Trapped in an tech career box

Tied to J2EE? Ruby? .Net? Without diversification, you could force yourself into difficult job choices down the line

Dear Bob ...

I like what I do (sofware development) but do not like the environment I work in. I have been passed over when it comes to new projects or significant enhancements on an existing project.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Neil McAllister also warns developers not to paint themselves into a corner in "Geriatric Java struggles to stay relevant" | Get sage IT career advice from Bob Lewis' Advice Line newsletter. ]

The management style has been what I describe as "laissez-faire" where developers on a project grab whatever work they want. I'm not exactly comfortable with this and have always felt that management should be assigning work, not the other way around. The office I work at has gradually hired people of a particular nationality. My boss is of that nationality and has been assigning work on new projects and significant enhancements to coworkers who are also of that nationality. I am also not a favorite son and don't like to brown-nose (it's just not in my nature).

To matters worse, the company I work for has been gradually converting over to a Microsoft-only shop. It was previously a mix of Java and Microsoft technologies (C++, .Net). I love working with Java technologies and really do not want to convert over to a Microsoft technology.

Additionally, the application I am working on (written in Java and JSF) is being moved to another office. All of the other developers working on the application have been moved to other new projects leaving me behind to hand-hold the people at the other office until they can take over completely. I was told that I could work on another project (based on .Net) when the transition is complete.

The other office is in another state. I was joking with a supervisor in that office that I would love to move there. He asked if I was serious and felt that I would be a valuable addition. I told him I was and already have several relatives living there.

This whole thing later snowballed. The VPs in my office and my boss' supervisor caught rumor of my interest to transfer there and all said that I had a green to make the transfer, in a J2EE role that would later turn into a .Net role.

Here is the rub. The timing of all this is a little off. My daughter is a junior in high school. and I do not want to pull her out of her current school. I also do not want to move and be disconnected from my family for about one and a half years (I think I could handle six months). It's too bad this all did not happen next year when my daughter is a senior and soon to be in college and I am no longer tied down to my current location.

So what to do? Turn down the offer? Stay and learn a new technology that I am not exactly enthusiastic about? Find another position elsewhere that will allow me continue in a J2EE role?

Something else?

Any advice would be appreciated.

- Torn

Dear Torn ...

If I understand your situation correctly, you can either:

  • Stay where you are and learn to love .Net.
  • Move to another city, delaying the time when you have to learn to love .Net for a while (you said you'd be transferring to a J2EE role that would transition to .Net later on).
  • Find a new employer.

Let's talk about the move-to-another city alternative. Depending on your company, you might consider negotiating a Tuesday-through-Thursday on-site/Monday-and-Friday telework situation until your daughter enters college. Since your employer would be taking on additional travel expenses, you might have to give a bit with respect to your relocation package so everyone comes out whole. I'd think this would be feasible.

Now let's talk about your aversion to .Net. Your employer has established it as its architectural future. That being the case, it would seem to me that if you want to remain with the company, embracing .Net is a professional obligation. If it's one you're unwilling to accept, it isn't too soon to start looking for alternatives that allow you to continue developing in a Java environment.

Last issue: If you seriously think your manager is discriminating against you in favor of colleagues from his nation of origin, you might consider a discreet conversation with HR. While we in the United States consider discrimination to be a significant matter, other cultures figure taking care of their own is a primary obligation, so your manager might not have even considered that he's behaving inappropriately.

Be careful on this one, though. Your manager might have a very different perspective. It might be, for example, that you've been less than successful in hiding your aversion to .Net, and your manager has decided to award opportunities to more enthusiastic employees instead.

And no matter how discreet you try to be, not all HR departments end up returning the favor.

One more thought: With respect to finding another employer, the one you have appears to be unusually accommodating in terms of respecting your preferences and trying to find appropriate opportunities. I know a lot of managers who, had they learned that an employee was looking for other opportunities inside or outside the company, would have taken offense and retaliated.

The view from here is that your likelihood of finding a better employer, in the sense of a company that pays conscious attention to creating a positive work environment, is lower than your likelihood of finding a worse one.

- Bob

This story, "Trapped in an tech career box," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Bob Lewis's Advice Line blog on InfoWorld.com.

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