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I am a technical lead in a medium-sized company managing a team of just over 50 developers. We have many senior and mid-level developers and a few juniors. One of our junior developers has been working with us for nearly a year now and he's a good team player; even though he lacks experience he tackles challenges head-on and has a positive can-do attitude. He is exceeding in all of his tasks and I have no doubt he has a bright future ahead of him.

However annual reviews are coming up and this is where everything is taken into account, not only in terms of performance but also the person’s goals for the future. In my last meeting with senior management they have told me that they intend to fire this junior developer. Knowing how well he is doing, I objected and defended him giving many examples of the contributions he has made. The only reason management gave me is that "we need someone more senior to perform tasks quicker" and that "money is not an issue, if we need to pay more for a senior we will". They have told me to break the news to the junior developer and give him his notice period beginning of next week.

I think they are making a mistake and that this developer should be kept. I really hate telling someone they are going to be let go as I have been on both sides of this before and it's not a good feeling. Is there something more I could do to ensure his future at this company?

UPDATE

I have told management that I am not happy doing this to the junior developer so someone from management will do it instead, they agreed it was not part of my role. Thanks for the responses, yes I will write him a recommendation and give glowing references as that is what he deserves he has done fantastic work during his time at the company and it's sad that he won't be with us anymore. As for the real reason why he's being let go I could be here all day speculating but long story short, it's unclear.

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    You started working there recently. How can you know that well about the possibilities and the progress curve of this junior? – Džuris Mar 28 '17 at 21:00
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    Have you tried pushing back on being the one doing the firing. SInce you object to the person being fired, then the person who made the choice to do so should have some courage and do it himself or herself. Have you said that you don't think you could do this properly since you don't agree with the decision? – HLGEM Mar 29 '17 at 17:25
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    1) Money is no issue... oh really? then hire another senior and keep the junior. 2) Why do you have to break the news if it's not your decision? Get them to do it. – Matt Mar 30 '17 at 1:57
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    @JavaGuru do you have many unrelated workplaces with unrelated problems? Or are you making this all up? – Džuris Mar 30 '17 at 14:09
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    I'm not sure why the user would be using one account for multiple people who work at different companies, which I find highly suspicious, but this is a clear violation of StackOverflow's terms and services: "Subscriber certifies to Stack Exchange that Subscriber is an individual..." – Stephan Branczyk Mar 30 '17 at 21:50
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Unfortunately, it's not your decision. You can either do it or they will find someone for your position who will.

Tell him and then write him a letter of recommendation and offer to speak on his behalf to anyone wanting to hire him.

You just need to make sure that you support management with your recommendation, if asked. You can talk him up about how wonderful he is but state that the decision was made, through no fault of his, that because of future projects coming up a senior developer was needed and there was no room for both. I'm largely referring to a phone reference though. A written reference can speak solely about his abilities and how wonderful he is.

You don't have to go any more involved than that. You simply no longer have room for a junior developer in that role and if you had an opening for a junior developer, of course you'd love to keep but unfortunately, his slot needs to be filled with someone more senior, even though as a junior he was doing a great job.

As I said, make sure that you outwardly support management. You do not want it to get out that you oppose the move that's being made. To the employee you can say "management has decided to ____" but I wouldn't say anything like "if it were up to me" because your job is to represent the company.

You're right. It sucks being on either side of that situation. What I would do as well is to put him in touch with any contacts you have or anyone you know who could use him. Help him however you can as long as you don't appear to oppose the company.

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    The problem with this approach is that he stated the person is being fired not laid off. If you say how good he is and he is being fired, you can get the company in trouble if he chooses to fight the matter. Make sure to talk to HR first about what you can and cannot say. – HLGEM Mar 28 '17 at 17:22
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    While he used the term "fired" what he is describing is a layoff. He's junior and they need a senior, going so far as to say that they'll pay more for one. One who "is exceeding in all of his tasks" is being laid off. And were it me, I wouldn't lie to someone and lead them to believe they were terminated for cause when they clearly weren't, just to save an unemployment claim. – Chris E Mar 28 '17 at 17:58
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    But depending on how they phrase it, it can be fired not laid off in a state which allows no reason given for firing. Since they said the word fire, he needs to be very careful about what he says. – HLGEM Mar 28 '17 at 19:23
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    @HLGEM OP used the word fired but I assume it's more likely that he doesn't know the distinction while his management used the correct term. But you're right that the terminology is important and the OP should check with HR or management to ensure that everyone involved knows the employee is being laid off, not fired. – Lilienthal Mar 28 '17 at 21:28
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    @RossRidge: Surely the position of junior developer has been eliminated and there is now a position for Senior Developer. They aren't the same job (as demonstrated by the fact they don't believe the employee can do the latter). You've probably got more cause for argument than if they removed a developer role and created a marketing role but I would imagine a lawyer would be able to argue that they are not the same position. – Chris Mar 29 '17 at 9:38
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Upon request to make it an answer...

It sounds like you've already gone to bat for this employee, but management wants him gone for their own reasons. And that really sucks, but you can help mitigate the negative impact of his firing.

If you've supervised his work directly, you can offer to supply him with a reference or letter or recommendation for future job applications. You can also offer to shop his resume around to local career contacts in the area, which could help him pick up on leads for unadvertised positions.

From your own post, it sounds like he's on the right path - even exceeding, which is a rare term for anyone to use when describing a junior. If you've already pitched all this to upper management and they still want him gone, pay it forward and help this guy get his next job.

For the actual breaking of the news, do it privately and do it before a lunch break so he has time to process it. Getting that news at the beginning of the day ruins the whole morning, and getting it at the end of the day ruins the night. There's no great way to deal with this situation, but if you offer him the resources you have at your disposal to help get him working again afterward, it'll go a long way.

Good luck. I don't envy your situation, nor his.

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    What about ruining lunch? – Radu Murzea Mar 29 '17 at 10:54
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    @RaduMurzea It's only an hour, and gives the employee some out-of-office time to vent instead of sitting morosely at their desk (or walking around flipping tables). – sleddog Mar 29 '17 at 14:37
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Hmmm....so instead of training an already known value (the jr. developer), the management wants to fire him, bring in someone new they don't know, hope that person 'fits' into the org/team, can understand the business quickly, and start contributing to the team. Also, if money is no object, makes one wonder why they don't just bring on another without firing him.

Honestly, it sounds like more is going on here than what you are being told. It could be personal (HR) type stuff that you don't know about; it might be personality and they don't like the guy. Regardless, the excuses given don't make much sense by themselves. I would get the jr. out....and possibly start looking yourself. I'm not sure I would want to work for a department getting rid of good workers who just need time to learn/grow professionally.

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    Agreed. Sounds like the real issue here is management failing to confront the simple action of training a bright willing worker in new skills, so instead they want to go the complicated route you describe. – Wildcard Mar 29 '17 at 2:15
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    You don't "train" someone to go from junior to senior. That takes 5-10 years of experience. You are severely underestimating the skillset of a senior software engineer. – Davor Mar 29 '17 at 5:37
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    @Davor as are they underestimating how easy it is to find a senior software engineer. Many companies are taking in juniors and training them, simply because supply doesn't meet the demand. – cbll Mar 29 '17 at 6:42
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    @cbll on my side (France) I saw it more because juniors cost less on the paper than having trouble to find seniors. – Walfrat Mar 29 '17 at 7:18
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    @Davor I work with a few 'Senior Engineers' who can't use Git and won't Google the documentation. The standard will vary between shops. – Gusdor Mar 29 '17 at 10:22
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The weird thing about this situation is not that they decide to fire him. Remember, there can be lots of reasons for firing someone, and they do not need to tell you the real reason. Let's just imagine he slept with the chairman's wife. (So the answer to the question "Is there something more I could do to ensure his future in this company?" is a clear NO)

What's weird is that they decide to fire him, dismiss your input, and still make you deliver the message. This isn't fair, so it sucks. But let's see the positive: You get a chance to frame the message and dampen the blow. You may also use your connections to ask if one of your former colleagues' companies can use a gifted junior.

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    Exactly this. I was in a similar situation once as the junior in this question. I worked at a place for 7 or 8 years when, out of the blue, someone in a position of authority several tiers above me wanted me gone for completely non-work related issues. My boss did not want to fire me; he told me that he had no choice but to do so, as he was informed by HR that he would be fired for insubordination if he did not fire me. Sucks, but he doesn't need to go down with me. Fortunately (or unfortunately, point-of-view depending), in my case what they were doing was completely illegal. @JavaGuru – Aaron Mar 29 '17 at 15:31
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    ... In my case, since what they were doing was illegal I called HR and notified the HR director about that. The guy who wanted me gone was pleasant to me for years, then suddenly when he found out my religious position he started calling me derogatory names even in front of my coworkers, and he demanded my firing after bad-mouthing me religiously for a week or two. I had lots of witnesses. HR director called their lawyer who ordered them to leave me alone unless they want to settle a huge lawsuit. I stayed for a while but the tensions were high, so I left eventually. – Aaron Mar 29 '17 at 15:35
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It looks like you won't be able to fix management, but you can help him fix his employment. As gently as you can, tell him that there is a re-organization coming, and unfortunately, you've been given the power to CONFIDENTIALITY tell him that he position will be eliminated through no fault of his own. This is the real truth to it if he's been performing his work as expected. Management may call it a 'firing', but with talk of paying for a senior level person, it's really more of a layoff.

As a tech lead, you probably have access to a network of recruiters or know other companies that are hiring. Take him out for a nice lunch, help him with his linkedin profile, write him a glowing recommendation, let him take time off for interviews . . . . .get him out the door with a new job in hand before he gets pushed out.

In interviews, coach him to say that while he likes his current company, there is, unfortunately, no room for growth in the next few years. it's true enough, right? You can assert when you serve as a reference that the company only has space for senior level developers, but as an entry-level/junior developer he's fantastic.

  • This is the best answer I've seen that directly answers "What can I do?" I think the "help him with LinkedIn" and "give him interview coaching" is a bit much, but still, this answer is far better than "Do nothing" and is even better than "Just write him a recommendation letter." Be a human, not a robot; tell him ASAP and give him slack for interviews if he can schedule any before he's gone. – Aaron Mar 29 '17 at 15:46
  • Paragraphs two and three are good, paragraph one is likely to land the supervisor in trouble if they are considering this a firing. This is bad advice. It is not a layoff unless senior management says its a layoff no matter what it sounds like to you . The rules are very different when someone is being fired about what you can and cannot say for legal reasons. – HLGEM Mar 29 '17 at 17:15
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    Clarify with HR whether or not this is a firing or a layoff and behave accordingly. Under no circumstances should you buck management unless you are on the verge yourself of leaving (and even then it's risky if you're not yet ready to leave voluntarily or otherwise). While it's okay for you to privately state your reservations to management, it's important that you make clear to them that you will respect and implement their decision and not undermine it with statements to others. – Ken Clement Mar 29 '17 at 21:59
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The discussion with management should have considered how long it will take to find, hire and get a sr dev to the point where they can contribute to production code compared to where you think the jr dev will be in that amount of time. They are banking on giving up any short term coding the junior can do for the ultimately more/better code a senior will do in the long run.

Based on this, they may have a valid point, so get ready to be the bearer of bad news. If you think this jr dev can get up to speed sooner than they do, you could be putting your reputation on the line as well as your job.

Do the junior a favor and get them out of this situation where they are bound to fail. Be a quality reference for him and help explain that things changed since his hiring and the company wants someone more senior. It's not realistic to think he'll gain 5 yrs of experience (I know that's all subjective) in the next year.

He'll probably be better off in the long run. Who hires junior people when you need more experience and money is not an issue? Someone made a mistake and should pay a few months of salary as severance. You risk developing a bad reputation if the company mismanages enough people.

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There's not much you can do to fix the situation. They've apparently ranked everyone by productivity, and your guy came up as most expendable. Management may not be able to increase headcount, which is the other approach, so someone's got to go.

Maybe you can give this guy a good recommendation, and also some pointers on how not to be in this situation again.

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At some point the company will be advertising for a replacement. Ask the fired one to apply for that position, if they still want to work for you.

They will probably not fill the qualifications listed in the advert, but there is a good chance you will not get any applicant who does.

So, the company can let your team be understaffed, or they could offer a junior position to one of the people who had the guts to apply for a job they knew they weren't qualified for. Guts is good.

If your bosses agree to this, you know just which candidate to suggest.

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    Yeah I'm sure management will want to hire a junior into a senior role. I'm also sure they'll want to effectively give a guy a massive promotion that they've just fired. I think this is terrible advice and will look bad on the OP and the junior. – TheLethalCompany Mar 29 '17 at 10:49
  • Rewritten in response to @TheLethalCoder's comment. – Stig Hemmer Mar 29 '17 at 19:24
  • Why would they not get an application by a senior software developer? – Peter Mar 31 '17 at 18:45

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