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So, I work at a smallish company as a full-stack web developer with several other people.

The guy who has worked here the longest ("Mark") has been here for six or eight years, and developed the initial database and system to maintain information related to advertising sales and the companies who advertise with us.

Another guy has worked here for about three years ("Jim"), and was put in charge of developing a database and system to manage subscribers to our company's publications.

Over time, Jim's system has kind of grown out of control and exceeded its scope. It has gotten to the point where it is partially duplicating data from Mark's system. Jim's system is the source of data for several different applications, and is growing more and more difficult to work with. It is affecting several people's ability to work on these "satellite" applications.

I work on a few of these applications. At a recent meeting, it was suggested that some of these applications should rely on Mark's database rather than Jim's, despite them currently working . I agree that logically, these applications should rely on Mark's database.

Unfortunately, our company has a very flat structure, where everyone works right under the president. There are no projects managers and no one has any authority to tell one another what to do. Thus, we're in a constant stalemate and it feels like tensions are rising between Mark and Jim. It doesn't help that Mark has grown to despise Jim for years because of Jim's project's encroachment on his system.

Again, I agree that many of these applications which rely on Jim's system should instead rely on Mark's, but that involves a coordinated effort of several people to switch over. I spent the last two months overhauling one of the applications, and now I may have to do it all over again.

While I agree with Mark in theory, he's getting kind of crazy in practice. He started secretly recording meetings so he could prove that the boss actually suggested the switch-over. He's telling me to start looking into switching over, despite him having no role power over me or the other people who would have to coordinate. He takes every opportunity to complain about Jim, and complains about even the nice things he does. Jim says hello to Mark in the mornings, and Mark ignores him and complains about it. It's getting personal and pathological. While he may be right, he's still losing it and getting emotional.

All in all, we have problems and I don't know what to do. This is not good for the company or us who work here. Jim's scope creep is, without a doubt, causing problems and making life harder for everyone. Mark's reaction will, at least in the short term, create more work, more headaches, possibly cause more tension, be unnecessary, and make several months worth of work moot.

Our boss, the president of the company, is essentially the manager of ~40 employees, and cannot possibly stay on top of all of this. I don't want to be in the middle of this. I'm currently working under contract, but they've extended me an offer to come aboard full-time. It's a great place to work, but you can see there are problems.

So, what do I do? Do I tell the boss about the tension between my coworkers? Should I suggest different roles, so we could actually have project managers? Do I just switch over to Mark's system? Do I confront Mark and Jim and make them sort it out? I feel trapped in a big pissing match.

Thank you for any advice you can give me.

  • I think you should talk to the boss about setting up a working group for Jim, Mark and yourself and anyone involved to come up with a solution for a single database (is that a data warehouse?)... Maybe throw some bureaucracy on it so that in the future things aren't growing out of control but are actually discussed by all. Maybe they'll get some bonding out of it. – bdimag Jul 16 '14 at 17:08
  • @mattgiltaji I haven't tried much. Like I said, I don't have role power, and it's only coming to a head as we speak. Jim is sort of a loner, so I don't know if he'd want anyone to mediate unless it was our boss. Many people are on Mark's side because Jim is kind of... strange, elitist, and unlikable. – Billy Pilgrim Jul 16 '14 at 17:19
  • @bdimag Thanks for the advice. I don't know if this is the kind of thing that my boss would consider petty or not. I don't want to bring it up just to hear, "Eh, they'll figure it out." I'm not directly involved in the spat and kind of don't want to burn good will. I am looking to advance my career here, possibly, and now would be poor timing. – Billy Pilgrim Jul 16 '14 at 17:19
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Your company is wasting money.

Firstly, refuse to come on board permanently until this particular issue is handled.

Secondly, discuss your position with the owner. With over forty people in the company, a flat organization will not work. He needs to elect a director or two in general, and certainly an IT Director is required. His first job (it may be you doing it) is to move forward on a consolidated system. Ignore the two developers, and talk to the company stakeholders - the people who actually USE these two systems, and find out what is important to them. Quickly develop a new system to accommodate the needs of the user, not the ego of the developers; you may need to use outside resource to do this.

You should also recommend to the owner that a review is done on the two developers - because after the system is built, only one developer (if that) will be needed. From your notes, I can see which one I'd pick (clue; who do the users work best with?)

The problem, in essence, is not one of a computer system. It's a problem of the owner abdicating all responsibility for his employees. THAT'S the issue which needs to be addressed, because otherwise it will be a festering pustule in the company for a long time to come.

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    YEs MArk and Jim are not the problem, incompetent senior management is. – HLGEM Jul 16 '14 at 17:49
  • Thanks so much for your response! This is certainly a waste of money on several fronts, and I can't imagine it's good for the bottom line. Things take way longer than they should, data gets duplicated, and bad practices are common. I'm a 22-year old guy, a kid in the eyes of most people here. I'm good at what I do, but that doesn't change their perception all that much. Would my boss take me seriously if I discussed a restructuring? Both guys have their problems. Jim's let his system get out of control and is a bit unlikable, whereas Mark has secretly recorded meetings. It's murky. – Billy Pilgrim Jul 16 '14 at 17:58
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    @BillyPilgrim I influence change everywhere I work as someone who's ambitious and believes strongly in self improvement. They key to influencing real change is to get past the opinion based arguments. You need numbers! metrics are your most powerful ammunition here, and managers typically love when you can walk up plop down some solid numbers and give them at least two or three ways to make those numbers better. Try to document everything you can, build up reports showing time wasted on this issue. Offer your boss a few solutions. Pursue approved solution. Ask for a raise. – RualStorge Jul 16 '14 at 19:25
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    Note: this is how you get into management quickly. Don't just say "hey I can lead" demonstrate it. Don't boss your peers around find the good and the bad in your department come up with solutions, pass them up the chain of command. For every success they'll be more likely to jump at your next suggestion, until they no longer expect you to ask. (don't forget to ask for raises/promotions as you go!) – RualStorge Jul 16 '14 at 19:28
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    @BillyPilgrim that's why you take egos out of it. it'll take some work to come up with real metrics. It doesn't need to be a big formal thing of Billy is watching. Mostly just taking numbers, then going "hey boss, I noticed we're losing a lot of time to a disagreement", hand boss report, "If we invested some time in resolving this problem it could really help productivity and team moral" (This way you're not throwing anyone under the bus, people only fear metrics if they are under performing and know it) Yes, you could upset someone, but that's the nature of progress. – RualStorge Jul 16 '14 at 19:56
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All in all, we have problems and I don't know what to do.

I don't want to be in the middle of this.

I'm currently working under contract, but they've extended me an offer to come aboard full-time. It's a great place to work, but you can see there are problems.

So, what do I do?

Your basic choices are - come aboard full-time, or reject their offer and move on to a more under-control company. Nobody can actually tell you what you should do in that regard - that is solely a choice you must make on your own.

If you do choose to stick around, you should do whatever your boss tells you to do. That means ignore the Mark/Jim drama.

You are not in charge here. You don't supervise Mark. You don't supervise Jim. From your description, it sounds like your boss (the president) needs to do a better job of supervision, or delegate it.

You said that you don't want to be in the middle of this. So don't. There is absolutely no need to make this your problem - just do your job and let your boss do his. Or decide that your boss is hopeless and move on to a company that knows how to manage such a team.

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    I like this answer the best. If you have a boss, and it's neither Mark or Jim, then do what your Boss wants, period. You work for him. If Mark comes to you and tries to tell you use his system (or Jim his) just point them to your boss. Let him decide. You don't have a say (or stake) in policy at this time, so don't worry about that, it's up to your boss. – CGCampbell Aug 22 '15 at 20:21
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I faced an almost identical situation years earlier. I worked, as a contractor, at a company with two other developers. One was a young kid, absolutely brilliant, but with the political skills of a dead carp. The other was a little older than I, very politically astute, but with the coding skills of a dead carp.

Needless to say, their architectures were of opposing views: Innovative vs. anachronistic.

All of us reported directly to the President. In the end, it fell apart, as the young kid and I worked on newer approaches that worked well, while we were politically sabotaged by the other. The company ended up having to rebuild their development department from scratch. It was expensive, but they survived.

Also, the secret recording is an issue. If you are in the US, it varies from state to state whether that is legal or not. I'd be very surprised if your president didn't fire Mark if that were discovered.

TL;DR

Your president needs to pick a leader, and back him, or he will end up with a dead carp.

[Edit] It seems I was less than clear. My apologies. You need to tell your president to pick a leader. You can't fix it. You don't have the authority. He can. You need to tell him (president) to fix it. Both approaches are valid (isolating concerns versus all-encompassing database). What you have now is what I refer to as the "Competing authority anti-pattern." (If someone knows the "real" name for this, I'd like to know.) Two systems hold the same information, but neither is guaranteed to be current because they are being maintained separately.

However, I would shy away from backing Mark, as it seems he's on a self-destructive path. At least he was smart enough to know the law on recording conversations, though.

  • Thanks for the reply. It's really nice to hear from someone who's had a similar experience. Is there any way that I can help the situation? Could I explain things to the president? Or do you think it would be best to just not get tangled in their web of crazy? No one wants to be the guy to spark the inevitable explosion. As for the whole recording thing, Mark claimed it's a one-party state when I asked him about it. I didn't press further, but yeah... I can't imagine my boss appreciating that. It's really bringing the crazy to a whole new, petty level. – Billy Pilgrim Jul 16 '14 at 17:46
  • But what should the OP do to make that happen? It's a mess; that's clear -- but how does he fix it? – Monica Cellio Jul 16 '14 at 17:53
  • Thanks for the update. Do you have any opinion as to how to bring this up? I guess I'm not so much interested in backing either Mark or Jim as individuals, but doing what's best for the company. To be honest, neither are people I particularly want to get behind. I just want the pissing match to end, you know? I guess I don't know how to tell my boss that. I don't think either of them would make effective leaders. Their egos are just too wacky. – Billy Pilgrim Jul 16 '14 at 20:13
  • Also, I think that antipattern is probably just a form of data redundancy. I don't know of a special name for data redundancy across multiple databases rather than data redundancy within a single one. – Billy Pilgrim Jul 16 '14 at 20:22
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    @BillyPilgrim - about the anti-pattern - It's an organizational issue. Data that is not synchronized is not redundant, it is competitive. I know this road. I know the pain at the end of it. Trust me on this. – Wesley Long Jul 16 '14 at 20:24

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