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I am working as a Software Developer for the last 10 months. I have a colleague working on the same technology framework for 6 months.

She doesn't develop the logic and algorithms on her own, and instead relies on her supervisor or me. The supervisor has told her many times to work by herself, but she rarely follows his advice. She struggles with basic software concepts even after working for 6 months.

To avoid being scolded by her supervisor, she constantly asks me to help her. Her queries are sometimes too confusing or miss the basics which irritate me. She interrupts me every 10-15 minutes to solve problems in her code, which damages my productivity for the entire day. She also doesn't pay attention to or remember what I explain, and keeps asking me to explain the same thing repeatedly.

I tried talking to the CTO (not her supervisor, because the CTO is a lot more calm). The CTO suggested me to continue helping her, but inform him if this takes more than 30 minutes of my time. However, my issue is not that this takes 30 minutes, but the continuous disturbances every 10 minutes.

My question is, what can be done to handle a coworker who constantly asks me for help with her work tasks?

  • I swear I've seen this question before. Searching for a dupe... – shoover May 22 '18 at 17:40
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  • In this context, I would interpret "more than 30 minutes of your time" to mean "more than 30 minutes over the course of a day," not "more than 30 minutes at a time." – Steve-O May 22 '18 at 20:31
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    @shoover I agree, but everything I found was different just enough that I would not say it was a dupe. However, I found all kinds of things on other websites that answer this, including the classic Help Vampires: A Spotter’s Guide. – Anketam May 22 '18 at 21:10
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    Record every interruption (and duration). Highlight those moments where she is repeatedly asking the same basic questions. Present the record after a couple of weeks to you supervisor and ask them how they want you to proceed. – HorusKol May 22 '18 at 22:24
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Your workload and your performance is a discussion between you and your boss. If there are things that interrupt your work or affect your performance, talk to your boss.

If someone else is getting you to help them, clarify with your boss whether or not (and for how long) you should be helping that person, versus doing tasks assigned to you.

It may be the case, as the CTO indicated, that your employer wants you to help, to an extent. They may be assigning you the task of helping her, within reason. It sounds like your CTO already tried to help you set that boundary, so work to clarify that if it's not well understood, and if the coworker asks for more help than they've allowed you to provide, make sure you're documenting that and raising it to your boss as an issue.

So - work with your boss to establish and understand your role in terms of performing work assigned to you, versus helping a coworker.

Once that boundary is understood, you can use that to have a productive discussion with the coworker. The next time she asks for help that you haven't been assigned to provide her, make the conversation about you following your boss's direction. Don't let on that you don't want to help, or you think she's stupid, since that's not helpful. Instead, let her know that you're being directed to focus on specific tasks and aren't able to provide additional help to her. You can also suggest that she follow the same approach you're taking - ask her boss to help clarify her responsibilities and the resources she should use to get them done. From your first paragraph, it sounds like that's already happening, so you can politely bow out of the conversation and let it run it's course.

It's also worth pointing out that if you continue to help your coworker, you're basically training her to keep coming to you for help. Her supervisor is already telling her to do the work on her own - by helping her, you're violating that direction.

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This might be hard to hear but it sounds to me like you are encouraging this behavior by assisting her constantly. I believe if you were to set aside a specific time for her each day (you'll have to determine the appropriate amount of time for yourself, but sounds like she needs 1-2 hours) then you'll have a more extended work time, rather than it being broken up by her constantly bugging you.

You can tell her something like:

I'm free to help you between so and so hour but outside of that I would like you to write down your questions and try to work them out yourself.

I would recommend having it at either the beginning or ending of the work day as to have less interruption trough out the day.

  • Actually I thought the same strategy. But the problem is that she sits next to me and she just doesn't care whatever someone says to her. I have tried it once and she even forget that. – TheHungryCoder May 22 '18 at 16:42
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I have seen it few times at work, thank god nothing like it happen to me personally.

To reiterate, its my opinion only, but it is not your responsibility to save incompetent lady co-worker. She may be cute, but you don`t have a chance usually.

She is using you to get ahead or to hold on to her first job for at least a year before starting to look for another job, where she would already be "experienced" programmer and expect updated salary.

You should do two things as soon as you want to:

  1. move all communications with her to email, best reason - "kinda busy now, send me an email"
  2. CC or BCC your manager to all your answers

Document chain would point out where did all your time went and you would be surprised how much of it wasted.

Good luck and hope all goes well

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