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I'm a software developer on a team of five people. This team has a lead, a web developer, a back-end developer, and two mobile developers. This team structure is relatively new, and we are currently working on our second major project.

I was hired as an iOS developer. A few months ago, I voluntarily took up a few days' worth of back-end work when the usual person for that was too busy, and I had no major iOS work on my plate at the time. My team lead was impressed that I stepped up and I was given a small raise by our department head shortly after. I've since occasionally stepped in to do very minor back-end work when needed.

When my team started the current project (a major new feature in our product), the lead assigned me to all iOS work (as expected), but also all back-end work. I'm not sure why. Our back-end developer is busy working on an unrelated tech debt issue, but the lead formerly worked on the back-end and knows the code base much better than I do. He doesn't seem to be working on implementing any part of this project at all and I think he could be pulling more weight.

Now I'm in a stressful situation because I'm still working on the back-end and I haven't had time to do any iOS work, so the feature is far behind on iOS compared to web and Android. To be clear, I don't mind being assigned back-end work occasionally, but in hindsight this has been way too much for me to take on.

This is partially my fault for not raising any concerns when I was assigned all of this work. I've only been in the workforce for a little over a year and I've been trying not to be a squeaky wheel.

Now that the back-end work is almost done, I don't think it's worth trying to change course for this project. However, I do want to communicate to my lead that I don't want to be put in this position again. I want to focus on primarily iOS work going forward, as that's what I was hired for.

I'm worried that my lead thinks the raise I accepted implicitly changes my job responsibilities. I also don't want to sound like I'm accusing my lead of not pulling his weight. How should I ask not to be assigned large amounts of non-iOS work in the future?

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Our back-end developer is busy working on an unrelated tech debt issue, but the lead formerly worked on the back-end and knows the code base much better than I do. He doesn't seem to be working on implementing any part of this project at all and I think he could be pulling more weight.

That's kind of the situation you want to be in! Have "some" work but not too much.

Now I'm in a stressful situation because I'm still working on the back-end and I haven't had time to do any iOS work

And this is the topic you should discuss. I assume that there is no such thing as "job description" that clearly defines the things you do by name. But now, with the experience behind you you can tell your lead you would prefer to focus on A instead of B. Explain that your "primary objective" is working on iOS and you would like about 75% of your time focused on this.

Be prepared that Lead might not accept this if it does not fit in with their priorities e.g. as the back-end supports all front-ends not just iOS he might want you focused on that.

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  • "Be prepared that Lead might not accept this if it does not fit in with their priorities" - My concern is that I was never really trained to work on our back-end, I just "faked it" for small tasks earlier. Building a new feature from the ground up is different, and has been a huge uphill battle. My back-end work is heavily scrutinized by the other back-end engineers at this company and takes much longer for me than anyone else. Basically I don't think it's in the company's best interest for me to be doing heavy back-end work anyway. – Sandra Gilbert Jan 5 at 17:16
  • @SandraGilbert You make a very good point to present to your lead. This is something that he should definitely hear. – SZCZERZO KŁY Jan 6 at 9:47
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Depending on the wording of your contract - most go something like:

"Will do job X and extra work as required"

It could be that this falls under one of those 'as required' times.

But I have been in your situation before, and the way I got out of it was to raise it to my line manager. I wouldn't worry about being considered a "squeaky wheel;" it's perfectly reasonable to flag up a workload that's too high, as opposed to complaining about trivial things you can fix yourself. You can clearly and measurably show them that this is impacting your productivity via the slow progress on your iOS work.

Bear in mind the longer you do this without saying "no," the longer it will go on for (because management/project managers etc. will assume everything is fine), and the harder it'll be to get out of it. So act now!

I would basically tell them what you've written in your question; which is clear, fair and succinct - maybe remove the little digs like "he could be pulling more weight" and give them the straight facts. They might push back and say "Well, we really need you to do this right now," in which case you can either be firm and give an outright 'no' if you feel confident enough and you believe you're correct, or you can say "Fine, I'll do it, but it will impact my work elsewhere, so don't expect me to be as productive as before." And if you don't want to do it again in the future, make that very clear; maybe even say that you'll only do it this time on the condition that it doesn't happen again in the future, otherwise this will keep happening.

Re: your question as to "I'm not sure why," in my personal experience, management tends to adopt a strategy of getting the largest (perceived) quantity of work out of employees as they can. I think it's rather short-sighted and leads to employee burnout and loss of quality, but it seems to be one of those antiquated management mindsets from the 70s. Because obviously people working 12 hours a day will produce 12 hours of quality work a day, right? I found this to be fairly interesting in this regard, maybe you could use some of it in your discussion.

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This is exactly whey teams have planning meetings. Instead of someone directly assigning the work, propose the team to be involved in the work / assignment planning (which is a standard process in Agile and Scrum methodology). Propose the below steps next time onwards:

Move to a much shorter work and review cycle. Then, on a regular basis (interval can be experimented upon, but anything between 2-3 weeks is the general practice):

  • Have the work planned, assessed.
  • Based on the assessment, assign an estimated weightage (or commonly known as story points).
  • Based on your capacity (excluding planned leaves, holidays etc.), take up as much points as you can work on / complete (burn the story points).
  • After the deadline (sprint end), check what was committed and what is achieved, do the gap analysis and refine the estimates for the next cycle.

This way, instead of taking on a lot of responsibility and either feeling overwhelmed or eventually failing to deliver, gradually the expectation will become closer to reality and the progress will be tracked easily, which can also help to prioritize the work assignments (to individuals). It's a win-win.

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