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I'm working in a team of 8 consultants just like me. I'm the youngest member of the team and also the one with the least experience (on resume at least). But 4 of the 8 members of the team will often come and ask me questions like:

  • Do you know if W3C allows the font tag in HTML5?
  • Do we have this CSS class in our stylesheets?
  • Do you know what version of IE is the most popular.

All of those questions can be answered by a simple Google (or find) search. Those developers have more than 10 years of experience and some do more than a 100k a year with that job.

How can I politely tell them to stop bothering me with simple questions where the answers can be found easily on Google or with a simple Find command?

I tried to ask "Did you search it?" and the answer is always: I didn't find anything.

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I just respond "I don't know" -Though I would say that telling someone that should not be attempted politely but instead with an air of superiority, and a condescending tone. –  ReallyTiredOfThisGame Feb 12 '13 at 18:46
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You may find this a little inappropriate, but it's worth a laugh: lmgtfy.com/?q=most+popular+version+of+ie. Depending on how laid back they are, it might do the trick, though (don't do it with people who are too uptight). –  Kprof Feb 12 '13 at 19:55
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When junior developers do this to me, I will often pull up Google and find the answer while they watch, hoping they will get the hint. I expect the same would work better for seniors above you who will quickly realize they should know better, but YMMV. –  Michael Edenfield Feb 13 '13 at 4:25
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As usual I'm late to the question. Look up coaching. Short version: answer with a question that leads to the answer, in a form that implies they already did it. Eg. "What did it say in the RFC?". –  Simon O'Doherty Feb 13 '13 at 7:09
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Require them to bring fresh coffee when they ask you a question. –  Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Feb 13 '13 at 16:21

10 Answers 10

up vote 85 down vote accepted

When this happens to me I usually ask "what search terms did you try?". This way if they did try to search I might be able to help them search more effectively, and if they didn't they sometimes say "ummm..." and go away.

Keeping open the possibility of the first is important; even if I strongly suspect they didn't try I will act as if they did. That way if they did I don't look bad.

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Which, amusingly enough, is almost what happens when people ask questions on Stack Overflow without having tried anything. –  Blrfl Feb 12 '13 at 20:41
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@AdamRackis, it can be learned. I didn't always respond that way. :-) –  Monica Cellio Feb 17 '13 at 2:34
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I really love this and do it myself, because you are being helpful without doing any actual work for them. "Try searching for W3C Html5 Font - yeah, that should do it". You can even do it in an email. If they persist that it doesn't work and you want to push the issue, you can bookmark the Google search and be as specific as you want like "the official standard should be at the top" or "I think this is what you were looking for". You have to allow for genuine mistakes, but I find this works great - I say this as the (former) official Googler for my household and old workplace. –  BrianDHall Oct 4 '13 at 16:02

I may be interpreting too much here, but of your 3 examples, only one looks to me like it's findable by a simple search ...

  • W3C allows HTML5 - yep, that's a fast search... and given the nature of your work, I'd propose stapling W3C to the top of any resource list, putting it out the team in email and a variety of other mass assimilation actions - if you're a web developer, W3C is probably one of your top ranked sites. :)

  • Do we have this CSS class in our stylesheets - I don't know how you're going to find that in Google? It's surely easily searchable in your codebase -- but if your stylesheets are searchable on the internet, you're either working on open source or something pretty wild.

  • Do you know what version of IE is most popular - only answerable on the Internet if you're talking about the wide population of "all internet users" or "internet users that hit hugely mainstream sites" - a question of statistics like this has a lot to do with whether the data supports the target user base you are trying to anticipate. Slant it even a little and you may find a different answer that what "everyone" does.

I point these out, because sometimes it's helpful to consider whether they have other reasons of asking beyond and inability to use Google. If you have an office where the response is "Google? never heard of it!" and you do web development... run, run away fast.

Other reasons for asking are:

  • they want to know that YOU can think deeply about the problem and come up with more than just a 5-minutes-of-research answer.

  • they have a situation where it really IS easier to ask the junior guy - with 12 years of experience myself, I'm so often called into architecture and business meetings that I'm more likely have Outlook and Visio open than any CM tool or SDE - so if you have it open and you have fast access to search our CSS repository, I'm going to ask you to take 5 minutes, when it'll take me 30 to get mine up and started.

  • this actually takes some thought and judgement - there may be a correct answer on the Internet, but there may also be 15 "correct" answers, and it'll take some digging to figure out the right one for your team. They aren't asking for you to a 5 minute task, they want someone intelligent to actually vet the answer. Google isn't absolute truth, it's a big data index. If the data is bad, the answer is wrong.

  • I don't know it, but I bet you do... - if I think someone knows it literally off the top of their head and can answer me without skipping a beat, I'll ask. Yep, I could Google it, but Googling takes 10 minutes, asking you on the way by takes 3... I'm asking you.

If you really ARE hitting an epidemic of Answers Best Found on Google - then you may be hitting a senior engineer who is drastically out of touch. If it's a single individual, ask your own manager what's going on here? Why is a senior guy asking you for simple answers? It's interrupting your progress and for no apparent reason.

But if you're getting this from several people, I recommend looking at the trends and seeing why it keeps coming up. Ask about it, but ask the wholistic question - you see a case where you're asked a lot of simple questions that are easily found on typical web development sites - is there a reason why others aren't finding sucess?

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The CSS part is a simple search function you can access in most applications with Ctrl-F..it's as simple as Google. –  MrJinPengyou Feb 12 '13 at 19:09
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+1 a nice thorough answer as always. All hail the queen of The Workplace! –  Paul Brown Feb 12 '13 at 19:22
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4 senior web developers out of touch it is! –  MrJinPengyou Feb 12 '13 at 23:35
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if I think someone knows it literally off the top of their head and can answer me without skipping a beat - Of course the problem is if you are interrupting somebody in a flow state to save 2-3 minutes, you may be costing him 20-30 minutes to get back into the highly productive flow state. I absolutely hate when my flow gets interrupted, because someone else is trying to save a minute or two. –  Zoredache Feb 13 '13 at 1:11

Tell them the Search Keywords to go Google instead of giving them the actual answer, and eventually they'll start going to Google first because they know you'll just send them there anyways.

It's works out quite well for me when people ask for extra help in comments on Stack Overflow, or email me for tech support from my blog. Rather then give them the answer, I tell them something like If you Google "W3C HTML5 font tag", you should find your answer in one of the top search results.

It's surprising the number of people that can't Google effectively, and they just need a bit of guidance in how to pick good keywords.

It's kind of like that old proverb:

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

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Just an FYI, the proverb is arguably not Chinese –  Mark Mayo Feb 14 '13 at 21:56
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"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him to use the Internet to find cute cat pictures, and you've ruined his productivity for a lifetime." –  keshlam Jul 26 at 20:25

You will find that if you give people the answer they will always come back to you. Also telling them LMGTFY is insulting even if it is the obvious answer. It straight out says that they are not worth your time. It also undermines your credibility doing this, as they will think you don't know the answer.

The proper way to deal with this is the GROW model. It is used as a coaching method.

The GROW stands for.

  • Goal. Establish the goal that they want to achieve.
  • Reality. Determine the current reality of the situation.
  • Options. What options can they take to achieve their goals?
  • Way. What is the way forward from the questions asked?

More details of it here.

http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newLDR_89.htm

In short, do not give them the answer, instead ask questions that will lead to the answer they want and help them to direct themselves to that answer.

Examples.

  • A1: "What did it say in the W3C specification? If its not in that, what other documentation did you look at?"
  • A2: "what style sheets have you examined so far? What pages used those style sheets? Were they overriding the style?"
  • A3: "What metric do you want to base it on? Where do you think you could get that metric from?"

You will find that after a while people will only come to you once they have anticipated all your possible questions. Also the GROW model can help find a solution for someone, even if you don't know the answer.

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You should really quote out the GROW model steps and maybe a short explanation of how it will help the OP. –  ReallyTiredOfThisGame Feb 15 '13 at 15:35

I don't mind answering most quick questions, if I am not actively focused on a project.

I think the root problem here is that many people forget or are not aware that a 2-3 minute interruption can take 10-30 minutes to recover from depending on how complex the project you are working on is. Education and communicating this to your peers may help a lot, and you may be able to develop strategies where the understand that an interruption may be far more expensive in time then they saved by using Google/search/grep themselves.

I think many of the suggestions in the article - The hidden cost of interrupting knowledge workers apply here.

  • Have non-urgent questions handled in a non-interruptive way
    • Questions that could have easily be solved by Google or grep fit in this category 95% of the time in my experience.
    • If a person has to wait for you get around to reading/replying to an email, they might just do the search on their own.
  • Plan a good time where you can be interrupted.
    • So you can easily deflect these simple questions by saying if it isn't an emergency talk to me a 4:00
  • Use Do Not Disturb signals
    • Clearly communicate when you are focused on something to reinforce that you shouldn't be interrupted to save someone 2-3 minutes.
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I am a software engineer and there is no long, drawn out, overly complex answer required here.

Set the expectation - in the next team meeting, reiterate the complexity of our field and how much of it involves R&D on our own. There is a balance between bothering peers with simple questions and spending 2 days researching something that a team member could have assisted with and saved time. In your case your heavy on the "not spending enough time researching", so make sure to make it clear that everyone should research their own questions 1st prior to seeking out the help of others.

I have personally dealt with this and sometimes you need to be direct about the response. Don't dance around and find this super crafty way to be overly polite and blow sunshine where it isn't needed. We as engineers are paid to research and solve solutions. This is part of our job, period. Junior engineers might need to be told 1 to 2 times and led by example, but on down the road a more direct approach should be used. After all if a software engineer can't Google at least to research a question, do you really want them writing code for a solution you are responsible for? I say no, so help guide these individuals and then add in being very direct about the issue if you have already explained that doing R&D on questions prior to seeking out help is a requirement of the job.

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Show them how you find the answer.

I make them watch me type their question into Google, or search the codebase (I ask them to come to my desk, or I walk to theirs). I show them how easy it is and it usually embarrasses them. If it is hard to find, then at least you haven't just told them to go away and try again.

If they lose interest or walk away, don't do anything about it, just ignore it. It's important that they learn how easy it is.

Sometimes they'll just ask you out of convenience, in which case telling them that you're not sure is fine.

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If they are simply trying to test you or just checking what you are up to, then as the others mentioned, you can google the problem in front of them and show them the way. However, if they still approach you after even when you deliver your work in time and there is no reason for anyone to check you, then you might have bigger problems in your team.

If senior developers continue to ask you such questions for no logical reason, then they have to be fake. Go to the HR and have their resume and background checked if you haven't done so already.

Its okay if kids in programming 101 class ask such questions because they are probably not aware of the word internet forum. Anyone with 1+ years of experience should know that google helps a lot.

You should see the movie "I love you phillip morris" which is comedy movie based on a true story. It shows how some folks are good at covering up big lies.

Steven cannot bear to be separated from Phillip. After being released, he helps get Phillip freed from prison by posing as a lawyer, then attains wealth by fraudulently acquiring a position as chief financial officer of a large medical management company called USAMM.

Steven Jay Russell

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I'm going to answer this on the assumption that something which is true for me, is also true for you; namely, that mentoring is part of your job, regardless of your age in relation to your colleagues.

Whenever this happens I look at it as an opportunity to have a conversation about the topic. (In my experience, that's why they came to ask me instead of looking it up.) As long as I can timebox that conversation to only a minute or two, it's a good way for me to spend some time talking with a colleague about something that interests me.

If they ask something that I don't know, I myself will use Google, while they're at my desk, and we'll have a brief conversation about the results.

Either way, we both win-- my colleague leaves my desk feeling more informed (on my opinions, if nothing else), and I've learned more about my colleague's opinions and experience level, which will come in handy when I need to distribute some of my workload to my colleagues.

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Instead explain to him that knowing how to find information is more important than the information itself and then advise him on tips to do this and encouraging him to try these on his own so that he can become more self-reliant.

Continuing to answer his questions while being compliant will only further encourage more questions, enabling the undesired behavior. Being instructive to how to find information will discourage the same behavior.

Answers here like a lot of writing and specific details and its appropriate in many instances. Other times, you have to take a more abstract answer and let people discover the details for themselves, just like the young man needs to do.

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I would be careful to lecture people, but I absolutely agree that you cannot enable them. –  Ryan Gates Feb 13 '13 at 0:03

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