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I'm a junior dev, have been at this startup for over a year and have built 90% of the frontend. I learn very fast and work 60-80 hour workweeks by choice because I love the work and understand the potential of the business. I manage the codebase, write all the docs and style guides. But recently I've become very overworked, so we've hired a senior frontend dev that was supposed to mentor me and basically be the tech lead for the frontend.

The company's first year has been rocky, as the CEO has decided to change course drastically several times; we've built a version of our application in each JS framework, have switched from AWS to GCP to AWS again, have switched from a Lambda-based backend with Go/Python/Node to Java Spring, and have gone through 7 lead developers who have all quit and cautioned me to do the same.

So we hired a senior frontend dev who allegedly has 9 years experience and 4 years in our current JS framework of choice, which I have built a large application in already. After 4 months, the new tech lead has been awful, and my workload has increased by a large margin to fix her mistakes, broken code and Git disasters (they do NOT know how to use Git). I was involved in the hiring process and I definitely screwed up. I should've vetted them more aggressively, they are new to the country but I'm quite sure they lied on their resume. I asked the CEO to replace them, but the CEO decided to instead make me the tech lead (since I'm the only original dev at the startup) with a small bump in pay.

Since I was part of the hiring process, I also helped decide salary as our CEO is non-technical. I make a fair amount less than this new dev and am spending 1/3 of my time fixing their work, yet I am making less money. They finish around 1/10th of the user stories I finish and I'm starting to feel extremely undervalued. The CEO doesn't want to reduce their pay out of respect and the fact that our new dev is a female; the CEO doesn't want me making more because I'm male and have less experience on paper.

Then, last week, without warning, the CEO hires a contracted company of 3 devs to basically start the next component of the frontend that I was supposed to start, without telling me or even including me in meetings. Non of them have worked with our JS framework before, yet they're apparently going to handle a gigantic chunk of the app. This has increased my stress tenfold as I know I will need to fix their work as well, because I was told I am responsible for the frontend.

So I am now her superior but am not paid or treated as such due to fear of offending her. I asked specifically what my role was and the CEO said "if you say jump she should ask how high" yet I am not the one consulted on changes to the infrastructure or design at all and am not recognized for working and producing 10x more than her (and features that actually work, have been tested and don't require fixing).

What is going on? What should I do? I am a very passive person and have trouble confronting the CEO about this, mainly because I have only worked as a dev for 2 years and don't fully know my place. I know the CEO is also running another company at the same time and works even more than I do and I feel like a burden whenever I try to engage him. I am the quiet, head-down workaholic type. I have had significant interest for interviews from other companies (I have not been shopping around) so I am wondering how I can salvage this situation, because I am emotionally invested in this company and do not want to leave.

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    Off you go. You like to work. You are competent. You will find some other place. If you are emotionally invested in a company that doesn't love you back (and it likes your services but doesn't love you back; no respect, no real decision power, inappropriate pay), go to someplace which better deserves your emotions. Don't say anything to them, do not confront, do not threaten, just interview, get an offer and leave. And they will be then enlightened. In the meantime, you will learn to manage people, because that seems to have become your job too; it's useful experience for the future. – Captain Emacs May 26 at 23:41
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    @CaptainEmacs that should be an answer. – Erik May 27 at 6:31
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    "if you say jump she should ask how high". Sounds like stellar management. – dan-klasson May 27 at 7:26
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    "I'm starting to feel extremely undervalued. The CEO doesn't want to reduce their pay" - If you feel undervalued, then your reaction should not be to demand that other people get paid less. How much money other people are making is a thing between them and company management. With such a demand you are just hurting your colleagues out of spite and jealousy while you gain nothing at all. What you should do instead in this situation is demand that your pay is increased – Philipp May 27 at 7:42
  • That you work for two persons seems horrible. It this legal where you live? – guest May 27 at 14:06
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As a front end engineer with around 6 years experience, there's multiple things I can advise you on. So let me run through them:

  1. Allegiance to a company is a bad idea, unless your rank is something very high, like a CTO (and even then, your welfare comes first). There's 100 companies out there who need solid front end devs, and companies aren't your friends. They just want you for your skills, the end.
  2. Often times within companies, there's an unfair hierarchy. Some people will get preferential treatment for whatever reason; nepotism, forced equality quotients, etc.. The most productive way to determine your worth is to look at people on your level, i.e. other junior front end web devs. If you feel as if someone in your position and with your experience can do better elsewhere, that's all that matters. Don't worry about CTOs and tech leads until you're at that level (for those positions 5-10+ years is the standard time).
  3. From a professional and personal standpoint, one of the most important metrics for you is happiness in your daily work. If you feel that you're underappreciated, and that most of your responsibilities are cleaning up people's messes, then that's a pretty good sign that you may need to look to move on.
  4. Looking for other opportunities costs nothing. Front end web development is very in demand right now (this may vary depending on your country, but in general it's a fairly hot area), so take some time and see what else is out there.

I spent over 3 years in my first position being overworked, underpaid and underappreciated, because I thought exactly what you're thinking now. That I had been there and contributed so much that I had an emotional investment with the company and the CEO's vision. It wasn't until I started looking at other opportunities and assessing my professional treatment at the hands of my company that I realised my worth, and how my company didn't respect it. I wish I had done it sooner.

I know you said you're "emotionally invested" in this company, but I'm sorry to say that that won't be reciprocated. Companies aren't your friends, they just want the most talent for the least money. It's hard for a junior person to see it that way but unfortunately it's the truth. There are a very small handful of companies that understand the value of engineer loyalty, and it seems pretty obvious your company isn't one of them. It may be hard, but you should look at moving on. It won't be easy, but in 5 years you'll look back and be glad you did.

Best of luck

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    That was a long and thorough version of one of the almost standard replies on SO workplace. A well thought out and put answer though, so upvoted – bytepusher May 27 at 18:17
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    thank you, this put a lot into perspective for me. I am truly letting myself be exploited (nobody ever asked me to work 60-80 hours a week) and I need to dial it back for my own sake. stop blaming others and being jealous/bitter about pay and just own my situation. I plan on staying for another few months at least to see how things progress. thanks again – ChumiestBucket May 29 at 4:06
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What is going on?

You are being abused by your CEO because he knows he'll get away with it, since you are emotionally invested and "keep your head down".

What should I do?

Given your passive nature, I see two options.

1) Get used to being abused, overworked, stressed, unhappy, underpaid and undervalued.

2) Find an employer who appreciates your talent and skill.

If you were more confrontational and more experienced I might add a 3) confront your boss about this situation, but honestly I don't think it'll go over well at this point in your career. At the start of your career you need mentors, role-models, good examples. This company provides none of those.

And if you're worried about your emotional investment: it will pass, regardless of which option you chose. If you pick 1, you'll end up resenting the product more and more until you quit. If you pick 2, you'll feel sad about letting a good opportunity go, until you realize a few years later that the product didn't work out, probably due to bad leadership, because 99% of these startups never get off the ground.

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Step 1: stop working more than 40 hours a week immediately.

Step 2: Stop caring one bit about the company. They never cared about you. If others make mistakes, let them fix them.

Step 3: Put all your energy into finding a new job. I’m not telling you to neglect your duties... Well actually I am. They exploited you enough.

Step 4: When you signed the contract for your new job, which will pay you a lot better, you give your notice.

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[On Erik's suggestion, turned into a response:]

Off you go. You like to work. You are competent. You will find some other place.

You are emotionally invested in a company that doesn't love you back. It likes your services but doesn't love you back. Proof? You receive no respect, no real decision power, inappropriate pay. Go to someplace which better deserves your high level of motivation.

Don't say anything to them, do not confront, do not threaten, just interview, get an offer and leave. And they will be then enlightened.

In the meantime, take advantage of the opportunity to learn to manage people, because that seems to have become your job too; even if you are not particularly fond of it, it's useful experience for the future.

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What is going on?

OK so you are close to if not already burned out. You should not be working 60-90 hours per week if you are just an employee and are clearly you are being underpaid on top of all that.

There are so many issues here it's hard to actually address them all. Like swapping cloud providers twice in two years, to the CEO moving JS frameworks (wtf), changing the software this much in this amount of time is problematic. I assume the CEO is getting away with this as they just fire anyone who doesn't do what they say. 7 lead developers in 2 years is also something I've not heard of that's a lead new dev every 3 months!

The reality is that this isn't just chaotic its abusive and you should not put up with this any longer.

What should I do?

I'm sorry to just echo others but the answer is leave now. Don't wait. Leave as soon as humanly possible. Preferably for somewhere a bit more sane but I would suggest anywhere that has a similar wage and job role.

Why such a hasty departure. You're close if not past burn out. You are going to need a few months to calm down and get yourself back together. Switching to a different company even if it's for like 3 months will give you time to get your head clear and "see the wood from the trees". So if you go to another job and it's rubbish again then start looking somewhere else that's fine but in the meantime:

  • Calm down
  • Stop taking everything the company does so personally
  • Stop working so much, get a hobby or work on a side project or anything else than working 90 hours you will literally work yourself to death

Here's the deal, I'm concerned for you. I'm concerned for your health.

This company is abusing you and you need to put a stop to it.

P.S. I've worked with devs that have burned out, it caused a lasting effect on their personality you're doing exactly what they also did.

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Let me give you a different point of view from all the other replies, which essentially focus on the fact that the company exploited you and you should leave (not a news on this site ;-)).

My opinion is that your feelings are not caused by the company but by yourself, because you have let yourself being exploited.

You are new to the work world so you need to understand some basic rules:

  • do not work more than the hours stated on your contract. If you like their vision, follow them on Instagram, but do not work more than you agreed on. Why? You are thinking to be exploited because you earn less than you senior dev, but if you take your effective hourly salary (salary / real hours worked), you are being paid even less than you think.
  • The CEO is not your girlfriend/boyfriend. He does not own you anything apart from the salary at the end of the month and any other contract obligation. If he wants to hire contractors, he does it and he does not have to ask your permission.
  • The vision of the CEO is the vision-of-the-CEO. It is not yours. It is just storytelling to motivate employees, and as you have just experienced, it works pretty well. Learn to place a certain distance between you and the company, or better learn to recognize that there is a distance between your interests and the ones of the company. They need to tell you an engaging story to keep you productive, you need to live your life. 2 different interests, which sometime may meet, sometime may not.
  • Recently you have hired a new developer and she is not producing at the level you expected, refer to => The Mythical Man-Month.

In conclusion, you are in a startup, startup are messy, you have independently decided to work more for less money (more hours == less hourly pay), you have independently decided that the CEO owns you something, and you have independently decided that your love the vision.

Believe it or not these are good news. Everything starts from yourself, take back control of the above list of things, take a holiday (because you are stressed and you need to rest) even at home, set some boundaries between your life and your work (they are under no circumstances the same thing) and stop blaming colleagues or other people. You may or may not leave, but my discussion above will remain true in any new environment.

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