What to do while on bench?

Why should you bother reading this?

If you have started reading this article, there is a good chance you are either on bench, or are to be join the bench soon; if you are concerned about what you ought to do during this time, it is a great start. However, if you just stumbled upon this article and have no idea what bench is, let’s bring you up to speed.

Photo by d d on Unsplash

What is bench?

Software companies in the business of providing services have a pool of people not actively working on any project. The bench strength, just like in a sports team, helps the companies in two ways. First, the company gets to show prospective clients that they have trained individuals ready to start working on a new project, and second, the current population of employees actively working can be replaced with the potential employees on bench.

Bench to project and back

Preparing for bench

If you know that you would be joining the bench, now is a good time to have a discussion with you manger.
Prior to the discussion, I recommend making a list of your achievements while on the project. This could contain anything you did that resulted in improving customer experience, or a routine that you optimized, or even all the tasks you delivered in time. Along with this, also keep a list of things that went wrong and how you have worked on learning and improving from your mistakes.
Now that you are prepared, setup some time with your manager, and ask for their feedback on what impact you had while working on the project, what according to them could you have done better, and how they recommend you improve. Also talk about the achievements you listed prior to the meeting. Check with them if they would be evaluating your immediate next appraisal. If so, this meeting is a good reminder for them when they evaluate you. If not, request them for a feedback email for your appraisal.
If the end to the project was abrupt, you can still reach out to your manager virtually and have the same discussion.

I am on bench now. What do I do?

Now that you are on bench and hopefully have a good feedback from your manager, it is time to start working on self improvement. Most of the companies provide free learning resources such as Pluralsight, Udemy, Coursera, ACG, and a lot of others. It is time to start learning. Treat your bench time the same as if you were on a project. Spend the same amount of time, with the same productivity in improving yourself. I can’t think of any other industry where employees are paid to improve their skills. However, if your company doesn’t provide you with free access to any learning platform, YouTube is a great alternative.
Many of the companies have internal certifications that they recommend you complete while on bench. Unless these are mandatory to keep your job, I recommend not to do these, since these internal certifications carry no value to any other company once you change your job. Instead, there are a lot of credible certifying authorities like AWS, Microsoft, Google, etc. Try to pursue a certification path for any of these. While most of the companies reimburse certification costs, in case they don’t and you do not want to spend money on these, making sample projects exhibiting the skills you have learn from those tutorial videos is a great way to start.

That’s ok. But I don’t know what project to make!

Not knowing what to do is the most common problem. I would recommend thinking of automating something in the field that interests you the most. Say if you like playing chess, try and make a chess game. If you want to do something advance, think of implementing chess960 with the same code base. The easiest and usually the most impactful place to start is thinking of automating things around you. Is the attendance mechanism of employees on bench automated? If not, make a prototype and propose it to your bench coordinator. Create an automated feedback web form that gets sent to managers when they reject an employee on bench after an interview. Devise a mechanism to anonymize that feedback and send data points to employees to improve. The opportunities are endless.

Always be on the lookout

And lastly, always be on the lookout for better opportunities. Companies never stop looking for talented people to raise their talent pool bar, so should you.

If there is anything specific that you would like addressed, feel free to drop a comment on this post.

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