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Okay, so here's where I am.

When I joined the project in 2019, the team consisted of 4 FTEs with myself as the only junior employee (the others were test leads in Systems Engineering and QA). Currently I'm the only one of the original 4 still on in the same role. Within 6 months our test team lost the two most senior staff and they haven't been replaced. The project's PI has had to draw from the other functional groups like Dev, systems, and even an intern in short bursts of a couple months a toss to try to fill the void. It was supposed to be a temporary fix, but HR and upper management have struggled since Jan 2021 to find anyone to fill the slot, somewhat due to squabbles between layers of management about what the hire's qualifications need to be. Upper management now plans to patent the work done so far, making it even harder to hire someone. We gained and lost an intern in the interim- he was brought on part-time to help with test but now the dev supporting test tools has been reassigned so he's been put on that. The SE lead was a recent loss also; he was recalled back to SE work, most likely on his own request. Effectively reducing the team to me and the new senior person who just joined a couple months ago. Said new person is now in charge of testing because I didn't want the lead role (PI offered for me to 'grow' into it, meaning no extra pay just more work). 4th new lead in 12 months.

9 months ago I sat down with upper management and learned that the cavalry wasn't coming anytime soon. They'd been trying for 3 months to hire with no luck but were going to keep trying. The usual rah-rah of this is a very important project for a contract renewal coming up (millions poured into it) and the head pat of "don't worry about it, that's not your job, it'll get better". Utter BS. The other test group for this project is even worse on staffing. They cover performance and reliability requirements and their attempt to pick up a contractor led to the contractor quitting within two months. Officially he cited personal reasons, but the consensus around the watercooler is he didn't like the look of things ('bad fit').

I'm the only FTE who has been consistently on test support since 2020. Automation is nonexistent and I've far exceeded my original role based on what I did before joining the project. I've gotten a few token bonuses (a couple small giftcards) and atta-boys but I think I deserve more at this point. For example, I'm holding the test environment together largely by myself, having to deploy code there and troubleshoot beyond config issues (missing packages, fixing symlinks, etc.), and the requirements are far more of a mess than anything I've dealt with before in 10 years of QA work. We have to dig through multiple layers of cross-referencing requirements documents written in bulky pseudocode then consult SE just to figure out what's up (ex. setting a bit value based on input can take over a paragraph to express with multiple if-then statements around it). I'm having to craft mountains of test data on the fly with buggy tools that don't play nice in the test environment, having to rule out config, network, test tools, and data issues before marking things as code issues then having to adjust several of those things (tools, data, config, deployed code) to retest, all within tight timelines.

I've had to do a lot because people quit and weren't replaced leaving stuff that needed doing. Things other folks didn't step up for. Already burned out a few times and management's response hasn't been pleasant. We're also trying to integrate this project into a larger project's codebase and I'm the only one on test-side with experience of both systems and how they operate to get the job done. The response has been, other than slowing development by borrowing folks from there, to adjust priorities and deadlines constantly. It remains largely a band-aid fix for a bullet wound.

This is a big company, so the raises are always laughable, like 2%, rising to 3% if you kill yourself working long hours to get a rare 'Exceeds' rating. I actually interviewed with a competitor in the same domain last March, they were willing to pay $10k-20k more for me to make a lateral move there. Turned it down because of the 401k hit (not vested yet) and relocation cost I'd have to take on would negate any gain from the salary bump.

So my question is two part:

  1. Is it worth asking for a higher pay raise given the odds seem against them giving it out?
  2. Or would my time be better spent looking elsewhere given I can't escape this project and the grass is almost certainly greener given the market?

I'm open to any other advice people want to give here. This project is looking like a career killer as it's only a matter of time before the bottom falls out. I don't think ultimatums would work here despite being a fun thought experiment ('get me off this project or more money... or I guarantee I'm gone in < 6 months').

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    At one point you mention 10 years of QA work. Why were you hired as a junior, with 10 years of experience?
    – nvoigt
    Feb 1, 2022 at 6:33
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    Some companies don't ever learn their lesson, and the only thing you can do is deny them your labour by moving on. Their model is to seek out those who will accept poor pay and conditions, and sweat them. If they have to pay market rates and fill up the roles on the team immediately, they'd prefer to just stop doing the work entirely, or to pare it back further to what can be done with interns and the occasional sap who stays a little longer than the norm.
    – Steve
    Feb 1, 2022 at 7:49
  • Does this answer your question? How should I properly approach my boss if I'm feeling underpaid?
    – gnat
    Feb 1, 2022 at 9:04
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    After turning down the lead role they probably have you labeled as “just wants to get by guy” which won’t inspire them to raises based on possibility of growth. Cost of living is the best you’ll get.
    – mxyzplk
    Feb 1, 2022 at 14:14
  • @Joe_Strazzere The project is internal R&D, something to replace a system that a third party did years ago for us which costs $1M+/yr for maintenance and the scope keeps increasing, to the point it's something entirely new in the sector that competitors would love to have. My domain is kind of a niche where the same companies regularly trade employees over the years, so the fear is someone might come on, learn enough, then bolt for a competitor. Feb 1, 2022 at 16:28

2 Answers 2

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You wrote a lot of words to describe typical situations in IT. This is nothing new, hiring seasoned professionals in IT is expensive and difficult.

In many technical fields the best way to increase your salary is to "move across the street". While it is certainly worthwhile to ask for a significant raise, chances are you will be offered a small raise if anything at all. It is the way the psychology works in technical management. It might have something to do with people, who were somewhat good at solving technical tasks, moving on to management roles.

Essentially they are saying "this code is working fine" and moving on to solving the challenging problems. However, they are taking about human beings and things change with humans.

I just went through this myself sort of. My manager assigned me to work on a tech stack that I was not happy about. I offered to work 50% on that tech stack and 50% on something more modern. When he said no, I told him I would be leaving soon if things did not change. Still he did not budge. Now he has a staffing problem and I have a new job.

Sure ask for a raise, but start putting out feelers for a new position. You will likely have to move on to make the kind of money that will make you happy.

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    Agreed, look for a role that is a good fit and paying what you'd want. Like Pete says, no harm in asking for more but don't expect much. I got a 20% pay rise with ease a year ago.
    – Dustybin80
    Feb 1, 2022 at 17:57
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When anyone spends several years in the same company, chances are that they are out of touch with interview skills and probably need some time to upskill themselves. If I were you, I would approach it this way:

  1. Ask for a raise, or even a promotion with a big raise.
  2. Start preparing for interviews; find out what the market is like, what skills are valued.
  3. If the promotion comes in within a few months, well and good, but continue preparing for interviews. If it doesn't, leave.
  4. Even if you get a promotion, leave after a year. (Well, if things have improved in a year, then maybe stay)

I don't think it's worthwhile staying in the environment that you describe for too long. But quitting immediately has probably no benefits to you, and there's no harm in asking for a raise right away.

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