The Underemployed Technologist
September 16, 2014

The Underemployed Technologist

by Keith Brown

You are great at your job and will be even better at the next one. You are the “go-to” person with answers to the tough questions and your boss relies on you to get the job done. But why do you feel like you’re missing out, even though you are working for a cool company in the hottest industry around — technology? Why are you restless and bored and not working to your potential?

When ambitious people think about their future — they are often impatient. And that’s a good thing. We want to get to where we are going fast. And to do so, we need to maintain a constant state of motion that is rewarded with accomplishment at the end. We get high off progress. And technology companies supposedly bleed innovation.

This is why the common language that we use for talking about job dissatisfaction does not typically apply to the most forward-looking employees at technology companies. We’re all familiar with the common saying “overworked and underpaid.” But, that’s not actually the case for the majority of people with big dreams. They are often “underworked and underpaid.”

Office superstars are often underemployed compared to their ambitions and capacity to get stuff done.

And that’s worse than being overworked — because it’s handicapping their ability to learn. For many folks, they are not actually working as hard as they would like to. When you’re underemployed, you’re holding a job that is not getting the most out of what you have and want to offer.

According to a recent study by PayScale, 43 percent of those surveyed felt they were underemployed. Why was this the case? There are many external reasons that people spend valuable time doing a job they could finish in their sleep. The list is long, but here are the top causes:

  • Dysfunctional founders

  • Controlling boss

  • Financially distressed company

  • Family circumstances

Regardless of why this might have happened, if you’ve been in your job for a while, are regarded as a hero and still feel like you are not fulfilled, it’s time for some self-reflection. The question is whether you are just underperforming or are truly underemployed? You need to look deep inside yourself for these strong indicators to better diagnose the situation.

You are no longer learning Challenging ourselves and learning new skills is hard, but also satisfying. Take a moment and ask yourself if you are progressing as fast as you would like towards that next promotion or career move and your ultimate goals. If the answer is “no” it’s probably time to do something different to accelerate your pace. What have you learned recently that is going to help you broaden your skills or gain new insights? Are you still doing the same work that you did 18 months ago?

You are too comfortable It’s easy to feel safe and unchallenged when little is at risk. For many of us, being the expert validates who we are and the value we bring to the organization. But, do you often sacrifice your personal aspirations for what’s comfortable? Have you always wanted to pursue a challenging new role or even start a company, but have given up before you really got started? If this sounds familiar, you need to look up and out and gain the confidence to get uncomfortable.

You are coaching your boss When you’re an expert in the organization, your boss can easily become over-dependent on you to get her job done. If your boss is gaining more from you than you are from her, it’s time to have a conversation about your aspirations and the skills that you would like to master. If you are doing a great job, it’s probably a great time to volunteer for a new project or work on a vexing challenge that others have avoided.

The most enjoyable and satisfying jobs fully tap our exiting capabilities and challenge us to work harder than we have to master new skills. They stretch us to reach beyond our immediate potential.

If you are stagnating and not moving closer to obtaining your goals, you may just not be working hard enough. It’s up to you to determine the cause and push through any self-imposed restrictions. If you are bored at the office and just going through the motions, it might be time for a new role or company. But only you can look in the mirror and know if you are underemployed and cheating your potential.

Are you underemployed?

Keith Brown

Keith Brown

Keith was a vice president of marketing at Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software.

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