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I am the only technical employee in a young business which develops a technical product. The bulk of the development is done by a team of contractors. I have many concerns about the way the contractors decide to approach some of the parts of the system but I feel powerless to do anything about it. The contractors are more experienced than me but work in a fringe business. I have fewer years of experience but it comes from a fairly prestigious level workplace. Personally, I recognise that my concerns might be not valid because I'm less experienced but also I refuse to accept that just because someone had been working on something for longer they are bound to be taking the best design decisions there are. Anyway, I digress.

My boss is non-technical so pointing out things specific to the innerworkings of our product is meaningless to them. They only care that they see a thing created which does another thing - they don't have the ability to appreciate how it's done, that it might be hacky, completely unmaintainable or just poorly thought through and rushed. They have a good business rapport established with the contractors, so more often than not I feel like my concerns are just dismissed because "the contractors have been in this business for a longer time and surely know what they're doing".

I'm worried of this for the longer term especially that one of the contractors is actively looking to join us as an employee and I often get low-key vibes of him trying to establish themselves as the defacto technical leader, undermining my position in the company, in a way that is not appropriate and frankly often patronising (e.g. being vocal about strategy and management things, suggesting obvious solutions to technical problems I have like I would not have thought of them etc.) - but once again, I digress.

So here it is, the main question - how can I make my concerns be taken seriously, despite my shorter experience, against contractors whose interest is to make themselves appear more competent than me?

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    Why do you have these concerns, it doesn't appear to be your responsibility from the description. You're not the manager or owner. – Kilisi Oct 4 '19 at 11:53
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    I have those concerns because (a) I want the company to succeed and it pains me to see sub-optimal technical decisions being made, (b) One of the main reasons for taking this job was for career development reasons, as it was advertised that I'd have a lot of control and responsibility over the technical side of the product, so not only would I need to yield that but also would not get to develop my skills working on a correctly designed product (as opposed to hacked together). – BobsYerUncle Oct 4 '19 at 12:00
  • have you asked your manager yet point blank what your responsibilities are? Sounds like you took the job on wrong info. – Kilisi Oct 4 '19 at 12:04
  • The responsibilities are kinda "everything" because early stage startups etc etc. and also they keep changing because of the business transitoning through different phases of dev actitivy / testing etc. Unfortunately that means that often I am just a glorified assistant to the CTO. – BobsYerUncle Oct 4 '19 at 12:09
  • Currently this sounds very subjective. Do you have anything objective to base your judgement on? (E.g. the submitted code is low quality, or the estimated time line is completely unrealistic given the scope) – Llewellyn Oct 4 '19 at 17:45
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As a former IT contractor (25+ years in the game) I used to get rather irritated by people who thought they knew better than me based on less experience. I frequently had at least a decade's worth of experience more than the line manager to back up my design decisions. The people that I had time for were the ones who came to me to ask for explanations, put forward their opinions and we'd discuss the issue. Sometimes, I'd realise that they did have a better idea or had foreseen an issue I hadn't, so I'd go off and make the appropriate changes. Other times, they'd see my point and we'd continue on that path.

You don't mention how much experience you have in the world of work, but until you have four or five years and various projects under your belt, you probably will have to bow to the contractors better understanding of coding for business. One thing that I had to learn was that best-practice code takes second place to time-to-market. Hacks are fine, as long as they're recorded as technical debt and can be addressed properly in a following sprint. If the product sells - or the system works - well enough, it can be optimized later, the important thing is to get it out there.

So, engage with the contractors, ask them to explain what they're doing.

As has been mentioned in other answers, be sure that you are demonstrably correct in your assertion that the contractors' efforts are sub-par before going to your boss; there may be factors that you just haven't ever experienced driving the decisions.

Finally, unless your business is likely to go nova in an IPO, the contractors will probably be happy taking home more per hour than a permanent staffer and aren't after your job by putting you down.

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Most of what you've stated is subjective, meaning it's your opinion and not empirical evidence or undisputed fact.

If you think the contractors methods aren't sound then you'll need top prove that with factual evidence and examples. Why are there methods unsound? What methods are better? What data can you show to prove that?

The contractors are more experienced than me but work in a fringe business. I have fewer years of experience but it comes from a fairly prestigious level workplace

You seem to be implying that because you work for a more prestigious company and because they work for a fringe company (whatever that is) that your opinion has more authority and validity than theirs. That's a bit arrogant and completely untrue. What gives your opinion more authority and validity simply because of the company you work for?

  • > What gives your opinion more authority and validity simply because of the company you work for? Nothing. My opinions aren't worth more. I only pointed my background out because on the other hand I believe that just having more years of work on your CV does not automatically make your professional choices better. – BobsYerUncle Oct 4 '19 at 13:14
  • I've worked for some of the world's top companies in my time. Some of their in-house stuff in atrocious and when I encounter people from those companies I inwardly despair :) – Chris the Hairy One Oct 4 '19 at 15:44
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Focus on the business.

Identify which approaches will add value, increase profits, reduce customer issues, improve security, etc.

Promote and contribute to those approaches.

Much of the rest may be your ego fighting perceived unfairness.
Also contractors quality is aligned with making money and _not_necessarily_ doing the right long-term thing for your business. However this is not something to fume and complain about - its just the way the business works with contracting and is quite common. Save your energy for what you can change.

If, over time your focus is not working for the business, leave.

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Do not tell, show.

If, and only if you are in a company which values employees taking initiatives and ownership of the projects they are working on you can consider my answer :

Document your concerns, for every issue you see with the contractor approach of the project, try to determine the consequences, both in terms of maintainability/technical issues and business/customers issues.

Ex : with approach X it will be very hard to add another functionnality here after the project is completed.

Be sure you have an alternative and better way of doing it to propose, do not go to your management with problems but with solutions

Ex : Whereas with approach Y which will takes exactly the same time to implement, we will be able to add functionnalities easily because Z,W,U

If you have datas to support your claims, or if you can estimate with numbers you will increase your chances of being listened to.

Ex : Approach X takes 2 days, but it will take 1 week to secure the customers datas, total 9 days, Whereas approach Y takes 5 days but follows the privacy by design principles and once it's implemented we're done with security. These principles are documented here and here.

I suggest that before you raise your concerns with your supervisor/manager, you also discuss them with the contractor, you are probably the one who is going to maintain the system and make the next minor evolutions, so it's perfectly fine to ask your manager to arrange regular meetings with the contractors to understand what they are doing and then you have the opportunity to raise your concerns in a non confrontational way :

Ex : I think I do not understand fully X, because it seems to me that if we run into Z situation we are going to have problem P.

Then if the answer from the contractor does not satisfy you, you can propose your solution, and maybe the contractor will be able to show you one or multiple flaws in your approach Y. The bonus part of doing this is you are probably going to learn a lot as well.

If you are still not satisfied with the contractor approach, you can then schedule a meeting with your manager to talk about it. Arrange a formal meeting and come prepared, don't just throw at him your well documented concerns, try to prepare a speech with a business oriented point of view and vocabulary.

Keep in mind that at the end, your manager decides.

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Think about this aspect: If your manager has no technical expertise, it means that those who appointed him to be the manager (as in, higher level management) do not think that actual technical understanding is important in order to make decisions.

I am not saying that it is how it should be; I'm saying that it's how it is. It is wrong, but it's how it is. Reality is what it is, not what we would wish it would be.

And if that's how they think, you using technical understanding to persuade him or them won't work - you're using something that they from the start consider as unimportant.

It probably won't work if you use business logic either, since they will almost certainly consider themselves to be better in that aspect than you are, whether it's true or not.

So what's the answer?

Well, imagine yourself as a gnat on an elephant's back, and you see that elephant going toward the edge of the cliff, where he's going to stupidly get himself killed.

Which of these courses of action has higher chances?

  1. Try, with all your might, to pull the elephant in the other direction
  2. Find another elephant, one who's going in the other direction, and fly off to his back.

And if you want an example from real world, well, I was once upon the time in a company that was worth multiple tens of billions of US $, and the management did the wrong stuff - different than yours, not the same type of an error, but what was the same was that they did not listen to advice from below.

They didn't listen even as the share price dropped from US$ 125/share to $5/share.

And at one point I asked myself "If they aren't listening even in the face of such a financial carnage, what are the chances that they will listen just because I, from the bottom of the ladder, tell them something?".

The answer was, of course, zero.

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