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(note: This question has been asked in different ways but contexts differ.)

I am a senior software engineer in a relatively large public company. I have been there a few years, with no title change.

I am doing a great job, taking initiatives, leading, I'm appreciated by my teammates etc, however my manager has been pushing back on promotion. Because of that there was a LOT of tension between him and me.

He finally submitted a promotion attempt to the committee at the end of 2019 but this didn't work out. I feel that he made several "mistakes" to make it fail on purpose, cutting it short here.

Options

Now I'm not sure what I should do. Here are the things that I am considering:

  • Applying elsewhere. I had a few tries, but other companies will take me at my current level and not at the next one. I would have to "work all over again". I could apply more, too.
  • Changing teams internally. My manager is clearly not helping me. But I would also have to "start from scratch" with a new manager and this doesn't feel like capitalising well.
  • Wait for a new promotion committee and see. But I have been waiting for a long time already and there is no guarantee that anything could happen. I don't want to waste my time here either.
  • Wait, the manager could leave too and I could have a better one.
  • Go to HRBP? ("HR Business Partners", supposed to negotiate salaries with you etc.) I have heard some good things about them but... I don't know what is the reality. I could explain that it is not because I have a bad manager that I should be the one leaving. Although I'm not sure people ever "win" to their manager anywhere. If someone has some examples of going to HRBP I would be happy to hear. That's the main thing I'm asking in this question
  • Escalate the chain? Similarly to HRBP, but I'm afraid that management will cover my manager.
  • What you should do is ultimately up to... well.. you.... it's your career and your life. On this site, it's off-topic to ask for us to make a choice for you. If you want, please try to rephrase your post with something more on topic. Ping me if you need help. Welcome to The Workplace :) – DarkCygnus Jan 31 at 23:43
  • @DarkCygnus I guess my question would be more about the last option with the HRBP thing. I have never done it and I wondered if it was ok to do it, if that's how things work in 'big companies' or if it would just shoot myself in the foot. Would that be more on-topic? – anon Feb 1 at 5:08
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    When I type "HRBP" into google, I get something that would not help you at all. Can you explain what HRBP means in your context and why the next big step seems to be so codified? What is the next step after Senior? – nvoigt Feb 1 at 18:38
  • If you're working at Google, and based on the jargon I suspect you are, HRBP can't override your manager or the committee to promote you. All they can do is open a harassment investigation against your manager, but I don't see solid grounds for that. – lambshaanxy Feb 2 at 11:51
  • If your manger made a mistake is there not a procedure to raise a grievance at that time and why is it your manager who applies for you. – Neuromancer Feb 2 at 16:52
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There is no harm in shopping around

I do not see why you would not be diligently applying. Job applications have very little risk, especially if done reasonably.

I had a few tries, but other companies will take me at my current level and not at the next one. I would have to "work all over again". I could apply more, too.

This may indicate that you are not quite ready to be promoted and that it is not just your boss who is delaying things.

lose the benefit of 4 years in a team.

What is the benefit to you of this?

What ill effect could possibly come from applying elsewhere? It would give you a sense of your market value and potentially provide you with a myriad of other opportunities.

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I'm going to tell you something you might not want to hear: you might not currently deserve the promotion.

Here's why I say that:

applying elsewhere. I had a few tries, but other companies will take me at my current level and not at the next one. I would have to "work all over again". I could apply more, too.

... you're a senior dev. Your company is going through hoops to avoid promoting you. And when you look at other companies, they don't want to hire you for management, either. It could just be bad luck with which companies/openings you looked at... but if I were in your shoes, I'd first:

  • Evaluate the critical skill sets needed for the new position, not the one your in now.
  • Evaluate if there are any of those skill sets you might be weak at
  • Decide if some of those skill sets could use some improvement
  • If so, figure out a way of improving and then demonstrating improvement.

For instance, maybe you're not the best at conflict resolution. You get some ugly pull requests from the junior devs and you lose a bit of patience with them. Well, in a management position, that sort of interpersonal skill set is a lot more important than your current role. (This is just a hypothetical example.) Sure, you're doing awesome in your current role, but that doesn't mean it'll translate into being awesome in a different role.

Feel free to keep shopping around, but... you might consider pumping the brakes a bit and taking stock of things.

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  • Senior engineer is usually not a people manager role. (Some leadership skills will be required though.) – lambshaanxy Feb 2 at 11:52
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    @lambshaanxy - he's a senior engineer now. He's trying to go "from senior to staff" (I'm assuming 'staff' means middle management.) – Kevin Feb 2 at 15:39
  • If this is the company I suspect it is, staff engineer is still an IC (non-manager) role. – lambshaanxy Feb 2 at 15:40
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    @lambshaanxy. It's possible. And if that's what it is, OP should still do the same thing: evaluate the skillset for the new position (the one nobody seems to want to hire him for) and figure out if there's something missing. – Kevin Feb 2 at 15:44
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    @Thomas - if that were the case, you wouldn't also have all the external companies effectively say, "Well, we'll hire you for a senior dev gig, but we're not going to hire you for a management position." And, not to be mean, but... the fact that you immediately leapt to "It's my boss' fault!" instead of actually using some introspection to ask yourself "Are there some skill sets I could use improvement on?" gives me a bit more faith that my answer might be in the right ballpark. Or put another way: even if I'm completely wrong... how on earth would self-improvement be a waste here? – Kevin Feb 2 at 22:22
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It's OK

But going to HR for a promotion is probably about as useful as going to Facilities and Maintenance for a promotion. HR should only get involved if the company is illegally discriminating against your promotion because you are in a protected class. Otherwise, HR has pretty much zero business telling business units whether to promote a particular candidate or not.

Perspective

Getting a promotion is very much like getting a raise: it all boils down to perceived value. Obviously, you think your value is higher than your boss does. But let's be honest: it's not just your boss. If other managers around the company thought you were overqualified for your current title, they would be clamoring to steal you away by offering you a promotion. The fact that the promo committee declined on a technicality pretty much tells you that they would have declined a technically perfect submission too, but without any face-saving excuses for you. They are trying to let you down easy. If the committee thought you were ready for the next level, no technicality would stand in their way.

Strategy

As you note, switching companies will be the most expensive move, because you are trying to build up credibility. So unless you are really unhappy with your current employer, or you run out of other options, that should probably be your last resort. And, as you say, your current team knows you the best. But, there should be other teams that know about your work as well. If not, then you should pursue projects with cross-team visibility and relevance. Frankly, for the level you're talking about, it isn't enough for your boss to think you are ready for promotion. Lots of other people have to think so too, and that depends on them seeing you in action. If they don't see your work or your professional opinions, or your documentation or your teaching influence or mentoring skills, then how are they going to form the opinion: "Thomas is really ready for the next level"?

The truth is, you need a boss that believes in you as much as you do. If you want to get to the next level, you need to find that boss. Obviously, it needs to be someone that you can build good rapport with. But it also needs to be someone who is also ambitious and looking to move up. Because that is the kind of person who will seek out opportunities for themselves, their team, and their star players. A manager that just sits around taking orders is not moving up, nor are they helping their star players (if they have any) to move up.

Undercover Boss

This means you need to shop around not by looking for open positions on teams, but by identifying the individuals that you think would make the best boss. Maybe that person is a Director or Sr. Director or VP. Find out what they are working on, find out how important those projects are to the company, find out how well they are regarded by other folks, other teams, upper management, etc. Nobody is going to score 5 stars in every category, so you have to make some judgment calls about which set of trade-offs will produce the best result.

Once you've identified one or two folks, see if there is anyone you know in common that can make an introduction. If you must, cold-call them by dropping by their office and seeing if they will agree to put you on their calendar for 30 minutes of coffee. When you get the meet, explain to them that you have lofty career aspirations, but you need the right opportunities to get there; you need the right projects, the right team, the right mentor, and tell them why you decided that they might be the best candidate. Let them know what important projects you've worked on that they might recognize, tell them you are constantly improving your skills and pushing the envelope, and you think you can bring some real strength to whatever team or project is center of mind for them. Explain that you just want the chance to show the company the full value which you can bring, that you've been under-utilized thus far, and if you just got a spot on the A squad, which this new mentor obviously built, that you can bring home some big wins for the team, for the organization, for the company.

A good potential boss will recognize and appreciate some boldness and ambition, but you really need to have some outstanding work to back it up, and probably a few folks you can name-drop that will put in a good word for you if they ask around.

Right Now

While you are finding a potential new boss, you should work to raise your profile. If your company has any public discussions about technology directions, best practices, developing trends, etc., you need to have a voice in those discussions. If you really think you are at the next level, this should come naturally and you should already be doing these kinds of things. You should be educating your team regularly by disseminating and encouraging best practices. Your team should find you to be the strongest but fairest code reviewer. They should regularly find your documentation answers questions they didn't know they had. They should be pointing interns and newbies your way to explain difficult concepts and offer mentoring and guidance. If they aren't, you need to demonstrate that you are willing, able, and good at all of those things, so people start doing them.

Team members should regularly be coming to you for help on their projects, including projects that involve other teams. You want folks from other teams hearing stuff like this at standups: "Yeah, we couldn't figure out how to get the service started, but Thomas unblocked us." "Oh, is Thomas on the project?" "No, but he's our go-to guy for the hard problems." That means you need to donate work to projects that you aren't directly assigned to. Lots of little things like this will help raise your visibility both inside and outside your team. When you go talk to the new boss, the best intro would be: "Yeah, Thomas...I've heard good things about you." Do what it takes to earn that response from lots of people. You never know who your next best ally will be.

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