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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 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 at 15:36
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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 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 at 13:58
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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 at 8:25
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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.

  • 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 – Homerothompson Jan 28 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. – J. Chris Compton Jan 28 at 15:24

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