How to communicate with my supervisor?

  • Hi guys.

    I've been a long time lurker of this site but never posted. I recently got a new job and I think the target audience of this site will be able to give me the best advice.

    In summary, I think my supervisor is neither a good programmer nor a good supervisor. It makes my job extremely hard to do, and I find it hard to please him. At this point I feel like he doesn't respect me, and as a coworker I think that's unacceptable. I've talked to some friends and they say I should just quit and find another job. However, for financial reasons (I just moved across the country) that is not possible at this point.

    Basically, here are some of the problems I've faced (just to back my story up a little):

    • I feel that my supervisor imposes unreasonable restrictions on me. For one, I am not allowed to use any pointers at all in C++. While I agree that using references for the majority of time are the best way to go, restricting the use of pointers directly I think is a bad constraint that results in bad designs to satisfy this goal. And if pointers are to be used, they must be wrapped with a smart pointer. Alright, sure, I can live with that, for now... My first project had a circular reference in the design and the smart pointer we used wasn't a weak pointer, so the program threw hissy fits. I asked my supervisor for help and his response was isn't circular references bad design? I felt insulted at this point. I felt like giving him an example of a father having a son and a son having a father, but that probably wouldn't have helped my case. I asked him how he would do it, and his solution was to make it a global singleton. I asked him what if I need to make a 2nd instance? And his reply was to make a 2nd singleton. I didn't realize it makes sense to have 2 please him I did it his way.

    • I found a bug in our code library that caused a memory access violation. The bug only manifests itself when you close the application, but it'll still bring up a error message dialog to the end user. And here's the happens when you specify an invalid hostname to the Connect function. I opened a bug case and said that this was a major bug. My supervisor changed the bug status to minor, and said that it could be by design and if it's a bug, minor at most. I found that pretty absurd. Even if the hostname was correct there's no guarantee that the server is actually on! Anyways, another senior programmer that got this task assigned to said that the bug was actually a show-stopper and corrected it the same day.

    • I was having issues with my virtual machine environment because our application wasn't working as expected. He asked another senior developer (the same guy from above) to help me out. We found that my virtual serial ports were causing read errors and buffer overruns (clearly hardware issues). I emailed my supervisor and asked him to order me some USB serial ports. My supervisor said he doesn't think that's the case and should try it on other computers. The other senior developer backed me up and said that it was hardware.

      Those are just 3 examples of what I'm dealing with. I feel like I'm being treated like a high school kid who doesn't know anything. While I look young, I did just graduate with a BS and I do have 3 years of real work experience. When I tell him I'm doing something I tell him why. I always back up what I'm saying. When he tells me to do something, he'll back it up with "that's how it's always been done" or "it's been working good so far." He will not give me actual concrete details. The worst part is I don't even feel I'm being respected as a coworker, as demonstrated in example 2 and 3 where he can't even respect my decision to make a bug major, nor believe me when I say it's a hardware issue.

      I've only been working 6 weeks so far, and I was going to wait until my 3 month probation to bring these issues up. But I think I should speak with my supervisor sooner rather than later about this. There's one troubling issue with this....he only acts badly to me via email/msn. If I speak to him in person he's generally very helpful and friendly. However, to cover my butt I've been using email and saving everything.

      I'm not sure what to do...any advice is greatly appreciated. Thanks.

  • So have a face to face with him then.  You can email the outcome and agreed actions of your meeting as a "here is what I understand we agreed" summary, which is good practice anyway.

    The "we've always done that" is really annoying I agree but to be honest it does sound like you are being a bit over sensitive.  You have to remember that, assuming he has other reports, what is the centre of your universe is possibly of peripheral concern to him.  This can lead to conflict where you want to do things perfectly and he just wants it done.  Also he will not need or want to understand the details as well as you need to.

    So just call a meeting and have a chat rather than getting all angsty over it. 

  • I don't think I can over any useful advice, but I just wanted to let you know that you're not alone! I've been in a job about 6 months, and am currently looking for a new one because of my team-lead (team of 1 - me, coz noone else will work under him!)/manager/supervisor. Maybe if you really want to leave, you should do the same? Look for a new job before you leave this one? I know for me, even if everything works out differently, it made life just that little bit easier to handle for now, knowing that if nothing changes, I'll be out of there very soon.

  •  You can always do nothing. Be a yes man until you either find a new job or you're not on the edge of living in a cardboard box. Then quit. As for the design decisions, if that's how they want them, that's how you build them. If you'll be getting out, then it's not like you have to worry about maintenance.

    In the meantime you can voice your objections when the time comes but remember that being new you have no pull in the company and you need to be really, really careful not to be branded a troublemaker. That is if you're planning to stay for a while.

  • What about the other factors with the job?  The company, the pay, the location, the
    environment, benefits, other co-workers, etc?  Are they worth losing if you quit because of one person?  If the worst thing about it is
    this one guy, then it may pay to stick it out -- after all, you won't be
    reporting to him forever, and there may be opportunities to switch to other areas or positions in the company sooner than you think.

  • it's really just my supervisor.  i get along with the others just fine.  the environment is a little everyone for themselves, and there's next to no feel of comradory which i miss from my old job.  location and pay are great, with standard benefits.

    as for the reporting thing, he mentions that there will be a time that no one will be looking over me and i just work by myself and just resolve tasks from the list.  i just don't know to earn respect and trust when i disagree with everything my supervisor does.

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