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I am a frontend developer and I have been asked from my boss to assume ownersip the project of a colleague, but it is not really official.

This colleague is a backend developer with hardly any true frontend skills, neither does he have a feeling for professional user interfaces. The code base is really bad and doesnt adhere to best practices, difficult to maintain and expand upon. The amount of technical debt is relatively big and he constantly does things in secret that aren't part of the projects requirements, making it difficult to meet deadlines. He assumed the role of frontend developer for that project 3 months ago, while our lead frontend developer and I were away from office.

Now I have been asked to assist him and if possible assume the frontend part completely, while he resumes his focuses on his key role as a backend developer.

There are a few problems:

  • He rarely follows the task split we agreed to, which can result in duplicated work (basically not letting me do my thing)

  • All his progress is on a local git branch, so you cant see what he is really doing unless he is done and does a pull request.

  • If I ask him of something, he tells me he will deliver, but then he doesn't. It takes much longer than expected.

  • Due to corona everyone is working from home. He is the only one very difficult to contact. He is always offline on slack.

  • The code base is really complicated, error prone and is not covered by tests.

  • The software being developed is of strategic, long term importance and will have rollouts to multiple firms in the future.

  • My colleague is the oldest and has the most backend coding experience, hence everyone is careful about criticizing him.

  • I am his deputy and specialized in frontend development. So we are on equal standing in terms of hierarchy.

Now I'm trying to assume the role asked by my boss, but there is no clear standing. He tells me to take the lead and that my colleague should concentrate on other stuff, but then tickets are assigned to him. It is very difficult to work with my colleague, and my boss is being too diplomatic. I already told my boss that im not going to work on this project until the roles are clear, regardless of the consequences.

I was thinking of creating an entire new code base without him in my freetime, since they wont let me refactor his horrible code at office times (due to costs). I estimate 2 weeks and then I will present it to my boss and hope that I can convince him of the drastic difference in usability, quality, maintainance and test coverage and that I could take over from there. They wont pay a penny since it is done in my free time but at least we have a clean code base and working user interface.

What are your thoughts and how can I assume my role without people hating me?

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    Genuine question, feel free not to answer if it's personal: given your username, do you believe you are on the Asperger's spectrum, and if so are you aware of how it affects your relationships with other people? – Philip Kendall Nov 15 '20 at 14:52
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You are not his manager so whatever your colleague is doing is not your concern. You will just have to to complete the front-end independently as the backend. The fate of the backend doesn't need to be in your discussion. Your front-end codebase is independent to the backend anyway.

You do your things, he does his things. It is going to work like that. There is really no need for too much communication here.

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As I understand it, there's a project where the frontend part was written by someone who doesn't specialize in frontend, so (unsurprisingly) it's not very well written.

You, a frontend developer, have been asked by your manager to take ownership of the frontend part of this project.

There is in fact nothing stopping you from telling your colleague exactly that:

"I've been asked by our manager to take ownership of the frontend part of this project, as part of my duties as a frontend developer."

It's hard to argue with that. If they do try to argue with it, ask them to talk to your manager about it.

And then, Part 2: tell your manager that, in your professional opinion as a frontend developer, the frontend code that you are now the owner of is (unsurprisingly) not very good -- it badly needs tests, and parts of it need major work. So you'll be factoring these things into your time estimates for this project. If your manager objects because of "costs", remind them that it's an important project for the company, and you can't get blood from a stone -- if there is not enough time to allocate to it, its deadlines will slip and/or its quality will suffer.

It's possible your manager is framing your taking ownership as "not really official" in order to avoid confrontation with your colleague, who frankly sounds more than a little immature. If this is the case, then the manager is being more than a little immature as well. It's unlikely there is anything you can do that will make them behave more maturely, so if you cannot tolerate it, you should consider updating your CV and getting in touch with some recruiters.

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"I was thinking of creating an entire new code base without him in my freetime..."

Absolutely do not do this.

Completely set that idea aside.

I almost reflexively edited it away from your question.

Do NOT do this.

What are your thoughts and how can I assume my role without people hating me?

Fortunately work is work, not high school.

  1. Be polite

  2. Be very direct

  3. Be very brief

  4. Put everything in email, cc'ing the manager

  5. Re-read points 2 and 3.

  6. If you have to completely repeat yourself, completely repeat yourself. But DO NOT MENTION THAT you are repeating yourself. If you have to REPEATEDLY completely repeat yourself, then, REPEATEDLY, completely repeat yourself. But DO NOT MENTION THAT you are repeating yourself.

  7. Work exactly 8 hour days and then go home.

  8. At the split-second you walk out the door, do not even think about work.

  9. Cash all paycheques.

Regarding "people at work". You should not even remember their names once you walk out the door. Regarding whether they "hate you". You should not even know, if they "hate you", if they eat oranges, if they watch Seinfeld, or if they have read Jane Eyre.

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    I agree with the first part of the reply about not doing critical work in your freetime. You will not be thanked and will be seen as a pushover. Though th second part of this reply seems quite extreme in some regards and lack some flexibility, – Al rl Nov 15 '20 at 17:38
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    I now wonder what I should do about my wife I met at work 12 years ago... also I doubt anyone can be sucessful or slightly happy in a career with such a behaviour, it really seems a poor advise to give anybody. – Laurent S. Nov 15 '20 at 19:09
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    @LaurentS. it works and should be the credo if you consider work as the means to get money and nothing else. It's certainly not my approach, but it definitely is a valid one. As an employer I'd expect a bit more flexibility regarding the 8hour days, but even then, for many people it would be a good guideline where the flexibility comes as an exception that shouldn't be in the goal post guideline. And while it might not fit every workplace, be it for culture or the workplace expecting too much flexibility, it works in most. I don't see anything unprofessional about it. – Frank Hopkins Nov 16 '20 at 1:19
  • @LaurentS., I disagree with Fattie on some points, but he does have a point about redoing the codebase. Don't work for free, especially if your manager will likely chastise you for doing it (since he doesn't want to upset the backend developer and will most likely take the most "diplomatic" way out). Doing so would be a really bad idea. – Stephan Branczyk Nov 16 '20 at 2:03
  • @StephanBranczyk this what I was afraid of. We had a discussion today with the backend dev and manager. I explained that in the long term this code base will slow us down and it is a prototype that should be discarded in favor of a architecturally stable code base and user interface. Felt like he got offended and the manager was very diplomatic as expected. – Asperger Nov 16 '20 at 18:06

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