Geek Job Guru: Welcome To Career Development Hell

Confusion Signs

We’ve all heard of “Development Hell”, where a media project is just not moving forward (even if it’s moving in circles).   If you work in media you’ve not only heard of this dreaded term, you probably fear it and may have even experienced it. If you don’t work in media, you’re at least aware of it and probably enjoy making fun of the previously mentioned media people and their travails.

Either way it’s something we’ve heard of.  Also, stop making fun of people experiencing Development Hell, because it’s a horrible experience.

Nothing going forward. Changes. Restarts. Activity with no results, or no activity with a promise of results. Doubtlessly we’ve all had some believed show, film, or game we were looking forward to in Development Hell; perhaps one we worked on.

However, when we look at Development Hell, it starts sounding awful familiar . . . and then we’ve realized that we’ve been in Development Hell before even if we never worked in media. We’ve been stagnant in our lives, or social lives, or our projects, and so on. We’ve been there before personally, when some of our lives just went nowwhere.

One area of their lives where too many people end up in “Development Hell” is careers.

When I first became aware of people being stuck in “Development Hell” career-wise it suddenly made a lot of things make sense.  I realized that the term applied perfectly to some people’s careers.  Now, I had a metaphor to describe what had happened to them – and help prescribe a way out.

So let’s check the signs you’re in Career Development Hell, because that’s what I do here . . .

Warning Signs You’re In Career Development Hell

This is where your media knowledge comes to the fore. You can look at Development Hell of projects you’ve known and realize when they apply to your career or that of people you know. Me, here’s the signs I’ve seen:

Going in Circles: Just like any film or game or show, you know you or someone is in Career Development Hell when said career is just going in endless circles. This class doesn’t lead to a career so yet another class is taken. Promises of promotions come up but are never realized.  It’s an endless treadmill where nothing happens.

Endless Revisions: Ever hear how shows and films get endless rewrites in Development Hell? That happens in careers. Positions keep changing and don’t mean anything or go anywhere so you can’t keep moving.  The latest reorg is just as confusing as the last reorg – but hey, at least there will be another one soon. You’ve always got some great new plan that somehow keeps changing so nothing results. Standards keep changing so you can never meet them.

Stagnation: Maybe nothing is happening, and you wish they were going in circles because at least there’d be motion and new (if repeated) scenerey. Nothing just happens time after time to the point you want something to happen.

A Change Of Staff: Your business (or future business), department, etc. keep having turnover and changes of people and position. No one can go anywhere because everyone is going everywhere.  You wonder why you’re there and just what you’re doing.

Restarts: Your career (or that of someone you know) seems to be constantly restarted or rebooted. This next job will be different. This lateral movement will really change things. This class didn’t work, so let’s quit halfway and take another. If someone is constantly restarting then they’re not really starting – and thus not finishing.


One reason I bring this up as a specific geek concern is that I think that geeks in general are creative, active types. Because we’ve got so much going on in our heads, with our skills, and in our hobbies we can miss that we’re not going anywhere. Because we often work on the cutting edge, we might not realize the edge is more like a chakram than a knife.  Fortunately because we’re also so familiar with projects and industries that have Development Hell issues we can also catch it and break out because when you know to look for it, you see it.

So how do you break out of Development Hell career-wise, or help your friends? Glad you asked . . .

Getting Out Of Career Development Hell

OK you’re aware that you’re in Career Development Hell – or that your friend is (and no, I really believe it’s your friend, not you). How do you break out?

Development Hell is, in the end, a form of stagnation in a situation that’s not working for you or that you can’t work with. So the goal is to get moving or get out . . .

Get Results: One way to break out of a rut like this is to focus on getting results – that means finding something, perhaps anything, that lets you get a change in place and getting it done. Much as a film could move ahead by releasing a prototype, you can move forward by setting a goal and doing something. Finish a class, take on a new project, get a new responsibility. This may be a great solution if you just have no idea what to do because you advance and get a sense of motion (and maybe some new ideas).

Get And Follow A Plan: Set a plan to get out of your rut, and set specific measurable goals – and then review them. Make sure you move forward constantly and stick with the plan as long as it’s working. Even if it’s not the best plan, you’ll at least keep moving. Eventually, yes, you may want to change the plan, but give it a good time to work – being a bit hard-headed can help.

Translate: Maybe your current situation just isn’t working out, so much as a movie can end up a TV show, maybe you need a radical change to a different career format. Perhaps you need a larger or smaller company, or you want to move up or down the ladder, or laterally from one coding language to another. Find a “format” that fits you better and make the move – and stick with it unless the change is a definitely wrong choice.

Give Up: Maybe it’s time to let a particular project or job die and start over somewhere. It happens. At least you’re not wasting time.  Sometimes it’s better than the alternative – and you can plan a smart exit into a different and likely better career situation.



Development Hell can happen to a lot of aspects of our lives, and our careers are an area that can be distinctly “Development Hellish.” Being aware of the concept of Development Hell makes you aware of when it happens outside of the usual media spheres.  In fact I’d like to see the term used more outside the media, because it’s a great term.

The symptoms of Career Development Hell really aren’t much different than the media where the term originated. Unlike a lot of the media, you don’t have to be as risk adverse and can take some chances to get out.

It’ll probably be worth it.

– Steven Savage