I have been working with a company since it started. I was the only one who coded in a specific language on the team and I had a lot of work to do. It was very obvious from the beginning that this was work for more than one person. I told my boss that I recommended hiring someone else to help me because the work was too much, but he never did. I got more and more behind with my deadlines because it was just too much. Earlier this week my boss sent me an email saying that if I didn't meet the next deadline, there will be no more investment and the company will go under. I know for a fact that I won't be able to meet the deadline, it will take 4x as much time as he asks.

Now I feel guilty because the company is going under because of me. I am not a genius, I just work hard and do my best, and now I am feeling like maybe I am just stupid and that if I had been smarter and cleverer I would have been able to get it all done. I don't even know if a superhero could have done it. I can't work miracles, and my boss puts it all on me. I don't know what to do. Is it okay for him to blame me? How do I tell him his deadline is not going to be met? What do I do???


Thanks everyone for your advice. I don't know how to get into this question again. WhatRoughBeast's answer was spot on, we're a startup. I was intentionally vague because I didn't want my boss to know it's me.

I am a remote worker and so I only talk to my boss over Skype or email. I wrote him a reply saying outlining the stuff he wants me to do and how long it I thought it would take. I also suggested one or two minor things that would save time. He replied organising a meeting on Skype.

It seems like he cooled down since when he wrote the email because at the meeting he was not angry and just wanted to discuss howbwe could get this done as quickly as possible. I usually just say ok and do my best, but this time I said no, that's too much. Something has to go. I feel like I have more power now.

So I have been thinking a lot about should I leave or not. I like this job and this company. After the meeting I feel like I have more power, it's not my fault. I can say no, it's too much. I will be looking for other jobs but will carry on with this one too, doing my best. I want to be in a good standing with this boss, I understand he was just worried about his company. I have less respect for him for saying such things, a tactic to make me feel bad, but he is a human too and apart from this our relationship has been good. So I will give him another (careful) chance, and be sure to be prepared if the company goes under.

Thank you everyone. for your advice and helping me not feel guilty.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Jane S
    Mar 26, 2016 at 22:16
  • You know, even if you feel like you have more power now you're not immune to illness. I would have a serious talk with him about how wise it is to make you a single point of failure. You really should look into how you could gracefully hand off your work to someone else should you need to. It's part of being a socialized programer. Mar 27, 2016 at 20:21

10 Answers 10


I can only agree with Joe's comment. Get the heck outta there.

I too have worked for a company which placed unrealistic expectations on the development team (we were all inexperienced juniors - co-op students, in fact - yet were expected to deliver a piece of software the company was getting paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for in 4 months, while working minimum wage - it didn't happen).

The most important thing to realize is that you're not guilty of anything here. You did your best, communicated your concerns, and should thus have a clear conscience. If your boss is completely divorced from reality and failed to heed your warnings then the blame is squarely on him.

I would sit down with him, outline what needs to still be done, how much time you, alone, would need to achieve those things, and if he blames you, list all the recommendations you made to him in the past (it would help if you had it in writing - emails, etc.)

If he gets angry, starts yelling, or in any way acts inappropriately towards you I would literally tell him that I will not accept to be spoken to in that tone, and that I am going home for the day.

I would also start looking for a new job immediately, and hand in my resignation as soon as possible (maybe when you have another offer in hand, or even before that, if you can afford it).

In situations like this try to keep a paper trail of your boss's unreasonable expectations, your answers to him, and also to not allow the stress to bleed into your personal life (this is difficult, but it can be achieved).

If the business fails it will be because of his poor leadership, and nothing else.

Good luck!

  • 3
    I would rewrite this to avoid referencing a comment. Otherwise, +1. Mar 24, 2016 at 18:29
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    @NotVonKaiser - I like to give credit where credit is due
    – AndreiROM
    Mar 24, 2016 at 18:43
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    @Panzercrisis - if you resign you're not entitled to compensation from the state in some places, whereas if you're fired you are. That might be a factor for the OP. I highly discourage anyone from quitting in an off-handed matter like that. It may seem very satisfying, however it might not be the smartest financial decision. Leaving for the day sends the message to the manager that he can't bully you, which might scare him into acting more appropriately. If not, then the OP should certainly resign - when the OP is prepared to do so, not as a spur-of-the-moment decision.
    – AndreiROM
    Mar 24, 2016 at 19:29
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    "I am going home for the day" might not be wisest thing to say: leaving early because a conversation with the boss isn't going well will most likely lead to the boss docking the employee's pay for the rest of the day. And that's just the best case scenario: if things go really sour, the boss can use the OP leaving work in the middle of the day without permission as ammunition.
    – Moyli
    Mar 25, 2016 at 16:23
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    @Moyli - I'm not sure what country you're from, however anywhere in the West, if your boss in any way crosses that line of professional behavior, you are justified to walk out. I've had a supervisor yell at me, and I told him in no uncertain tone that I would not be treated that way, and that we would resume our meeting when he had calmed down, then I got up and left the room (at the co-op I mention in my answer). Could he have fired me? Sure. But he can fire me at any time anyway. However the choice was to stay quiet and swallow the abuse, or stand up for myself. I always advise the later.
    – AndreiROM
    Mar 25, 2016 at 16:52

First, consider the rather hard-hearted question: are you, in fact, competent by the standards of the industry? You say, "I am not a genius, I just work hard and do my best".

Let's take the worst-case answer, that you are not competent at the level the company needed, but there are lots of programmers who are. You also say that you have repeatedly told the boss you need help, and that you have increasingly missed deadlines. If this is so, the boss has little excuse for NOT hiring someone else. If your deadlines have consistently and increasingly slipped, he has no excuse for expecting you to solve the problem in time for the next deadline. And, if you really are not competent, he should have fired you. That he continued to rely on your skills indicates a management failure on his part, and a very bad one. And it's important to separate the two failures. Even if you could not do the job, that does not excuse his failure to address it.

On the other hand, if you're pretty good, he has even less reason to blame you. You've alerted him to the resource problem, and the missed deadlines are the sort of sign he is responsible for acting on.

You have not indicated the size of your company, but hint that it's pretty small ("I have been working with a company since it started.") and it's certainly possible that the existing funding for the company did not allow him to hire additional help. This is the classic death spiral of an undercapitalized startup: not enough startup money to provide the resources to do the job, so the company goes under before it sells a product which would allow the company to hire more people. In such a case, there's no real personal blame, other than the very human willingness to take risks and bite off more than they can chew. Software startups are famous/infamous for this sort of thing. Sometimes they pull it off with the Death March approach. Sometimes they don't.

Do you have a life? That is, are you careful not to work more than 40 or 50 hours a week? If so, maybe you should avoid startups in the future.

So, there are really two questions which you have asked: do you share blame for the company going under, and is the boss right to blame you and not himself.

As to the first, I'm not in a position to say. As to the second, it's clear that he is wrong, and that he bears a considerable portion of the blame. It's the sort of realization that a lot of folk don't want to consider, so it may simply be easier for him to blame you.

If your manager is not exaggerating, and missing the next deadline will kill the company, and you cannot meet the deadline...well, it's time to start looking for a new job. Consider it a learning experience. Try to get a good perspective on your skills, and in the future try not to work for a company which demands more than you can deliver. If this means that you should consider a different line of work, consider it.

  • 15
    OP was good enough to tell the boss they could not complete the project in the timeline given, and at an early stage. I would say this pretty much absolves them. :\
    – blaughw
    Mar 24, 2016 at 22:18
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    @WhatRoughBeast: Doesn't matter that the juniors always say they need more help. They're juniors, they do need help from seniors. It's up to the managers (and the seniors) to consider how that should be done, but not if.
    – MSalters
    Mar 25, 2016 at 9:15
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    +1 for it wouldn't have been your fault, even assuming that your skill were inadequate. OP didn't manage earlier deadlines for some reason and also communicated the workload to his boss, who ignored it.
    – Chieron
    Mar 25, 2016 at 11:13
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    Even if he was incompetent, he was realistic (and honest) enough to realise this was too much for him and to communicate it. That's the point where the responsibility for the company is shifted to management which is what this question really is about, no? Mar 27, 2016 at 19:40
  • 3
    @mathreadler - That certainly matters. Even more important is that he has consistently missed deadlines. Even if he had not asked for more help, management's failure to respond to these signals establishes what you might call a minimal level of responsibility. That he explicitly asked for more help while failing to meet those deadlines just adds a greater share. Mar 27, 2016 at 19:44

Your boss's job, among others, is to motivate you. He is finding ways to press you to meet deadlines and maximize his "investment" in you.

If you are genuinely working your hardest and engaged, then you are fulfilling your obligation to the company and your boss. You should reiterate your concerns, you need for help and communicate to him that it is not possible to meet the deadline.

Besides motivating you, it sounds like your boss is responsible for the management of company finances. If the company needs more money to operate, it's his job to make sure that happens not yours. If he can't get additional investment, it's very unlikely it is solely due to your missed deadlines. If you need someone to help you, it's probably worth the cost to the company. And if you can't get another person to help you, it doesn't sound like the work you are doing is vital to the survival of the company.

So, to be clear, your boss is responsible for keeping the company running, not you. You are responsible for writing code, communicating your progress and concerns and contributing to the success of the company. If your work were really that critical to the success of the company, your boss would put more resources into it. Either that, or the continued operation of the company just isn't that important to him... which may be the case (and he's looking for someone to blame as the company collapses).

You don't have all the information here. It's not a simple situation and your boss is not using a healthy motivator. I hope you find a better boss or he finds a better way to keep you motivated (like more pay and/or someone to help). Good luck!

  • With respect to the reasons for not hiring someone else: It's also possible there's no money to hire someone else, which seems likely from the OP's description of the situation.
    – GreenMatt
    Mar 25, 2016 at 17:59
  • "More pay" isn't a motivator, atleast not an effective one, in this case. In most cases, "more pay" isn't a motivator.
    – cst1992
    Mar 28, 2016 at 5:48

The current state of the company is not your fault, because you are not the CEO. It sounds like your boss is not taking responsibility for himself or his job.


A company that has a single point of failure is unfortunately not a good model of business operation. There is only so much a person can do, and the problem with the effort versus reward in companies is that the more effort you put in, the less reward to get (as your effort becomes taken for granted). At the end of the day, if you have raised a resourcing issue that impacts on the deadline and the manager/boss doesn't do anything about it, they only have themselves to blame.

There is no real good or bad way to tell him that the deadline is not going to be met, only that you should do it as soon as possible because it will give them more time to work out how to deal with the situation. If you get blamed and fired then be thankful that you don't have to put up with the situation any more. If they end up hiring another person then your immediate problem is solved. Whatever you do, don't procrastinate because it is better to make a decision and spend the time focusing on problems that you can solve.


Please take this F-16 and transport 500 People 2000 Miles away tonight. If you can't, that means F-16 is slow! Yeah right! That's the logic your boss is using. If transporting 500 people is so important to him, he should charter an airliner, if he refuses to do that and F-16 fails to do what he wants that doesn't make that F-16 bad.

Find the most hardworking dump truck ( 10 Ton) driver ever and ask him to shift a mine load of coal (300 T) overnight in 5 runs 100 miles away otherwise you'll lose a deal; You sure will!

Your boss is trying to use a Serial cable for Parallel output expectations, It's his fault his headache to deal with.

If a boss is not willing to provide adequate resources to get the job done its him to blame regardless of what you're told.

If the deals were so important, he should have arranged to gather enough resources to get it done. You can't go to moon on even the best helicopter in the whole world.

It's his management that will cause the loss, not your work. Such a company is bound to go under, today or tomorrow, with or without you. Don't sweat.


Imagine instead of being a programmer, that you're a bus driver. And your city only has one bus. And you keep telling your boss: "Look, I can only carry 50 people at a time, but 500 people want to ride the bus, and they all want to go in different directions. We need more busses." And your boss ignores you, and keeps telling you that they're counting on you, and you somehow barely scrape by (sort of) by driving hard and fast and long.

Then one weekend there is a convention in town, and instead of 500 people per day, 2,000 people want to ride the bus in your city. And your boss tells you, "if you don't drive all 2,000 people, the city is going to shut us down, and we're all fired. Please make it happen." I don't care how good a bus driver, you can't bend the laws of time and space. Your bus only has so much capacity, and can only drive so fast, and can only go I one direction at a time. And then that's it. No amount of pressure from management, or positive thinking can make your bus carry more people, or drive faster, or go in two directions at once.

A barber can only cut so many heads of hair per day. A cab driver can only make so many trips from airport to hotel per day. A pilot can only fly so many people from Cincinnati to Miami per day. And, from one programmer to another: a programmer can only write so much code within a deadline.

Sometimes you can sprint and scramble and make it work for an occasional long weekend, or a few late nights. But even then, you can't change the laws of time, nor defy the structural limits of your keyboard, nor the limitations of your brain. You can only write so much code per day. And too many emergency crunches are not sustainable (not to mention soul-crushing).

So, if they gave you too much work, and refused to hire more help but instead expected you to be Superman all the time, then it is not your fault. One bus can only drive so many people, and one programmer can only write so much code.


Be objective and answer questions put to you.

It does not sound like the email contained a question. From your description the email did not ask any questions, but simply stated a prediction, ie if some deadline is not met then the company will go out of business.

The way to react to this information:

(1) Do not answer. The email does not ask you for your opinions.

(2) It might be a good idea to start looking for another job, since the head of your current company is predicting that the company might be going out of business.

(3) Do not take stuff personally. When somebody says "Do xyz by 3am or we all [insert bad thing here]." do not interpret that as "blaming" you. Blame is when person A goes to person B and tells them that person C is responsible for some act. Since there are only 2 people in this equation, you and your boss, no "blame" is involved.


You seem to be a victim of a Russian project management style: a guilt complex + overrush = startup fails (on paper), and everyone are dismissed. A bit later, silently, using all the intellectual property of this "failed" startup, another one rises up, owned and stuffed by 2-5 people totally, no bonuses or credits to the previous team that actually made it happen.

Screw them and be about your business, and don't forget to retain your author's rights for everything you did. Yes, for everything - an author's copyright. Do it - don't let them rob you!

  • 5
    If you're working as a paid employee, you don't own what you created.
    – Simon B
    Mar 26, 2016 at 0:29
  • 1
    Is that really a "Russian" management style? Have any references?
    – Xen2050
    Mar 26, 2016 at 6:46
  • @Xen2050 I live in russia, it's 1990-s echo. For a reference - take a closer look at Yandex and it's startups-stealed ideas, like this Mar 26, 2016 at 13:32
  • 1
    @SimonB you don't own it, but if it's not explicitly stated in contract - you do keep your "authorship" rights, i.e. you can call yourself an author/co-author of thing you did. Mar 26, 2016 at 13:34
  • Sounds kind of like Apple & Xerox & MS with "copying" GUIs, but google translate probably left out some details.
    – Xen2050
    Mar 26, 2016 at 16:50

I think your boss is trying to take advantage of you. It sounds that his expectations grew over time but he didn't do anything to motivate you..only more and more demands. I suspect that he probably didn't give you enough credit for your work and a fair compensation. A respectful boss is someone who would take care of his employees not someone how would put more and more pressure...or worse...exploit employees. You should not accept this situation in any circumstances. These things will only get worse over time. Is that the case, Mohammed?

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