I had a bad couple of weeks. They weren't terrible, just bad. I didn't get into a screaming match with anyone. I didn't get lied to. I didn't get reassigned onto some bullshit tasks. I just bashed my head against the wall over and over with the same group of thoroughly mediocre colleagues i have had to deal with since i started working here.
This is the first job i have ever had where i am the smartest person in the room. I don't fucking like it one bit.
It's not so much that my colleagues don't have the knowledge, it's that they don't have the slightest interest in improving. Even when applying a simple rule or learning just one new keyboard shortcut would save us hours of work every day, they don't care. There is no reward for high output. There is no punishment for bad performance. It's like half the team just decided that doing the bare minimum was good enough and then they checked out. Well, fuck. It's not good enough. Even if you don't give a shit about making your own life better, it should go without saying that you should at least not be so negligent that you undermine the work your colleagues are doing. Yeah, no. Apparently that's still too much effort.
I knew when i went for the job that it was not a team of over-achievers, but i figured that would be fine. I wasn't searching for a hardcore gig. I just wanted something relaxing that would keep some money coming in while i focused on learning Chinese and exploring the Pearl River Delta. A job that i could do in my sleep seemed like the perfect thing.
Of course, i should have known better that work life balance is not a thing that i can do. I'm not going to explore the PRD in my free time. Either i am working, or i am not. A few hours in the evening and 2 days each week is not enough time for me to unwind. When i am working, that's it, that's all i got. So, it turns out that this joe job is just as all-consuming as any other job. Fine. The problem is, this joe job is just... okay.
What i didn't factor in was this: if you have a bad day at an okay job, then the job ends up becoming bad - on average. If you have a bad day at a good job, it's still a bad day. Still sucks. But overall the job is still okay. The difference is that in this job, it only takes a few bad days to make think, what the fuck am i doing here?
Then, the other day, i looked at my bank account. I almost have six fucking figures. That's RMB so it is much less money than it sounds like, but it's still a lot more than most Chinese will ever see in their account. It seems i got a raise back in June or July that i didn't know about because i never look at my bank account because (broken record) computer programmers are shamefully overpaid.
When i know that i have enough money in my bank account to live for a year without working, it really kills my motivation to work. That means the only reason i am keeping the job is to keep my visa. And if - on average, due to the few bad days - the job is bad... then that sucks. I don't need it for the money. I don't need it for personal development because my colleagues are hopeless. And I don't need it for my résumé. In fact it's actively hurting my résumé the longer i stay here, because after 10 years in senior engineering and management, now i am a grunt.
So what the fuck?
Yeah, i started applying for other jobs. I am keeping my circle small - basically anywhere in China south and west of Shanghai. Actually, that circle is very fucking big and includes dozens of major cities. But of all those cities, only five of them seem very open to foreigners: Guangzhou, Zhuhai and Shenzhen (here in the PRD); Chengdu in Sichuan; and Xiamen in Fujian (just across the strait from Taiwan). Although there are English-language jobs in places like Changsha and Dongguan and Chongqing and so on, they tend to be very specialized positions for expats with skills in manufacturing or supply chain management.
Anyway, my circle is quite small - maybe 10 new English-language jobs a day in my field. Shanghai alone has 20-30 a day, and that's not including Shanghai-adjacent cities like Hangzhou and Nanjing. Beijing area has way more again.
I'm not sure why i am steering clear of the two main hotspots for foreigners in China. I am scared Beijing would be too bourgeois for me. Every news story coming out of there is about aggressive gentrification. Shanghai already felt suffocatingly generic, and it doesn't even have the federal government breathing down its neck.
Then again, all the great clubs and underground artists and pretty much everything internationally relevant happening in China is happening in one of those two cities (much to the chagrin of Hong Kong).
I dunno. I guess i don't hate my job enough to venture too far away from my little safe space down here in the warm and hilly south. I mean, that's the thing, right? I don't hate my job. It just isn't... good.
I already phone-interviewed with a company that makes robots. Robots! How cool would it be to work at a company that makes robots? Although, that's what i thought when i signed up with this company that does supply chain stuff. That's what i thought when i went to work for a company that was in the fashion industry. That's what i thought when i went to work for a company that made supercomputers for NASA. I keep thinking i am going to get to get exposure to some cool new industry, and then it turns out i am just doing the same old boring coding that i always did.
Perhaps i keep seeking that excitement i had in my very first job as programmer. It was a company of about 5 people, not a startup, just an incredibly tight vertical that had been going for 20-odd years by the time i started. We did healthcare software and industrial software. I spoke to admins and nurses almost every day. I got to talk to weighbridge operators and factory foremen. The code i wrote wasn't great, but i was right in touch with the customers and could build them just what they wanted.
I guess i still do that now, but because i've built what the customer wanted a million times over, it doesn't feel as cool any more.
Or maybe i hated my job back then too and i just don't remember because it was 15 freakin years ago.
Whatever. The worst part is... Next Monday i have another one-on-one with the new CTO and he has already teased he is going to offer me a promotion. Next Wednesday he is doing an all-hands where he will presumably present his grand plan for restructuring the department.
The thing is, i don't know if i want it. What bothers me most at this job isn't that i don't have enough responsibility, or that i don't have enough power to affect technical change. It's that most of my colleagues are shit and do not care. And if he wants to make me the boss of the shit, then that is a job i do not want. I really enjoy mentoring and coaching and helping young guys become great. That's a cool job and i already do it now with the few guys in the office who have potential. But most of them don't. I don't want these last few weeks of bashing my head against a brick wall to become my full-time position description.
Urgh... So all this stuff has been going over and over in my head and i have been losing sleep over it. And that's dumb. Losing sleep over work when it's not even a really awful job. I've had so much worse jobs! But... yeah. It's just so... average. It's making me depressed 😔