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I have been a software developer at a company for 6 months now. My tech lead is accepting an offer at a different company, and the role has been offered informally to me by him. "Informally" in the following sense: the role of "tech lead" at my company is not an official position. Every employee is a software engineer, but the designation of "tech lead" is informal. However, the position comes with much more responsibility than in my original job description of "software developer."

I have informally accepted the offer, but when approaching my manager about a compensation increase to match the increase in responsibility, he said since all of us engineers are technically "software developers" in the payroll system, he would need to create a new role, and that could take months to years, if it could even happen at all. He mentioned that in a different business context something similar happened, and the person was compensated lump sum for what they would have been paid if the compensation was raised at the time they took on the new position. He also said that wasn't a promise, but an anecdote to show that it has happened. I don't see the logistics of making a new position my problem, though, and I don't care about the title, I just want to be paid fairly for what I am doing.

Some more context: the role of tech lead is so demanding at this job that my current tech lead has split the work with me 50/50, and given me the designation of "Lead Engineer". This is as fake of a title as "Tech Lead" and had no pay compensation increase, even though I was doing half of his job. I told my manager about this, that I am happy to do it, but would need a compensation increase since I am performing over my job description. My manager agreed, but nothing came of it. So, now the situation has morphed from not being paid for doing 50% of the "tech lead" job, to potentially not getting paid for doing 100% of the "tech lead" job.

I am a relatively young engineer, and this is only my second job out of college. I like the company, the people I work with, the tech we use, and even though it isn't perfect I would like to stay at this company. The role of "tech lead" would look good on a resume, but only being at a job for 6 months will not. Not to mention, this is being posted during a pandemic and the job market is extremely tight right now. Is it normal to not be compensated for a promotion like this in practice? Am I being too idealistic? Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

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  • No matter what you do next in your career, leave or stay, I think it would be better to have the promotion than to not have it. So regardless of how far you decide to fight for your compensation, I would recommend not turning it down. – Kaz Jan 28 at 22:01
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"Tech Lead"

In most places, "tech lead" isn't a unique job classification, in my experience it is just like this, an informal role that an engineer takes, usually one who hopes to be promoted to an official manager title at some point.

And in large companies, changing job descriptions or salary bands is indeed infeasible. If a company has 1000+ employees the chance of your boss effecting change on that front is near zero.

So your boss may not just be lying to you about these things.

More Responsibility, No More Money

The practice of giving "half promotions" or more responsibility for no additional compensation is incredibly common. Companies do it because they can get away with it, and people take on those roles. Why pay more if you can get it for free?

(For other posters claiming this is uncommon, I might gently point at the number of questions on this site about this topic... You may not like it, but it's common.)

However, that doesn't change the fact that this is a structurally unfair practice, which is designed to squeeze more work out of people for vague promises that are almost never delivered on. Leads very rarely get manager positions, for every 10 leads hoping to get that position when it opens up, 9 are disappointed.

What Can You Get For What You Give

Now you need to ask yourself what you do want out of this.

None of this means you shouldn't take the job. It gets you more leadership experience and a higher nominal title for your resume, which, if you want to move up in the ranks, may be worth more work. However, it does mean that you should be looking for a new job in 6 months to a year. Because that additional title and experience almost certainly won't pay off in the current job, but it will if you switch jobs.

If you don't care about leadership or management and just want maximal $ per hour worked, then either pass on it or play harder ball with your boss. Even in the most corporate of environments, your boss does have money levers he can pull. Putting you in for more raise, "out of cycle" raises, discretionary bonuses, and so on. If he is doing nothing, it's because he wants to do nothing.

Also keep in mind that if you turn it down, you won't be considered for lead/manager positions again since you're "not a team player" at that point, so you have a bit of a catch-22 if you do eventually want that.

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he said since all of us engineers are technically "software developers" in the payroll system, he would need to create a new role, and that could take months to years, if it could even happen at all.

When your boss is telling you a bald-faced lie and takes you for an idiot, that means you need to update your resume and look for a new employer.

I don't care how much you like your current employer otherwise. This extra workload without pay is to going to build up resentment in you. And not telling you the truth, that they simply don't want to give you the raise, that just adds insult to injury. And I don't care if he's technically telling the truth about the classification. Even if that part is true, the rest for sure, about not being able to change that classification, is absolute garbage.

The only question you should be asking yourself is if anyone on your team can do your job. If no one else can, that means you have leverage, and you could potentially apply some pressure. But otherwise, if your leverage is not very high, that means you should just probably look for another employer right now.

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These aren't job titles, they're not something the company is giving out, they're just nicknames the staff are giving each other. Staff are also giving each other responsibilities and promotions.

This isn't how it works.

If your boss isn't going to up your pay because you changed nicknames then don't take on the extra responsibility, or search for a new job.

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