Episode 291: Hyper-productive team lead and hyper-unproductive senior engineer

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By Jamison Dance and Dave Smith, Jamison Dance, and Dave Smith. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:

  1. Hi! Thanks so much for all the work you do to put this show out, it’s kept me sane the past year. To sum up my problem…I’m aware this is going to sound like a slightly bananas thing to complain about, but my team’s tech lead is superhumanly productive.

    About 8 months ago, we hired Sarah. I can’t overstate how awesome Sarah is, but, well, in some ways that’s the problem. My team already suffers from under-resourcing. Rather than pushing back on unrealistic requests, Sarah will churn out 90% of the work required by working crazy hours so that we make the deadline. She always shares the credit and plays up even the smallest contribution any of the rest of us made, so again, that’s not at all the issue.

    For context, my team doesn’t have a manager, and our leaders are super high up the org chart.

    The problem is that now leadership expects this velocity from the team all the time, not realizing that this it relies on Sarah’s definitely-unsustainable level of productivity. Many other teams in our org are struggling to deliver due to the same resource constraints we face, so now their work is being lumped on our team as well, because the perception is that we’re The Team That Can Handle It. We’ve already lost one team member this year due to burnout, and the pace just keeps increasing. Additionally, I feel like this undermines leadership’s trust in my opinions. Leadership sometimes asks me how long a given thing will take. I’ll give an honest answer, but then when Sarah delivers the thing much faster by working 14-hour days, it makes it look like I’ve been sandbagging my estimates.

    How do I approach this? I’ve thought about explaining my concerns to Sarah in a 1:1, but I feel like I’d just come across as lazy and whiny…for all I know, she thinks we all should work like she does, although she’d definitely be too polite to say so outright. Are there any other options, or is this a :partyquityourjob: situation?

  2. Hello Hosts!

    I love the podcast and its light and humorous tone on a not so light subject.

    Ours is a small team with just 2 engineers in a mid-sized company. I joined recently as a senior engineer. The other person was hired for the same role a few months after me. The problem is that this other engineer doesn’t seem to posses senior level skill-set. I often find them making obvious mistakes and struggling to understand user stories. On most occasions they aren’t even able to finish their work, let alone making technical design decisions.

    I tried to bring this up in a casual way with them, and they seemed to get a bit touchy and defensive about it and they also seem to have a difficult time in making honest conversations about issues. So I never brought this up again. This situation of them not being able to carry out their expected responsibilities is taxing me a lot as I have to pick up the things they mess up in addition to my job.

    If this was from a person at a much junior level, that would be understandable. But this doesn’t make any sense to me.

    I am not very comfortable with the idea of ratting them out to the manager and seeming like a non-team player, but I am also afraid that I cannot put up with them for long while also still maintaining my sanity.

    If you were in my situation, may I know what would you do differently and how would you deal with this person? Thanking you!

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