9

I am a senior-level developer in a large corporation in the US. Two of my co-workers on the same project work with me and sit in the same office, right by me. We'll call them Bob and Jim. They are both "mid-level" developers. Not senior, but also not junior. The rest are in other offices scattered around the country, including our boss, lead developer, and several other team members.

The project we work on has been around for 5 years, so a lot of our time is spent learning the ins and outs of the existing system and finding our way around the code to complete stories and fix bugs. I came in a week earlier than these other two guys, but basically we are all starting from the same place.
For whatever reason, I pick up things a bit more quickly than the other two, and helped them a lot early-on when they got stuck on a piece of code or with unfamiliar technology.

Both Bob and Jim needed a lot of help early on, but after a few months Bob has pretty much stopped asking anyone for help and seems to be doing fine without much assistance from me or anyone else.

Jim, on the other hand, is constantly sending me IM's, emails, Slack messages, or coming into my cube asking for help. This goes on all day long, every day I am in the office. If I don't answer an IM or email in 2 minutes, he is in my cube. When I do help him, if I don't solve his problem or I don't have the answer right away, sometimes he'll just stop working on that task.

Moreover, he makes the same mistakes over and over again on subjects that we have covered before, multiple times. I just can't understand. If he does manage to solve a problem, then he comes into my cube first and Bob's cube next to tell us the story of how the problem is solved.

While I'm happy to help from time to time, I'm constantly being interrupted by Jim in one way or another, which hurts my productivity and keeps me from getting "into the zone". I feel like Jim should have been here long enough by now to try and figure out things on his own. Bob and I certainly have. I also feel like I'm being taken advantage of by being too nice and willing to help and not being firm by saying 'No' sometimes. I've had a history of being toxic to co-workers at previous jobs and I'm trying my best to not do that here. I also have not discussed this with our boss either, because I'm trying really hard to build positive relationships with my team as a new member.

How can I discuss with him that he needs to

  • A. Respect my time
  • B. Try to put in the effort on his own first, before coming to me.
  • C. Not "giving up" if someone else doesn't have an answer for his questions.

UPDATE: So far today, the "Don't give them the fish; teach them how to fish" method is working really well.

10

I've had a history of being toxic to co-workers at previous jobs and I'm trying my best to not do that here. I also have not discussed this with our boss either, because I'm trying really hard to build positive relationships with my team as a new member.

How can I discuss with him that he needs to

A. Respect my time B. Try to put in the effort on his own first, before coming to me. C. Not "giving up" if someone else doesn't have an answer for his questions.

You'll need to be careful not to slip into toxic lecturing here.

I'm a firm believer that it's almost always fair to ask "What have you tried so far?" when asked for help. And then I think it's fair to make a quick suggestion about possible avenues of investigation that the asker can then work on. Sometimes I'll even ask "Can you think of anything else to try?" Hopefully over time the developer will anticipate your question, and try more things - eventually needing less of your time.

It's not hard to do that in a positive, helpful manner while still not having all of your time co-opted. Many times it's as much about the way you say it as it is the words you use.

If this is becoming a regular pattern, you may want to casually discuss it with your boss. It's quite possible that your boss expects more senior developers to help less senior folks. And your boss might have a preference on how and how often to do that. It's also possible that your boss doesn't want you to spend much time helping/mentoring less senior developers and wants your full productivity aimed at your assigned work. You'll only know by asking.

When I do help him, if I don't solve his problem or I don't have the answer right away, sometimes he'll just stop working on that task.

Unless you are this person's supervisor, you likely aren't responsible for his completion of tasks. Leave that worry to his boss.

  • 6
    If there is one thing I have learned here on SE, is the "what have you tried so far?" approach. – L.Dutch Sep 25 '18 at 5:49
6

Moreover, he makes the same mistakes over and over again on subjects that we have covered before, multiple times. I just can't understand.

In part I think I can understand why. It's basically due to the "Don't give them the fish; teach them how to fish" phrase one often hears.

Perhaps you have been "spoiling" him by constantly helping him, or doing the hard-thinking parts and chewing for him. So, some pointers on what I recommend you try doing next time:

  • If you are indeed busy, or about to get "into the zone", don't feel bad to decline his request for help, or ask him to come back when you are less busy. No need to be rude, just something like "Hey Jim, I am currently really busy. Please come back in X minutes and I'll gladly help you."

  • Instead of just "giving him the fish" try to encourage him to do the searching and thinking before coming to you. In a way assuming a Socratic attitude would help here; try asking things like "I see... what have you tried so far?" or "Did you try doing Z yet?"... if Jim hasn't tried anything before coming to you these questions will make him realize that he has to at least try before asking.

  • You could also try redirecting him to Bob if you are too busy to help him or if he has already asked you several times.

2

Just to add one more suggestion to the others here.

Try scheduling meetings with the co-worker to discuss “progress”. During these meetings, make yourself 100% available to the coworker, outside of the meetings refer any requests, unless genuinely urgent, to the next meeting.

Over time, you should hopefully find the coworker becoming more proactive as he will want to show you progress since the last meeting.

Even if not, at least you get to limit the interruptions while still providing support.

  • 1
    This is a solid approach that hasn't been suggested here and in the related questions. Basically, you're suggesting to "time box" the assistance given to the person, this gives the OP an opportunity to help the coworker in a more "tutorial" fashion. Some people do better with that than with ad-hoc Q and A. During that time, the OP can also gently suggest more self-reliance and set some boundaries about stuff like interruptions. – teego1967 Sep 25 '18 at 10:24
  • Yes this is an interesting approach - you could also preface these meetings by asking "So, what have you tried so far" and get him to run you through what he's done to solve the problem. Maybe the first couple of times he won't have prepared anything, but hopefully this will gradually help encourage him to, even if he can't solve the problem himself, at least do some of the groundwork. – delinear Sep 25 '18 at 12:06
1

Be Frank About It, in a Polite Way

Be frank about it while actually telling the reason behind afterwards why you did that approach, make him understand that it is for his sake, and for the benefit of the others that he will actually deal with in the future. And that is giving them actual respect as a co-worker/professional, because you don't want them to be a person who does his career in a incompetent level.

Base on my personal experience with the senior developer (I am a junior developer, this is how he treats me) I am currently working with, it is okay to tell it your suggestions straight away, no need to work around it, just be careful not to hurt their feelings completely by not telling the reason why these is needed to be done. (because it is okay to sometimes hurt someone's feelings by telling the truth, so they would at least remember it, like spanking the children on the butt if they have did some bad behavior, to correct that said behavior which will be bad on the long run)

Tell them that you are saying all these 3 things that you mentioned (the A-C), for them to learn how to act professional and in order for them to not waste anyone's time like you have experienced yourself.

  • 1
    I don't think the spanking analogy is fit for a professional setting. Telling the truth and being frank is ok, but one should try to do it politely and professionally. How would you suggest one can be frank while still being polite? – DarkCygnus Sep 24 '18 at 22:58
  • 1
    I suggest you include that on your answer, as it will increase its usefulness (and also because comments are ephemeral). If you could mention some pointers or some phrasing example OP could use to convey this message in a frank and polite way, it would be even better :) – DarkCygnus Sep 24 '18 at 23:56

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.