Where I work, everything is done through the Telegram messaging app. There are bits of information that managers post in the communication groups, and no formal requirements and/or design documents.

The information posted in the Telegram chat group is too little to act on. But when I ask questions to the manager, he gets short with me and becomes terse. In the latest case, he said "Aren't you familiar with the current software?" (again, over Telegram). In fact, I am not familiar w/ the software, because I've been with the company for less than two months, and the entire code base has zero comments (I am thinking this is some sort of security measure against having trade secrets stolen; i.e. to make the software harder to understand). On top of it, the manager is currently overseas due to his family situation, so you can't just walk up to him and ask questions. There's a time zone difference as well (three hours).

EDIT (per comment from berry120):

"Take a look at these folders: x, y, x and follow the pattern there."
"Use any one of the available methods as a template." I don't have a list of the available methods. If I had this list, I could pick one based on my years of experience. But the codebase is huge, and as I said, has no comments.

  • 1
    So we can better understand, can you give an example of the sort of information you'd be given before attempting to complete a task? – berry120 Apr 25 '18 at 14:08
  • @berry120 Thank you for your interest, updated the question. – SrEngineer Apr 25 '18 at 14:19
  • No comments is a security measure? Frankly that is one of the dumbest things I've heard in a long time. If it was web front-end code (javascript) I can sort of understand but all modern compiled languages are not readable when compiled and comments are not part of the run-time unit. – JazzmanJim Apr 25 '18 at 18:04
  • @bednarjm I know as much, but in this case, it is a security measure against people who might somehow have gained access to the source code. – SrEngineer Apr 25 '18 at 18:46
  • From a company perspective that is really screwed up. Source code should be in a secure repository (with comments and history) and there should be good documentation available. If not, then what happens (to use the old phrase) the expert in the system is "hit by a bus" (or leaves the company)? In depth knowledge of the system goes away. – JazzmanJim Apr 25 '18 at 19:03

This problem comes up a lot in software engineering, and I'm sure it's the same in any field with a steep learning curve.

You should try to have an open conversation with your boss about how often you should bug them, and how often you should try to figure it out yourself. Try to have that conversation over the phone, since you can't do it in person.

Furthermore, when you have a question, try to ask everyone else about it first. If there's a more experienced dev to help you, seek out their advice.

But in general, I've found it's better to risk annoying your boss than to risk wasting time building something the wrong way. Right now your supervisor is probably too busy to think about you, and put themselves in your shoes. But it's their responsibility to manage you, so it's important for you to be visible and assertive.

It's much better to deal with your boss's short term annoyance than having them ask you later why you wasted two weeks of work.


You won’t get detailed requirements, probably because your boss doesn’t care. On the other hand, detailed requirements are needed, since otherwise nobody can check if your work meets the requirement.

Ask the only person who has the intelligence and the interest to write the requirements - which is you. You write the requirements, send them to your boss, and tell him that this is what you are going to do unless he complains quickly.

  • Thanks for your answer. I did spend time on writing up requirements in the past, and was reprimanded for spending too much time and not being agile. – SrEngineer Apr 25 '18 at 18:48
  • In that case, your boss is an idiot. For starters, he doesn't have the slightest clue what "agile" means. "Agile" doesn't work without requirements. Agile needs requirements, so that when one task is done, you can verify that it is done. But I guess I didn't need to tell you that... – gnasher729 Apr 25 '18 at 22:48

How is testing done without specific requirements? What are you producing and is it correct? I don't see how this can be done without requirements.

As others have stated - you write some specific requirements based on your understand and (this is important) get signoff on what you're producing before real coding starts.


The toughest thing to understand when dealing with our managers is how busy they and how much is on their mind. Your questions are valid, but they are just one of many they get throughout the day. Either you just keep asking questions or find another resource.

Messages always tend to seem blunt especially when they say things we don't want to hear. A busy manager is going to minimize his interactions as much as possible. There is a risk he is not giving you enough information, but he's still willing to do it anyway.

When he asked, "Aren't you familiar with the current software?" Your answer should have been, "No." Ideally, managers are aware of getting their people on-boarded and up to speed, but this company doesn't seem very structured in that area. Could you ask someone else to train you or put a plan together to split the time up among several people.

This is why I like to see a manager who is willing to do some of the dirty work, but too often, it is at the expense of having time to manage people. I'd rather chop down trees with a quality sharpened ax than have me and my manager swinging two dull pieces of garbage all day long.

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