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I work as an engineer in a team structured as follows

project manager (my manager)
└─── lead data scientist (my technical lead)
     └─── me (and other engineers)

Unfortunately, I'm not convinced the technical lead's technical skills are up to the standard required for his job:

  • his knowledge of statistics is low, and I've had to explain 1st-year-undergraduate-level material to him;

  • his coding practices are poor: he doesn't know how to use git (branches are mystery to him) and doesn't write unit tests (which would be OK if his code was perfect, I guess, but it's not);

  • he has poor machine learning practices: doesn't seem to be able to implement cross-validation correctly (even with Python's easy sklearn API), is unfamiliar with model explainability/interpretability, and does virtually no exploratory data analysis;

  • some of his visualisations would be worthy of viz.wtf. They literally make no sense, for the simple reason that he hasn't spent 5 minutes exploring/understanding the data before trying to plot it.

Working together is becoming increasingly hard and borderline unpleasant. He's very argumentative and doesn't respond well to his work being criticised / other ideas (which are sometimes necessary if we want the project to have any chance of being completed successfully).

This situation doesn't seem very stable.

In this situation, should I approach our manager and politely state my reservations about the technical lead, or is it best to just do my best and make the most of the difficult situation?

  • should someone approach their manager..they are you manager, too - right? – Sourav Ghosh Jul 5 at 14:33
  • I was referring to my own manager - I'll rephrase the question, thanks – EuRBamarth Jul 5 at 14:34
  • Rather, let's say "our manager" - removes the confusion. – Sourav Ghosh Jul 5 at 14:38
  • 1
    Does his work affect your productivity? Some people come from different backgrounds and after X number of years industry, knowledge of undergrad-level statistics will fade. Hell, if you asked me to write out the math for my masters thesis, I'm not sure I could do it without messing something up. Let the PM witness poor graphs and draw the conclusions themselves. If it affects your work, then let the PM know that you are facing delays due to X, Y, Z but be prepared to back everything up. – Catsunami Jul 5 at 17:41
  • Does the project manager have hiring/firing authority over the tech lead? Does the tech lead have hiring/firing authority over you? – Cypher Jul 5 at 17:53
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This is a VERY VERY tricky situation and you have to be very strategic about how you do this. Before you run to any PM with your complaints you need to back everything up with proof. You need:

  • dates
  • Times
  • Type of incident(problem committing a git branch/adding new git branch
  • Summary of what was said by either party regarding any disagreements you said
  • Any communications (email) between you both.
  • Any witnesses to any exchanges (kind of tricky because they may not want to get involved)

No one cares about the your opinion...they only care about facts.

So make sure you can back up everything you say. Especially if your complaining to your manager's 'boss'.

Then, you have to plan of what you are going to say to the Project Manager as you cannot under any circumstances say "I think the tech lead is incompetent' it's all about framing what you say and how you say it (for you all know the PM and the TL might be friends). Schedule a 20 min meeting with the PM.

Step 1: Email

Write the PM saying you have an issue and you would really appreciate his objective opinion it won't take long as you know he's super busy but It's a matter of importance. When are you free?

Step 2: In the meeting

In the meeting you can say something along the lines of:

I am concerned about X (Tech lead). Maybe I'm a bit of worrier but I noticed that (then start presenting your evidence to establish a patter that the Tech lead isn't good at his job).

Then when your done say something along the lines of:

This gives me no pleasure in saying this or by having these observations but I would rather tell you for the GOOD of the project than keep my mouth shut. What do YOU as the PM think this issue should be handled?

Thus making this an issue for the PM to solve rather than something for you to fix. Plus it takes it from being about you to something that ensures the project moves forward smoothly.

Then when the meeting is done, write an email thanking the PM for taking the time to speak to you, then if anything goes wrong you have proof that you spoke to the PM and left it for him to handle.

  • I can't provide proof of anything that was said, but sure, the rest sounds like good advice – EuRBamarth Jul 5 at 15:26
  • @EuRBamarth Granted. It could be to personal interpretation. However, in the situation even that can be framed in the correct way. You can say "when I suggested X the response was Y' Maybe I was blowing out of proportion but I would appreciate you(the PM) feedback regarding that statement' What do YOU think? – fypnlp Jul 5 at 16:28
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Do you think you would be better fit for Lead Data Scientist?

Because this is what your manager will glean from your approaching him about the current one`s shortcomings.

Even if you mention that you are NOT gunning for the promotion

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First of all, remember one thing, you are not in charge of reviewing the work (pattern or habit) for the lead - so go ahead raising a flag only if their behavior is a problem and has a direct impact on your work outputs.

In case, due to their work habit, you (and others) are facing difficulties, I'd suggest the following steps:

  1. Try noting down the occurrences where their behavior and involvement (or lack, thereof) creates problem / hindered to your work.
  2. Try communicating the problems to your lead, in writing.
  3. In case you don't get a response, or things do not change, involve your manager.

Remember, your manager will only be interested in knowing the matter and getting involved if they see that the behavior is actually affecting the work environment and outcome - so be sure not to express / impose your opinions about the lead or the behavior - rather make points on

  • How the behaviors are impacting the overall process and work-relationships negatively (Demotivating)
  • How the lack of leadership capability is affecting the process (more time-consuming, lesser quality outputs)
  • Why the lack of technical skills are problematic (More bugs, more rework etc.)

And have supporting incidents as proofs. Only these things can make your manager believe your version and see the fact through.

  • Thanks for your rapid response. Unfortunately, his behaviour does directly impact my work outputs - the steps you suggest make sense to me, thanks! – EuRBamarth Jul 5 at 14:45
  • @EuRBamarth I've expanded a bit on my previous answer. – Sourav Ghosh Jul 5 at 16:00
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Are there areas of good practice that you haven't mentioned or are flat out unaware of?

It is unusual for anyone to be great at every aspect of their job, especially one requiring such a complex (and recently developed) knowledge base. Additionally, new hires are sometimes selected to cover known weaknesses.

It is plausible that your technical lead has failings in some of the areas where you are strongest while having other qualities that make them a good technical lead.

This might not be the case but you should consider the possibility.

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