I don't know if this is "normal" for other people but I've seen a trend with my boss in the last months.

I have always been trusted and respected by former bosses and coworkers, so (impostor syndrome excluded) I consider myself an above-average software developer.

I'm not really sure if my boss has a different opinion (I have always received positive reviews) but he jokes more and more often with other coworkers, customers and suppliers that our applications may not work because of some bugs I put in or that some new features may be almost impossible due to my lack of skills.

I may understand that this kind of jokes once in a while may be completely acceptable but I'm starting to think that when repeated so often they may damage my reputation.

I'm not sure if he does this just to get a laugh, to put psychological pressure on me or just to put his hands forward in case a project fails to have someone to blame (or already blamed).

I tried to hint to my boss that this bothers me and also to joke back (saying that whether or not things are successful depends also on him doing his job in the proper way) but he seems completely uninterested about me having an issue with this behavior.

Since it's very subtle and always done "jokingly" I'm already sure that in a direct confrontation this would be downplayed as me worrying about nothing and a reputation of being difficult.

Is there any other route I can take?

As an additional detail it may be important to say that he keeps this behavior also with some of my other coworkers (the SW developers), not with me exclusively, but I think that with me he is a bit worse.

  • 1
    The last sentence changed the whole question.
    – isaace
    Nov 8 '17 at 18:39
  • If I were in your situation I would set some serious one on one time with the manager and review all your achieved, in progress and on hold work. Let him provide feedback on how things can be done better on areas that you are lacking. This is the only way to get real answers. Let your boss continue make constant jokes about your work. Maybe his personality shows that he does this to people he likes and respects.
    – Isaiah3015
    Nov 8 '17 at 19:47

Ask. But ask in a way that indicates you are curious if there is an underlying problem.

Hey Boss, you often joke about me putting bugs in the code or not making the code usable. I was wondering if there really was a problem with my work, and if so, could we talk about it so I know what to do differently.

If he says yes, there is a problem, then listen. Perhaps there really is something you could be doing in a better way. Make sure you aren't defensive, and be open to feedback (although feedback via jokes is pretty useless).

If he says no, there isn't really a problem, and he's just joking around, then politely ask him to stop:

When you make jokes like that, it makes me look bad to users and management. That is hurting my reputation, which hurts me. Could we find a different way to make jokes that are less harmful? I would really appreciate that.

If he agrees, but then goes back to the joking, bring it up as needed:

Hey, that's one of those kinds of jokes that we agreed we'd avoid. Right?

If he doesn't agree to change his joking, or always forgets anyway, even if he says there is no problem, then the real problem is your boss.

  • I like this direct aproach. At worst if he really is joking, he sees that his teasing is/may be misinterpreted and stops it. At best there is an issue with your performance indeed and you re set on the right track to redeem yourself.
    – Leon
    Nov 9 '17 at 13:46

This is probably not the best approach, but from time to time I enjoy taking other people's jokes too seriously.

Basically when he does this kind of joke you act as if it isn't a joke and an extremely serious concern. Ask what bug specifically he could be referring to and that if you lack skills it could be important to get a formal training or coaching. When he will explain that it was just a joke, take it slightly further and explain that resolving bugs is a serious part of your job. If in the end it becomes too awkward you can joke that you were kidding about taking this too seriously and that its all good.

I enjoy doing that because it often makes the other person rather uncomfortable so they won't want to make the joke again. However, some people may react differently which is why I started this answer saying this isn't the best approach.

  • 1
    I think it is a good approach. But it has to be rehearsed before hand (in front of a mirror perhaps) so that it does not come across as aggressive. Another is to practice rebuttal jokes, which you roll out every time. "If only we had someone who could report clearly on these bugs, we could fix them. Some sort of manager perhaps."
    – PaulD
    Nov 10 '17 at 14:34
  • yeah, it isn't quite the simplest thing to do, and its easier to do it with someone with whom you're comfortable
    – everyone
    Nov 10 '17 at 14:45

This is clearly bothering you, so approach him and discuss the issue in private. Arrange a one on one, and get right to the point:

Hi boss, lately you've been making a bunch of comments regarding my abilities as a programmer. I was wondering if this is because you have concerns regarding my performance, or the quality of my deliverables.

His answer will guide the conversation going forward. If he says he was purely joking, however, ask him to stop:

I understand that you meant it all as a joke, but could I please kindly ask you to not joke like this around customers? I feel that it's impacting their perception of me negatively. I'm supposed to be the subject matter expect, and them doubting my skills or abilities impact the quality of the support I am able to deliver to them.

That little twist at the end makes it about the company, and the customer, rather than your own feelings, and you avoid coming across as "difficult". If your boss is mature, he will take your concerns to heart, and stop. If he isn't (which is probably why he's making these incredibly tasteless jokes to begin with), then you may need to revisit this conversation ... Remember that he can only brush you off if you let him.

Now as far as him doing this to the rest of the team is concerned, don't conflate your own situation with theirs unless they elect you as their spokesman.


It's obvious your boss is giving you feedback in an inappropriate/undesirable way, but what you haven't talked about is whether or not he is accurate in the assessment of your coding.

Ask for some one one one time and review the code he jokes about. Ask what you should do differently or have alternate solutions ready and see if they are acceptable. He may indicate your code is fine and he was truly joking. He may have to acknowledge he doesn't know good or bad code when he sees it. This could result in him stopping the jokes or he may get defensive. Not sure what you can do after that.

If I were a client, and the boss of a software company made jokes about his developer's bad code, I would suggest he find better coders or better yet, the company needs to find a better manager or one who refrains from bad jokes.

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