We have a mailing list, where people can post interesting problems to work on. Less than 2 weeks ago my boss posted a very interesting problem. To accomplish it one needs to read a very mathematically dense research paper, digest the material and then implement the algorithms and test them. I have started working on it as soon as I received the email. My colleague replied to the mail the next day saying that he wants to work on it and my boss didn't say anything, so I didn't report to my boss even though I made significant progress for the last 2 weeks (There is no time limit, its an open problem). Yesterday, I have replied to the thread mentioning the advances I made and the problems I faced. My boss came to me and we had a long chat on how to take this further. My colleague although he didn't work on it for 2 weeks expressed unhappiness after my boss left, that I have worked on the problem in-spite of his mail.

Was what I did professional ?

  • 4
    Is it normal on your team for people to indicate that they are working on problems, which your colleague did, or do they simply start working on them as you did? Aug 9, 2018 at 16:25
  • 3
    Why would an 'interesting problem' only be workable by one person at a time? This wasn't a help desk ticket or a specific task assigned to the first person to claim it. Just ignore your colleague.
    – dfundako
    Aug 9, 2018 at 16:37
  • I don't know about how it works in my office, but my boss said ".....Can anyone come up with an implementation of this paper ..... ?". I have joined here 1 month ago. My boss didn't say anything, I think he was fine by it. Aug 9, 2018 at 16:47
  • @BloodThirst If you don't know how it works, you can't communicate how it is supposed to work to us, so how can we make a decision about whether you were unprofessional or not?
    – dfundako
    Aug 9, 2018 at 16:49
  • How can I ask such things in my office ? That's why I have asked here. I have given all the information I have, I thought we can infer something. Anyhow I just don't want to make enemies out of co-workers who dig holes behind my back. But what @dfundako makes sense, I will just ignore him. Any he's my colleague, I don't work with him per se. Aug 9, 2018 at 16:54

3 Answers 3


Posting interesting problems on an email list is basically an open bounty for whomever can come up with the best implementation. I highly doubt your team has a standing rule that whoever replies they want to work on the problem first is the only one that can work on the problem. I don't see anything unprofessional with what you did. If you did do something unprofessional, your boss should have approached you about it.

I think your colleague is just jealous/hurt that he wasn't a fast as you were at advancing on the problem.

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    "Work hard in silence, let the success make the noise"
    – Sandra K
    Aug 9, 2018 at 18:30

Friendly competition isn’t a bad thing. What you did was not unprofessional, you could have both arrived at the same answer with two different approaches, so you could share what you’ve done with one another and compare.

Maybe in the future you could do the same as your colleague and say that you also intend on solving the problem to avoid this.


The only way I can see this being unprofessional is if it had some sort of monetary reward or if it is written somewhere as a single person task.

However, given the delivery of the task, I cannot see how any of the above is true. A mailing list generally means it is expected to have the widest impact and chances are multiple people would have interest in the subject. How can a single person own the task?

There are a couple of facts that this person is simply jealous:

  • Your boss ignored the person who was in close proximity when he/she came over to talk to you about the solution
  • You posted the solution so others can see and comment. The other person simply said he/she would like to work on it but gave no solution

I think those alone answers your question. I don't see any reason why you'd need to claim something that is widely distributed when it was never indicated to do so. If your boss said, "Who would like to..." then there is no reason to assume it is to be claimed.

I believe these things generally loses interest over time. At my work we had "code golf" which was fun at first then it got to the point where only die hard fanatics got together. So no one expects everyone to be jumping in excitement each time and it sounds like your co-worker is upset you got recognition.

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