Beat. Tired. Hopeless


#1

My story feels like a long story but I’m going to try to keep some of this short. I build software for a very specific market - my job grew out of fairly entrepreneurial roots and we were bought out by a competitor a number of years ago. People really like our product and it is still going strong.

But I’m going nuts. I do 99% of the coding. All day, I get calls about bugs, asking for new features, configuration changes, printers off line, networks not working. We have technical people but not enough or they’ve been re-directed to other places. It means the programming I have to do is constantly interrupted with trivialities and I feel like the quality of what I produce is suffering horribly. So much so that I’ve considered telling the

There is another programmer but he does almost nothing. The last project I gave him was three years ago and he hasn’t delivered so much as a status report yet. Why is he still here? He was an original partner and also a good friend; badly injured awhile ago. I keep waiting for him to step up but I’ve got growing resentment over the lack of help. I’ve talked to him, doesn’t seem to help. He won’t be managed. My other course of action, which I’m dreading, is to go the owner and tell him I need help, which will dredge up some tough questions.

Why don’t I leave the job? The fringe benefits are awfully good. I can work anywhere I’ve got Internet; for the summer at a lakefront cabin in a boreal forest. And at 56, I’m not likely to find such a posh and reasonably well paying gig. Going back to a cube farm terrifies me.

But I’m tired. My todo list grows by impossible numbers on a daily basis. Sometimes I just want to put my head down and cry.

And today, I had a customer call me who demanded a feature in their software. I’d emailed yesterday saying I’d look into it. I explained it would take awhile. They then insisted that it is a feature that should have been there already. As if that would make it magically appear.

I explained further that the software has been designed over years with input from numerous people and that this is the first time it had come up. I would look at it but I couldn’t do it in a rush because that would potentially introduce bugs and, right now, I’m too busy with other support and development issues to take that kind of risk. Not only that, I’m two weeks away from vacation and I don’t want to throw an unstable version at them that might have a problem crop up while I’m away. They then told me that if I’m that busy it must be really crappy software.

My heart is racing just typing this.

I have ideas about what I need to do to get this under control but I’m going to leave this open ended.

Thanks so much for listening.


#2

Hey WHL -

Is that customer someone who will bankrupt your business? If not, I mean, they can pound sand right? Obvious not something to tell them, but hey, I can’t tell every place I buy something how it has to be. It is how it is. They bought it baby.

As for the other developer, either you or the other owner(s) need to confront him. That’s unacceptable. It might test a friendship, but it’s not a great one if he’s been all but taking advantage of you.

If I were you I would schedule a long vacation. Give plenty of notice and tell people you’re going be offline. For part of it I might look for another job, but for the rest try to shut out completely. Don’t answer work anything. They’ll see how valuable you are. Worst case, you come back and tell the other owners that they aren’t carrying their weight or that more people need to be hired or something.

Hang in there though, I feel your pain in a different way. I think part of the thing I run up against is I probably have 15 years left of work and when things aren’t going well I always ask myself “Can I possible last for another 15 years??” But that’s an unproductive question to ask really. Try to set some shorter goals, it might help to give see some lights in the middle of the tunnel.

Good luck!


#3

Thanks for that. You make some very good points; I’ve though of most of these but you’ve helped provide some clarity where I was dancing around hard issues.

I actually relate very well to the age thing; I’m only looking at nine years before official retirement age. I know very well the “if I can just hang in for another nine years”. But that’s a lot of time to feel miserable. And you’re right, it isn’t particularly productive.

I keep wishing there was a logical way to resolve some of these issues; we spend our lives doing that whole logic thing but these are highly emotional issues with no absolutely clear path through.

Again, thanks for your thoughts. It helps a lot to know I’m not going mad.


#4

It’s obviously a dysfunctional environment. Seriously, you are supposed to do all of the coding while also doing all of the support? I always liked being able to get hold of a developer, because they understood the product better than support, but that was never my expectation as a customer.

Trying to analyze and fix things may not work, especially, if you don’t talk to anyone. Management needs to know that you are doing all of this, and working remotely only makes it worse, because they never see you.

It might be useful to document the time you spend on your tasks during the day. Keep a phone log, use the ticketing system if you have one, or create something. There are tons of free tools that can aid in something like this. Heck, fire up a word document if that’s all you’ve got. I don’t like ticketing because it’s inevitably weaponized but in your case a log might help you make your case.

The other guy doesn’t matter, if the company wants to pay dead weight, that is their choice, but you having to do everything is clearly a serious problem. And don’t try to rationalize any of it. I went through a pretty abusive work environment and spent a lot of time trying to figure things out and wondering if the person was a bad person. It didn’t matter, I was getting wrecked regardless of intent and it was on me to find a way around it.


#5

Thanks for your reply!

Ultimately, a developer that does nothing but support isn’t doing any good as a developer. So I need to find some balance.

I’ve had a couple good chats with the boss in the last couple of days; he’s expressed concern but I’m not sure how much action it translates into. I think a lot of it is on me to draw some good boundaries. Pushing this support work off to others may help as, right now, I’m obfuscating the fact that there is problem by bailing everyone else out.

I have been logging stuff, although thank you for the re-iteration of the value of that. I actually use Trello as a task management software and then use it to document what I’ve been up to. Sure wish we had a ticketing system because communication is all helter skelter and I think it lets people hide. “weaponized” - that’s interesting. :slight_smile:


#6

I’ve been in that position too, though I’m much younger. People expected me to be everything to everyone. They wanted answers right now. They were often rude and incompetent. My work was constantly interrupted with stupid stuff. I had major projects, corporate initiatives, almost fail over someone’s printer or monitor. Bosses didn’t know what to do. I hated life without even realizing it.

The one thing that kept me going through all of that is that despite the drama, they really did value me, because I was the one they called to clean up the mess, and they trusted me enough to do it. People with problems are often angry and pointing fingers. Think of it like a doctor’s office; when people are sick, they aren’t thinking straight and they’ll lash out. The same thing happens when they have a deadline.

I’ve spent the last five years in a place that follows the Agile methodology, and though there are many resources for that, I simplify things to the following four rules:

  1. Break tasks down.
  2. Prioritize and stick with the priority
  3. Don’t say “no,” or “I can’t right now,” just say, “it’s on the backlog and I’ll get to it as soon as possible.”
  4. Deliver in small pieces early and often. Don’t finish the whole thing, just one small chunk at a time, and release it. It’s easier to test anyway. Doing so builds confidence that customers are getting something, it just takes time.

The prioritization is key. So, you want that big feature? Sure, it’s on the list - the bottom of the list, behind everyone else. It’s FIFO here, people. If you were waiting in line at the doctor’s office, you wouldn’t want the guy that arrived late to go to his later appointment before you, right? Well, same principle here.

Now what can happen with this is that people start going over your head. The boss starts to breathe down your neck. “Interrupt, IRQ1. Interrupt, IRQ1.” Sorry boss, you can only have one top priority, and if I have to the whole job on my own, then you can either respect the priorities that I set, or give it to Mr. Dudintdowork over there. The processor can only handle one IRQ at once. One saying that I tell my customers all the time: “I’m NOT saying ‘no’, I’m saying, ‘later.’” I’m committed to making them happy, and I’m committed to making other customers happy too. That means everyone gets a fair shake - in order. I release the smallest piece possible to be sure all those IRQs are respected.

As for Mr. Dudintdowork, being your friend, I might ask for advice. “I’m overwhelmed and I have all this stuff to do but not enough time to finish. What should I do?” If you approach it as asking a question, then it’s less confrontational. How would he handle it? In answering that question, he is forced to realize that he’s not doing enough. Make sure to ask for details so he can’t weasel out of it with general slogans like, “Well, you just have to give it 110%.” “You seem to have it together, how do you give it 110%?”

For the customer that said, “This must be really crappy software,” I’d have gotten in trouble for it, but I’d have called him out on it. What he’s trying to do is shove his way to the front of the line. He thinks if he screams loudly enough, he can somehow get more “share” of time from you. He doesn’t understand that you’re tapped out, he thinks you’re making excuses to get out of something. My snarky reply would have been, “Do you really think saying that to someone is going to make them work faster? What’s the point of a comment like that anyway? You think I sit around all day and find ways to make your life harder? Why would I even talk to you if I wasn’t interested in helping? If I were your brother, your father, your friend… would you want me to talk to you like that?”

You can do this. Consider maybe talking to a counselor or a therapist too. I sure need one!


#7

Hi @wanderer, thank you so much for taking the time to reply to my post. It has helped a lot to know that other people have gone through this. Good analogy on the doctor’s office.

I am going to add “read up on Agile methodology” to my Habitica to do list right this moment. I’ve heard reference to it but it is time to go do a bit of study on it and practice it. Especially that point 2 - prioritization is a nightmare.

I actually went a bit further with my friend and told him that I’m at the end of my tether and am going to have to tell the big boss that I need help. This will inevitably expose my friend to questions about what he’s doing. I think he’s hidden, not intentionally, behind my productivity and how not managed or monitored I am. We’re beyond me asking him for help, even surreptitiously. I think what I’ve done is a good boundary; I’m not going to drag him through the mud and blame him but I can’t insulate him from possible fallout and he now knows what my course of action is. The rest is up to him.

And, I do appreciate your comments about that customer. You’re right she was just trying to shame me into doing the work for them. I did get pretty testy with her but stood my ground (which has not been my M.O. in the past)

And thank you, yes, I’ve been considering a therapist too.


#8

Honestly, I don’t think you could be doing any better considering the situation. The hardest thing for me was just to remember - the job will be there tomorrow. Loving life is up to me.


#9

Thanks @wanderer. I appreciate your reminder that “Loving life is up to me”. I need to tattoo that inside my eyelids or something. :wink: