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I was hired by a company, I'm a programmer, and they brought me in under the title of Engineer. Historically, I've been called a developer, and I tend to consider myself a developer. While at my previous job, I had the title Senior Developer, and would agree that I matched that with my skills adequately, but it was a threshold that I had only very recently crossed.

My current employer, according to data found online and via my own anecdotal observations in the office, pay significantly under the national average for the titles they bestow. On average I would say an average of two levels down. A level three here is getting paid a really fair salary for entry-level/level one.

It was my understanding when I was hired, that they really wanted me, and they wanted to try best they could to get the salary offer close to what I was making, but wouldn't be able to match it. I was ok with this because other things like a dramatically shorter commute added meaningful value. It was implied that I was brought in at a level three in order to do this.

Now my manager, who was not my manager when I was hired but was part of the entire process involving hiring me, so they know even more than I do about how and why all those things went down, has taken multiple opportunities to communicate that I'm supposed to be a level three, and they aren't seeing level three performance, which is a big problem. I won't get into the systemic problems the org has with multiple people being information bubbles, slapdash architecture, and a debilitating lack of documentation across all systems. I'm also not working on the technologies I might be a level 2-3 on, which are the technologies I was originally hired to primarily work with, the others being secondary and for me to learn as I go.

From my perspective, I'm not a level three, and I'm not getting paid anywhere near the salary of a level three. The only reason I have that title is so they could pay me, under their pay-scale, what I level one would make (or what an experienced web dev would make). And I don't see how that's my problem.

I've been going through a rough patch, and am starting to feel like my boss has plans to use this against me, which I consider to be a dirty move. Do I have any options here? Can I bring this up (I've been here about a year-and-a-half) as evidence that it isn't a fair comparison? I wouldn't mind having a level two or even level one title, and for them to acknowledge that my salary is actually normal for that role and my contributions.

Am I crazy, is this common, should I talk to my former manager (now a director) about how I think my current manager is using my title to artificially create a performance deficit they can use against me?

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    "I'm not a level three, and I'm not getting paid anywhere near the salary of a level three." And "they aren't seeing level three performance" What am I missing here? – user41891 Nov 30 '18 at 21:39
  • Just leave immediately. BTW this is a hugely duplicated question (I'm not sure what the canonical QA is on it.) – Fattie Dec 1 '18 at 4:20
  • OP, please clarify - why specifically are you not just leaving? – Fattie Dec 1 '18 at 4:21
  • I should clarify, I have no issue with my current salary. I think it’s fair. We moved from a large city to a slightly smaller city before I started this job. While I’m paid a little less than I was before, the cost of living here is a little better. – fearofmusic Dec 3 '18 at 1:04
  • I’m not leaving for multiple reasons. I do like a number of the people I work with. I’ve worked places where I truly loved most of the people I worked with, and places where it was the opposite. It’s a blend of both right now, and I’m a glass half-full kind of guy. I also believe the product makes the world a better place. And finally, there have been times I liked the work, but the teams and the work given to certain teams has changed many times and I’m not the only one frustrated by that. – fearofmusic Dec 3 '18 at 1:20
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Begin job searching

From

I'm supposed to be a level three, and they aren't seeing level three performance, which is a big problem. ... I'm also not working on the technologies I might be a level 2-3 on

And

I've been going through a rough patch, and am starting to feel like my boss has plans to use this against me, which I consider to be a dirty move. Do I have any options here? Can I bring this up (I've been here about a year-and-a-half) as evidence that it isn't a fair comparison?

It sounds like your having performance issues that may be caused by your current boss. There is no way your boss will up your salary if they are not happy with your work. There is no point in having a conversation about salary if your boss doesn't value you. Talking about salary will likely get you some eye-rolling from your boss, and cement in their mind you are not a good fit for the role.

It sounds like you are unhappy with the company culture, type of work, and pay. If you were only unhappy with one, I'd say work with your boss to solve it. Since it's 3 different things, seriously consider if this job is the right fit for you now.

A common strategy to get rid of low performers and problem employees is to make their work life miserable so they quit on their own. This is likely what your current boss is setting up to do.

Am I crazy, is this common, should I talk to my former manager (now a director) about how I think my current manager is using my title to artificially create a performance deficit they can use against me?

Going over your current boss' head will likely put you even more squarely in the cross-hairs. They've likely already painted a target on your back, so it might be worth taking a chance.

If you have a good relationship with your old boss, talking to them is a good idea. Focus on issues such as not working with the technologies you where hired to work on. Say something like.

I was hired to work on technologies X, Y, Z, but currently, I'm using A and B, which I'm not familiar with. I'd really like some advice on how to transition back to X, Y, and Z.

I wouldn't hold out much hope your old boss can help though. You were hired to do this job, and they need someone to fill it.

The other option, of course, is to find a new job. 1.5 years isn't that short of a tenure (unless every job on your resume is less than 2 years). You should start looking for a new job now in case your current manager decides to put you on a PIP or fire you anyway.

  • I picked this as the answer, but the answer from J. Chris Compton is nearly as useful. – fearofmusic Dec 18 '18 at 22:33
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Now my manager... has taken multiple opportunities to communicate that I'm supposed to be a level three, and they aren't seeing level three performance...
I'm also not working on the technologies I might be a level 2-3 on, which [I was hired for], the others being... learn as I go.

To restate the main two points:

  • You were hired to work with x,y,z which you are accomplished with as a level 2 or level 3.

  • You are currently working with a,b,c and being called out for not being a level 3 in those,
    even though your understanding was that you would learn a,b,c as you could.

  • You've been there 1.5 years and feel like there is a target on you.

Two things which you should do in parallel

  1. Get your resume/CV up to date and quietly begin your next job search - it is much easier to find one when you have one, and you can be pickier.

  2. IF you know that director (former boss) well enough, you can ask him for advice.
    Remind him that you were hired with senior level skills in x,y,z and that you are now mostly working with a,b,c. Those being the skills you were expected to 'pick up' in the last year and a half.
    Ask him how you should approach your boss with this information. Tell him you want to keep working there because of the commute and the [other stuff] and you are trying to figure out how to up your game so you can be a real contributor to the company in the areas that it needs (those being a,b,c).

If you don't know the directory well enough to believe he will keep his mouth shut about you back-door'ing your current boss with him then you have to deal with only your current boss.
The trick here is to approach him genuinely and basically say, "you aren't happy with my performance, and I want to up my skills with a,b,c. I have performed well at a senior level with x,y,z in the past, so I know I can perform for you that way with a,b,c. Can you help me up my skills with a,b,c? Is there someone that can mentor me? Is there any online training available? I'm willing to do some of this on my own time because I really should have learved a,b,c in the 18 months I've been here. Also, if there is any work with x,y,z that I can do, I'm happy to it so I can show you what I'm capable of!"

If you can get his buy-in on the plan, then you can probably turn around his opinion of you. But that will take some work, and an honest attempt to get better at a,b,c really quickly.


Also, as to one of your comments:

and I'm not getting paid anywhere near the salary of a level three

You need to let that go right now, partially because you agreed to take that salary (because of the shorter commute and whatever else). But mainly let it go because your focus on your salary not being "enough" is a bad place for you to focus when your boss's focus is that you aren't performing up to the position you are in.
Now don't take that to mean that I'm saying it is okay for him to do that - from my perspective it doesn't matter how wrong or right he is, he's the boss. What I'm saying is that you are are now fighting to stay employed there until it either gets better, or you go somewhere else - keep your eye on the important things (your boss's opinion of your performance and your new job search!)

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    This is all good advice. – fearofmusic Dec 18 '18 at 22:36
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It seems your boss loves exploiting his employees. You can't counter this with logical arguments, because his only logic is that things mustn't make a dent in his wallet.

The best solution for you is to look for a better position elsewhere. And the approach for this is: Look for a better position without letting anyone know. Sign a contract. Give notice.

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