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I'm working as a software developer in an IT company, further called employer company, which develops and maintains some software for another company, let's call it customer company.

I want to have a raise. In order to get it, I need to

  1. find a sufficiently costly problem and
  2. prepare a realistic proposal for fixing it.

"Sufficiently costly" means that the problem is causing much more damage than the money I'll be asking. For example, if I find a problem, which makes the company lose 1 000 000 dollars per year and fix it for 100 000 dollars per year, the company will most likely give me the raise I want because for every dollar they give me, they earn or save 10.

I thought, how to find such problems. One idea is to just ask a senior manager of the customer company. I've talked to him several times and have him in my Skype contacts. He is the project manager in the customer company and decides, what features the employer company builds.

Until now, I haven't told anybody in the employer company that I want a raise. I will only do this, when I have a more or less compelling proposal. In the employer company I don't have a particularly good standing and it's very hard for me to understand other people. I hate the attitude of some of my coworkers. One of my proposals to improve the way we work was ignored. So, if I do this thing, I want to maximize the chances of it getting implemented.

Is it acceptable (ethical) to write to that senior manager a letter like shown below without getting approval from employer company?

Dear Mr. X,

Could you tell me 3 problems or challenges, which, if overcome/achieved, would greatly benefit customer company?

In other words: If a fairy came to you and offered you to magically improve 3 things about the project, what would it be?

I'm asking because I often think, how we could make the cooperation better. I have several ideas and before I attempt to implement them, I want to make sure that I am solving the right problem (problem worth solving).

Thanks in advance

Note: I don't intend to work in that area for the rest of my life. It's just that I need some money, urgently, and doing additional (valuable) work for additional money is one way to get it.

What could possibly go wrong?

Potential problem 1: Senior manager gets angry

It's possible that once the senior manager starts thinking about these problems, he might realize some of them, which he didn't before. Like if someone's tooth has been aching for a long time, they get used to it and don't notice it. And then if someone comes and tells them, they suddenly realize, how painful it is.

If that happens, it's possible that

  1. the senior manager of customer company will get angry, which
  2. will get noticed during weekly planning meetings (he will tell it to project manager of employer company),
  3. the people at employer company will start asking "who rocked the boat and caused this ruckus?",
  4. find out, it was me and
  5. I get fired.

Potential problem 2: What's in it for the employer company?

Imagine, I actually find a pressing problem, which the customer company is having. The employer company may not be interested in solving it, hence may not be willing to pay me more.

I saw it at least once in a different culture (Austria). There, there was a customer company, which ordered some software from an international, top-notch software vendor. Famous, one of the best, if not the best. That vendor had lousy managers, good developers and terrific lawyers. That vendor didn't gave a damn about the problems of the customer because they were paid anyway. In fact, another company (whose contractor I was back then) was hired to help the customer company prove that the vendor didn't fulfill several of its contractual obligations.

Right now, I'm in a different culture (Russia) and employer company probably isn't as evil as that famous vendor, but I have no idea, how people will react, if they get to know that I've asked the customer about the problems behind their backs.

Also, they may not be interested in improving the service to the customer company because it can't switch vendors - only the employer company knows, how that custom software works and only they can maintain it (keep the software running, which generates all the revenue for the customer company).

  • I'm a software developer. – DP_ Feb 28 '16 at 12:28
  • Employer company uses an agile methodology and retrospective (constantly improving the way we work) is an essential part of it, at least in theory. It's only natural to want to know, what bothers the customer most. Partly because most of the other people don't seem to care. To answer your question: Developers at the employer company are expected to contact the customer company and sort out problems, such as incomplete or wrong (contradictory) requirements. This can lead to more work. – DP_ Feb 28 '16 at 12:45
  • If you could get fired for trying to solve customer's problems (whatever your personal motivation might be), your company seriously has no idea what they are doing. – Masked Man Feb 28 '16 at 16:54
  • @MaskedMan: In this case it wouldn't be fired for trying to solve customer problems, it would be for undermining the project management and sales efforts of other team members by inappropriately contacting the customer outside of the established client relationship. – Joel Etherton Feb 29 '16 at 15:14
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    If you want to have a raise, better ask your project manager or boss about what they expect you to do for it. Your points of view could be different. This plan is just not safe and not reliable. – Amberta Feb 29 '16 at 15:41
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Honestly, this sounds like a really good way to get fired quickly. Unless it's your role to work with the customer to work out what work should be done (and it doesn't sound like it is from your question), then you need to be concentrating on doing your job well, not going behind people's back to try and show how clever you are.

  • I really want to answer this but you beat me to it – Kilisi Feb 28 '16 at 9:25
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    It's not 100% clear from the question what exactly the OP's role is, or what the lines of communication are between his employer and the customer. But for sure, there is usually an account manager who is supposed to be the conduit for this kind of discussion. If you can pick something up in the course of your work and feed that back to the account manager, that would be good. But trying to open your own separate line of conversation about the customer account is not a good idea. – Carson63000 Feb 28 '16 at 23:28
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Your idea is good, wanting to do what would benefit the (customer) company most.

However, it is not your time nor your place. If you would want to proceed, consider a different approach.

  1. Wait (or create) a better moment to ask their manager. Maybe after a succesful meeting or project delivery, where you're debriefing and celebrating.
  2. Ask him casually (not by email, not in writing) what would benefit his company most, what's keeping him from doing just that, what role you or your company could take on here.

This way you overstep you boundaries less, by asking casually and at a better time. You come over more professionally and less "out of the blue" than with a random email.

I would advise against mentioning magical fairies.

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    Above all else, avoid giving any hint that this is an official question or that your company will act on thIs data. Even if you are careful, you risk opening your employer to complaints about "why haven't you fixed this? We complained about it a year ago!" As others have said: If you have to ask us, don't; the person you should be asking is your manager. – keshlam Feb 28 '16 at 15:58
  • Even the basic idea is not good. For all you know the current way of working at customer company is a dead end and the sales team of 'employer company' are already working a year on steering them another way. Even a casual mention might undo all of that work. Don't meddle with things if you don't have all the required details. – KillianDS Mar 1 '16 at 12:21
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"Is it acceptable (ethical) to write to that senior manager...without getting approval from employer company?"

No. Even in twenty-first century Russia, this is not ethical.

If you want to discover solvable problems at customer company and propose providing the solutions, then you should not be working for employer company at all. You should be independent and in competition with employer company.

"I don't have a particularly good standing and it's very hard for me to understand other people. I hate the attitude of some of my coworkers. One of my proposals to improve the way we work was ignored."

These facts are very strong indicators that you are not yet ready to be independent and in competition with employer company.

You must marshal all the patience you can muster. Work on understanding other people, and see if you can get some improvement proposal implemented (not necessarily one that's important to you, but whatever you can get done, for practice). Figure out if your coworkers also hate your attitude, and if so, who is wrong, you or them.

If you can develop the proper people skills and become an independent contractor, your life will be easier because you only have one group of people to accommodate -- your customers -- instead of having to deal with managers and coworkers.

"Also, they may not be interested in improving the service to customer company because it can't switch vendors - only employer company knows how that custom software works"

Well, if you work for employer compan long enough, you will know how it works.

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In other answers it has already been said that in the Russian culture it's not something you'd normally do. However, there's a bit more to this.

You're also looking for some key problems that will greatly help a company. However I feel like you're asking the wrong questions. And yes, also to the wrong person. If you wish to help, you could formulate some key questions towards your employer/boss/department manager.

In order to "find" these key problems you'd normally need to find the business goals, from these business goals come business "needs". based on these needs you could formulate processes and all kinds of applications to "support" these needs. There is no such thing as fixing or solving these needs, Only improving. Therefor as you can understand, these will not be seen as problems. (They will most likely be called bottlenecks)

I'm not a software developer myself, however I studied to analyze businesses, find places where they can improve and do this in a organized manner.

If you wish to "improve" a business, you need to look at the business model and see how the process goes. There are the primary processes where money is involved, such as buying raw materials, processing these materials, packaging, etc. and then there's secondary processes that don't earn ANY money but support the business as a whole. That'd be things like Helpdesk processes.

These are things that a business thinks about on a general and high level. While it's true that software engineers are capable of seriously reducing these costs, it's usually finding these improvements that is problematic. Which is not the expertise of a software engineer.

To directly answer whether it's ethical to ask your customer company for extra work of any sort? No, it is unethical to ask ANY of your employer's customer's for work that you are employed for at your current company. In fact, in many countries this can be seen as illegal as you're technically stealing customers from your employer.

If the question was to ask for work in the name of your employer, it'd be a breach of protocol and procedures. Which would get you fired nearly instantly.

Either way, it's a big no. If you want to gain more work or fix more key problems, you need to gain the trust by going through the proper channels. Even though this might be rather troublesome at this moment since you say you're ignored at times.

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