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I am a mid-level software engineer at a large-ish tech company, having slightly above 5YOE.

My team is comprised of 8 developers. The previous manager for this team left the company a few months back. As her replacement, one of the senior engineers has been promoted to manager (who I will refer to as 'new-manager'). He, in turn, is reporting to a director (let me call him 'ex-skip').

Before the previous manager left, she asked me whether I wanted to report to new-manager or ex-skip. I've heard I was offered this choice because I was up for a promotion (to senior software engineer), but I'm not entirely sure. I chose ex-skip, because I thought I would get to learn more (he was an excellent staff engineer before being promoted), and also get better visibility for my contributions.

However, I am finding ever since this change happened, that I am running into frequent conflicts with new-manager. For example:

  1. I am assigned under-estimated tasks that I cannot possibly complete given my current workload. This is despite me calling out my time constraints in advance. Then I get called out for not completing them.
  2. My on-call schedule was once changed without consulting or informing me, to a date when I was unavailable. This was actually done by another team-mate. But the new-manager doubled down on the decision saying that no one from his team was available then, despite being aware of my schedule.
  3. We are conflicting a lot more on project decisions, with him asking for changes to projects I am working on just before release which would cause significant delays (not problematic in isolated instances - but the sudden increase in the number of conflicts has me worried).

I'm currently dealing with these conflicts by politely standing my ground in the egregious cases (eg: oncall), while trying to come to an acceptable compromise in others. I am not sure whether I am getting the balance right though. I do get the feeling that he is trying to throw me under the bus in a lot of these cases. But it's hard for me to know for certain whether my fears are well-founded. I have nothing against him personally, and I do think that the ideal situation is where we could support each other (or at least where I can avoid clashing with him). I had 1-1s with him to address them, but in them he always states that he has no concerns with me. I have also tried to make it clear in these meetings that I respect his position as a manager and am looking to support him however possible. While these conversations seem to go well, it has not helped reduce the actual number of conflicts.

My main concern here is that this entire situation is making me feel isolated and insecure about my position in the team, which is causing a lot of stress. In hindsight, I feel that I may have put myself in a weak spot by agreeing to report to the ex-skip. Now new-manager is my de facto manager, but is not officially considered responsible for my performance. I also worry that the fact that I am competing with his reportees for a promotion is pitting him against me. I'm not sure if I can even bring up these any of these 'petty' concerns to ex-skip (given his level), and even if I do, how I should be presenting them.

I don't really understand the purpose of this team structure from the company's perspective, to be honest. At times, I'm tempted to ask if I can just report to new-manager instead. But I don't think it's a realistic option, because if the conflicts don't stop after that (i.e the damage has already been done) it would just make things worse.

So I'm looking for advice on the following:

  1. Is my cynicism regarding the team structure justified or am I overthinking it?
  2. What would you advise I do in this situation?

Would appreciate any advice on this.

EDIT: For context, there have been some senior engineers who currently report or have reported in the past to ex-skip instead of their immediate team manager (though they are either in different teams than me, or have left the company). So it was not unprecedented. That is also one of the reasons I opted for it, it felt like a natural progression back then.

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    So you chose to not report to them and be under ex-skip... and yet you somehow report to them? I mean they do give you tasks apparently and they reprimand you if you don't do them... why is that if you don't report to them?
    – nvoigt
    Dec 6, 2023 at 11:53
  • I don't officially report to him, my actual manager is ex-skip. But given that ex-skip is a director, he does not have time to be hands-on, so he does not actually do any task assignment for me. I have set of projects I am responsible for, and I pick up and prioritize tasks related to them. But we have a team-wide sprint planning session, and in that I can be assigned (well, at least I am being assigned) tasks related to any other team goal which is considered as high-priority. Dec 6, 2023 at 11:59
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    @throwaway_account_123 - Sounds like you reporting to ex-skil is more hassle then benefit, if this individual (i.e. not ex-skip) assigns you work, then you completing the work is indeed a problem. It sounds like your work schedule and leave schedule is not getting to that individual. You should take steps to correct that oversight.
    – Donald
    Dec 6, 2023 at 18:05
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    To keep it short - the company gave you the power (and the permission) to hold your ground with "new-manager". You don't complain about the on-call schedule, you just tell him you aren't available for on-call that day. If the estimate is too short you tell him the estimate is too short and the work is going to take longer, etc. "Ex-skip" will act as a referee if there is a real conflict, but you don't have to put up with "new-manager"s BS. Dec 10, 2023 at 19:46

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The company made a bad call by breaking you out of the chain of command. I'm not questioning the reasons for doing so, but the impact on office relations with new-manager should have been explicitly considered before finalizing that decision, and it seems like that wasn't the case. That being said, it would be equally wrong to force you to report to new-manager purely because he bullies you into doing so.

Where is ex-skip in all this? Because if you report to him, your work is his concern. If new-manager has a complaint about your delivery of a task, ex-skip should be involved. If not, then new-manager is punching down at you instead of addressing the issue with the leadership, which as a leader would be the professional way to go about this.

I can see two explanations for what's going on. In my opinion most likely, it looks like new-manager is using his new found authority not to lead his team, but rather to self-aggrandize over his former peers and punch down on anyone who he does not have direct authority over. That, to me, is a massive red flag for someone who should not be given this kind of authority. It's the equivalent of giving a raging alcoholic the keys to the bar's storeroom.

Alternatively, new-manager is simply very new to a leadership role and is not really staying in his lane, instead getting sidetracked by micromanaging things he feels he has no control over (possibly as a way to cover for imposter syndrome - I am sympathetic towards this). While less aggravating than the other interpretation, it still boils down to it being better for them not being given this authority with such free reign.
Best case, new-manager simply needs some mentoring from their manager in order to understand what their actual remit is and how to lead.


In saying all this, you don't really get to call new-manager out on their own role, so the above doesn't help you deal with your current situation. This second section specifically tries to address what you could do right now.

I am assigned under-estimated tasks that I cannot possibly complete given my current workload. This is despite me calling out my time constraints in advance. Then I get called out for not completing them.

As a developer, it is your role to (a) provide estimates about the work and (b) perform the work with reasonable effort made to stay within the estimate. You are doing both.

However, whether someone listens to your estimate is beyond your control. You cannot force anyone to do exactly as you say. That is not part of what an estimate is. New-manager is free to schedule the work as they see fit. They're expected to listen to the estimates, but that's not always a hard and fast rule (e.g. I've seen teams where all devs band together to pad their estimates, which a manager should be able to overrule).

However, if you are given work with an unreasonable deadline which you had already communicated well in advance, you can simply keep pointing that out. If new-manager berates you for not being done on time, respond with a calm and collected "according to the estimate that was given, I would still have X time left to complete this".
If new-manager escalates this or mouths off to anyone about your lack of delivery, present the written documentation of you providing estimates and communicating clearly how long this will take. New-manager's shortened timeline is something they came up with, so they bear the responsibility for the timeline not panning out.

Don't let it aggravate you, but don't let him crap over you either. Simply communicate clearly and keep showing documentation when you're wrongfully being cast in a negative light. Definitely involve ex-skip if new-manager is trying to taint your reputation to others.

My on-call schedule was once changed without consulting or informing me, to a date when I was unavailable. This was actually done by another team-mate.

Let's not attribute to malice what can be attributed to incompetence. I'd let this slip because it's hard to pursue in any meaningful way.

But the new-manager doubled down on the decision saying that no one from his team was available then, despite being aware of my schedule.

Much like my previous point, that's not your circus and not your monkeys. New-manager does not have the kind of authority over you where they get to dictate when you work without even involving you in the process. So when he attempts to do precisely that, treat it like water off a duck's back. He has no leg to stand on anyway.

Simply respond in a calm and collected manner that you weren't made aware of the change, ask if ex-skip was made aware of this change, and provide any documentation that proves new-manager should have known that you couldn't have worked during the scheduled time.

Either new-manager backs off, or if they don't they end up digging their own grave as you can very clearly document that new-manager's instructions go against the information that was already available to new-manager at the time; which raises the question whether new-manager is really capable of a leadership role.

We are conflicting a lot more on project decisions, with him asking for changes to projects I am working on just before release which would cause significant delays (not problematic in isolated instances - but the sudden increase in the number of conflicts has me worried).

I agree with you pragmatically that it's normal for something needing changing at the last minute. Shit happens. However, this goes outside of the rules and is done on a basis of mutual approval.

If you feel that it is becoming too frequent or too risky, then you can simply stick to the rules as was laid out. You don't really specify how you're working but given you mention estimates, I'm going to guess that you're working with some kind of agile sprint where the work is locked down at the beginning of the sprint.
If that is correct, then you can simply stick to the task you were given at the beginning of the sprint, or at least reject any change that would incur extra development time that was not previously allotted. If he raises that as a problem, simply point out that this is how the sprint was planned and that changing it now would (a) push out the deadline and (b) push out other work that was also committed to.

It's not impossible that new-manager is naively working under the idea that leadership requires active control and trying to wrestle things to fall in place. Again, I can be sympathetic to that because the move from dev to lead is not an easy one to make; but from your position (i.e. of a dev) all you can really do is hold new-manager accountable to the consequences of their own decisions.

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  • This is a very detailed response, thank you for answering! I think the second explanation (new-manager being new to the role and overburdened) is more likely. Either way, I will try to be more assertive without taking these incidents too personally. Dec 25, 2023 at 12:21
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You need to get Ex-Skip to give you something important to do. This will get you out of New-Manager's hair, so he no longer has to supervise someone who doesn't report to him.

Whoever gave you that choice of whom to report to didn't do anybody any favors.

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  • This answer would be better if you called them "Your-Manager" instead if "Ex-Skip". OP needs to get their manager to actually manage them.
    – user29390
    Dec 7, 2023 at 6:51
  • @Roland: Seriously -- why would I refer to one of the personages in the original question using a different name than OP did? No one, except perhaps you and I, would know who this new person "Your-Manager" is. Dec 7, 2023 at 19:34
  • You are missing the point. OP should call their manager "my manager". That they don't do this signals that they are not managed by that person. Which means they are actually managed by someone else.
    – user29390
    Dec 8, 2023 at 5:58
  • Why are you arguing? You seem to agree with me, so you could point that out in your answer. Or not. I don't care.
    – user29390
    Dec 8, 2023 at 7:38
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A developer moving from being under a manager, to being under a director, allows that developer to operate a more cross-domain technical leadership position. For example, a director may have three managers, guiding three teams on three projects. A tech lead reporting to the director could have technical oversight over all three teams projects; you are unbound from a specific project in a sense.

What is unusual in your situation is that the new manager is giving you the work, not your ex-skip. Normally I see that a manager requests that the directors employee assist on task X, and the director makes it so, if they want to, or decline.

I would talk to ex-skip and clarify the origin of your tasks and anything they want you specifically to work on. It maybe that the new manager has been told by ex-skip, that they can assign you any task and basically treat you as their staff.

In either case, don't recommend "ranting" on the new manager and their decisions. Just continue giving technical reports to your ex-skip. If the work given cannot be completed in X time, clearly report X time is unrealistic + technical reason, and your recommendation.

You could develop into a technical leadership position over this team, and potentially others in the long run.

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  • Thank you for answering. I appreciate the perspective on my role - hopefully, I will be able to use it as a good learning opportunity. Dec 25, 2023 at 12:33

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