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I'm a recent graduate in what's essentially my first job as a software developer, I'd say I'm pretty damn good for someone in my position, but smart enough to know what's beyond my ability, the company is looking for a new lead developer, but is struggling to afford the market rate for one.

I started as a contractor on a fixed term contract, but within three months a full time developer has quit and I've already been 'promoted' to his job full time (which includes a pay rise since the rest of the team are effectively senior devs and HR wanted an even level). The rest of the team is made of older (50+) developers, who flat out told me they aren't interested in becoming leads themselves and my boss is already setting up regular meetings for me to write technical specs with our BA's and architects because he'd much rather offload some of his work to a 'junior' lead developer than wait to see if they can find a normally experienced lead dev for the wages they're offering (and it's been a long time waiting so far).

I've made it clear in the most professional sense I could think of that I don't think I'm adequately qualified in the technical skills needed, but he's still set on me taking up this work. It comes with benefits including a greater salary (though it's maybe 60%-75% of what a regular lead dev would earn in similar cases).

This isn't how I expect most careers go and I'm worried about what the future impact might be when I want to move on.

Is a future employer likely to look at a fast rise without any major explanation as a good thing, or think I've been involved in nepotism or something sinister.

And on a similar note:

Is it a mistake to go along with this promotion? I'm effectively going to slowly be doing the job of someone quite above my pay grade, this isn't going to convince future employers that I'll happily work for far less than market rate?

  • 4
    You're going to fail. That's not bad though, as a junior you're expected to fail. As long as you learn from your mistakes and continue to improve, everyone will be happy with you. Leadership is not taught in any school or university, it grows into you. So let it. – Stephan Bijzitter Mar 13 '16 at 0:38
15

I don't think you've got anything to lose.

You should try it on for size. If it turns out that you can't handle it you can step aside with a clear conscience, having warned your bosses that you are too junior for the job.

However, you may very well find that you will rise to the challenge, and actually do a pretty good job. At that point, even though you're not getting paid the market rate based on your responsibilities, you're still adding incredibly valuable experience to your resume. The sort of experience some people take 5+ years to gain.

I'd say take it. However, to borrow a phrase from the gambling establishment: "Know your limit, play within it." If at one point you really don't feel that you're doing a good job, speak up and ask for help.

Good luck!

  • +1 Many interns are frantic about this, but asking for help doesn't mean replace me, it means lead or teach me. You may be able to get some free management training in while you are at it. – Mike Mar 14 '16 at 16:25
3

This is common enough although not normal.

You should shoulder it if you think you can handle it and grow into the job. Everything is going on a positive note. A pay increase will follow eventually, but at this point you are gaining experience that is hard to get at your level.

If you apply for another job in the future this will look very good. As for looking like someone who works for less pay. Don't worry about it. Firstly you shouldn't be mentioning your pay to future employers, just your credentials and experience.

I have seen people rapidly rise through the ranks in such a manner, it has always worked out well for them as far as I know. I haven't seen it in large companies, but it's common enough in small ones.

  • 1
    Everything I would have said, +1. It's normal for salary to lag behind for someone who's growing into a role. – Lilienthal Mar 13 '16 at 1:23
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I can see your concern and confusion with this employer and this opportunity. Keeping in mind that if you are interested, then you should get clarity on points about the position such as a job description, salary, benefits, etc. Treat like any other job, find out as much as you can before committing to it.

Analysis & Thoughts

For starters you mention some preliminary facts that we should address:

  1. You have minimal to no applicable work history/experience in this field
  2. Your teammates consist of experienced software developers
  3. A recent lead developer quit & a recent developer quit too
  4. You were hired under a contract and rapidly got a "promotion" and raise

With these in consideration, did you ask the other teammates why they don't want the position? Have you considered the strange fact that your minimal experience does not warrant such a promotion? Why did those other developers leave? Is there a future with the position/company? These are the questions I would ask myself. Depending on the position/requirements, being a lead role over people who are older than you (by a significant number of years) might cause some strain. Consider the various new challenges that would arise and if you think you can honestly handle them and have the experience to know how to lead/manage.

It's highly unorthodox to give a recent graduate a lead (supervisory or managerial) based role without a few years of experience in the field and a year (or two) of seniority sensitive roles (ie roles that are not lead, but require similar demands and skills without the authority behind them). From my experiences with managers, most have about 5 years experience (or more) in their field and some experience/track record in management positions in those fields. Most managers I have worked with have been in their mid 30's to late 30's or older. Senior managers are usually late 40's or older. There is a reason for this age bracket: Experience & Wisdom are gained through time.

As for your point about future employers, you are suggesting you are not interested in staying with this company then? Most people do not look at a promotion at a company in terms of future employers' perspective. I would only pursue positions that I intend to stay in for the long haul. Don't waste a company's time if you don't intend to stay. Nevertheless, a future employer might see the following points from the promotion (depending on your answers to the interviewer's questions):

  1. Ambitious and fast moving asset; which could be mistaken for aggression/arrogance or that you are always bettering yourself no matter what.
  2. Fluff promotion; they know the title is a throwaway and realize you don't actually the skills gained with the position (ie employer using HR tricks or you reached the limit of competency in a company).
  3. Valued asset; which means that you did not ask/imply for the promotion and instead you were promoted because the company actually saw that you were a good fit for the position.
  4. Committed team player; meaning that despite any turmoil the team or company was going through, you stuck it out and took on challenges for the benefit of the company.

Overall

If it was me, I would pass it up and say "Thanks, but no thanks." Promoting from within with minimal experience and seniority is a red flag in my mind. I have seen managers with less than 3 years in their field who imploded from not knowing the fundamentals. Consider the possibility that if you are not constrained by life commitments (e.g. financial obligations, personal obligations, etc) that you could just go for it and not have to worry if you need to find another job or demote yourself. It all depends on you, your abilities, and your situation and nobody knows that better than you.

Any way you choose, I wish you the very best of luck and hope you go far in your career.

3

Either something very odd is going on, or they really do think you can do it and you're suffering from "imposter syndrome" and underestimating your own abilities, which is about as common as overestimating, perhaps more so.

This role can be anything from just tracking progress and helping make sure everyone is communicating well (like being scrum master), to running design review meetings, to helping to shape the architecture of the product.

Ask your manager to clarify what you're being asked to take on, who will be mentoring you in this role and what other resources are available to help you learn, exactly what your additional responsibilities will be, and ask yourself whether this sounds Ike something you could learn to do adequately in a few months. Also think about whether others will be delighted you are doing this so they can stay focused on their current tasks, or will be resentful that they weren't offered this opportunity.

This could be a great opportunity to establish yourself as a coordinator and "thought leader", which could put you on a faster track toward either lead developer or upper levels of the company... Or it could just be grunt work with a fancy title... Or anything in between. Get the details.

Then ask yourself if it's something you can learn to do and are not averse to doing, not whether it's something you've already mastered. If the answer is yes, go for it. Everyone starts everything as a beginner. Practice makes better.

If you really feel you aren't up for it, the safest answer is probably, "Wow, I'm flattered that you think I can do this, but it feels a bit too soon and I really don't feel ready. Maybe I could understudy someone else doing the job for a while, talk to them about what they're doing and how they're doing it, and consider it again at some point in the future?"

But it does sound like it could be a good opportunity, and might even be fun. And more money is always a good thing.

1

I'd see it as an incredible opportunity. You have the chance to be a lead developer, learn to manage, oversee and use multitasking skills to your advantage. You also have a lack of experience on your side, so if you aren't doing well--they can only blame themselves, you gave it your best shot. A form of management this early in your career is something that shouldn't be overlooked.

Future employers will see it as fast-growing, smart and someone who takes initiative. You can tell them that you asked for the position of lead after the previous lead developer left, because you knew you could handle it and...who knows, maybe you do really well.

Another thing is, no employer ever needs to know your last salary. They use it as their starting point and telling them may cut you short of what you could be making.

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