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I work in a small development group with 3 developers. We are loosely managed and have no structure to the team. There is no designated team leader and the manager is fairly hands off. The Senior developer has been with the company for 4 years, in that time he has had a huge hand in setting up systems and keeping them running. He is not a very good developer but is a great cowboy coder and understands the network in a way I never could. He has taken the role of "lead developer" and "systems architect" because he has seniority and feels he is better at his job than the rest of us.

My problem is that he threatens to quit all the time. Yesterday he informed me that in 6 weeks he will move up another level in the 401k vesting program and is planning to leave after that. When I asked him why, he said that it is because our manager (a man) and the team (the team being me) are “demasculating” him. He feels that he "deserves" to have been made the development manager based on his seniority. He doesn't like me because I keep pushing for things like bug/issue tracking software and because I am good at my job.

Last time he threatened to quit I took him seriously and started to plan my work around him leaving. Then he changed his mind and told me that the work I was doing was his responsibility. He lost his temper with me and tensions ran really high for a while.

Here are some of the different ways I have approached the situation:

  1. Just do what he asks: This lowers tensions but then nothing gets done and the users get upset.
  2. Take control and get stuff done: This keeps the users happy but then he gets angry at me and shuts down, he won't talk to me or work with me to get the things done that only he knows about. He won't give me access to the systems I need to get into to do it myself.
  3. Work more closely with higher management: He has no respect for higher management and they don't want him to leave the company so they coddle him.

One option I haven’t moved forward with yet is to leave the company: I haven't been there a year yet and don't like the idea of leaving. Overall the job meets most of my requirements in a position.

Ideas? Suggestions? Conversations? Options I haven’t considered?

Update 5/11/2012:
I finally decided to leave. It was a good decision. Between the original post and now he got better but still was not what I consider to be a good developer, much less good management material. I respect him for his knowledge but am glad I don't need to work with him any more.

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closed as off topic by Justin Cave, Jim G., gnat, Mark Trapp, ChrisF May 11 '12 at 22:16

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Two things: 1) You should clear this question to make it general, instead of just referring to your particular case. Not only it just reads like a rant and not a question but may be a reason for someone to close the question as "too localized". 2) He doesn't like me because I keep pushing for things like bug/issue tracking software and because I am good at my job Did he say this to you or this just what you believe? –  Vitor Jul 6 '11 at 19:03
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@Vitor Braga 1) When I get a bit of extra time I will try to generalize this and remove the ranting. I just re-read it and you are correct that I was ranting. I do feel that even through the rant my situation is common enough to warrant answers. –  Amy Patterson Jul 6 '11 at 20:55
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@Vitor Braga 2) Yes he has said these things to me. I sat down with my manager and repeated them to him indicating that I would not stand for someone talking to me like that and things improved for a while but are now going downhill again. –  Amy Patterson Jul 6 '11 at 20:55
    
Even if the rant is common enough to warrant answers (I agree, that's why I commented instead of just flagging) it's better to clean it up :) I'm appalled by the lack of appropriate response from your manager. Can't you escalate the issue to upper management? Best of luck :) –  Vitor Jul 6 '11 at 21:01
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I've learned a couple of things in the 17 years I've been programming. One I learned in my freshman year in college. A professor said, "fire the indispensable programmer". Most people were confused, so he explained it and it stuck with me ever since. The other was a coworker who saw me despondent over a former bosshole. She said, "This, too, shall pass." Small words with great meaning. Hold your head up and you'll prevail. –  Jesse C. Slicer Jul 7 '11 at 13:33

11 Answers 11

up vote 58 down vote accepted

Management won't change anything if they don't feel any pain.

If you allow management to be hands off (by fixing things and being successful) then you will be expected to continue fixing things and being successful.

After all -- from management's view -- things are fine. Stuff is getting done. You may feel stressed, but that's not what's important. What's important is that stuff is getting done.

If you want change, you have to change. You have to make your co-worker into your manager's problem, not your problem.

You need to make it your manager's problem when your co-worker makes demands and "nothing gets done and the users get upset".

You need to make it your manager's problem when "he won't talk to me or work with me to get the things done that only he knows about. He won't give me access to the systems I need".

Until someone else feels the pain, nothing can possibly change.

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I think this is a good start, but details on how to make this coworker the managers' problem would be good. E.g., I think these tips might apply: "CC management on emails to make issues visible." "Be polite and friendly to the troublesome coworker, while communicating clearly the affects of his actions on end users to him and to management." –  Ethel Evans Jul 6 '11 at 19:34
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@Ethel Evans: It requires insight into the organization to know how to make one person's bad behavior into another person's pain. An email "CC:" isn't going to do it. The manager needs to directly experience total work stoppage on a frequent basis. This isn't a time to merely inform -- this is a time to escalate the pain by making the uncooperative co-worker the absolute center of management attention. It's more of a "Blocked by co-worker; deadline passed; unable to proceed; you must intervene now" email. –  S.Lott Jul 6 '11 at 19:53
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+1, Management don't solve things that are not problems. Obviously the specifics of the implementation need to tailored by a more nuanced understanding of the work environment than we can ever get on the internet. Letting something fail can backfire unless it is done very, very carefully. –  Jeremy Jul 6 '11 at 20:44
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If you are on a project and have to stop because of 'things only he has access to', your manager needs to know. The manager needs to take away the obstacles you don't have the power and time to handle on your own. –  JeffO Jul 7 '11 at 1:13
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@Steve Jackson: Only management can fix this. It's either management understands and fixes it or you leave. There's no third choice. If @Amy continues to clean up the mess and cope with the problems, nothing will change. Things already are in "fall apart" mode (if that's what you want to call it). Only @Amy seems to know or care. Until management knows (and cares) nothing can ever change. "Complain to management" may be too weak. "Make management feel the pain" is essential. Complaining may share the pain. It usually doesn't. –  S.Lott Jul 7 '11 at 20:25
  • Report your co-worker to your manager.
  • Report your co-worker to your manager's manager.
  • Failing any of the above, leave the company. There is no sense in working with a disruptive person if the company doesn't seem to care about it.
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This is typically the best course of advice. If you bring this kind of behavior to management and they do nothing, it means they don't care or think you're a liar. It's best to leave in that case. I had this happen once; a (male) manager was harassing a (female) co-worker, and we both brought it to management. They instead fired me for telling my co-worker to consult a lawyer after management did nothing. –  Wayne M Jul 7 '11 at 13:29
    
@Wayne M: I hope you sued them for wrongful termination. –  Bernard Jul 7 '11 at 13:34
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No, at the time I didn't know I could (and I live in a right-to-work state so not sure I could have), and my family told me I should have just kept my mouth shut. They cited the fact that the manager would yell at my co-worker if she went to lunch with a male co-worker (of relevance is the fact the manager was Muslim so that was seen as taboo to him), so I was trying to get a female co-worker to go to lunch with me to see if he would say anything to me (idea being if he didn't, he was singling her out for being female). This was about 6 years ago, now. –  Wayne M Jul 7 '11 at 13:41
    
@Wayne M: It's better that you didn't keep quiet and that you now no longer work there. In Canada, that company would be in big trouble. –  Bernard Jul 7 '11 at 13:51
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@wayne - I am assuming they did not state that the reason you were let go was for telling you co-worker to consult an attorney. And that is the catch. Employers want people who will do their jobs and not cause them problems. The harrassment was not right. While its illegal to fire you for filing a complaint. They can fire you for showing up 1 min late, or not being as productive as they require... Or they can simply not give you a promotion, good raise, approve your vacation request. Proving causation on these is difficult and even if you win you do not get rich your lawyer does. –  Chad Jul 7 '11 at 20:36

Call his bluff, or fire him. This sort of behavior undermines the entire team and management structure.

Oh wait, you're not in charge? Hmmm... ignore him, ask for a transfer away from him, or move on.

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That would be nice except that there isn't anywhere to transfer to except out of the company, which is an option I am considering. Others have transferred out of the department in the past and changed careers in the process. –  Amy Patterson Jul 6 '11 at 20:42

I am just going to address 2:

2.Take control and get stuff done: This keeps the users happy but then he gets angry at me and shuts down, he won't talk to me or work with me to get the things done that only he knows about. He won't give me access to the systems I need to get into to do it myself.

When you are assigned a task, ask your manager to grant you access to the systems you need. If you ask him to let him know he needs to do that there is a good chance that your manager will understand. Do your best to make the situation work. Instead of looking for a path of least resistance go out of your way to provide your coworker with the least opportunities to resist you. And try to do it with the least amount of stress on your manager.

Right now you are where your coworker directs his frustrations. You can take yourself out of his way and he will have to adapt but your life should be easier. Your manager will probably most appreciate this track.

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Just to note when I wrote this I did not look at your username and did not make the connection that the poster was female. My advice remains the same however. –  Chad Jul 7 '11 at 12:49

Next time he threatens to leave, ask your manager if you should start a knowledge transfer so you can get familiar with the parts of the system only he knows about.

If he's bluffing, your manager won't have any idea what you're talking about and you can inform them that he told you he was leaving in x weeks, then let him/her deal with it.

If he's not bluffing, your manager will set out the tasks of what you should do so that if he changes his mind, you won't have looked like you wasted time doing unnecessary preparations as you were only doing what management told you to do.

In either case, it will show that you're on top of things and willing to pitch in the extra effort if the company needs it.

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Good point. I have not told my manager about this latest threat yet. –  Amy Patterson Jul 6 '11 at 20:43

Umm, very surprised no one has said this so far, but if he literally said working with you "demasculates" him, then you probably have grounds to sue him for gender discrimination. Do not let him get away with this - at the very least, report stuff like this to your managers; they may be hands off, but if they don't do something about it quickly, you have grounds to sue them as well. I'm generally not a fan of "sue-happy" culture, but it is pretty clear that this person is discriminating, at least from your description.

That said, I agree with @Tyanna's assessment. I've found that by volunteering myself for troublesome people has basically put me in a position to replace them, and has really helped advance my career.

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This is definately an option... But the truth of the matter is you do not get ahead by filing these types of claims. I agree that this is definately a case that should fall in there, but while they can not take into account any claims you have filed, there are plenty of subjective things that can go against you instead of for you. Its not fair but it is life. If you like the company you work for and want to have a carreer there this should be a very last resort. Give your chain of command every oppotunity to deal with this. –  Chad Jul 6 '11 at 20:04
    
@Chad - companies do not want to make it public that someone filed a sexual harrasment claim. They'll get rid of him before it gets anywhere near the public. Put his ass on record. –  JeffO Jul 7 '11 at 1:15
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Please please Amy don't take this lightly. This is a cut and dry gender discrimination case. You don't deserve to be treated this way from a coworker. –  maple_shaft Jul 7 '11 at 1:20
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Is this for real? Some of you folks need to look up "discrimination" in the dictionary. –  Aaronaught Jul 7 '11 at 1:59
    
@WolfgangSenff I just want to clarify a tad bit. When he said he was being "demasculated" he specifically indicated that it was by our manager who is a man, and secondarily said by "our team" meaning me since he gets along really well with the other developer. He did include me in the comment but didn't single me out with it. Now having said that there have been other instances where he did make comments that I then reported to my manager who then actually called him in and addressed the issue. Thanks for the advice, but I will pass on it. :) –  Amy Patterson Jul 7 '11 at 3:28

When I was young I once heard someone say "You can't make your stick longer by trying to make someone else's shorter". In life, I've come to realize that frequently when I try to bring the focus colleague's failures, I've gotten bitten back.

That said, I have found that best way to highlight the failures of others is to focus on making myself shine so much that management can't help but notice that I'm playing my A game while others aren't.

Like others have suggested, when presented with a roadblock from this other developer, I would take the matter to my supervisor and ask them for the necessary support/resources to accomplish the task at hand. If my supervisor recommended me back to the developer in question, I would make certain that everything was done via email and that my supervisor was included in all emails.

When dealing with your own successes make certain that you're reporting what you're getting done directly to your supervisor. Make certain to highlight the problems you encountered and how you were able to resolve them. Everyone loves someone who tells you about a problem after they've already solved it.

Once your supervisor realizes that you are a rockstar, then you can push your agenda for improvements directly through your supervisor.

If the problem developer makes any claims that would affect your ability to do your job, meet deadlines, etc. then just take the situation to your supervisor in the form of a question with your proposal of how to deal with it. If they threaten to quit, present a plan for making the hand-off as smooth as possible.

I can't stress enough that people always want problem-solvers. And when dealing with things that are inherently negative, always look for a way to present the issue in a positive light.

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+1 for getting bitten back when pointing out others failures. –  maple_shaft Jul 7 '11 at 1:18
    
But the stick quote fails when you consider the possibility of attaching the parts removed from the other person's stick to your stick. Or is that considered undefined behavior? –  JAB Jul 8 '11 at 16:27
    
@JAB - Geez! In this case I'll have to go with "its an operation that is out of bounds" –  Noah Goodrich Jul 13 '11 at 21:54

Yesterday he informed me that in 6 weeks he will move up another level in the 401k vesting program and is planning to leave after that. When I asked him why, he said that it is because our manager and the team (the team being me) are “demasculating” him. He feels that he "deserves" to have been made the development manager based on his seniority.

Step 1:

Start a diary/journal that you take home every night. Write down every time this guy blows up, every time he threatens to quit, every time you feel like a used dish towel.

Step 2:

Every time he threatens to leave, follow Tyanna's recommendation to send an email to your boss about transitioning his work. This will either let the managers know that this guy is flaky, or he'll stop complaining to you about leaving. Either way is a win for you.

What I think is happening: this guy feels threatened by you. You're female (based on your user name), and you're probably younger. He thinks he should be in charge because he's a man and women can't be the boss. You can't change a bigot's mind.

His remark about the 401k vesting sounds very suspicious to me. Most 401k plans have the company match vest immediately, or after a certain period of time. I've not come across a plan where unvested company matches automatically vest when you reach a certain anniversary.

Just do what he asks: This lowers tensions but then nothing gets done and the users get upset.

No. This trains him (in the pavlovian sense) into getting what he wants by blowing up. This isn't kindergarten, it is an office. If he can't be professional, then he needs to be gone. Unless you enjoy having WELCOME tattooed on your forehead while you're getting him coffee and sandwiches.

Work more closely with higher management: He has no respect for higher management and they don't want him to leave the company so they coddle him.

I think this is the bottom line. I recommend you read the book Corporate Confidential. It sounds to me like office politics may get very ugly. While I agree with the book that a sexual harassment case will end your career at that office, your journal will be effective ammunition to negotiate a beneficial settlement. Depending on how much they want to coddle this guy, it may come down to "him or me" (reading between the lines of what you wrote, I think he's going to be pushing that) and you want to make it as expensive as possible for them to choose "him". I recommended a number of books on office politics in another thread.

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Thanks for the links for the books, I already have a few of them but saw some others that I want to take a look at. –  Amy Patterson Jul 7 '11 at 3:29

This guy sounds like a misogynistic control freak. I bet he enjoys micro managing every little detail and probably every little detail of what you do.

  • He doesn't trust you.

  • He looks down on you for being a woman

  • He feels threatened by you because you are a better developer than he is and because you are a woman.

  • He probably talks and acts differently to other male members of the team than yourself.

My advice to you is to talk with a lawyer and explain this to him. Get advice on how you should proceed and what your options are.

Please consider this, you are the target of gender discrimination at the workplace.

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And you've determined all of this based on what exactly - one solitary word quoted in the question? This elevates PC to new and ridiculous heights. –  Aaronaught Jul 7 '11 at 2:39

I'm surprised you've lasted this long.

This relationship is unsustainable. What I would do (and have done) is simply tell management, regardless of how you feel about him as a person, working with him cannot continue. There's no need to go into the he-said she-said silliness. Tell them you will leave if the team cannot be rearranged.

And mean it, even though it's scary. You aren't the first person to notice his character.

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The poster lasted this long because she is a professional. As a professional you have to work through difficult situations all the time. If you cut and run everytime it gets difficult you will soon find that you have to run further each time to get away from other things you have already run away from. –  Chad Jul 7 '11 at 12:55
    
@Chad: I know what you mean, though once in a great while it's just obvious - this is not working, and it's not going to work. In 50 years programming, it's happened to me once. –  Mike Dunlavey Jul 7 '11 at 13:12
    
I agree with the unsustainable assessment. It's not reasonable, if nothing changes, to continue on this way. Definitely make an effort to see through the changes. However, like any relationship, if something doesn't change after repeated attempts, and that something is extremely important to you, then you have two choices: leave, having learned from the situation, or stay knowing that, based on past behavior, nothing will change. –  jefflunt Jul 7 '11 at 13:24

Teams that work well accomplish more than the sum of the individuals, and teams that fight accomplish the opposite.

I would also say, this person is just being immature. I wouldn't put up with it. However, "not putting up with it" means a lot more than putting the problem on someone else's shoulders entirely. If you want to be part of a team that works well, in conflict resolution situations such as this, you have to work as a team (with management). If the person who supposedly wants to be a manager doesn't even work well with others, then they need to grow up, professionally. It's not hard to learn technical stuff if you're dedicated, so when I've had team members who spent their time being jerks to their team, rather than contributing or leading, I (as a manager) spoke to them and made it clear specifically what I needed to see change. If they didn't change, they were gone over time.

As far as what you should do, I would recommend that if upper management doesn't know about this yet, then make them aware: that's definitely step one. It sounds like you've tried various approaches to working around the issue, and that's great; it shows that you're not running for help immediately, but instead trying to do what seems reasonable among the choices in front of you.

You can absolutely take the advice that others have offered, i.e. take charge of the situation and assert yourself. In my experience, if a place is "hands-off" in terms of management that can be a good thing until problems like this arise. They may just let it fester until it works itself out (you quit, this team member of yours quits, etc.). The caution I would give to moving up the chain by climbing over people is that, while it will absolutely move you up in your career, the downside is that climbing over people becomes the cultural norm pretty quickly, and pretty soon the only way to solve any problem, no matter how minor, is to stab other people in the back. It can turn into a petty workplace while management continues to justify their lack of involvement in conflict resolution as some sick "survival of the fittest" world.

I'm a fan of hands-off management. I enjoy being trusted to do my job. On the other hand, when there is a problem, I do expect (a) that team members will be professional first, and (b) that management will step in and take an active role in helping, rather than sitting on the side lines in a fight to the death.

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