I was once working as an engineer at a company that made graphics software, and I was very excited to play a role in coding and creating the newest products. When I was first hired, they asked me to please clean up an old project that was written poorly.

Code Cleanup requires a very high skill level, and offers much less “pride of authorship” than releasing new products, but I understood that I needed to prove myself.

The second time they asked me to do a cleanup project I was a bit more annoyed, because the messy code had been written by a colleague while I was doing the previous cleanup. My employer implored me again, “We know it’s not ideal, but there’s nobody else here who can do it.”

Again I acquiesced, but after pointing out that if I had been a collaborator (as was promised in my job offer), then it would have been written correctly the first time. I did the work anyway.

The third time they asked me to do a cleanup for something that had been written during my employment, I quit.

Bear in mind, this was a younger me. I was in my 20s and I was terrified that a few months could permanently derail my career. Today, with far greater experience, I now don’t mind taking on the less flashy projects. But today I’m not defending my career trajectory.

I always try to remember that ambitious young folks consider the importance of each project to be vital to their career success. Asking someone to burn their youth on an unsexy project is a bigger “ask” than older folks realize. It should not be done lightly, nor often.