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I am a 55 years old programmer. In my career I worked with too many technologies. Jack of all trades master of none, as they say. My brain is filled up to the brim and new technologies get harder to learn. In my last company I started as developer and had a hard time to keep up. Now I work in QA. I can keep up with the requirements, like Selenium. To pass the trial period (contract to permanent) I used to work 60 hour weeks. I got the permanent position but the grind is too much. I am tired, and getting burned up.

I like my boss. She is very reasonable and (I think) tries to find a way to help me. But she is also a newly certified PM that has no idea how programmers work. This is the first team she manages, I am her first employee on a PIP (Performance Improvement Program). She was manual tester and is a problem matter expert in our team and was "upgraded". When I was trying to explain her that for programmers switching between different tasks takes time, see kept repeating "but you have to be able to multitask". Yes, but making small advances every week in 3 different programs every week is less efficient than working 3 full weeks, one full week on each program.

We have complicated system (dozens of Linux servers in QA and about 100 in production - I am just learning Linux now). But I developed an in-house Selenium/webdriver framework which allows me to write tests in a better way than our brilliant Linux sysadmin started. Less flaky and easier to maintain than what he wrote.

I was thinking I settled OK with my new Selenium framework, I am safe and dialed down to 45-50 hour weeks but my boss (who has no programming experience) is not happy. I received 1.3% pay rise and few weeks later I am now on a PIP with 30-60 days to shape up. Which for me does not make sense: why give me a rise and then put me on PIP?

I really need this job for the benefits and salary is not as important to me as secure employment with benefits. I do not want to change jobs, I like my colleagues, I like what I am doing, and moving to a new company will include the same grind I want to avoid. I think I can manage if I work 60 hour weeks, and I can do it for a while, and I even possibly can find another job if I lose this one. I am not useless or stupid - I am just tired and burned out.

I was thinking to ask for lower salary, and lowering my workload and hours. I can live on 20% lower salary. Yes I will save less for retirement, and will have to work few more years to retire, but it seems to be a better option than losing this job while my performance isn't getting anything better.

I found a related question, Ready to be working for lower salary for less responsibilities, but my situation is different as I am on a PIP.

So my question: is asking for lower salary an option to respond to this PIP? How would that be perceived by my boss? How should I bring it up and what should I avoid mentioning in that conversation?

Edit (I also added few details from my job): OK so consensus is: my work is likely over, and asking for lower salary now will not help.

So IIUC, my game plan should be: try to pass the PIP (working extra hours as needed), and if and when I pass it, consider asking for lower salary with lower workload. Or not.

Edit 2: I did started looking, and job market looks much better than last time I did (especially for Python/Selenium)! So I think I have a much better negotiating position. I will keep you posted, and thanks for all the help!

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – enderland Dec 12 '16 at 13:53
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    Is the place a sweat shop? If everyone is expected to work 60 hours a week it is time to move on. – Tony Ennis Dec 12 '16 at 16:42
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    You should never stop looking for a job. Makes your current one more secure and keeps you apprised of your real opportunities better than anything else. Showing up at work in a suit now and again (no explanation required) is actually a sign of a healthy career. – candied_orange Dec 12 '16 at 17:32
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    @anon !! Don't lose heart bro !! just look for a place where people will value what you do and set of skills . – Alexander Solonik Dec 13 '16 at 11:13
  • What area of the country are you in? In my area ( GA ) test automation engineers are highly sought after in general. – Mister Positive Dec 13 '16 at 14:52
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+250

Are you the only test automation engineer? It sounds that way, as you wrote an in-house framework.

From your post I only know a little about you - and only your side of the story - but it sounds to me that your performance is fine and your manager has unreasonable expectations. Perhaps being an ex-manual tester she thinks you can write an automated test script in the same time she would conduct a manual test, which I expect is not the case. If there are other automation engineers you could compare against them, but if it's just you, it's much harder.

I would suggest three approaches:

  1. Advocacy - Shout louder about why the work you do is important, and explain the difficulties. Try to fight through initial objections like "I don't need to know the details" - "you need to understand why tasks take certain time".

  2. Business focus - you mention "write tests in a better way than our brilliant Linux sysadmin started. Less flaky and easier to maintain" - but it may be that none of those things matter to the business. Perhaps what they really want is flaky unmaintainable scripts - but written quickly. Discuss these with someone - your manager, a colleague, someone who can give meaningful input.

  3. Challenge your manager - Tell her specifically how her dealings with you are unacceptable. Be polite - but firm. Speak to her manager. It sounds like being humble and accommodating has not worked so far, so try something different.

Good luck! Also, I'm glad to hear the market has picked up.

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    Thank you. This was exactly the alternative answer I was looking for. I KNEW that PIP likely means I should be looking for new job, I was looking for alternatives. Even if other answers are more popular, this one gives me more options than just look for new job (or go hang myself as useless piece of meat like some commenters implied). I will try to find out if our brilliant sysadmin can argue for me and for more deliberate development pace. He likes my code, after all. – anon55 Dec 13 '16 at 3:57
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    As an experienced programmer, you know how long things take to do right. Focus on the fact that you are trying to build maintainable code to reduce downstream man hours. As point two explains, see if that is what they need. It might be that they have no idea and the management style is pushing employees until they break. Consider another job with a better working environment if things don't improve. – David Dec 13 '16 at 4:25
  • I think it is not a good advice to challenge the manager. He is on a PIP, the negociation onward is very hard. – François Gautier Dec 14 '16 at 13:20
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    @FrançoisGautier - Whether to challenge or not is subjective. It sounds to me that the PIP is based on unrealistic expectations, so challenging is the right thing to do. – paj28 Dec 14 '16 at 20:30
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    @Brandin - When answering questions it is important to understand the context of the question and to address the underlying issue the asker is facing. In this case, having addressed that, the original question is no longer relevant. – paj28 Dec 14 '16 at 20:32
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So my question: is asking for lower salary an option? How it will be perceived by my boss? How to formulate it? What to avoid? Did someone successfully pulled it off?

You can ask, but it's almost certainly a waste of time.

Particularly since you received only a 1.3% raise, then money is most likely not the issue here. People are put on a PIP for performance reasons, not monetary reasons. And asking for a lower salary won't make the PIP go away.

You can search and find other questions and answers about PIPs. But unfortunately, being on a PIP is almost always the step before being let go. In many companies, it's a formality that HR requires, but the results are inevitable.

Start looking for a new job immediately. As you interview, try to see if you can find a company that meets your current needs (less multi-tasking, etc).

At the same time, read and understand all of the details required in your PIP. If there's any slight chance that you will be retained, you must complete all of the PIP details required to the letter and on time. More likely, you can get a decent recommendation after you are let go, based on trying as hard as you can during your PIP period.

These things happen. Sometimes employees just aren't a good fit for a particular position. The company may simply need someone proficient at multi-tasking, and that may not be you. The fact that it takes 60 hours to complete your week's work is a strong indicator.

You want to leave on as good terms as you can. Fulfilling the PIP as best you can will help.

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    It's more than just a waste of time, it's going to give a terrible impression. OP would basically be saying "I know I'm not the type of employee you need in this position but I'm desperate for a job." Neither are good things to admit. – Lilienthal Dec 11 '16 at 17:58
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    And the company will, eventually, learn that there's no such thing as "good at multitasking", especially for developers. But it might be too late for OP. – Erik Dec 11 '16 at 18:12
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    @JoeStrazzere True, but the OP acknowledging that he won't be able to make the improvements required by the PiP may cause the company to simply fire him outright while he could otherwise use the time to job search. – Lilienthal Dec 12 '16 at 7:13
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    anon55 how can you be sure it is you under-performing and not your management asking impossible stuff? note, this is not necessarily mean that you are bad or that management is bad: that just mean that for marketing reasons there's the need of a position that unluckily you cannot fit. They will probably have troubles fitting that position anyway with or without you. You could do a better thing by searching a job and by not burning out so that when you can find the new job you are at maximum of your skills. – GameDeveloper Dec 12 '16 at 12:35
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This job is not a good fit for you.

Your first clue that this was a bad fit was the fact that you had to work overtime to make it through the probation period.

Your second clue was not meeting your manager's expectations regarding work output and multitasking.

Your third clue is the fact that you're on a PIP. I'm sure some people pass a PIP and remain with the company for many years as exemplary employees, but my experience has been the opposite. I read it as a warning that the company is going through the formalities necessary to let you go.

Your fourth clue is that you're tired and burned out. It is possible to find a better fit. Once you find that good fit (a job that interests you and a company that treats you well) you'll be amazed at how much better you feel.

Benefits are important, but at what cost?


why give me a rise and then put me on PIP?

As @Paparazzi noted, the raise is a function of whatever scores you received on your performance review. The PIP is to reinforce management's dissatisfaction with your performance. I've seen charts that map performance scores to raises, and not all of them have "0%" as an option.

The existence of the PIP is a strong indication that management believes the employment relationship with you is a bad fit.

is asking for lower salary an option to respond to this PIP? How would that be perceived by my boss?

No. Your boss would perceive the offer as irrelevant. Her complaint is "anon55 can't get the job done on time", not "anon55 is too expensive".

If you don't get your work done on time, she doesn't get her work done on time. That will cost her at her next performance review.

If the company agreed, they'd still need to hire someone else to do the work that they want you to do. It would be far cheaper and easier for them to let you go and hire someone else who can do the whole job for the amount they are currently paying you.

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    "My brain is filled up to the brim " - this is a telling sign that this is probably not the right job. – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Dec 12 '16 at 16:22
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    @ThorbjørnRavnAndersen: When he says that his brain is filled up to the brim he is not referring to the current job, but to the career so far. It's natural that after (probably) 30 years of working in IT (and not moving to management positions) your brain will be saturated with the hundreds of languages and frameworks which you have learned. This is the main problem with working with fast-changing technologies: the younger people (let's say the ones with only 10 years of experience) will always be more proficient than you -- it's almost like needing to learn a new foreign language every year.. – Sorin Postelnicu Dec 13 '16 at 13:26
  • @SorinPostelnicu So? You think it is the right job? – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Dec 13 '16 at 13:49
  • The first clue is spot on! It is not helping the employee or the company to overdo things in the probation period. Being more careful, yes, but work more hours that you would after the probation: no! – François Gautier Dec 14 '16 at 13:24
  • No, of course it is not the right job, but not for the reason of the brain filled-up, which is not related to this job :) First of all, a job where you have to work 60 hours-week it's not the right job for anyone! It's not the right job even when you are 25 or 35, and needless to say it's not the right job when you are 55. :) Such a job is clearly violating some human rights. (like the right to have your own personal life outside work!) – Sorin Postelnicu Dec 14 '16 at 18:27
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Lets assume you get through the PIP - i.e. working 60 hours per week etc or able to do this by some other means.

You are in the situation of looking over your shoulder all the time.

Personally I would be engaged in the PIP but also look for another job. If the latter comes to pass take it.

EDIT

No - taking a pay cut will not help. It is saying that you agree that your performance is poor and you cannot change this.

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    This doesn't answer the question. – Lilienthal Dec 11 '16 at 17:59
  • True; the question was whether taking a pay cut might help the querant survive the PIP. – keshlam Dec 11 '16 at 18:03
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    @Ed Heal -- Thank you. I am not sure why so many people think this does not answer my question when I think it does. I can see that if I am able to pass PIP with heroic efforts, my boss will expect such efforts to continue. No win. Oh well, life is not fair, and THEN you die. – anon55 Dec 13 '16 at 4:05
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I'm 59 and in the same industry. I agree with all the answers above but don't lose your sense of self-worth; the world is often looking for quick solutions that look good rather than the properly engineered solutions that stand the test of time.

If you want to carry on producing work of quality, find an employer who values that, and your considerable experience.

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The PIP is not directly related to your raise. The raise was based on past performance and the PIP is more about current performance.

It is really more about perceived performance unless the company has some good objective performance measures.

Since you are the only automated tester it is perceived performance.

You may be correct on multitasking but now is not the time for that debate.

Ask for very specific goals in writing for the PIP so you have better chance of passing. If you just let it be the PM's perception of your performance then your chances are not good. The PM will need to justify firing to HR.

Asking for less hours and less pay is more tricky. I think you need to get through the PIP first.

When she says you need to multitask tell her yes I can multitask but when learning a new technology it is more efficient for me to focus on that.

  • Thank you. I can see that I need to pass the PIP first to be able to talk about conditions to stay with company. – anon55 Dec 13 '16 at 4:01
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The raise may not be based on YOUR performance at all, it may be a blanket raise based on company performance. There are plenty of companies that give a "Cost of Living" raise, rather than a performance based raise.

The cost isn't an issue. The issue here is one of understanding. Either from yourself in knowing what you should be delivering and when, or your boss in understanding your job role. Or maybe a bit of both.

The main issue seems to be task deadlines. I can't judge whether they have unreasonable expectations or not, but maybe suggest a weekly meeting to work out tasks and deadlines. So if too many tasks have unreasonable deadlines then you can raise it before the deadline, and it will give you focus on tasks to do (so you can have a longer period doing them).

Obviously there will always be things that crop up that need immediate action, but it sounds like the above doesn't really happen. Suggesting it may make both your life and your bosses life easier if you both have clarity on deadlines and workloads.

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Taking a pay-cut will not help, do not do that. Fulfill the terms of the PIP to the letter and early if possible.

I would also say take a hard look at all the items on the PIP checklist. Are they valid, if so stand firm, step up, and address each item. Make sure that each item on the checklist is clearly measurable. If you cannot measure it, it should not be on the PIP. I would even go further with this in your next meeting with your manager ( if you haven't done so already ) and ask

How do we measure my success on each item on the PIP?

In technology, like it or not, there is a thing call ageism. The older you get in our field ( technology ), the more difficult it can be to find new employment. ( based on my experience ) I know this is true in most fields, but I believe its even more valid in technology. The point of this statement is that you definitely want to control your exit, if it's inevitable, and not be let go for some missed item on the PIP.

YOUR CAREER \ FUTURE thoughts

Automation, with the rise of Agile frameworks, is going to be a more and more desirable skill. Whether your survive the PIP or not, I would look into any type of additional certifications that are available in your field. This will help your confidence ( which naturally is shaken a bit ), and also increase your marketability should you part ways with your current employer.

I sincerely hope this helps, keep your chin up!

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Absolutely, go for it, you have nothing to lose. This PIP thing, with a 60-hour work week -- you can't win this. The only thing that will help you is being honest: this is what I can do, at this very reasonable price. Plus, it will take you out of the competition. To all competitive people this may sound like a gotspe, but it transforms you from a potential threat to a potential ally. Show your boss that you're there to help her, make her look good: you're not a rat in the rat race, you're a loyal work horse.

By the way, there is research that shows that people over 50 should work no more than 3 days a week. At 3 days a week they will perform at optimum capacity, at more hours there's a sharp cognitive drop: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/aug/08/should-people-over-40-work-a-three-day-week

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    Thank you for the link. I bet it earned you few downvotes, because many of current 25 years old contributors are sure they will never get 50. :-) – anon55 Dec 13 '16 at 3:59

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