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How to deal with difficult a SWE2 on his promotion to Senior Software Engineer?

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Anonymous User at Taro Communitya year ago

Hello,

I am an Entry level Software Engineer( SWE 1) in my current team for a year now in a mid sized company. I have a matured tenure( 3 years ) SWE 2 in team who has been wanting to get promoted to a Senior Software Engineer for sometime now.

The situation is, in order for a chance for promotion, this SWE 2 was asked to lead a small feature implementation of 2 people where they ended up missing deadlines twice stating engineering complexity. Due to this situation, whole of the team, including Teach lead and SWE1s have swarmed in to help them meet the deadline which is almost a week from now.

The thing is, this particular SWE 2 has been calling me out in Standup and grooming meeting and in person to EM for not completing my story in time even though I am giving proper updates in standup and Tech lead hasn’t raised any concerns yet. According to this SWE2, the stories I have been working on should be completed in a particular x timeframe because he thinks so. They have not laid out any scope or plan where to make changes for it. Their argument is, unless I complete this task, the whole team is blocked because of me. They made it a point to convey it to EM along with PM. EM reached out to me in frustration and seemed content after I explained him the complexity and was able to deliver it next day morning. I had reached out to other senior engineers on team and they guided me properly to finish this task.

This particular SWE2 again called out my name again in my Tech Leads one of the PR and mentioned that other devs are blocked because of me. Tech lead gave a great suggestion to unblock others ( which he could have asked way earlier and implemented ) and others are unblocked now. When I reached out to this SWE2 asking an estimate for current story, in our 1:1 conversation he mentions go with your speed. We don’t really need your part to be unblocked. It will be a good to have. But he keeps on throwing me under the bus infront of team, EM and PM. This SWE2 lacks technical depth and keeps on checking with me everyday if I need any help. But they can’t explain anything properly and I consider it as a waste of time to even decipher their explanation because it tends to increase my confusion.

If it matters, we have our end year review next week and EM seems to think SWE2 is the one helping me (in fact not at all, can’t even explain a proper code change). This SWE 2 is one of the main reason I was given not meet expectations last time in our mid year review rating. I am scared of how much impact he has because of EM’s calling out, again on my review this year when in fact I have hardly worked with him this year. Please advise how to handle this situation.

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    Senior Software Engineer [L5] at Google
    a year ago

    I can imagine this is very stressful situation for you especially amid the current tech climate. First, know that your situation is not uncommon and there's no shortage of contentious work (you may empathize with the Taro post here, so learning how to deal with them is helpful regardless of the outcome of this one.

    Find reliable help

    The first priority here is definitely figuring out a way to accomplish your work. Since this SWE 2 is clearly of no help to you personally, find other peers that can help you. You said there was tech lead. Schedule something with them, so you can more accurately assess how difficult your task is. Do you have other SWE2 or SWE1 peers that you can rubber-duck with? I've added some color on this post as to the type of people you need to have on your side during your career - can you find these people and can they help you get these tasks over the line? Does your team really need to blocked on you? Can someone else with more context do your task instead and you can contribute in other ways?

    Triangulate the truth

    It's important you understand the situation from multiple perspectives, because what you are seeing might just one side of the story. Make sure you are able to collect enough "evidence" to support a particular story that rings true to not only you but everyone else who are involved. Acting on your own version of the story may alienate your peers, especially if you are incorrectly perceiving the situation.

    Is the SWE2 actually correct in their estimates? Are they planning their projects properly (why is the most "blocking" issue being addressed by you and not them?) Are you the only one who thinks they lack technical depth (what does that mean, specifically?) Do they regularly throw teammates under the bus? How are you actually performing, in the eyes of your other colleagues?

    Talk with your tech lead and the senior engieers who helped already to understand both what they think of the SWE2's behaviors, and what they think about your role in all of this. Talk to your SWE1 peers to see how they perceive what the SWE2 is saying. Tell them that you want to improve both the situation for the benefit of the team and are just confused by what's going on.

    Address this particular contentious relationship

    Lastly, it's important to address this situation, either directly with the SWE2 or with your EM. To do this properly you are going to need (1) put yourself in the shoes of both the SWE2 and others involved (2) a truthful story about what happened. Whether or not you talk to the SWE2 directly, it's important that you share your concern about SWE2 and your project with your manager. Your EM may not believe you right away, so you need to careful about presenting your story as so not appear you are distorting the truth in your own favor, but if you've already triangulated your thoughts prior and they are still accurate, you should be able to back it up and convince your manager.

    Of course, feedback is best offered directly to the person, though only if they are receptive. Ultimately, the behavior you are describing will hurt the SWE2's career trajectory in the future as throwing teammates under the bus will not help them influence anyone. If they are in fact receptive to receiving feedback from you (which might be... unlikely given what you said), it would be good to do so.