Here is the context:

I've been working in this tech company of ~1000 people for the last 5 years.

For the last 2.5 years I've a position of "senior software engineer", where I feel I worked on interesting projects but not on the most interesting / most impactful ones, because it seems that these positions were immediately filled before people like me were even aware they were open.

In the last few years I've gradually been given more and more "ownership" of subjects and responsibilities due to my seniority, even though none of this is strictly official (i.e. my job description didn't change)

In December, I discussed with my manager about what I could do to progress in the company and I told him I could be interested in becoming team lead. I was then directed to a "lead assessment" process where I had 2 meetings with people asking me questions about my motivation for becoming a team lead, what I would do in such and such situation etc.

Last week I got the feedback of this "lead assessment" from my manager, where basically the feedback was that I was not "there" yet, because apparently I showed that I was more interested in managing projects (i.e. project management) than people (i.e. dealing with people's career evolution etc). The answer from my lead was now to make me:

  • mentor a newcomer in the team

  • have ownership of an "important" subject until April 1st (subjects change every quarter)

I felt quite frustrated by this, because as I told him:

  • I've already been mentoring the newcomer in the team (and others before)

  • I've already had "ownership" of lots of subjects in the last 2.5 years I was senior

So I basically already have a "track record" for these topics, which any higher-up in the hierarchy can look into. Furthermore these "changes" are not really done in any official capacity, i.e. nothing is changed "on paper" and for the "ownership" of the new topic for instance, I don't really have any legitimacy and my manager can decide at any moment to take back control for this topic.

The answer from my manager was basically that these topics were an opportunity to prove myself, but to me this is really not so different than what I've been doing in the past few years. Also these new responsibilities are kind of far from a team leaders.

In the past, I've always fell that new "team lead" opportunities were filled long before I was in the loop, and I fear that this might be the same with this change, i.e. that my name still won't circulate when the higher-ups decide that a new team has to be created or when a new team lead is looked for, and that I will perpetually be thought of as "not yet ready" to be lead with no real opportunities to change this - which is hard when indeed you are never in the loop.

In this situation, what is my best course of action if I aim to get promoted to team lead? I can either:

  • push extra hard for one more month on this new "project" in the hope to "prove myself", hoping something will change in April (unlikely)
  • continue as usual in the hope that at some point I will have "proven myself" on enough projects so I can get considered for a lead position
  • try to circumvent the "official" channels and try to find a lead position internally using my own network
  • change job so I start anew and get promoted faster or get hired as a team lead
  • @JoeStrazzere this question was more as an opener to ask for feedback and the opinion of others on my situation. Of course I'm not going to blindly follow whatever people tell me to do ;) – throaware_account Feb 22 at 23:34
  • Do you have all of your accomplishments documented in an appropriate file that you control? This is easy to demonstrate "on the spot" if you just pull out your file and walk them through the demonstration. Continued stalling tactics may just be your manager trying to find budget for it. – Joel Etherton Feb 22 at 23:55
  • @JoelEtherton I have this but so does my manager, it's basically in my "files" used for performance review every 6 months. Of course I'm perfectly ok with my manager "trying to find a budget" for this, as it can't just happen like this. What I'm concerned about is the vague nature of the "you have to prove yourself" part with no KPI – throaware_account Feb 23 at 0:25
  • Welcome new user. It is a widely-held opinion that, in the software field, the best way to get ahead is to change jobs. Obviously not everyone agrees with that, but there are dozens of programming-biz questions on here where the outcome is "the quickest way to get a raise, or get ahead, is to change jobs". – Fattie Feb 23 at 11:31

There seems little point in continuing to push after a refusal like that. Obviously they don't believe you're suitable and according to your question they probably never will give you an opportunity.

You may be too valuable in your current position or any number of reasons, but they're unlikely to be resolved in your favour any time soon.

It's sometimes easier to be promoted when changing companies than internally, because you're not part of the office politics or dynamic. You can always apply for team lead positions and see how it goes.

  • 1
    thanks! Just curious what makes you say "a refusal like that" . I mean, in terms of "official" communication, of course I never expected they'd give me a team lead position "just because" I said I was interested. It's indeed quite hard to figure out if I'm being paranoid or if indeed nobody ever intends to promote me to a lead position – throaware_account Feb 22 at 23:06
  • 2
    'refusal like that' because it was your manager making up justifications with no solid solution mentioned. And your manager would have been a large, maybe even the most important part of the assessment. – Kilisi Feb 22 at 23:08

There really are "people who are better with technology," and "people who are better with people," and in my experience these two dynamics usually don't mix well.

For instance, you might excel as a "lead technician" or "internal technical subject-matter expert." And, in that position, make a very valuable contribution. Since you have been working with these people for five years now, they probably consider that "this is the garden in which you naturally bloom." And, maybe they're right!

"Team Leads" spend a lot of their time "managing people," although their job description is not formally that of a "manager" in the HR sense of the term. Their influences on the project are indirect. They have to deal with people whose technical skills are both greater and lesser than their own. "It is an acquired taste!"

I therefore suggest that you ask yourself: "What are my ambitions?" How do you want to grow and expand? What would such a job-description be for you, say in the context of your present long-term employer, whether or not(!) that title is "team lead?" Brainstorm that question with your boss: (s)he knows where the open reqs are.

  • I completely agree that this is a possibility that they indeed just consider me as never going to be "lead material". What I'm mostly complaining about is the way that my current job doesn't really offer anything to grow... all these talks about "mentoring people" etc are not going to get me in a better position to be a lead, if they never want to let me be one – throaware_account Feb 23 at 19:56

I agree with @Kilisi that it's sometimes easier to get promoted by changing companies, and it doesn't have to be that way.

I much prefer to take a proactive approach. I maintain a list of all of my accomplishments while I'm in a position. I call it my "I love me" file. You can read about it more in one of my other answers on StackExchange.

Whenever I'm challenged in a manner such as you describe, I just pull out my "I love me" file and walk my manager through my accomplishments (which includes dates, results and learnings) regarding that specific task and show that my accomplishments demonstrate not just a singular capability to do the thing, they describe a pattern of being able to do the thing consistently and reliably.

When you show up prepared with results and documentation, it sets the message very clear that you're serious about this progression, and you're ready to act on it. When you consider it beyond that, if your manager doesn't take your petition seriously, then you have the makings of a very fine resume in your hands. Put it to some use.

  • thanks! At my company the list of "accomplishment" is kinda available to the managers as it's compiled into what's used for performance review every 6 months. So for sure my manager has access to it, and anyway I usually get great performance feedbacks. – throaware_account Feb 23 at 0:23
  • @throaware_account: What I'm recommending is a much more detailed "you" centric version of that file. If you read through that file and demonstrate that you already have done these things consistently, your manager should begin communicating very differently with you. They should be significantly more encouraging and detailing what they're going to do to support you going forward. If they don't, time to go (IMO). – Joel Etherton Feb 23 at 0:28
  • @throaware_account I think there is a difference when you present the facts then when managers read the facts. An exhaustive list is a very strong argument to what your goal is, and from your question it looked like your manager didn't thought you until you showed up. – DrDread Feb 24 at 14:29

The problem is that it sounds like it's been an issue for a long time. You say each quarter your boss tells you that you need to focus on something new then never following up on it.

My thought is I agree with the idea that you should find a new job with a lead position. It sounds to me like your boss is not going to promote you to lead, for whatever reason it may be. If you felt strongly about leading, perhaps finding a lead job then turning in your two weeks might change his mind. But by then, he's not to be trusted since he was capable of offering you the lead position his whole time.

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