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I'm currently a 24 yr old contract-to-hire developer at this company. I'm five months in to a six month contract. My job title is "Developer." No prefix. I'm between Junior/Entry-Level and Senior. I'm on a team with two senior developers, one of which is driving me insane.

He constantly talks down to me like I don't know what I'm doing. It's one thing if he's helping me with a process that's unique to how the company's data or services are structured, but he is always telling me the most fundamental tips about programming that are not company specific. He's telling me how to be a developer as if I've never programed before. This is not just simple hazing or "new guy" kind of talking. My impression is that he honestly seems to think I can't do my job. I will say on his behalf that he doesn't say it with a demeaning tone or with any kind of annoyance. I think he does mean well.

I know I'm young, but I do have a lot of experience including seven years of work experience and a few first and second place awards on the national level. I feel insulted by his comments.

This is the best paying job I've ever had and I moved across the country to work here. He is a strong reason for why I'm thinking of throwing all that away and not staying with the company when the contract is up.

It's been five months and I've done plenty of good work. I'm running out of ways to show him that I don't want to be treated this way. How can I get the point across to him while keeping it professional? Or, perhaps, how can I keep my sanity and feeling of self worth if he continues?

EDIT: He is not my boss or team lead. We work on the same level in the team.

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" I'm running out of ways to show him that I don't want to be treated this way" Name one. Have you asked this person why they feel a need to tell you things you already know? Maybe you should just speak up and say, "Excuse me for interrupting, but I know that already." –  JeffO Apr 10 at 18:52
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I've mentioned several times that I know what he's talking about. It started as simply, "yeah I know about that" and slowly turned into me finishing his sentences as an attempt to show I really do know what he's talking about and, albeit rudely, getting him to stop talking. Regrettably, I have been a little less than professional at times but he has not changed course. –  user18664 Apr 10 at 18:55
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While you mentioned that you know what he is referencing, have you discussed the approach he uses? Have you considered having a conversation about how he brings things up with you? That may be the missing point here as you don't state that you've had numerous conversations about addressing how he talks to you. –  JB King Apr 10 at 18:57
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Can you give us a bit of context as to how one of these conversations about things you already know actually start? Is it just out of the blue, do you perhaps ask him a related question which he might have mistook for you not understanding this (or he might just be trying to give you some context), or some other way? –  Dukeling Apr 10 at 22:30
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He often tells you things you already know. Has he ever told you something you didn't know? Sometimes, selection bias keeps us from seeing the parts that are truly helpful. If half the time he is telling you something you didn't already know, maybe the system is working. –  corsiKa Apr 11 at 20:59

12 Answers 12

My advice, to be blunt: suck it up. If you like the job and the only problem is that a senior member of staff politely offers you guidance that you don't actually need, you should seriously consider that there is no such thing as a perfect job, and if it isn't this annoyance at the next job, it will be something else.

Sorry to say it but you are still quite young and haven't even been there 6 months. It will take time to prove your skill and knowledge and value to this team. If you quit now you'll be the new guy on some other team, and you'll have to prove yourself to them.

So, get a thicker skin and don't let the fact that this guy doesn't think you know what you're doing bother you. Answer politely with phrases like, "thanks, I did know that" or "yes, I learned that a couple of years ago when working on X" etc. and resolve not to let it bother you. You can't control his actions, you can only control your own reactions. Don't get offended. Just observe to yourself "hmm, Larry still doesn't think I know how to do X -- that's silly since he knows I did Y at my prior company, which I couldn't have accomplished without knowing X. Oh well, I guess he just wants to be sure." And then stop thinking about it, don't obsess over it, don't try to get him to stop, don't try to barge in and finish his sentences. Just let it go.

If you have a mutual boss, you might also go to him/her and say something like "Larry insists on continually giving me programming pointers that I don't need, and at this point I'm starting to find it a little insulting. Is there any chance you could encourage him to lay off a bit?" If there isn't someone obvious to have this conversation with, revert back to "suck it up" and manage your reaction.

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+1 to this. Honestly I could think of 119291 worse things that could happen (co-workers not working, ignorant bosses, bipolar people, etc). Don't let things get to you, just chill and think that maybe one day he'll actually say something you don't know. –  Rodolfo Apr 10 at 20:57
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" maybe one day he'll actually say something you don't know" <- This. No one can possibly know everything and people with more experience tend to have seen and done more. By brushing off advice because it's been useless so far, you might miss out on something useful in future. –  Jayraj Apr 11 at 0:47
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+1 for basically be assertive and professional... –  daaxix Apr 11 at 5:03
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Keep in mind as a young person you will be challenged by older people. I taught college at the age 19. The 30 - 40 year olds were always hard to win over. I'm 30 now, and I'm just like they were. Why? For every young developer who really knows there stuff there are ten who think they know their stuff but are frankly clueless. Now what you should do is just don't let things get to you. If he's not belittling you in front of others it's no biggie. As time goes on you'll help each other out, fix each others bugs and clean each others code, and earn each others respect. I –  RualStorge Apr 11 at 19:29
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I've been in the opposite situation -- where people assumed that I knew what I was doing (being older than them; but experienced in different techniques) and would not offer advice when they saw me performing tasks inefficiently. I would greatly have preferred the situation described here. The only reason I'd be concerned about a self-appointed mentor is if he refused to consider your proposals seriously. –  adam.r Apr 12 at 2:11

"How can I get the point across to him while keeping it professional?"

Does he tell you the same things over and over, indicating that he isn't paying attention to what you are saying? A gentle reminder might be in order (gravely nod and say "yes, I remember you telling me that yesterday.") and fast forward him to what you need to learn(...and what I'd really like to know is...")

Or is he covering new ground, just things you already know? If this is the case, just nod and wait until he takes a breath or there is a polite point of entry into the conversation, and ask him about some aspects of the process that you don't know. Find ways to learn more than you already know. He's a senior level guy; if you can't find ways to steer him into giving you useful information then it sounds as if you are more concerned with what you already know than what you don't know. That's an attitude that could be deadly to your career.

Many times on job interviews I have been given questions to answer and I could not answer them; often I find out that what they really wanted to know was how I reacted when I didn't know the answer. Often, what you know isn't as important as how well you learn, and how you react to instruction. Especially when you are only 24 years old. If that last statement stung a bit, it sounds as if you may be partly causing your own problem.

Push yourself to learn more. Go to your coworker with more advanced questions. That's the best way to divert him from the basics; prove that you are ready and able to discuss advanced concepts. And above all, focus on what you want to learn, not what you know.

"Or, perhaps, how can I keep my sanity and feeling of self worth if he continues?"

You can keep your sanity by not basing your feelings of self worth on whether or not this guy you work with acknowledges how much you know, and instead focus on doing your job, improving and getting along with people. I don't think there is anyone, anywhere who is appreciated as much as they feel they deserve. And people who focus on getting respect rather than deserving it spend their whole lives chasing the wind.

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I love the whole tone of this comment, as it strikes me as generally true that we should focus on directing our energy towards what we don't know, rather than what we do. –  Bepetersn Apr 14 at 5:48

As a Senior / Lead Developer with a management degree here's the best way I've found and tested many times to deal with this sort of situation - assuming the person you're dealing with isn't just being evil.

  • Walk up to this guy and say "Do you have fifteen minutes we could chat about something?".
  • Find an area out of the general flow of people (conference room is best if those are available) - Never give this sort of feedback in a public area; he'll get defensive and it won't have the intended effect of curbing the behavior.
  • Use this formula: "Lately it feels like you've been doing a lot of X. When you do X it does Y."
  • In your case its; "Lately it feels like you've been trying to help me out with a bunch of fundamental things I already know. When you tell me things I already know, it makes me feel as though you don't value the experience that I do have which makes it harder to improve based on your feedback".

Bam. This generally works for most level headed reasonably not-evil people. If he is actually being a jerk about it; its time to raise that concern with your manager.

He also may genuinely think you are at that level; which actually talking to him like this may help to change. A lot of times its hard for seniors or leads to gauge where a developer is at; unless they have personally spent a fair amount of time with the person (or interviewed them for this purpose).

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TL;DR: Ask advanced questions.


I know how you feel as I, too, don't like it very much when someone tries to teach me something I believe I can teach others. I'm a dev, too.

Let me sum up my perspective here:

You say you are a dev. Being a dev means one and only one thing for sure: there's always plenty to learn regardless of how much you already know.

You say that your colleague is a senior dev and you aren't yet you are on the same level in the team.

Your colleague doesn't mean it to insult you when he gives you unsolicited advice. You think he means well.

Furthermore, he is a senior in the company and that should mean that he knows things worth learning - you too want to be a senior dev some day, preferably some day soon.

So, here's what I would do if I were you:

Count to ten and in meantime try to control my anger and hurt feelings.

and finally ask advanced questions once your coworker is done with the basics.

My short and simple experiences as a dev tell me that nothing can gain you respect faster and easier than asking good questions. If you don't have questions, find a hole in your expertise you want to patch - I'm sure there's more than one. Then start asking.

This will have some positive side-effects: you can get on good terms with your colleague very quickly. The willingness to help out will be used for good, and you'll learn new stuff.

Or you'll come to discover that the basic level of advice is all your coworker is capable of and he'll bother you no more when he's failed to answer two or three well aimed questions of yours.

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Do you learn from this guy?

I have been in a similar situation, being talked down to etc, but the individual also taught me a lot, albeit in a condescending way.

I rejected this person at the time as I felt that they were targeting me specifically. I only saw the negative and I wish I could go back and let them know that I have changed my view, but some people, especially in IT, aren't the most people friendly, and learning how to work with those people is a skill in itself which can be rewarding too as there is often a lot to learn from them.

My point is that if you find that you do learn and improve as a result of this person, who it sounds like is taking a special interest in you, then it might be an idea to learn to cope with their personality and use this as an opportunity to become a better developer.

Sometimes, when somebody sees potential in somebody else and they know that the person could do better, they express this in less than ideal ways.

If not, then maybe start looking for another job.

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No. I might sound like a know-it-all, but the tips I'm receiving are very fundamental. To be honest, I don't like the way he operates. He's slow and cautious with (I believe) not getting enough value for the time it takes him to do something. –  user18664 Apr 10 at 21:10
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@user18664 - If you consider him "slow and cautious" and believe that he's not generating enough value per unit of time, is it possible that he considers you to be a bit of a cowboy that isn't fully cognizant of all the lessons learned through experience? Is it possible that you both have points? It wouldn't be shocking if a younger programmer was a bit over-eager, an older programmer was a bit over-cautious, and neither knew a particularly good way to express their concerns to the other. –  Justin Cave Apr 10 at 21:41

How likely do you think it is for you to find other people like this in other workplaces? Seriously ponder this question for a moment as the guy may be technically skilled but not great at dealing with people which may be something you'll encounter in fields like IT where specialized skills can be sought and others find ways to work with difficult people that may be more than a bit eccentric at times.

The conversation I suggest you have with him is about your background and that the tips he points out aren't needed. In a way this is more about how you are being treated as perhaps he doesn't know how much this agitates you. While I can see in your post you are more than a little rattled, I wonder how well is he supposed to know this? Avoidance just keeps the same cycle going as he may think this is useful and just keep at it. After all, what are you telling him that should lead him to think otherwise?

Before the conversation be sure to have a few examples of what was pointed so that you can reference examples and possibly see if you could brainstorm solutions to this as I doubt this will be the only time you come across this kind of co-worker.

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The short answer is you have to take control of the conversations. You have allowed him to have control.

Begin by asking very pointed, direct questions, and even then only when necessary. If you ask open-ended questions, he is (apparently) the type that will take that opportunity to lecture.

Instead of asking "How does the consumables tracking module work with the client billing module?" ask him, "Do you have the interface specification between the consumables tracking module and the client billing module?" Then if he starts to explain what consumables are or why you need to bill the client, you have every reason to say, "I hate to interrupt, but I'm already familiar with both the systems, and I'd really like to get working on this interface issue right away. Can you please give the the interface specification."

Obviously that's pretty specific for the purpose of an example, but by tightening the focus of your questions, you demonstrate your familiarity and competence with the technologies, and present yourself as a "business-only, get-it-done" type, which is not necessarily rare, but somewhat unexpected from your age group.

If he's well-meaning, as you said you believe, a couple of weeks of this should change his dynamic with you. If he's trying to prop himself up at your expense, then he'll soon see you as unsuitable for that purpose, and find a new "apprentice." Either way, he should stop treating you in the manner that you are frustrated by.

If he does not, then you will have at least laid the groundwork for a complaint to your supervisor that your time is being wasted with "Computer Science 131."

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Reverse it, and start teaching him how to do his job at the most fundamental level. Randomly explain to him what a method is. When any opportunity arises, explain to him why you'd declare a variable as an int instead of a String. Explain to him the order of operations. Have a heart to heart to him as to why it's good to declare constants instead of having numbers throughout your code. Each time he offers you basic, unsolicited advice make sure you give him 2 ridiculous suggestions that same day. Within a week he'll stop.

Edit: There was some element of hyperbole in there, but I've dealt with the type of people the OP has talked about. He has tried to discuss this head on, and that hasn't worked.We tried the same thing. He would talk down to us truly in our best interests he thought, and he meant well, but no matter what we said he would keep doing it.Finally as a joke someone said let's do the same thing to him, and for a week or 2 everyone would explain to him how to use for loops, the differences between MySQL engines, etc.He got the point and then some. He never fully stopped but for sure it decreased

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I assume you're being hyperbolic, and would never actually suggest something this passive-aggressive? –  Wesley Long Apr 10 at 21:31
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Actually no, I think this is a good answer. I am guilty of doing what the OP is complaining about, and I know that having it done to me would make me stop to think. –  Jasmine Apr 10 at 22:19
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@WesleyLong there was some element of hyperbole in there, but I've dealt with the type of people the OP has talked about. He has tried to discuss this head on, and that hasn't worked.We tried the same thing. He would talk down to us truly in our best interests he thought, and he meant well, but no matter what we said he would keep doing it.Finally as a joke someone said let's do the same thing to him, and for a week or 2 everyone would explain to him how to use for loops, the differences between MySQL engines, etc.He got the point and then some. He never fully stopped but for sure it decreased –  StackOverflowed Apr 11 at 6:20
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@StackOverflowed Could you edit your answer to include more of the experience you've mentioned in your comment? I think it makes it a fuller answer, and may help future readers to know you actually tried this and it worked. (And comments don't always stick around - it's best to get as much material in the answer as possible.) –  starsplusplus Apr 11 at 9:31

There seems to be a bit of a case of narcissistic injury here. I understand why it might be frustrating to be have someone explain the basics to you when at your level you will have a firm grasp of them. You shouldn't let this turn into irritation towards the person trying to help you however. You do not know everything at this point so you are going to get advice and tips from time to time, a lot of them will be things you already know.

I think the problem with this individual is he doesn't believe you're a professional. I'm sure there is some blame on his end, judging you by your age or not taking the time to learn your experience, but it may be you need to present yourself more professionally as you mentioned.

Should he bring up a basic topic, respond with "Yes, I've actually worked on this before in a similar situation X years ago.. have you thought about this approach?" and give an example of your experience (without interrupting him). This will help show the person that you know your stuff and whether they continue to offer simple advice or not it will improve your relationship with them.

It might be they're just the type who likes to offer a lot of advice and doesn't expect people to take offense. You may just have to get used to it and if that doesn't seem like an option you're just going to have to air it out with them, politely ask them to hold back on the advice as you see it as a distraction or unnecessary, being direct without being offensive and avoiding any passive-aggressive or petty responses.

HTH

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This answer is highly speculative ('There seems to be a bit of a case of narcissistic injury here') –  gnat Apr 11 at 15:12

You are describing what could be a paradigm shift: In his mind he may just be trying to be helpful, and he is unaware that he is making you feel talked down to. He may also just have the bad habit of being condescending to less senior people to try to assert his dominance.

He should be paying more attention to your reaction and body langue and see if he is offending you. The fellow may not have highly developed social skills. You might want to try asking someone else what they think of him and they may confirm he is just condescending.

Some people don't like to be given unsolicited advice. Giving poor or unsophisticated unsolicited advice is then adding injury to insult.

This simplest thing to do is to politely and kindly tell him when he talks to you that way, you feel talked down to, and you don't like it. If you become hostile or aggressive during this conversation you may further strain your relationship. When you talk to him watch his face closely. Is he getting mad or frustrated or does he look concerned or apologetic?

If he responds with anything but an apology then he has poor social skills, is trying to exert some lame dominance over you, or he is just condescending.

Really it just sounds like he has poor social skills and is not up to speed on the principles and benefits of engagement. Proceed gently because he is in fact handicapped.

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Does he do this just to you, or to everyone?

This may be a specific technique of keeping the team on the same page. Those things you think are simple and basic - I guarantee there's some 30% of programmers out there that don't believe/agree with them. He may simply be showing agile team leadership by continuing to restate core values. This provides an opportunity for you and the rest of the team to either reinforce ("Yes, we should always write unit tests") or open for discussion ("Well, but actually there is such a thing as too many unit tests").

As you are new, he may be making sure to run through all the various existing shared team values to see if you're all on the same page and you are misinterpreting that badly. It definitely sounds like you are younger and value the independence part of the job more than the team part of the job. You should carefully reevaluate his statements through this lens, because from the agile engineering team manager point of view, "great programmer who doesn't work well with his team" is "someone we regret more having to let go."

Obviously just having a direct discussion with him about "hey you keep telling me basic things and it makes me feel like you think I'm a dope, what's up with that" will bring his real motivations out - I am not sure why you didn't do this within a week of this starting to bug you, and it reinforces my thoughts that something like the above dynamic is really in play here.

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The guy is possibly insecure, probably alot less paid than you and frustrated. His behaviour may be genuine but it definitely makes him feel senior to you, especially if someone overhears him 'coaching' you. I've been (and in many ways still am) in a similar situation. I just grinned and beared it for a while but that didn't work. Then I spoke to him about it. That worked for a week. The tipping point came when he actually complained about me as I was ignoring him more and more ( ' I'm too busy etc' ). Fortunately at that moment I'd gathered enough qudos on successful projects with the manager that the guy got shot down and put in his place after the next meeting. At which point I rather condescendingly put the boot in suggesting to my manager that perhaps his lack of professional behaviour was because he is frustrated about his job (which I genuinely believe). He is now known as someone who exhibits unprofessional behaviour and lost alot of respect. I defended his work recently to my manager and he thanked me for it. Which possibly even confirmed my 'seniority' over him, I don't know time will tell. But I also discovered that he has a very good reason to be frustrated, which means I've far more patience with him.

There is no easier way to handle your situation as everyone is different. At the end of the day you've just got to be as professional and polite as possible. That doesn't mean you have to listen, especially if you are busy.

Actually I just thought, maybe its even one of his objectives to 'coach' you!! In that case maybe there is something else you can learn from him and ask him to redirect his 'coaching' to that instead.

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This answer is hightly speculative ('possibly insecure'). –  Jan Doggen Apr 11 at 11:11

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