I am a senior engineer working in IP management for a large telecom company. I've been in my current position for five years. My last promotion to the senior title was 4 years ago in 2013.

I have a unique skill set in that I can write computer code. I am the only person in my group and one of 3 in a department of 70 people who can code. I know several languages and two flavors of SQL. I also have extensive experience with Linux and Unix, which is also uncommon in my group or position.

As my company has moved more towards automated procedures, my group has been given more and more automation/coding tasks, the latest of which is an enterprise-level automated process that is supposed to keep the company in regulatory compliance with an outside agency. It's a big deal.

The work is complex and challenging. This is by far the most overwhelming project I have ever undertaken. Regardless, in the last 4 months I have managed to suss out all of the inter-departmental complexities, figure out what data I needed to complete the task, interfaced with the people needed to provide that information, and designed and developed a working prototype. I have no assistance on my team or in my department.

I recently asked my boss for a promotion to a "level C" engineer which is an engineer who works with little direction at a managerial level. I based my request on the level of work I'm doing on the current project, for which I have had no direction from management. I have developed the project from scratch.

When I asked my boss last week about the promotion, he informed me that he didn't think that my work was "Level C" quality and that he would not be pursuing a promotion. He didn't give me any feedback on why he thought this, just that my work wasn't "Level C" quality.

The problem is, he has no idea what level of work this project has required and no idea of the breadth of knowledge necessary to achieve a working prototype in such a short time. There are some complex software issues coming up (queuing, potential race conditions, etc.) that will have to be resolved before the project can go live. I don't have any first hand coding experience in these issues (I'm familiar enough with the theory, but that's it) so it would take a tremendous amount of research and work to get the queuing and race conditions resolved. When I talk about this stuff, or anything else that's technical or complicated, he blows me off with "just figure it out."

The issue I'm having is that as a senior engineer I am not getting paid to write complex software from inception to live. My boss doesn't believe me when I tell him that this stuff is hard and we have more issues looming on the horizon that will be even more difficult. He also apparently doesn't appreciate that my work is above and beyond senior engineer and definitely is at "Level C". I don't want to kill myself learning all this new stuff for months on end if it's not going to result in some kind of recognition.

What should I do? If I pull myself from this project, it's dead in the water. But if I don't have the personal bandwidth or professional support to master these complex issues, it's dead in the water anyway, because I'm the only person working on it.

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    Explain it to your boss. If your boss doesnt listen, explain it to your boss's boss. If he doesnt listen, find a new boss. – Trotski94 Apr 26 '17 at 13:06
  • That's an interesting question, but you should try to summarize it more to get to the point. – sh5164 Apr 26 '17 at 13:11
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    "If I pull myself from this project, it's dead in the water. " That says it all right there. Start looking for a new company that isn't stupid enough to not take care of one of their best assets. – PrometheanVigil Apr 26 '17 at 13:30
  • What are you wanting to accomplish? How to address your manager to get to the Clevel? – IDrinkandIKnowThings Apr 26 '17 at 15:31

When I asked my boss last week about the promotion, he informed me that he didn't think that my work was "Level C" quality and that he would not be pursuing a promotion. He didn't give me any feedback on why he thought this, just that my work wasn't "Level C" quality.

...then ask for that feedback!

Hey boss, I'd really like to push myself to the level where I'm capable of writing code of level C quality soon - what do I need to do to get there?

His reaction / answer to this should tell you whether he has an idea of what you need to do before he can promote you, or whether he just isn't interested whatever you produce, and is therefore brushing you off.

In the first case, great! Work on that, then re-approach him when you think you've reached the goal. If it's the second case, then unfortunately this may be a case where you have to leave and move elsewhere to reach your earning potential (which is a common thing to have to do.)

  • Thanks for the advice. I honestly think that the answer would be that "I'm just not qualified." – lisac77 Apr 26 '17 at 15:38
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    @lisac77 You can always continue that line of questioning until he gives you a concrete answer (or gives up) though - my answer to that would be "Ok, how would I become qualified?" – berry120 Apr 26 '17 at 15:59

It is generally easier to get promoted by moving jobs rather than internal promotions. In this case your boss is not valuing you and has said as much.

Your problem is that while you're learning a bunch of stuff, you're just learning it, you're not getting formal qualifications that you can add to a CV nor are you able to say you have x amount of years experience in it. So realistically you're not at a high level. You're just at a higher level than the people around you.

I had a job where they hired a guy who was previously head of engineering at a firm. We hired him as a senior engineer, but his skills turned out to be only high for his former company and he was not anywhere near the level of the other senior engineers and he had ego issues due to his last job. So he was demoted and eventually when he didn't like it, put on a PIP and let go.

So if you're going to look for other employment, bear in mind the quality of external competition.

If you want to stay but want promotion then you need to prove to your boss that it's justified, certifications is one way, successful projects another. Your boss is not taking you seriously and if you think they can't replace you on the project you do have leverage you can use. You have already taken steps in that direction, so you would need to try harder. Perhaps just tell him you can't do a certain project because you're not familiar with that field of expertise. It will at least make him take notice.

  • I agree that "just learning things" doesn't equate to certifications but producing a working prototype of the software that involves the things done absolutely does equate to having experience (albeit limited) with the things that are learned. Thank you for the feedback. – lisac77 Apr 26 '17 at 15:37
  • I came to the industry late in life and bypassed everyone I've worked with because I invested in certification. It's a good investment. – Kilisi Apr 26 '17 at 15:40
  • @Kilisi out of interest, was that an academic certification or a professional one? – user29055 May 2 '17 at 16:05
  • @Midas professional ones – Kilisi May 2 '17 at 16:09

A couple of possibilities present themselves. Note that I'm not going to go for the obvious "just leave and find a new job where they appreciate you." Firstly, doing so is at best a lateral move when you stand to gain a significant promotion at your current job. Secondly, I'm not hearing any general malcontent to suggest that you actually want to leave. Finally, "just quit" is the sort of thing that's easy to say online when you're not the one quitting; it's not always so easy to do IRL. Easier said than done and all that.

First Option: Go over your current boss's head.

Talk to your boss's boss about the problem. Explain that this is hard work and go into as much detail as you can. Explain that your current boss doesn't seem to understand the technical complexities or appreciate how much work is really required, not does he seem interested in listening when you try to explain it. This might get you the promotion you're gunning for, but it will also probably make your current boss hate you, so consider the potential fallout in terms of office politics before you act.

Second Option: Prepare a detailed presentation.

Probably the safer approach of the two, but it also requires a lot of additional work when you're already pretty loaded, and there's no guarantee it will amount to anything.

Basically, prepare a nice, big Power Point presentation that lays out everything you need to do to make this project work. Use pretty pictures and diagrams as much as you can. Try to emphasize costs required and conduct risk analysis wherever you can. Lay it all out in all its technical glory, but also try to include a bold slogan on each page (or every other page) that emphasizes things your boss will more likely understand, like the bottom line.

When this monstrosity of a presentation is ready, set up a meeting to present it. Invite your boss, as well as HIS boss, and anyone else who you think might be interested/involved even just tangentially. Someone from finance, for example, might be interested in how much this will all cost. I don't know if this is appropriate for your workplace culture, but you could also send out a general invitation by email to the whole office, inviting "anyone interested in Big Project X" to come learn what it's all about.

This should help to emphasize how much work is REALLY involved, as well as the impact of its success (or failure,) in less technical terms, for the company and THAT should help your boss understand why you need this promotion.

(Note: don't actually mention the promotion in the presentation, but try to suggest that you'll need more authority than you currently have to pull this all off, and that you're ready and willing to take on that challenge.)

  • @DVer: Care to explain? I think these are perfectly valid approaches to the OP's problem. If there's some inappropriate here, please let me know. – Steve-O Apr 26 '17 at 13:30
  • I haven't downvoted, but also bear in mind that not everyone really has the authority to just set up a presentation like this and invite people from a variety of departments. Chances are the boss' approval would be required, and if he doesn't think it's required (sounds like he doesn't from the question) he'd probably just say no. – berry120 Apr 26 '17 at 14:14
  • Granted that's a possibility, but it's down to the specifics of his workplace culture. Keeping in mind that at least part of the purpose of encouraging multiple answers on these sites is that other people in similar situations might find stuff helpful even if the OP doesn't, I think it's still worthy, though. The OP will have to make his own value judgements about whether or not it's worth trying, but in theory at least, it's a good approach. – Steve-O Apr 26 '17 at 14:54
  • @Steve-O Unfortunately I agree with berry120 that I don't have the authority required to do this. It's unfortunate because overall I think this is a good idea. – lisac77 Apr 26 '17 at 15:40
  • @Steve-O I wouldn't say it's not worth including as an answer, far from it - I'd just personally make it clear that it might not be an option available to all, and you may want to check you have authority before going ahead with the idea. – berry120 Apr 26 '17 at 15:58


Your boss will have to sell this promotion up the chain, so he'll need a solid case to do that -- and that means you'll need to meet the expectations of not only your boss, but those above him.

Therefore, ask your boss what the requirements are to reach a Level C position.

You may find that you need a multiple successful programming projects in which the boss can showcase your unique talents. By being able to map your accomplishments to business value he will have an easier time selling the idea of you being promoted.

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