When Developer Betrays Manager, Who Really Wins?

Monday Mar 25th 2013 by Eric Spiegel
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Software developers need to know how to code, as well as how to look out for their own interests.

“I will always have your back.”

Driving back from a very tense meeting, Mandy, my soon-to-be lead developer, was expressing her appreciation. The windshield wipers were working overtime against the rain, but all I was thinking about was the success of my meeting with my boss, Kevin, the VP of application development.

Her proclamation deepened my sense of patting myself on the back for having stuck up for Mandy.

The day before Kevin had informed me he wanted to deny Mandy’s promotion. Turns out a buddy of Kevin’s had recently lost his job and Kevin wanted to bring him on board – but he didn’t have a position open for someone with his buddy’s skill set.

I thought back to the day before when Kevin had popped into my office, plopped in my chair and said, “Have a minute?”

Like I had a choice.

“Of course, Kevin. What’s up?”

Kevin flashed that million-dollar smile, which meant he wanted something.

“Listen, a good buddy of mine – the best lead developer ever – is suddenly available. We can’t afford not to hire him.”

I knew we had no lead developer positions open in any of the other application groups. I had only recently received approval from Kevin to promote Mandy to our lead developer position.

“What are you proposing, Kevin?”

He leaned forward and spoke softly, just above a whisper.

“Mandy is a nice girl and all – smart, too! But is it really the right move to promote her to lead developer? I mean, everyone likes her, but come on, would she really be promoted if she wasn’t so easy on the eyes? “

I tried thinking straight as my face flushed in disbelief – and anger. I knew Kevin was a slick schmoozer, but I had no idea he would openly make such a chauvinist remark.

My blood was boiling. But I calmly said, “Kevin, we had this discussion when I asked to promote Mandy. She is by far the sharpest developer on my team. More important, the other developers totally respect her. She has proven herself time and again by solving the hardest problems. More important, she always takes time to explain her solutions to all the team members.”

“Yeah, yeah – that’s wonderful,” Kevin said. “But are you sure everyone likes her for her smarts? I remember you saying when Mandy was first hired, the rest of the team was acting like a pack of dogs when a new female joins the pack. They were always sniffing around when Mandy walked in, competing for her attention.”

Embarrassed at having said exactly that, I realized Kevin wasn’t the only one who had made an inappropriate remark. And yes, Mandy was the only female on the team – and she was easy on the eyes. But it was also true she could code circles around any guy on the team and was a much better problem solver.

It was true that I had seen a couple of the guys hit on her. But she was faithful to her boyfriend and was pretty good at diverting their attention back to work without making them feel bad.

“True, but Kevin, if you felt this way why in the world did you sign off on her promotion?”

Kevin leaned back in the chair and clasped his hands behind his head, searching for the right words.

“There wasn’t a better option at that time, right? None of the other developers were ready and neither of us wanted to do an external search. You and I both know the workload is growing exponentially and we needed someone right away since you now have two other teams to manage.”

Then Kevin leaned back in toward me with a bit of a smirk and said “Now we have a better option.”

Fork in the Road

“So now what? I already told her she was being promoted! I’m I supposed to tell her we simply had a change of heart?” My voice likely betrayed my attempt to keep my response from showing utter disbelief.

Kevin raised his eyebrows. “Oh, don’t get overly dramatic,” he said. “It’s not that hard. The paperwork hasn’t gone to HR yet, so we just need to give her a carrot. She can keep her salary increase and we make her the lead of special projects. Just make it sound important.”

I had heard enough. Lead of special projects? Really?

This time I smirked as I said “Tell you what, Kevin, if you feel so strongly about this, let’s meet with Mandy tomorrow and give her a chance to make a case for why she deserves the promotion.”

I could tell by his reaction he was hoping I’d do his dirty work for him. But he acquiesced and we agreed to meet the next day.

As we drove over to the separate building where Kevin worked, I had a heart to heart with Mandy. I told her everything (except the chauvinist remarks) and that I had her back. She was thankful for the opportunity to defend herself.

Kevin hadn’t spent much time with Mandy. He didn’t know what he was up against.

Mandy blew all stereotypes about software developers out of the water. She wasn’t shy and she knew how to advocate for her own interests.

During the meeting with Kevin, I sat back in awe as Mandy pressed her case. Impressive. At the end, Kevin looked at me and asked, “Are you 100% sure Mandy is the right person for the job?”

“Absolutely,” I said with absolute conviction.

“Okay, then. So be it.”

Kevin ended up hiring his buddy – as lead of special projects. I’m sure he made it sound important.

But that isn’t the end of the story.

Unexpected Twist

A few months later Mandy broke up with her boyfriend and started dating Robby, one of the other lead developers on a different application team.

I heard many of the developers on my team express dismay that they didn’t try harder to win her affection. Mandy and Robby had attended a conference together and something had happened there.

Honestly, I thought it was great Mandy was dating Robby. I joked with her that if she married him their kids would know how to code while still in diapers.

Towards the end of that same year I took a much needed week-long vacation. I was totally comfortable with Mandy being in charge while I was gone.

After a very relaxing week at the beach, I was nicely refreshed when I returned to the office. Kevin asked me to come over and meet with him that morning.

I poked my head in his doorway and he said “Hey stranger, have a seat.”

Then he added, “And please close the door.”

A foreboding feeling came over me. Something wasn't right.

Kevin had a concerned, almost sorrowful look on his face. I thought maybe someone had died.

“Listen, you know I have the utmost respect for you, right?”

I nodded.

“Good. What you don’t know is we are about to be acquired. Please keep it under wraps – this information is not for public consumption.”

I nodded again.

“Anyway, as a result of the acquisition, we need to make some changes to our cost structure. You are the highest paid applications manager – and much deserved I might add.”

There was a brief glimpse of his million-dollar smile.

Then he frowned again, and continued.

“But the fact is, we need to let you go.”

My heart sank and my stomach turned all at the same time.

“Look, you are a great guy and I’ll give you a stellar reference. You’ll have no problem finding something new.”

I literally was in shock. I could barely formulate a sentence.

I asked, “But what will happen to my team?”

“We are promoting Robby into your position.”

The rest of the conversation was a blur. What the heck had just happened?

I drove in a daze back to my building. When I reached my office, Mandy followed me in. She said quite innocently, “Sorry this happened. I have enjoyed working with you.”

There stood the girlfriend of the guy who just took my job. I could feel the tension building in the room. I didn’t know what to say, so I cut it short.

“Sure, thanks. I need to pack up.”

She hesitated, then quickly smiled and wished me good luck as she backed out into the hallway. Still in shock, I packed my things and later that day I met with my friend Mike for an impromptu early Happy Hour. Mike was a VP in a different group.

After some small talk, he said, “I need to share something with you.” I starred at my drink and said, “Fire away, Mike.”

“Kevin told me that while you were on vacation Mandy had said she was frustrated because she was doing most of your job.”

I lifted my head and stared at Mike with an open mouth.

“It’s true – but you didn’t hear this from me. She told him you didn’t understand the applications at all and mostly did paperwork, while she did all the heavy lifting. I tried to defend you, but he didn’t want to hear it. I’m pretty sure he saw this as an opportunity to promote his buddy – and he jumped on it.”

“What are you saying?”

Mike sighed. “He promoted his buddy into Robby’s lead developer position.”

My feeling of shock was replaced with multiple layers of betrayal.

Mike continued, “It would have looked obvious if she would have made a play for herself to be promoted into your role, but pretty ingenious to get her boyfriend promoted. Oh, by the way. The other news is Robby and Mandy got engaged while you were gone.”

Wow. I was bamboozled.

Mandy never had my back. She only was watching out for her own interests.

I moved on and never spoke to any of them again.

I’ll admit I like being a nice guy and I never want to change. But I have learned to not always assume good intentions and not be blind to other people’s aspirations.

I have also learned, every now and then, it’s important to flash my own million-dollar smile.

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