremely stressed and frustrated that my co-workers sloppy work will cost me so much trouble and effort when they hand it over to me for the next project stage. I really don’t know how to deal with this in a way that doesn’t singles me out as a snitch later on. Sigh.

      Reply
    3. Koko

      When I find myself getting frustrated with coworkers/processes that aren’t up to snuff but are beyond my control, I try to make myself laugh. I think laughter is the diametric opposite of anger so it’s really hard to hold both simultaneously.

      Sometimes I will watch a funny video clip (the sketch on SNL with Lindsay Lohan and Amy Poehler at Disney World will bring tears of laughter; a lot of the music videos from Crazy Ex Girlfriend also work a treat). Other times I try to find the humor in the situation that’s making me angry, like imagining some ridiculous made-up comical scenario that led to the error that’s now in my way.

      Sometimes I even privately act extra-super-angry in my office for a minute, because in general I find disproportionate anger pretty funny, so it makes me laugh at myself to act more angry than the situation actually warants.

      Reply
      1. Hills to Die on

        Having a sense of humor about this stuff has been really helpful to me—I am a lot like this too, OP.

        You have to try to check out emotionally while still doing your job. I try to pretend I’m someone else who would handle things really well (I pick a specific person, usually someone who is really confident and laid-back).

        Reply
      2. Chickasaurus

        I spend a lot of time listening to the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend soundtrack to calm down/release stress. If I ever don’t laugh at “and then we hit the back patio/that’s where we hit your back pati-OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOH!” I am likely dead.

        Reply
        1. Koko

          I love Make Make Makeover: “Old you in the garbage, new you in display case! Old you was a diaper, new you is a diamond!” I lose it at “old you was a diaper” every time!

          Reply
      3. Happy Lurker

        Koko – that is some good advice that I will try to use! As is all the above advice.
        OP I feel your pain and hope you can find your own happy medium. It is good to see that you are not alone. I also feel very frustrated when other people do not do what they are supposed to, but rather the bare minimum. It drives me bonkers to have to clean up their messes.

        Reply
    4. Deloris Van Cartier

      OP, I hope you know there are other people out there who struggle with this as well. I could have written this letter myself as I’m someone who gets very invested in a job and I can struggle to not let my passion for my job override my professionalism at times. After getting in some trouble for not reacting as professionally as I should have when I wasn’t included in a proposal for my program a few weeks ago, my mantra is “keep your head down and keep your opinion to yourself unless you asked for it”. I realized that just because I have a lot of knowledge, my leadership may not want to hear it and that’s ok. I’ll keep doing my job to the best of my abilities but I’m taking a step back and really focusing on just whats asked of me. It’s been hard but I find having some breathing/meditation apps on my phone has helped when I start getting stressed about something going wrong and wanting to fix it. Sending lots of postive thoughts your way!

      Reply
  3. Emi.

    Additionally, is “developing a better attitude and coping skills towards work” something you talk about specifically with your therapist? S/he ought to be able to help you with that a lot!

    Reply
  4. Lil Fidget

    I wouldn’t chalk all these issues up to anxiety / depression, for what it’s worth. Some of us really DO struggle with the imperfections of a place of work, and that’s not just a brain misfire – it’s a part of your personality that you can trust and listen to. In your career you should work towards finding a place that takes your efforts seriously and produces a quality product – those are all your waking hours, after all! Why squander them. Dealing with the delay while you get to that place is the tough part mentally.

    Reply
    1. paul

      If it’s impacting you enough that you’re crying, after work, because of other’s people work having mistakes, I think it is *probably* worth approaching your therapist about though. It’s obviously significantly negatively impacting OP’s life.

      Reply
      1. Lil Fidget

        That’s true, I would say it’s outside the norm to be routinely crying about this kind of common, non-malicious dysfunction in the workplace. It would probably be good for OP to look into coping skills. I burn off workplace frustration with running, for example.

        Reply
        1. Lil Fidget

          Note: I did not mean for that to come off as dismissive of people’s very real mental health struggles! Therapy and medications are a lot better than something like exercise for someone with depression or anxiety!

          Reply
          1. CC

            She does say she exercises regularly too. Sometimes you do all the “right” things and the conditions persist (she said, from experience!).

            Reply
            1. Fortitude Jones

              My question is, does OP have another hobby outside of work? This may be answered down below, and I’ll keep reading, but does OP do anything besides work, exercise, and go to therapy? Maybe joining a book club or getting involved in community theater or joining a charitable organization would help OP to leave work at work. I have OCD, depression, anxiety, and a host of other health issues, and I’ve noticed that the points at which I’m feeling very adrift and frustrated at work is when I have nothing else going on in my personal life to counterbalance it.

              Like, I’m a writer. I used to write and publish books at my last job because that place was awful and the escape into my own little make believe worlds helped me get through the day. After I left that place and came to my new company, I stopped writing. It’s been years since I’ve published anything, and I truly believe that’s part of why I’ve become so miserable in my current job (which I’m thankfully leaving Friday – yay!). All I was doing was coming to work, getting stressed out and pissed off at work, coming home and worrying about being stressed and pissed at work, maybe studying for a designation exam, and then doing it all over again the next day. My therapist pointed this out to me, and it was like a light bulb went off – I need to get a life outside of work and therapy. Exercise is great, but sometimes it’s not enough.

              Reply
              1. Lil Fidget

                This is very true, I find that I need both in my life – a creative outlet to channel positive energy, and a physical outlet to channel negative energy. I can’t sit down to make art if I’m frustrated, although I’m sure there are people who succeed very well at this. But, I’m probably a more irritable person than most – that’s how my experiences get channeled (rather than through depression or anxiety, I mean).

                Reply
                1. Fortitude Jones

                  I can’t sit down to make art if I’m frustrated

                  Oddly enough, this is one of the few instances where words just seem to spill from me and onto the page. I have trouble writing when I’m happy, and that’s a large part of why I stopped for the first three years at my new company – I wasn’t desperately trying to make enough money to sock away for a great escape. I was content. Contentment is my worst enemy besides my own brain, I swear.

                  Anyway, I just wonder if there’s something the OP does or can do that can get her out of the house and out of her own head for awhile once she’s left work. Possibly something that can be done with other people, too – whenever I do solo activities and shut people out, my anxiety gets worse because I feel alone and like no one understands what I’m going through.

    2. SansaStark

      I wonder if it would help to think of this as the first step to getting to that better job? Using this experience to learn what and how you’d do things differently and to build a solid work history with strong references. I’m in a similar situation and I like to think that I’m learning a lot about how to do something from the ground up. It helps me get through those really frustrating days knowing that I’m on the staircase to what I really want.

      Reply
    3. Alton

      I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a combination of things. The OP might feel better working somewhere with a greater respect for organization and doing things right, which is commendable. But their anxiety and depression may be making it harder to cope with this work environment in the meantime.

      That happened to me. I really did hate my job, but when I was depressed, it was a lot harder to deal with it.

      Reply
    4. Clever Name

      On the other side of the coin, I don’t think you can dismiss that they AREN’T at least somewhat attributable to depression/anxiety either. Reading this letter also felt very familiar to me. My ex-husband is also a programmer, and has nearly identical complaints about his company and his coworkers. He gets really worked up about it, and would also rant endlessly about it. He has been diagnosed with depression and has been prescribed meds for it, and I wouldn’t be surprised if anxiety is part of the mix for him too. It’s great that you’re in talk therapy, and if you aren’t discussing coping skills you can use at work, you might find that helpful if you did.

      I’m seeing a lot of concern about how other people are working and how other people are doing things wrong. While it is good to care, it’s not good to care so much about something you really have no control over. I’m working on a very high-profile project right now, and it’s a hot mess. My mantra of late has been “it is what it is”, and I’m focusing on my small part and doing my best on that. When a deadline gets moved, “it is what it is”. When we don’t have the necessary information to meet a deadline, “it is what it is”. This project really could be very stressful to work on, but I’m not letting myself care about it too much. Hopefully you can get to that place so you can work your job until it’s time to move to a place where people care more about their work. A lot of people really don’t care about doing things more efficiently or better quality, but there are companies out there that do care about those things, and I think you’d be a great fit for those types of companies. Good luck! You’ll get through this.

      Reply
    5. zora

      As someone who does have anxiety/depression, I actually totally identify with this letter writer and know exactly how she is feeling, and for me they are connected. Not that the anxiety is the only reason she’s feeling this way, yes, clearly this was not a great workplace, but I’ve totally found myself getting more worked up than I need to be about things at work, to my own detriment.

      I know we talk about it a lot here, but for anyone else who might be reading, if you are having similar anxiety and depression issues to those described by the OP, definitely consider therapy!! This is exactly something I’ve been working on with my therapist, and she has given me some very specific tools that have really helped me a lot in separating my feelings of self-worth from the drama at work. This is definitely the kind of thing a good therapist can help you with!

      Reply
    6. Stranger than fiction

      So true. Crying once and a while after a particularly bad day is normal imo. Every day would be really bad though and a sign there’s probably no hope for that company/problems too big for little ol me.
      But being invested in your job and wanting to contribute to the big picture and not just be a clock in/clock out/not my problem drone is also normal to me.

      Reply
  5. Bend & Snap

    I was like this before I got diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Meds helped me react appropriately to work, identify when things were real issues vs. arbitrary anxiety triggers and not mentally bring work home with me. Maybe that’s something to explore with your doctor?

    Not armchair diagnosing, just sharing a personal experience.

    Reply
  6. ArtK

    *sigh* That letter describes me all too well. I care, passionately, about what I do and distancing from that is very, very difficult. It’s kept me in bad jobs several times (along with a real reluctance to take risks and embrace change.) I’m currently going through the end effects of another one; company is failing and I’ll be there to close the doors — third time in my career. Should have bailed out much, much sooner.

    Reply
  7. AnotherJill

    I used to be a software developer and I understand what it is like to arrive fresh and shiny with a lot of ideas on how it should be done, only to encounter other developers, often self taught and ingrained in old seat of the pants ways. Trust me, you can’t change them by approaching them directly. In the software industry, you really have to prove yourself first.

    But you can effect change and better practices by doing your work well, producing bug free, documented, tested, and working parts. You also have to ignore the personal stuff. Most programmers are a snarky lot, and you really need a thick skin. Yeah, I know, easier said than done. Focus on your parts, do them well, and you’ll gain the standing you need to effect change.

    Reply
    1. ThursdaysGeek

      Right. Show them that your way actually produces better code, and still in a reasonable amount of time. Until they see the results, your arguments are just words. And by the time they see your results, you’ll have more standing as well. And more time in the job, so closer to another job. (But most places are like that, so changing jobs will often not change that aspect of programming!)

      Reply
      1. High Score!

        I’ve produced better results for 30 years. I still hear the “its not pretty but it works” song and dance from sloppy coders who won’t change their ways. Which is sad since poorly written code is miserable to maintain and impossible to secure.

        Reply
        1. Engineer Girl

          Dunning Kruger. A B level player will never ever understand the beauty of A level code. They will never understand that writing well architected code reduces problems everywhere.

          Reply
          1. Shiara

            Or they agree! They think it’s great! They’re absolutely going to look into it!

            But then the code needs to get out and they haven’t had the time to really look into it, so they’re just going to quick use what they know works and just patch this over here, and they’ll totally come back and fix it later when they’ve had a chance to read up on it more and oh hey did you see the latest episode of Game of Thrones? There’s this really funny youtube clip here let me link it.

            Reply
          2. Sleeping, or maybe dead

            +1, dunning-kruger is real and must not be messed with.
            I know the temptation of thinking that someday, eventually, people will come to their senses and realize your proposal was better all along, but it is not going to happen.
            Maybe you will be able to make it happen when you are high enough in hierarchy to call the shots, but I am not willing to compromise my body and mental health until god knows when.

            Reply
          3. Connie-Lynne

            Yep. OP, I understand your need to build a track record, but after two years, get out and try to optimize your job search for a shop with kind, smart people.

            They exist, the good folks are congregating in them, and leaving the old-school snark-based set-in-their-ways shops to fizzle out. There are lots of whisper networks out there with folks actively working to help people extract themselves from the toxic places.

            Reply
        2. ThursdaysGeek

          And that’s also because, in spite of the advertising, there are a ton of lousy programmers out there. In fact, half of them are below average, and many, many of them are far below average (to offset those few brilliant ones).

          Reply
    2. OP

      I think this would work at a less dysfunctional company. As I wrote above, I got fired from that job, and one of the reasons given was that I chose to spend my own time at work on documentation and testing, which they saw as a waste of time.

      Reply
    3. Pommette!

      I wonder how feasible this is for people who work in an environment where no allowance is made for documentation, testing, and quality control. Unless the OP is able to complete all of these steps in as little time as it takes her peers to complete their first “draft” code, she runs the risk of being seen as slow and ineffective.

      I have zero programming ability, and work in a different field, but have experienced tensions similar to the ones the OP describes. Working in a place that does not allocate time for quality testing and documentation can mean having to choose between getting things done on time and getting things done well (except for those lucky people who are both very good and very fast at what they do; by definition, these people are rare).

      Reply
  8. art.the.nerd

    The Letter Writer wrote:

    > I’m a programmer … [and] a woman in my late 20s

    > I try hard to communicate well and listen to others but it feels like sometimes I may as well be talking to a brick wall.

    > And I tend to get emotional. I’ve cried at work, I’ve cried after work ..

    Men in general, and programmers in particular, tend to tune out

    * criticisms of their work not accompanied by facts

    * emotional arguments

    * waterworks (crying at the office)

    (Source: first-hand experience of 35 years as a male programmer.)

    If you can show the other programmers a better way to do something, they will resist at first but will eventually adapt it. In the meantime, remember that you are the most junior member of a team that got along just fine before you joined it.

    Reply
    1. Old Jules

      IDK, my husband struggles with the same issue and he is the most logical person I know. He is not a crier either. His peers are still behaving the way the OP co-workers are behaving. I tell him that it’s not his circus and not his monkey when he rants to me about it.

      Reply
      1. Sunshine on a cloudy day

        I swear I could have written this letter. Like it’s creepy how exactly similar my issues in my old role were (with the exception of working in programming), though apparently this letter has really resonated with other commentors as well.

        “Not my circus, not my monkeys” repeated as a mantra was the only way I could get through the day (and I still handled the situation incredibly poorly, I acknowledge, but it helped). Anytime anyone did something that was just completely illogical, error-prone, ridiculously apart from best practice -“not my circus, not my monkeys” over and over in my head. I’d also picture the person in one those little organ grinder get ups or with the clapping cymbals. It helped lighten my mental state.

        Reply
    2. The OG Anonsie

      IME, they’ll often also tune out criticisms accompanied by facts and completely unemotional arguments. A lot will also decide you’re starting a big silly feelings fest any time they don’t like what you’re telling them, even if you are sending them accompanying documentation and don’t give a single crap if they listen or not.

      So I quibble with the assertion that if she’s right people will listen, and the only reason she’s getting the blow off is because she’s being overly touchy-feeling in her communications with people. Plenty of folks who are used to getting their way are not ever gonna agree someone else is right about anything. There’s something to be said about being the new, most junior person and making suggestions, but even if she’d been there for 15 years this would still be something she’d be hitting up against at least sometimes.

      Reply
      1. Shiara

        Yeah… entrenched programmers at a small company used to doing things their way in silos and dealing with a certain level of dysfunction and poor testing practices combined with poor documentation are not going to be particularly receptive to a junior dev’s initiatives for change towards industry best practices, no matter how unemotionally and logically presented. And even with top-down management buy-in, culture shifts on that scale take a lot of time. It’s a shift that’s still happening at my company, but based on some of the legacy code, we have definitely come a loooooong way in the past decade, but there’s still quite a ways to go, and heavily team dependent.

        … I need to go tell my team lead how much I appreciate him and his ability to shield us from the worst of the dysfunction now.

        Reply
      2. ArtK

        Yup. “Don’t confuse me with facts, my mind’s made up!”

        I’m a guy, so I don’t have the gender-related credibility deficit and I get resistance.

        Reply
        1. High Score!

          I don’t think this is actually a male female thing, it just appears to be. Programmers are a crusty bunch. I’ve seen male programmers nearly come to blows over code disagreements. Unfortunately it’s usually sloppy coders who win, they convince the powers that be that their way is faster. I write neat code and put in way less hours. No one notices that my code is bug free, easy to maintain and secure and sloppy code is the opposite since it is all part of the same project and I often get called to help fix bugs others put in the code. I understand the frustration.

          Reply
        2. art.the.nerd

          > “Don’t confuse me with facts, my mind’s made up!”

          I don’t know if you are referring to OP’s co-workers, OP’s response, or my comments.

          > I’m a guy, so I don’t have the gender-related credibility deficit and I get resistance.

          Absolutely. If (for example) I went into a PHP shop and advocated for C#/.Net, I would expect considerable resistance. Same thing for node versus react.

          I suspect the resistance has more to do with OP being new to the job than to her gender and communications style. You may disagree.

          Reply
    3. Haley

      It sounds like she’s offering suggestions that are well supported by facts. I think you’re misinterpreting the fact that she FEELS too emotional with her work performance being based on emotion and not logic. She sounds perfectly logical to me, just being ignored.

      Reply
    4. QuiteContrary

      Men in general, and programmers in particular, tend to tune out
      * women
      * women
      * women

      Fixed it for you. That is what you really wanted to convey, right?

      Reply
      1. Tommy Merlyn

        People in general tend to tune out:
        * people who take a comment they made and accuse them of sexism
        * people who completely twist what they said and accuse them of sexism
        * people who see a reasonably crafted constructive comment trying to add a helpful perspective to the conversation and then jump down their throat about it

        Fixed it for you.

        Reply
        1. sin nombre

          That comment was neither constructive nor helpful and it was sexist (“men in general and programmers in particular”!) with no twisting required whatsoever. Calling out sexism is not worse than actual sexism, and I have no patience left whatsoever for this “argument”.

          Reply
        2. Sleeping, or maybe dead

          “emotional” and “waterworks” are dogwhistles extensively to dismiss women in the workplace, as any woman can tell you as long as you are willing to listen to them.

          Also, a man failed to see the anti-women bias where multiple women could see. Maybe because women are more aware of misogyny than men? If you truly wanted a constructive discussion, you would stop, listen and think for a while before assuming a defensive stance.

          Reply
      2. art.the.nerd

        I am happy you are sufficiently omniscient to reduce my post, based on a reasonable reading of the OP’s own story and words, to simple-minded misogyny on my part. You have certainly convinced me with your facts and logic.

        Reply
    5. High Score!

      Female software dev here. I’ve spent 30 years presenting stone cold logical arguments, facts and examples of better code. I always get excellent reviews, my code is easy to maintain. AND I have no followers. No one else wants clean code or code reviews or hints or suggestions. When I make suggestions, I hear the “it’s not pretty but it works” (no it doesn’t) followed by mockery of beautiful code (i always say clean not pretty). I can’t wait to retire….

      Reply
      1. sunny-dee

        It’s not condescending. If you want to guarantee that a room full of engineers will completely ignore whatever you say, start crying or getting emotional.

        Reply
        1. QuiteContrary

          We have no idea if she is crying in public. A few sniffles in the bathroom or in her cube/space may be unnoticed. If she’s bursting out crying in a meeting room, that is definitely a problem, but she doesn’t say that. And she’s writing in specifically asking how to keep from getting too emotionally attached, which one would assume would lead to her being less emotional around colleagues. Also, people probably have different tolerances for what is “emotional”, and IME, men have extremely low tolerances for what is “emotional” in women. We are the weaker sex after all! I’m sure they miss the good all days, when a wink and a smack on the bottom cheered women’s spirits.

          Reply
          1. sunny-dee

            That’s true — I actually read it as her crying in public and getting “emotional” in how she dealt with people, but if it’s all behind closed doors, that’s totally different.

            Reply
            1. Elizabeth H.

              I interpreted it as the latter (feeling emotional privately rather than interacting with people in an emotional way) while I was reading the letter.

              Reply
        2. Jam Today

          That’s weird. I’ve worked with a lot of male developers who get loud and angry and they seem to do just fine with their “emotional” states. I wonder what the difference could be…

          Reply
          1. Sleeping, or maybe dead

            Came here to say that. Men in my workplace get extra mean when they see a woman crying, but will promptly obey any orders giving by a man yelling and punching the table. They will say woman are emotional, and that crying is “cheating”.
            On the other hand, when I, a woman, speak just a little big louder, I am a “hysterical” “crazy b*tch”.
            Hmm, I wonder why the difference in treatment. /s

            Reply
          1. Trout 'Waver

            Getting upset shifts the attention away from what you’re saying and onto how you’re feeling. My gut instinct when someone is upset is to try to help them feel better.

            Reply
        3. Liane

          As a matter of fact, it reads to me as “I cry at home after work” NOT “I burst into tears at work, in front of co-irkers and bosses.”

          Reply
        4. Shiara

          Ah yes, those rooms of engineers who all behave identically to all emotions ever.

          Sure, getting so emotional it interferes with your ability to communicate coherently tends to be detrimental to coherent communication. And engineers stereotypically tend to dismiss certain types of emotional displays. But in healthy environments, showing passion and enthusiasm (emotion!) isn’t dismissed out of hand. (and if I broke down crying, the software engineers in my team would immediately start paying attention to me and what I was trying to communicate because they’re NICE PEOPLE). Also in unhealthy environments, certain types of emotion (anger) expressed in certain ways (yelling) will get you taken more seriously, rather than less.

          The LW has a lot going on, and her environment sounds pretty dysfunctional. It’s highly unlikely she’s going to find that the right robotic voice magically makes all the dysfunction go away. Even if she just leads by example, it’s unlikely the dysfunction will actually improve. Her best plan, in all probability, is to do the best work she can, try not to make too many waves, learn all she can about what not to do and what crumbs of what to do she can pick up, invest in something appealing in her spare time, and get out in a year or so.

          Reply
          1. sunny-dee

            Well, yes and no. I have (very rarely) cried at work because of something personal, and the engineers around me were incredibly supportive and understanding.

            But if I started chasing a senior engineer down to start complaining about how they don’t have a testing strategy for a feature they’re working on and got emotional to the point of tears, that wouldn’t underscore how important testing it. It would be a bizarre emotional reaction that didn’t match the situation, and I wouldn’t expect them to take that seriously. *I* wouldn’t take that seriously, even if they were right, because the emotional breakdown >>> the minor work point.

            Reply
            1. Shiara

              Sure. I understand that your initial statement was intended as a sweeping generalisation and not to be taken literally (although there are people, outside of engineering, who really do think of engineers as this monolith and it’s one of my pet peeves because, frankly, ignoring the diversity already present within the field just makes it harder)

              The thing is, whether the LW is presenting her arguments cogently and then tearing up from frustration in the bathroom, or whether she’s having a meltdown over minor syntactical style disagreements, (and we don’t know which she’s doing from the letter) the advice she ask for was about “putting a reasonable amount of effort into my work and letting it be “just a job” to me.” The original commentator telling her that her problem is that she’s not making sufficiently logical arguments and that if she did and just demonstrated the inherent superiority of her methods through her work and people will eventually adapt did come across as condescending. In my admittedly less than 35 years of experience in the field, software engineers are not as rational as they like to to think they are, and they are definitely creatures of habit. Myself included!

              Reply
          1. sunny-dee

            Actually … we don’t know that they are.

            I get really emotional about the quality of other people’s work. Although I am the youngest and most junior person …

            This is a very junior, job-hopping person who gets so emotional about other people’s work that she cries, she is chasing all of her (more senior) peers down to explain how all of their processes are wrong and their quality sucks, and she is complaining about the project manager and team lead. This may be a horribly, horribly dysfunctional team made of incompetent jerks … or the OP may not be the best at working on a team. Because a lot of this seems to be frustration at people not doing what she wants.

            Reply
            1. LBK

              I wasn’t referring to anything specific to the OP’s situation. I was responding to this:

              If you want to guarantee that a room full of engineers will completely ignore whatever you say, start crying or getting emotional.

              If engineers generally think emotions invalidate someone’s intelligence, they’re being a-holes.

              Reply
              1. Trout 'Waver

                That’s not how I interpreted that statement. If someone is visibly upset, an engineer is going to try to solve the problem of the person being visibly upset before they tackle whatever that person is trying to tell them.

                Reply
          2. Lora

            Ha! It is a long-standing joke that engineering is a great job except for having to work with engineers all the time.

            For the most part it’s not that bad, but the silo’ing described above means that a-holes can get away with being a-holes in their little silo full of missing stairs for a very long time indeed without ever being taught how to comport themselves in public.

            Reply
        5. ket

          I gotta say, I’ve had STEM guys tell me not to get emotional when I read the weather in a monotone — if they disagree with the forecast. Sometimes just existing in a female body and having an opinion is “being emotional”, regardless of whether I give a *(^ about the topic.

          Reply
        6. Elizabeth H.

          I’m friends with many programmers and I feel like virtually all of them are high strung and prone to getting anxious and agitated from work stress.

          Reply
        7. Mary

          LOVE THIS. It’s Tim Hunt all over again. People who cry in the workplace = emotional. People who freak out because someone cried in the workplace = oh so totes rational and not emotional at all.

          because freaking out because someone cries is totes definitely a rational thing to do and not a ludicrous emotional over-reaction!

          Reply
        8. J.B.

          Engineer here, and it doesn’t matter how well supported what you have to say is, people will tune it out. And if you’re female and match the intensity of the male person digging his heels in then you get told you’re being EMOTIONAL. Try it sometime, so much fun!

          (I won because I was right but mainly because he couldn’t overrule my certification.)

          Reply
      2. Sparkles

        Yes. Thank you, I am glad someone said it. Get over your pride that a woman *might* have a thought, let a useful one?!

        Reply
    6. HR

      remember that the attitudes you express here are a key reason engineering teams often have problems retaining women. “oh you have constructive criticism of my work? better back it up with extra evidence or i’m not going to give you the time of day.” I see this attitude from men responding to a woman’s criticism all the time, in and outside of engineering. it’s because the woman has a point and the man is insecure.

      source: female of HR at a software company, and i train men like you on these issues all the time. sounds like someone needs some unconscious bias training

      Reply
    7. Engineer Girl

      Sorry, no. I’ve had people tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about even when I’m introduced to them as the expert with x successful projects and x years of experience.
      They don’t want to change so they aren’t listening.

      Reply
      1. Lynn Whitehat

        Yup. I have encountered plenty of devs prepared to die on the hill of not writing unit tests or documentation. “LOL, why would I waste time writing things that won’t ship… when I could be writing things that will!” Of course that is not the right way to think about it, but there are people out there who will seriously fight this battle to the death.

        Reply
      2. sunny-dee

        Is the OP being introduced as an expert though, or does she just feel more expert than her peers? It’s not clear to me from her letter that the things she’s complaining about — testing practices, training needs, etc — are something that she is supposed to own or fix. She says that she keeps asking for things that put people on the defensive.

        Again, these could be stereotypical jerk engineers, but she could also be alienating people so they aren’t listening to her when she’s actually right.

        Reply
        1. Sleeping, or maybe dead

          I suppose Sin nombre meant *male* programmers, lil fidget. That would make the sentence make more sense.

          Reply
          1. sin nombre

            Sorry, I broke the quote tags. “Men in general, and programmers in particular” was a quote from whoever I was responding to. “Wow” was from me.

            I know what the person I was responding to probably meant…but it’s not what they said. And what they said logically implied that “programmers” is a subset of “men”. And that’s not cool. And it’s a pervasive attitude that leads to pervasive problems that push women like me and like the OP out of tech.

            Reply
            1. Sleeping, or maybe dead

              Oops, sorry, I also read your comment differently.

              +1 to what you said. Reminds me of the time there was a brainstorming activity aimed on all engineers on possible improvements on our product. We were handed forms in which we should fill in our name and idea.

              It said “Name: Mr.______”

              I wonder what the intern who prepared the forms thought all of us surly ladies were doing, sitting in desks in the middle of the Engineering department. What business could we have there?

              Reply
  9. Anne

    I totally get this – I work in a creative field and often my work is edited or modified by others, sometimes improving it and sometimes NOT improving it.

    But really, you cannot get this invested in your work product and stay sane. It’s not like a group project in school, where everybody winds up with the same grade at the end and a slacker group member will torpedo your grade. You do your piece of the work as well as you can, and when other people make changes you disagree with, you sometimes just have to let it happen, and usually those changes are not as awful to other people as they seem to you.

    I had a micromanaging boss once who would not let any work product go out until she had read it line-by-line multiple times and made multiple rounds of changes. She taught me never to be that kind of boss, or supervisor or coworker, because all her quest for perfection did was to grind everyone else down and waste hours her own time every week. But she just didn’t trust other people’s work to be as good as hers.

    Reply
      1. Anne

        The first time my new boss said “I don’t have to review this before you send it out, I trust you!” I legit teared up a little bit

        Reply
  10. Wolfram alpha

    Been there done that. I am almost 30 and can say that later on life it is easier to care less. Also counter intuitively your bosses perception of your performance will improve when you disengage a bit.

    I found it helpful to ask myself a question tree. Until I got a “yes” I did not do it.
    1. Did my boss explicitly ask for this?
    2. Will not sharimg this information result in legal ramifications or directly harm a patient?
    3. Has recipient shown themselves to be open to feedback of this nature and will likely use the information to do good?

    If “no” is your answer don’t do it.

    Reply
    1. Sharon

      I’ve found that your “yes tree” works in my experience too. The problem I’ve encountered is that when you use it, then you’re not taking initiative on anything. So then you just like like you’re there for the paycheck and you’re no longer promotable. :(

      Reply
  11. Second Lunch

    Ugh, this is a tough feeling. Somehow, it’s such a thin line between caring too much and completely checking out.

    Reply
    1. Lil Fidget

      Yeeeaaah, that’s the issue – OP, if you do decide to care less and successfully adapt a “I’m just here for the paycheck, doing the minimum I need to do and keeping my mouth shut” attitude – don’t be surprised if it quickly goes too far and you become The Slacker! It really is a balance and it’s tricky. Signed, somebody who became The Slacker whoops.

      Reply
  12. AvonLady Barksdale

    On a practical level, I find that I get over-invested in my job if I don’t have something else to focus on in other parts of my life. For me– and I also suffer from anxiety– when it’s just wake up, go to work, go home, lather-rinse-repeat, my job becomes the main focus of my life. When that happens, every bump, large or small, takes on so much meaning and takes up all of my energy.

    My solution, which I didn’t even realize at the time, was to become more active in one of my hobbies. This is easier said than done, I know, but I often recommend similar things to colleagues. Join a group of some sort. Take a class. Make a standing date with several friends where you explore something new. The key is to have one set night a week (or two weeks, anything regular) to do something that has nothing to do with your job, that requires concentration and a different type of work. When I started getting immersed in my “side gig” (unpaid, but still a side gig), my job took a smaller role in my feelings of self-worth. I was able to exercise different skills and solve problems differently. I felt valued in different ways. In the summers, when this hobby slows way down, my job becomes a looming behemoth again and I struggle, so I try to find ways to occupy my non-job time in the summer too.

    This isn’t an answer for everyone, of course, but if there’s something you enjoy doing that you can do more regularly/formally, then I highly recommend giving it a shot.

    Reply
    1. Sled dog mama

      Oh yes, this!
      Work starts taking over my life (emotionally) and the first thing happens is always that I get frustrated with my 3 year old because it seems like she knows just when mommy needs emotional space and decides that she must (emotionally) sit on me. Hubby and I have a signal for when one of us sees the other getting overwhelmed and we’ve made a habit of having her go to a kids night out every 2-3 weeks not so we can have date night but so we can each have hobby time. (I’m super excited he finally agreed to take a ballroom dancing class with me. It doesn’t start until January but just the anticipation is getting me through the holidays)

      Reply
      1. BadPlanning

        Also, for awhile I was way to soft on dumping my regularly scheduled hobby meet ups for work. I finally told myself to stop (as usually the work turned out to not be so critical as it seemed). If something’s really on fire, of course I’ll bail on hobby, but I lean heavily towards, “I have a hard stop. I can look at this first thing in the morning.”

        Reply
    2. QuiteContrary

      This is really great advice. Work takes on a lot more weight if its the main activity in your life. Another suggestion would be to learn a new skill or task–take a cooking class, learn how to throw a pot, or try gardening herbs. I love taking free courses through things like Coursera; I study things completely unrelated to work, and it gives me an opportunity to focus on something completely non-job related. It’s a great de-stresser and keeps work from accumulating too much emotional weight.

      Reply
      1. Evergreen

        Agreed!!! I was in a similar situation to the OP and yourself: I took up a sport I was terrible at – it gave me something to focus on and succeed at on my own terms.

        Reply
    3. rldk

      From another of the functioning-with-anxiety club, +1000000 to this. It’s amazing how much easier it gets to let things go at work when you have other things in your life you care about and enjoy!

      Reply
    4. Awkwardest Turtle

      All the yes to this.

      Definitely suggest that the OP gives themself something to look forward to whether it be hobbies, vacations, socializing, reading, whatever.

      I also really struggle not to get aggravated at work a lot. When I feel particularly irritated my mantra is “I just have to get through today.” Small steps help. Maybe OP could try to pick one coworker at a time to ignore, or just one day a week that they give themselves a break from caring. Exercise that not-caring muscle a little more each day until it is strong.

      Hope that made sense.

      Reply
    5. KK

      This is excellent advice. I recently found myself getting overly stressed and worked up about things at work, and realized part of my problem is that I leave work, go home, plop myself down on the couch, and stare at the TV for rest of the night.

      Now, my husband and I have decided to run a half marathon and train together. It’s exciting having an evening of training to look forward to after work each day. It gives me so much more fulfillment in life. :)

      Reply
    6. OP

      Thanks.

      At the time I wrote this I was doing two sports and saw friends regularly. So I don’t think it was a lack of outside interests.

      Do you have any other advice for caring less about this stuff?

      Reply
  13. Colorado

    I can also relate. I’ve been working for 25 years in my industry and still battle with this fine line. It truly comes from a place of caring about my work product and how it affects the company overall. But I also have to remind myself it is a J-O-B, a means to an end. Sure, my employer cares about me too but I don’t think upper management is home stewing about what I produce on any given day. What I found helps is to focus on other things that make me happy outside of work. Hobbies, family, time alone, time with friends. It’s so hard to turn it off but try to plan activities after work a couple days or a home project that takes your mind off work. I think this is very common for most of us who just give a shit. Sometimes I envy the people who really don’t.

    Reply
  14. Mary

    This sounds like a very frustrating and confusing workplace, OP! I think you may be partly right that this is about your anxiety, but it also sounds disorganised and lacking in professionalism and low in morale. Not all of this is your fault!

    Here are a couple of other things that might help you manage your frustrations:

    1) specifically, what are the structures and issues that make this a frustrating place to work? Can you turn them around and think about what green flags you’ll look for in a year’s time when you are starting to job search again? What questions will you ask to make sure your next role and working environment is a better fit for you?

    2) thinking even further ahead, what lessons can you learn here for if/when you’re managing teams or leading projects in 5-10 years’ time? Just play Fantasy Boss in your head: look at the structures and objectives and policies in place and what they mean in practice, and think about how you would change or adapt them.

    These things can help you feel like you’re learning even though the environment is frustrating, and that can go some way to keeping your morale up.

    Reply
  15. Weekday Warrior

    This is a great answer to a really important question. We all need to resolve the attachment/detachment question in many areas of our lives and not doing so leads to much unhappiness. At work, I’ve called over attachment the “sin of the committed”. It very often comes from a good place, as with this OP, but unresolved it will eat you up – and have an unintended negative effect on others as well as yourself. Think of Holly Hunter’s character in Broadcast News! When another character asked her sarcastically whether it wasn’t a burden to have to have the answers others didn’t, her eyes welled up and she sobbed that it WAS. I saw myself in that character and ramped it back!

    Reply
  16. The Rat-Catcher

    I needed this letter so much. I’m an admin assistant and I’ve only been 3 years and never done the frontline work of our organization, so I keep my mouth shut a lot. But there are times when the people I support are just plain wrong about facts (referring to a whole separate department as a subset of our department – we train people, so this is actually important as this information is given out to new employees; it’s not just a nitpicky difference) and those are so hard to handle because they’re sure they are right and I feel like such a jerk getting on the website to show them that the department is, in fact, separate. But it’s important because our workers don’t need to sound stupid when telling our clients what our department consists of when our clients probably know better.
    When it’s more of a judgment call situation, I just employ a lot of CYA so that if a mistake is found, I can show that I’m clear.

    Reply
  17. k8

    One thing I’ll mention is that in my experience in tech, job-hopping is less of a deal than it is in other fields, especially early on. IME a younger programmer leaving a company at ~12 months is totally normal. A lot of what you’re dealing with can be resolved by changing how you approach your job, but no one wants to work somewhere without testing, docs, etc– and that kind of dysfunction *can* get really stressful. imo you could leave this gig in a few months and not worry about how it looks on your resume.

    Reply
  18. High Score!

    I’m a female software developer/ programmer/ engineer. I’ve been doing this 30 years. I have worked in many jobs and industries. I have bad news. There are an astonishing amount of bad coders. So many things in our world rely on software and sloppy code is tougher to maintain, tougher to debug and impossible to secure, hence all the hacks…

    My advice to you is to do your best everyday. Take long lunches and unwind. Remember its not personal, they’re just dimwits. Put in 8 hours ONLY. If you work overtime, you’ll get stressed and get LESS done. As soon as you leave work, listen to happy music, think about your family, your dinner and your evening/weekend. Fight the good fight and then go home and enjoy your not work life.

    Hang in there. Don’t lose your coding morals.

    Reply
    1. The OG Anonsie

      I’m with this. Do what you can do and know that all those more senior people doing whacky stuff are all still kicking around in this company with (probably) good reputations.

      Reply
    2. Engineer Girl

      I have over 35 years in software and systems engineering. The program you have described has very, very serious issues that you can’t fix. Get out, get out, get out. This is not your anxiety speaking. This is your gut telling you that you’re on a sinking ship.
      Consider:
      • refusing to answer about test methods – if they had them, they would proudly answer you.
      • project not a priority with management (they’re putting this one on the back burner for others)
      • lack of engineering discipline- no processes and push back when they are suggested
      • gaslighting – if an engineer won’t tell you their status then they are seriously behind. Especially if you are junior. Most senior engineers are happy to mentor a jr engineer asking questions. They don’t get defensive about it unless they are having problems.
      • unwillingness to make time up front to save time at the back (we are too busy to do that). Guaranteed chaos at integration.
      • Don’t have time to teach people the technology so they can write good code. Oh, goody! Spaghetti code! You can’t write good and efficient code if you don’t understand what is going on underneath. These people are idiots.
      • someone changes your code without consulting you. What? Is there no change control? Is there non configuration control? This is really bad. No one should be changing someone’s code without coordination.

      Really OP. The issue is that this place is a horrible place with no engineering discipline. This isn’t your anxiety. This is them. And you can’t fix this level of mucked up.

      Reply
  19. BadPlanning

    I’ve been programming for 15 years. Early on, during some especially busy times, I invested too much and paid with tears and extreme frustration.

    Eventually, I realized that I needed to back off — it didn’t help me or my job to make myself sick. Eventually it really helped when we entered a busy time and the expectations were absurd early on so I could just say, “Well, that’s just unicorn demanding silly (and I said so). I’ll just do my best, but not my unhealthy best. ” And you know what? Things got cut/changed/pushed out. I didn’t have a personal meltdown.

    I know everyone hates the song, but sometimes you do need to sing, “Let it go” in your head.

    I’m sorry your coworkers crossed the line in jokes/snark. I am also pretty sarcastic and have to dial it back sometimes (I am female). It’s a coping device and sometimes useful and sometimes fails. I’ve seen the same trends come, go and come back again as “new.” It’s hard not to be cynical when you’ve experienced, “But this framework is the same as the last three with a new name and no new fundamental change to how things work” a couple times.

    Reply
  20. Akcipitrokulo

    Oh, so familiar! I’m a tester, and the point at which the business decides that the bug you found isn’t that big a deal, and why do you want to write test plans anyway, and it doesn’t take that long, all you do is check it works, right? Right…

    OK, the time they were actually breaking the DPA I reported them after I left (should have done it sooner but… needed job…)

    I also have suffered anxiety and depression and the stress of caring too much. It’s really shit

    It’s frustrating. It drives you up the wall. And they are WRONG!!! and they don’t listen…

    Change what you can… if you have the energy. If you are given enough time, write good documentation. If there is anyone you think may help, chat to them. But then…

    It’s OK not to care. It is awesome that you do, and probably makes you someone very worth employing – but you can give yourself permission not to care so much.

    You can’t control other people’s behaviour. They think their eay of doing it is fine. One day that will bite them in the arse. That is unfortunate but it is NOT YOUR RESPONSIBILITY.

    Take care of yourself. Make your work good. Let issues you can’t influence go.

    I know that’s hard – possibly being aware that the energy you put into worrying about their (lack of) processes could be spent making your part even better.

    In short… do what you need to survive, try not to let bad habits infect you and remember it’s not just “just a job” … it’s “just a job that is not going to be my career”.

    I can’t remember most of the things I literally cried about at home 10 years ago. Future you probably won’t either.

    Let it go.

    And document every time you get told not to do it right. Don’t show anyone unless you’re being blamed for something… just have a bit of evidence in your back pocket.

    Reply
  21. Kalkin

    Oof, I’m sorry, OP. This really resonates — especially “the more senior people on the team insist that we don’t have time to write documentation or teach people how the technology works so they can write good code.” I’m not a programmer, but leadership at my company has almost zero interest in creating documented processes, establishing timelines or schedules, or even assigning clear areas of responsibility. It sucks, because we spend so many hours in meetings with anywhere from four to a dozen people at a time, going over minutiae that could be handled via email while never getting traction on the big stuff. It could be A LOT worse — I get paid well and enjoy my immediate co-workers (who are really good; I wish we had more power here) — but the constant knowledge that I am contributing nothing valuable to the world wears me down.

    Thank you for your letter, and thank you to Alison for her advice.

    Reply
    1. annejumps

      I write end-user documentation, and my colleague writes internal documentation. We are no longer surprised when companies have no interest or experience in documenting processes of any stripe.

      Reply
    2. Sharon

      Most of the places I’ve worked for were like that, too. Both when I was a software engineer and now that I’m a business analyst.

      Funny story along these lines: At a former company I was working (as a BA) with the architect to design a new application for internal company users. I quickly gave up trying to lead the effort (design is either a BA’s job or a UX/UI guys job and since we didn’t have a UX/UI guy…) because he always completely ignored me. So I’m watching him design this thing with three different data entry screens and he was designing it completely with ease of programming in mind. What he was describing would have required the user to enter some data on screen 1, hop over to screen 2, hop back to screen 1 and finally over to screen 3 before completing the data entry task. He had no concept of work flow, and I was trying to get him to understand. Finally I got exasperated and asked him “how is the user going to KNOW he has to jump over to this screen and then that screen?” He looked me dead in the eye and said, “just tell them!”

      Reply
  22. i'maskingamanager

    Thank you for your honesty. I think anyone who is committed to their work has this conflict at times. An anxiety disorder would definitely exacerbate the issue. Just remember that a lot of issues get factored into how work gets done—time, money, expertise, other work in process–as well as egos, insecurities, office politics, and emotions. It isn’t always about the best way to do the work.

    Reply
  23. Chatterby

    I am a big fan of giving people enough of the rope they’ve asked for to hang themselves.

    Do your part well and how you like. Save all copies before sending it to others. When they mess it up and you get blamed, pull out the old one to compare, detail how you tested it exhaustively, then show exactly where the other person effed your work up, and how they could have done it in half the time and more effectively.

    Quantify all comments from now on instead of crying. “If we did it it ___ way instead, we would save ___ time, and it would be easier to go from there because of ____.”

    Being inconvenient is also a big tool that can work in your favor. Whenever someone sends you crappy work, return it with comments on the fixes it needs before you can touch it. Sure, they’ll be annoyed and probably complain, but eventually they’ll realize that it will be way less hassle if they do it the way you’re going to make them change it to in the first place and adapt. BUT, Since you’re youngest and newest, use this sparingly, and only when something is blatantly wrong. Such as when something does not function; I’d be totally fine sending it back and saying “this doesn’t work as needed and requires more testing before I can do my section. Changing ___ on line___ may fix the issue.” rather than re-writing everything to ‘fix’ it on your own.

    Reply
  24. dr_silverware

    Hello LW! I’m a woman software developer and I have some field-specific advice.

    First, eight months is not so long on the job. One of the most valuable things you can do for your perspective is understand that you do have a lot more to learn from the people at your workplace–you won’t know how much more until you’ve been working at the same job for a bit longer. So hold that in the front of your mind. You definitely know the specific framework better than they do, and have good habits of testing from previous jobs–but your coworkers are making their modifications for their own reasons.

    Two, make sure that someone–actually, everyone–knows about your progress and the work you’re doing. I promise you that you are not advertising your ability and the work you’re doing well enough. When you have meetings, report what you’ve done with confidence that you’ve done it well. Completely own your part of the project, and do not own other people’s parts. “The http endpoints are all stubbed out, I’ve finished implementing the paintTeapots endpoint and I’m working now on the putHandleOn endpoint. No, I don’t know what’s happening with fitLidToTeapot, that’s Fergus’s area.”

    Three, set your own priorities and make those clear to your project manager and bosses. If they say that the demo is on April 16 and you’re not sure when you’re supposed to have the code finished, set your own sub-deadlines for finishing, debugging, etc.

    Finally: you are always going to be working with people unless you go rogue and do your own app thing (and then you may swiftly find yourself working with people again). People will always feel anxious about having their work criticized and reviewed; people will always have different skill levels; people will always reach their fingers into the code you wrote to change things that need changing and possibly mess something up in the process. That will happen no matter what job you go to (and sometimes you’ll be the less-skilled one and feel really resistant to change).

    Reply
  25. Dust Bunny

    My current work situation is better than this, but at the same job under a former boss, we had all sorts of weird, outdated, and wildly impractical practices . . . none of which it was my job to change. I’d ask, and if the answer was no, then the answer was no, and I let it go and allowed my bosses to deal with the fallout (of which there was really very little). However much you get paid, it’s not enough to fix the whole system at your workplace.

    Reply
  26. Old Jules

    This sounds like something my husband faces in his company too. He works does the dev ops work and it does feel like he’s talking to a brick wall. Here are different method to dealing with issues that I recommended to him.
    1. Not my circus, not my monkey
    2. This is above my paygrade (Notify the power that be and if they don’t care, let it go)
    3. Find a sponsor in the senior leader’s level who can actually make a difference. He has made quite a few changes because he found a senior leader that could sponsor some of his continuous improvement ideas
    4. Accept that, sometimes people aren’t interested. There are a lot of egos in the room with you. Everyone wants to be the smartest in the room. Accept it and move on.
    5. Put in your time and when it’s up, job search. (Not something my husband is willing to do)

    Reply
  27. Lora

    Oooh! Oooh! *raises hand*

    When you are thinking about your next job, may I suggest you look into industrial automation/controls type software?

    At LastJob, management was trying to be all edgy and highfalutin’ and stuff, and hired a bunch of ex-Google, ex-Microsoft dudes to be our IT department. They put us on a bunch of cloud services and apps, instead of spending the $$ on the tried-and-true, trustworthy software/hardware that is yes, not sexy and all boring looking.

    It was an unmitigated disaster. DISASTER. The crap they gave us was completely unusable. They also were blissfully ignorant of the previous programming work that had been done in 2003, and set about re-inventing it from scratch and then wondering why none of us science geeks were impressed with their ability to make an app slower than a 2003 Perl freeware program.

    See, if Microsoft gives you a slightly buggy beta-ish program that sorta-kinda works and only crashes on certain operating systems, no big deal, they’ll send out a patch in a year or two and they don’t think about it all that much.

    If software controlling my reactor crashes because it was a Tuesday with a full moon, best case scenario I have to dump a $2M batch down the drain. Worst case, there’s a crater in the ground where the building used to be. I need that stuff to work super-solid, all the time, 24/7/365, no updates or anything like that allowed more than once every two years during a planned shutdown. I NEED it to not have bugs, in the same way that you need oxygen. Like, all the time, not just whenever, and I can’t work my schedule around an update with less than say, a year’s notice. Not even kidding.

    Getting the brogrammers to understand this was impossible. I finally gave up and used data loggers that put everything on SD cards and laptops that were not connected to the network at all. The brogrammers didn’t like that very much: all hardware should be networked! NOT THIS ONE. You sandbox EVERYTHING in automation. You sandbox it until it is fully validated and proven to be rock-solid, and you sandbox it while it’s doing its job, and you sandbox it while you update it. The brogrammers learned this the hard way. Management made a bunch of excuses for them for a while, but eventually the real automation people decided to ignore them completely. The response from R&D when they do something they think we will like is: aww, that’s cute…I did something similar when I was an undergrad, with Microsoft Access.

    We need that level of nitpicky and concern in automation. Please, if you know anything about SQL databases and you can learn WonderWare or DeltaV or Rockwell, we need this kind of attention to detail. We don’t really do crying, process controls people need to be fairly boring to work with (explosions do happen, and it’s best if everyone stays calm while we all file out to the parking lot to count heads) but you’d be mostly cooped up in a little room either by yourself or with one or two other people for the most part.

    Reply
    1. Sharon

      I would LOVE this environment. Do you happen to be in the Washington DC area?

      I used to work for a county E911 agency (as their computer support person/programmer) and that was similar in terms of NO DOWNTIME EVER. Management once hired a vendor to come and upgrade our servers. They were redundant so it should not have required more than a couple of minutes of downtime (this was in the 90’s). However the vendor’s idiot shut down ALL the servers and then proceeded to read the server manual for how to upgrade a system. That was a rare time when I went completely ballistic (and was ignored by management). Our dispatchers, cops and fire personnel had to operate using paper cards for 2.5 full days. It still kind of ticks me off to remember it….

      Reply
    2. Sue No-Name

      Can we just clarify something that seems to be coming up a lot on this thread? “We don’t really do crying” isn’t really a unique characteristic of some field or workplace.

      It’s more the exception than the norm that crying would be fully acceptable or otherwise something people take fully in stride without dinging the cry-er for lack of professionalism (see Alison’s other posts on the topic, like this: http://www.askamanager.org/2014/06/my-employee-constantly-cries-when-things-dont-go-her-way.html)

      Reply
      1. Lora

        I meant it more like, this is 99.99% uneventful but when stressful things happen you really do NEED to stay calm, type of thing. But yeah, agreed.

        Reply
    3. MashaKasha

      I worked in a similar environment (all the way up to and including using WonderWare, and having Rockwell people coming on site, taking our managers out to lunches and trying to sell us their products) for a little over six years in the early 2000s. I’d say there were pros and cons, at my place of work at least. I did like it that we COULD NOT HAVE BUGS, not even tiny ones, not even the once-a-month or it-should-never-happen ones. And of course I loved being able to see the tangible results of my work (finished product, that my software helped create and keep track of, going out the door on trucks 3 times a day). What I didn’t like… mind you, that was 20 years ago and I wanted, and was able to, learn and use everything cutting-edge the moment it came out… putting any kind of change into place was extremely difficult. The entire six years I worked there, there was constant talk of rewriting the old legacy systems, but there was no way to do that in reality, because of all the risks and the downtime involved. Four years after I started, the company stopped paying Wonderware for support and licensing, but our software, which used it, still ran on the shop floor, because again, impossible to rewrite. Ten years after I started, and four years after I left that place, I briefly dated an ex-coworker from there. He came over one day, and greeted me with, “hey I saw your laptop the other day”. – “???” – “it has the only working version of Wonderware on it. They keep it under lock and key”. That’s FOUR years after I quit that job. So uh… I don’t know. And I’m not saying that your place is necessarily as slow-paced as mine was. But it has to be to some degree. It comes with the territory. And I think OP is looking for something more cutting-edge and fast-paced. I’d almost advise OP to consider relocating to Silicon Valley or a similar area, and look into the newer, younger startups there. (Or, rather, look first, relocate when you have an offer.)

      Reply
      1. Lora

        This is true. Validation costs of any change are not cheap: one day of down time is $100,000 per manufacturing suite, and there are usually at least three manufacturing suites per building, plus paying $150/hour for a regular validation engineer and $250/hour for the automation specialist, so that’s pretty much why we never ever make changes if we don’t have to.

        I am That Engineer myself. Even my home computer runs on an operating system that is embarrassingly old. And I keep hardware long after it’s bricked “just in case”. The day Ed McMahon goes door to door giving out $500 for every dusty hard drive in the house, I’ll be a wealthy woman…

        Reply
    4. Cedrus Libani

      I feel your pain. At the last place I worked, we resorted to literally hiding computers from IT. One instrument had a dummy computer in front of it, while the real computer was inside a cabinet.

      This saved our butts when the Windows 10 upgrade came around. We got a frantic email from that vendor, saying something to the effect of: “PLEASE do not install Windows 10. It will brick your instrument. On that note, please be patient with customer service in the near future, as several of our customers now own a $500K paperweight, and we’re trying to figure out how to fix it.” Apparently the fix involved buying and installing new circuit boards, and it took a few weeks before that happened.

      By the time we got that email, IT had already put Windows 10 on the dummy computer. Paranoid engineers FTW.

      Reply
    5. BeenThere

      I just wanted to put it out there that the worst job I had was in automation and controls, there is no perfect industry however this was the most sexist place I worked.

      Reply
  28. JD

    Not that I agree with this but as you are still new in this job I can see it coming across as condescending and know it all. Now, I think you likely do know it, but I can see how they feel that way.

    So not saying you don’t know it. Based on how you explain an industry I truly don’t know, it does sound like what you are saying makes total sense. I just think this is likely THEIR perception. One thing is that you cannot control others feelings just your own. SOOO much easier said than done but I know my mother uses this mantra, she also gets very invested in her work in a similar fashion to you, and this sort of has helped her realize that sometimes if someone is going to have a negative reaction to something they just are regardless of if they are right or wrong. I think accepting that often comes with age, experience, life experience. You kind of just learn to let it go, as the song says.

    Frankly, not knowing, I kind of assumed all of these types of things are tested. I mean one would think so. Seems pretty darn logical to me. Isn’t code millions of lines? (I know basically nothing about this!) So wouldn’t an error be SO simple to make in allllll that data?

    Reply
  29. RVA Cat

    I’ve been there, I’ve soooo been there.

    Let these be your mantra: “Not my circus, not my monkeys” and “That’s above my pay grade.” Just focus on doing YOUR job to the best of your ability, and let go of this need to fix your co-workers. There is no One Correct Way.

    Reply
    1. CM

      I was also going to suggest a mantra! Something that you can repeat to yourself to calm yourself down and remind yourself: This is not my problem. This is not my responsibility. This is someone else’s area and I need to let them handle it.

      Do your own job as well as you can. You are actually being a less effective employee by caring so much that you’re giving others a hard time. To be really great at your job, try leading by example. Let others come to you and ask how you wrote that awesome test, or tell your manager that you have a proven idea to improve the team’s output, rather than telling your team members what to do.

      Maybe consider taking a mental reset for a month or so. Give yourself a short period to not care, and during that time strive to just get your work done and walk out of the office and not think about it until you walk back in.

      Reply
  30. Fabulous

    If I were in your position, I’d just take the time to proactively write out an SOP or FAQ for the common mistakes you’re finding. Perhaps when you brought the idea to your boss it was dismissed because they couldn’t think of anyone who would do one, and they’re not about to take the time to put something together. Write up a 1 or 2-pager and present it to your boss for him to decide whether to circulate. I think that would help to ease your mind into the fact that you’ve done all you can do about the situation.

    Reply
  31. Jake

    This exact attitude is what has plagued my whole career.

    My problem was more about pouring in 80 hour weeks in an (always failed) effort to do whatever it takes for the project to succeed, regardless of whether the workload is reasonable, sustainable, or even mine to do.

    My first few solutions were to job hop. Now I’ve got enough experience to know what a person in my position is typically able to handle. I put in enough effort to accomplish that, and if i have leftover effort, only then do i worry about anything else. If I’m expected to do more than a typical person in my position, and it requires more effort than I’m happy to put forth, I tell my manager very directly and bluntly that I can’t do it.

    Keep in mind effort can be emotional, physical, mental, time, etc.

    Its a very tough lesson to learn, and one I still haven’t fully learned

    Reply
  32. HCG

    This letter is exactly how I feel about my current work place, and have felt in the past. This job in particular is very challenging in this aspect. In general, my advice is to talk specifically to your therapist about this issue. This really helped me to put some things into perspective in previous jobs. At my current job, I’ve decided not to make any further recommendations that are “above and beyond” the day to day scope of my work. For me that means things like making more strategic suggestions as my company and supervisors are not open to that. If something directly impacts the specific situation I’m working on, I try to frame it as “I’m thinking of doing xyz – does that make sense to you?” I focus on the small stuff – not the big stuff – even though I know I have great suggestions that could help my department long term. For me this has meant a lot of intentionally “checking out” at my job which is difficult to do because I am very invested in my field and feel very passionately about it. One method I’ve been utilizing in particular is to write a suggestion or comment down before I bring it up to anyone, and then I sit on it for a day and rethink – is this worth the struggle to bring up or suggest? 90% of the time, the answer is no. This leaves me less frustrated overall and better able to handle the things that I do feel I really need to push for (in my line of work, the things I most often find myself pushing on are things specifically related to legal situations where I feel strongly we’re entering gray area that may not reflect well on the company.) I’m very lucky in the sense that although I’ve only been at my current job for about a year and a half, I was at two previous employers for 3 years each prior to this so job searching at this point doesn’t seem to be too strange to anyone, especially since I am finishing my masters soon. If you can grit your teeth and at least make it a full year, you’d be doing yourself a favor in terms of job searching.

    Reply
  33. Master Bean Counter

    My advice is to pick your fights.
    You can’t change it all at once. Take a step back and figure out something small that will also be a time saver in the long run. That’s the easiest win. It’s a way to start proving yourself. Gather enough small wins, then you can talk to your boss about tackling the big issues.
    And maybe you just work in a place where change is never going to happen. But you can look for ways to learn about how thing are done. Start asking why. There is power in understanding.

    Reply
  34. LBK

    I think you just have to take up “this is not my problem to fix” as a mantra, as Alison says, and repeat it to yourself over and over. It can be so, so hard to do if you’re someone like me who has a strong disinclination towards passing things off or letting them go when I know it will cause other problems. I killed myself at previous jobs picking up slack for other people especially when I knew something would affect a customer and I just couldn’t bring myself to allow that stuff to slip through the cracks.

    But ultimately, unless you’re literally doing life or death work, you do have to force yourself to just let some of that stuff go. For one thing, being the cleanup crew means no one ever has to face consequences for what they overlook, and they won’t learn from their mistakes as a result. For another, I found it actually allowed me to learn to prioritize better, because I found that there really were some things I could just let go or put off and it wasn’t the end of the world. I was treating too many things with a sense of urgency – which isn’t necessarily the worst philosophy because it pushes you to be responsive, reliable and thorough, but you have to learn when that’s appropriate and when you can do something 75% of the way and it will still be fine.

    Take this as a chance to clean the slate and allow yourself to rebuild your prioritization metrics. Start only doing the things that are actually your tasks for which you’re personally accountable and let everything else go. It’s going to feel terrible at first but even in just a few weeks I think you’ll realize that the stress of allowing things to slip through the cracks is a lot less than the stress of trying to catch them all by yourself.

    Reply
  35. Argh!

    I have been working at being less invested where I work too. I’ve always been passionate about my work and career, but my current situation is extremely de-motivating. My current goal: perform well enough not to get fired, focus my energy on projects that will go on the resume or onto the web, and keep my head down. In my situation, people have gotten away with being vague, uncooperative, mediocre or passive-aggressive for 20 years or more. I am proud not to fit in here, but there’s a cost. Fortunately there is so much turnover that I can find people to collaborate with on interesting projects occasionally. They arrive, all eager and energetic, do interesting things, then leave after a couple of years. I would have left, too but I stayed (too long) for family reasons.

    Reply
  36. theletter

    I’m in a similar boat (QA Engineer, woman, self-taught) and I’ve definitely had times where I wanted to lose my cool with fellow coworkers. What helps is:

    1. remembering that I get paid to do what is required of me, and that includes, at times, being a team player to get stuff done. Perfect should not be the enemy of good.
    2. reminding myself that I am in control of my work, and that’s what matters. Other people’s work is other people’s problems.
    3. getting a high priority or prestigious project can do wonders for your career and the attitudes of your coworkers and managers.
    4. Other people make mistakes, but I still get paid. Heck, I can make mistakes and still get paid. People could accidentally throw my work away, but I still get paid. They could change course and toss out the whole project, I still get paid.
    5. find someway to count down to the two year anniversary. Go to networking events, make contacts, use your vacation time to really disengage.

    Reply
  37. Maya Elena

    That sounds like a really frustrating situation. I have a few cautions based on my own experience, though not with programming.

    0) This applies to both points below. You might not have been in any job for long enough to see that time alone may heal most wounds. In my experience, it has taken a year for me to feel “at ease in my skin” in a new job at several jobs now. I also had many, many moments of “why is the management/company/senior coworker being so STUPID”, but given enough time errors were corrected, issues addressed, decisions made, etc. Corporations are slow, that’s nearly universal.

    1) Do you know for sure that your coworkers are wrong? You probably don’t work with 100% lazy idiots, so there may be method to their apparent madness. It have also had the experience where I jumped in trying to redo something to make it better, but hit the same roadblocks others before me must have seen, or even foreseen, and then I wasted a bunch of effort to just do it their way. Yes, it would be nice if they explained their reasoning, but you can’t always have that.

    2) Are you actually upset about the *work*, or the lack of validation you’re receiving? Unfortunately, if the latter, it is nice to have, and something a truly friendly team extends by default, but it is *not* an entitlement. I’d bet your coworkers aren’t trying to put you down or in-validate you, they just aren’t going out of their way to acknowledge you; I think for a lot of people, more often for women (me included), this is really jarring and off-putting at first. But any attempt to demand validation will only backfire; it can only be obtained organically, by slow work and familiarity over time.

    In sum, I very much believe that things will start to turn up for after a year there or so, and that time will fix a lot of these issues. I think keeping this in mind can help get through the rest of this year, and maybe might even help speed up the process of acclimation.

    Reply
  38. InfoGeek

    You might ask if the company ever does Lunch & Learns or Brown-Bag Lunches where people present various things. If so, you could give a tips & tricks one on the framework (or some aspect of the framework).

    If nothing else, create a list of counterexamples from work. These are the ways NOT to do it. You have the example of the bad choice and the result from that choice.

    Reply
  39. mAd Woman

    I’ve definitely struggled with this. I want all projects to go out perfect, but my coworkers and bosses want it good enough. It helps me to think of this mismatch (and my work being forced into their standard via low time limits or lack of resources) as just different priorities. If my boss wants it just good enough and not perfect, then I understand that to be his property and I’m paid to prioritize things the way he says.
    So that might look like asking myself:
    Will the client notice this imperfection?
    Does the imperfection reduce the end user’s ability to use this product?
    Does the imperfection cause frustration for the end user in any way?
    Does the project meet the brief if the imperfection stays in it?

    If my boss, the client and the end user would not notice or be upset by the imperfection, then it’s not a priority and I can let it go.

    That doesn’t help when someone else causes me to do more work. So then I just try to be like a factory worker focusing on the task at hand. I only have 9 work hours a day so I can only complete so much. My boss can tell me the priority but eventually slowed work will change how he manages other people’s output. If I just work day and night to fix it, it never becomes a pain point for my manager so it only hurts me.

    Reply
  40. animaniactoo

    OP, if this helps you any – I am 44 years old, I’m the most senior person in my department, my opinion is respected in many areas of my company, and I am in many senses functionally the team lead for my dept although not being officially named so.

    With all that — I sometimes still have issues finding the line when it is time to let go. It has been a long hard struggle to get just to the point where I am okay letting it go most of the time.

    I’ve managed to bring innovation and willingness to try different things by doing 2 things and 2 things only. 1) Being meticulously organized and GOOD at it, leading the way on learning new stuff and figuring out how it can help, and 2) Small steps towards it even as I’ve built that rep and now hold it.

    —————————

    Off of that, I have 2 pieces of advice for you.

    1) Step back and identify first what affects YOU most. Address that with your manager as the issue that you need solved because it is affecting you, your work, and down the line the company’s ability to continue on the base work that is happening now.

    I’m talking about the code that is creating errors and bugs, and will only get worse over time. There are reasons to do things a non-standard way sometimes, but people *have* to be willing to be brought up to speed on some portions of the software so that their work is productive and not the next hurdle to get past when it needs to be fixed. Tomorrow and next year when somebody has to go in and edit or try to build on it then.

    Find the most egregious and bring those up. Make the solutions as quick and to the point as you can “Go here and do this instead”. They may not actually need to know why they are going here and doing that instead right now – they just need to know that going there and doing that will be less likely to result in an error. Yes, I know you’re programmers and you should all know – but right now, you need the battle you can *win*, which is not necessarily the same battle as the one that *should* be won. Down the line, as they see it work, they’ll start to pick up why it worked or want to know more about why it worked and they’ll likely start to be more open to learning what they actually should know as the basis of it all.

    2) When you suggest a different process that would be faster (or some such), be clear about how much faster it would be and ask if you can take the time to show them. This approach is much more likely to be met with at least a willingness to look at it. But if they say no, that’s the time to let go. You’ve offered, they’ve turned you down and accepting that turn down will actually make you someone they are willing to listen to at some point in the future. Simply because you didn’t press the point when it was an issue of convenience rather than core need. In doing this, you’re showing respect for your co-workers and what they need to focus on for themselves to handle their workloads – even if what you want to show them would make it easier. If they don’t have the upfront brainpower to handle it, it’s an impediment they don’t have time for right now. Because if they learn it right now, they may not be able to make this week’s or this month’s deadline. Respect that. Respect the possibility that they’re right for themselves, in that moment.

    Reply
  41. kcat

    I’ve found the “circle of control/influence/concern” concept helpful for these situations. Know what you can control, what you can influence, and try not to stress about the rest because you’ve already identified it as something you can’t control or influence.

    Another tactic is to try to pour perfectionism into things outside of work. Improve code and documentation in open source projects, volunteer to help build a house, build your own side project.

    I manage programmers and rely on them to push me to best practices, as for a long time I was the sole programmer and can be set in my ways. Sometimes the way they present things can be a barrier to adoption: “we should do it this way, it’s better” rather than “I have some ideas regarding process improvements.” Another aspect is timing – bringing up ways to improve processes while people are under a tight deadline is tricky: they hear “let’s make this more complicated while I’m already super stressed.” A better way is to suggest little things during regular standups and meetings, or even over coffee during down times.

    But really, learning not to stress about things is a lifelong process. I’m still not great at it, but I’m getting better as I age. Sometimes I just have to let go and do the weird, unwieldy thing because “it’s the way it is done” and leave it at work.

    Reply
  42. Jady

    I work in software engineering also, approaching 10 years. OP has described every single job I have ever had, current included. My husband also does this work too, and he would easily say you just described all but 2 jobs he has ever had.

    Warning to OP: This is an extremely common scenario. I’m sorry. There are some companies that are better, but they will be hard to find.

    When you next job hunt, it’s especially important to follow Allison’s advice about interviewing the company. Ask questions that would indicate a good company from a bad company. I would also recommend if you’re able to, ask to talk to a QA person. Usually devs interview devs, but QA often has a wider perspective.

    Some additional questions to consider for your position specifically:
    – How does this company define Agile? (Seriously… so many companies claim agile but all it means is they have daily status meetings. Does their answer actually match what agile really is? And if you don’t know much about agile yourself, read up. )
    – What does your release schedule look like? What is your release process?
    – What does testing look like? Do you have unit tests, automation tests, is it all manual testing? What kind of test coverage do you have?
    – Ask why a lot. If they say it’s all manual for example, ask why. If they say “because we don’t have time for automation”, run away.
    – Ask what requirements look like, who writes them, how clear are they, etc.

    These kinds of questions will give you a massive amount of insight about a software dev company.

    Also, once you have some significant experience – evaluate the benefits closely. This is something my husband pointed out – the good companies he has worked for had generous benefits. These are the companies that acknowledge they need to retain quality people. Software dev is in very high demand, and is likely to be for the foreseeable future.

    And note, the questions you are asking and problems you are raising are a GOOD thing, if you worked for a good software dev company. You are inexperienced, yes, but most of these are questions that should always be easily answerable. (Release schedules excluded – those may not be answerable if you’re at the whim of customer demands.)

    And for anyone outside the industry: A developer saying that THEY tested their own software is a massive, huge, giant, scary problem. It’s an industry wide basic understanding that testing must never be done by the person who wrote the code. There are books written about this kind of thing, and entire methodologies created around it. No exaggeration here.

    If a dev tried to pull that on my team, as someone with high seniority and experience, I’d be having a very bad conversation with that person’s boss.

    For the meantime, Allison’s advice is good. Worry about what you’re assigned, and leave the rest at the door. I’ve made a rule for myself that once I walk out the door – work-related thoughts are just not allowed. Once you’re able to do that – things become a lot easier.

    Good luck.

    Reply
    1. Surrogate Tongue Pop

      OP – all of the above by Jady is very well written! Sounds like being in an Agile environment as a developer might help your style of working in the long run (the team succeeds or fails on projects, not individuals). Many shops claim they’re Agile, but really it is a facade, unless you ask some of the probing questions Jady has outlined above. In addition, depending on your geographical area, there are many Meetups specifically for IT, software development, project management, DevOps and Agile. It’s an incredible resource to participate in and learn about new tools for your career toolkit. There are also virtual conferences online that have a nominal cost ($40-$60). I just attended one and many of the sessions were very relevant to my current work. Best of luck…no matter where you are in career experience, we all never stop learning.

      Reply
    2. Tau

      This is fantastic advice, and basically how I got from my last shop to my current one.

      The only thing I’d add is that you should definitely dig into the answers for all of these, not just agile. A lot of people will throw around buzzwords with no understanding of what they mean. Pretty sure management at my last place would have said that our code was fully tested and had unit tests. “Fully tested” meant we had a QA team that tested manually. The “unit tests” were that for each release, the devs had to fill out an Excel spreadsheet with each bug they’d fixed and the minimum steps to take in order to verify it was gone. There were no automated tests.

      Reply
  43. Maya Elena

    From my experience, it takes at least a year to feel at ease at a job.
    Also, being inexperienced, you might find thst there are factors that you don’t see thst make others’ messy solutions better than your clean ones.
    Finally, are you emotionally invested in WORK, or validation from your coworkers? Unfortunately, you landed on a team that doesn’t do so de facto, and you can’t really force it; their appreciation of you, unless they’re all evil egomaniac psychopath misogynists, will come with time as well.

    Reply
  44. Connie-Lynne

    OP, sometimes having a good wuppprt network you can bounce things off of or vent to can help. If you’re on hangops Slack, pm me — clynne — and I can invite you to the secret ladies in tech support channel.

    There’s also the WIT Slack team.

    I’ll grab the signup URLs for both of these a bit later today if any other ladies in tech are interested.

    Reply
    1. Daughter of Ada and Grace

      Ooh, also check out Google’s Women Techmakers communities. They have three: Early Career, Mid-Level Career, and Established Career. There’s a Slack channel for each, plus a monthly newsletter and various conference opportunities.

      You might also check if there’s a Women Who Code or Girl Develop It chapter in your area. In my area, both groups have their own Slack channel as well as regular in person events.

      Reply
    2. Connie-Lynne

      Hi! Here’s the hangops signup URL — sign up for it, ping clynne, and I’ll add you to the lady group:
      https://signup.hangops.com/

      It turns out that for the all-ladies all-the-time WIT slack I’ve misplaced the signup URL , so I’m waiting for an admin to get back with me.

      Reply
  45. Mananana

    Years ago, the great Scott Adams had a Dilbert strip wherein Wally had just realized he gets paid the same regardless of whether he’s doing his actual work or if he’s standing around flipping his fingers.

    That strip saved my sanity on those days I found myself being assigned projects that I knew were futile. Or when I was fixing someone else’s mistakes. As Allison said: if these errors/mistakes/problems aren’t going to be an issue a year from now, then accept that you’re getting paid the same regardless of how much time you spend working around their mistakes.

    To quote the Scott Adams: “Out, out, you demons of stupidity.” Repeat to yourself as often as necessary.

    Reply
  46. Susan the BA

    I saw that the OP provided an update above, but my advice to someone in similar situations: get a journal (or a google doc or whatever) and write down all of the ideas and advice that you have. Call it “My Manifesto for Being Awesome” or something. Whenever you’re tempted to give advice that you know you shouldn’t (because your coworker reacts to advice really poorly, because you’re very junior/new, because it goes against the culture of your workplace), just put it into your manifesto. You’ll get the satisfaction of having done *something* and you’ll also be helping yourself prepare for future interviews/positions because you’ve done a lot of thinking/writing about what makes a great employee and what your priorities are.

    Reply
  47. NW Mossy

    OP, I see in you shades of both myself and several people I’ve managed over the years. While I don’t work in software myself, I manage analysts with similar characteristics around being intensely conscientious and bone-deep committed to producing output that’s as close to perfect as possible.

    If I were managing you today, the part of your follow-up I’d laser in on is your fourth paragraph, where you discuss being unable to disconnect from quality and describing others who don’t place it as the highest priority in somewhat unflattering terms. That’s something for you to work on, because it can and will follow you from job to job. It’s about your self-perception of what’s most important, and it sets you up for continuing conflict with people who prioritize differently from you. Those kinds of people exist in all companies; it’s exceptionally rare to have everyone in a company be 100% in alignment on priorities at all times and not shift priorities under changing conditions.

    It’s a very hard mental rut to break, and I know that from experience. It’s like that old xkcd webcomic about “someone is wrong on the internet!” – it feels almost physically painful to let an error pass. The tool that helped me break the cycle was to stop calling them errors in my head. Whether you call them differences of opinion or priorities matters less than consistently reinforcing the self-message that your role is not to place a value judgment on what others do. Instead, it’s to understand why they do what they do by asking questions from a place of curious observation rather than assuming anything about their character as people. Doing so builds the relationships and mutual respect that will then give you far greater influence to change outcomes.

    Sometimes other people are wrong. Sometimes we have to let them be wrong, because you can’t “fix” other people. Sometimes we will see others get burned by their mistakes or catch some of the heat ourselves. All of this is normal and a consistent feature of working with others in a shared enterprise. Extend to them the grace and compassion about their foibles and failings you would wish for them to extend to you. Even if they don’t deserve a bit of it, the benefits to your own well-being are so profound as to be worth any “unwarranted” gain they may receive.

    Reply
  48. OP

    Thanks everyone for your responses. I want to clarify something that came up a lot.

    I don’t think I ever cried in front of anyone; generally I would be doing so in the bathroom or at home after work. I do think my level of emotional investment probably came through in conversation though.

    All the discussion is interesting but to be honest, between Alison’s letter and the comments I still don’t feel like I have specific steps to take to feel less emotional about work. As I wrote above, part of this was the specific environment I was in being cruddy. But I was doing hobbies, seeing friends outside of work, and not really working any overtime.

    I do think a big part of this was that I didn’t feel respected at work, but also I didn’t respect the decisions of more senior people, because of specific signals they gave that they didn’t care. Joking about how bad the legacy codebase was but refusing to do anything to avoid those problems in the future, not answering questions in a useful way, insulting the end users, and criticizing those of us who tried to go above and beyond (in a way that involved our own work, not trying to change others’ behavior) for wasting time.

    Some people noted that my lack of respect for more senior people was probably visible, and I think that’s true. On the one hand, it’s probably a skill I need to work on. On the other hand, it’s a lesson to me that I shouldn’t work for people who act in a way I feel I can’t respect.

    I don’t feel like I’ve ever really worked in a white-collar environment that was healthy and respectful. I remember some jobs before and during college that felt more functional. I don’t have a basis for comparison so I don’t know how much of this is my depression vs. working with jerks.

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      If I was going to distill the advice in my response down to one sentence, it would be “Don’t invest beyond your pay grade when you’re seeing signs that it’s not wanted or appreciated.”

      That’s what I meant by all the stuff in the column about caring more than people above you care, and letting the people whose job it is to care do the caring. You’re essentially doing unpaid labor that you haven’t been hired to do.

      Reply
      1. JulieBulie

        I don’t know if OP is still reading this, but “Don’t invest beyond your pay grade” (or “don’t care more about something than the person who is responsible cares about it”) was the best, most sanity-saving epiphany of my entire career.

        To that, I would add “maybe even if your investment IS wanted or appreciated,” if that’s someone’s attempt to transfer responsibility to you for something that’s on the verge of going to hell in a handbasket.

        Reply
    2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

      You could also try to look for a work environment that would welcome your emotional self. I did, in my last job search; it was important to me to be somewhere that understands employees as humans with emotions, not just laborers with skills.

      It has its downsides — everything is a tradeoff! — but if that’s the way you relate to work, perhaps you should be somewhere where it’s welcomed.

      Reply
    3. Sharon

      I don’t have any advice but can totally empathize. I’ve worked in companies where it was openly admitted that they spent a lot of time fixing stupid mistakes because they didn’t have time to write documentation. At one company my coworkers actually joked about the “D” word not being allowed to be spoken there. See my previous comments in this thread. And in my my current job I’m being required to use the same awful, inconsistent formatting and incomprehensible language as the worst coworkers use “because we don’t want the document to be inconsistent”. Yes, they don’t want me to make an inconsistent document more inconsistent by making improvements! They have made me go back and rewrite stuff.

      So, sorry. I feel your pain.

      Reply
    4. NaoNao

      If you’d like some concrete advice, here’s what I would say:

      First, when you start to feel emotional, acknowledge those feelings and describe them and the symptoms mentally “I feel my cheeks flushing and my thoughts are starting to race and circle. Okay, I’m getting upset.”
      Secondly, frame the symptoms and thoughts as temporary: “I’ve felt emotional before and I will again, but this will pass. I can act on it or simply see and acknowledge my feelings.”
      Thirdly, choose your course of action: You can choose to de-escalate the emotions, or you can choose to observe and let them pass. You can also choose to act on them if it’s urgent enough.

      I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that you were a highly successful student in school/college? Many very bright people who were successful in the structured environment of school sort of struggle in the less structured and more subjective work environment. (Myself included).

      Teachers generally like bright, inquisitive, self-starters. They generally value learning for learning’s sake and the evolution of knowledge and iteration of ideas, and a student who respectfully suggests innovative solutions is welcome.

      Bosses? Hit or miss.

      So, my other advice is one that really, really worked for me. Observe. Take a LONG time at new jobs to observe. Say very little except to ask (sort of) buttery up questions. Listen. Watch. Read manuals and watch tutorials and attend meetings.
      Try to learn the “machine language” of your new job. What is the operating system they are working with?

      I struggled for years and still do, to some extent, to understand “humans” but after I sort of focused on it as a project, rather than fighting it and getting mad and seething with frustration over their incompetence, malfeasance, etc, it got much better.

      I suspect that the contradictory instructions and write ups happened after the team had decided you weren’t a good “cultural fit” (for what sounds like a terrible culture) and this was their back handed way of forcing you out. It was a bad idea, but I don’t think it was based on reality.

      Anyway, I’m very glad you found something WAY better and good luck to you!

      Reply
      1. Robin Sparkles

        This is actually useful for any of us – I tend to get angry and emotional and have such a hard time talking myself down. Although for me-it isn’t so much managing physical reaction as saying something biting verbally.

        Reply
    5. Elizabeth H.

      In terms of concrete steps . . . I run into the issue sometimes, not of getting emotional, but of craving “ownership” in perfecting something that doesn’t really matter, nobody will suffer too much without its perfection, and where my boss wants to do something in a slightly different style than I do. We work together a ton on documents and wording and it’s like where I want to format things differently, use different phrasing, etc. It can be hard to repress the desire to kind of fling myself forward with my proofreading cape on but I basically just tell myself over and over again, she’s the boss, it’s doesn’t have to be up to me, other people’s way of doing things is ok, done is better than perfect, this has nothing to do with me, I have plenty of stuff I can do in exactly my own style, etc. etc. So the basic strategy is literally saying this to myself inside my head. I say it out loud too, “I don’t feel strongly about this,” “It’s up to you,” “Like I said earlier, I think it could be a good idea to do x; I’m happy with whatever you decide.” Saying stuff like that out loud helps reinforce it too. This is not the world’s highest tech strategy but might be very slightly helpful.

      Reply
    6. Turtle Candle

      Speaking as someone else with anxiety who tends to get overly invested—

      One thing that makes a big difference for me is explicitly paying attention to my self-talk and limiting the stuff that’s likely to reinforce my sense that everything is terrible. What I mean by this is that if I notice myself thinking, “This is awful and the product is going to be terrible and it’ll go out buggy and everything will be ruined,” I actively try to stop myself. Sometimes I accomplish this by actively thinking (or even writing down) other possibilities: the product will be imperfect but that’s not the end of the world; even if the product is awful everything will not be ruined forever (I don’t work on medical equipment or nuclear reactors so that is almost certainly true); I may be mistaken about how awful it is. Or if I thought “these people are lazy and ignorant and don’t know what they’re doing and they’re going to break everything,” I actively challenge that with maybe they know something I don’t; maybe they don’t but the product will still be okay (it often is even if the person does things a stupid way); maybe I’m not seeing the competencies they do have. CBT helped a lot with this, giving me tools and terminology to help deal with these (catastrophizing, black-and-white thinking, etc.), but it can be done on your own too.

      The key thing is that this is useful to do even if it turns out that you’re right and it really is completely broken and they really are lazy and ignorant. It only works if you can stop defending your own thought processes with “but I’m RIGHT.” Because, to be perfectly blunt, it doesn’t necessarily matter if you’re right. It clearly isn’t accomplishing what you want—you’re not getting your way—and it’s also deeply upsetting you. Being right doesn’t change any of that. Clinging to these kinds of self-talk because you’re right is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. (I know that’s usually applied to holding a grudge, but it’s equally applicable here—I say as someone who is a world-class grudge-holder.) The only thing you’re accomplishing is hurting yourself.

      (Also, it’s the rare individual who is a good enough actor to hide that they are disdainful of their coworkers if they’re constantly reinforcing it in their own heads, so that might be bleeding through. And negative self-talk is SO self-reinforcing that sometimes it can cause you to turn one initial bad impression into an unfair judgment of the person as a whole; again, I speak from experience. If you’ve been telling yourself, “Fergus is lazy and incompetent” from the beginning, confirmation bias means that you’re very, very likely to see everything that supports that opinion in giant glowing letters and to overlook or dismiss occasions of Fergus being competent. This is the ‘bitch eating crackers’ principle, but actively trying to not work yourself up can short-circuit that.)

      In a similar vein, I’d recommend refraining as much as possible from venting to other people. Venting feels good in the moment but there’s actually good evidence that in the long run it makes people feel worse. I’m not saying never vent, but it’s been good for me to view venting as similar to an unhealthy treat: nothing wrong with candy, but if you eat a steady diet of it you’re likely to give yourself a stomachache.

      This is hard, and it’s not fun. There’s a certain perverse pleasure in being the Only Sane (Wo)Man, or the only one who cares, or the one besieged by fools and jerks. I know that pleasure well. Especially if your friends are trying to help by reflecting that feeling back at you and reinforcing it. It’s much less fun to hear “that may all be true, but it doesn’t matter; you need to stop this cycle of thinking because it’s hurting you.” When I was doing CBT, I’d say something like, “They’re doing this thing that’s stupid and everything will be wrecked!” And he’s say, “Okay, that’s possible. Now sit down and write ten more reasons why they might be doing it and how it might turn out, that aren’t about them being stupid and everything being wrecked.” It wasn’t FUN. It was much more fun to hear my friends say, “Yeah, they’re jerks! Keep fighting the good fight!” But rewiring that self-talk was very useful, and it made me much happeir (and more productive) in the long run.

      Good luck.

      Reply
          1. TokenArchaeologist

            Very good novel. There are online resources that are aimed at helping people use these techniques on a daily basis. Such as guided CBT thought diary apps you can put on your phone. I’ve used them when I get frustrated with work. (Example: Instead of replying to the e-mail that has me angry, I work through the thought diary, and then get back to work.) The five minutes it takes to type an entry drastically increases my productivity vs. what would have happened if I hadn’t stopped to reflect. I also turned my favorite thought diary into a google form, that I can access from my computer. Then I don’t get distracted by the phone, but still get the “guidance.”

            Reply
    7. Connie-Lynne

      I guess I wasn’t clear; my actionable advice to you is to find a place to vent and double-check your feelings, like the slack rooms I suggested.

      It helps a lot because you still have an outlet to express your investment and you may also get advice on how others have handled similar individual situations.

      Reply
  49. ohway

    This is a little off topic but it makes me sad that for so many people (myself included, to a degree), this is the best they can hope for: “I am trying to pay my bills in a way that doesn’t destroy my health or make me miserable”.

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      That’s actually true of the majority of people in the world.

      Those of us who read and write workplace advice blogs tend to be a relatively privileged group in that regard.

      Reply
      1. OP

        Yes, and I realize I’m very privileged in a lot of ways, one of which being that my job doesn’t involve physical threats to my health and safety.

        But that’s a conversation that’s beyond the scope of this article, I think.

        Reply
  50. bopper

    My thoughts:

    1) Pick your battles. As a young person it is hard to figure out what are important issues to spend energy on.
    2) Provide a solution – instead of asking if something was tested, go to your boss and say “Sometimes I am not sure if a module is tested…I made a spreadsheet we could use to keep status up to date. What do you think about using something like this to track work?

    Reply
  51. Kristine

    OP, I really feel for you about the lack of documentation, proper coding, and the “We don’t have time to do that” attitude, and also the elegance creep, sudden edits, and lack of deadlines. This is a big headache for my partner in the workplace, and I was only able to push back against it in mine because no one else can do what I do! ;-) So, if you can instill these values in your students, you’ve become the solution you wanted to see. Good luck to you!

    Reply
  52. Kiwi

    OP, it sounds like that workplace sucked and finding a new one that cares about quality will help.

    I manage a bunch of engineering types, based on that, here’s a few concrete things.

    First, you might find it helpful to work in a company with a large mature code base that’s maintained by heaps of engineers and has to support a heap of products. They’re likely to have quality processes in place and care that people follow them.

    Second, another technique for dealing with unhelpful emotions: Picture yourself sitting in a nice cabin with a lovely view out the window and a glass of wine. Picture the emotion as a bird and watch it fly past the window, followed by whatever caused it. Appreciate the view, which has only been momentarily disturbed by the bird. This technique lets you separate the stressor from yourself, emphasizes that it’ll pass, and stops it destroying your appreciation of the decent stuff that’s happening. If you practice, you get so you can do it in the moment without people noticing.

    Third, it might help to think in terms of political capital. Every time you give someone unsolicited critical advice, you’re using up political capital. (If they ask your opinion, that’s different, but it sounds like you offered even though they didn’t ask.) You can make political capital explicit. When you start your next job, make a spreadsheet listing each person’s name. Beside each name, put the value 4. Add 1 to that value every time you do that person a favor and they express appreciation, or they praise the way you’ve gone above and beyond (beyond the typical “encourage a new trainee” praise for doing something right). Subtract 1 every time you criticize that person. Keep the value at 4. It may take months before you get a value of 5 and have the political capital to criticize, and that’s kind of the point. It’s unusual for a newcomer to have enough political capital to be able to criticize, and this makes that explicit.

    I hope all this helps – and good luck with finding a better job!

    Reply
    1. Tau

      First, you might find it helpful to work in a company with a large mature code base that’s maintained by heaps of engineers and has to support a heap of products. They’re likely to have quality processes in place and care that people follow them.

      I was actually thinking the opposite. It’s *really* hard for a large project to not slip into spaghetti code monstrosity, never to mention that older code bases often weren’t written to support the newest and shiniest software methodology. Legacy code is infamous for good reason. If you can land it, a greenfield project can be great, provided you are working with people who share your dedication to best practices. That’s where probing at the interview stage becomes really, really important.

      Reply
      1. Kiwi

        Yeah, I should’ve qualified that, sorry. You want to make sure the company’s got good processes and has a well-maintained code base. What I’m more suggesting is avoiding cowboy start-ups.

        Reply
  53. Sounds familiar

    From the perspective of an HR person, you sound like a few people in our IT area, so maybe it’s something about the personality of those in that field. But, as a management-level person, I would say it night be beneficial to take some of Allison’s points to heart, like, you may not have all the information, and, be cautious about offering unwanted suggestions etc. I think although these can be well-intentioned, the scenario you’re describing sounds a lot like things I’ve seen, and the person in your position often comes across as abrasive and sometimes toxic to the team.

    Reply
  54. Fbs

    Something I’ve learned at work (Im a scientist at a large corporation, but so much of this sounds a lot like my workplace) : you will get more respect from putting out fires than from trying to prevent them. It is in my DNA to try to mitigate problems I can see coming from a mile away, but I’ve found no one wants to really hear that, especially when time is limited and people are just trying yo check boxes and get things done. I admit that I work for a sick company in this regard and I’ve had to just really focus on other things than my job otherwise I’d go crazy. It’s a political minefield.

    Reply
  55. Fishcakes

    Hi OP,

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with your reaction at all. I’ve learned that a big factor in my job satisfaction is how competent my colleagues are. I want to work with and for high achievers who care about the quality of their work. I want to be proud of my organization. There is *nothing* wrong with that, and it is *not* naive.

    I’m currently in a workplace comprised of low-achievers. I’m just focusing on what I can control and preparing to move on.

    Reply
  56. Cmg

    i find that venting about work to friends and family often feeds a cycle of negative thinking that takes over my brain. It might be good to try enforcing some boundaries with yourself to avoid negative work-talk – the space you’re spending on those conversations can be put to better use!

    Reply
  57. TokenArchaeologist

    I’m sorry things ended so badly OP. But it does sound like where you were was not a healthy place for you to be working. I’ve had bosses before, who got insanely annoyed with me for asking questions. (I wished I could have remind them that I cannot read minds, like I sometimes remind my husband.) Ever since, I’ve always made sure to bring up that I like to get the job done right the first time, and because of that I ask a lot of clarification questions, when I get asked about my work style in an interview. It seems to have helped.

    And along the same theme as Cmg’s comment about setting boundaries… I actually find repeating something along the lines of “Not my circus, not my monkeys,” as I walk out the door at the end of the day helps a great deal. I’m a “lowly assistant” and in the end there is only so much I can do.

    Reply

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