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I am a software developer and have been working at my current company for nearly three years. A very close friend of mine, Bob, is also a software developer at another company, but in a more senior/management role. I am starting to get itchy feet in my company and would like to consider opportunities elsewhere.

The thing is that my friend Bob has been trying to convince me to work at his company for a long time. The work sounds interesting, the company seems good and perks are great. It ticks all the boxes, it is just that I am not sure how it will affect our friendship for him to suddenly become my boss. The development team is quite intimate so I would be working directly under him. I repeatedly consider scenarios where I am under-performing and our friendship would begin to sour.

How could we make it work in a professional sense but also retain the benefits of and protect our friendship?

5

Power dynamic is a thing.

A big part of this is going to depend on what the dynamic of your friendship is already. If you're already in a friendship where he's the natural leader, then the power dynamic shift is likely to be fairly painless. If your friendship is one of equals, or one where you tend to be the one to take charge, that's going to involve a significant psychological shift, and one that's likely to produce a fair bit of friction - which could be damaging to both your friendship and your work life, as the two of you work it out.

Job fit is a thing.

Another big part of it is going to be how capable you personally actually are at your job, and what the standards of the job actually are. If you're one of the best coders on his team, then a lot of stuff gets a lot more comfortable, and some of the potential issues with power dynamic loosen up a bit. If you're one of the worst, then it is exactly the opposite. Fortunately, there's a good way to handle this. You can talk with your friend about how capable you really are, at some time when neither of you is on the clock. Be open, be up front, be blunt. Lay out every single one of the professional issues that you have that you normally try to hide or downplay at job interviews, and be as honest as possible about them. After all, your main issue here is that you want to make sure to avoid a bad fit, rather than to seal the deal. If he's sure he still wants you after he knows all of your issues, then it'll probably go pretty well... and if it starts to go badly, then the fact that you told him everything up front will help to limit the damage. (It'll also help him manage you better, which is often helpful.) If he doesn't, then you've probably dodged a bullet, and you can stay being friends while you look for a different job.

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I would like to focus on something you said:

I repeatedly consider scenarios where I am under-performing and our friendship would begin to sour.

This is an important phrase. It would be true if either you or Bob were unable to separate job from personal life. Therefore, I suggest you prepare yourself mentally to be aware that this does not happen (something you should do in any job actually).

I think that many here will agree on the perils that exist when one starts doing that. IMO, it is not professional to confuse or mix those two, as in this case a problem in one of them would have repercussions on the other, and vice-versa.

Although we are human beings, and companies are in essence bunches of humans cooperating together (were each one has its feelings and social aspects), part of being a Professional worker is that one is able to do such separation from professional life and personal life.

To put it in other words, the fact that some work project is not going as expected should have nothing to do with the "degree" and depth of the friendship (if any) that you have with your coworkers.

So,

How could we make it work in a professional sense but also retain the benefits of and protect our friendship?

I suggest you give a good thought to the situation exposed before. If you feel that you are unable to do such separation, and you value Bob's friendship, I strongly suggest you refrain from taking such job.

If not, then I see no problem with you taking such job. In fact, it could actually be a great opportunity to take your friendship to another level, perhaps to strengthen it if handled properly. Even more, if you are truly good friends, I am sure your work dynamics between you two would be better than any other you may probably have with a non-friend coworker, and that would surely be profitable and positive for all.

As a last suggestion, after giving this a good thought, consider having the same discussion with Bob. That way you can expose your worries to him, and make him see that even though you would like that job your friendship is more important to you.

Together, you can determine if this course of action is safe for both parts, or if it is better to refrain from working together and settle with "just" being great friends. Remember to be really sure about what you decide, as this situation could have more negative consequences than positive ones if not handled correctly.

  • I think the point of having a conversation with Bob before moving forward is an important move also. That way you can at least get a feel for how Bob would approach it. Even if you can partition work from personal, perhaps Bob can't, and that should be equally important to you if you're working under him, because of how that can and will affect your work environment. – JoeCo Dec 5 '17 at 21:15
  • @QckLrner yes, that why I suggested OP to do that in my answer, as this is a situation were both parts have to be aware and commit to make this work – DarkCygnus Dec 5 '17 at 21:16
  • The answer says "it will work if you can separate your business lives." However, nobody can do that. The sentence "it will work if you can separate your business lives" is equivalent to saying "it won't work". – Fattie Dec 6 '17 at 16:48
  • @Fattie I am sorry you are unable to do so. In a way, you are right, it is not possible to completely separate those two aspects. However, one has to try to give each one of them the time and attention they need, seeking to minimize the negative consequences not being able to draw the line will have. It is not something easy to do, but is something one has to be constantly aware of. – DarkCygnus Dec 6 '17 at 18:09
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First and foremost, talk to Bob about this. The two of you are considering adding a significantly different context to your existing relationship. If your friendship is very close, you should be able to brace this topic together. Make some explicit agreements around how you'll deal with disagreements, performance, etc. Make sure you're touching base frequently to get (and give) feedback, and that you're both comfortable with a no-blood-no-foul ending if it feels like it's not working.

If you decide to give it a try, understand that there's now work-mode and friend-mode, and be explicit about shifting between them. If you're out for drinks or dinner and there's a work topic on your mind, say, "Do you mind if we talk about work for a moment?" If you're at the office and want to make social plans, say, "Hey, do you have a moment to talk about Saturday?" Keeping these context shifts clear helps avoid behaving like a friend in a professional context, and vice versa.

Also, be mindful of your status as "Bob's Very Close Friend." It's going to be a factor in other relationships inside the team, especially if no one else enjoys that status. I'd recommend that Bob not make a big deal of it when you're being interviewed, and that you downplay it in the office. Avoid talking about that amazing thing you did together last weekend unless other folks from the team were along. Be sparing in telling stories about your shared history.

Finally, recognize that making this choice is also committing to Bob's career success. As a very close friend, Bob is going to (quite reasonably) expect considerable loyalty and support from you. If you find yourself in a situation where you're not comfortable giving those (e.g. you disagree with a choice or direction), you absolutely must toe the line publicly while quietly taking him aside privately and letting him know where your support must end.

Huge +1 to the links @Dukeling posted in comments above, and overall, be very thoughtful about this. It can be a great choice, or a tragic one.

-5

Best answer, Dont`t.

But if you like what you can have in that company, position wise (salary, benefits etc) and the company is not a Mom&Pop shop, you can go in.

IMHO, beforehand you should talk to the friend / future boss to iron out that work stays at work and personal is private. In that case you could show yourself well in the new company and at sign of trouble transfer to different department while staying friends outside of work.

  • 5
    "Best answer, Dont`t." - I don't see any question in the post that could be answered by that. Would you mind explaining? – DarkCygnus Dec 5 '17 at 15:41
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    Also, if both OP and Bob are professionals on their work I see no problem for them to working together. Who knows? It could even be the start of a new level of relationship, and could also be profitable (as both probably would have better job dynamics with each other). – DarkCygnus Dec 5 '17 at 15:53
  • DarkCygnus, The actual question in the post is should OP move to work under his friend to be his immediate boss. Any professional interaction will shadow and be shadowed by personal relations. – Strader Dec 5 '17 at 19:32

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