BC column web Anton van Rossum

Anton van Rossum 

20 June 2019

S.d’A. asks:

After having worked for eight years as the CTO of a life sciences start-up in which I got assigned more and more management tasks, I was eager to be submerged in technology again. That’s why, a little while ago, I joined a high tech start-up in Berlin as a principal systems architect. Five months later, I’m out of a job.

Before joining the company, I had long discussions with its management, board and investors. A short time later, I started with a first project, a software framework for our hardware. I was thrown in at the deep end without a clear assignment and a proper introduction to the team.

A few weeks in, I got a new manager, with whom I had a good rapport. However, it soon became unclear what my responsibilities were. Although I had clearly stated my technical ambitions, it seemed that I was expected to play a leading role. From my conversations with members of the management team, I picked up contradictory signals.

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In my project, I worked with engineers who had been with the company for several months but obviously had less experience in this area than I have. Yet, strangely enough, my recommendations were not adopted by the team. In our discussions, everyone agreed with me, but after a week, it turned out that they were continuing in the same way.

I’m afraid the team has insufficient insight into the complexity of the product they’re working on and insufficient experience to develop something good within the available time – or ever. I’m surprised that management apparently opts for a solution that they’re familiar with but that will prove to be ineffective in real life. What should I have done to convince them that I’m right?

The headhunter answers:

When starting a new job every one needs time to embed. You seem to have ended up in a battle for competence with a number of colleagues. A bit of competition and obstinacy isn’t a bad thing, but you chose the wrong battlefield. Apparently, it had already been decided in which direction the software framework was to go and your initiative to develop an alternative path was experienced as disruptive and superfluous.

In addition, you didn’t bother to spend much time on technically supporting the mostly young engineers in your team. This was an important task that you were expected to do. It’s striking to see how much your perception of your responsibilities differs from that of your superiors.

In analyzing the situation, one conclusion springs to mind. Before you joined the start-up, you talked to the entire management team, but not to your current manager, who came on board a few weeks after you. Apparently, he has a totally different view of what your role should be than those who hired you. That’s very sad for you since you didn’t choose this.

I agree that it’s annoying that you’re now being accused of not being a team player but a soloist. That seems unfair to me, but with a start-up, you sometimes need to be flexible and do what’s necessary, even if you’re less interested in some of the tasks you’ve been assigned.

There are really only losers here: you’ve lost your job, but the company has lost a unique and irreplaceable talent in a hot topic. Instead of solely focusing on growth through talent acquisition, it needs to pay more attention to its HR policy and onboarding, ie introducing, binding and retaining new employees.