Feeling Undervalued

Geoff Chan

Geoff Chan ยท

ยท 5 min read

This blog post was originally inspired by a conversation I had with Tauqueer about feeling undervalued at companies we had previously worked at.

Early on in my career as a front-end developer, I had a manager tell me that my UI design ideas didn't matter because I wasn't a designer. That didn't sit right with me. Although he was technically correct in saying that I was not a designer, it left me feeling boxed in because they would not even entertain my ideas. I had been siloed into a singular role by my manager and the company. They didn't want me to go beyond my responsibilities as a front-end developer. That didn't resonate with the view I had of myself.

I don't believe I am alone in feeling this way, especially at larger companies where roles are more narrowly defined. It's understandable though. A business runs smoothly when each part of the process is effective and efficient at its purpose. That means that deviating from the purpose and responsibilities that a particular role is given is a detriment to the business. But this forces people into one-dimensional roles. It creates jobs that only exist to repeat a process over and over*. And it creates roles where people view you as synonymous with your job title. I believe that people are inherently multi-faceted and can be effective at contributing in more than one way.

I eventually left that company to expand my skills. I worked for a JS consulting firm for one year and then for a startup for another year. Each role gave me more autonomy and responsibility. It also gave me the opportunity to contribute value in ways that I couldn't in my previous roles. I got to work on the backend, building APIs, data modeling, architecting end-to-end solutions, and doing devOps. I got to work on my UI/UX design skills designing large and small-scale web applications as well as mobile and tablet apps. And I continued to hone my skills on the front-end, diving deeper into React and JavaScript. These two years were fun and tiring. I worked with many talented people, whom I took every opportunity I could to learn from. I was able to lead projects, have my opinions valued, and contribute to the companies I worked for in ways I never could before.

Working in a role where you are underused can lead you to feel that you are not living up to your potential. This feeling is sometimes subtle and hard to identify. It usually gets overshadowed by other (also very important) feelings of stability, security, and familiarity that come with a known job and workplace. These are all important things that a job needs to provide as well, but ignoring that inner tug to live up to your potential can have detrimental effects on your sense of self-identity and self-worth in the long run.

Eventually, I left to start Stack Five so that I could utilize all of my skills to help clients. If there's some way that I know I can help or some piece of knowledge that I can apply, I am able (and always willing ๐Ÿ˜œ) to share that with the people I work with. It's also the reason that we give our developers the autonomy and flexibility to spread their wings. We do R&D projects together as a team where everyone has the opportunity to contribute in whatever way they want to. And everyone is encouraged and given the time and space to learn and explore, whether you're a front-end developer that wants to do more UI/UX design or a backend developer that wants to experiment with Machine Learning. This has actually helped our business immensely. A lot of the side projects that we've done over the years have translated into client work down the line. By expanding our internal knowledge and expertise, we are able to go after projects and business that we would not usually be able to go after.

I wrote this partly because I wanted to share my non-linear career path through different roles and job titles. But I mainly wrote this because I wanted to encourage anyone that feels undervalued to go out and show the world your value. Find small opportunities in your day-to-day work if it's too daunting to leave your job. Find time in the evening or on weekends**. Just don't ignore that tug inside of you. If there's a thing you know you could be great at then please get out there and do that thing!

*I think many (if not most) people find comfort in having a job that is well defined and singularly focused. It makes it easier for them to focus their efforts and skills. I'm speaking to the odd few who feel underused in a role with narrow responsibilities.

**I wanted to caveat this point by saying that I strongly believe in work/life balance. You have a responsibility to your loved ones and to yourself to not burn out and become a potato.

Copyright ยฉ 2024 Geoffrey Chan. All rights reserved.