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UPDATE AFTER ONE MONTH

I wish I'd trusted my instincts: this initial bad treatment was a big red flag.

  • I was hired to replace someone else who quit because of the CTO.
  • The bad treatment has only gotten worse. Hostility and turf-protecting.
  • He has talked very badly about me in front of other engineers when I'm not around. (I'm not competent, how did I pass their tests, etc.)

I'm a senior software dev at a new job. Company has fewer than 30 employees. As I write this post, I've just finished my second day of work.

Most everyone is also very experienced. They're friendly and welcoming except the CTO who was one of my interviewers: each day, he's written something to me publicly on a message board which was demeaning or hostile. (We work remotely.)

Day 1: I commented on an issue I've been assigned and mention that I'm thinking about how to test for it; that I don't see tests for the function I need to modify, and I have an idea. He replies:

there are clearly tests for this - file xxxx_yyyy.z.

He apologizes a little later because he realized he hadn't yet merged in those tests.

Day 2: I found that the test suite requires over an hour to run. I have a morning conversation on a message board w/ another co-worker about what could be done, and he tells me about an improved test setup that I can use. I thank him. Then, the CTO arrives at work, and adds the comment:

We already have (improved test setup) in place

So use it

The only pattern I can see is that both issues have to do with our software tests.

I don't know how to handle this because,

  1. That last sentence, "So use it", is way over the line for rudeness. For me, it's a conversation ender, not starter. I don't think a person who says that is "available" as a partner to work things out.
  2. I've seen something similar at a previous job: a manager who continually thought I hadn't done my assigned task, although I had, and had communicated it to her in her preferred channels. She simply accused first, and read later. I imagined that she built up this incorrect image of me as unreliable. And this co-worker at the present company seems to have the same quirk.
  3. He's not my supervisor (he manages a different team, but as CTO he's obviously influential in the company.

My first idea was to Skype with him and let him know that I find his language "a little rough".

A good friend disagrees, though, and says "if I'm really bothered", then I should go to my boss and present it in an easygoing manner. Try to figure out if he has a reputation for being "rough" like this.

I feel like I'm being hazed or groomed for abuse. And that this influential person is developing a negative internal image of me for no good reason.

Should I talk to my boss?

  • 3
    Are you certain that this coworker is singling you out? Could it be that he simply tends to be curt or at least appear curt in chat? Email and chat are notoriously difficult to communicate emotion and intent and can easily come off more harshly than they were intended. If you're all remote and from different regions with potentially different linguistic and cultural backgrounds, that just compounds the issue. – Justin Cave Apr 17 at 3:23
  • All possible. I checked as far back in the messages as I had time for ... dozens and dozens of his posts. And I did see one other that was a bit rough: naming a couple of other staff who are supposedly not getting back to him quickly. (I wouldn't do that publicly, nor in the way he wrote it.) So there's a bit of a pattern. – The Codergator Apr 17 at 5:16
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    "Most everyone is also very experienced." You clearly think you're better than everyone (and it's possible you are - you might be the first "pro" member on a garage team). It is tough to go out of your way to be polite when you are criticizing. In all your examples, you were criticizing the current situation (and the guy snapped back at you). You have to be exceptionally diplomatic in pointing out problems. It's tough. – Fattie Apr 17 at 12:00
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Obviously this sort of behavior is not nice to have out the gate, but keep in mind you've barely gotten to know him since these are your first days on the job.

  • Being the Chief Technologist, he may be "rough" like this in internals and e-mails to be more direct. It may not be something personal.
  • As observed, it is hard to match the pattern (specially with 2 days); While it is no excuse to chew out your co-workers, perhaps they are having a bad week on top of it.
  • As stated, the toxicity is "implied", and the CTO has apologized to you (was it in public?).

And as you've said, everyone else in the team is friendly; the workplace you're in already seems to have a culture in place which isn't predatory.

For now, I'd recommend not taking it personally and possibly escalating as it may be a misunderstanding at this point in time.

Get to know your co-workers, and once you know what to actually expect from these different people with whom you'll be spending a lot of time with, you can start drawing conclusions and raising complaints.

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    Yes. Keep in mind that email/message board communication isn't a great way to get to know people. Try not to assume he's being mean. When he sends you a terse message, reply "thanks!" or "thanks but I can't find that test, can you show me where it is?" or some such thing. Be as polite as you want him to be. – O. Jones Apr 20 at 21:30
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    UPDATE AFTER ONE MONTH I wish I'd trusted my instincts: this initial bad treatment was a big red flag. I was hired to replace someone else who quit because of the CTO. The bad treatment has only gotten worse. Hostility and turf-protecting. He has talked very badly about me in front of other engineers when I'm not around. (I'm not competent, how did I pass their tests, etc.) – The Codergator May 16 at 22:36
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    @TheCodergator I'm really sorry to hear that, however the odds of it being a misunderstading were pretty high by the time you asked the question. You now have enough evidence to start considering a formal complaint or start looking for a new job with confidence that you were not getting ahead of yourself - having quit so early would not come across well. – lucasgcb May 16 at 22:54
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While I'm not going to say what the CTO is doing is okay I can't help but feel that you are massively overreacting at this stage. It's been 2 days - 2.

The first day's "incident" is really nothing - they made a mistake (believing that the tests had already been merged in) and when they discovered that they hadn't they apologized.

We already have (improved test setup) in place

So use it

This is certainly a bit brusque and abrupt, I have to say that "way over the line for rudeness" feels a bit hyperbolic though.

it's a conversation ender, not starter. I don't think a person who says that is "available" as a partner to work things out.

Well, yeah it's a conversation ender - but from what you say it was already a non-issue by this point anyway.

I've seen something similar at a previous job: a manager who continually thought I hadn't done my assigned task, although I had, and had communicated it to her in her preferred channels. She simply accused first, and read later.

I think this is the problem - you're understandably wary of the same pattern repeating itself. But I think you're jumping the gun at this point. One incidence of someone being a bit difficult does not a pattern make.

My first idea was to Skype with him and let him know that I find his language "a little rough".

Yeah don't do this - on the basis of what you've experienced thus far it's a complete overreaction and you'll absolutely come off as a whiner, and as much as I hate to use the "trendy" term, as a snowflake.

A good friend disagrees, though, and says "if I'm really bothered", then I should go to my boss and present it in an easygoing manner. Try to figure out if he has a reputation for being "rough" like this.

Your friend is speaking sense - probably because they have a bit of distance from the situation and their perception isn't colored by the experiences with the previous co-worker (who sounds like a right pain frankly!)

I feel like I'm being hazed or groomed for abuse. And that this influential person is developing a negative internal image of me for no good reason.

It's way, way too early to be thinking this - by all means be cautious around this person and make sure you cover yourself, but that's just good advice around. If in a couple of months you've noticed a pattern, either with their behavior in general or towards you in particular and you aren't comfortable then it might be worth looking around to go elsewhere. It might not be "fair" or "right" but I don't think you'll get very far trying to change the incumbent CTO as the new guy!

  • UPDATE AFTER ONE MONTH I wish I'd trusted my instincts: this initial bad treatment was a big red flag. I was hired to replace someone else who quit because of the CTO. The bad treatment has only gotten worse. Hostility and turf-protecting. He has talked very badly about me in front of other engineers when I'm not around. (I'm not competent, how did I pass their tests, etc.) – The Codergator May 16 at 22:36
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    @thecodergater ouch, sorry to hear that! Sounds like it's not going to work and it's time to pull the pin. You gave it a reasonable chance. – motosubatsu May 17 at 5:34
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I had to deal with a similar situation in the past. The first thing to assess is what kind of mobber is your superior:

  • is he tendentially sadistic? i.e. does he love to assert his power over people and make them struggle?

  • is he tendentially emotionally unstable? Some leaders are not capable to handle insecurity, frustration, stress or anxiety as a leader should, so it reverberates down on other colleagues

  • is he a poor communicator? There are people who lack "communication intelligence" and cannot understand how badly some form of miscommunication can impact someone else, expecially if coming from a position of power

Understanding how this "mix" works cannot be easy, but on the other hand gives also a glimpse of possible solutions. The worst case would be the sadistic ones, these people are very hard to deal with, make the whole environment toxic and usually the only way out is changing jobs.

In the latter two cases, I feel something can be done. If he is always aggressive or passive-aggressive in communication, the temptation to give the same treatment is high, but it's much more effective to:

  • ignore them if you can

  • make yourself less available, reducing the contact possibility whenever possible (even wearing headphones, ...)

  • try to better your flaws to have proper ground for discussion

  • talk to him

In the latter case, following some rules could help:

  • try to stay as calm as possible. Remember always that you're the grown-up and he/she is the child in this situation, whatever power he/she may have

  • make it about your feelings, not in absolutes. Not

    "dude, this behaviour is toxic"

    but

    "when this happens I feel hurt/anxious/distracted/..."

    Note how this is centered on "I", not him.

  • throw in some sweeteners

    "I understand your position and responsibilities, but..."

  • make it proactive, try to pose it like a common and likeable goal. Not

    "you suck at leading" "it's awful when this happens

    but

    "I feel my performance could really improve if we ..."
    "We will have less misunderstandings if..."

Another golden rule: DO NOT make it personal. Try to emotionally detach yourself and see this as his problem. It's difficult and I know how this behaviour get under your skin, but always remember that you're the grown up.

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