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I work for a fintech startup. The programmers in the team are split between "the engineering team" that implements business logic and "the data science team" that implements algorithms to make intelligent financial decisions, each with their own managers and non-overlapping responsibilities.

I am one of the newest hires in the data science team (7 months) and I've noticed ever since I joined, the engineering team has held disdain for the data science team. This includes reasons like choice of technology, the processes used, etc. The gist of which is "You do not use the tech we use or follow the processes we follow. You are incompetent. Let us show you how it is done".

My first month in, I was asked by my manager to put some algorithms in place that would make the company a small fortune. I delivered. This did not bode well with the manager of the engineering team who tried sabotaging it by asking me to make changes not signed off by my manager and ultimately playing enough politics a few weeks back to have the ownership taken away from me.

Overhearing conversations criticizing my team is now commonplace. There have been instances where they've changed our working code because they think they did a better job at it. Now the new clarion call is that data science is for everyone and the engineering team has asked the company to pay for a course on machine learning.

Now, I have a few issues with this approach of working, and I'd love to be corrected by the more experienced members of this community if I am taking things to heart.

First, this is less of collaboration and more of meddling. Starting with my pilot project, and now making slow, subtle attempts to take things away from the team.

Second, this is unprofessional in that they are raising questions about our competence despite us delivering on everything we've been asked to build.

Third, the "in" that is demanded by the engineering team is that they be allowed to make statistical models which is actually the best part of our job. Essentially, we'd be relegated to the grunt work like gathering data and maintaining our systems while the better parts are handed to them.

What is a good way to deal with a situation like this?

  • @JoeStrazzere I agree with you on perceiving things differently depending on the personal bias I may carry. However, where does one say, professionally, "okay, enough, now you are stepping on my toes."? – Little Child Apr 12 at 18:56
  • @JoeStrazzere I'd love to edit the question. What would you suggest I edit? To briefly answer "what are you going to do about it?". I have tried raising my concerns to no avail. What I intend with my question is to maybe get anecdotal advise from people with more experience on "I experienced XYZ and that is meddling vs PQRS is harsh criticism". – Little Child Apr 12 at 19:19
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    @JoeStrazzere Ah, now I see. Yes, I could've worded the question much better. Yes, I am actually looking for ways to say "no, we do not need your constructive criticism, thanks." – Little Child Apr 12 at 20:10
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    @DarkMatter risk management for the company's capital. This eventually affects our profits, losses, and survivability. It's partly research but mostly applied machine learning and econometrics. – Little Child Apr 12 at 20:17
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    This question isn't really about constructive criticism or meddling at all. It's more about in-fighting between two departments at work. Generally constructive criticism is specific to one article of work, not an entire team. It sounds like the engineering team is threatened by you data science people. Maybe you're getting all the new toys and they aren't even though they have more seniority. – user70848 Apr 12 at 20:37
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As to the actual question,

I am actually looking for ways to say "no, we do not need your constructive criticism, thanks."

Unfortunately the answer here - in your field - is you have to be brutally, horribly, blunt.

You'e working in - by far - literally the most aggressive, profit-driven field on Earth.

There's just no room for pussy-footing around.

If (and I find this bizarre/unusual) your management is letting the "engineering" side make annoying noises ... that's odd.

Aggressively don't be a doormat. Examples,

"Overhearing conversations criticizing my team is now commonplace. "

Just immediately, aggressively, and totally come down on them. Look them right in the eye and tell them to get in to the manager's office so you can discuss this nonsense.

"tried sabotaging it by asking me to make changes"

Aggressively, instantly, loudly, and directly say the language:

"You're trying to sabotage this project. This is office politics. Stand up and come to Steve's office right now and we'll sort this out. I can't have 'engineering' confusing the company goals."

You just have to be that aggressive. It's fintech - not a little app startup you know? :/ Life is tough ...

Again, regarding your actual question,

I am actually looking for ways to say "no, we do not need your constructive criticism, thanks."

Unfortunately due to the nature of your field, you have to be brutally, openly, direct and straightforward.

It's not like other questions on this site where the "kumbaya" answer is try to find a middle ground, seek consensus, etc.

If it's genuinely "not for you" it's very easy / trivial to find other fields to work in, with your experience.

To address the specific question:

What is the difference between constructive criticism and meddling?

I would say to get most directly to this important question, if the "criticism" by party A towards party B, is in fact some sort of play to advance the career of party A, rather than actual engineering insight, then it's just meddling.

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This sounds like political elbowing between managers of the teams, perhaps initiated by engineering team manager.

IMHO, the workplace will become very unpleasant place to be very soon if not already.

My suggestion - run :)

Change job as soon as you can , getting your managers recommendation letter in writing

  • "run" has been on my mind for a while but the advise in the past I've received is also that workplaces tend to be this way and that moving from one place to the next isn't always the solution. Also +1. – Little Child Apr 12 at 20:14
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    @LittleChild in my experience, you can always find workplace you comfortable with. it may take a few tries, but its better than staying in the uncomfortable one – Strader Apr 12 at 20:54
  • What do the upper levels say? – Captain Emacs Apr 12 at 21:31
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    But a non-fintech workplace will ............... pay tremendously less. (Particularly in the long-run.) – Fattie Apr 12 at 23:26
  • @CaptainEmacs The upper levels do not understand / agree with mathematics. – Little Child Apr 13 at 1:33
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Honestly, this sounds like a management problem and not something you should be responsible for dealing with. The engineering team needs to understand that data science is a very complex field and if they think they can learn everything that goes into it by taking a crash course in machine learning, they’re delusional and likely suffering from the Dunning–Kruger effect.

Again, this is a management problem and not something you should be worried about. Always listen to feedback from your manager and don’t worry about what the engineering team has to say. If your manager is failing in their duties to advocate on your behalf, start sending out your resume and go someplace where your skills and hard work are appreciated. Data science is a hot field right now and there are a lot of great jobs out there for people with the right skill set.

  • So in the past my manager has made concerted effort to keep the engineering team away from meddling with our work but I think the relentlessness of the engineering team has made him cave in a little bit. – Little Child Apr 13 at 1:36
  • @LittleChild It's not just turf war. Everyone should focus on what they know best, not what they would like to do, especially in a startup. Let the boat sink, but do not be on it when it happens. – Captain Emacs Apr 13 at 12:08
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Strader's answer is the right one, though perhaps I can fill in a little more detail.

Your teams are being horribly managed if this sort of turf war is occurring. Your career may founder, but I predict your firm will fail.

It's a startup. Startups always have too much work. There is tons of opportunity to go around. It's the job of management to properly partition the work. Isn't the point of the startup that there will be tons of opportunity later as the company goes? Instead, your coworkers are fighting like they're at a big fat bank and trying to stick you with legacy code responsibilities, and you have engineers trying to pad their resumes with ML courses that may or may not be appropriate for the company, yet help the engineers' bottom line? Forget that.

Now that I think of it, this may indicate your senior engineer talent is lacking, as those are usually the people that clamp down on the resume-padding opportunity hoarding that the engineering team is engaging in, since it's rarely good for the company.

Someone else has pointed out that fintech is an aggressive field. I work in a fintech field too. Any manager who didn't keep his team in line to stop this sort of jousting would get clobbered. There's too much work to go around to have engineers chasing after "the shiny new thing." And the fact that engineers are doing it willy-nilly indicates poor leadership all around, and probable hostility between management.

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    I believe it is a lot about hostility and I think my manager is being a little too accommodating of the engineering team meddling in our work to keep some sort of peace. Surprisingly, we do not tell them ever how to do their things all while listening to / dealing with them meddling with our work. – Little Child Apr 13 at 1:25
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    "being a little too accommodating of the engineering team meddling..." I mean that seems to be the case precisely. As mentioned elsewhere, I would go further and say it's a bit whacky/unusual that any manager/founder in your field would even (bluntly) listen much or deal with the "plain engineering" side. Anyway! Good luck! – Fattie Apr 13 at 11:55
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My impression is that you're working in a "cost" center of the company and you're looked down upon by the people in the "profit" center. From their point of view they really are more important, and you're somewhere between "in the way" and "the guys who say no".

Part of what makes this nastier than normal is there's enough overlap between the two groups' skills and abilities that you're also rivals.

What is a good way to deal with a situation like this?

My advice to every starting engineer is they want to be working for profit centers, not cost centers.

Profit centers get attention, resources, respect, and career advancement. Cost centers get squeezed to try to reduce the burden they place on the system.

If they're trying to absorb your responsibilities, then see if you can switch to doing what you do for them.

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    hold it - no, the actual data science team essentially does the trading and makes or loses zillions of dollars. "engineering" is just some web stuff, buttons and APIs to banks and the like. – Fattie Apr 12 at 23:13
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    @Fattie Up top he said to me that his group does: "... risk management for the company's capital. This eventually affects our profits, losses, and survivability. It's partly research but mostly applied machine learning and econometrics". As far as I can tell the other group is doing "Financial Engineering", which is making exciting new fiscal products which burn down the market every now and then but are very profitable until that happens. – Dark Matter Apr 13 at 3:22
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    @DarkMatter No, Fattie is correct here. What the other team does is standard backend engineering stuff like making buttons, and APIs to banks. There is no making new exciting products on their end. – Little Child Apr 13 at 9:36
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    hi @DarkMatter - again just to simplify. In a fintech or quant you have "the actual data scientists" who - in a word - make trades. These folks are like sports stars or film stars. They can make (ie, their personal earnings) 1, 10, 20 million dollars a year. In contrast the "engineering team" is just a few Node programmers that move buttons around on web pages and get paid $48,713 per annum like normal people like me. (Indeed, LittleChild, I found your question very unusual/confusing. I've never, ever heard of the web programmers at a quant/fintech getting uppity like this....... – Fattie Apr 13 at 11:46
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    (cont) ... It would be as if Steven Spielberg or Brad Bird posted, saying "In our film company, some of the props guys are trying to take over the writing and directing department, what to do?" So! Maybe your company is smaller or just unusually structured or whatever - IDK. Anyway I envy your position and if some of your algorithms get lucky in coming years as your career develops, please send me a Porsche.) – Fattie Apr 13 at 11:49

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