About 6 months ago we hired a developer that came straight from university. He's smart, works hard and seems to create quality code. The first couple of months I acted as a buffer between management and him, he still had to learn a lot of business related logic, frameworks we use,... I went easy on him, and I clearly communicated that the workload would ramp up once he knew the business and the required technologies. We work on a financial automation tool for a fast-paced large business that has to reduce a team of 18 bookkeepers to 2 or 3 people

Now, the moment has come, the workload ramped up, I took some distance to see how he performs under tight deadlines, a lot of work and meetings with the management. After about two weeks I saw him change, not positively, he still works hard, but I see mistakes happening all the time. Deadlines he set for himself are not met and the overall quality of his code suffers. He seems stressed out, can't think clearly and seems to forget a lot of things. A part of this is that he often stays late in the office, starting early and only going home after 10 p.m. multiple times a week. We all know how counterproductive this can be, working long days often produces less quality in work than taking your time and spreading your work over multiple days.

Yesterday we had a meeting about a new feature that was needed ASAP. He will be working on this feature, so I wanted him at that meeting. I clearly communicated to not overrule me in time estimations or decisions I make during this meeting, as I know what the management expects and how to approach them. When the estimation of development time of the MVP came up I made clear that it was not easy and we will need some time to research before I could make a definitive estimation. He overruled this by telling the management that it could be done in 2 days with all the bells and whistles. I was furious, with his statement he not only undermined my authority and gave the management wrong information that set wrong expectations and could harm the product, but he also choked the whole team by setting a deadline that is way to short. (FYI: Harming the product can cost thousands of dollars in lost revenue, corrupt invoices, TAX issues,... in a matter of hours in case of little mistakes)

After a phone call with the CEO explaining what was going on, I managed to extend this deadline. But I also was told I am responsible for my team and situations like this are not acceptable.

How can I handle an employee that can work hard but cannot make proper decisions and time estimations, that seems stressed out by the workload and the fast-paced nature of the business we work in. I want him to work less, but be productive more. I can see him walk into a burnout in no time if things keep going as they are now.

I have to admit that there are only a few I have worked with in the past that can keep up in this company. I've seen many come and go. The ones that do manage are all brilliant, smart, hard-working people. I do see potential in this developer, thus I really want to help him grow in this company. There is room for building a more than average career here and I want him to succeed. (He made clear he also wants this)

  • @JoeStrazzere We run kind of a flat hierarchy in our team, where I take the end responsibility for the product and decisions involving development. Everyone should be able to attend meetings with the management with or without me. I trust them, they trust me and this has never led to issues before.
    – Odyssee
    Jan 24, 2019 at 11:38
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    From the question I'm not sure - is he your colleague, or subordinate? You are bit inconsistent about that. If formally you are his colleague with no "management and disciplinary power" over him, but are expected to manage and discipline him, it is quite a different problem.
    – Mołot
    Jan 24, 2019 at 15:36
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    "Deadlines he set for himself are not met" - there is a whole school of project management that acceptst hat deadlines can not be predicted and PARTICULARLY not by ONE PERSON. Scrum, there is a poker game (where the whole scrum team bets how complex a story is, explaining the reasoning of outliers - i.e. highest and lowest). He should not, as a person, determine his deadlines alone to start with. Management issue.
    – TomTom
    May 21, 2021 at 15:14
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    I am not sure to understand the situation. There is a meeting where somebody out from school estimate a task can be accomplished in 2 days. Team lead say something else, management ignore team lead inputs and naively plans for the shorter estimate. Then team lead call CEO to override management planning then CEO gives the team lead a warning because team lead did his job to warn the schedule is not realistic?
    – Tom Sawyer
    May 21, 2021 at 15:28
  • Also, is not more the management job to plan and avoid to harm the product resulting lost revenues? I feel the management should own more responsibilities from their decisions, like it is their decision to ignore input from a more experienced member and to not set any buffer in the schedule.
    – Tom Sawyer
    May 21, 2021 at 15:37

4 Answers 4


He’s a junior developer, fresh from university, and there are things he hasn’t learned yet. I have been in the state that he found himself in once. Too much pressure, I stressed out, worked long hours, and achieved a lot less than I would normally have done in eight hours a day. I figured it out myself, and since then I let nothing stress me out. If there is pressure, I don’t stress but focus, but if a deadline is missed, that’s my bosses problem.

He doesn’t know this yet. Talk to the people who wanted to know the estimate and tell them the feature won’t be there in two days. You know it won’t.

Then at the morning after the deadline you have a talk with the young developer. Ask him how long the feature will take. When he gives an answer (likely “two days”), you ask him again. But you ask “this time not what you think I want to hear, but how long it will take”. If you don’t agree with the answer, you ask again until he gives an answer that is realistic. That’s the first important lesson learned.

Then you ask how many hours he worked in the last two days. And how much he achieved in that time. And why he achieved that little. At that point he should figure out that by working long hours and rushing he achieves less than he would have achieved with eight hours of stressless and focussed work. And ask him how he feels about it. Because I’m sure he isn’t happy about the whole situation.

And that’s the second important lesson. That nothing good will happen if you try to hard. That you need to stay relaxed at work and don’t let pressure get to you.

  • This answer has clearly been written by someone who has been that junior developer: I recognise to much of my own errors as a junior developer in it :-)
    – Dominique
    Jan 29, 2019 at 8:25

Your CEO has already given you the answer. You are team lead, you set the deadlines and manage expectations.

It doesn't matter how good he is, it is not right or appropriate for a new starter to go above your head and say what he believes he can do and in what time frame. He tells you what he thinks, you tell your superiors based on your knowledge and experience, and so on up the chain.

Even after you told him not to overrule you, he went and did it anyway. That's insubordination, plain and simple.

You have to ask yourself how much you want someone like this on your team. It's all very well now where you can keep an eye on him and, to a certain extent, control him but what happens in the future? When you take vacation days, is he going to ignore what you've told the team and doing his own thing? What if he becomes a team lead and starts promising things to senior management that, like this project, are simply undeliverable?

Your only option right now is to be as firm with him as you can. Send him home if you have to, make sure he has no interaction with senior management unless you authorise it, or it is 100% essential. If he can't follow those, you may need to look at following company procedure for PIP's and any disciplinary events you feel are appropriate.

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    Or OP might simply ask him why he did overrule OP in spite of the warning...
    – red-shield
    Jan 24, 2019 at 11:48
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    A conversation must be had with the kid. One on one, closed door, formal setting. The OP must come down on him pretty hard. Then offer leadership and guidance when it comes to working late, this kid's own personal deadlines (which seem unrealistic), etc. Seems like if the OP is interested in "salvaging" this developer he may need to micromanage (train) him for a while.
    – AndreiROM
    Jan 24, 2019 at 13:58
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    Yes, because that's how inexperienced people learn. Clearly a previous talk was not pointed enough.
    – mxyzplk
    May 21, 2021 at 16:19
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    @SebastienDErrico, This is not really a "one-time thing". He already has a poor history of making time estimates and he was clearly warned about not overriding him during this meeting with upper management. "I clearly communicated to not overrule me in time estimations or decisions I make during this meeting". If the OP tries to gently correct him now, it's obviously not going to work. The OP has already tried that approach, and it didn't work. May 21, 2021 at 16:35
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    @StephanBranczyk At 10 years in the field most people can't estimate effectively- its the least taught and hardest skill to master. There's also a mismatch where estimations are expected on the fly where good estimation requires time to break the problem down. I wouldn't expect him to come anywhere close to the real time on an estimate most of the time for another year or two. The problem isn't the junior dev, its the company for putting him in that position. And why did the other people take the word of a jr over his manager? That's another failure of the company. May 22, 2021 at 6:03

You need to back off him. He's a new dev 6 months out of college. He's not ready for the level of work you're giving him. Why would you bring an EXTREMELY junior dev to that level of meeting? And why didn't you just say "No, we can't" and take him aside if necessary? You utterly failed as a manager at that time.

If you're his lead/manager, its your job to do those meetings for him until he's ready. He's obviously not at that level yet, and probably won't be for a while. Everything about what you said shows that you ramped up on him too fast, too hard, and before he was capable of it. Your job as a lead mentoring a young talent is to slowly ramp up the work/difficulty, allowing him to grow into the role. That won't take 6 months. It takes years to turn a junior into a midlevel. Its not just technical skills, which he might possibly already have. Its learning how to work with others, how to navigate power structures, how to communicate, what his actual capabilities are, and how to deliver production ready code (as opposed to a school project). It's time management. It's confidence. It's learning how to prioritize. That doesn't happen in 6 months.

If he's staying there til 10pm, you're giving him too much work. If he's giving bad estimates, you need to teach him how to give better ones. And yeah, in that process he'll make mistakes. In a lot of cases the best thing will be to let him make them and learn from them, as long as the cost isn't too high. That's what you get with a junior dev- you will see a lot of time lost. Consider it training costs.

What you should do is pull back on his workload until he can do it in a reasonable amount of time. Then figure out what areas he's deficient in- here it may be estimation and communication- and plan out a way to teach him.

I have to admit that there are only a few I have worked with in the past that can keep up in this company.

So in other words you have a systemic problem at the company that you don't know how to develop talent. The problem isn't the devs who left- its your company. And it's at least in large part you- this attitude is unacceptable in a manager. Learn to do your job properly, you're failing these devs.

  • I don't see the issue with inviting someone to a meeting ears only to keep them in the loop of the business context and specific information. Especially since OP explicitly instructed him to not chime in, I don't think it's a fair assessment to only lay the blame on OP here for inviting the junior and not with the junior for going against explicit instructions.
    – Flater
    Apr 1, 2022 at 12:51

I really want to help him grow in this company... I want him to succeed. (He made clear he also wants this)

Write this up officially, sit him down, explain it to him as you explained it to us.
Include the fact that the CEO "told [me that] I am responsible for my team and situations like this are not acceptable". Point out again that you told him before the meeting that he should "not overrule me in time estimations or decisions I make during this meeting".

Explain that he damaged his reputation and yours with his disobedience.

Follow HR guidelines:
Give him the written summary of what you said and have him sign to acknowledge it.
Make sure that the statement has a method he can dispute any of the facts in writing and tell him that will be appended to the warning for the record.

Explain that the only things keeping you from firing him is that fact that he is new, it is his first job, you know he is under a lot of stress, and you see potential for him to become a great employee.

Heed the verbal warning your CEO gave you - It is your job on the line, not his.

You obviously have a lot of compassion and understanding for the guy, so I won't lecture you on that.

Follow up to the CEO saying you've put him on notice with a written warning that you talked through with him in person. Also tell the CEO that he won't be in meetings with customers for at least a year.

Adding to my answer a very relevant point from the comments:

... speaking up in that meeting when explicitly told not to, is not a matter of not knowing something, it is a matter of willful insubordination...
That being said, there's room here for accepting that this was a one time mistake and being willing to move on from it, if it stops. – Flater May 5 at 15:16

My emphasis

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    I think this is way too much, a 1 on 1 meeting without all the paperwork should be enough, considering he wants to keep this guy. I would agree with this approach if he just needs reasons to fire him Jan 28, 2019 at 15:11
  • @Homerothompson I disagree. The CEO put the OP on notice that it is his fault reference fourth paragraph, where he says I "was told I am responsible for my team and situations like this are not acceptable." In my opinion just a verbal at this point, while it would be the nice thing to do, could jeopardize OPs job if anything else happens. Jan 28, 2019 at 15:24
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    @Homerothompson: While I would generally agree with you for most of the issues, speaking up in that meeting when explicitly told not to is not a matter of not knowing something, it's a matter of willful insubordination. Even if intended to do something good, it very much crossed a clear line and breached trust. Repeatedly, this behavior is grounds for dismissal, and an official warning very much sells that point that clearly has fallen on deaf ears until now. That being said, there's room here for accepting that this was a one time mistake and being willing to move on from it if it stops.
    – Flater
    May 5, 2021 at 15:16

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