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About 3 years ago I joined a young startup, one of first hires. I was brought in as the VP of Software (where I was the first/only software guy), and the company has really taken off (I was employee <#10, now we're over 200).

Over the last 2 years, I've gotten bonuses, raises, awards, and accolades from everyone in management. I've also been demoted several times, to now I'm looking at returning to "Senior Software Engineer". It's almost a joke now that my performance reviews come back stellar, and then the next week I get replaced by a new hire.

The only thing management has been able to tell me is that I'm not "famous" enough to warrant my positions. They keep bringing in people from outside that are industry veterans, which makes VC's and the board happy.

How can I fight the "famous" argument?

Comment (Since I can't comment, I'll post here). So far, I've built my team every time up to 3-5 people, then they bring in a "ringer" to take over the department and move me down a level and redistribute my team amongst the new organizations. I easily managed 15+ before I came here, so I don't think that's the issue. The only thing I've been able to get is that my name isn't industry recognized.

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    I'm puzzled by your question title. VP of 3 people is less than Division Lead of 10 people, so I am not sure these are demotions. But your title mentions professional growth. Are you concerned about your skills and abilities, or your title? – Kate Gregory Mar 30 '15 at 20:21
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    Are you being bypassed for promotion specifically; or is management hiring outsiders for new roles every time? – Dan Neely Mar 31 '15 at 2:29
  • The title "VP" in a start-up means absolutely nothing. If you like the work you're doing and see a future there, that's what is important. – teego1967 Mar 31 '15 at 13:58
  • Famous is a BS argument. VC's are going to look a VP level at best. If you have been demoted more than one level from VP then you are being flat demoted. It is not about "famous". Look at the pay check - is it enough? – paparazzo Apr 1 '15 at 22:33
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You can't.

Your company isn't selling software. Your company is selling the idea of software. VC's are setting it up for a public offering to make their money back, and it's all about the image, now.

Stick it out, and hopefully you got enough stock options when you started up to make this all worth your while.

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    The company was wrong to begin with to call you a VP if you were actually developing the software (which I assume you were since you said you were the VP of nobody else at first). They are rectifying their error probably because they need you doing the actual development not managing. And if the VC people want someone else in that position then they are going to get that person if possible or they won't give your company the money. Next time don't accept a VP position unless it is a real one with subordinate managers. – HLGEM Mar 30 '15 at 21:11
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    @HLGEM - Did you mean to reply to the poster, and not to me? – Wesley Long Mar 30 '15 at 21:49
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Many folks who are early stage startup employees experience some version of this, though that doesn't make it any more fun to deal with. Changing the management team's mind may not be in the cards. However, if you do want to stick around at this company, here are two ways you could approach it.

Seek more respect as an individual contributor

One of the great things about working in software development is that sometimes individual contributors carry as much influence and respect as their managers. For some, this is very fulfilling. It can be great to be very knowledgeable about a few small pieces of the picture, concentrate on making it all work beautifully, and get lots of appreciation for it.

Would you be happy as an individual contributor if you had some new kind of recognition, or different working conditions, or a new area of focus? Figure out if you might enjoy your current track with a few tweaks, and then ask for them.

or...

Ask for help getting back on the management track

If you think your calling is in helping other software engineers do their best work, then speak to your manager about what it will take you to get on that path.

If the VP of Software spot is filled, maybe there's space for you to act as a team lead, or a Director of QA, or something else entirely. If your company is growing at the rate you say it is, that means there are probably lots of opportunities to act as a manager, even if your title isn't 'VP'.

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You need some honest 3rd party advice from a friend or colleague. It sounds like you might be a better engineer than leader, and the "famous" thing is just a tactful way for management to avoid saying it outright. I don't really buy the "keep the board happy" argument. People don't just replace a high performing team lead with an unknown unless something else was going on.

Either way, you are not going to talk your way out of this one. Your experience at the company means they have had plenty of time to consider you. They didn't choose you because of something you are doing or not doing. You have to figure out what that is and change how you work.

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I think you're missing the point of what is going on.

You are an engineer. Seems like management has just shifted from having to give you a title to keep you happy to giving you a title to keep other parties happy. Which raises the question: is your title part of your compensation package, and if so, how much salary and options did you give up to accept it?

If you have a good package and are gaining good experience, it may be worth sticking it out until the company sells or goes public or whatever. However, it's also entirely possible the real point of gaining all that experience has been to interview somewhere else and see what you've really been worth. Something is amiss in your story and your management is acting fishy, so I would do yourself the favor of getting a third-party check on your worth in the relationship. Sorry if this advice got off topic but this really jumped out at me.

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