13

I work at a large company, as a public-facing technical worker. Think of it kinda like a technology evangelist. As such, part of my career growth is dependent on how well known and influential I become within my particular vertical and region, which for this question, we shall call "the trinket industry in Antarctica"

Currently, as part of a large worldwide team, there are two of us working specifically with the trinket industry in Antarctica. I have 10 years of experience in the trinket industry, and have been working for this company for 3 years, while my peer has 20 years of experience in the trinket industry, and has been working for this company for 5 years. Apart from experience, we do the same type of work, and report to the same manager.

There's plenty of work for both of us, but whenever there is an "important project", or a large conference for the trinket industry, my peer unequivocally becomes the to-go person, and they end up doing these projects, which reinforces their influence and reputation, even if they're not the most technically difficult projects.

I, on the other hand, end up working on the less sexier projects that don't have large recognition, even if they're more technically challenging than the larger sexier projects. This reinforces the idea that I am secondary worker, and that my influence is unlikely to grow.

In other words, I don't get more important projects because I haven't done important projects, and I can't get more important projects because I haven't done important projects in the past.

I call this the "there can only be one of us" syndrome, because under these circumstances, only one person can be the influential, self-reinforcing, primary to-go person, whose career will easily grow once they're in this position, while any other people in the same role such as myself will be stunted and not grow, until either the primary person leaves for another role or company, or I leave for another role or company. The recognition and reputation gap has only widened since I joined this team.

I don't question the status quo: I agree that in the short term, if I needed a trinket evangelist for a large important project, I'd definitely go with the most reputable person. It is not other peoples' job to give opportunities to evenly grow the team, only to make each particular project succeed (even though in my opinion, evenly growing the team is better overall in the long term). Our team is also quite flat, so my manager has little say in who gets what project: we work with other teams to get involved in different projects.

The thing is, I really like this role, and I really enjoy working with our trinket partners and customers in Antarctica. Waiting for my peer to leave for another role or company, or moving myself to another role or company is not optimal. Furthermore, if I move somewhere else, I'd be starting from 0 years, and unless I'm the first and only person in that role, the same thing will happen over again.

How can I resolve this situation?

  • 1
    How does your company decide who to allocate on what project? Ie. is it your manager, sales, something else...? – rath Feb 22 at 10:14
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    @rath: We work in a widely crossfunctional team, and project allocation is very ad-hoc. For example, the marketing team decides they want to make an event for the trinket industry, and they need somebody to give the keynote, so they contact my peer directly, and ask them if they are available and interested in this. Another example: the sales people have decided to do a joint project with the largest trinket producer in Antarctica, and they need somebody to handle the technical relationship, so they ask my peer if they want to do this, even if either of us could technically do the job. – Trinket evangelist Feb 22 at 15:51
18

Talk to your boss, don't rant about "sexiest projects and reputation" but highlight facts and business values:

  • The company will spread this knowledge between two, instead of just one, employees. Even if your colleague won't ever leave the company, the bus factor is currently a significant businesses risk.
  • You need those kind of projects to diversify your skill-set and grow. Be prepared to answer which skills you'll gain (and possibly how this will benefit the company).
  • If you will ever need any guidance then you'll be able to ask the other colleague. Be prepared to highlight possible blockers you may face, to know what we can't do is as much important as to know what we can. This is important because you need to learn while your colleague is still around and available.

Then stay in silence and listen what your boss has to say (and how he does it). There might be factors you ignore, skills (even soft skills) you need to learn, listen and be patient. Personally I'd try to do not make this confrontational, you're working as a team for the same company then you must work together because you actually have the same goal.

It's just important to "break the loop" a few times and marketing, sales or another department will now that you're a viable option, your boss may definitely help on this then he is the first person you want to talk with.

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    +1 for the spread of knowledge. They don't want your colleague to leave and left you alone and unexperienced. Remark this – Ripstein Feb 22 at 11:09
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    Excellent advice. These goals should be stated as part of the OPs professional development plan and they should routinely check-in with their manager to get their opinion on progress. Identifying this other associates career trajectory as an aspiring goal may also prompt the boss to establish a mentorship program or even set up joint-tasks to help the OP meet these goals. – DanK Feb 22 at 13:39
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    @DanK you're right, this definitely shouldn't be a one-off thing but part of an improvement plan (which may involve others as well). – Adriano Repetti Feb 22 at 13:42
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If "there can be only one", the other one must "lose their head".

Your and the companies mindset show that you're not a team with your colleague but competitors.

You're the junior, challenging the senior.

This is not the best situation but could well be on purpose.

Adriano has some nice points, so if you want to stay, you can follow them without direct confrontation.

Now, if you decide to challenge the status quo as you say, you need to embrace this competition and your lower rank and become more fierce in the fight for the trophy.

If the sexy projects are on the table clearly state you want to do it.

If you're technically or otherwise qualified, explain this.

If they still want to give it to the other person try to turn it into a team effort so that you can learn and observe your "enemy" and gain some recognition or if you want to go all out ask why the decision has been made against you.

From there the path is clear, you fix the shortcomings why you lost the project and train your mental sword fighting techniques to gain victory.

  • 1
    Ah, go on then - have a +1, there's enough good workplace advice in there. But who wants to work forever? – ItWasLikeThatWhenIGotHere Feb 22 at 10:56

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