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  1. Blog
  2. Career Development

Bored of Programming: What to Do When You Just Can’t Code Anymore

Open source career advice

Woman staring out the window
Photo courtesy of Johnny Cohen

This article is part of InHerSight's Techsplorer series. Women in tech face distinct challenges. Learn how to build a successful career in this male-dominated industry without sacrificing what you want.

Like any job, programming can get boring. Web or mobile developers and software engineers face times of both high stress and boredom. The stressful peaks usually dissipate with the successful completion of a project, but if there’s no relief from how bored you feel, you may need to take action.

Career coach Marti Konstant tells InHerSight that “the optimization of creativity, growth, and happiness is central to a career that changes over time rather than defaults to predictable and boring.”

Since those core pillars of career agility—creativity, growth, and happiness—are necessary to achieving job satisfaction, an adjustment to the balance is needed when they’re out of sync.

In order to do that, you need to:

  • Identify what you like to do, what you don't like to do, and what you are good at.

  • Uncover the gaps of where you are now and where you want to be, focusing on your talents and what you enjoy doing.

  • Make your plan.

  • Take action.

Let’s dissect that a little bit.

Read more: Is It Finally Time to Make Your Career Power Move?

What feeling bored of programming should tell you about your work

If coding used to excite you but doesn’t even motivate you anymore, you need to determine why this change has occurred. Use your problem-solving skills to examine what’s going on.

It could simply be that you’ve been working on some projects that are boring or repetitive. This happens in coding, and is usually resolved when a new, more interesting project comes along. If, however, you remain in that boredom rut no matter the project, it’s time to look at specifics: What about it bores and demotivates you?

It could be that you need to change the industry you’re in. If the energy industry is leaving you cold, for instance, look at coding jobs for health care or social causes. (Sixteen percent of women say they want to change careers in order to work for a mission they believe in.) The organization’s cause or the specific outcome of your work might be enough of a change to make you more invested in your role.

Read more: What Does a Project Manager Do?

It could be that you’re with the right company but wrong team. Let’s say you’re experiencing a lack of support and mentorship from senior employees. In this situation, your natural progression in terms of skill development and your own role at work will be slowed or blocked completely.

It could be you’ve found roles other than software developer that really excite you. Let’s say you headed a project and found the management and organizational tasks required of you a natural fit. That may be an indication that it’s time to explore a lateral move, possibly one to project manager.

Read more: Ask a Recruiter: Can I Learn to Love My Unfulfilling Job?

What to do when you’re bored of programming

Once you’ve determined why you’re bored of programming, you can take the necessary steps to solve the problem.

Volunteer in a different industry

If you think it’s the industry itself that doesn’t inspire you, try volunteering at a nonprofit organization that does good work and that you’re interested in supporting. Your technical skills will be highly valued there and can impact a cause you care about. If that sparks your motivational fire, try to form relationships and network within related industries to find a job with a for-profit company.

Read more: How an Existential Crisis Can Affect Your Career

Gain new skills for lateral move

If you’re happy where you are, but bored with the projects themselves, executive coach Dr. Ann Howell says, “one possibility is to take on stretch opportunities at work. Programmers can take on new and different types of tasks instead of just taking on another programming gig.” Howell explains her views in her article about on-the-job (OJT) experiences, which encompass everything from “taking on new tasks” to “stretch assignments, cross-training, cross-departmental projects and committees, job shadowing, and networking.”

You should take advantage of stretch opportunities and other OTJ experiences, says Howell. They allow you to “gain skills and visibility in your organization and to prepare you for broader career moves.” Depending on the flexibility of your workplace, you might be able to gain skills in project management, marketing or web design, for example. This would change your focus and pace as you move between projects.

Sometimes a side project is all it takes to reignite the passion, but it might take more than that to give you back your joy. 

As one senior software engineer said in a Reddit discussion: “What gives engineers job satisfaction is ultimately investment in the outcome of their project.” In this specific case, the solution to hating their job was to move to a much smaller company where they cared about the success or failure of the product.

Read more: Need Career Counseling? Start Your Search Here

Look for an organization that understands developer boredom

When developer Bruno Marnette cofounded data skills training company Enki back in 2015, part of his job was to make sure his developers never got as bored in their jobs as he had in his. He made sure projects didn’t last too long, which he says is a common and obvious cause of boredom. No one at his company worked more than three months on the same code, product, or dataset.

To do this, the company promoted a full-stack culture, so that any developer could work on any part of the code base. Marnette also tried to keep his developers from spending all their time maintaining legacy code, which he says is boring, by using a microservice strategy (building “smart tools to make the maintenance more efficient and fun”). 

Coupled with good people management, a culture of diversity, and creating frequent opportunities for outside projects and social events, the company has developed what Marnette calls a “recipe against boredom.”

About our sources

Marti Konstant is a workplace futurist and the best-selling author of Activate Your Agile Career. An expert in applying agile principles to workforce development, Marti has an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and is a former technology executive that has worked in Silicon Valley. As a Top Career Influencer, she has been featured in media outlets such as NBC Chicago, Forbes, and The Muse, and has worked in companies like Samsung, Dow Jones, and Apple.

Ann Howell, Ph.D., ACC, is the founder of Howell Leadership Science, and the related blog, Science of Working. As a coach and consultant, Ann brings curiosity and science to help clients excel. Curiosity helps her engage with clients and uncover their unique issues and concerns. Science provides proven solutions and techniques for addressing them.

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