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I'm a senior software engineer that has been working in a small/mid-size company for 3 years. Recently, my team of around 20 people was restructured. This lead to my co-worker (the only person on the team that I don't get along great with) being promoted to my manager, and me being moved to a smaller team in which I'm the least senior member. My job title and pay is still the same.

Since then, my work has been more along the lines of a junior/mid-level engineer. I haven't been given any tasks larger than a small feature (or a small part of a larger feature). I also haven't been invited to meetings discussing architecture, new projects, or technical problems. This is at a time when the team has a higher per-person workload than ever before.

At each of my 1:1s since the restructure, I've asked for more responsibilities, ownership of a project, inclusion in technical meetings, etc. Each time my new manager has said she'll get me something good to work on. There's been a fair bit of friction between my new manager and me since I was first hired (when we were co-workers), so I'm not confident she's representing me well to higher management.

I'd like to avoid leaving this job if possible, because the pay is far above market rate in my area.

Should I continue raising my concerns to my new manager? At what point is it reasonable to go over her head to my old manager? What sort of things can I say to approach this diplomatically?

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  • 30
    Tell us why you and her have friction. Mar 8 at 17:04
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    We disagree on technical decisions (during code reviews and meetings) often, and those can get a bit heated. She also makes snide remarks about the quality of my code from time to time. There isn't any open hostility, but we definitely don't have a "good" relationship.
    – toady_two
    Mar 8 at 17:21
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    Sounds like unprofessional behavior from BOTH of you. Why don't you be the MORE professional person and STOP it? Bottom line is that this sounds like a very toxic workplace. Perhaps finding another job is a good idea.
    – jwh20
    Mar 8 at 17:54
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    Some people does not have useful chemistry between them. That can't always be fixed. Internal promotions are hard, and having an overview of who-can-handle-who in the company is necessary to do that. There are people who I would not want managing me, with none of us doing anything wrong. We just aren't that good for each other, no foul play on our part. If that relationship gets set up that way, then it is bad craftsmanship on the part of the higher ups.
    – Petter TB
    Mar 9 at 11:04
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    How do you get along with the other members of your team? Did you ask them to be included in meetings, give you more responsibility etc? You could start by sharing their burden. If you do a good job there, it would build up trust with them. Then they would probably invite you to more meetings and delegate more responsibility to you.
    – s.alem
    Mar 9 at 13:57

9 Answers 9

78

When you ask your manager for more responsibilities and more inclusion in high level discussions, it's one strike and you're out. You either get it immediately, or you don't. If you've already asked multiple times but nothing has happened, it's not coming. For better or for worse, you've been sidelined.

You have 3 choices. In order of work expended:

  1. Continue what you're doing. If you're being paid well above market rate, then continuing to collect your high salary while doing nothing of importance might be the best decision. It won't last forever, but you can milk that golden goose (OK, I got my metaphors mixed) for as long as you can.

  2. Ask HR for an internal transfer. If your company is large enough, then maybe there's another team who needs you more. You don't have to go into great detail with HR as to why you want the transfer; a simple "I've been on this team for a while and I want to try something new" is probably good enough most of the time.

  3. Find a new job, with the costs associated with it in terms of a likely salary decrease.

Which of these is best for your situation is up to you. Personally, I don't think 1 is a very good option because you're not expanding your skill set while you're remaining on this team, and you're spending a lot of time doing not much of significance. Eventually, when you do get fired (and you will; it's inevitable, not hypothetical), you'll have to justify to your next employer why you spent all that time doing nothing and that's not a fun position to be in (I speak from experience). I would recommend at least trying for an internal transfer.

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    I like this answer, if it was me I would enjoy the paid vacation while it lasted. Do your best to get along with your manager in the meantime.
    – Pete B.
    Mar 8 at 18:03
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    Remember that the three options are not exclusive. You can choose to look around for a new job, and to only accept one that is better than the one you have and pays as much. In the meantime keep milking that goose. Mar 8 at 19:06
  • I'd go with option 1; your manager is clearly signalling to you that your career is going nowhere, so just enjoy the money, if not the work. When you get bored with that, start exploring option 3; the good news is that you don't have money worries, so won't need to jump into the first job that becomes available.
    – jayben
    Mar 8 at 19:23
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    possiblie 4. option: If possible improve your professional behaviour with your manager (see it as a learning opportunity). Show that you can do your tasks very good and gain more trust step by step until you get better tasks. This might work with option 1 until you get what you want or transfer to a different team. The success highly depends on the overall toxity in your company or team. so it might not work for you.
    – some_coder
    Mar 9 at 8:17
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    @some_coder In theory those statements are true. In reality, they're not. I've been in this position and that was my thought as well, but it didn't actually do anything. I'm not going to suggest OP to do something that didn't work when I tried it.
    – Ertai87
    Mar 9 at 16:41
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@Ertai87 has a good answer that covers the main options you have moving forward, so I will just add an observation:

I'd like to avoid leaving this job if possible, because the pay is far above market rate in my area.

Have you tested this? You (your skills) may be above "market rate" too. Apply for some interesting jobs and see if you can find a company that will match or better your current salary. You are in a good position to do this now while you are still employed and being paid well. Having the knowledge that you can always walk away from a negotiation is a powerful position.

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  • Besides, how much above market is it? Money isn't everything, and what was once a good deal, may no longer be so, even if it is well paid.
    – Petter TB
    Mar 9 at 11:07
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    Market rate recently has skyrocketed with companies not being able to land good candidates, and the great resignation etc. I know people that swapped roles to 40k pay bumps. It's crazy.
    – schizoid04
    Mar 9 at 12:16
  • I agree with @schizoid04, there's no better time to get a better job than right now. Employers are begging for good candidates. Mar 9 at 15:35
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    You're right, the market is quite different now to when I joined the company. I'll start putting out applications.
    – toady_two
    Mar 9 at 16:11
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    There is an extremely false narrative in the STEM industry for the most part, that good candidates don’t exist, in reality the truth comes down to the fact companies are simply not willing to take chances on inexperienced candidates. This leaves the whole industry in a pickle leading to unnecessary outsourcing to hiring huge STEM contracting firms or being so large yourself it doesn’t matter if a candidate does or doesn’t workout. There are plenty of gems that exist, and this false narrative, is one of the reasons especially in a STEM field, the quickest way for a promotion is to switch shops.
    – Donald
    Mar 10 at 11:15
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You mention in the comments:

We disagree on technical decisions (during code reviews and meetings) often, and those can get a bit heated. She also makes snide remarks about the quality of my code from time to time.

There you have your answer: She thinks you lack the technical (and/or interpersonal) skills for a senior role. It's only natural then that she would assign you junior-level tasks and keep you away from architecture decisions.

Now there are two possibilities:

  1. She is right: You don't have (yet) what it takes to be a senior developer.

    In that case, fix it. Reflect on your technical decisions and the quality of your code, find out where you are wrong, seek advice from more experienced coders and improve your skills. Talk to her and make it clear that you are aware of your deficiencies, willing to improve and ready to accept help.

  2. She is wrong: You're a coding genius, she isn't, and she "demoted" you for petty personal reasons.

    That's a tough one. If you can improve your relationship with her and find out what issue she has with you, great. If that's not possible (and it might well not be), you'll have to look for alternatives. Ertai87's answer summarizes your options nicely, so I won't repeat what they wrote.

Obviously, there's also the possibility that the truth lies somewhere in the middle: You're both skilled coders, but you have (strongly) different opinions on the strategic direction that software development in your team should take. Well, she's the boss, so it's her call now to make strategic decisions, and you can decide whether you want to adapt your style and contribute constructively or find some other team that more closely matches your development style.

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    OP didn't claim to be a coding genius
    – FooTheBar
    Mar 9 at 10:26
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    @FooTheBar: Indeed, it's hyperbole for rhetoric/stylistic reasons. I can rephrase it if you think it distracts too much.
    – Heinzi
    Mar 9 at 10:28
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    You don't need to be a coding genius in order to be put on a track to become a senior. Strawman. Besides, growing to become a senior is also about being put on tasks that grow you in that direction. If she slams that door shut in front of OP he will never get those skills. A manager can kill growth, no matter how good you are.
    – Petter TB
    Mar 9 at 11:11
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    At one company I was at, the promotion to "Software Architect" went to the one person who had the worst designs but knew how to play the internal politics. It was time to leave.
    – David R
    Mar 9 at 15:37
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    I think that the "those can get a bit heated"-bit is relevant to your analysis as well. At least one of the two is not accepting the judgement of the other one which is expected in good teamwork. Mar 10 at 14:55
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I went through pretty much the exact same thing 2 years ago. Only it was a consultant, not a co-worker, who was promoted over me.

As Heinzi said, there are two possibilities:

  1. You're a senior engineer in name only; you don't have the necessary skills -OR-
  2. You're a coding genius and your manager is wrong

I was 100% sure that, in my case, it was #2. But because of the golden goose principle (from Ertai87's list), I chose Option #1. Which worked great until the company fired me. At that point, I was so excited to interview and prove my old company wrong. I landed about 30 different Senior Developer interviews. In each one, I'd get to the technical interview stage and completely blow it. Turns out, it was #1 after all. The only company that wanted to take a chance on me hired me for a Junior Sys Admin role. So, here I am, in my 40s, learning all about Sys Admin and Networking, and quite honestly, hating every minute of it and wishing I was developing instead.

So, I'm not sure what the moral of the story is, but, for your sake, I hope you really are a coding genius and you'll prove those bastards wrong.

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    Sounds like you found the motivation to lift yourself to a level where you could apply for development work again. Also senior system administration skills require writing programs too. Mar 10 at 14:58
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    I would never call myself a coding genius, but I've blown technical interviews for all kinds of silly reasons. I find (most of) them to be entirely subjective with completely arbitrary rules and they rarely reflect real world skills that are necessary to do a good job. Don't sell yourself short because you choke when someone is looming over your shoulder judging you while you're trying to learn how to use a Mac for the first time at a job interview after using a Windows PC your whole life.
    – Mark
    Mar 11 at 18:10
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    Thanks for sharing your experience. I agree with @Mark, while technical interviews are hopefully correlated with on-the-job abilities, they often call on a different skillset (e.g. whiteboard coding) that might be rusty or underdeveloped, especially if you've worked the same place for a long time.
    – stannius
    Mar 11 at 23:59
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As you don't say where this is... In some jurisdictions, with appropriate evidence, this could be considered "constructive dismissal" and is illegal.

The principle behind "constructive dismissal" is that you either have to fire someone (or make them redundant), or you have to give them work. You aren't allowed to annoy them so much that they leave of their own accord.

Assuming your jurisdiction has the notion of constructive dismissal, then there ought to be some careful documentation of why you've been demoted (there may be some good reasons - you should have been made aware of them, and the fact you haven't might suggest that either the documentation is missing or there's no such thing as constructive dismissal). If the documentation is just missing, then even if you resign, you can still take legal action against the company (which normally means going to a tribunal or similar).

If this route is an option for you, then you should gather evidence. Getting written copies of the organisation hierarchy (before and after), and some sort of evidence of the work you were doing before and after is important. You need to show to someone outside your company (who doesn't understand the work you do) that you're no longer working as "senior-ly" as you once were. You should then put some effort into finding a new job (as it won't be "dismissal" unless you've actually left). Try to remember to keep things as factual as possible - issues with personalities or whatever aren't really helpful in such evidence. You should also seek some professional advice from an employment lawyer, union representative or similar.

For advice outside constructive dismissal, the other answers offer a good range of options.

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It could be for any number of reasons. It seems you've tried to play a more active role in your team and department, but this is being ignored by your new manager. This may be due to your output/quality, bias from the manager or anything at all.

However, you are not getting the responses that you deserve, and are entitled to. At the very least you should be informed of why you were "demoted", or why you aren't getting the involvement your official role entitles you to.

Also, it's quite possible that your manager isn't relaying your requests to others and is deliberately side-lining you and making you look bad to others. It sounds like you've taken the necessary steps to be as involved in projects as your role expects. Therefore, it's time to take the next step to ensure that if you were side-lined by the organisation your employers need to formalise that or you let management know that you feel sidelined, how you've addressed this and how you are actively seeking to give the organisation value for money.

Therefore, the best option now would be to formally request a performance review with your manager AND either a manager from outside your team or ideally with a relevant "HR" representative. State why you feel the need for this review and the actions you've taken that have brought you to this point. Express your concerns about being sidelined & not delivering the contribution you'd hope to be giving. Don't criticise anyone at this point just state facts and your generic perceptions (eg that you feel sideline NOT that you feel your manager is side-lining you, etc).

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me being moved to a smaller team in which I'm the least senior member

One possible explanation to this - you were given the opportunity to grow. What do you think is best for your career, to be the best developer among the worst, or to be the worst among the best? Instead of coaching you directly, they put you in a position where you can see how more senior developers are doing their work, and adjust your own work patterns, including being able to communicate and find consensus.

Regarding lack of load, it's very typical for high rank developers to be doing little work, as perceived by others. However, this little work might actually be very important for the company. And it's important to do it right.

Increased load has no significance in this matter. Amount of discussions does not correlate with load or team's performance.

If you aren't invited to design meetings, it could be that you are not senior enough. In my experience, only leads, architects and above were regular members. One explanation could be that company recently hired very senior folks, who now make decisions.

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You're in a dream situation really - overpaid for an easy job.

Just "decouple your mind" and don't worry about it.

Instead, take it easy at work, surf the net and look for new jobs, think about what you want to watch on Netflix tonight, take plenty of trips to the coffee machine, leave work early at 3pm and tell them you are going to the dentist.

Enjoy this while it lasts. Many of us have to work a hell of a lot harder for less than market pay :)

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    A potential new employer might discover this, however, during e.g. a background check and it might influence you badly. Mar 10 at 14:59
  • You are right. Not sure why this is getting downvoted. I would only recommend using the opportunity to learn new things and land a better job. Don't waste the opportunity watching cat videos all day. Mar 11 at 16:00
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When the process like this begins, it cannot be stopped. You will be getting less and less important tasks until finally you will be dismissed from the company. You may prolong this time by sitting quiet, not arguing, not objecting and stoically accepting whatever further demotions may follow. Your attempt to change the working group unlikely to be successful, your complains "why are you doing this" will result some reason told but it may not be the real reason.

Unfortunately it is very difficult to know why such things happen. They usually happen in closed meetings with few people present, it is not obvious how much of the truth and which truth exactly have been spoken there and of course there is no right of defense.

Look for another job.

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