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I am a junior programmer, and one of my assignments is to maintain our company's website. Earlier this morning, someone in upper management messaged me saying he ran into a bug on the website. As I'm in charge of the website, our computer help team redirected him specifically to me; I am solely in charge of fixing this issue.

Unfortunately, I cannot repeat his bug (and believe me, I've tried a lot). Even more unfortunately, this manager works from a separate office, so I cannot see it either. The only avenue I can think of for getting a complete description of the issue is to ask him for details of the problem as I need them, and to occasionally bother him to test my prospective solutions.

The obvious problem here is that none of what I just suggested fits the manager's job description at all; he's not even vaguely in any tech sector. It's not that I think he wouldn't be able to help me debug this issue, it's that I think it would be a misuse of his time. I don't feel like it's appropriate to repeatedly ping an upper manager with questions and requests to try seemingly arbitrary behavior that might help a junior programmer find a bug.

On the other hand, I need to fix this issue. If this bug is taking place on other users' computers, it has to be fixed (it should only occur in a very specific environment, but when it does it's a showstopper). Even if it's only happening on his computer though, I still can't just tell him "I couldn't find that bug so I'm just not going to work on it, sorry."

Are there any tried-and-true techniques and strategies for getting help on an issue from someone above the issue's paygrade?

What I've done so far is:

  • Tried to get as complete a description as possible when he first let me know.

  • Only bothered him for information I think is absolutely essential to fixing the issue.

  • Tried to bundle up requests for more details so I'm not pinging him every few minutes.

As a note, I've never communicated with this manager before, so I'm especially wary of making a bad impression.

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    Is your question about getting more information from the manager or are you asking another question? You can tell your manager "The issue only occurs under specific circumstances and I can't replicate it on my computer." Do you want access to his workstation for testing? – TheRealLester Jul 5 '18 at 15:45
  • My question's about getting more information from the manager. I'd love to access his workstation, but that's not something we're equipped to do. My issue with "The issue only occurs under specific circumstances and I can't replicate it on my computer." is that the bug will have to be fixed one way or another, and when it does it will surely fall into my lap again, but this time with a slight mark against me for not clearing it the first time. I'm looking for a professional and interpersonal way to probe the manager for more information. – Lord Farquaad Jul 5 '18 at 15:54
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If you can't reproduce it, and you don't feel comfortable simply marking it as "unable to reproduce", can you try to schedule a phonecall and a screen sharing session using TeamViewer or Join.Me or similar and have the manager walk you through it?

You can justify the request by listing the steps you've taken in your unsuccessful attempts to reproduce the bug, and that the screen sharing session is the next step as you've exhausted your other options.

The manager could be doing something so esoteric that you might have thought no sane person would ever do it, but the customer will always find a way.

If the error occurs you then have a reproducible test case. If it doesn't, then you have your way out.

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Message your supervisor and ask if he can reproduce it. If he can, it should be pretty quick for him to do so, and then you can liaise with him instead about reproducing it / getting a fix.

If not, then he can give you guidance on what to say to upper manager x, including how much communication would be appropriate, whether a screen share would be appropriate, etc.

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Simple, bring the problem to your supervisor,

Explain that

1) the VIP experienced a bug

2) after (number of hours) work you could not resolve it

3) you are far too junior to personally bother and interact with VIP on it

so, it is your supervisor's problem. End.

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    not sure that giving up because the OP is too scared to talk to a senior manager is going to serve them particularly well. – user1666620 Jul 5 '18 at 19:00
  • There's no fear whatsoever involved. Senior folks don't want their time wasted. It's absolutely not a job for a junior to delicately interact on such an issue. – Fattie Jul 6 '18 at 2:00
  • @user1666620 Fattie has the right idea. I'm not afraid of talking to the guy, it's just a matter of wasting his time. – Lord Farquaad Jul 6 '18 at 17:15
  • @Lord_Farquaad the risk in that is that the bug never gets fixed since you can't reproduce it. How much time have you spent on it? How much more time can you afford to spend on it? Do you want to risk failing he manager? At the end of the day, requesting a screen sharing session or similar is a small ask, and if the guy doesn't have the time or inclination to do it then that's on him. – user1666620 Jul 6 '18 at 17:24
  • It's simply not your job for a more junior engineer to interact closely with a VIP. That's all there is to it. – Fattie Jul 6 '18 at 17:41

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