54

I have two years of experience as a software engineer and this is my second job. One of the concerns I have about continuing is that there are no more senior engineers left at the company, or at least none on teams in my office.

They were never able to fill most of the roles (on other teams, so not an issue that caused me problems) and they fired the last senior a few weeks ago, for something that had nothing to do with his tech skills as he was excellent and knew his stuff but had an abrasive personality.

The problem for me was that I learned a ton from him and am now basically the lead developer on my project. The other developers were hired out of university a year ago and we have an intern. People are now coming to me to ask how things work.

My team lead can code and is more experienced than I am, but he doesn't have time for that as he manages all these development teams and has to deal with paperwork from the people above.

I am not comfortable just marching ahead as a developer as I have no idea what I am doing in many cases here. I really think that at this stage I need to be around people who have more experience and who actually work on the projects I work on and review my code. That is why I am thinking of leaving.

The question is, do I tell my boss this in 1 on 1 meetings or no?

10
  • 64
    Not wanted to be the smartest person in a room is a good argument: "If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room" – Martijn Jun 7 at 12:00
  • 3
    1 on 1s should be fairly open and honest but trying to force a change by putting your own head on the chopping block is not a very professional way to go about things. You either express your displeasure professionally or leave. You have a very lucrative situation on your hands. Do you think senior devs just show up out of nowhere? They are forged in fire. If the pan is too hot for you then get out. How to give a polite ultimatum? – MonkeyZeus Jun 7 at 12:33
  • 2
    What can your boss do about it? Are they still/already looking to fill the senior roles? If so, would you raising the point help in some way? – Bernhard Barker Jun 7 at 12:35
  • 8
    @Martijn That saying is a silly idealization of knowledge seeking. There's nothing wrong with being the smartest person in the room, so long as you aren't trapped in that room. I've been a lead developer before with nobody above me that could teach me things, so I sought knowledge elsewhere like conferences and online courses. – Logarr Jun 7 at 13:10
  • 14
    Please note that you can tell your boss about the difficulties you are facing because of the lack of seniors, without saying that part about that you are thinking of leaving. – Andy Lester Jun 7 at 20:44

10 Answers 10

60

I would absolutely tell my boss about anything that was affecting my continued relationship with a company I was working for. This doesn't work for everyone, mind you. It takes either a certain level of trust and/or a certain level of temerity to do it. The key to doing it is understanding what you want to get out of it.

Do you just want them to be aware that you're unhappy and looking? Do you expect there to be some level of change as a result of you telling them? Are you trying to connect with your manager to tell them that you have no opportunity or capability to grow without appropriate technical mentorship?

What does the company get out of you telling them? If you just want to give them an opportunity to be prepared for your exit, then save your breath. Most companies are already prepared for such an eventuality.

Have a plan and a desired set of outcomes whenever you discuss something like this with your manager. It's just going to sound like complaining and whining otherwise. If you have an opinion on something that is causing you to lose faith in the company, tell them how it can be corrected and what you're ready to do to be involved in the fix. Don't expect them just to fix all of your problems. Be ready to contribute.

13
  • 6
    I basically want to increase the urgency of there not being any seniors around ideally, although I am probably not that important. – NoMoreSeniors Jun 7 at 1:41
  • 10
    @NoMoreSeniors Working with seniors is one way to grow professionally. Another way is to seek out new knowledge yourself by taking training or online courses (which the company may or may not be willing to pay for), reading books or blogs, watching videos, reading and contributing to forums, Q&As or other online communities or following tutorials. – Bernhard Barker Jun 7 at 13:10
  • 5
    I would caution against "oversharing" your discontent (it's easy to overplay that hand). Saying too much in the "I'm unhappy" dept can lead to unpleasant side effects (like them introducing you to your replacement). I would stay as much in the "this is a problem I see" realm as possible. It looks like you're trying to work the problem. – Machavity Jun 7 at 13:22
  • 3
    "Most companies are already prepared for such an eventuality." Unless they're actively trying to replace the senior engineer who was fired, it doesn't seem like they're well prepared. – Barmar Jun 7 at 14:06
  • 2
    Don't tell them you're looking, or otherwise hint at it. If you do, you might find yourself looking in much greater earnest than you expected, at a time not of your choosing... – bob Jun 8 at 15:11
93

Don't talk about leaving until you are actually handing in your notice. It doesn't help anyone. Employers know that people will leave if they're unhappy and no one reacts well to a threat.

However you definitely should talk about your worries. Your team lead (and the managers) should know that without the seniors the department can't continue at its old rate but they might be under the impression that you're all handling it successfully, and then turn around and blame you when things go wrong. When you have problems you can't handle, you need to make someone senior aware of it.

I imagine that you are handling most things successfully, and that you can do more with a little help, and anything else can probably wait 6 months until they replace the seniors - but you can't work in a vacuum, and need more support.

3
  • 5
    I agree with this whole-heartedly and now I don't have to write an answer. – JosephDoggie Jun 7 at 14:24
  • can you expand on why you might not want to talk about leaving before you're actually ready to leave? Doesn't it help? – Alex C Jun 11 at 20:35
  • 1
    @AlexC - mainly because it's a threat. When people are threatened, they react to protect themselves, and it's not always rational. Even a rational boss will stop caring about your future and start looking for your replacement. Just talk about why you are unhappy. This question comes up a lot, but you could start here: workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/122739/… – Robin Bennett Jun 12 at 21:47
22

This is an opportunity!

Have a think about what you would need in terms of training / support in order to become the new Senior, and then ask your boss whether they are replacing the one they fired.

If that feels like a bit of a stretch, aim for a promotion to Lead Dev instead, and think about what training and support you'd need to be able to do that role effectively.

When you talk to your boss tell him about the responsibilities you're already handling with the new intake and how you'd like to formalise that with a new job title / pay grade, or at least start on the path to get there in a year's time.

If your boss thinks you're capable of the role it's an easy shoe-in for him and he won't have to go through the painful process of external recruitment.

The worst that can happen is you hit a brick wall, and then you can start thinking about whether the lack of seniors is enough to quit over...

9
  • Agree 100%. This is a great opportunity to take a step up. Offer to do some courses and training in your own time, and ask for a better title and a 10% pay raise for your extra efforts and dedication. At the same time, taking this approach sounds positive. – vikingsteve Jun 7 at 14:40
  • All of this! I got a lot of my experience in somewhere where the people at the top tended to stay there. The company wasn't expanding though, and it wasn't too long before I ran into the problem that the company already had all the seniors it needed. In order to keep my skills going, I had to move elsewhere. If you're now a de-facto senior, get all the training you can to fill in the gaps in your experience (using your team lead as a sounding board), and go for it. You're going to screw up occasionally, because you're still learning, but you're still their best bet. – Graham Jun 7 at 14:47
  • Isn't the amount of support/training that the OP needs to become a senior dev "the supervision of senior dev(s) on the team while gaining experience over a number of years"? There's no "become a senior dev" course with a fixed body of knowledge where if you know all of that then you're a senior--if there was, everyone would have taken it already. (Also, in my area team lead > senior--team lead is responsible for a team which has several other senior devs on it. So if you couldn't get to senior, team lead isn't a fallback option.) – user3067860 Jun 7 at 15:27
  • 3
    I'd add that being in charge for the 1st time is always scary, no matter how much training you've had. If all you've had is a coding bootcamp and are still learning new coding tricks after 2 years, sure, maybe leave. But otherwise more responsibility can be a lot of fun. Consider it for a bit. – Owen Reynolds Jun 7 at 16:21
  • 1
    @user3067860 - with the right support from the control tower it’s possible - google.co.uk/amp/s/www.independent.co.uk/news/world/australasia/… :-). That’s why the OP should think about what support they’d want / need and have a discussion with his boss about it - one or the other might decide it’s not realistic, but then the OO has that information as well to help decide their next steps. – mclayton Jun 7 at 16:37
19

You should definitely tell your manager that you're not happy with the current situation - it is their job to make sure you're motivated to continue working at the company, remove any blockers and support your career development. If they don't know you're unhappy they can't help you.

I would suggest not mentioning that you're considering looking elsewhere though, as that can get you labelled as someone who's got one foot out the door and limit your future opportunities at your current job. Bringing up the issue you have with your manager is enough to communicate the fact that you're not fully happy, if they don't act on it and you eventually decide to leave they will not be surprised when you hand in your notice.

1
  • 1
    Absolutely this - ask "what are the plans to replace the seniors? I miss their energy/knowledge/experience/..." is a totally reasonable thing to say without the need to talk about your own thoughts of leaving getting muddled. (Now if it turns out the answer is we have no plans and never will, then that confirms the intent to leave internally, but doesn't have to stated explicitly until you have an offer in hand) – Flexo Jun 8 at 20:50
7

Share the issue, but not the "I'm thinking of leaving". Managers exist to help solve problems for their teams.

"I am having trouble learning and progressing the way I'd like now that there aren't any programmers senior to me except my lead, who's busy with nontechnical work" is a good discussion starter. It doesn't necessarily lead to hiring more senior devs, but could involve discussing other ways to help you out - training, mentoring from senior devs in other offices, having the team lead take time out to do more technical coaching, and so on. Come at it with the attitude of "hey, here's something holding the team and company back, how can we work together to solve it?"

Be prepared that the answer might be "you are the lead now, learn about how to coach juniors." Frankly once you get far enough along the expectation of always having devs more senior to you is a bad one and you may be considered senior enough to keep learning on your own and move into helping others (sounds like this is what they are doing, perhaps without explicitly saying this to you). Maybe you should know enough to be self-sustaining by now, maybe you have imposter syndrome holding you back, maybe you don't really know enough to be self-sustaining, or maybe you're a bit lazy and want a person to ask instead of toughing out the answers yourself. You will need to dig through that and figure out which it is (your manager will, so you need to have a head start).

2

From myself experience, I would not mention anything.

I ever did some stupid thing like that, however, after some time, the whole team members turn very bad relationship with me and finally I was forced to leave. Of course, I have no evidence to say that is a boss behind.

You find a job, then find a job without anyone notice. Don't test your boss

3
  • 1
    To be fair, sounds more like you had a crap work environment instead of one which can take constructive criticism. Though it would also depend on how you brought it up, if you said it along what OP is asking ("get more seniors or I walk"), then you brought it on yourself. If you did what most answers here suggest ("we need to get more seniors or reduce expectations"), then you worked in a crap office. – rkeet Jun 8 at 11:51
  • Well, at least for bosses I have ever met, once they knew someone would possible to leave the company, it would be a potential risk for them. So they will quickly find alternative people, and kick "the bag guy" out, no exception @rkeet – Micheal Jun 9 at 1:02
  • Well, not to be mean, but that's precisely the definition of having a bad boss / manager. Point is: when you notify them of something that should/needs to change, that whatever it is, is important (to you / to the team / etc.) then it is their job to facilitate the change (or give you a plain "no"). If, in their eyes, you become a liability because you used your brain, you're in a bad/toxic work environment. So, if that's your only experience thus far, I do feel a bit sorry for you. There are better places out there, keep looking. – rkeet Jun 9 at 9:31
2

Don't tell your boss that you think about leaving. That could put you into an awkward position. Instead tell them that the whole development team is in a bad position with you as the only senior developer left, and that it pushes you into a roll where you don't want to be. And if anything happened to you or your lead developer there would be real trouble. And that you think the company should do something about this and fix it.

You'll see what happens. If there is no change, then you have done your loyal duty - you told them that the situation is bad. And you start looking for a more suitable position elsewhere. And once you've found it, and signed a contract, you give notice and there is no looking back.

2

Yowch! There's a bunch of red flags there.

  1. They are actively getting rid of "seniors". That either means they are trying to trim the salaries bill, or don't like clever people telling them that something is impossible/expensive/take a log time.
  2. They are having difficulty hiring. That means they are trying to hire seniors for junior money, and refuse to countenance the idea that salaries are set by the market, not what they are prepared to pay.
  3. Fired for being "abrasive"? Is that just not another word for "gives unwelcome news"?

This kind of behaviour indicates that a "heart-to-heart" will simply be used to hurt you. They regard developers as a grudging expense, not as an asset. Take whatever experience you can get, because you sure-as-heck are not going to be paid any more for doing a senior's job. Start looking for another place to work.

1
  • 1
    I've worked with people who were let go due to their "abrasive" nature. In one case in particular, "abrasive" meant "rude to other devs, insulting to QA, and just horrible to anyone he looked down on." Which was everyone. I was very junior at the time, and he was sometimes VERY rude to me, but I considered him a friend. I even stayed late to help him clean out his office on his last day. I worked with him years later, and his approach to interpersonal relations had improved quite a bit. But "unwelcome news" didn't scratch the surface. – Bob Gilmore Jun 8 at 22:54
1
  • At your one-on-ones avoid the "Here's my problem, now you solve it" approach. Come with solutions, with descriptions of what you're trying to do to mitigate the resulting issues, and so forth. Express your concerns, describe the fallout in terms of business cases.
  • If you play the "I'm thinking of quitting" card with your supervisor, that quickly moves you into a different area of his or her brain, typically not a positive one. If you're doing it as a heads-up, so be it; if you're doing it as a threat, it won't work.
  • One-on-ones are not meant to be soul-to-soul conversations. The best ones are mutually beneficial.
  • You already know junior level developers tend to be paid less than senior level engineers and architects. This creates a natural financial stress for supervisors, same as what you see with international talent. You understand the value of a senior engineer, but sometimes the higher-ups don't see it so clearly. Figure out how to articulate, concisely, that your team slows down or is more prone to bad design choices without access to one.
3
  • 3
    "Come with solutions, not problems" - That's not OP's job. He is talking to the person whose job it is. Managers who say "Come with solutions, not problems" are just lazy. And OP already has a solution, which he doesn't want to tell his boss for good reasons. And OP has the ultimate mitigation strategy: Describe the problem (no senior developers) to the person who can fix it. – gnasher729 Jun 7 at 15:30
  • 2
    @gnasher729: A difference between What Should Be and What Is. Must be nice! – A rural reader Jun 7 at 15:31
  • +1 for points 2,3 & 4. First one is not OP's issue, though how OP would bring this to a superior should not be a "get more seniors or I quit", instead a "we need more seniors or lower expectations" (which falls in line with "here's my problem, now you solve it", which is what a manager is also for (next to managing the work)). OP's responsibility, as far as the lack of seniors goes, ends with notifying that it's a problem. – rkeet Jun 8 at 11:55
0

What do you believe that telling him this will accomplish?

  • Do you think that this will motivate him to spend more time mentoring you, and if so, will that satisfy you? Otherwise...
  • Do you think that this will further incentivize him to hire a Senior? And if you think that, why?
    • Do you think that he just doesn't see the need to hire another, senior dev?
    • Do you think that he's just been too distracted / busy to follow up on recruiting?
    • Do you think that Recruiting / HR hasn't been putting in the effort, and that, if you mention something, that will incentivize him to light a fire under them?
    • Do you think that he, or the other interviewers, are being too picky with previous candidates, and that expectations need adjustment?
    • Do you think that management is being too stingy with salary / benefits, and that he needs to pressure them to raise them?

If you think that having a conversation with him will resolve one of those issues (or something else that I haven't even thought of yet), then by all means, have it. If you're not sure WHAT the "problem" is from your manager's perspective, use your one-on-one time to try to glean that.

But ultimately, if he doesn't see a problem and thinks that current staffing is fine, or if he knows that management / HR / whomever isn't going to let him hire another Senior, then telling him that your position is "unacceptable in the long term" is effectively handing in a resignation that takes effect at his convenience.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .