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Background:
I'm currently working as a technical consultant, I'm employed by a large consulting company but have been with the same client for just under 3 years.

Currently I'm working on a project which I honestly find to be incredibly exciting, the company I'm consulting with is one of the biggest companies in Australia and Myself, and my team, have essentially been given unlimited license, and an incredibly hefty budget, to try and restructure technical integration so that it's not awful. So lots of no-regrets green fields opportunity to essentially use the latest/greatest tools but at proper enterprise scale.

As far as I can tell this is a pretty good place to be.

My situation:
I'm by far the youngest person on my team with the least industry experience. I'm in my mid-low 20's, I only graduated from university 3 years ago and was immediately offered a job with my employer, spent 4 hours on site then was snatched away to the client I'm currently working with.

My current role is officially a 'technology lead' but my team is entirely made up of 'technology leads' so the only benchmark I can draw is how I'm treated. Currently (and for pretty much the entire duration of this current project) I've been the person who everyone double checks decisions with, who is pulled into the architectural working groups whenever I'm free, I'm leading 3/4 major streams of work that we are doing, that is to say that I'm by far at least being treated as the most competent person in 3/4s of the deliveries we are committing to.

Again, seems to be a pretty good situation, to the extent that I've worked 18 hour days and not even noticed because it's genuinely that exciting. (And I'm not the only person on my team who is so motivated), the only potentially worrying sign is that we have a crazy high rate of churn through the team, we've had a 120% churn in 7 months because people have either burned themselves out and scaled back their commitment to 0 or, for non-staff like myself, only two of us have been on the project since the start, the rest have been cycled off because they just weren't keeping up.

So what's the problem?
There are two issues which I'm completely at a loss for how to resolve them.

  1. Why does it feel almost fraudulent that I'm given so much authority to direct literally millions of dollars of funding/day and to set the technical run way for the next decade at least?

I've always been taught that he way people treat you is a mixture of social norms and how you behave yourself. I genuinely feel that if anyone else on my team had any idea how young I was they would immediately begin to question everything I asked them to do despite my track record being unblemished re: making ultimately the right decisions at any given time in this space. To provide some perspective, some of the junior developers were taking on to fill gaps are at least 10 years older than me and it just feels weird to be trying to give guidence to people who have been doing this sort of stuff for 4x longer than me.

  1. And this is the major selfish concern I have, how do I progress my career and professional development from this point?

Whenever I ask people more senior that me for feedback I can't seem to probe anything useful out of them, usually I get a response of "all good, just keep doing what you're doing" even when I've formally booked in time for feedback, and at best I'll get small (at least in my opinion) bits of feedback like "I've noticed you've been arriving late to lots of meetings? Perhaps work on that. Actually, no I remember now, I sent you as my delegate to X working group and your doing Y workshops with so maybe you just need to make your calendar more public?" Given that my calendar is public I don't actually see any benefit to this sort of advice.

I almost get the feeling that even if senior leaders had anything to provide re: feedback they might be hesitant because it would probably be related to high level management activities which they are intimate with and that's presumably not where I would currently be most valuable to them.

The only way I'm keeping myself technically sharp and staying ahead of hard skills is by doing very similar stuff in my own time as a hobby, but I feel that the difference between learning technical skills and developing an ability to create meaningful business results with those technical capabilities are two very very different things and it not exactly easy to try and help myself with the business results thing.

Any advice on how to overcome every now and then feeling vastly overwhelmed by the scale of my responsibilities compared to where people my age usually are, or on how to tackle the "get real feedback that actually helps me develop" problem would be much appreciated.

clarifications
I wasn't particularly clear about what my job actually is, technically I'm billed out as a 'senior management consultant' to a company that charges me internally as a 'technical team lead', to a project where I'm officiallly a business analyst for some reason.

In reality the role I'm on isn't a programming/developer role so much as it's an integration architecture role. The purpose of this project is to try and simplify integration with legacy systems and I'm stunned at how simple it needs to be for java/node devs to not complain about doing it, and conversely I'm regularly surprised by how incredibly unaware our backed teams are that the world has changed so, yes they will need to expose IMS endpoints to an entire subnet because we could have an interface sitting on any of hundreds of servers so they will need not implement security controls a little higher up the stack than firewall burns.

I'd say that my teams goal is more than just building a platform and writing some code. I had a 95% working prototype knocked up in 2 dad when we started this thing. Really what we are trying to do is convince a whole lot of 'new-wave latest tech' developers that there are technical constraints in the real world and sometimes you need to actually get on a whiteboard and do some design before you just start pulling node packages that you think will pretty much build this stuff fr you, and at the same time were trying to bring a lot of our legacy providers (internal and external) up to the point where we can have conversations with them where the are not going to dig their heals in because we need to bump tps by 5req/s because we know what they are running despite their attempts to obfuscate it and we know that they can handle the load.

This conveniently brings me to my second clarification about the "18 hour day" thing. Those weren't 18 hours grinding out code, they were 18 hours of workshops and meetings with the occasional break to go and build components to get us closer to building a universal integration platform to replace the current legacy ESBs (yes, that's a plural)

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For the sake of putting in the first answer,

  • Age issue

It's commonplace in software that you get "young people"; there's not a lot you can do about this.

It's common that you have a 20 yr old more expert in a certain niche than a 50 yr old; it's common that in a team you have a 20 yr old who (in short) makes more $ than the 50 yr old. For that matter in any of the everyday well-known cases of super-successful startups, you get teen owners hiring 50 yr old executives. There's just not much can be done about this; you might as well say "I'm a famous basketball player, it's awkward that some of the young guys make more than some of the old guys."

Really all you can do is use social skills to be polite.

Don't jar people the wrong way.

It's well worth not getting a "big head". When you start meeting software hotshots (i.e., guys much younger than you who drive Ferraris, have already started a hugely successful business, or invented and programmed the latest robot arm, idiotic app store megahit thumbcandy, or the like) ... how will you feel? You'll just get on with it.

  • how do I progress my career?

Here's three ideas,

  1. Get another job. Software years are dog years, three years is a long time. Generally the only way to advance (on all fronts - technically, money, position) is to move around between companies. It is true that there's a handful of organizations that you can stick with and move around in: however even in those case, you know the saying "it's the best place for your first and third job" - you know? Importantly too, note that starting at a new place is the only way to get away from that "I'm the young guy here" thing. After you change jobs a couple times, my guess is you won't even remember the issues you raise in this post.

  2. Do actually deliberately seek "management" oriented roles. Note that I only mean as a temporary measure. No programmer wants to mess about with gant charts and stuff. But think of it like ... having to do a humanities course in college :) I will hugely improve your career path.

  3. Stop working. Don't forget as Mr. Kiyosaki points out, "JOB" stands for "Just Over Breakeven". As a rule you'll never achieve anything in a job other than paying off a mortgage and paying for the kid's orthodontics. While you're young and can live on breadcrumbs, quit working for people and try your hand at your own product.

Next issue,

  • how to tackle the "get real feedback" issue

Two ideas,

  1. "Bosses are great!" You mention you've already "asked for advice". But wait. Have you really expressed to your Bosses, everything as clearly as you put it in this QA? Make a couple notes on an index card, get two minutes of your boss' time, and REALLY explain your situation. Discussion tip, always ask questions - what would you do boss, were you ever in this situation, have you had other staff like this, what should we do next etc. Bosses are great and will do a lot for you, but you have to really get in front of them.

  2. This might sound granola but I would actually go see a counsellor or therapist. (Naturally, btw, have your company pay for that.) The fact that you say "feeling vastly overwhelmed..." is a red flag. (I mean - you're only making software. What's the big deal?) Top sportspeople have a team of sports psychologists as well as physical specialists. Anyone who works with their mind - and software is the ultimate - commonly needs counseling. "feeling vastly overwhelmed..." is definitely a red flag - go do it, you'll love it.

One observation - you mention you've worked "18" hours in a day. Assuming that's not a typo for "8" ! ... that doesn't gel with you being a good programmer. No good programmer works more than 30, 35 hours a week, it's like songwriting or poetry, not ditch digging. (If, for some reason, I faced something that would take "1000 hours!" so, 50x 20 weeks, I'd just ... take a week or two to write some automation or something that erased the issue. That's software.) On many crack teams anyone who works a long day is just let go, because their head is in the wrong place for software. Software is the prime example of where "sheer laziness and brilliance must overcome Work" :)

Summary!

  • "feeling vastly overwhelmed..." is definitely a red flag. A young guy like you should be happy as Larry. It sounds granola and may be surprising to you but go see a counsellor or therapist on Monday. You will never regret it.

  • change jobs. This has a wealth of benefits. (Money, challenge, technical broadening, social-skills enlargement, eliminating the "senior but not officially senior" problem at a stroke.)

  • stop working. If you're a genuinely good programmer there's no reason you can't, well, make millions with your own business. Politely explain to your current company that you're going to try your hand at your own thing for 6 months and go do that. You'll instantly get another job if you fail so there's simply zero downside. You need zero investment in software businesses so there's zero barrier to you doing this.

  • quit the bizarre long hours routine, that's totally whacky. Draw a line under it as something embarrassing you did "when you were a kid". Like listening to Justin Bieber! (Or your JB analog down under.)

  • simply, "bosses are great" be even clearer and more, well, clear to your bosses about you concerns - exactly as you do in your post above. You'll be amazed what they'll do for you if you "bring" the concerns.

  • Well I think I know what I'm doing first thing on Monday, I'll be drafting up an email to some of the senior leaders to very clearly set out what I actually want from feedback and booking in some time. I'd assume that if they can't provide the feedback then they are the wrong people to be talking to. I've also updated my answer with some clarifications about what I'm actually working on, I'm not sure if it would change your advice but there really is a distinction between cutting code and evangelising for change in complex environments. – user71883 Jun 24 '17 at 17:04
  • I'm also thinking some steps back into management style work (where I actually started out with this client) could be an interesting approach to take and might have a crack at leaning into some of that too. – user71883 Jun 24 '17 at 17:05
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    "I'll be drafting up an email..." it sounds wise to me. My only thought would be, really email is so 90s, just go talk to them. There's a lot to be said for it. But sure, whatever approach works. Definitely "tell 'em what you said on here". – Fattie Jun 24 '17 at 18:45
  • The email is really just to make sure that I have outcomes that I'm trying to get written down. That way when I go an have that conversation, at the end of it I can go back to what I said was looking for and make sure we've hit at least some of my concerns without getting deflected. – user71883 Jun 25 '17 at 5:29
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It's great that you've developed skills and responsibility so quickly.

However, you are unlikely to get good feedback from your management in this position, because any real coaching you get would quickly lead you to the conclusion that you are being exploited. The team's being worked 18-hour days with people not meeting that goal burning out or being let go? Believe me, they know you're young, by sheer virtue of the fact that you're still doing it. "Keep it up" is all they're going to say. And hiring young people, working them like this till they burn out is standard large consulting company SOP - there will always be fresh crops of graduates to use up. You do get to learn quickly and see a variety of other companies as a result (though you seem to be stuck on one, and may want to look for other assignments to grow your breadth of experience).

Where you'll get more valuable coaching is from all those folks with more experience. They don't have your neat new technical skills, but they have knowedge of the industry and of life (both within and without that company). That's what you should probably be tapping into.

You could also get coaching from friends in the same industry, but with 18 hour days I'm assuming you don't have many of these. I have friends here in town that I worked with 10+ years ago but we form a support network and consult with each other frequently on both technical and interpersonal work matters.

But in the long term, listen to what @fattie is also telling you. Change jobs, 3 years is a long respectable first-job term, you'll learn more by getting more experiences. Also, don't burn your time on work for "the man." If you have that much energy, do something that's really going to build you up - a startup, or heck a 10-hour side job where you make more money and boost your own personal brand for the long term. Or use it as skill development time, or seek out other hardcore techies and tech meet ups or whatnot to get that higher level mentoring. But churn-and-burn big consulting firm jobs are to get that initial burst of experience and build a network, and if you're starting to hit the limit on that skill wise and not focusing on the network building, it's a natural part of a career to move on. Their model isn't going to change; it's really profitable for them to burn new grads as brightly as they can until they burn out and then get new ones.

Unless you want to push towards a management position and be in their seat; that's certainly a way to move up but focusing on your tech skills isn't the way to get there. You should decide if you want to continue being a technologist, in which case you probably want to move on, or if you want the job of the people who are currently your handlers, in which case you should find one outside your direct line of management (so they don't have as direct of an interest in you staying in your place), ask them for mentoring on how to move up in the firm. If you're lucky, it won't be "Mr. Robot" one-percenter style BS, but to each their own.

  • I can only agree with everything said here. – Fattie Jun 24 '17 at 14:34
  • I would have to disagree (or I may have misunderstood) with your point about getting advice from other technical people, ie peers. The number of times I've needed to explain to '16 year experience *nix admin's that no, AIX and Linux are not the same thing or just basic information that I would think would be entry criteria to any job related to IT is utterly staggering. That being said I do absolutely take your point about getting mentoring about things that aren't directly related to technical skills. – user71883 Jun 24 '17 at 17:12
  • I think mx's point was simply that, believe me, you will meet people who are more technically competent. Maybe you're just had a bit of bad luck, you'll soon encounter technical leaders. – Fattie Jun 24 '17 at 18:47
  • Yeah, not everybody knows more than you - but surely someone does. You seem to be saying "no technical peers will have anything technical to teach me." If you believe that's true, you have some other problems worth exploring. – mxyzplk Jun 24 '17 at 19:05
  • Sorry, I wasn't entirely clear, my point was that based on my current role, technical ability is far easier to obtain by reading some doco or reading through the code (when available) and given that large enterprise environments tend to value hard technical expertise a lot less than they value someone who can close support tickets quickly I suspect advice on that front, where I am now, might be limited. I have no doubt that there are plenty of people, even within the organisation, who know more than me about everything, but they are either far to jaded to care or in hiding somewhere. – user71883 Jun 25 '17 at 5:36

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