I am a SDE II and joined my new team few months ago.
Recently my manager is leading me on a project he describes as exciting and transformative, and we started with a Spike, which means details to implement are planning in progress. It has been very challenging for me throughout this process because the approach for next steps is always changing and it looks like we frequently went out of sync. I pushed a major PR yesterday after over a month of work, and we had another 1:1 to discuss next steps, in which I have to say there are many frustrating moments after my manager explained his plan and I still want him to clarify more. "It's something small and straightforward. You know I can do this very quick, but you need to learn"(I know it could be but I have to have good understanding before I can start). "Then what's you solution?"(I don't know what the problem is, how am I going to have solution?" "I can't show you everything" (I am not asking for everything, but there should be better way to explain this) Sometimes there was long pause and dead silence, and I can feel he's getting disappointed and annoyed.
I think there are expectation issues going on between us. I feel like in our conversations, the gap between what's required to understand him now and next is always too big, there is lots of info thrown at me at once, even though some of them are not even close to work on, which overwhelmed me a lot. But he thinks I should be capable of handling all it takes to fill in the gaps of understanding, when his explanation is very high level.
I was confident that I did ask for clarification when I need to (I asked for help when I have to as it's too confusing to work on), but my manager's reaction make me feel I am not up to bar and I should find my own way to resolve my questions. For now, I will just go through the notes over and over again and hopefully come up with something. But how should we work together going forward? I feel like our trust is in danger.
Hmm, this is a tricky situation. I would agree with your assessment that the "trust" between you and your manager is "in danger". You offer some really good details here, and this feels like a combination of two separate issues:
Please leave comments for additional details if this isn't the correct assessment.
First, if this is the case, know that this isn't saying a ton about your ability, but rather about the lack of infrastructure in your team around properly bringing people up to speed. But this likely will still require a lot of effort on your part to figure out what the gap is between what you are currently doing and what is expected, and how to bridge that gap.
I myself experienced this when I first came into Google and I had to switch teams to find greener pastures. It's unfortunately common, and this may end up being a route you take as well.
Having said that, there are a few things I would like to offer to you to think about. I'll split them into separate train of thoughts since there's a lot going on here. I hope these help you - best of luck!
First, you do need to take actions on the relationship w/ your manager. I think it's important that you acknowledge that something is amiss and that you would like to figure out how to address this together with them. The best way to do this is directly talking to them about it.
Use something along the lines of this during your next 1:1 to start a conversation about it would be good:
I noticed in our last discussions that you seem disappointed about the pace of my execution on the project. I am doing everything I can but I realize I may not focusing on the right behaviors. I would like to work on this. Would you mind helping me understand what I should be doing instead?
This shows to them that you have the desire succeed, you don't mind receiving feedback, and you want to be coached. It should set up your manager with a coaching mindset.
Ask them to paint a picture for you of what they imagine your role in the project would be like, and how they would execute this project (after all, they did say "You know I can do this very quick" - okay, how would they go about doing this?)
The goal is for you two to agree on a subset of behaviors that you should exhibit, because behaviors leads to outcomes. If the behavior isn't something you know how to do, agree on that you would work toward it but that you would like guidance from someone on acquiring that set of behavior.
This taro question might not align completely with what you are asking, but it contains multiple resources to expectations setting w/ your manager that you might find helpful.
One of the things I've noticed from your question (and this was also true of my own situation) was that your manager seem to be the primary stakeholder who is both responsible for guiding your work, and assessing your performance.
This can work, if your manager was previously a SWE in your team/org, is also the subject matter expert, and most importantly, is a good coach.
It seems your manager has technical knowledge but is not a good coach. A manager who's able to coach will recognize what you need and teach you to help yourself. Saying "I can't show you everything." isn't a sign of good coaching - in fact, good coaches don't typically give you the answer, but helps you to find the way. Your manager needs to help you by either (1) asking the questions to help you understand how to think about the project and how to execute it (2) find someone who's able to help guide you through the process.
Unfortunately, managers who are able to coach well is rare. In these situation, it's dangerous to rely on your manager for everything. I would try to find other sources of guidance.
Specifically, I would look for a tech lead or some senior engineer in the same technical area, and talk to them to figure out two things:
Other experienced engineers are much more able to give you an objective perspective on what the expectations are, because sometimes they are closer to actual work than the manager is. The goal is to identify the gap between what you are doing and what other folks would do in a similar situation.
In short, I hope your manager is able to help you identify the gap and help you improve, but don't count on them to do so; proactively seek additional data to formulate your own hypothesis.
Lastly, I have a theory about maybe one gap in your behavior. It's just a guess, so feel free to ignore this if it doesn't apply to you.
From what you said, like
For now, I will just go through the notes over and over again and hopefully come up with something.
in which I have to say there are many frustrating moments after my manager explained his plan and I still want him to clarify more.
It seems like you are relying on your manager to tell you their plan, and you believe you primary role is following the plan given to you by your manager properly.
And that your biggest problem is not understanding your manager's plan properly.
I would think about this a bit differently. Maybe, just maybe, you need to actually do more of the planning and less religiously follow your manager's plan.
If you were an SDE II at a big tech company, this would be the case.
SDE 2s are expected to independent come up with their own plan to make progress on projects and get only assistance on designs. That means you may have an advisor, like your manager in this case, but you would be expected to own the creation and the execution of the project. Issues come up all the time during execution of projects, and it's your responsibility to react to these changes and adjust the plan accordingly.
So what is your plan? Why should it be done that way?
Write it down in a doc, and use that document to discover parts that you don't understand. If you are too intimidated to share it directly w/ your manager, ask a teammate to take a look first and ask for honest feedback. Again, prioritize asking your peers to figure out the things you don't understand.
It's entirely possible that your manager is wrong on some level about the plan - after all, they have to keep track of everything else that's going on in the team. It's your job to be the subject matter expert of the plan and know it better than anyone else on team.
Hi Kuan, these are very thoughtful and valuable sharings, they will be converted to my action items! I appreciate your generous advice and a complete and clear picture of this matter.
It not only help me understand where the problems arose and how I can drive for changes, more importantly what a relief for me as I was so discouraged recently. I tried to stay positive by telling myself it was not all my fault, but this stayed in my mind until I received your constructive feedback that set me up for changes ahead!
Thanks again and we are so lucky to have you on Taro!