I have been working at a health dept. for almost 5 years. During that time, I got promoted twice (held 3 positions). My most recent one was about 4 months ago and I'm still on probation (I got a mini review at 2 months with high ratings). I have had numerous staff and my manager speak highly of my work in the previous positions and so they have encouraged me to move up again. In this newer position, I have been given a project where I perceive as unrealistic. It involves programming at a higher level than what I know (programming was preferred but not required for the job). The project is due in a month, and even if I worked on this every day and set aside my other 4 projects, I probably wouldn't finish it and will have errors given my lack of advanced expertise. I have been told to use other staff as support. But here are my thoughts:

  1. I could do my best to write the code, bug the hell out of other staff for help, and submit what I have for review- it will likely need to be finished by someone more proficient and mistakes corrected otherwise it won't be submitted by the deadline;

  2. Does it make more sense for a proficient programmer to take this on instead of having him as a support role? Otherwise what I fear is that I'm told my code isn't finished/needs corrections and may need to be revamped with only days to spare before the deadline.

I'm thinking of talking to my seniors individually followed by my manager about my concerns (it's likely that the manager will pull in the seniors to the office so I don't want this to be a surprise for them). At this point, I'm ready to say if I don't live up to the expectation, I will resign- it's not the work environment I want to be in. However, I'm almost sure they will want to hang on to me given my previous success. Any thoughts or ideas appreciated.

  • 1
    How are you on probation AND you've been at the company for 5 years? Sep 5, 2019 at 3:05
  • Why you need to ask? "Does it make more sense for a proficient programmer to take this on instead of having him as a support role? " - YES
    – Mawg
    Sep 5, 2019 at 6:46
  • 3
    @JulieinAustin I read it as OP is on probation for the new position, so the promotion might be reverted.
    – Dirk
    Sep 5, 2019 at 7:53
  • @JulieinAustin probation for the new position is very common and failure could lead to termination - management like to play games like that...
    – Solar Mike
    Sep 5, 2019 at 8:14
  • 1
    If your organisation wants software that can be trusted, the only way is to hand it to a professional software developer. A professional software developer also has a fighting chance to deliver when you have no QA, and no review process, and leave you with code that can be changed to new requirements in a year or five.
    – gnasher729
    Sep 5, 2019 at 10:11

4 Answers 4


The other answer addressed the plain reading of your question, mine will address a reading that is a little different.

If you are doing as well as you state, your next most logical role is one in which you are expected to lead others. You state you're not a strong programmer, which isn't a requirement to make sure projects are implemented on time and with quality.

Your manager has told you to go to others for support, so go to them. Talk about the project, the deadline, and what availability they have given their existing workload. Be honest about your skills and how much of their time you expect to need.

I had a colleague who was up for a promotion. He was a very qualified developer, but the new role required leadership and team work. I counseled him as much a I could -- use the junior programmers in the team, make a plan, figure out a schedule -- but he persisted in trying to do things the way he always had. Which was, by himself. My goal wasn't to save him from himself, but I tried. We'd been friends outside work for 7 or 8 years, and he was a great guy. But he couldn't make the transition from doing it all himself and developing leadership skills. He'd already been promoted one level up from where "individual contributors" belong and to be blunt, he had to perform or he was going to be separated from the company. He didn't make it.

Moving up the responsibility ladder requires learning new skills and demonstrating proficiency in the ones you have. It also requires communicating openly and honestly about what's going on with your tasks.

  • 1
    +1 @vegan_renegade (love your handle, BTW) you might want to find out how much of this project you are actually expected to code. It might be that (since this is a promotion presumably you are in management territory) you are only expected to direct the programmers while they do the coding. Sep 5, 2019 at 16:43
  • If the position requires a higher programming skill than you possess, then maybe it is not the position for you. If it doesn't, you shouldn't be expected to perform miracles. Focus on finding out what their exact expectations are for the job. Sep 5, 2019 at 16:45

If you don't think you can complete a project in the time allocated, it is professional to raise this with your supervisor as soon as you determine this is the case.

From time-to-time, these things happen. It can be hard to gauge the strengths and weaknesses of new hires, and a good company will tailor the workload in order to get the best outcome.

The best outcome may be getting the most work done, the highest quality of work done, the greatest chance for you to interact with your new teammates, or the greatest learning opportunity for you.

Don't ever resign because you feel obliged to. Allow them to make the call if they want to keep you on-board.

  • Thanks, I will do a more thorough review of the project to ensure I'm correct that I won't get done on time. Regarding my comment about resigning, my view is that if I say "I'll resign if I don't live up to expectations", this might give the impression that I'm not afraid to walk away if I feel the work is unfair. This might be an advantage if I have been previously known as a great employee wouldn't it? They'll be more likely to tailor the work opposed to let me go. Sep 5, 2019 at 3:25
  • @vegan_renegade - There is a standard attitude among a lot of managers that if an employee makes that kind of ultimatum that the response is "when is your last day?" Playing games like that is very unprofessional. The business's goal is to get you as productive and qualified as possible because that makes you more valuable to them. They WANT you to succeed as much as possible, and you're trying to strong-arm them into playing it safe. Sep 5, 2019 at 3:55

I'm a project manager and a developer so I'll provide a response from both perspectives.

As a pm it's my role to get a clear definition of scope and requirements and map out a plan to determine how to deliver on those and flush out any risks and issues as early as possible.

I generally start by meeting with key stakeholders and getting as clear a steer as possible from them in terms of what they want and need. Next I ensure the requirements are prioritised and I'm clear on any constraints (time, budget, resources, technology etc).

I then establish an initial project team and workshop with them to share the objectives and scope and seek their input on sizing the work and also their views on risks and issues I might've missed.

As a dev, my ability to accurately size the work depends on a few factors:

  • How well defined are the requirements / user stories
  • How well understood are their interdependecies
  • How experienced am I at this sort of work

A stakeholder can be expected to provide clear direction, prioritise needs based on business value and provide support if/when risks and issues arise.

A pm can be expected to plan carefully, manage the delivery of outcomes via the entire team and be proactive in communicating progress and issues. A pm should be a servant leader and seek to guide and support rather than command and control.

A dev can be expected to deliver based on requirements and raise issues early.

It sounds as if you're somewhat "a victim of your own success". You've been tapped to deliver a project because you're trusted to get the job done. Just realise that any project is a collective effort and whilst you're stepping up, don't take on the burden alone. It's important and expected that you'll ask for help if/when you need it, otherwise you're headed for trouble.

Btw if you're not already familiar with Scrum, I'd recommend familiarising yourself with it asap. It's super useful for sw dev projects and will help you manage things in a much more structured way. And estsblish a product backlog using a tool like Jira or similar to ensure requirements (epics, user stories and acceptance criteria) are defined clearly for all and you can easily track their progress.

Good luck!


What would you want a subordinate colleague to do if they were in your situation and you were managing them?

There is your answer.

It sounds like you are already thinking along these lines, which is good.

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