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Handling Unfamiliar Tasks as the Only Data Engineer Without Risking Job Security

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Anonymous User at Taro Communitya year ago

I am facing a difficult situation at work where I have been told that there are no tasks for me to do. I am the only data engineer on my team, and while there are other software tech persons on other teams, I don't know exactly what they are doing. I was previously working on productionalizing a dashboard but was recently told that this is not a priority. My manager has promised to find me a new task, but the problem is that I don't have any experience with the tasks he has suggested, such as releases, security vulnerability, disaster recovery, cost optimization, or Wildfly upgrade. I am afraid that if I admit to not knowing how to do these tasks, I will appear incompetent in front of the company managers we are contractors of, and risk being laid off. Every morning is stressful for me when I join the stand-up meetings and I don't know what to say. What can I do in this situation to handle it professionally and avoid being laid off?

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(2 comments)
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    Senior Software Engineer [L5] at Google
    a year ago

    First, I can tell this is a very stressful situation! Let me try to address a few of the context you've provided to see if they help you feel better.

    My manager has promised to find me a new task, but the problem is that I don't have any experience with the tasks he has suggested"

    "I am afraid that if I admit to not knowing how to do these tasks, I will appear incompetent in front of the company managers we are contractors of, and risk being laid off.

    In general, it sounds like there's a misalignment between (1) what the team needs (2) and what you are able to contribute to the team.

    My first thought is that there's no point for you to pretend to know. If you do, you'll likely just do a poor job, and be in greater risk of being laid off anyway. Maybe you don't need to say this at your standup, but you have to let someone know, at least your manager.

    My second thought is that your manager does not know what you are able to do, and you need to let them know. It seems your manager thinks you are technical program manager instead of a data engineer.

    You need to correct this sooner rather than later. Start a conversation with your manager to create an alignment between what the team needs and what you can do.

    For this conversation, make sure you brainstorm all the things you know you can do, with examples from your previous jobs if possible. Since your manager doesn't seem to understand what a data engineer does, explain to them if you can.

    At the same time, observe and brainstorm the list of things your team is struggling with that you might be able to help with as a data engineer. Propose things that you can do for your team that you can see.

    Hopefully your manager will understand better and give you things that's actually in your wheelhouse!

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    Mid-Level Site Reliability Engineer at Ping Identity
    a year ago

    This is definitely something that you need to talk to your manager about.

    Regardless of why they're proposing these projects, you need to get ahead of it and make sure that your manager and you are on the same page about this. It will be infinitely better for you if your manager believes you're trying to grow and learn, than if they believe you already know these things and just aren't doing them for varying reasons.

    I think it's also interesting that you state you don't have experience with the projects, not that you don't believe you can do them. If you believe you could do them with the understanding that you'll be learning and therefore progressing slowly, it's entirely possible your manager is already working under that assumption.

    Personally, this sounds like an almost textbook case of Imposter Syndrome, and talking with your manager about your concerns will greatly help you understand if you genuinely are out of your depth and there's been a mistake in the hiring process (unlikely) or you're under estimating your value to the team.