I face the issue that one of the Senior developers and actually one of the first employees of the company is regularly speaking bad over new-joiners. First of all it's important to understand, that we make all recruitment decisions together, to actually get the buy-in of every employee for a new colleague. Unfortunately, it has repeated now several times that the mentioned senior developer speaks bad about them in terms of their knowledge, speed and motivation after several weeks.

It's of course true that the new employees are not as fast as the people who're already in the company for 2 or 3 years, that's normal and they need time even with a proper onboarding to understand the whole system and also feel safe enough to do critical changes.

How would you handle this situation in terms of the senior developer, but also how to support the new employees better as it seems like they don't get enough support from the senior developer, based on their feedback.


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    Given that you post with what looks like your photograph and real name, are you not concerned that the Senior developers sees this and starts speaking badly of you? – Mawg says reinstate Monica Sep 11 '18 at 9:10
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    @Kilisi He's the CTO of the company, the buck stops with him – rath Sep 11 '18 at 9:39
  • Would you say the issue is arrogance on the part of the senior developer? Are there any ways to establish a process in which the senior developer can do more knowledge sharing, especially as contingency when he's not around? Can the other developers progress without him? I think I understand the type of senior developer you mention, as a mid they are extremely frustrating to deal with. Do expound on your question if possible, I too am really curious regarding the potential answer to this. – SaltySub2 Sep 11 '18 at 13:35
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    Please be more specific about what "speaking bad" means. Give an example if possible. Also who is he saying this stuff to, and in what context? – DJClayworth Sep 11 '18 at 16:37

It appears that you're dealing with what is known as a "Curse of Knowledge" problem.

The senior staff person isn't able to relate to others who don't share his comprehensive knowledge of your workplace. He lacks the empathy to see things from the point of view of others who simply don't know what he knows.

This happens a lot in places where expertise is highly valued but is understood to be a trait that is found rather than cultivated. In such places it is easy to mistakenly assume that someone who is highly skilled will also be a good mentor/teacher. Those are entirely separate skills.

What you do depends on how many resources are available to you, but I think the best thing would be to give the responsibility of "on-boarding" and evaluation to someone else who can relate better to the new employees (even if that person isn't the best in terms of knowledge).

Alternatively, the senior person could be assigned a more intense onboarding role where the success of onboarding becomes one of his key performance measures. That could backfire, of course, but he at least would have the opportunity to rise to the occasion and become a much better mentor for new folks.

  • It's not the curse of (special) knowledge to treat people well. That kind of knowledge was engrained in kindergarten. Putting down a coworker for lack of knowledge is a missed opportunity to build the next generation of senior developers. – Edwin Buck Sep 12 '18 at 13:26
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    @EdwinBuck, It would be nice if folks learned this stuff early but for whatever reasons many people don't. The lack of empathy can be caused also by the belief that one must "suffer" to learn, a "sink or swim" Calvinistic approach to mentoring where the students are expected to put forth enormous effort before receiving the wisdom of the elder. It's all bullshit, but it happens frequently especially in technology workplaces. – teego1967 Sep 12 '18 at 20:04
  • Thanks for the response, and I can't agree more. +1, but I wish I could +10. – Edwin Buck Sep 12 '18 at 23:43

I would definitely pull (him|her) aside and try to get to the motivation behind the questions. Is (he|she) concerned that individual workload will be increased because of the need for mentorship or training? There could be some internal or external pressure and as a result, the developer is lashing out, either consciously or subconsciously.

For example, if there is a deadline to hit or specifications that need to be completed, and the senior developer is also working with bringing junior developers into the fold, can you work with the senior to ensure that there are reasonable expectations or SLAs in place for some of the other work?

A key role of a senior developer is to mentor and guide more junior ones, but if that is being done without a reduction of other responsibilities, it could be a reason for the attitude.


I would start by talking about the issue with him, trying to align your concerns with his.

Does he see something you don't see?

Do you see something he doesn't see?

Is he aware that the new people will not feel welcome because of his behaviour, making it more difficult to them to adapt and be a productive member of the team?

Or are you not aware of how bad they are, and he can provide examples that are strong enough to make you consider the fact that maybe the new employees are actually not good enough to stay?

This question can not have a specific answer, but consider that high quality software developers like to work with high quality software developers. Be careful choosing bad developers over good developers.

Also, be careful choosing toxic good developers over nice average developers.

You have a tough situation.

  • Can you expound more on what is a "good", "nice", "toxic" developer? I've seen all kinds and still don't know what's going on, if sometimes it's just a social or psychological issue in being a developer (the way of thought). – SaltySub2 Sep 11 '18 at 13:37
  • If I answer that I would be giving my personal perspective on what it means to be good, nice or toxic. You gotta make up your mind in that regard, that's part of your work culture, don't you think? – Mr Me Sep 11 '18 at 13:39
  • There's probably the crux of it. I can't seem to evaluate this aspect of work culture when I'm there, and I also am curious as to what work culture I would build. Next, I wonder if I have time to go through all this when there's coding to be done! :-0 – SaltySub2 Sep 11 '18 at 13:42
  • You and I would probably choose friends based on different standards. We like different people. When you are choosing who you work with, you also choose based on some values you consider important. I cannot judge with the info at hand if the senior dev is being toxic or he has strong reasons to be concerned about the new devs – Mr Me Sep 11 '18 at 13:48
  • To extend on the previous comment, some behaviour should always be unacceptable, such as being a bully. But OP mentions bad mouthing. Maybe he is respectful and nice to the devs, but in what he thinks is a safe environment he opens up. – Mr Me Sep 11 '18 at 13:51

Your company's culture is defined by the worst grievances that are permitted. If you do not act, or act only privately, your employees (junior, senior, and management) are going to believe it's a place where seniors can treat juniors like dirt.

While keeping quiet and hoping that things blow over might seem like a good idea, it is important to remember that silence is consent. At a minimum, I'd lightly reprimand the senior dev, and ask him to apologize to the junior after making the senior developer aware of the company culture he is promoting and getting his support for promoting a better company culture.

If he repeats, you now have a documented broken agreement. It can sometimes be hard for people to change in certain ways. I'd give him a few more mistakes in this manner, using the same approach.

Eventually you'll find out if the senior dev is going to change, and if he's attempting it. From there, you'll probably have built up more experience and a better plan than I could offer here.


These things tend to sort themselves out over time.

Either you take the senior seriously and start disciplining people, or you don't.

What usually happens is he gets a rep for being a cantankerous chap and people work around that. I've met plenty like him who are very valuable employees and perform excellently under pressure and when they do dispense a bit of praise to a junior it makes their day.

But when you get one like that that is NOT good at their job, then you get rid of them, they're bad for morale because there is no respect for their skills.

You can mitigate it somewhat by having a quiet word with him to take it a bit easier on the juniors, if you do, make it private. You may have to do this periodically.

  • How would you evaluate if the senior developer is being arrogant and cantankerous within reason, as opposed to being toxic? Curious. – SaltySub2 Sep 11 '18 at 13:37
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    I would watch him... in the question he's only picking on new hires, older hands don't have an issue, normally this means they've earned his respect, but either way I'd watch him – Kilisi Sep 11 '18 at 13:55
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    binged.it/2CKiXTV – SaltySub2 Sep 11 '18 at 13:57

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