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(Skip below for timeline and summary)

Recently, I have been asked by one of my managers to do a security analysis for one of our new software products. While I have only recently graduated university, and have only been with the company for a few months, I took several classes on network security while at university and have read a lot on the topic in my spare time. Because of this, I felt confident in my skill and agreed to work on the analysis.

After doing the initial groundwork for the analysis, I asked my manager for feedback, who told me to first run this past another manager, who had previously agreed during a meeting to work on designing a part of the application which would have a large influence on what security options would be available.

I went to see this other manager and asked him if he was indeed working on this topic and if he had some time to answer a few of my questions in relation to that topic for the security report he knew I was working on. He then went on to tell me, in no uncertain terms, that he would not "do any work on that whatsoever", even though he claimed he would (as my other manager assumed as well) during our last meeting. After that, instead of simply asking me to leave so he could work on other things, he continued to lecture me for 10 minutes straight on parts of the application which were completely irrelevant to my current assignment, all the while interrupting me each time I tried to ask clarifying questions.

Finally, he pointed me to a specific part of the application. I asked for an explanation on why it was designed that way, as the design choice was unclear to me and there could be a potential security issue which I would have to address in the report. To which he responded: "It is that way because I say it is. You do not get to speak, you only get to listen. Just get me the report when you're done, OK?" That comment made me a bit angry. I finished the conversation then and there, saying that I did not have to tolerate being spoken to in that way, and that if he prefers to read my conclusions in a report rather than having a face-to-face discussion about them, I would send it to him when it's done. I admit that my response there may have been a bit aggressive. After that, I immediately left his office.

I returned to the original manager who gave me the assignment, told him I did not receive any useful answers (without mentioning the rude response), and asked him how to continue. He asked me to simply finish writing the report with the information I had, and to fill any gaps at a later point. I went back to my office to work on the report, taking note of the security issue, its possible consequences, and how to resolve it. (EDIT: I believe I have already sufficiently addressed my concerns in the report, and that it will be dealt with through the appropriate channels. My question is not about the security issue, but rather how to interpret and what to do about the comments my manager made towards me after mentioning this issue.)

Please note that we're a small company (20-30 employees) which only employs highly educated people (at least a master's degree or PhD) and we only work on very specialized projects, which means we require, and are usually given, a large amount freedom in our decisions. Most of the time, discussions about projects are first done on an informal level, before being written down. This is the first time something like this has happened to me at this company, and up until now, I have never had issues with any of my other coworkers, including other managers.

How should I proceed after this? Should I discuss this incident with my boss (the CEO of our company) and/or HR? What can I do to try to (re-)establish a healthy working relation with this manager? While I can somewhat understand his perspective, with me being the "new guy" and all, I feel that his comments are degrading and unprofessional, and it makes me afraid to take on any future tasks if this is the kind of response to expect.


EDIT: Timeline, for clarification

  1. Weekly progress meeting. Entire development team, Manager A, Manager B and CEO are present.
  2. Manager A asks me to do a security analysis and propose a full security solution for our product.
  3. Manager B claims he will work on designing Component X, as he has designed a similar component before, but "can't promise anything".
  4. After the meeting, I research our possible security issues, and options to resolve them.
  5. I report my initial findings to Manager A, but state that I was unable to come up with a full solution, as I do not know what Component X is capable of.
  6. Manager A confirms that I have to talk to Manager B regarding the specifics of Component X.
  7. I go to Manager B's office.
  8. I ask Manager B if he has some spare time, say that Manager A has sent me in regards to the security analysis and Component X, and ask to confirm if he is indeed the right person to ask about Component X, and if so, if I could ask some questions.
  9. Manager B denies being responsible for Component X, stating that he, quote, "would not do any work on that whatsoever".
  10. Instead of simply dismissing me after that, Manager B starts to lecture me instead on Component Y, which I didn't knew existed and is only vaguely related to my original assignment.
  11. I am unfamiliar with Component Y, and try to ask clarifying questions. Manager B keeps interrupting me.
  12. Manager B becomes visibly agitated with the fact that I did not know Component Y existed or how it works, even though no-one, at any point, mentioned the existence of Component Y to me.
  13. After 10-20 minutes of this, Manager B finally reaches a part of Component Y which is relevant to my original assignment.
  14. I ask a question about this part of Component Y, mention there may be a security issue (which I was assigned to find and solve), and ask why this part of Component Y was designed the way it was (as I genuinely did not understand at this point).
  15. Manager B responds with the quote: "It is that way because I say it is. You do not get to speak, you only get to listen. Just get me the report when you're done, OK?"
  16. At this point, Manager B has essentially wasted 20 minutes of my time, I still don't have an answer to my original questions, and now Manager B is condescendingly stating that my input is irrelevant, even though I was explicitly assigned to give my input on the topic of security.
  17. I coldly reply that I was not OK with the way he just spoke to me, that I only came to his office so that so that I could ask some questions and ask for his input, and told him that if he did not want a discussion, I would just send the report to him later that day.
  18. Manager B seemed a bit shocked or surprised by this response, as if he didn't expect me to react that way, quickly said a few more things about Component Y, answering part of my question, after which I left his office.
  19. I report to Manager A that I did not get any useful input from Manager B, but did not mention his rudeness.
  20. Manager A asks me to continue writing the report with the information I have.
  21. About an hour later, I finish the report, noting all of my concerns, and my proposed solutions, and send it to both Managers A and B. I am done with my assigned task; the ball is in their park now, and any security issues left in the system design is their responsibility, not mine. I start work on my next task.
  22. Manager B is now very angry with me. I will have to work with this person at least until the end of this project, probably as long as I work at that company. I don't think apologizing from my side will do any good, as I did not get rude until way after he did, and I don't want to strengthen his idea that he can easily abuse me. At best, I hope to establish an atmosphere of mutual respect, at the very least, we should be able to work together for the duration of this project.

So again, my questions are:

  • How should I approach Manager B after this?
  • What can I do to improve my work relation with Manager B?
  • Should I inform my boss or HR about this incident?
  • Sorry, "losing my temper" may have been an exaggeration. I'm not a native English speaker. Changed the question to reflect this. – user64019 Feb 4 '17 at 17:52
  • Depending on the country you are located it may be legal to record a conversation you are having with someone even if they do not know you are doing that. You may want to check whether it is the case. Also HR is not your friend or your big brother. Be careful. – tst Dec 10 '17 at 3:46
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For this current assignment, absolutely do what your manager said: finish the report with the information you have. He's made it clear this is what he wants you to do, so do it.

In the future when you need to interact with the abusive individual, do it via email so there is a written record of your entire interaction. Make it clearly enumerated what your questions are and when you need them by. As soon as the individual volunteers in a meeting to assist on a project, send him the email with your questions immediately after that meeting.

If you encounter resistance in the future, you'll have a paper trail of exactly what you said and how you said it. So if you get resistance on assignment number 2, when you start assignment number 3 you can CC your manager when you send the guy your questions. This let's him know that you're serious about getting the proper input.

Simply put: whenever you're dealing with people who get abusive or deceptive you have to cross every i and dot every t so they don't take advantage of you. Remain steadfast and you'll either earn his respect or the ire of the higher-ups. Either way, if you do your job right, you win and the company wins.

  • How should I approach Manager B after this?
    • Email only whenever possible.
  • What can I do to improve my work relation with Manager B?
    • Be clear and respectful of his time. Be honest about what you need and when you need it. Don't waste his time
  • Should I inform my boss or HR about this incident?
    • While out of line, it's going to be hearsay and no one wins. Due to your new paper trail, if it happens again you can easily show your boss.
5

You got out of scope. Your stated assignment was "security analysis for one of our new software products".

You were not tasked with resolving with security issues.

You were not really even tasked the pointing out the flaw. Rather writing a report.

You could have possible diffused this with "I was tasked with writing a security analysis by X. I had some questions and X referred me to you. At this point I am just trying to get clarification for the report."

When it started to get abusive you should have just walked away and talked to the manager that assigned the task for advice.

  • See my question. That's pretty much exactly how I phrased it. – user64019 Feb 4 '17 at 18:13
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    That is not all the tone I am getting from you. You let this escalate. – paparazzo Feb 4 '17 at 18:15
  • Pretty much spot on answer, just do your task and don't get involved in anything else. Anything else happens, just refer them to your manager. – Kilisi Feb 4 '17 at 18:31
  • Updated the question to clarify the sequence of events. I initially cut out a large part of the story because I thought it would be irrelevant. I agree completely with your answer with respect to the technical issues (the report is finished, my task is done as far as I am concerned), my question is more about the social aspect. – user64019 Feb 4 '17 at 18:38
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    Your rebuttals and edits do nothing to convince me you played this cool. You played this poorly - own it. – paparazzo Feb 4 '17 at 20:38
4

1) Losing your own temper, even --- especially -- when others are losing theirs, is counterproductive. Get out of that habit.

2) Your assignment is not necessarily anyone else's top priority. Accept that. If you have documented the concern clearly, and gotten it onto the backlog to be prioritized, sized, and addressed when resources permit, you have done your job until and unless you are assigned to work on that task.

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By the time you finish a 7 paragraph description of a task you have completed successfully (Paragraph 5 suggests this and Timeline item 21 says so plainly), you should be hearing the "Whoop Whoop" Master Alarm and the audio prompt that says "Pull up! Pull up!" You are way down a very complex rabbit hole and your first responsibility is to save yourself.

IF you add a 21 point timeline, you've created a cry for help that not even your mother or best friend can read for content and respond to usefully. You have some reasonable concerns in that mare's nest of confusion and overlapping responsibilities. But you have to unwind, unpack, untangle all these threads, and focus on separating what's past from what has yet to happen, separate what you intend from what you did, separate Manager A's instructions and requirements from Manager B's, etc., etc.

For your own sanity, start with your own hurt and anger with Manager B. You were treated badly and didn't like it. You don't want to have it happen again. Remove all the extraneous detail. You had a question, you asked it, you got rude and unhelpful responses. Cut down to the emotional truth. Make it a bug report. You did "A" and expected "B", but instead you got "C". Leave out everything else. Then put it aside.

Next, you've got some overlapping and contradictory messages from Manager "A", Manager "B" and the CEO who is your boss. If i follow correctly. You can't change the past, but you can change what you do, in the future, and encourage other people to change what they do too. Pare it down. Who are you good with? A? the CEO? You clearly had problems with "B". What do you need to get you and your boss on the same page?

One of The CEO, or Manager "A" or Manager "B" is your boss. What's unclear between you and your boss? Pare down to the Vital Few items. What do you need from your boss? What should they know that they appear to be unaware of? What can you, and they, do?

Should you talk about Manager "B" with your boss? Is there soomething thhey can help you with? Describe what happened dispassionately. Its not 21 points. Are apologies required? Do you need to give, get or both? What do you want from "B"? What do you think they want from you?

And so forth. Break it down, do your best to think it through. Separate complex snarls into what you will do differently, what you'd like other people to do differently, what can be learned. Make it crisp. Don't present a strange, complex thing that has to be studied to your boss. They're not waiting for complicated challenges. Give them what they need to succeed, what they need to do their jobs correctly. Ask if you don't understand something.

When everything else is worked out, go back and deal with your hurt and anger.

Bill

  • +100 this is the most constructive advice here for someone in the OP’s situation. ”Somebody dissed me: the essay” shows a lack of ability to turn events into clear business oriented to-dos (perhaps understandable in a young person). The workplace isn’t Tumblr, figure out what is actionable and act on it. – mxyzplk Dec 9 '17 at 14:27

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