I feel like I have burned out, even though I am only out of college for 5 years.

For the first 3 years of my career, things were going awesome. I was never anything special in school, but I felt special at my company. Looking back, I could tell that I made all the right moves:

  • I actively tried to improve myself daily.
  • I made a point of helping anyone I could.
  • I made a point (and read books about) being a good team member.
  • I had fun.

After 3 years in a row as being rated as a top employee, I converted that political capital into choosing to work on an interesting, glamorous project with only 2 developers: me and a highly respected senior technical leader.

I worked HARD on that project, and it came out a huge success. High in quality, low in bugs, no delays, etc.

The senior tech lead got a major promotion and a GIGANTIC bonus. I got nothing.

I was so disappointed that I just stopped caring. Over the last year, I have just kind of floated. During my first 4 years I felt energized after a 10 hour day. Now I can barely be bothered to work 6 hours a day.

Any advice? I don't even know what I'm asking. I am just hoping smart people see this and drop me a few pieces of wisdom.

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    Unfortunately sometimes and older employee exploits the work of a younger one and gets the credit for it: it happens in all kinds of organizations. I find Jonathan Henson's advice very reasonable: shit happens, you will get over it; in the mean time, look around, you might find another offer and then decide whether you want to stay or go.
    – Giorgio
    Jul 9, 2012 at 5:33
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    That's the rat race. Too much work, too little respect\recognition\pay. Let this experience motivate you to strive and achieve your real goal (starting your own company, writing an app that goes viral, etc.). And always remember, it takes a life time to gain respect, but a second to lose it, so continue to be professional at your job.
    – Anthony
    Jul 9, 2012 at 5:33
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    I like the line "I don't even know what I'm asking". A little here and then, but everyone go through this.
    – Manoj R
    Jul 9, 2012 at 6:39
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    What a valuable lesson to learn at such a young age. Jul 9, 2012 at 9:30
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    Leave the company for a better job and be sure to have fun at your exit interview. E.g. tell the truth, burn bridges, etc. But don't stop having fun, that would be a shame.
    – Kevin
    Jul 9, 2012 at 19:04

9 Answers 9


It Happens

Unfortunately we don't always get the credit we deserve, or management will give credit to the people directly under them, who do not necessarily have the power (or honesty) to bestow some of it upon you. It's an organizational thing: by way of the organigram, it should trickle down; except a few people act as dams.

I'm afraid that's what happened to you. Most likely, that senior tech did deserve a bonus and promotion, but you were too much below the radar for the people above.

Basically, this happened:

Don't get overworked like Alice, from Dilbert.com

Market Yourself

It's not because you already have a job that you should stop selling yourself.

Ask for a Raise!!!

People have a hard-time understanding this: they won't come to you naturally.

And if they do, it's either one of these 2 cases:

  • they emit raises to have control over the increases, not you (you feel happy and recognized, you don't need to request one, and would feel bad about asking more).
  • you work in the most awesome company ever created (please send me the address).

Do ask for a raise. Learn to keep track of what you do. Keep track of bug countrs, commit logs, real achievements. Cover your ass is a real rule in the world.

Request a raise means different things:

  • "I want more money and am greedy"

    Except that's what you think first, but it's not necessarily what they think first.

  • "I want what I deserve, or I'll get it somewhere else"

    If you ask for a raise, it means you are conscious that there is something better out there.

  • "I am unhappy"

    And the obvious implication is that you will not perform as well.

Asking for a raise implies a status change. You get more money, but also more scrutiny. People will look to make sure that you deserved it, after the fact. Be prepared for this as well.

Your position in a company is a fluid thing: it changes and evoles. Take control of that and don't just let things happen.

Raise the Issue

You mention your boss... how come he didn't notice this issue? Or did he, but didn't do anything about it? It's his reponsibility to make sure the work of his subordinates his well-advertised and respected.

If he's unaware of your problem, talk it over with him. Make it clear that this is an issue, that it affected you.

Make you'll come across as a diva (maybe you are, for all I know), but IT DOESN'T MATTER. What matters is that your boss will notice that one of his employees is unhappy, and that it is a problem for him and others.

Look for Alternatives

You're young, you're employable, and you're good.

Why would you think you need to stay where you are? Maybe this was just your first experience, and opportunity to make your teeth on something. Now, you can go out and reach for more.

It's sometimes easier to get a career break by actually taking a career break, in one sense. So look for other jobs, brush over your resume, sell yourself well, and attempt to reach for the next job slightly up the ladder that you are interested in. And state your salary expectations (well, advertise higher than your salary expectations, actually) to agencies.

Be careful about your privacy. It's best, at this stage, that nobody in your company knows that you are looking. But if they call you up on it, then so what? It also shows that there's an issue and they need to address it, or things will change. They can't control that.

Basically, it allows you to do this:

Wally's Teaches You How to Bargain on Dilbert.com

Keep it Professional, and Civil - Don't Burn Bridges

  • DO NOT whine.
  • DO NOT get too passionate.
  • DO NOT get personal.

  • DO stay professional.

  • DO stay polite.

These are professional, business relationships. You will most likely need references from your current company when you decide to go somewhere else. Do not burn bridges.

Or, this will happen:

Bargaining works both ways...

(Unlikely though, as that would mean your boss tries to keep you while knowingly making you unhappy... Surely, he'd know no good can come from that. Or run for the hills, now!)

About Burn-Out

I haven't actually addressed this...

While it doesn't sound to me like you've burned out and are simply demotivated, I would say that there no age requirement or limit to burn out. It can happen at 23 like it can at 77. The good thing is that you can recover from it at 23 and look past it. It's harder at 45, for instance, to look for alternatives.

Don't overwork yourself. Don't do jobs for extended periods of time that suck the life and the joy of programming out of you. It doesn't seem like you were using these, so I doubt you actually burned out.

You were burned, but in a different way. Consider it just being a lesson. Now get back to work, get that raise or recognition, and remember to have fun coding. And if it's tough at the moment to have fun doing it, I'd even advise to pick up small projects that make it fun at the workplace (develop a tool to make something easier, something like this).

Pictures are courtesy of Dilbert.com and Scott Adams.

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    I loved this answer !! Fun, full of content and just good advices. Jul 9, 2012 at 9:15
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    +1, especially for the "Market yourself". That's something we geeks often forget. We sort of think that everybody should recognize what we are doing without us telling them. Well, sorry, most people just take for granted that we are doing our jobs and many bosses simply need gentle reminders about our achievements. Jul 9, 2012 at 9:20
  • @SoboLAN, MarjanVenema: Thanks. Glad you liked it. Indeed, people take other people's jobs for granted and expect them to be at their best and not want recognition for it. That's not just us. Ever noticed how we expect doctors, policemen or firemen to be at their best at all time? If they ever male human errors, we feel betrayed and offended, as if they were above that. Expectations are a strange thing. And even if it feels cheap or narcissistic, it's a good thing to keep track of achievements and to put them forward to the right person (not around the water cooler).
    – haylem
    Jul 9, 2012 at 9:27
  • Great answer. So many good take aways. I especially like the learn to keep track of what you do. This will pay big dividends both at this company and anytime anyone asks... "Hey what did you do at [fill in the blank]. Jul 9, 2012 at 9:39
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    @MichaelDurrant: considering SE's CC license, I assumed it would fall under the fair-share reuse, as it is applied for instance for other non-commercial content providers like Wikipedia. Attribution is given at the bottom of the post.
    – haylem
    Jul 9, 2012 at 11:42

That's not burnout, that's letdown.

Go talk to your boss. Cite your stellar performance record. Ask for a raise and a promotion. If he/she asks about your recent lackluster performance (if it has even been noticed!), be honest: you felt so let down and overlooked after the last big project that you've been demoralized, and have decided to ask for the recognition and reward that you think you deserve to repair the damage.

All he/she can do is say no. Technically he/she can also fire you, but at this point I doubt that you'd care a whole lot about that, it might even be a relief.

But first, look at stackoverflow.com/jobs to see what else is out there for you.

And, as always, don't take career advice from random strangers on the Internet ;)

And good luck!

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    Too many companies are "letdowns" ;/ I wonder if there are any decent companies around. Jul 9, 2012 at 6:06
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    @MichalFranc: Assuming there aren't... consider a career switch and let us know if it's better in other fields? :)
    – haylem
    Jul 9, 2012 at 7:47
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    +1 for "don't take career advice from random strangers on the Internet" :) Jul 10, 2012 at 10:34

Funks come and go. Oddly enough, every time I have found myself in a similar mood, it was also because I didn't feel that my work was appreciated. Once, I didn't get a raise that I thought I should have received and a bonus was less than I was expecting. It took me a year to get over that. I don't think the solution is necessarily to find a new job. Just keep working hard, it will pass. I promise it will pass.

In my case, I actually went out and found a new job, and my current company gave me about a 45% raise and a nice bonus to stay. That helped out quite a bit. My best advice is not necessarily to move - it may be best to keep working where you are and see what happens. If it doesn't improve, why not find another offer and give them an opportunity to counter it? You may be surprised at how much they actually value you. If they don't, then just take the kick in the balls and go to the new job - you only have your pride to lose and it is usually a good exercise to be humbled every now and then.


I'm my career I've found that raises and bonuses are great...for a while. But if the work and the people don't interest you then you will ultimately dislike the job. I would sit down with your manager and tell him/her what you felt when you weren't recognized for your accomplishments. Some mangers and companies are just awful at this and need to be prodded a little. Don't be embarrassed to fight for yourself. At the end of the day your biggest supporter needs to be yourself!


I think this is not burnout, but disappointment, also can be an important experience.

You show a very deep interest in computing and self improvement. This is a great and rare gift that you had, and also have it "somewhere" today. On the other hand, you can't "sell" this gift well (which I feel very close to my problems with this world anyway ;-) ), and rare managers are willing to pay for something that they can get for free ;-) . Yours were none of that kind.

You used this gift for three years and with success, under a good lead - you have gained tons of experience, and confidence, because you "know how you have done" many things, compared to lots of colleagues who "think how it should be done". This is the true value of that time, which can't be taken away from you - but of course you can choose not to use it. This is what you have done for the last one year and that makes you feel "burned out" today.

About the money. Many people would pay a lot for your experience - others would earn a lot for the job you have done. You are in the middle: got the experience for free - got no bonus for the result. Oops, I have almost forgotten: you were payed as an employee, and the management considered that this was a fair business. (You are young, and perhaps have not worked hard for months for a company that gone bankrupt and payed nothing, as I have. Sh*t happens.)

So, the lesson. You felt the management had made a bad decision: evaluated your contribution to the successful project as your duty for your salary. Have you asked them about this? Or your senior partner? Or just waited for the bonus? If you want something, or feel something unfair, ASK!

Of course you should not forget that you have your reasons, and they have their reasons - so maybe it is not beneficial to say: "you owe me a bonus" - if they felt so, you would have gotten it. But go and explain your devotion, your results, and that you have problem with the situation. You have to negotiate. This is business, and all is about the revenue. If they feel you are important for them, they care for this - if not, then they refuse your request (which is also NOT a disaster, just a feedback that you can learn from).

The problem here is the time. You had a position and reputation when you should have asked, but wasted a year, and moaning will not take it back. However: you were not fired, still get the same money for doing the third of what you have done - you will learn that this is not that bad at all... :-)

My advice: don't complain, get back on your feet again. If you are in good relationship, talk through this whole story with that senior. I don't think it is the best time for you to go to the management for any bonus - but you have a lot of time ahead that you should not waste. Focus on the experience you have, go for the next tasks with that power. Realize that you have not worked that hard for the money, but for the quest (should read about Motivation 3.0). And your current problem may not be the lack of bonus, but the fear that your work was not that honorable as you feel. Don't be so shy next time: at least you will have an answer to digest, not just hunger.

A must see: the Last lecture from Randy Pausch. Quote: "Don't complain, just try harder!" (from the first black baseball player, who had in his contract that he should not complain about being spit on by the crowd... just for the contrast).

Cheers! :-)

  • As I can see from topic starter its not about the money bonus its about "injustice": 2 peoples worked hard on project that was successful and at the end 1 of them received reward and a acknowledgement, but second person doesn't get anything at all... and it doesn't matter young or old employee this feeling of injustice stuff hits motivation pretty hard
    – artjom
    Jul 9, 2012 at 7:41
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    I totally agree. But who cares about this "feeling injustice"? In a fantasy world an angel should come and "make justice", but sorry, this is not a fairy tale, but life as it is. All of us get tons of slaps that we feel we haven't deserved, but the time we spend on moaning about them is simply wasted. Understanding and learning from them means deeper knowledge of ourselves, our true situation and values. That helps avoiding the next slaps, and perhaps makes us able to avoid GIVING such slaps to others. At least this is how I see it. Jul 9, 2012 at 7:52
  • @artjom (sorry, forgot to refer to your nick in my answer), and another point: I also don't focus on the bonus, but the post writer's true values and his time that he should not waste. Neither that money, nor the injustice worth NOT doing what he loves and is good at. Jul 9, 2012 at 8:02
  • If on current job, no one cares how he feels, then topic starter just need to move on and find new job place. Live is too short to spend 8-9 working hours on job where your efforts not appreciated
    – artjom
    Jul 9, 2012 at 11:22

Well, been there, done that, got the t-shirt but nothing else.

Simple answer : change company and let them roll without you : you'll earn more, have new challenges, meet new guys. When internal stuff ain't doing the trick, check another meadow.

Just keep in mind that you'll have to regrow a reputation, invest time, but it's worth it (just changed after 6 yrs in same company, got 10yrs of XP)

  • Simple answers might have simple outcomes: you might get the same treatment in the next position. You should be able to get more money with the switch, though. And indeed you need to start from the bottom again, in that you need to assert yourself and show your value again. I agree it might be worth it, but sometimes it gets a bit old if you do this too often.
    – haylem
    Jul 9, 2012 at 8:48

Scott Berkun has some things to say - and they're very good things too.

On surviving creative burnout, he says:

Even with the most calculating and evil manager, if you report to them you’re an asset to them. When you’re toasty, you’re at risk of crashing completely and become entirely useless.

So even if they see you as a yuppified form of urban cattle, they want you producing and creating over the long haul. If they can convert weeks of malaise and crappy work into a handful of days, it’s entirely in their interest to do so. It’s pure economics. A more likely situation is that, if your manager is paying any attention at all, they already know there’s something wrong. They can sense the difference in your behavior in meetings, and see the quality or precision of the work you’re producing. A good manager would ask and investigate to find out what’s wrong (it’s their job), but some don’t know what to say. In that case, it’s up to you.

Here’s an easy way to go: “Hey boss. I’m concerned about something. I haven’t been as motivated as I’d like on this project for the last 2 weeks. I’m trying to figure out why, and it’s possible I’m burnt out on some aspect of this work. If you have suggestions for me, I’m open to them, but I just wanted to make sure you were aware of what’s going on. I’ll keep you posted as I figure out what we can do about it.” By starting a conversation like this, you take responsibility for you burnout. You score points with you manager (and with yourself) for be aware of what’s going on, and taking a mature and open course of action about it.

Now, he's talking about times when you're just losing the will to bother, your case is a bit more extreme but the points still stand: take a mature attitude to this. You may feel depressed but no-one will give much of a fig unless you at least start to help yourself. So see your manager and point out the unfairness of it all (not in a whiny way, of course, but in a responsible "I want to be a more productive asset to you" kind of way) which should bring him onto your side of things a little. Then you are in a decent position to get a bonus for yourself and to start a ball of promotion and general manager-is-aware-of-you rolling uphill. (god, I sound like a marketing manager!)

In short - try to overcome your feelings of depression and get dealing with the situation in as professional a manner as possible. If it fails, you were going to tell them to stick it anyway, so you lose nothing. If it succeeds, all well and good. The only bad thing you can do here is to dwell on it and stew in your own juices.


It happens, it sucks but it happens. I would talk to your boss or his boss about it.

In addition I would try to take steps to re-find the passion, get involved in a local meetup and maybe give a few talks, or find a hackathon to go to. If nothing else when you do decide to make the jump it will help if your name is known around town.

It might also be worth while to spend some time on non work stuff. Start running or take up a hobby, join the local theater group etc. To broaden your life and let you get your head out of work for a while


There are different ways to react to disappointment, and an attitude of "not caring" is not a good one. It is hard when you are wondering to yourself what difference does it make whether you do a good job of not. That is demotivating and a lot of people respond that way. But the key question you need to ask yourself is what is your investment for the future? If you are not on top of your game, then that would affect your ability in giving good answers to questions at interviews? Alternatively if you decide to stay where you are, you might get passed over for promotion, thus deprieving yourself of the massive bonuses you missed out on. It doesn't matter who you work for, always be on top of your game. You need to be these days.

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