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John has been with the team for a long time. He started his career as a lawyer (1 year) and then made the shift to become an engineer by getting a degree in computer science. At work, he seems to fluctuate towards more operations and managerial type tasks and rarely if ever takes on any engineering work. We are both titled software engineers and his role has not been introduced to the team as manager of any kind.

The team has to both write code and do operations. Given that we work with a complex, vendor supported product that we ourselves know very little of, it's easy to spend a whole day trying to figure out things and/or work with support. This requires less skill, and indeed, this is the type of activity where John spends most of his time, often complaining about the poor support that we get from our vendor. E.g, his job is more about "managing" a support case, taking in the advice of what steps to follow to fix something than it is technical.

In the same vein, John is someone who is a bit of a wordsmith, knows how to say "no" and/or choose words carefully. It's just what lawyers are trained for after all.

His work rarely seems to be that of engineering or solving real problems, but that of doing work that keeps him fluctuating towards his strengths: speaking and managing expectations, leaving long term fixes (which require writing code) for whoever wants to take on such a challenge. In other words, he does the stuff some engineers (such as myself) are often poor at. On top of this, he has a grudge with me. Could be the sense of threat or could be simply a grudge on something work-related. It's hard to tell, it dates a bit, but only got worse now that we work closely in a team of 3 (myself, him and another) and I could never really put my finger on why this happened.

Observations:

  • He singles out every one of my mistakes but doesn't act the same towards others. No one else behaves like it. We all perform similar levels of mistakes (at least those of us writing code).
  • He is prone to shoot down my suggestions choosing words that inspire drama and without the use of hard, scientific or factual data, often belittling my constructive suggestions.
  • Interacting with him hasn't gotten toxic to the point basic communication is withdrawn, but it's obvious neither of us is in the good prayers of the other or trust each other. In addition, he seems to be making headway towards becoming the manager of our current team. This could be disastrous for me.

The impact on me is that every time there is an interaction I'm expecting the worse, I'm therefore defensive and even the simplest of things cause me to tense up a lot and my emotions go into overdrive. I'm also in a constant state of anxiety and paranoia is settling, which makes me fear for my mental health. Work is also losing satisfaction, which is the biggest bummer.

In general, I feel as though that anything I do wrong is heightened by John and anything I do well is either downplayed or not mentioned at all.

So I'm seeking advice. What are my self-development options to handle this situation better?

What could I possibly do to deal with someone at work with what seems like sociopath behaviors, who seems bent on bullying me the whole time?

I have spoken to my manager before about the cases I was singled out. I told my manager I didn't want him to take action as I could handle myself well, but, I believe he ended up having a chat with the person regardless. Things improved, but not substantially.

However, I feel as though he stands on better ground with my manager, given they are both originally from the same country and culture and have been working longer together.

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    Can you consider moving? team possibly or job? – Solar Mike Mar 24 at 15:55
  • I can consider, but I'd prefer not to. The benefits are a big lock-in. – CaseyJones Mar 24 at 16:03
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    Your health, happiness and well-being are a big lock-in... – Solar Mike Mar 24 at 16:17
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    There may be some competition element at stake here. He may be vying for the job you are aiming for and sees you as a competitor. The most important (and hardest) lesson to learn here is not to take it personally, but as a strategic manoeuvre (conscious or unconscious) on his side. If he is not your manager, it is actually relatively easy to put him in place, but requires some assertiveness from your side. When he criticises you, you can state "I will think about that", "I am afraid, I disagree", "I am sorry, I cannot do that [Dave], you will have to take that on yourself", depending. – Captain Emacs Mar 24 at 16:27
  • I agree @captainEmacs - I feel as though as there may be some competition. The suggestions are great and I have already taken note of them to start incorporating them into my vocabulary. – CaseyJones Mar 24 at 17:18
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His work rarely seems to be that of engineering or solving real problems, but that of doing work that keeps him fluctuating towards his strengths: speaking and managing expectations, leaving long term fixes (which require writing code) for whoever wants to take on such a challenge.

From what you write, it can be concluded your coworker does more project management than engineering. There's nothing wrong with that if that is the role he has been given.

At the same time, you seem to doubt the value of this work. Unfortunately, this happens a lot among more technical staff.

You should clarify with your bosses, what your colleague's role is. If it's really the role of a PM or similar, then it's simply his duty to correct you when you make mistakes and be the voice of the customer. You correctly noticed yourself that that's not something all IT people are good at.

This role is valuable and you shouldn't doubt it. In the end, you seem to be working for clients. The objective quality of your product is important but it's the clients' satisfaction that decides whether your company will be successful or not. "Selling" your code is as important for your company as having a good-quality code. So you shouldn't feel better just because he doesn't spend much time programming. Instead, you should try to work together - use your own strengths for the sake of the company.

To sum up: Talk to your boss about the coworker's role and act accordingly.

  • Unsure about "voice of customer" but what I meant before is that if I suggest "we should improve X, I've done some maths, based on a subset of our production data I conclude this is going to cost <low price>" he will shoot down my idea by saying something like "We cannot improve X because it would cause too much backpressure on Y and Z", without providing concrete and factual data and ignoring things such as economies of scale and/or the fact we already do a subset of the work and actual implementation may be inexpensive. Took note of: clarify role's with manager; Agree: His role has a place – CaseyJones Mar 24 at 17:16
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What you may lack in "in-person skills" you seem to make up in your talent with words. I would recommend having any professional conversations you may have to have with this person over email (and CC your boss). When he brings up a concern just say "let me get back to you on that" and lay out your points in a well-worded email, again CC'd to your boss so he can see your side of the story.

I know what it is like to sometimes not be great at interacting with people face-to-face, so try to play to your strength when you have to communicate something. It is pretty easy to write a biting email response in words that seem perfectly pleasant. In fact that is one of my favorite things to do when I had a disagreement with someone at work.

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