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I have been with my company as an intermediate software engineer for 2+ years under the same tech lead. In the most recent round of performance reviews, it was heavily implied that I would be promoted to a senior individual contributor role. At the time I was being informally groomed to be tech lead, a managerial position I have never expressed any interest in or, from my perspective, shown any aptitude towards.

During the performance review I expressed concerns that my ascension to tech lead was being treated as a foregone conclusion and that I had reservations about taking on that role. I was explicitly told that this was not the case at all and that I would need to interview for the role when it opened up, ostensibly after I had been promoted to senior.

Instead I was promoted directly to tech lead, which I see as an unequivocal bait and switch. I understand their decision as the former tech lead was also promoted, so as the most senior engineer I'm the most capable person to assume this role. I've been conflicted about this promotion since it was offered last week, but after some reflection I think this is not going to be a viable solution long-term. While I didn't formally accept anything, I was put on the spot and implicitly accepted the promotion when it was offered.

My question is how do I broach this with management? I'm concerned that if I propose taking on the position in an interim capacity, I'll still be stuck in the position given budget restrictions and hiring policies (informed speculation on my part). If I try to refuse the promotion and insist on a senior individual contributor role, my concern is that I'll lose the promotion altogether. Ultimately I suspect they'll insist that I retain the position to try out the new role, as has been the response to my concerns up to this point.

Edit:

I think I left out something important when I edited down for tone: I've been an intermediate for 2+ years because I was passed over for promotion to a more senior position last year. In reality I am a senior engineer in all but title, something management has been telling me for the last year or so with vague assurances that the title would catch up with my role soon. I am a relatively high-performing engineer on my team, responsible for increasingly larger features and a domain expert across some of our most visible products.

Part of my resentment for how the promotion was handled is that I feel I've more than earned my senior individual contributor title and the autonomy that comes with it, and instead I'm being asked to coach junior devs on their career and work on my "soft" skills. Not only does this not interest me professionally, but personally I simply don't think I have the bandwidth to make this work long-term.

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    what are you reasons against the this new role? why dont you want to take it? – Benjamin Jun 11 at 21:54
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    Upward career mobility is usually a great motivator and something to be valued. What do you dislike about the role? Too much responsibility? Inadequate pay? – Anthony Jun 11 at 22:42
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    @Benjamin I'm just not interested in taking on managerial responsibilities that I see as detracting from my professional development. I also have reservations about the team itself and my ability to effectively lead them given their relative inexperience. – Tarnt Karntington Jun 11 at 22:43
  • @Anthony you make a great point and that has been part of the conflict for me. Ultimately it comes down to a) taking on additional responsibilities in a time where I don't feel personally or professionally prepared to and b) spending time honing managerial/interpersonal rather than technical skills. I think in my mind there's a massive distinction between senior engineer and tech lead that I'm having trouble getting around. – Tarnt Karntington Jun 11 at 23:17
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The only thing you can really do is stick to your guns that you don't want the promotion and would prefer to remain an engineer for now. That's what you're qualified for and advancing professionally as.

It will then really come down to how much you're valued as an engineer. Which doesn't seem to be great. But you can't be forced to change roles. The danger is you can come under a lot of pressure and the longer it drags on the more the pressure. So it's best to hit this issue asap before options become scarce for all concerned and then it comes down to ultimatums of some sort.

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I'm just not interested in taking on managerial responsibilities that I see as detracting from my professional development. I also have reservations about the team itself and my ability to effectively lead them given their relative inexperience.

This are 2 separate issues. One is focussing where you think you are best. Technical skills and leadership skills can be very different. And as you mentioned, it can be hard to change role again once you taken leadership up. I have seen this happening (leads becoming developers again), but that needs patience.

Business has a problem, and it appreciates people who solve problems. Their biggest need right now is a tech lead. Depending on culture, it can be hard to really say: No, I do not want this. Which is different from no: I, don't think I am capable.

If your ability is your biggest concern, right now is the perfect circumstance to get a lot of support. State conditions for you taking up that leadership role. Say something like: I am happy to step up in your situation in need. As you are aware, I have no prior experience or training in this, and I want to do the best possible job. So I need training course X, mentoring Y, choaching Z, books A, B, and C.

Often, proper training is forgotten, but if you make it a condition, you will likely get a good opportunity for basically free. Also, because you already known and respected, you have likely get some understanding for earlier slip ups and a learning process. When you start somewhere as lead, people generally expect you to know what you are doing already.

If you do not want to do it because of the work it would entail, you find yourself in a hard place. Is there any alternative solution for the business? Is there maybe a less senior person who is more apt at being a lead? What would searching for a new person mean? How long to find one, how long till this new person is up to speed in your company? If you can find something to make your no easier on your company, it is easier for them to swallow.

Being an intermediate is hard. You will lack the skills, likely wont get the training, and if you dont make the time and conditions of you becoming an engineer again rock solid, you might find youself stuck in a hard place for a long time. And you may find that you will loose a lot of respect in meantime, because you do a bad job. Either embrace the change, or stick to your guns of saying no.

If it's a hard no for you, refer to Kilisi's answer.

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