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I’ve enough years experience to qualify for senior and lead level roles, yet I feel like over the past year my skill set has stagnated because I maintain a legacy codebase with very few new feature additions. The major work that I could do was completed late last year, and things have been running relatively smoothly since then. Any significant changes are for naught now as the codebase is being retired with the new year.
Despite that, I’ve applied for countless roles and interviewed for a handful of them. One such position seems to have all but evaporated (gotta love enthusiastic head-hunters that keep pushing the next round out), while the bulk of the others have either been straight denials, ghosts, or I’ve consciously pulled myself out of the pool simply because of blockers in the code challenges.
While talking with a coworker, I expressed this uncertainty — can’t quite call it a fear as there is only a perceived threat, but I can’t quite pin down the word for it otherwise. It almost feels like I made a mistake a year and some change ago, accepting my current role. While not entirely my fault for not realizing the gas light which was illuminating this new path for me, I take ownership for not reading between the lines enough.
On an average week I’m lucky to write code 10% of the time, and of that time, I’m converting Word documents to HTML — glad to say all those years of abstract OOP are being put to good use writing markup! I had a project for another department that my manager pulled me off of after 30 hours because of managerial politics. That project was subsequently outsourced.
I’m being shoe-horned into a support role that I don’t want anything to do with. Yet, every day I figure out how to better muscle my career in the direction I want to go through seeming insubordination, relationship building, and blatant disregard for things my manager wants me to focus on. Those things benefit management, but do nothing to push my career in the direction I want to go. Managers are supposed to help subordinates achieve their career goals, not railroad employees into roles they don’t want.
Regarding those interviews
One interview was for an “Application Security Engineer” role. That’s exactly the title I want, with the assumed responsibilities and work. Mind you, this company labels their pen testers with that title. They’re not doing appsec at all, as I came to find out during the interview. Sidenote: pen testing is only part of appsec, not all of it. Further, the interviewer seemed to be mocking me. Software developers don’t apply for infosec roles, he said. Only reason I got the interview was he was intrigued by my resume. The experience felt like a scene from Dinner with the Schmucks.
The next proved the power of networking does work, sometimes. This was for a role as a backend engineer using Ruby on Rails. That’s exactly the kind of role I’d love to pivot to at this point as PHP is great, but after so long it feels like I’ve become a pariah — PHP developers don’t know how to write code according to the industry. I guess this one proved that assumption well. The initial interview went well enough as I got to the coding challenge.
It went smoothly until it didn’t. I hit this one last blocker — something simple that I could easily do with PHP, but the ActiveRecord design pattern abstracted something seemingly simple in such a way I couldn’t figure out how to get it to cooperate. I just needed one value from a one model to appear in another model’s view. That’s it. I had exhausted the top end of the time limit they said it should take someone to do the challenge, and I wasn’t making anymore headway. I pulled myself out of the candidate pool, disheartened.
Finally, the last seemed like an excellent fit. Laravel backend, Vue frontend, at a vibrant startup with a ton of runway and a passionate team that cares about their mission. I care about their mission, too — it hits close to home. The first round was incredible, and we had to make a conscious effort to keep on time as the conversation was like chatting with an old friend. Then round two came. I was speaking with the lead developer and things seemed to moving great until he asked me what I’m passionate about.
When I said I’m passionate about security and would love the opportunity to mentor developers on writing secure code while positioning myself to lead security efforts in a thriving startup, he killed the interview. Said I should apply for those types roles instead and best of luck. Rejection for one’s passion isn’t a bad thing, is it? Doesn’t change the sting. That one hurt, like I’m doing something wrong as a developer.
Based on this, I’ve tucked tail and decided being employed with some job security during economic downturn, a pandemic, and surely upsetting election year is better than dreaming of greener pastures for now. I’ve decided that if I want a Rails role, I need to build some stuff with it. Get really familiar with it. Take some time during my onslaught of meetings to actually write code. Maybe try to contribute to some open source projects so I can get a better understanding beyond to-do lists and recipe apps. Maybe do this until I hit the unofficial two year commitment I gave my manager and try the job hunt again.
Perhaps by then this phase in my career will feel less pubescent, and I’ll actually feel like the senior engineer I qualify for instead of the one that I feel like right now. I just have to find the key to unlock the gates which others keep, and get back to creating.