16

I work as a junior-ish software developer in a small team inside a fairly large company. We've recently hired a new senior software developer. He is very good at what he does, with lots more experience than me or anyone else in the team regarding the main piece of tech we use; all in all a sorely needed addition to the team.

With his wealth of knowledge (and my lack of it) it is understandable that I need to ask him for help, sometimes quite frequently.

However, recently I have found it more and more difficult to do so. Whenever I approach him, his demeanor immediately changes. His tone and body language indicate to me that he doesn't want to spare 5 minutes explaining what is a basic concept to him. It all feels very hostile but in a subtle way. He does not behave like this with the rest of the team, who are more experienced than me. This has lead me to believe that he simply doesn't like me because I am not as skilled.

This belief might be enforced by the fact that he does not greet me in the mornings, even if I am the first to say hello. Perhaps a cultural barrier, but nonetheless a barrier.

Consequently, I now feel very uncomfortable approaching him about anything. This has impacted my performance and in turn it is making me stressed.

I've not had this issue with the other co-workers before. I've resorted to getting help from them but they often wonder why I'm not asking the senior coworker since he's an expert.

Annoyingly, my manager is not part of our small team so I am not sure if divulging this to him will be helpful, if at all advisable.

I am beginning to hold a grudge based on emotions against this person, which is not something I want to have. I want to rectify this issue now before it completely derails my work environment.

How should I proceed?

  • Do other employees have the same problem as you or is it just something you noticed happening to yourself? – TheRealLester Jul 10 '18 at 17:46
  • I cannot speak for my coworkers but I can definitely say that I do not observe the same body language or tone when he is speaking with them. – turnip Jul 10 '18 at 17:51
  • Question, @turnip : When do you know you have exhausted all other options before asking for help to this coworker? In other words, I suppose that if you ask him is because you already did a thorough research and didn't find a solution, correct? – DarkCygnus Jul 10 '18 at 18:30
  • @DarkCygnus Yes, I make sure to thoroughly discover the answer myself first, when possible. However, a lot of the time my questions are regarding software design principles tailored for our software so it can be difficult to get help online for this. Having read the comments on your answer, I would say that this isn't a matter of me asking frequently since he has been like this from the around the start. – turnip Jul 10 '18 at 20:09
  • @turnip It is undeniable this is in part due to your asking frequently, although now it's clear that you do research before asking. Thus, I suggest you consider my answer, and see if this coworker has spare time before expecting them to help you. – DarkCygnus Jul 10 '18 at 20:11
9

How should I proceed?

I suggest you don't be let down because this sole coworker is not so friendly and open with you.

In the workplace you will find several kinds of folks, some more sociable and supportive than others. It's best not to break your head with the (few, in this case) ones that won't respond back to your polite approaches and questions.

I'd also suggest that you try to alternate your questions and requests for help with other coworkers. Perhaps he is behaving this way because you have been asking him too much questions recently; anyone can become annoyed if they are continuously required to deviate from their tasks.

The fact that he is senior and knowledgeable doesn't mean he has to attend each and every inquiry from all other coworkers, as he surely has his own tasks to complete.

Next time, instead of just approaching him with a question, try asking first: "Hey Joe, do you have a few minutes to talk about X? If you are busy I can come back when you are free." ... and if he is busy follow-up with something like "Sure, thanks anyways, should I come back in, say, 30 minutes?"

If you start doing this from now on, he will surely change his attitude towards you, as he will see that although you have many questions and wish to learn, you are aware of other coworker's tasks and limited time. This is really different than just interrupting or asking for assistance when someone is busy or in a stressful situation.

  • 2
    The fact that it's become more and more difficult over time to approach this senior developer indicates this answer is correct. Initially the developer was fine with answering some questions, but if he's constantly getting interrupted, he's going to become more and more unfriendly. – DaveG Jul 10 '18 at 18:22
  • yes @DaveG it's better to be polite and ask for spare time, as it is highly likely this senior coworker has many tasks, equally or even more difficult than others from the team perhaps... showing some empathy and respect for his time will surely end this "bad chemistry" between them. – DarkCygnus Jul 10 '18 at 18:25
  • Also, if it's something that is not specific to your company or inner sourced solution(s), try some extensive googling before asking anyone. I regularly get annoyed when people ask me very basic questions that are very easily googled. Once you find a solution, I would see nothing wrong with then validating that solution with several other team members (although code reviews should be done anyway, so perhaps unneeded). – Keozon Jul 10 '18 at 18:27
  • @Keozon that is a good suggestion (and should be the default course of action before asking others). We don't know if OP does this before asking, but if they do not then this is also something worth considering (asking OP for clarification to see if this can be incorporated to the answer). Thanks for your suggestions – DarkCygnus Jul 10 '18 at 18:29
  • 2
    Also, given the time it takes for developers to get back up to speed after a context switch to answering questions, it might make sense to consolidate questions you have and then set up a 30 - 60 minute session to discuss. – Laconic Droid Jul 11 '18 at 12:49
0

With his wealth of knowledge (and my lack of it) it is understandable that I need to ask him for help, sometimes quite frequently.

I have been on the other end of this situation where I was the senior colleague and there was a new recruit into our team. A sensible senior colleague is going to expect that the newcomer is going to have lots of questions. So in normal circumstances, this shouldn't be something that's ticking him off. However, it is quite possible that the senior colleague is technically sound but emotionally immature or insensitive, in which case he is not able to "realize" that you are still new in the team and it's natural for you to ask lots of questions.

You have already shown initiative to research online about what to do instead of flaming about your problem. So I am going to assume that you try to solve things as much as possible on your own before going to him.

Consequently, I now feel very uncomfortable approaching him about anything.

I totally get this, being in a new team and having to work with a similar senior colleague. It is indeed uncomfortable when a senior person from your own team keeps information from you, judges you passively, and stops your progress.

I've resorted to getting help from them but they often wonder why I'm not asking the senior coworker since he's an expert.

It sounds like although they're wondering about this, yet they're still helping you. This is a nice thing. I would recommend that you take the following approach to deal with this situation:

  1. Ignore verbal contact with this colleague because that affects you. Also, at the same time, realize that in the workplace, AFA getting the work done is concerned, it doesn't matter whether someone likes/hates another person. Everyone has a legal obligation to share info in a timely manner.
  2. Whenever you need to ask him anything, just send him an email CCing your manager. This way, if he doesn't give you the answer then you have written proof that you tried asking him.
  3. If you need to IM him then see if there's a way to keep your boss in the same group/channel. That way, there will be some visibility to his behavior.
  4. Do you normally have 1-1 meetings scheduled with your boss? I would recommend that you have a 1-1 meeting with your manager and let him know that you're having a hard time getting information from the senior colleague. He's probably going to defend the senior colleague saying "he's busy" or "you should try to learn things yourself". So what you need to do is say that yourself when you speak to your boss. Let him know that the senior colleague isn't giving you answers, and that you are trying your best to get answers on your own, and you're trying your best to understand the tasks. If its possible for you then provide some examples. Keep your tone in check, avoid emotional language. If you can maintain your composure then your words will have a greater effect. If he offers some level of supporting words for you then you're good. If not, meh. You keep all discussions with him over email and CCing your manager. Now that you've informed the manager he is likely to be sensitive about this issue when you send emails to the senior colleague.

As you learn the tasks and keep showing the results let the time pass by. Later one day, you can confront this senior colleague and speak to him about his behavior.

  • I can't really send him an email as we sit right next to each other. – turnip Jul 12 '18 at 12:31
  • @turnip I believe that this is possible. It will be awkward in the beginning but you can press through it. Just mention in your first few emails that you noticed that he's busy so you're sending an email rather than interrupting his work. And that you feel this way he can reply back to you whenever he gets the time. I have been in the receiving side of this situation too where a colleague of mine started sending me his questions in emails CCing our manager. It feels awkward, but if he's really the kind of person who doesn't like talking to you then he will know why you're using email and be ok – Mugen Jul 12 '18 at 14:10
  • This attitude — “I cant send him an email because he’s right next to me” — makes no sense to me, and it’s possible that it makes no sense to your coworker, either. That may in fact be part of why he’s annoyed! A lot of tech people welcome questions via email and dislike verbal communication. – Ernest Friedman-Hill Jul 14 '18 at 13:45

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.