I got my first software engineering job little more than half a year ago and I am struggling with our lead engineer.

Long story short, he tells me what and when to do things. Most of the emails he sends me are really vague and not clear, containing just a few words about my tasks.

I tried to ask for more clarification but his attitude makes me feel like I don't know anything and I sometimes feel worthless. There was this one time I was really stuck on a problem, it had to do with some permissions which I didn't had and he told me to ask him tomorrow, so I spent the whole day just staring at the screen trying to sort something out.

The other dev I tried to reach out to was more helpful, but he wants me to do things his way and I am asking myself is that normal?

I reached a point now where I just stopped asking any questions and just trying to do things myself because every time I ask a question I am left feeling like I know absolutely nothing and the feeling is horrible.

The lead engineer also hoards information and tries to manage everything. I love what I do, I love to code, I just don't know how to act in situations like this where your superior is not responsive at all and the only responsive person forces his ideas upon me.

How does one react in a situation like this? I would love other your opinions on that. Thank you.

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    Lead developers may consider you more proficient than you are. Do you have a mentor? If not, talk to your boss about getting one. – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Sep 29 '18 at 21:11
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    Talk to your superior about the situation. Being a mentor takes time, effort and skill, and their time may be better spent on doing their own job instead of teaching you. – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Sep 29 '18 at 21:22
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    lead engineer is also your manager? – Kilisi Sep 30 '18 at 0:23
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    Couldn't imagine being that way. I'm lead developer where I work and pretty the most important thing I do is to help others learn from one another (and me from them obviously). Sounds like you got a toxic environment there, I would recommend you leave. Developers are highly sought after, you should have a new job lined up by weeks end. No guarantees with that though, might want to take an afternoon off and just go to new potential employer and work with them (pro bono) for that afternoon, to see how they work. (They also get to know you that way) – rkeet Sep 30 '18 at 9:06
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    Your profile says UK. If you're in the London region, you really should have a new job reallllllly quick. Have a look on SO Jobs - 413 job hits within 50km of London at time of this comment (no specifications though ;) - Also, have a look on LinkedIn and such. Easy ways of leaving toxic environments. – rkeet Sep 30 '18 at 9:11

...[lack of support, vague work assignments, general hostility]... How does one react in a situation like this?

Such treatment is really baffling and it makes you wonder what is going on inside the head of someone that would treat a junior person so dismissively. Unfortunately, that is probably something you'll never be able to find out directly and in a short time frame. There are lots of possible explanations for such behaviors.

Some common ones...

  • The lead feels "sink or swim" is the correct approach to bring-up juniors. Many people treat others the way they were treated when they were in the same position. He expects you to "figure it out" on your own to prove your worth.

  • The lead is so overwhelmed, he doesn't care or doesn't have time to care. Again, that puts you in a "figure it out on your own" situation.

  • There is some office politics going on. Perhaps he had someone else in mind for the position and instead you were hired. It's not your fault, but some people are childish about things like that and don't mind inflicting that disappointment on others who have no idea.

I've personally seen all three scenarios above and more.

Whatever the case, it is totally appropriate for you to develop a thick skin and become more aggressive about the things you need to do your work. If you get a vague instruction, say so. Explain exactly how you're interpreting the instruction as someone who doesn't know every aspect of the organization. Explain exactly what you need to do the work.

As far as the co-worker is concerned, you should see him as a valuable resource. So what if he does things differently? Just go along with it for now, get his angle and then when you're more skilled, you'll be more free to pick and choose how you want to do things. Also reach out to others who can help you navigate the workings of your organization-- it doesn't have to be developers.

Finally, make it a personal project to "excavate" as much as you can in terms of knowledge sources. Treat it like an archaeological dig or an ethnography. Think of it as onboarding yourself.

  • You forget 2.2 - it is not HIS job to help the OP. The lead may have assigned a mentor to the OP and assume rightly that HE is going to handle this. This happens mostly in larger teams in order to not overload the lead. – TomTom Sep 30 '18 at 14:42
  • This is a pretty solid advice and it makes sense when I read it. There is much to learn as a junior and I am somewhat grateful that this is happening so I can learn not only the technical side of things. Thank you all for the great replies, I will be reading this post quite often so I can remind myself what can I do when stuff like that happen. – squeekyDave Sep 30 '18 at 15:09
  • @TomTom, the OP hasn't mentioned anything like an assigned mentor-- presumably the lead would tell him if he's allocated a mentor (or does the OP have to guess that too?). This isn't about "help" it's about providing intelligible instructions to a junior and not making a big deal about providing some direction. – teego1967 Sep 30 '18 at 16:56

How does one react in a situation like this?

You persevere and try and prove your worth, you take advice whenever you can or you job search, or a combination.

Your only other recourse is to escalate which usually doesn't end well.

I'd be more accommodating to the person you asked for help. If they want it done their way, it's because that is the way they know works I assume. Since you're asking for help, your way obviously isn't working too well. But in any case if you're going to stick it out you'll need to work with someone.

With my field there are sometimes several valid ways a problem can be resolved, if someone asks me for help I'll outline the one I use. If they disregard that, next time they ask me for help I'll just shrug.

  • I failed to clarify, I do not ask for help like with code or how to do something. I ask for explanation about my tasks, what needs to be done, because they give me so little info and deadlines, thats it. Most of the times I have to ask for permissions to access a file I need to modify and I cannot grant these permissions myself because the lead dev keeps everything locked and he is the only one who can grant me certain permissions. Don't get me wrong, I have great respect for this person, just communications is so difficult. – squeekyDave Sep 30 '18 at 10:35
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    I have no respect for him, he is failing his role in several serious ways, making your work difficult and he's therefore bad for the company. – Kilisi Sep 30 '18 at 11:05
  • "I ask for explanation about my tasks, what needs to be done, because they give me so little info and deadlines, thats it" You've described the normal business of software engineering. it's entirely up to you to totally work all that out. Own it! – Fattie Sep 30 '18 at 13:22
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    @Fattie - Disagree with your opinion. The norm in software engineering is to share knowledge, be helpful and respectful. If you've found this to be the norm in software development, I feel sorry for you. – rkeet Sep 30 '18 at 14:12

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