My superiors told me I'm the best candidate for a promotion, but someone else is being officially considered with higher favor due to me offending the person who is resigning (and opening up the spot) due to correcting him 2 years ago (he wasn't familiar with "pointer decay" in C, I politely corrected him, and he kept making stuff up until I pasted this link in our company Slack discussion), and he was extremely angry at being made to look foolish/dishonest.

My company wants me to sign an absurdly lengthy notice period extension before they will answer any "real" questions of mine about my prospects, and I'm distrustful. I'm in a position to just leave and cost them a lot of money (i.e. products won't ship if I walk out the door). I'd have to possibly forfeit $20,000.00 in stock options, but the company would likely miss two quarterly deadlines, each of which sets them back about $2.5 million in lost contracts.

My many apologies for the lengthy post. I rarely find myself asking others for this kind of advice, but there are so many confusing elements here, that I felt providing all available information would help to formulate a more informed response (for those kind/patient enough to go through my wall of text).

Long Form

I work at a mid-sized engineering firm (~5000 employees) in the US, where we do specialized security software for banks and laws firms (i.e. auditing, theft/IP loss prevention, etc.). Engineering positions at my company work roughly like so:

  • Engineer 1 (coop student, $40k/yr).
  • Engineer 2 (junior engineer 1, $50k/yr).
  • Engineer 3 (junior engineer 2, $55k/yr).
  • Engineer 4 (intermediate engineer 1, $60k/yr).
  • Engineer 5 (intermediate engineer 2, $70k/yr).
  • Engineer 6 (senior engineer 1, $80k/yr).
  • Engineer 7 (senior engineer 2, $100k/yr).
  • Engineer 8 (principal engineer 1, $120k/yr).
  • Engineer 9 (principal engineer 2, $180k/yr).
  • Engineer 10 (engineering architect, $300k/yr).
  • Engineer 11 (engineering fellow, $450k/yr minimum).

I am currently at the "Engineer 9" level, and am competing for an "Engineer 10" position against "Gary". This position typically has a vacancy only once every 4 years on average. I've gone through several in-house interviews for senior management to assess who is the best candidate. Gary is a nice, courteous, and professional person, but I am competing with him (without being vicious).

Two of my superiors informed me that, while I'm the stronger candidate officially (i.e. interpersonal skills, dedication/commitment, professionalism, technical skills, leadership ability), I'm almost certain to not get the position, as I offended "Tom", the person who is leaving the company (and opening up the slot) about 2 years ago when I challenged him on a technical decision (which I "won", by unanimous decision). My colleagues (not me) describe him as a case of "Spanish honor", and that he can't stand to lose face no matter the consequences. In my opinion, this is sour grapes on Tom's part (I hate culture-specific pejorative terms, but this is the one colleagues use for this one fellow specifically, so I included it only for context and perspective of my peers' assessment of Tom), but this is my reality nevertheless.

I conveyed to my superiors that it seems absurd I should be "paying for my perceived past transgressions" 2 years later, but Tom took his vengeful swipe, apparently. Gary, however, plans to retire in 3 years (older fellow, and mainly wants the extra cash, not the extra responsibility, as he has mentioned several times during water cooler chat).

My Problem:

If someone is in an "Engineer 10/architect" role for 5 years, he automatically becomes an "Engineer 11/fellow" if the role isn't filled. sometimes, people get promoted from "Engineer 10/architect" to this role in under 24 months. We can only have one "Engineer 10/architect" per team of 50 engineers, and one "Engineer 11/fellow" per 50-person team as well.

I've managed to progress through interviewing with a larger tech company that is interested in taking me on at a decent increase in salary (i.e. $220, which is a 22% increase in base pay, but not as large as the 67% increase a promotion from "Engineer 9" to "Engineer 10" would yield, and a far cry from the 250%+ increase the eventual/hopeful progression to "Engineer 11/fellow" would yield).

Assuming I were "magically guaranteed" to take over for Gary in 3 years from now, that means I get a significant pay increase, and within 5 years from now, it's very possible I'd be earning almost triple what I make now. My single biggest concern is whether or not "Tom" has poisoned the well for me permanently at my company (i.e. blacklisted me from every going higher up the ladder).

Important info: My employer is trying to increase my notice period from 3 months to 18 months (can be decreased to 6 months under certain circumstances). This would've been fantastic for me years back when the threat of layoffs had me worried about making mortgage payments, but at this stage in my career, it's more harm than help. My suspicion for why they want my to agree to such a lengthy notice period is due to me being the sole developer capable of certain tasks (I write complex drivers for proprietary hardware, and get it into the mainline Linux kernel, which would likely be at least 14 months of lead-time to train a replacement for me due to "bus factors").

At this point, I have the following options available to me:

  • Take the offer from the other firm, and get a 22% pay hike.
  • Inform my superiors that I hand in my 3 months' notice if I'm overlooked due to Tom's actions influencing the decision. I'd like to avoid this, as "threats" like this will poison the well in the eyes of my employer too. While I don't mind using this to "win" the position over Gary, he'll likely be annoyed that I pushed so aggressively to get the position over him. All's fair in love and war, etc. etc.
  • Defer signing the extended notice period amendment (they seem interested in getting this done prior to announcing the promotion and who the successful candidate was/is). I don't mind dragging this out.
  • I tried to get some confirmation in writing if I'd be guaranteed to take over for Gary after he retires, but my employer will only "promise" this verbally, not in writing (which makes it useless to me). I also asked if Tom's appraisal of me would come back to haunt my in 3 years when Gary retires, and I still couldn't get a straight answer. Tom isn't on any boards, but he's buddies with the "old guard". I have no intention of staying if I've been blacklisted from the penultimate and ultimate promotions available in my career stream at this company.

How can I best proceed? I'm pretty angry at this whole sorted affair, and I think I need a second neutral/clear set of eyes to give a less emotional appraisal of my situation. Also, I'm not sure what to make of their insistence on my signing on for such an exceedingly lengthy notice period, but I'm instinctively (for better or worse) distrustful of it. - If I violate my notice period of 3 months, I have to surrender $20,000.00 in stock options (or pay it back if I cash it out now), but the company would be guaranteed to lose $2.5 million this quarter, and has a roughly 75% chance of losing an additional $2.5 million the following quarter (i.e. due to lost sales contracts).

My only slightly-aggressive action so far has been to ignore the notice period extension agreement, as I "want to get locked in at my new salary under these conditions should I be promoted".

  • Consider adding a tldr to this to avoid it getting closed. – solarflare Oct 16 '18 at 3:03
  • I'm voting to close this question as opinion-based, because you seem to have done a good job lining up all the information you have and now you need to make a decision. We cannot make that decision for you. – nvoigt Oct 16 '18 at 5:46
  • "he kept making stuff up" - I wish you had explained this in detail :-) – Mawg says reinstate Monica Oct 16 '18 at 6:51
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    Step one: Talk to the other company. State the facts - you may or may not get the promotion. Tell them if they are increasing their offer to X then you give notice today. It may work. Step two: Tell your company that you are not changing your notice period (or not changing your notice period until a significant raise is involved). How much would convince you to accept the 18 months? They can't force you to agree to a change in your contract. They can fire you, with bad consequences for them. Or tell them that you will sign for the changed notice period together with the promotion. – gnasher729 Oct 16 '18 at 10:11
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    What do you get in exchange for signing the extended notice period amendment? Would new new notice period work both ways (yeah, right, lol)? – brhans Oct 16 '18 at 12:28