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I am an in a QA automation position, with the title "Senior" which is nice. I have a coworker, let's call him Sam, who also has a "Senior" in his title.

I was happy with my title until Sam came along about a year ago; he's not a senior by any stretch of the imagination -- I'd give him a junior title at best. Without going into the specifics, he's lacking the requisite skills to perform the basic functions of the role (without the senior or junior modifier); it's bad enough that I can't even discuss basic concepts with him as he doesn't understand the jargon or motivations and we constantly need to stop to explain the basics. It's not that I believe he couldn't be trained, but he's not there yet.

I know that I can't complain to our lead that I feel the discrepancy in our ability would make Sam a junior -- trying to get someone else's title reduced seems petty; by the same token there isn't really any higher I could rise without changing my role to something different, and I'm not sure I'm ready for that; I'm salty that someone who is unable to perform the work was hired directly to a senior position and needs constant hand-holding.

How can I productively address this issue?

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    I agree with Joe. It's not clear to me what outcome you're looking for. You're correct not to want to try to get someone demoted but I don't know if you want something else to happen with your co-worker, you want to stop helping him, or you want to be able to stop being upset about it. – BSMP Feb 11 at 21:53
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    Also, has your company been hiring junior people at all? Are there QA automation folks with Junior/Associate/etc. in their title or at least without 'Senior'? – BSMP Feb 11 at 21:58
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    Who is doing the hand-holding? You? How to address it depends heavily on whether this person is simply underperforming, or whether they are actively impacting your performance by requiring your time for supervision, training, and guidance. If the latter, there's a real problem. Which is it? – J... Feb 12 at 13:05
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    Is this person directly affecting your work in some manner? – T. Sar Feb 13 at 15:37

13 Answers 13

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How can I productively channel this issue?

It's not clear what "productively channel" means in this context.

You do your job to the best of your ability. If that means your colleague appears comparatively diminished as a result, that's your bosses problem not yours.

Do your work. Get rewarded accordingly. Let Sam and Sam's boss worry about his work and rewards.

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    I would add that its nice (and professional) for OP to help from Overpromoted Senior from time to time, and within reason, just as long as its not interfering with OP's ability to do their job, or forcing OP to effectively work double, as it looks like it is doing now, or as @Nelson brings up, hiding a serious problem from Overpromoted Senior's boss. So I don't think this has to necessarily be all or nothing, but OP definitely needs to scale back the assistance to Overpromoted Senior. And it might help Overpromoted Senior learn and improve because they are no longer being carried by OP. – bob Feb 12 at 13:43
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    This doesn't address the point that the OP being forced to help their incompetent colleague harms their own productivity and morale. – ivan_pozdeev Feb 12 at 15:06
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    @JoeStrazzere "I was happy with my title until Sam came along about a year ago"; "we constantly need to stop to explain the basics"; "needs constant hand-holding" – ivan_pozdeev Feb 12 at 16:22
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    There's an big issue that this answer is ignoring and it'd be a great improvement if it could tackle one of the key reasons that I think drove OP to ask here: I can't even discuss basic concepts with him as he doesn't understand the jargon or motivations and we constantly need to stop to explain the basics. From that, it seems like OP actually needs to work frequently with this person, but the problem hinders these efforts. What do you suggest OP can do for this particular issue? How can OP make this person aware of the fact that they must improve ASAP b/c it's causing other problems? – code_dredd Feb 12 at 22:17
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    I hate that often the most voted answer on this site are "Stick your head in the sand and pretend everything is okay". What happens if you're actually interested in what your company is doing, what if you want things to go smoothly for your service ? Having a coworker which doesn't have the competence he should is something that can happen very frequently and have a strong impact on your work and the work of your other colleagues on the company. I'm shocked that "Meh, don't do anything about it" is somehow the best way to deal with it. Are you all robots with an on/off switch on caring ? – Echox Feb 13 at 18:32
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I think you're doing something here, out of goodness of your heart, that is preventing your boss from seeing the problem.

If Sam struggles with something, based on the same-level position between the two of you, you are not actually responsible for him, but your boss.

You don't have to be rude about it, but you can say "Hey Sam, I can't help with this right now because of <deadline>, can you ask <boss> about resources?" Basically, your assistance to Sam is preventing the boss from knowing your colleague's issues.

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    @Evorlor If you have a deadline, and will miss the deadline because you are helping others, how is that right? – LawrenceC Feb 12 at 13:40
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    Me. I was saying that as an example. – LawrenceC Feb 12 at 14:23
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    @Evorlor as we can see, the help creates and perpetuates a problem for the OP in this case. You aren't advising the OP to create problems for themselves, are you? – ivan_pozdeev Feb 12 at 14:59
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    The help Sam needs is disproportional to the situation he is in. No problems helping a less experienced colleague or new colleague, but one year is more than enough time, and Sam doesn't seem to be able to do basic functions required for his role. Sam is functionally doing nothing and OP is doing two person's job. – Nelson Feb 12 at 17:26
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    The answer would be improved by changing <bossman> to <boss>. – Terrified Employee Feb 12 at 21:19
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The issue here is that life isn't fair. Stop focusing on others and focus on yourself. If you are getting paid market rates for your skill and function, let it go. If they are making it hard to hit deadlines, let that be known as that is important to the team and company. Under performing seniors should be terminated, not demoted, but that is an issue for management to deal with.

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How can I productively channel this issue?

Like a comment suggests, I would not raise it and instead focus on doing your job efficiently.

If your coworker really lacks skills for their role it will become evident with time, and with performance reviews.

Channeling your time and effort to raise this will only diminish your performance and also not give a positive impression to your coworkers.

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I was happy with my title until Sam came along about a year ago

This part tells us that your core problem seems to be that you feel slighted. Your coworker's skills are lacking, but his title – and probably salary – match yours. I'll tell you that this should not be accepted. Yes, some people were born rich, some beautiful and you will have to deal with that. But in your situation, there are things you are able to try.

there isn't really any higher I could rise without changing my role to something different, and I'm not sure I'm ready for that

If you do not want to be on the same level as your coworker, you have plenty of options, including negotiating a raise, a promotion or switching companies. (Note that I only mentioned positive options and only those that affect you.) I wouldn't recommend switching companies because you raised no issues with your current one per se. But neither salary raise nor promotion will work before someone notices the difference in skills between you and your coworker.

What can I do to make a coworker's lack of effort more visible?

You should, however, focus on highlighting your contribution, not your coworker's lack of contribution. Why? Because the labour market is a rat race and you're not only competing against Sam, but also against countless others. Getting Sam demoted won't do you much good once Sam2 and Sam3 are hired. Given that your company decided to hire Sam "1", that's not unlikely.

You will find plenty of advice on highlighting your contribution both on this site and in print. Best of luck and look forward, not sideward!

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He is senior, not because he knows about QA automation, but for something else:

He could be a manager, a tester, HR, controller, etc. etc. in senior capacity, and he is (for whatever reason) assigned to his current role as QA automation position.

That means he could possibly teach you a thing or two. Take advantage of that!

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    are you assuming that people deserve the title they are given? – njzk2 Feb 12 at 18:46
  • They're BOTH seniors... OP was there longer than Sam. – Nelson Feb 13 at 2:28
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    He could also be a good golf player or someone's nephew. Since OP stated that he lacks understanding of basic terminology, odds of learning work-relevant skills from him seem slim. – barbecue Feb 13 at 20:24
  • This answer might be more helpful if you point out that it's possible that this guy might have other skills. Asserting that he necessarily has other skills that make him a good fit for the job seems pretty presumptuous, unless you have some additional insight into this particular scenario? – Nat Feb 14 at 4:18
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While I agree with the existing answers (you should definitely focus on your own work), I think it's important to keep in mind that two things you mention should be addressed in some way:

by the same token there isn't really any higher I could rise without changing my role to something different

If that's true, than you career is stagnating right now (if you don't want to change roles). That is a legitimate concern to raise.

I'm salty that someone who is unable to perform the work was hired directly to a senior position and needs constant hand-holding.

You should try to be constructive here. If you can't do your work properly because you have to hand-hold, document the time you spend doing so. Raise the issue with your manager if it turns out to be a problem, but focus on the work-related parts, not on your saltiness about his role. A competent manager will draw the right conclusions anyway.

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I know that I can't complain to our lead that I feel the discrepancy in our ability would make Sam a junior

I think you can absolutely raise this with your lead (assuming you share a line manager here) - although you might not want to phrase it quite that way, and certainly not as though you're pitching for him to be "demoted". It might be sufficient to satisfy yourself that they and the rest of the business are aware that Sam isn't as capable or qualified as you, and that they are treating the situation appropriately.

As you suggest, it is very hard to demote someone who was hired into a senior position, but it might be that although you share the same job title your roles aren't actually the same - are you given more responsibilities than Sam? Are you trusted more to get things done?

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Like everyone says, focus on your own work. I've had people who aren't up to scratch work with me, and I've always helped them out (as long as they are willing to learn). That's how we all grow.

Then again, think about it .. what if somehow through your networking skills you end up in a senior management level job which you are not really qualified for. Would you want other managers to expose and get you sacked, or help you get up to speed?

Dude, think about others and be nice

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The way you deal productively with this situation is by working effectively with your peers, including Sam.

Titles, especially title modifiers, mean almost nothing. In many workplaces, you are "senior" "junior" "associate" "principal" or "staff" depending on arbitrary org-chart rules which are devised by HR and based on not much at all. It appears that you're not being dragged down by this person, but you are simply offended that he has the same title as you and you perceive him to be not as competent.

Moreover everyone has gaps in their knowledge, often, very effective people lack fluency in jargon and need cues about intricacies because they've come from other domains. Whatever the case with Sam, he got his title because someone in your organization felt he deserved it.

If your goal is to get him fired or demote his title and pay, I think you will find that will lower your reputation among your peers and managers. Why not just work with the person and get him up to speed? You even said you feel he can eventually do it, right?

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    "often, very effective people lack fluency in jargon and need cues about intricacies because they've come from other domains." Exactly. I do not have the jargon for a number of jobs I am asked to do. I can still do them well and often better than interns who know the jargon but not how to work. It might take a little while to get me up to speed, but then I may surprise you. – Dragonel Feb 12 at 18:54
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Avoid expressing opinion; let the facts speak for themselves.

Your co-worker sounds like the "senior" developer I'm currently cleaning up after. I'd characterize him as a barely-competent junior developer who requires constant handholding to not $#&@ up everything he touches. But I'd never tell my boss that. I let the code do the talking.

Pretty close to quite a few real bug close messages:

This was caused by unconditionally setting foo to false in Fnord.cs line 999.

or

This was caused by not disposing bar in Fnord.cs line 666.

Everyone knows who wrote Fnord.cs and said the bugs were in third party software and couldn't be fixed.

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It's time to rise a question about competence model in your company. It could help business to have better job from everyone; for everybody it will be clear when to get next +level or bonus; what perspectives does everyone have; people will be motivated to be better professionals.

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You can't productively address an issue with a company that can't see the skill (or its lack thereof). "Focusing on your job" is always good but ignoring what happens around you is like putting your head in the sand. Sooner or later it will come back and bite you. What if Sam gets bonuses/promotions/pay rises earlier than you? What if by some twist of fate you learn that Sam even makes more money than you?

Your options are limited. You can either wait and see what happens* (that's always fun) or move to a company where you would be "Medior" but Sam would not have made it through the screening process.

*By doing your job as good as you can, if you stay, you stay.

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