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TL;DR

I was offered the title of Application Development Supervisor, but a long history of dealing with non-technical management makes me feel this is not an appropriate title with a clear enough set of responsibilities to differentiate my role with that of the manager I would report to. How should I respond to this offer?


I have worked for a 750-person organization for twelve and a half years, the last ten as a software developer. Five years ago, the Manager of Application Development, who I reported to, respect, and consider a mentor, left his position for another company. Although he was highly technical with great soft skills, seven months later a person who is completely non-technical and unaware of even the basics of software development, was hired to replace him. This resulted in a number of developers leaving, including the senior developer in our group. When he left two years ago I was given the title of Senior Application Developer.

Over the last two years I have inherited the work of the former senior developer, the technical work of my former manager (who was also a developer), and retained my former duties as well. Additionally, I have been tasked with writing job descriptions; performing technical interviews; on-boarding new devs; managing interns and giving them their performance reviews; bringing in new tools to the stack and redefining it from time to time; and much more.

It became apparent, to me at least, that this was not a sustainable model. I requested a meeting with the Director of IT and the manager I report to and explained that they were asking me to increase my technical managerial duties while also continuing to increase my developer load. I told them that we needed to offload some of my responsibilities to others and find a new title for me.

Several months passed without any action being taken by management, but after one of my reminder emails asking for updates on my request, I received an email from my manager, who stated "I'd like to announce your leadership role with the team. We don't need to wait for a title decision to be made to make it clear to the team where you have authority to lead and direct." The email included a long list of new responsibilities for me to handle, including:

  • Project managing App Dev Infrastructure projects. This includes planning, design, work scheduling, risk management. And, this includes delegating work to the team as needed for each project.
  • Architectural, design, and technologies oversight on a project-by-project basis for .Net team projects.
  • Mentoring and feedback on skills and professional development for .Net team members.

I pushed back on this, reminding my director and manager that this would not improve my situation, improve the quality of the work or processes our company needs, and would create confusion among our small dev staff (there are only four of us, each wearing many hats) as to who was actually assigning work, myself or the Manager of Application Development.

No announcement of my leadership role was made. A month later I was asked to write a job description for a new developer head count and I insisted we come to some resolution about my role on the developer team before I take on any more managerial duties. As five months had gone by without any suggestions from my manager and director, I outlined a plan where I would have the three other developers report to me and I would manage the custom development for the company. My current manager would manage the staff and processes for the company's intranet, as well as all of the organization's commercial off-the-shelf software (both of which he is already in charge of).

This week, after yet another month passing, I was offered the title of Application Development Supervisor. The Director of IT told me that he could not make me a manager as I had no management experience, even though I have been essentially managing people, projects, and processes for two years. He also ignored the status of several other individuals who have been promoted to manager without prior management experience.

So it is clear that IT Management does not want me to become a manager. However, I do not think the Application Development Supervisor is appropriate considering the nature of the work being asked of me. I would like to continue working at my current company (my compensation is not an issue, regardless of title, and I am an older developer who is, at most, a dozen years away from retirement), but I cannot continue with the current workload. My fear is that the supervisor title will just sow more confusion and leave me with no authority to make positive change for myself or my company. Is there a way to improve this situation (perhaps by suggesting an alternative to the title and some sort of language in the job description that would clearly define my responsibilities versus those of my manager's (they drafted a job description that was extremely vague))? Or should I take a step back, and just redefine myself as an individual contributor leaving the managerial duties I've been asked to handle to whatever fate befalls them? (This however, I fear, may raise other battles in the future.) Any and all feedback is greatly appreciated.

  • "How should I respond to this offer?" - Well.. how do you feel about that offer? How do you feel about that title. How confident do you feel about taking it?... I feel this is something only you can truly answer, but as an answer says, a title is not the same as your responsibilities. Be sure to check what responsibilities come with such title. – DarkCygnus Feb 25 at 22:56
  • Did they just make up a new role to satisfy you? – Mars Feb 26 at 4:19
  • Better question--your 750 person organization doesn't have clearly defined roles, with clearly defined qualifications and responsibilities? – Mars Feb 26 at 4:40
  • @Mars the company I work for does not have clearly defined roles and responsibilities for many IT positions. The Director of IT believes that managerial experience trumps technical knowledge. As such, managers and the director often hire vendors, with little knowledge of my company's business use cases, to complete projects. Post rollout, the software is then assigned to groups or individuals that have little or no experience in the domain. Maintenance or reconfiguration of the software then becomes problematic. (One of the things I'd like to address is a better buy vs. build process.) – joeschwa Feb 26 at 5:38
  • @Mars my suspicion is that I was offered the supervisor role because my IT Director's non-technical management philosophy is breeding countless technical issues and he fears the loss of my institutional/technical knowledge. And yes, the supervisor role he offered me is a newly created one as the current Manager of Application Development is not a software developer, nor does he have any experience managing software development projects. – joeschwa Feb 26 at 5:40
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A job title is only a title, not a description of responsibilities... you also need to have a clear and concise list of responsibilities for the role.

Of course, there are some expectations - calling someone a Chief Whatever Officer when they only answer phones and put paper in the copier wouldn't be correct.

However, the difference between Manager and Supervisor is one of degree - maybe in your organisation Managers manager Supervisors, who supervise small teams? Equivalent roles in other organisation would probably use a title like Lead or Leader.

You say that you think you deserve the Manager title (and that others have been promoted without having the pre-requisites) - could it be that you've just been too good at your job, and that your company is happier you to do that at your current level and pay-grade? I'm not advising for you to underperform - just providing insight into your company's motivation.

As far as what should you do? Unfortunately, that is up to you decide - either don't accept the title and be prepared to work as a developer; try and fight for a bump up to Manager (and risk being marked for dismissal - even locations that are not "at-will" there are ways to achieve this); accept the Supervisor title and hang out for a future promotion to Manager; or accept the Supervisor title and start putting yourself on the job market as someone with management experience.

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  • I think you are right when you state that management does not want to lose me as an individual contributor. I think that was in the mix during the many delays in answering my request for a new title. The fact that the job description they have given me makes no allowances for the new role's responsibilities (taking my entire current workload and adding a huge amount of work on top of that) supports that theory as well. I am considering conveying that what they are asking me to accomplish is not realistic if they want me to succeed. Though I can't imagine that would be well received. – joeschwa Feb 26 at 6:16
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This seems to me like a excellent opportunity for you. But it's very clearly a management job, not an individual contributor job. It's totally obvious, to me anyway, that you will have to completely lay down your developer responsibilities to take on this job. You will succeed by helping the developers who work for you succeed.

It has to be said, job descriptions at this level are rarely crisp and unambiguous. Your opportunity is to forge a strong team from what is present today. (Pull order from chaos.)

Questions to ask of your boss-to-be and the executives in your part of the company before (or as) you take this on:

  1. What does success look like for me in this job? How will you know I'm doing well?

  2. Are you willing to support me with appropriate budget and headcount? Are you willing to accept the fact that I will have to prioritize the work in my department? Are you willing to let me replace non-performing team members as needed?

  3. Is somebody in the ranks of senior managers willing and able to be a mentor to me as I learn this job?

  4. Is an executive in charge (the director, maybe) willing to instruct my opponents (the IT department) to work with me and support me without reservations?

  5. Do I get a big raise and a meaningful stake (stock? bonus plan?) in the success of the company?

If you have the support of the executives, you can do this job, and do it well. But if you have to spend all your time working around half-hearted support from them and opposition from other departments, it could be pretty bad.

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  • Why is it obvious that OP will completely lay down their developer responsibilities? To me, it's completely obvious that OP has a middle ground job and will continue to do both management and dev. (Even more obvious because the past manager also did dev work). Also doesn't sound like OP is changing bosses, so there is no boss-to-be... – Mars Feb 26 at 4:37
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    Thanks @O. for the questions to ask, especially the first one. There is no salary increase for this position, and, as Mars correctly inferred, there is a more-than-full dev workload included with the added managerial responsibilities (this was made very clear to me). I believe there is a distinct possibility that I could receive little managerial support (which is troubling). So I think my next step will be to rewrite the job description to make the lines of responsibility between myself and the manager I report to clearer, and then see the response I get to the revised document. – joeschwa Feb 26 at 5:10
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If the company is willing to provide a list of duties/responsibilities (and on paper too, save this for future reference in case things go sour), and you agree that the duties line up with the possible wage change, then I would take it. This is also given that the title duties match up with an average pay for a like position. Made-up titles with no concrete duties/responsibilities can allow them to bully you into a lower pay at their own will.

As soon as you feel like you are doing considerably more than they specified, then bring it up to HR/your boss along with the paper from earlier and leave the solution up to them (with your approval being mandatory, of course). If they do nothing, leave.

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The creation of a new poorly-defined job title and refusal to recognize your management experience are red flags. Either you are direly misreading the situation, or management is hopelessly disconnected from reality.

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