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They keep me fairly busy at work, and I've got a number of cool projects. We don't have a Google 20% time to work on our own ideas, and we have process improvement engineers and R&D engineers who spend their entire careers working on and thinking up new ideas. I'm not a process engineer, an R&D engineer, or a senior engineer with the freedom to choose or invent my own projects, but I've come up with some projects that I'd like to explore.

How should I pursue this? I don't want to appear arrogant to my superiors, I don't want to tell R&D what they should be working on, and I definitely can't just put off my assigned projects to work on what I want to work on. I would like to get payment and/or attribution for the ideas, but that's not as important as seeing it happen. I'd also like new ideas to happen with the support groups that we already have (I don't want to do someone else's job.)

As far as I can tell, my options are:

  1. Submit the project to my superiors/R&D.
  2. Make time in my schedule or work more hours to do the project at work.
  3. Work on the project at home.

None of these seem to be ideal.

I can submit the project to someone higher on the decision chain, but my ideas generally aren't necessary to the business or safe bets, like the ones that they are constantly receiving. I discuss many of them with my boss, and he generally thinks they're good ideas. Sometimes I have a solution for a pie-in-the-sky feature request that gets put off as too hard. I just don't want to go to the gurus and say "Look, why didn't you try this? You should spend the next couple weeks implementing it." I'm just an hourly intern.

Working ahead isn't really an option because they keep a list of projects in my queue. When I get one done, I'm supposed to move onto the next highest priority, and I really can't just ignore that for my ideas.

Working on it at home is possible, but then I lack the support chain that the rest of the group provides, have lesser tools, and might get into some issues with not being able to take stuff home. Additionally, I don't get paid for it this way, and this method also guarantees that it will take more time than if it was implemented at work.

Has anyone else had similar struggles? I'm sure that most every engineer has ideas, and I'd like to hear about what you did to submit them to your company.

Edit: We have about 5,000 employees at my company. However, I work in the testing department with about 15 other people; it really doesn't feel very big. I personally know most of the people who have developed the projects that I want to work on.

Edit2: I've proposed my ideas to my boss, and he's been interested. I'd rather not just submit them to R&D, as the devices and systems I want to work on would be familiar to myself and my department, but new to the R&D guys.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Can you tell us about how many employees this company has? I'm just curious about "we have process improvement engineers and R&D engineers who spend their entire careers working on and thinking up new ideas". \$\endgroup\$ – endolith Jun 20 '10 at 3:01
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I think the fact that you're an hourly intern puts you in a tough spot. While I find your spirit and initiative admirable, and probably a sign of a good engineer in development, I think you're unlikely to find a solution where you will get paid to work on those ideas.

Getting paid to work on, as you say, "pie-in-the-sky" ideas is one of the hardest qualities to find in a job. You need a trusting boss, an impressive track record of successful implementation of previous work, and a company in a dynamic field. I think it's easier to find jobs that are high-paying, easy, or both.

The best strategies I can think of are to impress your boss or inject your ideas into the R&D team. Perhaps you could swing a deal with your boss along the lines of "If I can get this project done well by Monday instead of Tuesday, can I spend Monday working on this new idea? You pay the same amount either way, and this idea is really awesome."?

Good luck.

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    \$\begingroup\$ First, I may have exaggerated when I said they're pie-in-the-sky ideas. They're legitimate, feasible projects, with an established need. ("Can we run our programs embedded on this device as a script instead of connecting the device to a PC?" -> My experience with eLua). Others I just want to explore further than we've already gone. When I've talked to my boss about some of my ideas, he's been supportive and interested, but we've never actually gotten to the point of setting aside any time to work on them. That's the stage I'm at. \$\endgroup\$ – Kevin Vermeer Jun 20 '10 at 22:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ I have some things to add, but it will be tuesday before I can. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Jun 21 '10 at 4:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ If your boss is supportive and interested, and you really want to get stuff implemented, try implementing one or two on your own time-- maybe get to work an hour early and try something out. If you can get to a convincing proof of concept, your boss might go for it. \$\endgroup\$ – pingswept Jun 21 '10 at 16:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Kortuk - Were you going to add your things? It's been a while. I was just investigating my newly reached 1k rep here: sof.modos.org/tracker/seupdate/chiphacker.com/230 (230 is Kortuk, everyone else replace with your user #), and noticed that I had forgotten to select an answer because I was waiting for yours. Pingswept's answer is something I'm more than willing to accept, if you've forgotten what you were going to add. \$\endgroup\$ – Kevin Vermeer Jul 21 '10 at 14:00
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Have you described your projects to the boss? Instead of worrying about process too much, just ask him to give you a couple days to work on it. You are a low-paid intern, so use this to your advantage. If you waste a couple of days on a project, the company hasn't wasted a senior engineer's salary on the idea. But be pretty sure you can get the project done on time before suggesting it, because your success will lead to further opportunities.

It's OK to be enthusiastic as an intern. That's really what you were hired for, not experience or knowledge.

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Does your company host student projects? I'm thinking about master thesis and such. If yes, you could ask to be a mentor for a student project in your company and supervise students implementing your ideas. I suppose you could set some of your working time as supervision.

Of course, I have no clue if your ideas could apply to student projects...

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Easy mistake to make, but this question is from June. It's at the top from "tag cleanup" duties. You'll see waves of old questions pop to the top as people fix old tags. \$\endgroup\$ – tyblu Dec 13 '10 at 13:26

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