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Background info:

This is a follow-up (but not a duplicate) to this question: Recruited for a senior SME technical role but assigned in the medium term to a much more junior project

Basically I was taken on in this company to be a senior-level technical person to give "big picture" and architectural input within the company as a whole (across various teams so not getting too involved in the concerns of each particular team) but then found myself assigned full time to carrying out a junior-level role (entry-level C# coder) within one of the teams I was meant to be 'advising', on "Project X".

There are a total of 5 teams with number of people ranging from 5-13.

I was concerned (in the original question, and still am) about the reputational hit to my resume, and my status within the company and how I would be perceived, with this de facto "demotion". (NB: there were no concerns with my performance in the role I was actually recruited for, I wasn't "demoted" as such and continue to be paid as a SME)

The situation now:

Due to the importance of Project X (the project I am assigned to) within the company, after discussions it seems that at the moment I have no option (other than leaving, which I guess is always an option!) other than to continue to act as a "junior coder on steroids" as a member of the project team, carrying out work that is typical for someone much 'earlier' in their career than I am (it's work I would have been doing 10-15 years ago), rather than the strategic "subject matter expert" role I was actually taken on for (.NET lead architect).

It's frustrating, boring and (maybe more importantly) is now 'retrograde motion' with my career--I'm capable of much more than what I'm doing here.

Project X has tight deadlines and is of major importance to the company to get it right / on time / with good quality. They are not concerned that they're paying over the odds (for a "junior coder") to have me carrying out this role, as long as the project gets completed and have asked me to continue in the role for the foreseeable future. They do not have the budget to recruit an additional person that I could "siphon off" some of this work on to (as suggested in the answers to the original Q).

Project X is likely to continue for at least another year in my estimation and most probably longer.*

Project X is the most prominent/urgent project of the company at the moment, but isn't by any means a "last resort" or something like that -- they have a lot of .NET / C# projects in the pipeline and a healthy backlog receiving attention from Product Managers etc.

Other than leaving (which I already know as an option) and getting myself removed from this project which isn't a possibility at the moment, I would like to know what possibilities exist to mitigate the impact of this.

My question:

Is it reasonable for me to ask for some amount of time (say 20%, or maybe more) of my working hours to be 'ring-fenced' for working on "personal" knowledge-maintaining, resume-building activities (e.g. researching Technology Y and its applications, or building a proof-of-concept of "Approach Z" which would have been part of the remit of my SME role)?

If so -- how could I phrase/justify a request like that?

Could I request company resources (e.g. software licenses where needed) be purchased to pursue that?

Are there other options, that I haven't thought of, to help mitigate this situation?

(Or should I now just be in damage control mode and looking to leave?)

  • I added in a comment below that it's likely to go on for at least a year, and I'm around 60% certain that it will go on for 18 months or more.
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    What possible factor could motivate your employer to pay you for personal growth, to better your resume, in ways that aren't directly related to this (clearly very critical) project they want you to focus on? – dwizum Apr 11 at 20:27
  • How long have you been working at this company and how long have you been in this "junior" role at the company? – sf02 Apr 11 at 20:28
  • @dwizum I suppose because I'm employable elsewhere and if I were to leave they'd be losing not only the immediate project resource, but also the future role I was initially taken on for. I'm not sure if I have a strong negotiating position or not actually, though! – user100220 Apr 11 at 20:29
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    @Alex: I'd consider yours an answer. He asked for mitigation, changing the frame is a form of mitigation. I was thinking about answering along a similar line and say something like: user100220 is capable of putting the company need over his own immediate wants if the situation calls for it. Most companies like that trait. So I suggest you make an answer out of your comment. – Benjamin Apr 12 at 5:13
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    @Benjamin OK, thanks for the encouragement. Done. – Alex M Apr 12 at 7:48
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I first wrote this as a comment; on the advice of @Benjamin I'm re-working it as an answer instead.

To the extent that the premise of this question is "how can I change this situation which sucks and is boring," I'm not sure I can help (except to encourage you to recognize your own value, in the big picture - read on). But to the extent that it's "how can I change this situation which is damaging to my career," I guess I'm suggesting a frame challenge.

Let's try a food service analogy: The manager manages, and also knows how to do everything in the restaurant. If the dishwasher calls off, sometimes the manager washes dishes - this doesn't make, say, all the line cooks think the manager's just a dishwasher now. The manager can run FOH. That doesn't make them "just a host" in anyone's eyes. Etc.

You did high level strategy for three months, now you've been writing C# code for 3 months because there's an urgent need to write C# code but project constraints don't allow hiring someone just to write C# code. When constraints, needs, or available skillsets change, you'll be doing something else, presumably whatever the most urgent task becomes at that moment.

I'd argue that this demonstrates your value, not diminishes it. To that point, your resume shouldn't say "wrote C# code for 3 months". Your resume should say that your role as SME and strategist also required, on occasion, rolling up your sleeves and getting into the trenches in whatever capacity was required to move the project forward. To the same point, @Benjamin added: "@user100220 is capable of putting the company need over their own immediate wants if the situation calls for it. Most companies like that trait." This is true, and they should. It's an immensely valuable skill. Because even though writing C# code, for you, sucked and was boring, you did it - and did it well - because that was what it was going to take for the project under your guidance to see success. And having the ability, and willingness, to 'do whatever it takes' - no matter what that is - is the quality of a leader, not the quality of a 'junior coder'.

EDIT

Given some additional context - the current participation in the current role is extremely likely to continue for at least 1 year if not much longer - and you're actively being prevented from even participating in the high level role - I have a new answer.

1. Time to get frank

You need to get 1:1:1 with A) whoever you report to, and B) the project manager currently running the project you're working on, and let them know the present situation is unsustainable (cf. the hundreds of other QA's on this stack about 'never tell your boss you're quitting before you have another job in hand' for your reasonable constraints on the honesty of this conversation). I'm sure the PM considers it lovely to have someone with your expertise captured as their personal code wizard, but it's not appropriate for the company to be utilizing you in such a fashion, and it's as clearly making you unhappy with your present station.

2. If that doesn't seem likely to help much, time to move on. This is crap.

That's all there is to say about it at that point.

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    Agree, the company I work for now would put this sort of skill and willingness to put the team first above anything else – Uciebila Apr 12 at 9:20
  • I disagree. Your analogy doesn't work if the new manager washes dishes for 3 months shortly after starting his new management job. – JustSaying Apr 12 at 10:20
  • @JustSaying clearly not a perfect parallel - it's rare that 'project constraints' at the pizzeria would prohibit hiring a dishwasher for weeks on end. The point is the perceived value of 'the job you happen to be doing right at this moment' vs 'the ability to do every project-relevant job on an as-needed basis'. – Alex M Apr 12 at 15:57
  • @AlexM The point is, if you get stuck in a single role for an extended period as is the case with the OP, you will start to be associated with that role and that role only. – JustSaying Apr 12 at 16:20
  • @JustSaying If it goes on for quite a while longer, then maybe. Otherwise, agree to disagree, I guess. – Alex M Apr 12 at 16:23
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If you think there is a chance of them freeing you up from Project X for even one day a week, don't ask for learning time.

Instead, try to identify the most urgent task that you would be doing if you were working in the role for which you were hired. Ask for a limited portion of your time to work on that, while continuing to spend most of your time on whatever Project X needs.

You want to show managers what you can do in your planned role, and you want colleagues to see you in that role. If you spent the time on personal development, they are only going to see you in your Project X programming role. The benefit to the employer of getting at least some of your intended work done is obvious, making it an easier sell than personal development time.

  • The most urgent task is what OP is doing now. It's writing code. – Alex M Apr 12 at 7:32
  • @AlexM It is the most urgent task, and the OP should be devoting most time to it. It is not the most urgent task the OP would be doing if working in the intended role. – Patricia Shanahan Apr 12 at 9:11
  • @PatriciaShanahan Thank you for your answer (I up-voted); I did consider asking to be 'allocated' 80% (e.g.) to Project X and 20% to Big-Picture Architectural Stuff, but was put off that approach by having held a previous (at another, unrelated company) "split" role which in practice never gave me the time to get the 20% in due to continual urgent needs etc from the "80% role". I don't think the two roles ('coder' and 'big-picture stuff') can co-exist, not least because I should really be advising from a 'big-picture' about Project X, but instead I'm just implementing suboptimal specs. – user100220 Apr 12 at 17:36
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    ... and what I mean by "just implementing suboptimal specs" is that in my 'role' as a junior coder/implementer I'm given things to write and test without being able to question or give any real input to them, as at that point they are a "done deal" having been passed through any 'big-picture' overview that exists already. (Of course, this was recognized as a problem within the company as whole, which was part of the reason for creating the Big-Picture Architectural Stuff role to begin with...) – user100220 Apr 12 at 17:39
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    Couln't you argue that this hurts the project more than it helps? Since it's still 12-18 months, doing a suboptimal basis will hurt before the finish line. So maybe don't do an official split, but take time as nessecary for what is best for the project as whole (as seen in th 18 month timeline), instead of focusing on just the week ahead? Would that be feasible and sellable? – Benjamin Apr 13 at 0:49
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I hate to have to answer with "Leave," but it seems you've got no choice.

Your perception at this company will be that of "junior coder," and the threat to your career track is very real.

If you have an alternative that keeps you on the correct career path, it is a better option. Tech is good, right now, and there's no reason to sideline your career. "Make hay while the sun shines," is the phrase you should remember.

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I suggest you talk to your immediate superior and tell him that you want more strategic / lead architecture style stuff.

Ask for possibilities to work that in into the current time frame. There could be someways to make the situation better for you soonish, even if just a little bit.

Also ask that you get assurance to do more strategic work / lead architecture stuff after project X ends.

Try to frame it in a positive way, like: I want to get more challenging work. I want to experience something new! I want to grow. Show him you are eager to improve. Then ask them to help you achieve this. Maybe your manager comes up with something else that makes you happy.

It is quite usual that people do something else than what they were initially hired for.

I had a coworker who could do what he joined the company for after 4-5 years. Another former coworker joined as project manager, never really did that, and after a year tansitioned into 50% teamlead (and 50% the other stuff he wanted to get rid off).

Then ask your self how much you like the company and how much you trust them to follow through with whatever plan you came up together. If that's enough for you: Congrats! If it's not enough, you can start looking.

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I added in a comment below that it's likely to go on for at least a year, and I'm around 60% certain that it will go on for 18 months or more.

I'm not sure how long you've been with the company, but it sounds like they don't need another .NET SME.

is now 'retrograde motion' with my career

And it's hurting your future prospects.

You have 3 options

Keep your mouth shut and look for a new job

Given the situation, this is the best choice. You're already frustrated, and will likely become more so as time passes.

If you were just hired, and you find a new job quickly enough, you can even leave it off your resume.

Talk to your manager about moving to another project in 3 months

I would heavily advise against this as it sounds like the company has bet big on Project X. They may have done this because they really believe in its potential. They may also have done it because every .NET project is circling the drain, and they're going for a moon-shot.

Asking to be re-assigned will likely put you in your manager's crosshair. You said yourself they could hire someone to do it for less. Don't give them a reason to.

Do the job

As your pay hasn't been cut, it's not the worse situation. It's also not the best or even a good situation.

0

My strategy when it comes to such things is usually: Do what is needed (even with a lower level role), and bring all your knowledge to the role. There is more than one project which I saved from being a senior in a junior role. There are certain limits to this (timewise). Sometimes Managers also do this to get additional control/insight into a project.

And btw. especially in such roles I found time to learn new things (which I usually applied directly in the project).

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